Igbo in Lagos: Ire oma eju ji ga n’ogwu By Chido Nwakanma
Many are the fulminations arising from the unfortunate outburst of the respected Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu. This was an intemperate, in-your-face assault. Many Igbo and non-Igbos alike are up in arms. It is important however to note that this unfortunate outburst is illuminating and provides opportunity for stock taking and strategic realignment by all parties.
At the back of the Oba’s remarks is the growing realisation and fear of the possible power of the non-indigene demographic in Lagos. For most persons, “Omo Ibo” is a catch all for persons who are neither Hausa nor Yoruba in Lagos. It covers the Igbo, Ijaw, Efik and Ibibio, Idoma, Tiv, Itsekiri and Urhobo etc. There is also fear of the loss of a key state like
Lagos to the PDP as this would undermine the bargaining power of a key player in the unfolding power equation.
More importantly for the Igbo is the fact of resentment of their visibility and not subtle display of their gains in the city. The fact that no less a personage than the Oba of Lagos has given expression to this should be cause for introspection.
Some commentators have boasted about Igbo power, Igbo resilience and such like. No doubt, Ndigbo have shown ability to withstand tough conditions everywhere. But this misses the point. The point is about what political scientists discuss under the is and ought dichotomy. Many in the non-indigene community make assumptions and assertions that the hosts find offensive. It is time to change our vocabulary and manage perceptions better. Then work steadily with others to make progress in the desired direction.
Key learnings from the Oba’s outburst.
1. Lagos is not a no-man’s land. Clearly, the people of Lagos resent the notion that some describe their land as a no-man’s land, same way the aboriginal Onitsha N’ado resent the takeover of Onitsha by those from the hinterland. Lagos belongs to us all but some persons have right of first mention.
2. All Nigerians see Lagos as first or second home. The Igbo are no exception. Ndigbo are very visible in the Lagos mix because of the large numbers of their kin involved in open market activities.
3. Nigeria is not yet ripe for domicile as basis for citizenship. The ought would have someone like me born at the Lagos Island maternity in the 60s and having lived an eight of my life in Lagos, claiming citizenship. The reality (is) is that both constitutionally and by virtue of underlying political economics, we are not ready. Not enough persons of non-Igbo stock are represented in the general Igbo areas.
There is strong and growing Yoruba presence in Bayelsa, visible like the Igbo because of the nature of their trade in the transport business, but not enough to be a demographic factor of reckoning. Blame economics for it, but also blame the politics of allocation of resources and values. Domicile as basis for citizenship would favour a group not many in Nigeria are willing to grant any favours and would be lopsided given current demographic distribution of ethnicities so it will take a while to happen.
4. It is in the strategic interest of the dominant tendency in Yoruba land today to keep APC in power in Lagos. Both the dominant tendency and the contestant are willing to discuss terms to ensure representation of non-indigenes. This is where a meeting of minds should happen. Igbo have nothing to lose whoever is in power in Lagos. Both perspectives work. Victory of the dominant tendency is a desirable outcome. However, it makes sense also to effect change in Lagos as it happened at the federal level. It would make the citizen the centre of this democracy. The bottom line remains which party offers the best deal of an enabling environment?
5. Communication with the growing demographic represented by Ndigbo has been wrong headed and based on triumphalism. It has featured cajoling in the guise of communication.Unfortunately, it commenced with Igbo sympathisers of APC who could not sell their party to the Igbo. Indeed, so poor was their effort or lack of it that APC made no electoral promise to the Igbo nation worth remembering. When they lost woefully therein, as they ought, their sympathisers commenced a calumnious umbrage against the Igbo. The channel noise is so loud communication and thus persuasion is not happening. Unfortunately, the Oba has added to the resentment rather than the persuasion. APC should change its engagement strategy with Ndigbo.
6. Whatever our feelings about the Oba’s statement, Ndigbo must remain respectful of the Oba and the Obaship in Lagos, as is the tradition of the people. We should accept his rationalisation as akin to an apology, given traditions, and move on. Nothing is gained making him grovel. Nay.
The backlash against the Oba’s remarks have been strong and articulated well. Enough. Noise would do only so much for Ndigbo in the matter. We should bear in mind the story of the hawk and the chicks. When the hawk swooped on ducks and took its young, it returned to its abode. On enquiry by Mother Hawk, the Young Hawk said the Mother Duck said nothing but went its way quietly. Mother Hawk advised the young to return the loot. Contrarily, when it swooped on the hen and took its chick, the hen screamed and made loud noises. MotherHawk asked its young to go ahead and consume. What is our Plan B? Plan B does not require noise.
Ndigbo say ire oma ka eju ji a ga n’ogwu. This is the time to understand where we stand, appreciate the sensibilities of other demographic groups, and tread surefootedly but sensibly. Rather than the traditional “they hate us” response, we must now understand what it is that we need to do to remain good neighbours without losing momentum. There will be unprovoked attacks sometimes. The Jews in America are illustrative. They have soft power, but do not bother with seeking the Presidency. It may come someday, but in reality they have as much power as any demographic without titular power in that open manner.
What the Igbo need is space within which to unleash their enterprise and passion. Ubiquity has made the Igbo the favourite object of anger directed at the other. Nevertheless, rather than allow it degenerate into xenophobia, we should become the unity glue of Nigeria. We should work with every one, haters as well as admirers, to ensure that the unfortunate outburst of the Oba of Lagos turns into a positive rather than a negative for everyone in Lagos but more so for the demographic represented by the Igbo.
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