Attacks on Igbos in Lagos and the needless talk about Lagos as “No Man’s Land”.
By Professor Steve Nwokeocha
At the 2016 Convention of the US Democratic Party, the then America’s First Lady, Michelle Obama, charged Democrats with these timeless words: “When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, ‘When they go low, we go high.’” These same words apply in the aftermath of the attacks on Igbos in some parts of Lagos during the national elections of 9th March, 2019. They were attacked for their perceived support for a particular party. The attacks have since been condemned by many Yorubas and other Nigerians as well as the international community. A similar ugly scenario played out before the 2015 general elections when the most revered Oba of Lagos made his well-known threat of ensuring that Igbos who failed to vote for his preferred candidate were swallowed up by the Lagos lagoon. I understand that the Oba made the statement during a courtesy call on him by the Igbo leadership in Lagos. A courtesy call was to give honour to the Oba and not a visit to inform him that the Igbos were in any contestation about who became the Governor of Lagos state. Of course, the Oba’s statement was equally condemned by many Yorubas, Nigerians and the international community. Soon, another election will come in 2023; what shall be the fate of Nigeria, especially as the presidential contest will move to the South? Nigeria is indeed getting scary for many of us! I am genuinely concerned on behalf of millions of non-partisan Nigerians who have been silent but helplessly watching the Nigeria of our dreams hit the rocks.
I would not have bothered to speak on this delicate matter if not for the bad blood and kind of gutter-level hate speeches making the rounds in the social media and the pain these acts generate each time in the hearts of innocent Nigerians. It is sickening to see the social media filled with dirty, absolutely false and malicious hate speeches, one ethnic group in Nigeria against another. Some Yorubas, despite the caution by their wise and peace-loving brothers and sisters, had freely hauled hate speeches against the Igbos, heaping more salt upon the psychological injury caused by the attacks of the last elections. For instance, no less a distinguished person than Senator Oluremi Tinubu, wife of the revered national leader, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, herself originally from South-South (Delta state) had cause to declare that “they no longer trust the Igbos”. However, one of the most offensive was a video of a Yoruba fellow, who sent out a threat that he and his cohorts would slaughter the Igbos as soon as the opportunity occurs. According to him, Igbos are responsible for all crimes in Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Singapore, Malaysia, China; you just name it. Another respected editor of a national newspaper, Femi Kusa, in a viral message sent out globally, called the Igbos “modern jihadists.” He wrote unprintable fallacies against the Igbos that are too indecent to reproduce here. He went to the extent of recalling a sixty-year old claim, which according to him was made by the late Hon. Ahmadu Bello (peace be upon him), that the Igbos were not welcome to the North because they would dominate the North. But the most disturbing was his wish to describe Igbos as modern jihadists. Whatever he meant by that was not taken lightly by the Igbos!
Is it true that crimes all over Nigeria and the world are perpetrated by Igbos alone? Ironically, South Africa is like my second home; and here in South Africa, a Nigerian is being tried in court and the proceedings are broadcast live by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). The Nigerian is one “Pastor” Timothy Oluseun Omotoso, the overseer of Jesus Dominion International Church, Durban, South Africa. He is being tried at the High Court of Port Elizabeth for abducting young South African girls, locking them up in his church and using them as sex slaves. One of the victims, a teenager, is testifying on live television, giving vivid description of how Pastor Omotosha violated her and abused her. Tension in rising in South Africa and Nigerians are panicking, and fleeing for safety. It is important to let the guy ranting about Igbo criminality to know that the next xenophobic attack against Nigerians in South Africa might come from the crimes of Pastor Omotosho and not an Igbo drug dealer or 419-er. This goes on to buttress the futility and falsity of hate messages. Fact is that crime knows no ethnic or religious boundaries and there is no need for any ethnic group in Nigeria to disparage the other. Obviously, hate messages is not part of the Nigerian dream and it is doing a lot of damage to our national psyche. It is downright loathsome that Nigerians can no longer say nice things about one another, rather only evil thoughts and fabrications are circulated, while the good deeds are interred with the bones, according to Shakespeare. We know that when fabrications are circulated a million times without refutation, they begin to assume a semblance of reality or absolute truth.
In reaction to this onslaught some of Igbos have equally taken up the challenge to speak both sense as well as uncouth language against the Yorubas. This is why I had to write to give a piece of advice to the Igbos: Do not deride the Yorubas; do not join the bandwagon of hate speeches! They are not enemies; they are your brothers and friends; they are your fellow citizens! When any individual chooses to go low, remember to go high. Indeed, a crisis of this nature is usually engineered by a vocal minority and if it is not handled properly, the innocent and unsuspecting majority may unwittingly be helping them to achieve their goals. BUT you are entitled to FAIR HEARING. That is your inalienable right. In responding, only demonstrate the intelligence that nature has endowed you with, not emotionalism or hate speech. That way, you will retain the goodwill of all peoples including many Yorubas who have nothing against Igbos, and many of who are even bound to the Igbos by marriage and age-long friendship and association.
