By Sunday Onyemaechi Eze
An attempt to delve into what is the place of Ndigbo in Lagos and contemporary Nigeria is vital on account of its currency, especially as the nation has just gone through another electioneering process.
The need to know is anchored in the false narrative bandied about in public spaces about the Igbo man planning to take over Lagos. This is utterly amusing. The allegation is specifically borne out of selfish interests and political mischief.
Why is it only during elections that the issue of Igbo domination of cities and takeover comes up? The nation needs to come to terms with and examine the utterances and positions of political, traditional, and opinion leaders in Lagos and Nigeria regarding the Igbo man before and after the elections. The governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and the security agencies should, as a matter of urgency, rise up to their responsibilities. Another pogrom against the Igbo people under any guise is unacceptable this time around. A wise man should avoid trouble rather than try to resolve it afterwards. Igbo people are legitimate Nigerians and law-abiding, and they should not be treated as outcasts or second class citizens in Nigeria.
For the avoidance of doubt, Nigeria is a breeding ground for ethnic based politics. It was played before, and it continues. The emergence of Peter Obi as the presidential candidate of the Labour Party and the surprises thrown up have ruffled the political feathers of many. The unexpected defeat suffered by Bola Tinubu, who was eventually declared the winner of the presidential election in his own acclaimed territory, was unbelievable. The albatross of men stoking the embers of discord is the imminent collapse of the decades old belief that Lagos is the property of one man. It was an expression of people’s desire for a better Lagos and a new Nigeria. All well-meaning individuals resident in Lagos, including the Yorubas, jointly made the bold statement. Any attempt to isolate Igbo people and make them scapegoats, create animosity between them, the good people of Lagos, their friends, and neighbours is an effort in futility.
The Igbo man is industrious and daring in all ramifications. He sees himself as an equal partner in the project called Nigeria. Why shouldn’t an Igbo man be president of Nigeria? I am aware you understand what equity means. However, the political class views the Igbo tribe as a subjugated group that should not be allowed to join the league of national royalty. Others view them as “arrogant usurpers” who have come from faraway lands to dominate.
The perception is almost the same everywhere in Nigeria, especially during any crisis or election period. The Igbo man bears the brunt of almost all the crises in Nigeria. His shop is either raided or burned down by hoodlums who were made to believe that a peaceful trader was their problem.
One good thing about an Igbo man is that he emerges from the ashes of his predicament a better and stronger individual. The events of the pre- and post-presidential elections, especially in Lagos, are an isolated case that has compelled one to ask once again: what is the place of Ndi Igbo in Lagos and even Nigeria?
Lagos, the former capital of Nigeria, is a cosmopolitan city and a rallying point for all ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. It had the dual status of a state under the federation and the capital of Nigeria. The state enjoyed double rations of the national cake. With this unique status, opportunities abound in Lagos as a result. This has propelled people from all walks of life, including Igbo people, to seek greener pastures in Eko. In fact, trade as a means of livelihood and survival was the major reason Igbos were found in Lagos and other parts of the country.
After the unfortunate civil war, Igbo people, like every human being took advantage of the status of Lagos and the Nigerian space to hustle like others to eke out a living. With sheer determination and discipline, many Igbos who left their homes with nothing have made tremendous success and are counted among men. Wherever an Igbo man finds himself, it becomes his second home. He invests without looking back and does everything at his disposal to improve his environment. They do business without rancour, marry, are honoured for their community and selfless services, and live peacefully with their host communities. The Igbo man sees the environment he finds himself in as his. He opens up rural communities, builds bridges, and, with altruism, gains the confidence of his host community.
Before independence, the role of Lagos as the centre of commerce and the value addition of the sea for transatlantic trade were already acknowledged. The leverage Lagos had in commerce turned into a regional concern when the North demanded that Lagos be under separate administration to safeguard it from becoming a Yoruba preserve. This was captured in a letter sent to the British Cabinet by Oliver Lyttleton, who was the Secretary of State for Colonies in 1953. Advising the British cabinet on what to do regarding Lagos, Lyttleton wrote: “The North, with their deep but already somewhat shaken trust in the British and distrust of their ‘brothers’ in the West and East, fear that greater autonomy now suggested for regions will lead to the West seceding when it suits them, especially as the West incorporates Lagos, at once the commercial and political capital and only effective outlet to the sea for the trade and commerce of the North… The North now insists on Lagos being a federal area under separate administration to safeguard it from becoming a Yoruba preserve and to make sure their access to the sea remains open…”
From the above, it could be deduced that both the Igbos and even the North see Lagos as a vehicle to promote their trade and not for politics, let alone dominance.
However, whenever it is election season, the false narrative of Igbos trying to take over Lagos or other cities where they reside resonates. Although a typical Igbo man invests more outside his home, he was aware even at age ten that he is a sojourner wherever he is. That is why no Igbo man is buried outside his ancestral land. Have you asked yourself why almost every Igbo man compulsorily travels home at the end of the year? The culture and ancestral bond have to be maintained.
The dangers of promoting ‘Igbophobia’ in Lagos are like an evil wind that does nobody any good. Societies grow and develop through their heterogeneity and accommodation of others. Those who clamour for the eviction of the Igbo man do not contribute as much as the Igbos do to the economies of Lagos and Nigeria. An average Igbo man nurtures his trade from nothing to something, but most of the big names in the Nigerian business ecosystem climbed up using political powers at their disposal at some point or rode on the shoulders of men in power to the top.
Those who malign the Igbo people do so to protect their political and economic interests, which they feel are threatened by the number of Igbos in Lagos and Nigeria. Nigerians deserve to know that the fear of a bulk vote from the larger population of Ndigbo against the status quo gives some politicians sleepless nights. The people of Lagos know who has held them hostage and want to buy the state whole. They are definitely not Ndigbo.
*Eze, a media and development communication specialist, wrote via [email protected]
Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of Vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.