The fall of Lagos into the hands of the invaders during the presidential elections rattled me for some days. The possibility that I can wake up one morning to discover that my Governor is one Chinedu frightens me to the marrow. I don’t even know whether to begin this piece with an apology to those who may prefer a discourse on nationality to ethnicity. However, in a situation where there is an existential threat to what defines my identity and humanity, subscription to sophomoric courtesies becomes a matter of tendentious indulgence. I want to start with a narrative on my origin since the crux of the matter is about heritage.
I am a comprehensive Lagosian. I am from Lagos Island. My great grandfather, Richard Odeliyi Thomas was one of the first merchants-cum-settlers to build mansions in Lagos Island circa 1854. It was in that mansion he had his first son, my grandfather, Josiah Akinwande Thomas on 27 August 1882. With some arrogant modesty typical of an average Lagosian, let me say, he was a wealthy man. His mansion was not the only testament of his wealth, the street was named after him. In the whole of Lagos Island at that time, Nos 8 and 10 Richards Lane was seen as Ile Baba Olowo. That was my great grandfather’s house. He shared this corridor of affluence with some other great Lagos families like the Shitta-Bey, the Kumolu-Johnson, the Derby, the Brown, the Benjamin, the Akinsemoyin, the Wolf, the Foresythe, the Bamgbose. To crown it all, his second son, Chief C. A. Thomas was married to the daughter of the famous Candido Da Rocha. So, between Breadfruit Street, Richards Lane, Shitta Street and Kakawa Street, we had the Lagos greats whose houses and cars were the insignia of their opulence and splendour.
After about 100 years into the existence of the mansion, precisely 1956, the LEDB (Lagos Executive Development Board) came up with a re-development project for Lagos Island. This project, conceived but not executed, led to the resettlement of my family and several others in what was called ‘New Lagos’, now Surulere. Today, the Akinsemoyin and the Da Rocha still retain their family houses in Lagos Island. But the Thomase, the Shitta Bey, the Derby, the Foresythe, the Brown and the Benjamin had been dispatched to Surulere. I know that apart from their house in Surulere, the Shitta-Bey had been able to come up with a sokolo bungalow in the Shitta-Bey court on Martin Street, Lagos Island.
As for me and my family, there is nothing to show that my great grandfather ever lived or owned a street in Lagos Island. The entire stretch of the street is now a flourishing market for costume hawkers. The house, which should serve as a memorabilia for me and my children and grandchildren, has become an agora for assorted merchandise. But thank God for my aunty, Mrs Yéwándé Oyediran, Da Rocha’s granddaughter who has been living in Da Rocha’s Kakawa’s house for many decades now, I probably won’t have anything to show for my “Lagos Islandness”. In three years time, my father’s house in Surulere (Barracks) will be 70 years. Same for my mother’s house in Barracks.
My mother has her own house courtesy of my great grandmother, Moriamo Ashabi Buraimoh. She too was resettled in Surulere when the LEDB demolished her house in Ita Akanni, Lagos Island. Some years back, some of my uncles toyed with the idea of selling the house because it belongs to my great-grandmother. I stopped them. You don’t need the details. As for my father’s house, I do not envisage any problem because God has blessed all of us with our own houses. As the first born, I have told my seven siblings (almost all of them live abroad) to use the place as a hospitality facility just for the purpose of maintenance. As at now, our mother still lives there and running her canteen business.
Enough of History. We may still come back to it though. I have gone into this long narrative of my Lagos Island background to show how painful it could be for one to be detached from his roots. Though I still have my family houses in Surulere, there is nothing that can ever compensate for the separation of you and your source, or better still, you from your source. You can now imagine how petrified I will be to now harbour the fear that I could lose my land to strangers. I don’t even want to imagine such a scenario for a day, let alone four years, eight years or even forever knowing what these invaders are capable of doing to the land if they succeed.
I have been asking myself how we got to this precipice. First was our accommodationist policy. Enslaved by the concept of Omoluabi, we opened our doors to all and sundry, particularly to the invaders from the east, pampering them with lavish and amazing hospitality, thinking that our generousity towards them will be a kind of investment for future political cooperation and alliance. Unfortunately, this has not worked for us. It is ending up like a dangerous investment. Our hospitality is coming back to hurt us and is threatening our existence as a people and our collective heritage. When a people you gave shelter to in your house start interrogating your ownership of the land, then you should know that an invasion is brewing. When a people that should show gratitude for being treated with dignity start questioning your authority, you should know that an invader is within your vicinity. When you start admitting strangers on your land without defined borders and territorial limitations, then you are courting encroachment. When you keep selling your family houses to the highest bidders from the East, then you should be ready to be harangued by strangers someday. Our kindness has become a powerful instrument of territorial appropriation in the hands of our visitors.
Again, with aggressive invaders all over you, you are displaying open hatred for your community head thus exposing the cracked wall in your house to the lurking lizard. Bola Tinubu, your own son, who governed the land for eight years became your enemy. You ganged up against him and started persecuting and abusing him for doing good for the land. What was his crime? You accused him of imposing strangers as leaders. The first person you called a stranger was Akinwande Ambode. Was he really a stranger? He said he is from Epe, you said he is from Ilaje in Ondo State. I was personally involved in the whole selection drama of Ambode but I will leave that for another day. Now, when Oga stopped him from going for second term because of pressure from within, you were all happy. About four years after, see what happened. The same Ondo people you stopped their son from doing second term returned an amazing number of votes that gave Tinubu the eventual victory.
