The essay titled Okota: The Igbo Question, Jimi Agbaje, Afenifere And The Rest Of Us written by Femi Kusa, highly respected in print journalism, raised dust in the social media circuit. The essay was a response to growing tensions between Yorubas and Igbos due to the invasion of thugs of Yoruba stock on Igbo dominated Lagos suburb of Okota during the recent presidential elections.
The thugs attacked and vandalized polling booths, disrupted the election process, seized ballot boxes and burnt thumb printed ballot papers in broad daylight. The next day, the same thugs threatened and prevented Igbo traders from their shops and businesses in Lagos. Why?
The Igbos predominantly support Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate. Whereas Yorubas largely support Muhammadu Buhari, APC presidential flag bearer. In a bizarre twist of democratic tenets, the dominant and aborigine Yoruba insist that the Igbos must subject their voting preference to align with theirs. That is to vote for Buhari against Atiku or face dire consequences.
A strange argument to justify this demand is that Igbos are “strangers” who must respect and not vote against their Yoruba “hosts”. Absolutely obtuse. No logic can rationalize this autocratic imposition of voting preference on any Nigerian citizen in any part of this country.
Kusa condemned the thugs invasion and violent disruption of the voting process in Okota. He however drew attention to a deeper strain of tribal angst by the Yoruba against the Igbos in Lagos over ownership of Lagos? He alleged that Igbos say they own Lagos or call Lagos “no man’s land” to the chagrin of Yoruba, his tribe and calls on the Igbos to stop the claims. In his view all lands in Lagos are Yoruba owned.
The core object of Kusa’s essay is summed up in this quote: “Igbos should stop saying they own Lagos or that Lagos is a ‘no man’s land’ only a bastard Yoruba man will not feel affronted by such statements. And in spiritual terms, the man or women who cannot defend his land is not fit to live.” Very strong words. I am not quite sure if by this statement Kusa sought to justify by sleight of words, the thuggery he had condemned. Or to warn Igbos of worse repercussions to come if they do not yield to the whims and caprices of the tribal overlordship of the Yoruba in Lagos.
But I disagree with Kusa. And vehemently too. His position is untenable particularly in a democratic, civil, peculiar modern mega city like Lagos. Before I say why, permit me a brief preamble. Today, a tidal wave of nationalism is sweeping across the West even America, washing ashore debris of hatred and bloodlust against immigrants. Nationalism is mere cover for the virulent strain of hatred or feeling of superiority over other races. A euphemism for racism. Racism is evil.
So too is tribalism evil. Tribalism is defined as the state of being organized by, or advocating for, tribes or tribal lifestyles. This ordinarily is not evil. But when pushed to hate and take advantage over other tribes, it triggers fear, uncertainty and violence. Tribalism like racism wears a coat of terror. It is exploitation of tribal sentiments for personal aggrandizement.
In Nigeria, tribalism is often stoked by the politician to win elections, dominate power and resources. The politician conjures or latches on primordial sentiments of tribal superiority or perception of being cheated or marginalized by other tribes and uses it as a political tool to win elections. The yokels who serve as his foot soldiers of tribalism are mere expendables in the selfish but murderous and destructive war of attrition that tribalism generates.
Tribalism and racism are the antithesis of humaneness. A danger to humanity. They negate the Christian ethic to love your neighbour as yourself. Driven by greed, they stoke hate and destruction. Hitler’s Holocaust, Rwanda’s genocide and Nigeria’s civil war are few examples in history. The produce? Millions and thousands of humans get massacred in rivers of blood.
