By Ochereome Nnanna
The Lagos deportation saga degenerated into a free-for-all between Igbos and Yorubas. I am gratified to note that majority of the commentators on both sides have been sane, objective and committed to putting issues in their proper perspectives to minimise damage and learn useful lessons.
But of course, as in any issue that is politicised or ethnicised, many of the commentators have come out with raised hackles, ready to amplify their Igbo-ness or Yoruba-ness.
Two of such people whom I found of interest were former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State and former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, from Osun State.
They are two of a kind, in that despite their scandal-filled past, they were able to exploit the weaknesses in our nascent democratic set-up to mount high political offices. They both came down from their high mounts and became “regular customers” of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which is prosecuting them for alleged theft of public funds.
They have both been in the political doghouse since 2007. They have been trying to claw their ways back to relevance. The Lagos deportation saga thus became an opportunity for them to bounce back to the public limelight as Igbo and Yoruba ethnic warriors, respectively.
Kalu was quoted as saying that Lagos is a “no man’s land”. Fani-Kayode, who rose to fame and fortune through his trademark political yokelry, fired back with two windy articles claiming, in effect, that Igbo people live and thrive in Lagos due to Yoruba magnanimity, and reminding them that their claim is the reason they are being targeted and killed in other parts of the country.
The contribution of these two EFCC suspect politicians did not add any value to the debate except to raise tempers and threaten the peace. It is, therefore, necessary to remind the peace-loving general public where these two have goofed to avoid being misled by them.
It is not true that Lagos is a “no man’s land”. To the best of my knowledge, there is no part of the globe that is not home to, or at least, under the ownership jurisdiction of, people. Even the ice-covered, uninhabited Antarctica belongs to the major world powers such as America and Russia. You cannot just walk in there without someone shouting: “Hey!” after you.
Lagos is the homeland of ethnic Aworis and others. It is part of Yoruba land. In a way, Fani-Kayode is right to claim Lagos is “Yoruba patrimony”. On the other hand, Igbo-land ends somewhere in Delta North. It shares no common boundary with the Yoruba, and cannot, therefore, lay any claim to co-ownership of any Yoruba territory.
Indeed, Igbos are not interested in contesting for ownership of territorial Lagos with the Yorubas. They refer to Yorubas as “Ndi obodo a”, meaning: the indigenes of this land. I have seen an Igbo elder in Lagos pouring libation, whereby he invited “the gods of Yoruba-land” to share in the drink.
The Igbos are in Lagos as full citizens of Nigeria, empowered and mandated by the constitution to freely choose where they want to live in the country. Lagos is of particular interest to Igbos and other Nigerians and foreigners alike because for about 80 years, it was the political capital of Nigeria. It is still the economic capital of Nigeria.
It was here that Igbo sons like Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and others, joined founding fathers of our nationalism such as Dr Herbert Macaulay and others to fight for Nigeria’s independence.
This is where the nation sank billions of dollars in the development of the seaports, airports, flyovers, trunk roads, the giant bridges (including the mighty Third Mainland Bridge), and other great amenities that Lagos used to function as the federal capital before it was moved to Abuja. The bulk of the money used in building and maintaining Lagos came from the oil resources of the defunct Eastern Region (now South East and South-South).
If other great port cities like Calabar, Port Harcourt, Bonny, Warri or Koko had won the contest to produce the capital of Nigeria, Igbos and other Nigerians would be there in their numbers because it is their national commonwealth. Since Abuja became the capital of Nigeria, Igbos have also invested heavily there, emerging as the largest stakeholders in the FCT outside the Federal Government. Igbos are the nation’s foremost indigenous investors.
Igbos in Lagos, like other citizens of Nigeria in any part of Nigeria, are covered by their citizenship rights. An Igbo man in Lagos has exactly the same constitutional right as the Lagos indigene of Yoruba stock, just as non-Igbo Nigerians residing in Igboland do. The same laws bind us all together. You cannot foul the law and be allowed to go free because of your “Yoruba patrimony” of Lagos.
If that were to be so, the EFCC would desist from trying Fani-Kayode for allegedly stealing public funds as Aviation Minister in deference to his “Yoruba patrimony” of Lagos. If found guilty, chances are that he would be jailed in a Lagos prison, “patrimony” notwithstanding.
We are all under the same law, even though the privileges may differ. The Lagos indigenes enjoy higher official privileges (not rights) than non-indigenous residents (including Yoruba-speaking non-indigenes). Fani-Kayode’s “Yoruba patrimony of Lagos” notwithstanding, there are meetings my brother, Chief Joe Igbokwe will be invited to and FK would be kept at bay because he does not belong. It does not work on ethnic wavelength. The ethnic factor is merely primordial and euphoric.
The bottom line is that both indigenes and non-indigenous residents of Lagos and other places in Nigeria are bound by common citizenship, with rights, obligations and responsibilities under the law. That, however, does not give anybody the licence to stomp all over the place chanting “no man’s land”. It is silly. If you do that, someone will remind you (subtly, or not so subtly) that you are wrong. That which you will not tolerate, don’t dish it out to others.