As if we didn’t have enough to worry about already, the internet is facilitating a boom in ugly ethnic wrangling in our country. People with nothing better to do with their time feel quite justified in saying the most stupid and offensive things imaginable about Nigerians who belong to a different ethnic group once they sit in front of their ipads or laptops.
When Anambra State Governor Peter Obi wrote to the President accusing the government of Lagos State of “deporting” some Igbos to Onitsha, it was for sundry ethnic warriors as if manna had dropped from heaven. The actual dispute between the two states is fairly straightforward. Officials of the Lagos State government say that they had taken destitutes from different parts of Lagos to rehabilitation centres. Having rehabilitated them, these individuals were then transported with their consent to Onitsha after the Anambra State government failed to respond to requests from Lagos State to come and fetch its people. Anambra State disputes that they were moved to Onitsha with their consent and accuses Lagos State of contravening the right of Nigerian citizens to move about and settle freely within Nigeria.
People who know how Nigeria works will probably agree that the assertion by Lagos State that these ex-destitutes were removed with their consent is dubious. Government officials in Nigeria are not known to seek the consent of ordinary citizens, let alone a group of powerless, homeless people, before having their way. And the entire notion of dispatching Nigerians from one state to another, even though it’s an apparently widespread practice, is very disturbing.
So Lagos State is guilty of implementing an unfortunate policy in its efforts to reduce destitution in the city. The policy is also completely futile for I am certain that while all the arguments have been going on about that group of “deportees”, every single one of them has made it back to Lagos and is under a bridge or beside a rubbish dump in the vast city, more alert to raids by officials of the state government.
However, it is one thing to say that Lagos State got this particular policy wrong and quite another to on that basis, accuse Governor Fashola, all Lagosians and all Yorubas of some dark plot to ethnically cleanse Lagos of the Igbo. No city has been more welcoming to the Igbo than Lagos. The dramatic recovery of many in the Igbo business class after being given twenty pounds each at the end of the Civil War probably owes more to the opportunities for commerce in the city of Lagos than to any other single factor.
No political leader has reached out to the Igbo as much as Governor Fashola. Indeed people of the other ethnic groups who live in Lagos are entitled to accuse Governor Fashola of partiality towards the Igbo. This is because out of all the varied ethnicities that live in Lagos only the Igbo Ben Akabueze has permanently kept the ”slot” for non-Lagosians in Governor Fashola’s cabinet. Yet another Igbo Joe Igbokwe heads one of the parastatals in Lagos State. An Igbo from Anambra or Imo State probably has better prospects of employment in the Lagos State civil service than he or she does in Igbo Abia State where non-Abia civil servants were recently purged from the service of the state.
But the internet ethnic warrior does not deal in facts or logic. The crazy allegations, the delusional plots feed off other resentments (and one has to admit that there is plenty to be resentful about in Nigeria) and will not be swayed by reality. The urge to wage ethnic warfare (in the safety and anonymity of the internet) is so great that when the slightest excuse emerges it is like a bone thrown to a ravenous dog.
Thus feeding off a dispute about deportees, our internet ethnic warriors now put forward the argument, if you can call it one, that Lagos State has no right to deport anyone from the state as Lagos is “no man’s land”. This so-called argument is actually self-defeating. It seems to suggest that Nigerians from a different ethnic group have a right to reside in a city only when it’s no man’s land; if it is “someone’s land” then it follows logically that the constitutional right of every Nigerian citizen to move freely around the country and seek employment, raise children, love and hopefully be loved in return, etc will not apply.
Anyway, what does it mean for a place to be no-man’s land? Every secondary school student of history knows that the areas now known as Lagos have been continuously occupied for hundreds of years. How then is it no-man’s land? But remember, folks, the ethnic warrior does not deal in logic, facts and such inconveniences. Resentment feeds on resentment and angry fingers attack the keyboard. And when one more piece of brainless rubbish has been sent off, the warrior sits back in satisfaction and smiles. Are people like that able to smile?
Anyway, it didn’t end there. Another group of ethnic warriors, prominent among whom is Femi Fani-Kayode, one-time Obasanjo spokesman and one-time federal minister, cannot resist the bone that’s been thrown by those who say Lagos is no man’s land. Among their many inflammatory responses is this one: that Igbo claims to have contributed to the development of Lagos are baseless since the only places the Igbo have developed are Alaba, Amuwo-Odofin and one other place I can’t remember. (The brain has better things to do than process this stuff).
This is, of course, utter rubbish. I am Igbo and live in Lekki. Every day I buy garri, plantain and yams from the small market down the road from my house, every time I go to the bar in my neighbourhood and spend more money than I should drinking more alcohol than is good for me and listening to the ageless live band of Godbless, the mercurial genius, every time I buy a newspaper or petrol or mangoes, I am contributing to Lagos. As is the young, red-eyed Plateau man, stoned out of his mind most of the time, who has the Airtel stand at the roundabout close to my house and the half-naked young ladies who stand at street corners in Victoria Island waiting for customers who seem to dwindle in number every day. We are all contributing to the city in our small ways and so are the Ijaw, Gwari, Bachama, Efik and of course Yoruba people who live all over the city.
It is equally fallacious to say that the Igbos (exclusively or even predominantly) built Alaba. The money that’s gone into the structures in Alaba has come from all over the country, from the housewife in Benin who has spent the remittances from her daughter in Italy on a new flat screen TV bought via the Igbo electronics dealer whose stock comes from Alaba and from the newly rich legislator in Mubi who has purchased Made in China cables for his latest mansion via the Igbo dealer in electrical parts that has a shop in the centre of Mubi. The core of Igbo wealth has thus been democratically contributed by the vast market called Nigeria, from Baga to Nembe. And it is all of us Nigerians who have built Alaba and Amuwo-Odofin, each of us in his or her small way.
These ethnically motivated oversimplifications and outright falsehoods exclude a large part of the sustaining interdependencies which we have woven together to create the nation we now call Nigeria. Ethnic wrangling deals in denial. If the ethnic warriors acknowledged what actually constituted Nigeria, if they acknowledged our actually existing nation and its inter-linkages, the very foundation of their deluded ideas would disappear.
To spend so much time on this rubbish would have been unpardonable if large numbers of people did not take it seriously. I’ve received alarmed email from friends and relations in North America, where a lot of these things circulate quite widely, wondering if the pronouncements of the Igbo ethnic warriors of the kind who say that Lagos is no man’s land and the responses of Femi Fani-Kayode and his like have made Igbos in Lagos less secure.
So these things do get people worried. But all right-thinking Nigerians need to absolutely reject this kind of ethnic warfare. We face real problems, such as a bloody and merciless campaign of terror in the north east and a massive crisis of ever-worsening unemployment, particularly acute among the youth. Our public universities are going through another round of crisis and those parents who cannot afford to send their children to private universities or to Canada, Ghana, South Africa, Djibouti, Mongolia, Mars or wherever to obtain a university education are probably going to have to watch helplessly yet again while their wards waste several months at home. These are real problems that require common creative thinking, common resolve, common outrage.
We, therefore, really don’t have any time to waste debating which city is no man’s land or bring out a scale to weigh how much each ethnic group has contributed to which city. Those who fan the flames of disaffection need to be shoved to the margins of society which is where they rightly belong. No Igbo who abuses Yorubas on account of the incident with the “deportees” or for any other imagined cause speaks for me. None of my Yoruba friends considers that Femi Fani-Kayode and people like him could ever conceivably speak for them on any matter under the sun. And that’s how it should be