Azuka-Onwuka

One statement that riles the Yoruba is that Lagos is a no man’s land, which comes mainly from the Igbo residents in the city. The impression that statement gives them is that Lagos is a land that nobody owns. They see it as an attempt to take away what belongs to them. According to Oxford Dictionaries, “no man’s land” means “disputed ground between the front lines or trenches of two opposing armies” or “a piece of unowned land or wasteland.”

But Lagos State is someone’s land. Without going into the history of Lagos, one knows that there are traditional institutions and rites in Lagos that only the “sons of the soil” can participate in. For example, Lagos communities have traditional rulers called baale or oba: only sons of the soil of the respective communities can aspire to such positions.

However, that is not the end of the story. Lagos is a unique state, especially given its status as a former federal capital of Nigeria cum seat of government for 77 years: January 1914 to November 1991. That status has given it a different feel from all other cities in Nigeria. It is not because it is by the sea: Calabar and Port Harcourt are also by the sea, but they are not like Lagos. Contrary to the fallacy spread by some people, Calabar was never the capital of Nigeria. Calabar once served as the seat of government of the Niger Coast Protectorate, Southern Protectorate and Oil River Protectorate. Similarly, neither Lokoja nor Zungeru was ever the capital of Nigeria. They were respectively the capital of the British protectorate of Northern Nigeria.

The boom that Abuja has experienced since 1991 when Gen. Ibrahim Babangida moved the seat of government from Lagos is a pointer to the effect the Federal Capital Territory status can have on a city. But even Abuja cannot compare with Lagos because it was purpose-built to be an FCT, and therefore has no space for industrial estates and markets in all nooks and crannies of the city like Lagos.

However, even those who call Lagos no man’s land don’t mean that Lagos does not indigenously belong to anybody. When you ask them what “no man’s land” means, you realise that what they mean is that Lagos is home to every Nigerian. It is a mini Nigeria. It is a place where all Nigerians feel they have a stake in because the funds of Nigeria helped in developing it, and its status as an FCT attracted more attention from Nigerians and foreigners than other states. Consequently, it is the most developed part of the nation.

Even though Enugu, Ibadan and Kaduna were the respective capitals of Eastern Region, Western Region, and Northern Region from the pre-Independence days until 1967, they cannot compare to Lagos in any sphere.

No doubt, as a city that is situated by the sea shore, Lagos has been developing from time immemorial. However, when it was made the capital of Nigeria, its development accelerated. The boost was such that even after the seat of government was relocated to Abuja, Lagos did not feel the impact much because the biggest companies and markets in Nigeria as well as infrastructure like bridges and roads had already been established, which had in turn made the state the most densely populated in the nation. These are not things you can relocate with the seat of government.

And more importantly, Lagos has not been known to be a place where religious or ethnic crises occur. There can be crisis from street urchins, or motor park touts, or street gangs, but people are not usually attacked based on their ethnicity or religion, except for the ill-informed actions of the O’odua People’s Congress against the Hausa community in 1999/2000.

Lagos State is in the South-West, and the South-West is the land of the Yoruba. Therefore, Lagos is Yoruba land. But it goes beyond that. Lagos derives its progress from its metropolitan and cosmopolitan nature. There are Nigerians who will tell you that beside their home state, they can only live in Abuja or Lagos, because of the FCT status, past and present. They don’t want to be in a place where they would feel like second-class citizens or people who are ever conscious of going against any local tradition.

However, there are two sets of people that don’t mean well for Lagos. One group is the Yoruba who feel that the non-Yoruba in Lagos, especially the Igbo, must owe the air they breathe to the Yoruba: they must not raise their head; they must not laugh loud; they must not criticise any government policy in Lagos; they must not vote for any candidate of their choice; they must not contest elections in Lagos. If they default on any of these, they are threatened with expulsion or violence.

The other group is the Igbo who tell the Yoruba that the Igbo developed Lagos, and that without the Igbo, Lagos would be a ghost town, and Lagosians would die of hunger. That is a silly statement to make. Although only a lover of falsehood would say that the Igbo have not contributed handsomely to the development of Lagos, yet Lagos has been developing at its own pace from time immemorial. If the Igbo did not settle in Lagos or invest in it, it would have continued to develop at its own pace. Lagos does not owe its success to the Igbo or any one ethnic group.

The excuse these two dangerous groups always give is that the other group started the ethnic baiting. But that is a lie. An ethnic supremacist is an ethnic supremacist. The same goes for an ethnic intolerant person or a bigot. Such people don’t need any provocation to unleash the venom in them. They only pray for an opportunity to present itself. Phrases like “you people” dot their speeches. Whenever a person speaks, they usually don’t attack the person’s speech: they swiftly malign the person’s ethnic group. It does not matter to them that the person does not speak on behalf of any ethnic group. Sometimes, they will be quick to tell you that they don’t hate the ethnic group they are bashing but “are simply speaking the truth.” They may even remind you that they have friends from that ethnic group or have family members who are married to people from that ethnic group.

These dangerous elements must not be allowed to destroy the peace and harmony in Lagos. There is a difference between “citizen” and “indigene”. Every Nigerian is a citizen in every part of Nigeria. But not every Nigerian is an indigene of wherever he or she resides. Every Nigerian can vote and be voted anywhere in Nigeria. That is what distinguishes a Nigerian from a Ghanaian who lives in Nigeria.

Nigerians feel happy any time they hear that a person with Nigerian ancestry has won a political position in Europe or North America, but some ethnic haters feel angry whenever they hear that a Nigerian has won an election in his or her state of residence. Their narrow argument is: “Can you allow that to happen in your state?” But comparing a state like Lagos – a former FCT — with another Nigerian state is baseless. Lagos can only somewhat be compared with Abuja, the FCT. If you want to compare states, compare Oyo with Enugu, Ogun with Anambra, Ekiti with Ebonyi, etc.

Secondly, when a people have a large population in a community, it becomes easier for them to win local elections there. That is why the Yoruba win local elections in the London Borough of Southwark, United Kingdom, where Peckam is located. If a large number of the Yoruba or Hausa or Ijaw settle in Nnewi or Aba, they can win elections there. It is only natural.

And when a “non-indigene” wins an election, such should not be seen as a threat or an affront. It is actually a blessing. Such cities where settlers participate in governance are always ahead in all developmental indices. They attract people. They attract investors. They continue to grow faster. That is why Lagos is miles ahead of other states. That is why Lagos is self-sustaining even though it has no oil. Human resource is the greatest resource on earth. Human beings gather where the conditions are good, where they are not continuously threatened or intimidated, where they are free to operate within the laws of the state and the nation.

Those who love Lagos and want its progress must not allow those who are short-sighted to disrupt the peace and progress of Lagos.

Eko o ni baje o!

Azuka Onwuka

PUNCH