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Thursday, 29 August 2013

Truth, Bigots and Purveyors of Ignorance

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Guest Columnist  : Chuka Odom
Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode’s piece titled, Lagos, The Igbo and Servants of Truth (THISDAY August 9, 2013) made an interesting reading. The clearly unconstitutional deportation of some Nigerians (of Igbo extraction) from Lagos to Anambra State on the grounds that they were destitute was the catalyst for Fani-Kayode’s outburst. His and other uninformed response to an issue that is essentially a constitutional matter has once again exposed the fault lines in our so called unity in diversity.
I was tempted to ignore the said contribution just like a few others that made no sense to me. However, I feel obliged to respond to Fani-Kayode simply because he claims to be a student of history and a historian as well. He no doubt imagines himself informed and thus on a mission to educate, in his words “younger Nigerians” who need to learn “to do their own research and to study their own history”. It is against this background that this intervention will attempt to evaluate his claims and ascertain their veracity or otherwise.
Fani-Kayode made four main assertions:-
1) That the relocation from Lagos to Anambra of 19 destitute persons of Igbo extraction by the government of Lagos State was in order.
2) That the Igbos have nothing to do with the development of Lagos “other than Ajegunle, Computer Village, Alaba and buying up numerous market stalls in Isale Eko”.
3) That “younger Nigerians” (and I read that to mean “younger Igbo Nigerians”) are ignorant of their history and need to do their research like the one he has done in the piece under discussion.
4) That Lagos was developed by Yoruba money (whatever that means) and not oil money.
I understand that Fani-Kayode is a lawyer. Any lawyer knows that the forced “relocation” of a Nigerian citizen under our constitution without recourse to law or due process is a gross infringement on the fundamental right of that person irrespective of the person’s state of origin, circumstance of birth, social status or occupation.
Indeed, the reference to these citizens as destitute which was the basis for the breach of their most fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution is reflective of the contempt which the ruling elite now hold their fellow citizens simply because of their privileged access to the Commonwealth.
These destitute and homeless people were displaced by the greed and visionless policies of successive governments. Lagos State government as one of the few functional governments in Nigeria must realise that part of the responsibility of government anywhere in the world is the care and welfare of the weak and vulnerable segments of the society. This attempt to criminalise poverty in a dysfunctional and deeply corrupt environment that is ours is intrinsically immoral and reprehensible evil. Human beings are not refuse to be dumped by trucks at bridgehead in the middle of the night. This act does not reflect our core values and do not mirror who we are. The rights invested in the citizen under the constitution are so sacred that no responsible government would trample them in this manner.
One of the sore points in the United States drone war against terrorists arose as a result of the assassination of a known terrorist who happened to be an American citizen. The indisputable fact that the victim was a terrorist did not make his killing acceptable because he was first and foremost an American citizen and the government has no power to kill American citizens without recourse to law and due process. What I had expected Fani-Kayode and the army of “human right” lawyers (who are mainly Fani-Kayode’s kinsmen) was to rise in defence of the common man irrespective of their origin, class or creed. It is sad that they became silent because the victims are Igbos!
I know Governor Babatunde Fashola is a smart person and I believe that he would soon do the smart thing by acknowledging this wrongful act, make  amends and move on with his good works. Fashola does not need the meaningless posturing of Fani-Kayode and the other political chameleons defending an indefensible act.
It is a gratuitous insult for anybody to suggest that the only contribution the Igbos have made in the development of Lagos is in the area of trade and commerce. Yes, the Igbos are proud of their entrepreneurial skills just as the Yorubas are proud of their penchant for funfare and merriment. Every tribe has an identity.
Lagos boasts a mega-city status not due to its indigenous population but its non-indigenous immigrant population comprising Yorubas, Igbos, Hausas, Ijaws, Efiks and other Nigerian tribes. Historically, Lagos indigenous population were not famous for their intellectual or commercial endeavours. The emergence of Lagos as a centre of trade and commerce started with its contact with Portuguese traders in the 15th century when it became a major market and outpost for shipment of slaves to South America.
Interestingly, modern day Lagos was founded by the Bini in the 16th Century. The Bini ruled Lagos until 1851 when the British colonialists captured the city and later annexed it in 1861. With the abolition of slave trade, returnee freed slaves who have been exposed to western influence and education became the first intellectual community. These freed slaves were not only Yorubas but (as their names suggest) also from other ethnic groups affected by the slave trade. These pioneers of modern Lagos were Nigerians from all parts of the country. Most of the slaves were actually captured from the hinterlands and taken to the sea ports for transportation.
In modern day Lagos, the influence of Igbo merchants dates  back to the commercial exploits in the transport sector of Sir Louis Odimegwu Ojukwu and other numerous Igbo business pioneers whose offsprings today control more than 40% of the major financial institutions in Nigeria and whose contributions to the GDP of Lagos State over the years run into trillions of naira. These are the pioneers who can rightly claim Lagos as we know it today. Ikeja which was the administrative headquarters of Lagos State for more than 25 years and had a huge Yoruba population cannot boast 10 (ten storey buildings) that was not built by the federal government or privately owned by immigrant business concerns.
This claim that Lagos was not developed by oil money is turning truth on its head and a complete hogwash. Lagos served as the capital of Nigeria from independence to 1991. In this period, a substantial investment in infrastructure by the federal government was concentrated in Lagos.  The Third Mainland Bridge and virtually all major roads in and out of Lagos were all constructed and some are still being constructed by the federal government to date. Where did the federal money come from? Maybe from Fani-Kayode’s cocoa plantations.
Since he is a historian, it may interest Fani-Kayode to know that in the early part of the 17th century , the Oba of Bini sent a war expedition led by Prince Ado to Lagos over a minor issue of disagreement over the passage of the Oba’s merchants through Lagos. The people refused to fight and instead welcomed Prince Ado and his soldiers and requested him to govern them. Prince Ado agreed on the condition that they surrender their sovereignty to the Oba of Bini which they quickly accepted. Consequently, the Oba of Bini in exercise of his authority over Lagos sent some of his chiefs including Eletu Odibo, Obanikoro and several others who assisted Prince Ado in the running of Lagos. These are indisputable historical facts and not the falsehood Fani-Kayode wants to teach younger Nigerians as history.  The reality is that modern day Lagosians have so intermingled that no single tribe or people can claim it even though the predominant language is Yoruba.
The reference to Lagos often as “no man’s land” is not in bad faith or taste but more as a tribute to Lagos as the amalgam of all ethnic nationalities in Nigeria and beyond. I have not met an Igbo man who traced his ancestry to Lagos. This brazen attempt to cause disaffection amongst inhabitants of a mega metropolitan city is in my view unbecoming of a man who claims to be a nationalist.
I do not know which generation of Nigerians of Igbo extraction Fani-Kayode wants to learn history but I do know that most Igbos born after the civil war are aware of their history despite not witnessing the tragic events of the civil war. I do not think that Fani-Kayode is a nationalist. Genuine patriots walk the talk and do not engage in acts or utterances that polarise ethnic groups and deepen mutual suspicion.
Yes, God will deliver Nigeria but He urgently needs to deliver the bigots and purveyors of ignorance in our midst.
•Chuka Odom is a former Minister of state (FCT)
ThisDay

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