Let’s move to Jide Sanwo-Olu. You protested again when he gave you Sanwo-Olu. You claimed he is from Ijebu when most of you know his matrilineal ancestry in Lagos Island. Again, it is this same Ijebu man whose state (Ogun) gave Tinubu a large chunk of the majority votes. Now, those of us who call ourselves indigenes, what did we give him in return? We connived with strangers to disgrace our own illustrious son because of envy and jealousy. But when God decided to disgrace us, He made him the President of the whole nation as a compensation for our iku ile conspiracy in Lagos State. Sensing the grave danger ahead of us should Lagos fall into the hands of the enemy, we are now running kitikiti and katakata trying to undo our own afowofa.
Let us examine the “indigene” that the Labour Party has given to you as your governor. His name is Chinedu Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour. Tinubu, a Yoruba leader, gave you Ambode from Ondo, you called him a stranger. He gave you Sanwo-Olu from Ijebu, you called him a stranger. Now, Obi of Anambra State has given you Chinedu of Lagos, what are you going to call him? Can we now see where family squabbles and envy have led us? An Obi from Anambra who never did anything for the state is now the one calling the shots in my state. O ma ṣe o. It has really gone so bad that an Igbo man from Anambra State is choosing a governor for us. An Obi from Anambra who cannot boast of employing one Lagosian into the state civil service during his eight-year rule in Anambra now has the effrontery to mobilise his own people, and our own gullible, ignorant and naive children to install an Igbosian as governor of our state!!!
Why should the preachment and practicalisation of charity politics and no man’s land begin from Lagos? Why not Anambra or Enugu? We, I mean Lagosians in particular and Yoruba in general, are undertaking a dangerous and costly experiment capable of consuming our collective patrimony and heritage, if not nipped in the bud NOW. It is sad that we have found ourselves in a situation that an indigene is now wearing the regalia of Ndigbo to campaign for governorship in Lagos. So sad that we now find ourselves in a situation that an indigene of the state will be campaigning in Lagos with a retinue of Igbo women and men and chiefs with no Lagos women and chiefs in attendance. It is unfortunate that we now have our own children, who do not understand the politics of dynastic hegemony, collaborating with strangers using a palatinate change slogan to de-establish themselves from their natural territory and joking with their traditional privileges and rights. I pray that one day we will not find the son of a royalty enmeshed in the unforced error of self-induced servitude. This is an electoral warfare that can only be fought with numbers NOT GUNS.
What we need is effective and massive mobilisation and deployment of our human artillery to overcome this tyranny of ingratitude. There must be no physical combat. Let’s turn everything to a festival of votes by returning our own son, Sanwo-Olu back to office and also use our victory at the polls as a conciliation between us and the President-elect who we betrayed. Yes, that was betrayal. How can we win all the senatorial seats and almost all the House of Representatives seats but failed to deliver in the presidential election.? Ah, Yoruba, e ma buru o. Thank God, he is not our mate again. He is now the President of Nigeria. There is no doubt that God is always on the side of the righteous. We have been nice to them but they have been unkind to us. The way to show gratitude for our hospitality is not by snatching our precious heritage while preserving yours with aggressive intolerance. When we play politics, we should draw red lines. The desperation of a man in search of power should not constitute an existential threat to the heritage of a peaceful collectivity. Politics can accommodate profanity but heritage is all about sanctity. Obi wants power but Lagosians want the preservation of their territory.
The slogan: Lagos is no man’s land is nothing but the creed of territorial banditry. On the day of the governorship election, take the aged with Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) along, assist the physically-challenged who have PVCs to the polls, go with your husband, don’t leave your wife behind, stroll to the polls with the youth in your house and neighborhood after you must have lectured them on the significance of heritage. Let them know that ethnicity is about national politics while local politics is about heritage and indigeneship. Ask them why they want to put a Chinedu in Alausa when their mobilisers cannot tolerate an Aremu in Anambra State’s seat of power. If they now agree with you, please take them along. Please take them to the polls on conviction not by conscription so that they won’t get there and vote against us. You can also inform them – with the youth, you never can tell what will make them to change their minds – that Chinedu, Labour Party’s gubernatorial candidate once twitted this scary message: “…..Biafra Day is a day to be acknowledged and respected”. The implication of this is that if he should win (God forbid), Lagos will automatically become the strategic cantonment of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPoB). Lagos will become the epicentre of Biafra war against the rest of the country. Tell your children that when IPoB turns Lagos to their front line, they will not be able to identify them with the votes they cast for Chinedu but by the language they speak. Once you are identified as a Yoruba person, you are an adversary. There is no column for solidarity allies in any frontline. Adversaries are adversaries.
The fall of Lagos will trigger the domino theory because all the South West states are no longer safe. This is why every Yoruba son and daughter who has a voting status in Lagos State should arise on that day to go and vote for Sanwo-Olu of All Progressives Congress in order to save Lagos, and – by extension – Yorubaland from the impending Armageddon that the victory of Chinedu will bring to the land.
Thomas, an international scholar, is a lecturer at the Department of History and International Studies, Lagos State University