By Kenneth Ikonne
In Lagos, the polite Igbo conversational descriptive phrase for the Yoruba, which is still used till this day is “NDI ALAA”, or, “NDI NWE ALAA”. It translates simply as “The owners of this land”, that is, the Yoruba. When some people refer to Lagos as a “no man’s land”, it is perhaps an inelegant way of denoting the libertarian cosmopolitan status of Lagos as first, a former federal capital territory for almost a century, a commercial oligapolis, and a melting pot of progressive ideas.
But Lagos never lost its enervating Yoruba cultural flavour, and none of our people who made it a home, beginning from Nnamdi Azikiwe himself, disdained the Yoruba cultural element, or successfully resisted its alluring mores and engaging cultural pulls. The great Zik himself bore the Yoruba name, Bamidele, and also bestowed Yoruba names on two of his own sons! Millions of Igbo children born in Lagos, or who were raised in Lagos, speak idiomatic Yoruba, and affect Yoruba mannerisms with pride and honour, even on visits to their ancestral homes in the East; most are incapable of pronouncing a single word of Igbo, giving rise to tangible concerns that the Igbo language itself might be heading towards extinction! So much for the Igbo cultural imperialism that nihilists and political opportunists are today trying to pin on the Lagos Igbos.
Orji Uzor Kalu, APC Senator – elect, and Jagaban Tinubu’s political ally, called Lagos a no man’s land, in a newspaper article, a few years ago. But it was not Ohaneze that sent him to say what he said, and it is even a moot point whether Kalu does indeed belong to Ohaneze. Kalu justifiably drew flak, not just from the Yoruba political and cultural establishment, but from the Igbo intelligentsia as well.
Kalu may have meant it as a cultural insult, and one or two other equally misguided Igbos may similarly have mouthed the offensive cliche! But there is a sense in which the cliche is actually a compliment, and an acknowledgement of the cosmopolitan eminence of that great oligapolis. The cliche must not be interpreted to mean a challenge to, or a denigration of the city’s cultural institutions, or its land tenure system. Until a wave of Igbo settlers descends, without consideration or cultural obeisance, or municipal authorization, on portions of Lagos lands, and commences land grabbing and structural development, the charge of Igbo cultural impertinence in Lagos will fail to stick. Till today, Igbo landowning elements in Lagos still acknowledge the customary overlordship of their Yoruba landlords, and still discharge the attendant pecuniary incidents. How then is Lagos a no man’s land in the pejorative sense? Afterall, the fact that the fabled musician, Killington, called himself a GENERAL did not enable him to inspect a military parade anywhere!
Nothing justifies the ongoing political conspiracy to disenfranchise the Igbo in Lagos, citing a phantom cultural impertinence. It began in 2015, and was given imprimatur by the royal indiscretion of Oba Akiolu via unfortunate threats to drown the Igbo in the Lagos bay should they fail to vote Ambode. It’s now been taken a notch higher by a hired mob of gangsters acting out an obvious political script. If the APC leadership in Lagos finds the changes in the demographic map of Lagos uncomfortable, the better approach would be to recognize this reality, constructively and imaginatively engage it and benefit from it, using suasion, rather than threats and coercion. But to try to justify the unfortunate events in Okota a week ago with the bogey of Igbo imperialism is to take chicanery too far!