by Ijeoma Nwogwugwu
I have a dream that one day no Nigerian in Lagos shall be called a foreigner, I have a dream that someone other than a man shall govern Lagos, I have a dream that someone other than a person of Yoruba stock shall superintend over Lagos.
Last week, I sat down to edit a brief analysis submitted by our reporter who covers Lagos State on the factors likely to influence the outcome of the governorship election in the state. In his analysis, he said that the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate in the state, Jimi Agbaje, had been accused by his opponents of playing ethnic politics by promising non-indigenes more position in the Lagos cabinet should he win his bid to govern the state.
I was amused, because I realised that either my colleague or the so-called critics had failed to recognise the multicultural make up of Lagos, and no candidate worth his salt can campaign for the votes of residents in the state without identifying ethnic homogenous groups that can deliver bloc votes to a candidate. Even President-elect Muhammadu Buhari recognised this and wooed the Arewa community in Lagos before the presidential poll.
Given his assessment, I called him and proceeded to discuss the way politics is played in America whose democratic system we have decided to adopt. I reminded him that it is impossible for a Republican or Democratic candidate, be it at the presidential, congressional or governorship level, not to identify and woo black voters, Hispanic voters, Asian voters or Jewish voters and make them irresistible promises to get their votes. The same is applicable in the United Kingdom where Members of Parliament (MPs) and candidates vying for the post of prime minister must woo black, Indian, Arab and Pakistani voters in their respective constituencies. Whereas the emphasis in such societies is on race, the emphasis in a mono-racial society like Lagos is on ethnicity.
I also asked why the emphasis in Lagos had been placed on Agbaje identifying Igbo voters in Lagos, when his rival in the All Progressives Congress, Akinwunmi Ambode, had used exactly the same campaign strategy. Ambode, I reminded him, had been wooing Igbo voters in Alaba market, Amuwo Odofin, etc, for weeks, yet he had not been accused of playing the ethnic card. I further reminded him that the longest serving commissioner in the Lagos cabinet since the dispensation of the Fourth Republic has been an Igbo man. All this was happening, I explained, because Lagosians of Igbo ethnic stock had been recognised as a large homogenous voting bloc that could determine the outcome of an election for candidates campaigning in Lagos at any level.
After explaining these facts, which my colleague could not fault, I asked him what his state of origin was and for how long he had resided in Lagos. He informed he was from Ondo State and had lived in Lagos for 10 years. I informed him that my immediate younger brother and I were born outside this clime, but were brought home by our parents who are of Abia origin as children to Lagos, and had resided in the state for over 40 years. Three of my younger siblings after us, I informed him, were born and bred in Lagos and we all deem the state as our home. I went on to ask him, does the fact that he has a Yoruba name and I have an Igbo name, make him more of a Lagosian than I am? He admitted that having lived here for most of my life, I may identify more with the state than he does who had spent just 10 years in Lagos.
As a writer, I have always been very reluctant to write about my personal circumstances or that of my family’s. My preference has always been to keep my affairs private. However, I am forced to come out of my cocoon because of the reactions that the remarks by the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, have generated. In fact, I am less interested in his initial remarks when he said Igbos would end up in the Lagoon should they fail to vote for his preferred candidate, Ambode. I considered that an emotional outburst made in the heat of the moment, which could be pardoned.
But what struck me the most was his clarification the next day, which was cobbled together by the APC communications department, not the Oba’s palace as we were made to believe. The clarification read in part: “Oba Akiolu stated further that the Igbo people have not betrayed the throne. Lagos has also not betrayed the Igbo people. Lagos has done so much to make the Igbos comfortable and to prosper. For this, we expect reciprocal respect and understanding. The Oba of Lagos prays that the Lagoon and the throne will continue to bless and protect all those who reside and visit Lagos.”
This clarification, in my estimation, was more important than his emotional outburst. Unfortunately, in the heat of the Oba’s initial remarks, this clarification was lost on several Lagosians and other Nigerians. As a Lagos resident, I do not need anyone telling me that they are doing me a favour by making me comfortable in the state and helping me to prosper. That is patronising!
If any migrant and the generations after them have made Lagos their home and have prospered, it is through the dint of hard work in spite of the Lagos State Government. These migrants are law abiding citizens, conduct their businesses, buy their homes and land, pay their taxes, contribute to the development of the state and its GDP, and give Lagos its status as a mega city-state. Indeed, as constitutionally stipulated, they are no different from the “sons of the soil”. And should all the migrants including the Yoruba from neighbouring states choose to vacate Lagos, the state will probably not boast more than five to six million people.
The point being made is that Lagos is too large – it is the melting pot of Nigeria; it is the Big Apple – thanks to its migrant population, for these kinds of condescending remarks. They should not be tolerated and have no space in a modern society like Lagos. Had the state not been multicultural in make up, the likes of Lateef Jakande, who is originally from Kwara; Bola Tinubu, who migrated from Osun; Babatunde Fashola, whose family migrated from Ekiti; and Ambode, whose roots can be traced to Ondo, would not have been allowed to govern the state. Accordingly, anyone who chooses to call and make Lagos his or her home should be allowed to do so without needless reminders that they are “Ara-okes”, a derogatory Yoruba term used for foreigners or non-indigenes.
Borrowing from the words of Martin Luther King Jr., I have a dream that one day no Nigerian in Lagos shall be called a foreigner, I have a dream that someone other than a man shall govern Lagos, I have a dream that someone other than a person of Yoruba stock shall superintend over Lagos. It may not be in my lifetime, but that day will surely come.
Personally, I love Lagos and have made it my home. Should I die, I would want to be buried here and nowhere else. Yes, my fellow Abians may not like my decision, but it is mine and must be respected. Even after brief stints in Abuja, like a pigeon, my homing instinct has always made me retain a primary residence in Lagos at great expense. I believe there are millions of Lagosians like myself who feel the same way about Lagos. As such, our diversity should be celebrated, not undermined.
This article was first published in the Thisday Newspapers
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.