That said, I return to Mr Kusa. I disagree with his views. True it is that aborigines of Lagos are Yoruba. But is being aborigines equate Yoruba ownership of all lands of modern Lagos? I think not. Just as I disagree with the notion that Lagos is no man’s land or Igbos own all of Lagos. Every inch of the land is owned. Indeed most virgin lands and a great swathe of built up lands in Lagos belong to the Yoruba. Just as well, a significant amount of lands in the city state belong to non indigenes who bought from the Yoruba and are bonafide owners of their lands. No land in Lagos is no man’s land. There is another unique reason
Secondly, Lagos city is particularly peculiar from other towns or cities in Nigeria. It was the seat of power, political and economic capital of Nigeria for 77 years, almost eight decades, from 1914 to 1991 when the capital moved to Abuja. The nation poured national resources into building Lagos as a befitting capital city. In poured government offices, workers, businesses, corporate bodies and all in search of opportunities the federal capital territory offered. This was more so with sea ports concentrated in Lagos while ports in Warri, Sapele, Koko, Port Harcourt were left to rot. This flux of citizens built up Lagos into the wealthy, multi rainbow populated mega city it is today.
Safe in the fact that Lagos is the federal capital territory, citizens from across the country, settled in and invested heavily in the city. For decades, they worked, took business risks, paid their taxes, bought lands, built properties, had generations of children for whom Lagos is home. They speak and live Yoruba. Lagos is like no other town or city anywhere else in Nigeria. Not even in the entire south west region. Not even the large city of Ibadan. Eko is peculiar. It is the city of all citizens and welcomes all, like all communities in Nigeria ought be. It is the ultimate precursor of the future where every citizen is welcome and can live in any community, anywhere in Nigeria and not be labeled a stranger or foreigner but an integral part of the community cultural backcloth.
But in more recent times there has been an unsettling upsurge of tribalism and aboriginal sentiments. Why? It cannot be because of the unfounded if silly assertion that Lagos is no man’s land. If you follow the politics, money and power, the why becomes apparent. It is politics. It is about ruthless politicians who stir up dirty dusts of tribalism to intimidate, to win elections, to hold tenaciously to power and lucre for self. For the politician, tribalism is the easy and ready machinery for driving the hoi pollio into frothing frenzy of rage against targeted innocents.
The politician is ruthless. He cares not a jot of the hatred, destruction and blood gore his call to tribalism generates. The Jagaban Ahmed Tinubu is Yoruba and the most powerful politician in the city. He is easily the suspect sponsor of the criminal thug attacks on polling booths in Igbo neighborhoods, close down of Igbo shops and upsurge in tribal sentiments. Femi Kusa and his ilk knowingly or naively, with their tirade of tribalism, pour fuel into a potential criminal and bloody civil unrest.
This intimidation of the Igbos on election day has absolutely everything to do with APC Yoruba political chieftains forcing Igbo citizens to vote APC. It is not about Yoruba versus Igbo. It is about the fear of losing Lagos to the opposition PDP. A loss that will cut a deep dent in Tinubu’s image as the impregnable strong man of Lagos politics and the APC and signpost the end to his stranglehold of the city.
There was indeed no reason for Femi Kusa to interject the “Lagos is no man’s land” matter into a purely criminal political enterprise to disenfranchise Igbo voters of their constitutional right to vote and be voted for freely. Kusa’s attempt to justify the use of thugs to unleash violence and force citizens into voting according to the whim of a political oligarch, an attempt at citizens enslavement is shameful. To seek to justify this criminality on whatever basis of tribalism is crude meanness.
You live and do business in peace with your neighbours. But elections come and you insist your neighbour is not entitled to run for elective office or to vote for a candidate different from yours. He must vote in line with your interest because of aboriginal claims. If they resist, you label them strangers, cut them from their shops and businesses, threaten them with genocide and put the entire city under the gripping fear of intense uncertainty. It is an absolute violation of decency.
The only reason why this flagrant rape on rights happen is that perpetrators and political oligarchs who sponsor them are ultra confident they and their thugs dare not be arrested, prosecuted and thrown into prison. This reckless impunity explain why Nigeria remains a mere “geographical expression”. It reflects our inability to coalesce into nationhood, to build core values that define the Nigerian citizen. The resort to primordial ethnic and tribal identity is the huge fortress set against national patriotism.
The National Youth Service Corp was one attempt to forge a national identity and brotherly love between youths of different cultures and tribes. But the consistent recourse to tribal divisiveness and violence unleashed even on corpers by politicians, particularly in the north has made the NYSC useless. The national identity is DOA (Dead on Arrival) with corpers slaughtered in parts of country by culprits who are free as birds.
