Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Inside the battle for Lagos

Lagos must not allow itself to be overrun by myopic men and women who do not believe in the ideals that made Lagos what it is.

• March 11, 2023
Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour and Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu
Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour and Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu

“I want one Nigeria, but a Nigeria where I will be a second-class citizen is not the Nigeria I want to live. We must all be first-class citizens regardless of where we come from. This is the time to lay the foundation for such co-existence. What is the purpose of being a Nigerian if I am not free in my country? But first, we must sit together to discuss the nature of the foundation. This is why we must have the SNC, where the mighty and the low will sit together to determine how to share the cake. I care not where the president comes from if I can be treated with equality and all the good things of life are made available to me.”

– Chief A. Adesanya, Afenifere Leader Third Annual Odunaike Memorial Lecture

From 1945 to January 15, 1966, hot lava of hatred boiled under the grounds of Northern Nigeria. All over cities like Kano, Kaduna, Jos, and Zaria, a battle was wedged against non-indigenes residing in these cities. The most pronounced and targeted of these non-indigenes were the Igbos. Regularly, politicians, thugs, and civil servants made inflammatory statements that contributed to the growing despise of non-indigenes. As this went on, well-meaning Northerners did not raise their voices in protest.

They allowed such despicable remarks to stand unchallenged. In the heart of some ordinary Northerners, the venom gradually turned into hatred. The hatred boiled on and on. In every little fracas between Igbos and indigenes, the hatred manifested itself in the form of riots in which lives and properties were destroyed. Each circle of violence ended without punishment, no apology, or compensation for lost lives and properties. No doubt, it became a recurring part of life in most parts of Northern Nigeria. Each small riot was a prelude to the bigger pogrom that was to come. Unfortunately, the targeted Igbos and the silent well-meaning Northerners missed the sign.

On May 14, 1953, Mallam Inua Wade, then Secretary of the Northern Peoples’ Congress, convened a meeting of the Northern Nigeria Native Administration (NA) in which he boasted that NA had mobilized 1,000 men who would be ready to meet force with force in a planned strike. On Saturday, May 16, 1953, over 200 Easterners were killed in a riot that followed. A report by the committee set up by the British Administration indicted the NA for its role in planning the 1953 massacre. 

The report warned, “No amount of provocation, short-term or long-term, can in any way justify their behavior….” It went on to alert that “The seed of the trouble which broke out in Kano on May 16, 1953, have their counterparts still in the ground. It could happen again, and only a realization and acceptance of the underlying causes can remove the danger of recurrence.”

In March of 1964, Mallam Bashari Umaru, a member of the Northern House of Assembly, stood on the floor of the House and asked the Minister of Land and Survey to revoke all Certificates of Occupancy forthwith from the hands of the Igbos resident in the region. He was applauded. Mr. Megida Lawant, another member of the House, reinforced Umaru’s statements by reminding members of the House that “…it is quite a long time that we in our part of this region have known the Igbos, and I do not think that at the moment there is any Igbo man owning a roof in Igbirra Division… I am appealing to the Minister to make life more difficult for them….” 

It was, however, Alhaji Usman Liman, another member of the House, who expressed poignantly the underlying sentiments of the then Northern Nigeria. He said, “Had it not been for the Colonial Rule, there would hardly have been any Igbo in this region. Now that there is no Colonial Rule, the Igbos should go back to their region. There should be no hesitation about this matter. Mr. Chairman, North is for Northerners, East is for Easterners, West is for Westerners and the Federation is for all.”

In their responses, the Minister for Establishment and Training, Alhaji Mustafa Ismala Zanna Dujuna, assured the House members that the Northern government would continue to implement the policy of Northerners first, Expatriates second and Non-Northerners third until it developed the manpower needed to ensure that all employment positions in the North are occupied by Northerners. 

His counterpart in the Ministry of Land and Survey, Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gashash, O.B.E., said the following to the House: “… Having heard your demands about Igbos holding land in Northern Nigeria, my ministry will do all it can to see that the demands of members are met. How to do this, when to do this, all this should not be disclosed. In due course, you will all see what will happen.”

On January 15, 1966, those Northerners searching for a reason to carry out a large-scale elimination of Easterners in the North finally found it in the coup some young Nigerian soldiers planned. In their eagerness to accomplish the long desires of their hearts, they rested on the fact that most of the coup’s leaders were of Igbo extraction and most of the people they killed were non-Igbos. 

So they launched the massacre that had always been in their hearts. The day after the coup, as the news of the deaths became clearer, those elements in the North stood on the resentment they had built over the years and inflamed the feelings of the masses of Northern Nigeria. What followed was the genocide and, then, the war.

It would therefore be correct to say that the battle for the cities of Northern Nigeria led to the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 – 1970. Will the battle for Lagos lead to the second and final Civil War? In the heat of another madness, like the one that happened on January 15, 1966, will some Yorubas be able to precipitate the kind of genocide carried out by some Northern Nigerians in the 60s? Rational minds can dismiss such possibilities now, but as the seed of intolerance gets watered, what will it grow into?

Since May 1999, hot lava of hatred has been boiling under the grounds of Lagos. The battle against non-indigenes has manifested in the clash between Hausas and Area Boys/OPC in Ketu and Ijaws and Area Boys/OPC in Ajegunle. Mr L. O. T. Adamson of The Eko Pioneers recently brought to the mainstream the anger fueling these crises. In a letter to the editor titled “No Vacancy For Igbos in Lagos Politics,” published in the Guardian on March 25, 2002, Mr Adamson opened a debate on the place of non-indigenes in Lagos. 

