By Ogaga Ifowodo
OF COURSE, we have no such office as Governor of Nigeria, the closest to that being in the anachronism of Governor-General of the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria during the benighted days of British colonialism, a post first occupied by His Imperial Political Alchemist, Lord Frederick Lugard. But on 14 January, 86 clear days before the governorship elections, I referred to Akinwunmi Ambode as the next Governor of Nigeria.
It was during the campaign event “An Evening with Ambode,” organised by old students of his alma mater, Federal Government College, Warri, at the Civic Centre in Lagos, the Lagoon breeze that evening blowing benevolently on the candidate, his schoolmates and friends.
Following the delectable Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, famed for revolutionising the Federal Inland Revenue Service,who read Ambode’s citation, and the erudite Fidelis Odita, a Cambridge University law don who regaled all with reminiscences of his Warri days escapades together with his tight pal, I had said in my brief remarks that the Governor of Lagos was, really, the Governor of Nigeria.
Lagos, needless to say, is the only truly cosmopolitan space in Nigeria where the words of the old anthem, “Though tribes and tongues may differ / In brotherhood we stand”come closest to a meaning.
After all, where else in the “mere geographical expression” called Nigeria can non-indigenes declare their host community a “no man’s land” as a way of claiming equalautochthonous rights with the sons (and daughters) of the soil? Oh, how I dream of that day when after two years of residency (and local tax payment), I or any other citizen could claim equal rights and privileges in any patch of the Nigerian real estate—from Warri to Wukari, Enugu to Zungeru, Kano toCalabar, Gwoza to Abuja, wherever.
My conceit that evening was partly informed bythe view expressed by a famous cultural theorist and philosopher to the effect that the United States having proclaimed itself the policeman of the world and made the entire globe its sphere of influence,citizens of all countries ought to be able to vote for the American president.
I was also reminded of the transformation of the abrasive and insufferable Rudy Giuliani into the Mayor of America in the wake of the September 2011 tragedy. As comforter-in-chief of the stricken city, Giuliani had emerged out of the rubble of the twin towers as a symbol of the imperilled idea ofuniversal “brotherhood,” of our insuperable links to one another, best exemplified by the world’s arguably most cosmopolitan city, New York.
But I also had a more personal reason for my claim. Ambode preceded me to FGC, Warri, by four years and when he was in Upper Sixth I was in Form III. As one of the “cool” senior boys, fond of wearing his collar upturned, and a fine cricketer, Ambode stood out. At least, in the eyes of a bony little boy who had taken the initiation oath “to be seen and not to be heard” until he had “discard[ed” his “sheepish and uncultured behaviour” and “become a true Fegocolian.”
Because our two hostels, National House (his) and Independence House (mine) were separated only by a lawn, I tended to see him a lot on the way to and from the dining hall, class or the two other hostels, Unity House and School House. And always he seemedto me the picture of a strong yet charismatic fellow. I guess it helped that though a school prefect, I never got in trouble with him, that he never picked on me for an inconvenient errand or punishment for some real or imagined infraction.
It was at FGC, Warri, that I awakened to the sheer cultural diversity of our country. The Federal government colleges were the product of the nationalist fervour that sought to make one nation out of the hundreds of nations that peopled the young country conjured out of thin air by colonial whim, hence the other name by which they are known: unity schools. And so it was that in the heart of the Niger Delta, I learned and played with boys and girls from every part of the country.
My “E” arm of the Class of 83 alone had Isoko (me), Urhobo, Itshekiri,Bini,Igbo,Yoruba, Hausa, Ibibio/Efik, Gwari. I would learn 31 years later that my classmate and good friend, Peter Iliya, and his older brother Dauda, from Mubi in the old Gongola State,were actually from Chibok, thus giving me more reason to be inconsolable over the Chibok girls calamity.
Sadly, the unity I took for granted in school remains tenuous, even illusory, in today’s Nigeria. The Oba of Lagos, allegedly angered that the Igbos had voted massively for the PDP, threatened them with death by drowning in the lagoon if they did not vote for Ambode. Dr. Pat Utomi testified that the Oba, his friend, had spoken in jest, but the ensuing verbal ethnic warfare was predictable.
Yet, by electing Ambode nonetheless, the people of Lagos affirmed the all-important status of their city as the one ecumenical space where every Nigerian feels at home. The motto of Ambode’s alma mater is pro unitate: for unity. It is only fitting that in the year when “change” proved the most effective election slogan since independence the next governor of Lagos—sorry, of Nigeria—should be an accomplished alumnus of a school dedicated to our founding founders’ dream of “unity in diversity.”