By Bisi Lawrence
The wild joy over the double triumph of General Muhammadu’s election victory and President Goodluck Jonathan’s superlative gesture of statesmanship portends violent-free polls across the board. However, there appears to be a hiccup that may not be entirely ignored. It had been feared that Lagos, Rivers and Akwa-Ibom States were among the areas where violence could flare up during these elections, and the general calm that saw the end of the presidential election had not entirely dismissed those fears.
They have now been stoked afresh in Lagos by the inflammatory statements of His Highness Oba Akiolu, the traditional ruler of the city of Lagos. Of course, the State has other natural rulers, each with his own domain. However, the Lagos Oba has always enjoyed the eminence of “the first among the equals” in the hierarchy of the State’s traditional rulers. And rightly so, being historically recognized as the oldest.
All the same, the pedestal on which he stood to make the most embarrassing statement ever made by a Lagos Oba had been removed and has no longer been in existence for more than one-and-half-centuries.
The statement, which has gone viral and so developed other aspects to it, was an imprecation on Ibo residents in Lagos who would not vote for the governorship candidate of the All Progressives’ Congress, Akinwunmi Anbode, in today’s elections. Oba Akiolu put a curse on them of a disastrous end in a matter of seven days. Pure primitive stuff, but as infuriating as somewhat frightening a way; after all, these traditional rulers are accounted not to be without some numinous powers acquired from ancient times.
But, more seriously, the deluge of angst arose from the sheer preposterousness of the curse. It was so uncalled-for in this day and age and, definitely, not from a well-educated man brought up in evidently the most sophisticated environment in the country.
Lagos State has an Ibo man in its cabinet, even when no Ibo man had won a seat in either the House of Representative from the State, which has now been done in the recent elections, or in the State House of Assembly, which may now be done. It was in evidence of the time-honoured association of the Easterners with Lagos State. Most of them at the earliest stages, at about the end of the Second World War, took on menial jobs and were viewed with a distinctive lack of respect, but they clawed their way out of the mire of disregard to be accepted on equal terms by dint of purposeful effort in learning and business.
So many of them, if not all of them have become almost seamlessly integrated within the Yoruba community of Lagos by their lifestyles which epitomize openness and genuine friendliness. Their spirit of enterprise has created a niche for them in the world of vibrant entrepreneurship, and recorded an enduring sterling contribution to the improvement of their environment establishment in Lagos.
These were some of the considerations of Nnamdi Azikiwe, then of the West African Pilot newspaper, when he attempted to cure his people of some of their complexes in an address to the Ibo State Union which he titled, “Self-determination for the Ibo Nation” in the early 40s. Zik saw a feeling of inferiority in those days and was determined to jar up the true spirit that seemed to be cowed by a dazzling and unusual surrounding, yet full of opportunities from which they could benefit. History has justified his position though he totally identified with the surrounding himself, to the extent that he gave some of his children Yoruba names. Now some of the streets in Lagos, a Yoruba city, are bearing Ibo names. And very well so.
The first Deputy Mayor of Lagos was an Ibo man, the late Mbonu Ojike of the Week-end Catechism fame. That was the column he wrote on Saturdays for the Pilot. He was so much loved that he was given a Yoruba nick-name, “Duduyemi”. Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, the wealthy transporter of his day, raised his children, notably the Ikemba one of whose childhood friends was Bolaji Fashola (uncle of the Governor), in an absolutely Yoruba environment. This is not an isolated case. The intermingling has been going on for decades, especially in the Lagos metropolis.
When Akinwunmi Ambode` was elected the governorship candidate, Oba Akiolu surprised many people when he came out in open support of the former Lagos State Accountant-General. Although some natural rulers in Yorubaland had been known to associate with political parties in the past, this really came into vogue when the House of Chiefs was an arm of government in the era of regional administrations. But the Obas had since then resumed their proper role as fathers of the people, all the people, in their domains.
The Awujale of Ijebuland, His Royal Highness Adetona, respectfully made this clear when the President visited him in his Ijebu-Ode Palace. He welcomed his august visitor but would not allow himself to be beguiled into forgetting his position as the father of all, and that was all the President got from him.
But we were referring to the stirring events of a century and a half ago, affecting the Lagos throne. Prince Kosoko, who was deprived of his rightful accession to the throne in favour of Akintoye, had attacked the Lagos community with his slave-trading hordes and driven the usurper away from the throne. He then took over Lagos —and turned it into a centre of high slave-trade emporium. But Akitoye received support from the British government which, on the pretext of its hatred for the slave trade, attacked Lagos, defeated Kosoko and restored Akitoye to the throne.
Prince Docemo who succeeded Akitoye his father, however felt uncomfortable with Kosoko breathing down his neck from Lekki Island to which he had been banished. He therefore subsequently signed a treaty by which he ceded Lagos to the British crown.
The immediate effect was that the Oba of Lagos ceased to be the “owner” of Lagos in the traditional manner in which all Yoruba obas are the lords and masters of their lands. We should not go too far. Suffice it to say that Oba Akiolu went overboard in his political identification with a governorship candidate that he even stated that he is the owner of Lagos.
His unguarded statement has probably more than slightly dented the fortunes of the APC governorship candidate for Lagos State who has had to recalibrate some areas of his campaign text. It has freed the cowed brassy voice of people like Fani-Kayode who have piped softly since March 28. It had given a lift to the low situation of Onoh (Junior) who now sees this as an opportunity to make a point in national discuss. Time out.