Since then, a lot of commentators have joined issues with him. Just the other day, the leader of the militant faction of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Mr Ganiyu Adams, amplified those sentiments. Mr Adams found the idea of a non-Yoruba resident of Lagos State aspiring for certain political offices in Lagos worrisome. He then warned that OPC would not close its eyes and allow another tribe to infiltrate Yorubaland. “We know who owns Lagos….”, Adams said, “Igbos in Lagos can aspire to be councillors or members of the House of Representatives but not governor or deputy governor just as Yorubas cannot aspire to be governor or deputy governor in Abia or Imo State.”

Well-meaning Yorubas have maintained a suspicious silence as this intolerance for non-indigenes builds up. It is either that they are tactically in support of such views or that they are afraid of backlash if they challenge them. I expect someone like Gani Fawehinimi to expose the folly in these arguments and prevent the continuous poisoning of the political environment of Lagos. 

Gani, who was asked to return to Ondo by “disgruntled elements” like Ganiyu Adams as he sought the truth in Tinubu’s certificate lies, should jump in and set the record straight on what citizenship is in a participatory democracy. As for Tinubu, he ought to immediately denounce rhetoric like those of Ganiyu Adams and come out to welcome any resident of Lagos to join him in the race. 

He ought to seize the opportunity to advertise Lagos as a city that sets the standard on diversity for the rest of the nation—expecting that from Tinubu may be expecting too much. But there is no doubt that Western Nigeria is full of people of goodwill who are not afraid to dare miscreants in OPC with the truth. Failure to do so amounts to setting Lagos up for deep crises that could potentially destroy the city. As these inflammatory views are repeated in the open and the dark, it poisons the people’s minds, leading to abhorring of non-indigenes. And when they find the flimsiest excuses, they will follow the path of some Northerners in the 60s.

Lagos is the most important component of the Nigerian experiment. If Lagos fails, the whole Nigerian experiment is as good as a failure. If some Yorubas like Ganiyu Adams are not ready to allow Lagos to work, if they are not willing to stay out of the way and allow Lagos to show the way to the rest of Nigeria, they should come out openly and declare their intention to opt out of the Nigerian experiment.

But as long as there is Nigeria and we are all participating in that experiment, Lagos must be called upon to show an example. It must be remembered that Nigeria began to fumble when Lagos fumbled in the 50s. For this current political dispensation to work, Lagos must live above board. I expect Lagos to vote the Chicago State University CPA out of the office and vote in a transparent governor who does not necessarily have to be an AD member and, if need be, a non-Yoruba as Deputy. After all, an Ijaw or Igbo or Hausa man or woman would have contributed more to the lives of Lagosians than Mrs. Bucknor – Akerele did in the last three years. That way, Lagos will show its maturity and leadership role in Nigeria. Those who are too petty and narrow-minded should stay out of the way of Lagos as it fulfils its mission.

Henry Ford said that “History is more or less bunker. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.” I come from a school of thought that believes Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that the dream of our future should be our driving force rather than the history of our past. 

When we stop dreaming, we become slaves to our past, which we can never recapture, no matter how much we try. Lagos of today is different from Lagos of 1702. And Lagos of 2202 will be different from Lagos of today. There is nothing that the likes of Ganiyu Adams can do to stop such changes. The frustration of his OPC at the Ilorin situation is a good example. 

We live in a dynamic world where our destiny is in our hands to make or mar. If we want participatory democracy, we should strive to make it work. But if we do not aspire for such, we should state so openly. We cannot eat our cake and have it. If Lagos, with its millions of non-indigenes, cannot vote a non-indigene as Governor or Deputy Governor, what hope does one have that Abia would?

As for the Igbos, the battle for Lagos reminds them of the horrors of the past. It also raises the question of their best approach to surviving in Nigeria. The debate has ensued about whether Igbo interests are better served by having them look inwards than outwards. It has become obvious that disengagement from one part of Nigeria as a solution to the deteriorating security of lives and properties will only mean disengagement from every part of Nigeria. As the cloud gathers, Igbos will be better served if they insist on a National Conference where their place in Nigeria will not only be negotiated and secured but also guaranteed.

Lagos is a city where many people have given so much for centuries. Besides the original indigenes, the Awori, there were the Creoles, formerly enslaved people who returned to the territory from Freetown, Sierra Leone, Brazil, and the West Indies, and millions of people from every part of Nigeria who trooped into Lagos because it became the capital of amalgamated Nigeria in 1914. 

For a city like Lagos, that much has been given; much is expected. Lagos must not allow itself to be overrun by myopic men and women who do not believe in the ideals that made Lagos what it is. Men of goodwill must stand up and challenge the unprogressive. It will be a tragedy if the visionless ones win this battle. Then, the tragedy of Lagos will be the tragedy of us all.

I began this piece with a recent quote by Adesanya. The real question is will he tell Ganiyu Adams to extend such sentiment to other Nigerians? Will he tell Ganiyu Adams that Igbos who live in Lagos do not want to be second-class citizens?

(This piece was first published on June 25, 2002. It has been edited for clarity)

Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo teaches Post-Colonial African History at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is also the host of Dr. Damages Show. His books include “This American Life Sef” and “Children of a Retired God,” among others.

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