Eko, Yoruba, and Nnamdi Azikiwe's Dream/

Though it has long been the habit of non-Yoruba speakers to refer to Eko as Lagos, it remains a fact (of great significance) that indigenous Ara Eko (as well as other Yoruba) never do so when speaking to each other about the place.

Before Nigeria existed, Eko was a melting pot. Here lived enterprising persons from all corners of the Yoruba commonwealth side by side with Edo, Nupe, and Hausa. Later on, they were joined by returnees from forced labour plantations in the Americas. They all called themselves Ara Eko and though origins differed - though Eko's culture had its own unique variations on practices common to all Yoruba states - all Ara Eko knew that they were a part of the larger Yoruba commonwealth.

The thing to note here is that though a significant minority had origins outside Yorubaland, all were unified by the identity Ara Eko and by their acknowledgement of the primacy of the Yoruba mother culture that Eko's founders belonged to.

I mention all this to illustrate the existence of some notable historical facts that are hardly acknowledged by 'enlightened' elites who see little or nothing wrong with the persistent push to solidify in mass consciousness, when speaking on matters concerning ownership of the state, the primacy of an identity called 'Lagosian'.

The same people who boast about how Ibo 'dominate business ' in Eko, the same who assert that Ibo (who in reality are mostly tenants), 'own' most of the properties in the choicest areas, the same who claim that the time has come for an Ibo to govern, will later turn around and speak against identity politics when the practitioners are Yoruba - their recommendation being that it would be better for Ara Eko to simply see themselves, as 'Lagosians'.

These are ones so steeped in hypocrisy that they even fool themselves.

Truth of the matter is that if this drive to eradicate the pre-existing identity of Eko and replace it with an amorphous identity 'Lagosian' were a sincere one, then there would be no need for any person or interest engaged in politics or governance to be identified as Ibo either.

However, this is not the case. This drive towards the emergence of 'Lagosian' as an identity that replaces Ara Eko is nothing more than an attempt to turn Eko into a settler colony where Eko's Yoruba identity becomes a thing of the past. Meanwhile, the passivity with which some Yoruba view this endeavour can be attributed to a lack of assimilated historical knowledge - i.e. in ones who do not know (or fully comprehend the significance) of the fact that similar attempts had been made in the past and, what it took to frustrate those attempts.  

The Ibo were the first to establish ethnicity-defined political associations in Nigeria. In 1934, the Ibo Union of Lagos was set up to harness the votes of Ibo as a bloc for Ibo origin candidates vying for political offices in the city. While the group was solidly behind all candidates endorsed by Nnamdi Azikiwe, his newspaper, the West African Pilot, engaged in propaganda against Yoruba personages or groupings that were seen as obstacles to the machinations that this prominent Ibo son had embarked upon with the objective of turning himself into the most potent political force not only in Eko, but in the entirety of Yorubaland. 

Eleven years after the formation of the Ibo Union, Obafemi Awolowo and some other Yoruba formed Egbe Omo Oduduwa (which laid the foundations for the Action Group). When the new Eleko, Adeniji Adele - embodying a growing awareness amongst Yoruba that the NCNC no longer represented the political interests of all so-called Nigerians without prejudice - shifted his support to the Action Group, attacks on the city's traditional institutions by Nnamdi Azikiwe's media organs were launched. While this was going on, the pre-existing policy of constantly maligning the Action Group as 'tribalists' intensified; a most hypocritical policy since the ones now complaining about 'tribalism' had in fact been the same persons who introduced it into Nigerian politics with the formation of the very active Ibo Union.

A pattern becomes clear: Ones bring something into being but when it no longer works to their benefit, they start portraying themselves as its blameless victims. Ibo had introduced ethnicity-based politics into Nigeria in the 1930s as a way of consolidating their numbers into a unified force that, with the addition of supplementary ballots from naive non-Ibo individuals who voted with their conscience only, could win political offices. And it had worked for a while as many Yoruba, not conscious of the parochial function of the Ibo Union in the NCNC, continued to support the party. However, the time of ignorance eventually ended and Yoruba too started to play ethnic politics, at which time, the inventors of the stratagem started complaining about it...

The same thing happened later when after January 1966's coup, the ascendant Ibo political-military elite, not knowing that their dominance was temporary, eradicated Nigeria's regional character and put up in its place, a unitary (highly centralised) structure that they expected would grant them the hegemony that they had been unable to obtain at the ballot box. Unfortunately for them, as before, others came along and used this other creation of the Ibo race for their own purposes...at which time, again, the Ibo started complaining about how unfair things were.   

