By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
Igbo is a migrant tribe. Lagos is a melting pot. Igbos will always abound in Lagos, any Lagos. They can’t be stopped. And can’t stop themselves. They have taken their industriousness everywhere. They have become the mostly widely dispersed and widely entrenched race in Nigeria and perhaps Africa. Lagos is where things happen. Igbos are made for Lagos.
The Igbo made Lagos their other home before ethnicity came into Nigerian politics. But since then, and despite the civil war , Igbos have remained a major part of the Lagos project. They have improved Lagos. Lagos has empowered and polished them . You only need to visit Amuwo-Odofin . Lagos has given them opportunity. They have made Lagos thick, and tick. You only need to visit the Trade fair complex and the Alaba market.
Yorubas are remarkably gregarious and tolerant. They have let Lagos open its arms to newcomers. Ethnic and religious tensions that have charred many Nigerian cities are almost non existent in Lagos. Igbos , who are often victims of such strife have never seen violence targeted against them in Lagos since the civil war ended. Lagos, and unlike Port Harcourt , restored abandoned properties to their owners after the war. Lagos doesn’t bear grudges.
Some Igbos have suffered some discrimination in the hands of a few landlords while seeking apartments to lease . But Lagos has not made discrimination against settlers preoccupation. Lagos is neither Jos nor Kaduna. The only lines that exist are perhaps class-lines which have perhaps been blurred by the fact that the whole city, despite the pretensions of those who live in Ikoyi and Victoria Island, has essentially become one huge slum.
Lagos favours competition. And yes , there have been clashes over market ownership and such like. And there were the days of the OPC and Hausa skirmishes. But generally, Lagos has been boisterous but peaceful. For a city of over 20 million people of diverse cultures, Lagos has been comparatively serene.
It has to be. It’s only in Yoruba land that a Muslim man would marry a Christian woman and the two religions would share the children of their marriage, and happiness governs the home. Lagos imbibed that spirit.
Lagos politics has rarely been contaminated by ethnicity or religion. The electorate sometimes doesn’t remember the religion of its governor. Indigenes of other neighbouring states have ruled Lagos and continue to play important roles in Lagos governance. An Igbo man was the commissioner for budget in Lagos for almost a decade. You can call it pragmatic politics. But I am yet to see such pragmatism in Abia that once sacked all civil servants from neighboring Imo.
But Lagos, like all other organisms, is destined to experience growth changes. And sometimes adaptations come with discomfort. Lagos is growing and developing its wrinkles. Fast developing urban centres pass through stages of social puberty. Voice may crack, facial hairs may sprout, some homogeneity and some innocence could be lost.
Yorubas have been accommodating. That which reared its head in the confusion that engulfed some places in Lagos during the recent presidential elections should not be misunderstood. It was inevitable.
The Igbos have woken late. They have the number and resources to affect Lagos politics fundamentally. And they can’t be dictated to. Democracy grooms persons and groups to articulate , protect and promote group interests. It’s in fact, a civic responsibility. Igbos don’t have to explain or justify their electoral choices. The society benefits when its members participate fully, with all their resources, in its politics.
But Igbos must understand that the Yoruba, like any other African tribe, would resist anything that has the appearance of foreign domination. That is natural.
Enugu is Igbo land. Lagos is Yoruba land. But those who reside in Lagos are Lagosians. The constitution grants rights and privileges. Those who reside in Lagos and Enugu can vote in those places regardless of their states of origin. But in a third world country, no ethnic group will let another come to its territory and dominate its politics without a grumble. Igbos would grumble if Fulanis acquired the numbers and sought to determine who governed Imo.
Nigeria is a country. But not the country some of our forefathers dreamt yet. Nigeria is still an assemblage of ethnic nationalities. So when members of an ethnic group reside in places distant from their homelands they will not be expected to puff political smoke into the faces of their hosts, their citizenship rights notwithstanding.
It may be time for a revolution in Lagos. But Igbos must proceed discreetly. No wise man attracts to himself envy and hostility. The negative reaction of the average Yoruba to the march championed by Igbos should be expected. If it happened in Igbo land, Igbos would react more vehemently. We all remember how people reacted to the suggestion of cattle clones for herdsmen. That is the level of our national cohesion and integration for now. No Igbo man would sit astride and brook the argument that Enugu is not Igbo land.
But there is another truth. Emotions aside , Lagos politics has changed fundamentally. There has been a significant demographic shift. When a group achieves the sort of population Igbos have in Lagos that group must be courted by the politicians, not hampered. In the United States the impact of blacks and Latinos on the electoral college system has become profound. White Americans who consider themselves as the landlords have reacted negatively. Nobody, no group enjoys such intrusions. Yorubas are not an exception. But everybody in America now knows it’s a new reality.
Lagos has grown. And its political dynamics cannot remain stagnant. What happened in Aguda and Okota on the morning of the presidential election could be regarded as expected tantrums. But there is a new equilibrium. Tantrums won’t solve it. The political parties and their supporters have to get used to it.
It’s a complex social problem. Lagos could at some point become demographically unrecognizable to those who knew it in 1900. Cities are social organisms.
It is hoped that Lagos will take this little conflict in its stride. But we won’t forget to note the hypocrites the conflict has unmasked . On the one hand, some acclaimed pro-democracy activists have supported devious attempts to intimidate Igbos and curtail their influence in Lagos politics. These activists who routinely masquerade as promoters of our constitutional democracy want Igbos to save their political activism for Igbo land.
On the other hand, many of those championing the Lagos is ‘no-man’s-land’ agenda are the same folks championing the dream of Biafra. If Lagos is no man’s land then the very idea of Biafra cannot exist. Because the Biafra project is premised on the belief that there is an Igbo land, with many Igbo cities, within Nigeria which is not a ‘no man’s land.’
Igbo and Lagos have had a symbiotic relationship. Igbos must seek to improve Lagos. But tact rather than brashness would be more useful. Rather than run around streets chanting slogans that irritate others, Igbos must develop ways to improve Igbo voter turn out in subsequent elections in the state. Igbos must make the building of inter ethnic bridges their priority. The average Igbo man is not timid, he is competitive. But his aim is not to dominate anybody, neither in Lagos nor in Nigeria.