Lagos Is Not A ‘No Man’s Land’ But…

Written by Azuka Onwuka
One statement that riles the
Yoruba is that Lagos is a no man’s land, which comes mainly from the Igbo
residents in the city. The impression that statement gives them is that Lagos
is a land that nobody owns. They see it as an attempt to take away what belongs
to them. According to Oxford Dictionaries, “no man’s land” means “disputed
ground between the front lines or trenches of two opposing armies” or “a piece
of unowned land or wasteland.”
But Lagos State is someone’s
land. Without going into the history of Lagos, one knows that there are
traditional institutions and rites in Lagos that only the “sons of the soil”
can participate in. For example, Lagos communities have traditional rulers
called baale or oba: only sons of the soil of the respective communities can
aspire to such positions.

However, that is not the end
of the story. Lagos is a unique state, especially given its status as a former
federal capital of Nigeria cum seat of government for 77 years: January 1914 to
November 1991. That status has given it a different feel from all other cities
in Nigeria. It is not because it is by the sea: Calabar and Port Harcourt are
also by the sea, but they are not like Lagos. Contrary to the fallacy spread by
some people, Calabar was never the capital of Nigeria. Calabar once served as
the seat of government of the Niger Coast Protectorate, Southern Protectorate and
Oil River Protectorate. Similarly, neither Lokoja nor Zungeru was ever the
capital of Nigeria. They were respectively the capital of the British
protectorate of Northern Nigeria.
The boom that Abuja has
experienced since 1991 when Gen. Ibrahim Babangida moved the seat of government
from Lagos is a pointer to the effect the Federal Capital Territory status can
have on a city. But even Abuja cannot compare with Lagos because it was
purpose-built to be an FCT, and therefore has no space for industrial estates
and markets in all nooks and crannies of the city like Lagos.
However, even those who call
Lagos no man’s land don’t mean that Lagos does not indigenously belong to
anybody. When you ask them what “no man’s land” means, you realise that what
they mean is that Lagos is home to every Nigerian. It is a mini Nigeria. It is
a place where all Nigerians feel they have a stake in because the funds of
Nigeria helped in developing it, and its status as an FCT attracted more
attention from Nigerians and foreigners than other states. Consequently, it is
the most developed part of the nation.
Even though Enugu, Ibadan
and Kaduna were the respective capitals of Eastern Region, Western Region, and
Northern Region from the pre-Independence days until 1967, they cannot compare
to Lagos in any sphere.
No doubt, as a city that is
situated by the sea shore, Lagos has been developing from time immemorial.
However, when it was made the capital of Nigeria, its development accelerated.
The boost was such that even after the seat of government was relocated to
Abuja, Lagos did not feel the impact much because the biggest companies and
markets in Nigeria as well as infrastructure like bridges and roads had already
been established, which had in turn made the state the most densely populated
in the nation. These are not things you can relocate with the seat of
And more importantly, Lagos
has not been known to be a place where religious or ethnic crises occur. There
can be crisis from street urchins, or motor park touts, or street gangs, but
people are not usually attacked based on their ethnicity or religion, except
for the ill-informed actions of the O’odua People’s Congress against the Hausa
community in 1999/2000.
Lagos State is in the
South-West, and the South-West is the land of the Yoruba. Therefore, Lagos is
Yoruba land. But it goes beyond that. Lagos derives its progress from its
metropolitan and cosmopolitan nature. There are Nigerians who will tell you
that beside their home state, they can only live in Abuja or Lagos, because of
the FCT status, past and present. They don’t want to be in a place where they
would feel like second-class citizens or people who are ever conscious of going
against any local tradition.
However, there are two sets
of people that don’t mean well for Lagos. One group is the Yoruba who feel that
the non-Yoruba in Lagos, especially the Igbo, must owe the air they breathe to
the Yoruba: they must not raise their head; they must not laugh loud; they must
not criticise any government policy in Lagos; they must not vote for any
candidate of their choice; they must not contest elections in Lagos. If they
default on any of these, they are threatened with expulsion or violence.
The other group is the Igbo
who tell the Yoruba that the Igbo developed Lagos, and that without the Igbo,
Lagos would be a ghost town, and Lagosians would die of hunger. That is a silly
statement to make. Although only a lover of falsehood would say that the Igbo
have not contributed handsomely to the development of Lagos, yet Lagos has been
developing at its own pace from time immemorial. If the Igbo did not settle in
Lagos or invest in it, it would have continued to develop at its own pace.
Lagos does not owe its success to the Igbo or any one ethnic group.
The excuse these two
dangerous groups always give is that the other group started the ethnic
baiting. But that is a lie. An ethnic supremacist is an ethnic supremacist. The
same goes for an ethnic intolerant person or a bigot. Such people don’t need
any provocation to unleash the venom in them. They only pray for an opportunity
to present itself. Phrases like “you people” dot their speeches. Whenever a
person speaks, they usually don’t attack the person’s speech: they swiftly
malign the person’s ethnic group. It does not matter to them that the person
does not speak on behalf of any ethnic group. Sometimes, they will be quick to
tell you that they don’t hate the ethnic group they are bashing but “are simply
speaking the truth.” They may even remind you that they have friends from that
ethnic group or have family members who are married to people from that ethnic
These dangerous elements
must not be allowed to destroy the peace and harmony in Lagos. There is a
difference between “citizen” and “indigene”. Every Nigerian is a citizen in
every part of Nigeria. But not every Nigerian is an indigene of wherever he or
she resides. Every Nigerian can vote and be voted anywhere in Nigeria. That is
what distinguishes a Nigerian from a Ghanaian who lives in Nigeria.
Nigerians feel happy any
time they hear that a person with Nigerian ancestry has won a political
position in Europe or North America, but some ethnic haters feel angry whenever
they hear that a Nigerian has won an election in his or her state of residence.
Their narrow argument is: “Can you allow that to happen in your state?” But
comparing a state like Lagos – a former FCT — with another Nigerian state is
baseless. Lagos can only somewhat be compared with Abuja, the FCT. If you want
to compare states, compare Oyo with Enugu, Ogun with Anambra, Ekiti with
Ebonyi, etc.
Secondly, when a people have
a large population in a community, it becomes easier for them to win local
elections there. That is why the Yoruba win local elections in the London
Borough of Southwark, United Kingdom, where Peckam is located. If a large
number of the Yoruba or Hausa or Ijaw settle in Nnewi or Aba, they can win
elections there. It is only natural.
And when a “non-indigene”
wins an election, such should not be seen as a threat or an affront. It is
actually a blessing. Such cities where settlers participate in governance are
always ahead in all developmental indices. They attract people. They attract
investors. They continue to grow faster. That is why Lagos is miles ahead of other
states. That is why Lagos is self-sustaining even though it has no oil. Human
resource is the greatest resource on earth. Human beings gather where the
conditions are good, where they are not continuously threatened or intimidated,
where they are free to operate within the laws of the state and the nation.
Those who love Lagos and
want its progress must not allow those who are short-sighted to disrupt the
peace and progress of Lagos.

Eko o ni baje o!

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