Lagos And The ‘Lagoon’ Challenge: Confronting The Native/Settler Discourse By Raheem Oluwafunminiyi
No doubt, the 2015 election in Nigeria will remain one of the most discussed political events in many years to come. This is because a lot of surprises sprang up in its wake and thereafter. Nobody would forget in a hurry the telephone conversation between the two political heavyweights which saw President Goodluck Jonathan conceding defeat even before the last batch of results were declared. What of the magical numbers conjured under ‘special considerations’ in Rivers State and the mind-boggling votes amassed in Kano state? As if that was not enough, the largest political party, the PDP was almost swept out of the power equation, as it lost not only at the national level but at almost all levels of government. With that election, traditional PDP strongholds have become desolate homes today. The greatest achievement of the last election was most likely not in the use of card readers or the insistence by the electoral umpire to stick to electoral justice but the maturity with which most political actors displayed in shaming detractors who had few years back predicted doom and gloom on the country. The year 2015 was supposed to mark the end of Nigeria, so they predicted, yet both the electorate and political actors surmounted our challenges and conducted an election that has become a model for others to follow. It seems once again that, while being confronted with doom, Nigeria can always rise to the occasion and shame the prophets.
The recent gubernatorial election in Lagos remains one of the most interesting of all, at least in the South West of the country. Apart from the fact that the state became the last battle ground for the PDP to swing votes to its side in the federal election, it also turned out to have almost been won for the first time since 1999 by the PDP, having fielded one of the most brilliant and least-tainted candidates in person of Mr Jimi Agbaje. His campaign was rock-solid and made a lot of common sense (apologies to Ben Murray Bruce) and would have dislodged the APC political machinery in the state except that a number of costly mistakes were made which today the PDP in Lagos have not come to terms with.
We were inundated few weeks into the Lagos gubernatorial election with a statement credited to the Oba of Lagos where he vowed to throw into the lagoon anyone who opposed his favourite candidate. From the statement, it was obvious the Oba was threatening a particular dominant ethnic group in Lagos to steer clear of Lagos politics. Of course, one would expect a critical media backlash following such statement and the breakdown of good neighbourliness. The aftermath of this statement had led to a barrage of criticisms within and without but would not be as serious as what would later occur. It is therefore, why if we do not want similar occurrence to happen in 2019 that may involve serious conflict, we must begin to discuss the ethnic question in Lagos. It is one that the political elites in Lagos must begin to study and find a quick solution to, else we fall victim of an impending ethnic crisis.
What would have made the Oba of Lagos make such damning or if we like, threatening statement? Lots of reasons have been deduced over time but it is most likely that the federal legislative elections a week before the gubernatorial election in Lagos had threw up the candidature of non-indigenes or settlers to represent local government areas like Ajeromi-Ifelodun, Ojo and Amuwo-Odofin. This was not only shocking; to say the least, but appalling that non-indigenes were stealthily but forcefully making inroads into the politics of Lagos, one which has been the exclusive reserve of indigenes or Yoruba settlers. The aftermath of that election quickly sent distressing signals to the indigenes and core Yoruba in the state. To make matters worse, the PDP candidate in Lagos, Jimi Agbaje had also warmed himself to the non-indigenes and alleged to have promised them heaven and earth if they give him their electoral support. While many grumbled behind, the Oba of Lagos would not take such effrontery and come out openly to express his feelings, even though this appeared more as a form of fear of a take-over by non-indigenes of Lagos politics held by the core Yoruba.
Following the Oba’s statement, Lagos became divided between antagonists and protagonists. However, the Oba, unconsciously, had opened the Pandora’s Box where latent primordial feelings that had been buried for quite a long time suddenly erupted. What does this mean? It would be recalled that before independence, Lagos politics was ruled and controlled by the NCNC party led by Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo. In fact, there was a time when the Igbo held such powerful influence in Lagos politics that it was alleged that Azikiwe would have become the Premier of the Western Region. Azikiwe had quite a reasonable number of followership among his kinsmen in Lagos and also a large followership among the natives. This would continue well into the First Republic, albeit with setbacks but unfortunately, things would take a dramatic turn. By the time the Civil War started, the Igbo mostly left for the East and would return after the war ended. This would dim any hope of rekindling the fragments of political power the Igbo held in Lagos at independence.
Following their return, the Igbo, wounded, deprived and feeling battered, abandoned all forms of political alignments and pursued economic power instead. In actual fact, politics in Lagos for the Igbo was consigned to holding political posts in towns and market unions or associations. Lagos politics from this period was left for the Yoruba elements in the state not until the return of democracy in Nigeria. By this time, the Igbo population in Lagos had soared and was made up of about 30 per cent of the state’s population. The influence of the Igbo in Lagos economically was widening such that the Lagos state governor at the time, appreciating this number and influence, picked an Igbo commissioner in his cabinet who it was said became one of the most powerful men in that government.
This would no doubt boost the morale of the Igbo and in no time, they began to up the ante. This could be seen in the last legislative election in the state where non-indigenes won legislative seats in about three districts. Watchers felt this was an anomaly for obvious reasons. Could such seats have been won by non-indigenes or the Igbo in states like Delta, Rivers or even Anambra respectively, they asked? While watchers grumbled behind, the Oba of Lagos threw caution to the wind, making the infamous Lagoon statement that almost led to an ethnic crisis in the state. In actual fact, there is the argument that if the APC had not won the Lagos gubernatorial election, the state would have fallen apart.
What happened during the gubernatorial election Lagos should be a lesson for us all. However, it only brings to the fore the contentious issue of indigenes and settlers in the state. While we have closed our eyes to it, it is an issue we have to address and confront head on. To call Lagos “no man’s land” is not only highly offensive and an insult but also calamitous to good neighbourliness and as such must be checkmated. Yet, the disturbing trend where a considerable number of settlers in some states exist, what should be done to address such before it becomes a monster, especially during political periods?
Lagos have witnessed over the years a large number of non-indigenes who have not only settled among natives but also become prominent, using their influence to develop areas like Oshodi, Ojo, Ajeromi Ifelodun etc. under this scenario, one cannot therefore, keep exclusing them from power. There are implications if those who are for or against this idea do not meet half way to find a common ground. Like Professor Abolade Adeniji argued some time ago, Rwanda was raped by the Hutu and Tutsi in just four weeks because of the inability of these two groups to “find a common ground on their existence”. If the settler/native question in Lagos is overlooked or waved aside until elections come up again in 2019, we may have a whole lot on our hands to contend with. Natives must begin to sound a note to settlers or non-indigenes that Lagos is somebody’s land while settlers must be made to understand how to live within the limits set by the owners of Lagos. While this is done, natives should begin to embrace and accommodate its settlers in the area of political positions despite the fact that this does not reflect elsewhere. By setting an example, others are likely to follow sooner or later. The cosmopolitan nature of Lagos readily defies its nativism and as such, natives should warm themselves to others with the understanding that these ‘others’ would show mutual respect and carry on as good neighbours. When these recommendations are taken holistically, the acrimony that came along with the Oba’s statement in the last election would readily not occur and nobody would show apprehension over non-Yoruba groups trying to lord itself over the owners of the land. The year 2019 is around the corner, and in the light of the recent declaration by Ohaneze Youth Council that Lagos state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode is the “number one enemy” of Ndigbo, Lagos must get its settler/native issue right once and for all.