Hate: Not in the character of Lagosians, By Wole Olaoye

Social media have their good and bad sides. If you close your eyes to avoid seeing the bad sides, chances are that your eyes will still be shut when the good sides pass you by. In the wake of the tragic loss of lives in the unfortunate accident where a train crushed a staff bus in Lagos, the Lagos State government appealed to the public for blood donation to save the lives of the injured. 

One thoughtful netizen made the following poignant observation: “The government is calling for blood donors. However, they didn’t specify if it is Igbo, Yoruba, Edo or Hausa blood that they need. They also didn’t say if the donors should be  Christians, Muslims or traditional worshippers…”

What a great way to remind ourselves that the same blood flows through our veins and that we are more alike than different. In times of danger or collective deprivation, we would discover that we need each other.

I received quite a number of reactions to my last piece in which I addressed the simmering campaign against Igbos in Lagos. I am delighted that none of the feedback justified tribal war. Everyone agrees that Lagos is better when we all work together and that we should not be caught sowing seeds of hate in the younger generation if we want to have peace in future.

I have chosen to highlight the differing perspectives of some participant-observers because I believe that it is in the unfettered ventilation of conflicting ideas and perceptions that understanding and amity can be wrought.

First, a couple of notes on the persona of the typical Lagosian.  Pedigree matters in Lagos. The more illustrious the family, the more jealously guarded the name. Even then, the aborigine of Lagos, is expansive, accommodating, easy-going and self-contented. One can still experience the easy-going nature of the average Lagosian on the Island where, believe it or not, everyone used to know everyone else. Unearned wealth is held in derision, but each person is free to choose his own path. This live-and-let-live disposition of the Lagosian percolates into the worldview of anyone born in the city even if that person’s roots are elsewhere.

Young Nnamdi Azikiwe lived on Bamgbose Street on Lagos Island before enrolling at the Methodist Boys’ High School. He spoke fluent Yoruba. He embraced the way of life of his hosts. In later years, they rewarded him with a cult following and political muscle. He may not have wifed in Lagos but there were stories that every nubile damsel wanted a piece of the handsome political orator. 

What applied to the great Zik was also apposite for people who emigrated from other parts of Nigeria to Lagos. As long as you embraced the culture and did not set yourself apart from your hosts, Lagos was home. The Agege area was an interstate transport terminus where articulated lorries from the North had their park. Today, some parts of Agege look like northern towns and there are families there who can trace their Lagos story to a century and more.

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One of my readers, Sunkanmi, a Lagos native, says he has nothing against Igbos as a group but what riles him is the claim by some later day immigrants to Lagos that the city is a “No man’s land”. He singles out those he calls “night bus arrivals” who came in droves into the city within the last decade and have not bothered to even understand the culture of their new environment before making wild claims. 

Sunkanmi makes a distinction between Igbos born in Lagos or who have lived the better part of their lives in Lagos, and the relatively fresh arrivals. While the former have imbibed the culture and are accepted by their hosts, the latter stand out like a pimple on the nose due to their brashness and triumphalist vituperations. “We don’t make such taunts in Lagos. Jeje l’omo Eko nlo. But if you have no respect for us, you will have problems”, he says. He recalled that in his younger days, some of his Igbo friends born in Lagos joined him in participating in the Eyo and Egungun festivals. 

He draws attention to the well known Oshodi family of Lagos who were originally from Nupeland. Today, the Oshodis are a famous Lagos family with areas/districts named after them on both the Island and the Mainland. In addition, Sunkanmi points to districts within the larger metropolis whose names hint at the origins of their early settlers: Abule-Ijesha, Abule-Egba, Ijeshatedo, Abule Coker. 

He says Lagos had always offered political platforms to people originally from other parts of Yorubaland, citing the famous example of Chief Bode Thomas who was the Balogun of Oyo and a political giant in Lagos.

According to Sunkanmi, perhaps some of the traders whose brashness grate the sensibilities of Lagosians came to Lagos from ‘autonomous communities’ in the East and therefore think that any location in Lagos where Igbo people can be found in appreciable numbers, is an extension of Igbo land. The fallacy of that delusion, he argues, is comparable to a situation where Yoruba people in Peckham or Brixton in the UK think and say that their area is an extension of Ilesha or Abeokuta and that Charles is not their king. 

That is Sunkanmi’s side of the coin. 

The other side is represented by another of my readers, Apollonius, who is of the view that most of the rhetoric directed against Igbo people in Lagos is borne out of envy. He complains that the area boys and sundry hoodlums routinely terrorise Igbo traders out of jealousy that the traders are prospering while the hoodlums are stuck in their poverty. He argues that it is not the fault of the traders that the area boys are poor. They should go and ask their political leaders how the revenue accruing to their local government is expended instead of harassing hard working residents.

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The most worrisome thing, said Apollonius, is that, in political matters, it is almost as if the ruling party in Lagos expect the Igbo traders to apologise for being Igbo. The strategy of containment by intimidation has further alienated Igbos from the ruling party and the last minute effort to do anything to get Igbo votes will fail because Igbos are not fools to be blackmailed to go against their conscience.

Apollonius argues that although he doesn’t have the mandate of Igbos resident in Lagos to speak on their behalf, he is sure that no true Igbo person would disrespect the Yoruba culture of Lagos. He describes the alleged claim of “no man’s land” as “harmless bragging’.

Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe recently addressed the issue of the long standing relations between Igbos and Lagos in an essay titled, “Igbos In Lagos State: My Experience”. He has a very positive attitude to the issue.

Writes Ogunlewe: “The institutional development of Lagos – the railways, the ports and shipyards; the education and research facilities; the Banking and Commodities Exchange, the development of towns like Yaba, Surulere, Ebutte-Metta, Festac Town, Victoria Island, and now increasing the Ajah-Lekki axis, and of course, the ghettoes along the Orile-Badagry axis, have profound Igbo imprimatur.  The circulation of the image of Lagos is to date best reflected in the cosmopolitan Igbo imagination of one of the greatest African writers of the 20th century, Cyprian Ekwensi, a thorough Lagosian if there was any… Interestingly, I was born at plot number 8, Okoya Street , Idumagbo- Lagos, while the Ojukwu families were residing at number one to three on the same street. I grew up to know the father of Odumegwu Ojukwu. Chibeze and Azuka grew up with us on the same street …”

Regrettably, just the other day, an auto spare parts market in Akere, Ajegunle, was torched. There was also an attempt to lock Igbo traders out of their shops in Ojodu. Threats of violence are also being issued through social media. A group that describes itself as Concerned Igbo Stakeholders issued a statement in which it said inter alia:

“We want to assure the Yorubas that Igbos are not greedy as to plot to take over Lagos as some miscreants and hoodlums intent on causing crisis, are saying. We want Yorubas to know that those provocative statements and boasts are not by true Igbos. That such expressions of ingratitude are made to drive wedges between the harmonious understanding Igbos enjoy with Yorubas in Lagos for over a century now. We want to assure Yorubas that Igbos are very much committed to this beneficial relationship and would do nothing to harm it…”

If, after all these efforts, the senseless targeting of Igbo businesses continues, hold the Nigerian government responsible for crass tolerance of domestic terrorism.

Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached on [email protected], Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021

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