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Lagos at 50 controversies

By Ochereome Nnanna

LAGOS is unlike any other state in the country in so many ways. It is the only state in Nigeria with a Portuguese name. Part of what is today’s Lagos State once existed outside what eventually became Nigeria before 1906, but no sooner was Nigeria amalgamated than was it named as the capital in January, 1914. Actually, the debate among the British colonial rulers was whether it was Calabar or Lagos that should be the capital, and Lagos won the argument.

I sometimes wonder what would have been the story of Nigeria today if Calabar had been chosen. My guess is that Lagos, because of its great coastal resources, would still have been a major economic and commercial centre but not at the level that it is today. Much of what Lagos is today in terms of foundational structures owed mainly to its former status as the capital of Nigeria for 76 years, during which the resources of the nation and the sweat of its people from all across were invested in building up a national commonwealth.

If Calabar had been chosen, I am sure that the story of Nigeria would have been dramatically different. The economy of the nation would have definitely rested on the Eastern turf, what with its oil resources as well as the human capital of its peoples, especially the Igbo. Had that been the case, I guess Western Cameroon would not have voted to leave Nigeria as they did in the 1962 plebiscite; and perhaps, the Nigerian civil war might not have taken place, at least not the way it did.

Lagos State was one of the 12 states created on 27th May 1967 by General Yakubu Gowon, which is why the state is celebrating its 50th anniversary in grand style, being the only one that was never split in subsequent state creation exercises. The state government led by Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode is rolling out the drums of celebration. It is also rolling out something else – posters of people who, according to those organising the celebration, have contributed to the success of Lagos in the past 50 years.

This has stirred controversies and raised questions about how serious the state government and ruling elite are about the declared theme of the celebration: “Lagos For All”. “Lagos For All” also happens to be Governor Ambode’s personal mantra, just as “Eko Oni Baje” (Lagos will never go amiss) was to his predecessor, Babatunde Fashola. In fact, “Lagos For All” is the caption attached to Governor Ambode’s posters, just as “Land of Performance” is attached to Fashola, and so on.

Since those posters started showing up along major streets in the city, tongues have been wagging (mine inclusive): what were the criteria used in choosing the nominees?

I never saw the photograph of a dead person on display! Is the success of Lagos in the past 50 years restricted to the living alone? How can anyone talk about the success of Lagos since 1967 and omit illustrious personalities such as Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, and Chief Moshood Abiola, all of blessed memory? When I first came to Lagos to take up a job in January 1990, the persons I wanted to see were Gani and Fela. I saw Gani (in fact became his friend as a journalist) but never met Fela because I am not a night person; never beyond 10pm (Fela’s Afrika Shrine did not really start before 11 pm!).

How can you talk about the success of Lagos without including the very man who created the State, and used our oil money to develop its infrastructure and major institutions – Gowon?

The most ridiculous thing was the exclusion of Easterners, especially Igbos from Ambode’s Lagos success story. When I called a top official of the LASG to enlighten me as to why, the impression he gave was that the committee set up to select and display the names was still compiling, displaying, withdrawing and replacing names on a daily basis. This manner of inchoate approach is a bit alien to what we know about the LASG, which is easily a national model of good governance.

My contact told me that Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, the first non-Yoruba Governor of the State, NADECO activist and friend of the Lagos Establishment, was selected; so was songstress, Onyeka Onwenu. I have never seen any of them, but wherever I look I see Aliko Dangote, Tu Face Idibia, Jim Ovia and Sonny Irabor, the only non-Yorubas listed as part of the Lagos success story!

It is wrong and incongruous to celebrate Lagos For All and play down the importance of the Igbo people who make up at least a quarter of the population of the state and the largest group outside the native Yoruba elements. The Igbo population contributes to the huge Federal allocation the state receives every month (including its VAT). It is a major factor in its commercial success (and tax revenues) being the commanding force in all the major markets of Lagos. The Igbo are also capable of a decisive role in elections if free and fair. Playing down the importance of such a group is like playing the ostrich. Excluding the East as whole is being ungrateful for the role its oil resources played in the making of Lagos at 50.

The ruling elite in Lagos have a right to protect the interests of its indigenes. They have the right to accommodate other Yoruba groups since Lagos is part of the Yoruba nation. But they have no right to abnegate the interests of other Nigerians who have made Lagos their home and invested the prime cuts of their wealth to the uplift of the nation’s economic capital. Lagos is not just a national commonwealth; it has been, right from its earliest beginnings, an international metropolis.

The ruling Establishment of Lagos have a duty and responsibility to reorient themselves to this reality. Beyond mere mantra, Lagos will always be home for all.



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