Lagos as ‘no man’s land’

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Left: Lagos, Right: Abuja

The face off that happened during the elections last month between the Yoruba and the Igbo in a very glaring way showed that the two ethnic groups are still sleeping on their oars while the country is gradually being taken over by foreign forces.  The controversy about Lagos being someone’s or no man’s land should not have ever cropped up in the first instance. It was a huge shame.

One obvious fact about Lagos is that nearly every Lagosian migrated from somewhere else. And that includes Yoruba people who hail from other states of Western Nigeria but now claim to own Lagos. While some families have lived in Lagos for three, four generations, others are just new, perhaps the first generation, in the place. 

We all know that Lagos was the capital city of Nigeria from the day the country acquired self rule on October 1, 1960 until 5 December 1991 when General Babangida implemented the idea of a new federal capital, now Abuja.  The truth about Lagos was that, over the years, Nigerians in particular and non-Nigerians generally, regarded the territory as “no man’s land” before Abuja came into the picture. 

That did not mean that every Nigerian or non-Nigerian who lived in Lagos migrated at the same time or that they all had the same social status in the land. Many Nigerians who came from other states, including the Yoruba who came from other states in Western Nigeria but now claim to be the landlords of Lagos, actually and physically bought the lands they had probably developed and paid the real owners for the lands. That is the truth.

As Nigerians, we must not be in a hurry to forget that by the time Nigeria had self rule in 1960, Lagos was both the commercial nerve centre and the federal capital territory of our country. Lagos gradually became a commercially thriving coastal city which held massive attractions for traders and business men and women from many parts of the world. Among the inhabitants of the city at that time were Sierra Leoneans, fondly called ‘Saro’, who later settled as Lagosians, Liberians, Ghanaians, Lebanese, and many mulattoes whose either parents were white or black. And that was how Lagos swarmed with people.

Being a coastal city, business men and women arrived from all nooks and crannies of the world to add to the glamorous night life that made Lagos tick. Traders of all shades and business men and women of all persuasions trooped into Lagos in their droves from other parts of the country too, to make money and to develop the land. That included the Igbo. 

Lagos thrived like a beehive. And that was when the idea of Lagos becoming “no man’s land” was hatched by the federal government. It meant no harm, either to the traditional owners of the land or the subsequent Yoruba settlers or to the settlers who came from other parts of the country and other parts of the world.

With time, Lagos became congested. The city began to find it difficult to accommodate the teeming number of people who came in daily to live and do business in the land. The infrastructure became over-burdened and consequently became inadequate for the swarming population that thronged into the city. Expansion became a necessity. And so was the urge to separate the seat of government from the commercial nerve centre.

In 1976, after Abuja was chosen as the land for the new national capital, General Murtala Mohammed spoke to the nation in what encapsulated what the Yoruba have turned into the controversy about Lagos, the first national capital.

He said about Abuja: “We believe that a new federal capital territory created on such virgin lands will be for all Nigerians a symbol of their oneness and unity. The federal capital territory will belong to all Nigerians.” General Murtala Mohammed predicted a new era of “justice, peace and unity” for all Nigerians. But seven days later, he was assassinated. As a soldier, General Mohammed made the supreme sacrifice for what he believed in. Looking at Abuja today, we see a modern city sprawling with high rises and a lush topography no one would have thought possible only a few years before.

As the capital city of their country, Nigerian citizens still refer to Abuja as “no man’s land”, just as they referred to Lagos when Lagos was their federal capital territory. The federal capital territory has always been designed to be for all Nigerians a symbol of their oneness and unity. The federal capital territory is meant to belong to all Nigerians. First it was Lagos. Now, it is Abuja.

So when some misinformed Yoruba people single out the Igbo as the ones who call Lagos “no man’s land”, they need to appreciate that the Igbo were not the ones who named Lagos “no man’s land”. That phrase was the government’s way of expressing that the federal capital territory was the symbol of the unity and oneness of all Nigerians. And if the Yoruba are bitter about the oneness and unity of Nigeria because someone, anyone, called Lagos “no man’s land” that would be very unfortunate. 

The Igbo invested substantially in Lagos. The Igbo alongside other nationalities were involved in creating the wealth Lagos boasts of any day. As Abuja remains the federal capital territory and by design ‘no man’s land’ so also will Lagos remain the commercial nerve centre of the country and ‘no man’s land’ also by design. Both cities will continue to remain for Nigerians a symbol of their oneness and unity. To become petty about this national relationship will not help anyone, either in the short run or in the long run.  

Against this backdrop, one Yoruba commentator in the social media posted a soul-searching analysis of what he considered as the Yoruba position titled “Sad Yoruba Nation?”

