Nigeria: Towards an Igbo governor of Lagos State
By Femi Aribisala
THE year was 1965. I was an innocent starry-eyed 13 year-old and Nigeria was in turmoil. It was the era of the “wetie,” when the houses of politicians and key public-figures were burnt down in the brouhaha that was then Western Nigeria.
We lived in Oke-Ado in Ibadan and our next-door neighbour was Chief Ogundiran, a minister in the government of Chief S.L. Akintola, the Premier of the Western Region. (Ogundiran was famous for only wearing white.) In the spirit of the times, a mob came early one morning and burnt down his house. He jumped out of the window and managed to escape.
Fani-Power: I was having private lessons in Mathematics at the home of a colleague, Enitan Abiodun, when we heard the noise of a crowd outside. We rushed to the veranda to see Chief Remi Fani-Kayode (alias Fani-Power), then Deputy Governor of the Western Region, standing on the seat of a moving convertible. He was surrounded by a mob, which was shouting and hailing him. On hearing the noise, Enitan’s mother rushed to the veranda shouting “Awo!” only to discover that the people outside were not supporters of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, but those of his arch-enemies.
The shout of “Awo!” by Mrs. Abiodun brought the procession to a screeching halt. “Who said that? Who said that?” demanded the mob, enraged. “Fani-Power” turned and looked up at us. His eyes were the usual blood-shot red. At the time, many claimed it was because he regularly smoked Indian-hemp. Fani-Kayode pointed to our building and identified to his thugs that the offending shout came from our direction. We did not know that the floor of the convertible he was standing in was loaded with empty bottles. His thugs reached for the bottles and rained them down on us as we all scrambled back inside the house for dear life.
Like father, like son: That was 48 years ago. Today, Femi Fani-Kayode, the 53-year-old son of “Fani-Power,” continues in the mischievous tradition of his father: throwing dangerous missiles at the innocent. He recently wrote an incendiary article entitled: “The Bitter Truth About the Igbo,” in which he maligned the Igbos and virtually told them to get out of Lagos and leave Lagos for the Yorubas.
What is peculiar about the article is that Femi Fani-Kayode himself is no more Lagosian than the Ibos he berates. The Fani-Kayodes are not from Lagos. They are from Ile-Ife in OsunState. Femi Fani-Kayode’s only legitimate claim to Lagos is that he was born there.
But then so were many Igbos who are, therefore, Lagosians. Moreover, Igbo-Lagosians have one up on Femi Fani-Kayode. They live in Lagos. Femi Fani-Kayode does not. Igbo-Lagosians work in Lagos and pay taxes to the LagosState government. Femi Fani-Kayode does not. Therefore, what right does he have to write his diatribe against them? What right does he have to maintain Lagos does not belong to Igbo-Lagosians?
Train-wreck: Having thrown these bottles maliciously, Femi Fani-Kayode decided to throw a few more. He wrote another invective entitled: “A Word For Those Who Say I Am A Tribalist.” In order to demonstrate that he was not anti-Igbo, he presented the cliché that some of his best friends are Igbos. As proof, he detailed three Ibo women (some now happily-married) he claims to have had affairs with in the past. Only God knows how this shows he is not biased against the Igbos. Slave-traders slept with their slaves. Is that proof they were not racist?
The jury is out already. Femi Fani-Kayode is a bigoted tribalist. Only a tribalist can say he is not anti-Ibo and then say this about the Igbos: “(They are) collectively unlettered, uncouth, uncultured, unrestrained and crude in all their ways.” “They have no restraining factors because money and the acquisition of wealth is their sole objective and purpose in life.” Clearly, Femi Fani-Kayode is out of control. He has become something of a train-wreck. He was President Obasanjo’s agent-provocateur for so long, where he maligned elder-statesmen like Yakubu Gowon; he no longer knows how to speak with decorum.
The American model: I am Yoruba. Nevertheless, I repeat; the Igbos of Lagos are Lagosians. They are Lagosians whether ethnic jingoists like Femi Fani-Kayode like it or not. The Lagos branch of the old Action Congress of Nigeria acknowledged that no less than 45% of the population of Lagos is Igbo.
That is a fact that cannot be ignored or simply wished-away. It is not improbable that, in a few years time, the majority of people living in Lagos will be Igbos. Short of changing the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, that tells me an Igbo man can rightfully become the future Governor of Lagos State. That should give some food-for-thought to the Fani-Kayodes.
The system of government in Nigeria is modeled after that of the United States. In the U.S., Hilary Clinton is a native of Illinois. Nevertheless, in 2000 she contested for election as Senator in New York and won. She was eligible to run for the seat simply because she and her husband moved to New York and lived there for only one year. Similarly, some Ibos have been in Lagos for 50 years.
