By John Owubokiri
On February 23, 2019, some hoodlums in Lagos attempted to disrupt voting in the neighbourhoods of Lagos that are occupied predominantly by Igbos. By the way the definition of “Igbo” is any man or woman whose tribe is indigenous to the South East and South South regions of Nigeria, so that for the average Yoruba a man from Akwa Ibom is as much “Omo Ibo” as the woman from Enugu. Those involved or who sympathise with this policy of political exclusion argue, that Yorubas do not attempt to influence the outcome of electoral contest in the Igbo states; that Lagos being Yoruba territory, only people of Yoruba extraction should determine the direction of the votes and that allowing Igbos to participate in the determination of electoral contests will bolster the claim by certain Igbos that Lagos is a no man’s territory developed by many. Some Yorubas were so bold as to file out with placards that demanded that Igbos should move out of Lagos and go back to their homes of origin.
The disturbing aspect of this development is that the move to exclude Igbos in Lagos politics is as popular among illiterate segments as it is with some “intellectual” circles. Femi Kusa, a journalist who had distinguished himself while working with the elite Guardian Newspapers wrote: “There are many intelligent and creative ways to deal with the Igbo question in Lagos or elsewhere. Chief Awolowo dealt with it when Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe abused the generosity of the Yorubas and attempted to take over their land as the Dutchmen took over South Africa…why would he, an Igbo, wish to be premier of the West and then install an Igbo, as premier of the East when the Yorubas at that time had more literate people than the Igbos?” For the records, the leader of Azikiwe’s NCNC at the time was a genial fellow called Eyo Ita, a native of the territory now known as Cross River State. Eyo Ita was as Igbo as Kusa is British but such ethnic nuances do not commend themselves to a segment of the Yoruba, not even a top flight journalist like Kusa who attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Without attempting to join the pissing contest between the Yoruba and the Igbo as to who pioneered educational advancement in Nigeria, it would be nice to remind Kusa’s ilk that the first Mayor of Enugu, the capital city of the defunct Eastern Region was Mallam Umaru Altine, a Fulani. It was immaterial that at the time Mallam Altine became mayor of Enugu the ratio of educated people between the Igbo and the Fulani was 90/10 in favour of the Igbos.
Kusa inferred that in attempting to be premier of Western Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe was aiming at taking over the land of the Yoruba. As infantile and crooked as such an argument is, he applied it to the Okota/Isolo incidents of Feb 23, arguing that it was wrong for the Igbo to attempt to represent constituencies of Lagos. Some others like “Adebayo Grandson” whatever his real handle is, argue that it is wrong for the Igbo to attempt to influence the outcome of voting in Lagos, prescribing that Igbos should try to achieve that in Igboland. The clear meaning of this argument which is surprisingly very popular among the Yoruba is that, the Nigerian franchise has or should have a locational limitation and qualification whereby a person of a given ethnic stock should be precluded from exercising his franchise outside a constituency not controlled by his stock. Kusa’s and Adebayo’s Yoruba of Lagos expected their Igbo compatriots not to vote at all in Lagos elections; those permitted the franchise were expected to exercise it in favour of the preferred candidates of the Yoruba. They claim that Igbos are taking over their lands in Lagos, creating spheres of influence and “interfering” in the politics of Lagos, the private affair of Yoruba people. The ignorance displayed by the illiterate who promote these odious ethnic ideologies rankle!
For several decades the oil and gas resources of Igbos from Imo and Abia states and their compatriots in the South South states have been appropriated to finance the Yoruba, Fulani, Hausa and other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. Not one single Igbo or Ijaw or Efik has been given land in Lagos as a “federal allocation” in the manner that the Yoruba people of Western Nigeria have enjoyed the resources of the Niger Delta. Lagos was a federal territory as Abuja is now although it was founded and settled by the Bini Empire according to Oba Akiolu of Lagos but the Igbo, Igbira, Hausa, Ijaw and indeed the Yoruba who develop properties have either acquired their lands by purchase from the native Aworis or the government of Lagos State. Nigerian law allows a Nigerian citizen to live, work and carry on business in any location of Nigeria. Nigerians also have a right to vote and be voted for. All the Yorubas in Port Harcourt voted for candidates of their choice and their ballots were not burnt or discarded because they are Yoruba exercising their franchise in Rivers State. The Igbos, Ijaws, Hausas and Efiks who live in Lagos are no less human than the Yorubas outside of Yorubaland. The Igbos who live and work in Lagos have a right to elect a president of their choice even though that choice contradicts the Yoruba interest the same way my son can vote a party whose ideologies I find odious. To attempt to limit the right of Igbos in Lagos to exercise their franchise, an idea that attaches to them by virtue of Nigerian law, the protocols of International law and their undisputed humanity, is to attempt to take a section of humanity back to the era when “Indians, Blacks and Dogs” were disallowed into certain premises by virtue of their perceived inferiority to the “human class” that defined them as inferior.
Those who seek to drive Igbos back to their homes and deprecate the living conditions and “undeveloped” states of Igbo cities need plenty of humility. Very few Yoruba are indigenes of Lagos. Many of the real indigenes are friendly and hospitable. Most of the trouble makers who glibly call on the Igbo to go and develop their own cities, including Femi Kusa are from veritable villages in which many would not stop at in the course of a journey to order a meal no matter how dire the circumstances. And need I remind Kusa and company that there are more storey buildings in Onitsha than there are in Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo and Kwara states put together? Do these “racists” not know that the economy of Nnewi is by far more robust than the joint economies of the aforementioned Western States? That there are more hotels in Owerri than two or three western cities put together? Of course, I exclude Lagos, a Bini settlement now being claimed by bigots. There are hundreds of thousands of Yoruba who live in Rivers State, making for themselves and their families, a decent living, aspiring to and coming into the highest ranks in their professions. Most have found home in Rivers and are very proud of their connections and achievements in the state. Like the Yorubas in Port Harcourt, the Igbos who live in Lagos acquired or leased the properties they live or do business in. I have read in some comments the suggestion that some of them have provokingly claimed ownership of Lagos because of their developments. Whoever such a claim offends must be so obtuse and jobless that I humbly suggest he stakes a claim over a territory or a whole state in Igboland! Perhaps he may also be able to offend his antagonist!
John Iyene Owubokiri