It is easier for a Yoruba or an Igbo to be elected into political office in Britain and America than as citizens outside their tribal areas in their home country, Nigeria. The recent attacks on Igbos proves the point, to get elected as a non Yoruba even in a mega city like Lagos that was capital for 77 years is a mirage. Politicians have driven the tribalism virus in the people, so that tribalism is more important than talent, character and capacity. Why is this so?
Though the evil of racism remains an issue in America, its legal backbone, the US constitution and its laws, ensures that the legal system and courts uphold the American core values – its culture and focus on the individual rather than the tribe or race, individual’s right to equal opportunities, liberty and democratic freedoms. One may attribute this to America being a nation of immigrants. But lessons to learn from their democratic experience: where the law upholds the core values and rights of the individual and refuses to inculcate racists views of say the KKK, a political system can rise above racism and tribalism.
This ought be the essence of our social contract, the constitution. Sadly our constitution is no more than a piece of paper blown by diverse winds, devoid of the cohesive spirit of core values. Laws that ought protect individuals is snorted at in derision by men who overfed with illicit power and wealth, resort not to the law but impunity and violence. Men never brought to book because human life is not sacred here and because citizen’s rights can be trampled at a whim. What we have is a culture of brutish rascality.
Nigeria is easily Dante’s Inferno. A journey through hell. The massacre of thousands of innocents on grounds of tribalism or religious loathing happens means nothing. The murderous killers paid to execute the bloody sprees and their sponsors go scot free. The state and police merely pile up body counts and record rapidly growing statistics of the murdered.
Until we define our core values as a country, the powerful among us will continue to use the tribe as a weapon for self aggrandizement, no matter the scale of bloodletting and destruction. Until the individual’s rights to equal opportunities anywhere in the country is guaranteed and is of greater import than the tribe, we will not know justice and fairness.
Until every Nigerian citizen is judged not by tribe but by character and contribution, nationhood will be a pipe dream. Until we put premium on the life, liberty, equality of the every citizen, the vision of the patriotic Nigerian will never be attained. Until the oligarch sponsors who stoke embers of tribalism, religiosity and regionalism and their thugs who threaten, attack, destroy and murder even one citizen are brought swiftly and promptly to justice, Nigeria will remain a joke of a nation.
The militarization of our collective psyche since 1966/67 has to deliberately and systematically scrubbed off. It must be replaced with enforcement of civil law, protection of individual’s rights and the inculcation of the culture of core values and democratic tenets to unify rather than divide. Only then will Nigeria know justice. Until then the country be riven by the evils and divisiveness of tribalism, religiosity, regionalism and impunity. The bitter truth of our existence however is that Nigeria is today run by sadist tribal and religious war lords who masquerade as politicians, leaders, elders and intellectuals.
The recourse to tribalism and tirade on who owns Lagos by otherwise respected citizen as Femi Kusa posited is dangerous. It is fuel poured on smoldering evil with a view to crackle it into destructive fire. But even more dangerous are the political oligarch who behind the scenes sponsor tribal and religious outrages. Over the decades, hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens have been murdered in the country, particularly in the north where massacres of Igbos and Christians are perennial bloody orgies. Perpetuators are never brought to justice. We hope Lagos will not become a slaughter house.
The country cannot continue on this killer trajectory. The Niger Delta militants, the Biafra agitators, even Boko Haram are wavelets warning of the tsunamis to come, scorched earth fire, destruction and desolation that consume all of us and the country. We can avoid this scenario. We need to construct building blocks to protect individual rights and cemented with unifying core values. These blocks will stave off the tsunamis that will be generated by tribalism, religiosity and regionalism.
I repeat, when we choose citizens with character, capacity and productivity rather than by tribe, we will generate effective leaders. When we promptly prosecute and convict the individual who breaks the law, no matter has tribe and status, we can then live in peaceful coexistence, assured of justice and fairness anywhere in the country. I hope Lagos will be the model for this vision not be the bloody hotbed of evil tribalism.