That should make them eligible to run for office. If they vote the ethnic card, as Yorubas often do, Femi Fani-Kayode might have a heart-attack. An Igbo man might conceivably become the Governor of Lagos State. That is what democracy is all about.
The growing political muscle of Igbo-Lagosians has been obscured by electoral malpractices. That cannot last forever. Sooner than later, Igbo-Lagosians will start to pull their political weight in Lagos. True indigenes of Lagos, as opposed to carpet-baggers like the Fani-Kayodes, have traditionally been open-minded about Igbos and non-indigenes. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, a Nigerian nationalist who happened to be Igbo, once won an election in Lagos, before Awolowo appealed to tribal politics to truncate it.
Grudging acknowledgement of the growing political clout of the Igbos led to the appointment of a token Ibo man, Pastor Ben Akabueze, as Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget in Lagos by Governor Babatunde Fashola; a post he has held for six years.
Femi Fani-Kayode should have gone to court to challenge that appointment. Soon, such tokenism will just not cut it. Igbo-Lagosians will demand a more proportionate share of the local political power. If they play their cards right, they will get it. Igbo-Lagosians vote in Lagos. Therefore, they can be voted for in Lagos. No constitutional amendment is required to bring this about.
New multi-culture: Given his educational background, one would have expected Fani-Kayode to be more enlightened. A Nigerian cannot be an alien in Nigeria. An Igbo man cannot be an alien in Lagos. Igbos are not illegal aliens in Lagos. They are at home. In Nigeria, a Nigerian is entitled to live wherever he wants. If the resources of the Niger-Delta can be Nigerianised to the benefit of Yoruba-Lagosians, then Lagos cannot be the exclusive preserve of Yoruba-Lagosians.
Since Nigeria belongs to all Nigerians, then Lagos belongs to all Nigerians. During the census enumeration, some of us insisted that Igbos must stay and be counted in Lagos for that very reason. Since Igbo-Lagosians are a significant part of the local population who contribute immensely to key sectors of the economy, the national census must reflect the fact that they live and work in Lagos.
I recently visited London after a ten-year absence. What I saw was a highly cosmopolitan city with people of different nationalities, including Nigerians. London is no longer a town of the English. It is now a megalopolis in the true sense of the word. On several occasions, I overheard people speaking Yoruba in the streets of London. On one occasion, I could not resist the urge to interject, even though uninvited.
Nigerians are everywhere. On a visit in May 2013 to WashingtonD.C., United States for the Nigerian Development and Finance Forum, under the auspices of Financial Nigeria Limited, I was informed by the Deputy Ambassador of Nigeria to the United States that there are currently five million Nigerians in the U.S. There are even more Nigerians in Sudan; over eight million.
Nigerians constitute a significant percentage of the population of Cote d’Ivoire. There are more Nigerians in Equatorial Guinea than Equatorial-Guineans. There is no country on planet earth where you will not find a sizeable population of Nigerians. U.N. projections predict that Nigeria will soon be the fourth largest country in the world, surpassed by only China, India and the United States. Under such circumstances, a Nigerian like Femi Fani-Kayode should not be hankering after a small real-estate called Lagos. Nigerians must become citizens of the world.
Signs of the times
Joseph was a Jewish slave in Egypt. Nevertheless, he rose to become the Egyptian Prime-Minister. That happened in biblical days, and not twenty-first century Egypt. More recently in 2008, Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan, became president of the United States. In 2010, John Abraham Godson, a Nigerian-born Polish citizen became a Member of Parliament in Poland. In April, 2013, Cecile Kyenge, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, became the Minister of Integration of the Republic of Italy. Surely, Femi Fani-Kayode cannot discern these signs of the times.
New Nigeria: Back home, M.K.O. Abiola, a Yoruba man, won his famous presidential election in 1993 by relying on Hausa, Fulani, Ibo and other votes. He was not just elected by Yorubas. Yorubas did not even vote for Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999. He became President by relying on northern, eastern and south-south votes. Goodluck Jonathan became president in 2011 by forging a coalition that stretched across the Niger and the Benue to all parts of Nigeria.
When Odumegwu Ojukwu died, the entire nation of Nigeria consoled the Igbos. Collectively, we declared with one voice that the civil war is truly over. We must not allow the Femi Fani-Kayodes to turn back the clock. Next time Femi Fani-Kayode wants to tell us “the bitter truth,” he should tell us about N19.5 billion Aviation Fund mismanaged under his watch as Minister of Aviation under the Obasanjo administration. That is the bitter truth we need to hear from him right now.