As far as the political future of Eko goes, what was done in other so-called mega cities around the world is of no concern to us. Foreigners did not determine the characteristics of political and economic power structures in any of these cities. The founders were the ones who decided what their cities would become and, how they would become these things. Yoruba Eko should not be expected to settle for anything less.

Events leading up to 2015’s elections served to make it obvious now that Ibo had only been biding their time in Ile O’dua. They had been waiting to be strong enough before they claimed what they believe is their true status. The rise of Jonathan and the subsequent increased prominence of persons like Okonjo Iweala, Pius Anyim, Ifeanyi Uba, Ihejerika, etc. made them believe that the time was right. Having gained control of the PDP - having succeeded in handing over authority in the garrisons constructed by Obasanjo for the PDP in O’dua to manipulable short-sighted imbeciles, the inheritors of Nnamdi Azikiwe's dream believed that the objective of establishing an Ibo hegemony in 'southern' Nigeria was finally achievable. So, many of them dropped their masks. We started seeing their true faces.

Yet there remains a strong tide operating within the stream of Yoruba political consciousness that believes in continuing to reach out a hand of friendship towards the Ibo collective. What those who willingly swim along with this tide have not taken cognisance of is what the Ibo see when they look at Yoruba. The most amiable amongst them will describe the relationship between our two peoples as 'rivalry' while the ones speaking from the primal Ibo soul will declare that Yoruba are the enemy. Some Yoruba hear themselves described by Ibo as 'rivals' and it does not occur to them to ask why ones must welcome people who describe themselves as 'rivals' into their territory. Is it not in fact the case that these more urbane Ibo, by describing Yoruba as 'rivals', are actually acknowledging the fact that Yoruba are seen as antagonists to Ibo (in a more 'civilised' manner)?

The truth of the matter is this: all the self-censorship and insistence that all Yoruba see Ibo as their fellow 'Nigerians', fellow 'southerners', etc. is nothing more than a demonstration of weakness. The more Yoruba take up causes like 'marginalisation' on behalf of Ibo and, the more they criticise those Yoruba who call out Ibo on their tendency for hegemony in other people's territory, the more Ibo supremacists like the ones running various Biafra organisations are encouraged to see Yoruba as a people who have already been defeated on the battlefields of ideas and morale.

Since this is not the case - since the majority of Yoruba in actuality feel no obligation towards Ibo aside from that which culture demands must be given to all guests as a proof of civilisation and, since Yoruba in truth have no fear of what Ibo may be capable of, encouraging diehard belligerents from that nation to see a favourable end to any conflict against Yoruba as a fait accompli is a dangerous thing.

Ones like me now speak this way to let Ibo know that there is another type of Yoruba person. The intent is to cause them to inculcate (within their collective consciousness) the fact that Yoruba owe them as much as we owe the Ashanti or the Ewe. There is no special bond between our peoples that compel us to see any inch of our territory as a place that is co-owned with Ibo. Had it not been for the unnatural act of creation inflicted by Britain in the early 20th century, it is most certain that the gaps between us would still be as they have been for thousands of years and arguments about places like Eko being a 'no man's land' that Ibo have an equal claim to would never have arisen.

The days of reckoning are still ahead - inevitable unless a way is found to put space between ourselves. We have never been and will never be members of the same nation. The differences between us are simply too irreconcilable. In O’dua, Ibo are easy to get along with if you are just dealing with them in a one to one basis. But let there be four of them and eight of you, and two of them will blatantly tell you eight that they have more value than you all while the other two look on in silent agreement. We have found this truth about them: even in territories that belong to others, they must not only ‘dominate’, all others must also acknowledge that this is the natural order of things. In other words, whilst humanity in this modern era is striving to move away from paradigms that devastated millions of lives as nations with notions of superiority sought to impose their hegemony over others, we still have in Nigeria, a significant number of people who truly see nothing wrong is asserting the right of their ethnic group to ‘dominate’ in lands belonging to other people.  

So since in fact the thing that brought us together was an unnatural process of great malevolence and no benefits, it should be easy to comprehend why no Yoruba person in his or her right mind will have any sort of sentimental attachment to the debris left behind (by the process) and, as a consequence, feel no obligation to satisfy the whims of strangers who think of themselves as ones with entitlements.