At this point may I mention a few examples of the unhelpful and helpful premises of self-defence by the Igbos. The illustrations I will give are in direct reference to the kind of defence by Igbos that I have equally read in the social media. I need not mention names.
One, the argument that Lagos is “No Man’s Land” is one unhelpful, invalid principle of defence against the attacks on the Igbo in Lagos. No Igbo has gone to Lagos with the mind that Lagos is or will ever be an “Igbo land”. Whatever an Igbo man owns in Lagos, he worked for it! If he owns a landed property, he must have purchased (PAID) for it, and got a power of attorney/certificate of occupancy. Therefore, the claim and justification that Lagos is a no-man’s land is a misnomer. It does not add to or take away whatever an Igbo man or woman can be in Lagos. Rather, it only instigates more hatred against the Igbo. That argument should end! Let those justifying it stop. Lagos is a Yoruba land and nothing can change that.
Two, the idea of ethnic or racial supremacy is another wrong premise. Everywhere in the world, supremacists are enemies of human civilization. For instance, there are White supremacists who claim that Whites are the superior human race and others are inferior or better still, others are no more than animals. One of such supremacists just murdered some innocent Muslims in cold blood in New Zealand. Hitler was also a supremacist and we know his place in history. Igbos do not and should not claim to be supremacists in any sense by saying that Nigeria or its economy will become extinct without Igbos! Such claims are outrageous to other Nigerians; they are supremacist claims and therefore unhelpful. Igbos are ingenious and their resilience and unassailable successes are acknowledged worldwide. They should manage this natural blessing with tact and not boast in the way of the “supremacists.”
There are at least two premises that legitimize the existence of Igbos in Lagos or anywhere in Nigeria. These are the concepts of “nationhood” and “cosmopolitanism” and I will briefly explain each.
Nationhood: Igbos were PULLED to Lagos over the past century because consciously the colonial and later, the national governments used Lagos as CAPITAL. Every citizen has an inalienable right to live in peace and carry out legitimate business in his or her nation’s capital. Along the line, the capital of Nigeria has been moved to Abuja and the process of pulling the Igbos to Abuja has repeated itself. Already, a social media audio message credited to a Governor from the North East was deriding the Igbos, asking why they could ever aspire to become the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory. Therefore, it will not be surprising that soon the Igbos may be pushed again to also declare Abuja to be a “No Man’s Land” and the hate will continue to rise. No, Abuja is not a “No Man’s Land”. We don’t need such argument; it is unhelpful. It cannot add to or remove the properties that Igbos have in Abuja. What is helpful and for which the world shall stand with the Igbos is that Lagos and Abuja were/are the nation’s capital. Igbos and any other ethnic group for that matter have inalienable right to live in peace and aspire, under a free and fair democratic process, to hold whatever position the populace may entrust upon them. On this, there is ‘no retreat, no surrender’ because it agrees with the universal principles of justice.
Cosmopolitanism: All mega cities in the rank of Lagos, and even others which are less urbane by far, have by reason of being urbane become ‘home’ to people of all ethnic, racial, religious, economic and other social backgrounds. This is why London, Paris, New York, Berlin, and dozens of cities around the world have immigrants in their democratic and governmental systems. For instance, Blacks have emerged in the Parliaments of many American and European nations. The most interesting is that a Muslim immigrant from Pakistan became the Mayor of London. Barack Obama became the President of America. Millions of Yorubas, Igbos, Hausa, Kanuris, Efiks, and other Nigerians have become citizens of countries around the world by merely living there for a few years. They vote during elections of those countries and many of them have also contested political offices. Why then should any Nigerian molest another for holding political opinions or affiliations?
The above advisory to the Igbos is critical in order to promote peace in Nigeria and work in tandem with all Nigerians of goodwill as well as the international community. I need to be clear on this: I preach inter-ethnic harmony and I do not agree with much of the myths perpetrated over the centuries by each ethnic group against the other. I see no “differences” between the Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Efik, Tiv and so forth. The differences and tensions that we experience in Nigeria are the creations of the vocal minority who are in perpetual struggle to control the powers and resources in the land. They are the real enemies of the people. With constructive engagements across the land, they can be defeated.
Steve Nwokeocha is a world-renowned scholar, sociologist, educator, administrator, consultant to several world bodies, author of many books and scholarly papers, formerly Director in the Nigerian Federal Service and currently Executive Director of the Intergovernmental Federation that regulates teaching in Africa.
Pix: Nigeria’s Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo