By Obi Nwakanma
I read with a lot of amusement the piece of clap-trap circulated through the Nigerian blogosphere last week titled ‘The Bitter truth about the Igbo” authored by Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode.
I thought for a minute: but they said the guy went to Cambridge! Then again, take a scallywag to Cambridge, he merely becomes a Cambridge-trained scallywag. There were many things Kings College Lagos and Cambridge University could have taught, and might have failed to teach Mr. Fani-kayode.
One of such things is felicity with truth. He does write about “bitter truths” and about the “Igbo” and his submissions were in fact more bitter than true about the Igbo. For one, Femi Fani-Kayode who claims to be “half-Lagosian” has not quite explained what that “half” means after the genomic mathematics that also locates and divides the Fani-Kayodes of Ife in another instance into “part Fulani” in the general scheme of things in Nigeria. I will not dwell on Fani-Kayode’s identity politics. I’m yet to understand it.
It will require one to be quite high on something to tease it all out, and so I leave that part to Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode. But I suspect that in situating himself to be “half-Lagosian” he means that part of his ancestry may be found among the “owners” of Lagos, that is, the indigenous settlers of Lagos.
For purposes of context, let me summarize Femi Fani-Kayode’s argument rendered in two parts, starting with the first titled “Lagos, the Igbo and the Servants of Truth”: to him the Igbo have basically no claim on Lagos and have made hardly a contribution to its development.
According to Fani-Kayode“The Igbo had little to do with the development of Lagos between 1890 till today and that is a fact. Other than Ajegunle, Computer Town, Alaba and buying up a few market stalls in Isale Eko where is their input? Meanwhile the Yoruba and Lagos were very gracious to them and not only allowed them to return after the civil war to claim their properties and jobs but we welcomed them with open arms and allowed them to flourish in our land. This is something that they have never done for our people in the east.
Now some of them have the effontry (sic) to call our land and the land of our forefathers (I am half Lagosian and was brought up in Lagos) ”no-man’s land” and others have the nerve to assert that up to 50 per cent of the development in Lagos came as a consequence of the input of the Igbo. This is utter rubbish.”
These are the very words of Femi, hot under his collars because Igbo Lagosians are staking their own claims to a part of the Nigerian commonwealth to which they have made enormous contributions both in material and in blood.
Fani-Kayode may deny it, but Lagos is nothing if not the result of an agglomeration of forces; a diversity of people from across the world and across the modern nation gathering at the epicenter and the margins of the metropolis in what Homi Bhabha calls “dissemination.”
But Mr. Fani-Kayode is still hung up on sterile nativism of the sort that makes it impossible for him to think clearly or rationally; he chooses to levitate on the illusory baloney that inspires him to declare Lagos to be the “patrimony of the Yoruba.” No. Lagos is the patrimony of every Nigerian who steps in it.
Lagos belongs as much to the ethnic Igbo as to the Yoruba, Ijaw, Hausa, Fulani, Efik, Idoma, Urhobo, Itshekiri, Edo, and so on who live in it, pay tax, identify with it, and settles in it. That compact was made the moment Nigeria became a single nation, and a successor power to the old principalities who were subdued and who ceded their sovereignty for the new commonwealth of Nigeria.
The Igbo did not beg to be Nigerians. First they fought for its freedom. When the Nigerian kitchen became too hot, they chose to leave. But a war was levied on the Igbo that forced them back to Nigeria. That war was fought to preserve “One Nigeria” even if the Igbo had had enough of “one Nigeria.” That war ended in 1970. The Igbo returned, and their return to Lagos and other parts of Nigeria was neither an act of charity nor kindness.
It was pragmatic. The Igbo had the skill and the industry, and Lagos was the seat of the Federal government of Nigeria and its major port. The Igbo have lived in Lagos since the 15th century when the Aro and other Igbo first settled in good number in a place we now call “Oyingbo” in the era of Benin and the Portuguese trade.
Igbo have been in Lagos, in other words, long before the first Fani-Kayode knew the road to Ilesha. So, when Femi Fani-Kayode writes that the Yoruba were “kind” to the Igbo because, in his words, “we allowed them to return to Lagos” after the civil war, he is not being a servant of truth. In any case, about kindness, he might wish to talk to the likes of Eze Okpoko N’Oba, whose property in Lagos was appropriated to this day by a prominent Yoruba as “abandoned property” after the war.
I do not wish to insult the intelligence and regard of the many honorable Yoruba people I know who do not buy into Mr. Fani-Kayode’s views, and so I will keep this simple: nobody, even of average intelligence, can deny the impact and contribution of the Igbo in the political, cultural, and economic development of Lagos as a great Nigerian city; the greatest of them in fact, in the modern era.
The arrival of Azikiwe to Lagos in 1937 from Accra after his studies in the United States, stimulated the political and cultural environment of Lagos as no other has before or after him. Zik literally resurrected the wizard of Kirsten hall from political death. Zik represented Lagos in the western house. The NCNC was the power in Lagos, and not the Action Group. The Igbo were prominent in the governance of Lagos in the Lagos City Hall.
The institutional development of Lagos – the railways, the ports and ship yards; the education and research facilities; the Banking and Commodities Exchange, the development of towns like Yaba, Surulere, Ebutta-Metta, Festac Town, Victoria Island, and now Increasing the Ajah-Lekki axis, and of course, the ghettoes along the Orile-Badagry axis, have profound Igbo imprimatur.
The circulation of the image of Lagos is to date best reflected in the cosmopolitan Igbo imagination of one of the greatest African writers of the 20th century, Cyprian Ekwensi, a thorough Lagosian if there was any. Igbo have built industries in Lagos and have been drivers of commerce and exchange.
Side by side with their Yoruba, Efik, Itshekiri, Urhobo, etc. neighbors, they have continued to negotiate the complex evolution of this city. The development had not much to do with the Western government; even then, Mr. Fani Kayode often forgets that the Igbo were part of the Western Region when it extended, until 1963, to the bridgehead at Asaba. Lagos is not the patrimony of the Yoruba.
If any should make such a vicarious claim, it might be the Oba of Benin, to whom Lagos paid tributes up until its annexation and colonization in 1861. Fani Kayode should read more and be driven less by sophomoric enthusiasm and braggadocio.