The provocative claim by some Nigerians, of Igbo extraction, that Lagos is a no-man’s land riles the Yoruba, who are the first settlers in Lagos. Some Igbo, probably in retaliation for the hostility demonstrated against them by their Yoruba compatriots, during the recently concluded presidential election, employed rather violent words in return.
The Yoruba became even more anxious when Peter Obi, presidential candidate of the Labour Party, defeated the godfather of Lagos politics, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who won the presidency almost by a whisker.
Lagos was won for Obi by the Igbo, Lagos indigenes disgruntled with Tinubu’s party machine, urban Pentecostal Christians and youths, angered by the way #EndSARS agitation was handled by Lagos State Government.
The audacious claim of no-man’s land may have gotten to Nollywood actor, Yul Edochie, son of Nollywood veteran, Pete Edochie, one of the most talented, skilled and urbane thespians in Nigeria.
Yul said, “This talk flying around that Lagos is no-man’s land is wrong. Lagos is a Yoruba state in Yorubaland… You can’t come into someone’s land and tell the person it’s a no-man’s land. Na you dey find trouble.”
And declared: “Nobody can deny the fact that the Igbo have contributed immensely to the development of Lagos. Other tribes have contributed in their own ways too. And the Yoruba have been largely accommodating as well. It shouldn’t take away the fact that Lagos is a Yorubaland. We no dey drag ownership.”
Yul tried to explain the sense of insult that the Yoruba may have felt from talk that Lagos is no-man’s land: “Imagine someone saying that Anambra is no-man’s land. That is crap. Anambra is Igboland.”
The first governor of Lagos State, Brigadier General Mobolaji Johnson, once declared that “Lagos (that was simultaneously federal capital and seat of Lagos State Government), is not a no-man’s land.”
The Concerned Igbo Stakeholders say, “We state unequivocally that Lagos is neither an Igbo state nor a no-man’s land… It wholly belongs to the Yoruba.” Also, World Igbo Congress, Inc. describes itself as “The Global Network of All Igbo People from the Southeastern, Delta and Rivers states of Nigeria in the Diaspora.”
Even Section 147(4) of the Constitution, which recognises that some people are indigenous to a state, demands: “The President shall appoint at least one minister from each state, who should be an indigene of such state.”
The Lagos State Labour Party governorship candidate, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, who describes himself as a Southern Nigerian, because his father is Yoruba and his mother is Igbo, says, “I vehemently disagree with the idea that Lagos is a no-man’s land. It is extremely disrespectful… Lagos has (founders).”
Some have even rightfully argued that you shouldn’t become so cosmopolitan and accommodating to the extent that you hand over your space to others. And they may well have an argument.
But that is no excuse for anyone to prevent the Igbo from voting in Lagos, burning their property, maiming or killing them because they have political opinion contrary to that of their host communities.
Prince Olofin, son of Oduduwa, progenitor of the Yoruba, founded Eko, which Portuguese explorers and traders of the 15th Century, renamed Lagos, because its shoreline resembled that of a port city in Portugal.
The adventurers proceeded from Ife, using a plate as a magical compass that would lead them to a place they could settle into without contest or rancour. Eventually, the plate buried itself in Idumota on Lagos Island. When Olofin, who took the plate to the Island, returned to the camp at Iddo, without the plate, his followers asked him what happened.
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He told them, “Awo ti ri,” the plate had sunk into the soil. That was the sign that the adventurers had finally gotten to the Promised Land. They then assumed the alias, “Awori,” by which they are identified today.
The settlers spread over Lagos Island, with their Oba’s Palace at Iga Idunganran, a former pepper garden. Others stayed over at Iddo, Otto, Ijora, Oyingbo, Ebute Metta, Iganmu. Yet others crossed to Victoria Island and Lekki Peninsular.
The settlers own the lands, and not the Oba of Lagos, descendant of Lagos conqueror, King Ado, a Benin prince. The lands of Lagos are vested in Idejo or white cap chiefs, descendants of the original settlers, some of whom, like Ojora of Ijora, Elegushi of Ikate and Oniru of Iru, have become Kings.
Amodu Tijani, Oluwa of Lagos and direct descendant of Olofin, explained to the colonial masters in 1900 that land in Yorubaland is held in trust by those who are alive, on behalf of the dead ancestors and the unborn.
And it is common knowledge that the Land Use Act, introduced into Nigeria’s legal system by the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo, vests lands within each state in the state governors.
Further proof of ownership of Lagos lands is in the retrieval of a parcel of land on Apapa Road from Delta State by the Ojora ruling house. The land, leased by the Western Region, was transferred to the newly-created Midwestern Region in 1963.
In 1861, when the rest of Nigeria was no more than a missionary field or trading post, Lagos was annexed by the British after 11 days of skirmishes with King Dosunmu. In 1862, Lagos formally became a British colony. That is why indigenes of Lagos say, “Gedegbe l’Eko wa,” that Lagos is a standalone and not a part of Southern Nigeria Protectorate.
But in 1906, Lagos was joined to the Southern Protectorate, with Calabar as capital city. In 1914, when Lord Frederick Lugard amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorates, to form Nigeria, Lagos became the capital.
Because of its status, Lagos was run by a Ministry of Lagos Affairs, just as Nigeria’s current Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, is administered by the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, on behalf of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, whom the Constitution designates as the governor.
While the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War raged, the Federal Military Government joined Lagos to the Badagry, Ikorodu, Ikeja and Epe Divisions of Western Nigeria to form Lagos State. So, most of Lagos State was a part of Western Nigeria.
While Lagos indigenes may feel affronted by claims that Lagos is no-man’s land, you cannot fault the argument that the Igbo who legally bought land in Lagos own at least their own portion of the Lagos real estate. In any case, Section 43 of Nigeria’s Constitution, guarantees their holding.
Because Nigeria still exists as one country and the Constitution encourages Nigerians to live anywhere they choose, all Nigerian groups must accommodate each other. But, as indigenes must welcome others, the guests must respect the sensibilities of their hosts.
Someone has said that when you are in Rome, you must conduct yourself as a Roman. You do not insist that you must hold your Christian mass in the morning as they do in Venice where you come from.
But then, everyone must recognise that when today’s owners return into the soil, no one knows who will inherit their lands. The native Gaels of Scotland now speak the language of immigrant Vikings who invaded their land in the late 8th century. When the Igbo ask, “Onye ma echi?” they want to know who knows tomorrow.
- [email protected], lekansote.com
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