In that post, the anonymous writer who virtually summarized the situation that had hitherto forestalled the coming together of the Igbo and Yoruba ethnic groups asked: “Did the Igbo put guns on anybody’s head before buying up Alaba, Ajegunle, Isolo and Oshodi in Lagos? Did they use juju before Ibadan surrendered Iwo Road to them? And what were we (Yoruba) looking at before the Igbo took over Isida and Adeti in Ilesa? Where were the Yoruba when the Igbo thrived and built 90% of the hotels in Abuja? Was there a law that excluded Yoruba from selling building materials? Dei Dei Building Materials Market in Abuja is 90% Igbo-owned. So, the more we point one finger at the Igbo, the more we have the other four fingers pointing at our laziness and lack of initiative as a society. The Yoruba should have been better with all our education, but we may be worse than the Fulani who just roam about the bush. Why? It is because we lack the entrepreneurship spirit. We just want salaries from doing 8 am to 5 pm jobs. The Igbo are different hence we are now jealous and envious. We love wasteful parties and Aso Ebi. Just a little business without even making enough profit, yet we usually call musicians and spray money like confetti.” That was a Yoruba. Sincere, almost to a fault, you might say.

Apparently the Yoruba have no justification harassing the Igbo alone if they feel grieved about the term “no man’s land” being applied to Lagos. The northerners are not annoyed when you call Abuja “no man’s land” because they understand the position of government and the need to keep the country united. 

If the Igbo should decide to relocate all their businesses to their homeland, I wonder what Lagos would look like and how the Yoruba can manage without the Igbo. Even the idea of disenfranchising and harassing fellow Nigerians because their mother is Igbo is the height of insensitivity. One of the Yoruba governors is married to an Igbo woman. Then you stop their son from voting because his mother is Igbo. And some Yoruba elders stand there to justify this callous behaviour. It is unbelievable.

Nobody is going to interfere in this. In my town there are many Yoruba business people there. Some are carpenters, some bricklayers, printers, teachers, drivers, business men and so on. Some married Igbo women. Even in my family, we are married to some Hausa women and some white women. Two of my first cousins are married to Yoruba men. They are not happy with what is trying to develop in Lagos and it is only obvious that many Yoruba share their emotion, their sentiment. 

Even though the last elections were gravely flawed and aggrieved parties have taken the right course by going to court to contest the result of the elections, those of us who come from the South of Nigeria should be even more concerned with possibilities of what Alhaji Ismailia Aliyu Gwarzo once said to us. 

He said: “The problem with you Southerners is that you can never understand the north. We are a mystery to you and you cannot comprehend us despite all your boasting that you are better than us. You claim to be educated but in fact you are uneducated and uncivilized. What do you know about education and what has it done for you? We Fulani toss a small bone to you from our table and you betray and fight each other like dogs for it. You crawl before us and beg us for crumbs. That is your lot in life. You are nothing more than beggars. Cowardly and contended slaves! 

“Just like your fathers served us, so you shall serve us. Just as you serve us, so your children shall serve us. And just as your children shall serve us, so their children shall serve us. We are born to rule. Leadership is our blood. No-one in this country can stop or change it. No-one can touch us. Allah has given us Nigeria. It is gift to our forefathers from him. Our great grandfather Sheik Othman Dan Fodio and the Mujahedeen fought for it. Our grandfather the Sarduana, Sir Ahmadu Bello expanded our borders and frontiers. Our father President Muhammadu Buhari has come to complete the job and he is doing very well. 

“You see the most effective chains are the invisible ones. We already have you in those chains but you just don’t know it. We took our power back in 2015. We will not release it to southerners or unbelievers again. Not in the next 100 years! It is true that we came from Futa Toro and Futa Jalon many years ago and conquered the north. Now every inch of it belongs to us. Every Fulani whether from Mali, Senegal, Guinea, Niger, Chad, Cameroon or anywhere else is our brother and has a right to be here with us. We are Fulani before Nigerian and our allegiance is to our Fulani brothers all over West Africa more than you. Now we will conquer south and we do it in the name of “one Nigeria”. In that “one Nigeria” we shall remain the masters and you shall remain the slaves! None of you are going anywhere. Nigeria will never break. We will not allow it.”

For those Nigerians who have never heard of, or known, Alhaji Ismailia Aliyu Gwarzo, he is a retired security and intelligence official of the Nigerian government. He was an assistant inspector general of police and subsequently became the first director of the State Security Service soon after it was formed on 5 June 1986 by Military President Ibrahim Babangida to replace the National Security Organization, NSO. He later became Babangida’s National Security Adviser and that of Presidents Ernest Shonekan and Sani Abacha. He is a man who understands. 

So, we Southern Nigerians should look ourselves inwardly and ask ourselves pertinent questions: is it happening that the Fulani toss a small bone to us from their table and we betray and fight each other like dogs for it? If, for instance (but God forbid) Jargaban is unable to stand the rigors of the presidential office as was the case with late President Musa Yar ‘Adua (of blessed memory), where would that lead the Southerners? Our people should be more reasonable than quarrelling over Lagos and no man’s land. In Nigeria, some tribes are definitely smarter than others.

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