Why have the Yoruba and the Igbo not been engaging in perennial bloody ethnic clashes? One could find the answer in the respect the two peoples have for the sanctity of the human life as well as their tolerance level and love for conflict resolution. On different occasions, some Yoruba and Igbo have had altercations at the individual level within their markets or residential quarters. Some of these altercations even resulted in the death of someone. Happily, none of these quarrels has been allowed to degenerate into ethnic clashes and killings. However, in recent times, ethnic hate between the Igbo and the Yoruba has been on its head, especially in Lagos State. The first occurred in 2013 after the “deportation” of some Igbo from Lagos to Anambra State by the Lagos State Government during the tenure of Babatunde Fashola. Many Igbo felt bad about it. Verbal exchanges were made by the Igbo and Yoruba, including prominent politicians. Similarly, in 2015, the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwanu Akiolu, was quoted as threatening some Igbo leaders that if the Igbo did not vote for Akinwunmi Ambode of the All Progressives Congress as the governor of Lagos State, they would perish in the Lagos lagoon. That utterance was condemned by many Nigerians, including most Yoruba people. However, shortly after, it was hijacked by ethnic bigots and turned into an Igbo-Yoruba verbal war. When the 2015 elections results were announced, even though Ambode won the Lagos governorship seat and Maj.-Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) of the APC also beat the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party, to become the President, the PDP won some House of Representatives and Lagos State House of Assembly seats in four Local Government Areas: Amuwo Odofin, Ajeromi/Ifelodun, Oshodi/Isolo and Ojo. The ethnic origins of the winners were Yoruba, Igbo and Urhobo. For some Yoruba, this emergence of non-indigenes in Lagos elections was simply a result of the cosmopolitan nature of the city, just as is obtainable in great cities like London, New York, and Paris. It was a sign of potential greatness. But to others, it was an affront and a sign that the Igbo wanted to “dominate” the Yoruba in their own land, “grab their land” and “re-colonise” them. Threats and taunts started flying around again. No major issue arose again since 2015 until February 23, 2019, which was the date for the rescheduled presidential and National Assembly elections. Before the elections, the prevailing argument across the nation was whether it was better to vote for the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, or former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, of the PDP. However, while votes were being cast on February 23, there were reports with pictures and videos that some thugs stormed some polling units in the Okota and Aguda areas of the state, which have a high population of the Igbo residents, beat voters up, scared voters away, destroyed the ballot boxes and already cast ballots, setting some on fire in some cases, and telling the voters to go back to their states of origin to vote. Even though this action of the thugs was condemned by some Yoruba, it was justified by some others. Soon afterwards, a war of words ensued between the Yoruba and the Igbo. Sadly, some of the educated and enlightened ones, who were expected to look at the issue from exalted perspectives, got mired in the ethnic cesspool. One of them was Mr Femi Kusa, a former editor of The Guardian newspaper, who wrote an article with the title, “Okota: The Igbo Question, Jimi Agbaje, Afenifere and the Rest of Us.” In the article, he argued that by choosing to vote for candidates and political parties of their choice which contrasted with the political preferences of the mainstream Yoruba people of Lagos, the Igbo were on an expansionist, jihadist mission. He added: “The major problem, in my opinion, is the Igbo penchant to wish to take over another person’s land.” If this had sprung from someone in the low class (with little or no education, travel experience and exposure to the world), it would have been dismissed as typical and borne out of ignorance. But that this came out from an educated and urbane person and was put in writing worry to no end. It showed growing ethnic intolerance and ethnic xenophobia in Lagos and the South-West. It is dangerous because it is this type of write-ups that seep into people and create the fire in them to execute a genocidal attack on another ethnic group in the name of defending their land against “expansionists” and “neo-colonialists”. The irony in this whole thing is that Nigerians celebrate anytime they hear that their compatriots, who emigrated to other countries or were born there, have been elected or appointed into political office. In fact, in Peckham in the London Borough of Southwark, the Yoruba are so much in the majority that they decide who hold which post. And this is portrayed as a thing of pride. This current crisis is all about political power, concealed in ethnic garb. It is nothing but power tussle between the APC and the PDP. It is all about who controls Lagos State. And nothing more. Unfortunately, many people who are not politically and intellectually savvy get carried away into believing that it is an ethnic tussle. After the elections, it will fizzle out, only to be resurrected in a fiercer dimension in 2023, when there will be a contest of not just who will rule Lagos but also which ethnic group will rule Nigeria. There is something unique about Lagos that other states of Nigeria do not have. No doubt, Lagos is geographically located in the South-West and Yorubaland, but being the capital of Nigeria for 77 years, Lagos acquired a unique image as the melting and meeting point of all Nigerians. Naturally, it attracted government presence and investments. It also attracted foreign missions, international bodies and businesses. Even after the capital was relocated to Abuja, Lagos did not feel it much, because by that time, it had attracted a surfeit of human beings and businesses. The greatness of Lagos is in its diversity. Take that away and it becomes like any other city in Nigeria. And the more a city grows, the more its diversity increases. That is why it is possible for London to have the son of an immigrant and a Muslim, Sadiq Khan, as mayor. That may not happen in other remote cities in the United Kingdom. Nobody can take away Lagos from its location. Anybody who calls Lagos a “no man’s land” is either ignorant or mischievous. But nobody should use that as a pretext to tell Nigerians that they are not welcome to vote in Lagos or any part of Nigeria. Anybody who harasses citizens and prevents them from exercising their franchise is breaking the constitution and courting trouble. And should be treated as an outlaw. Insecurity is the greatest enmity to great cities. Lagos has benefited from a feeling of security and safety. Those who love Lagos must not create a sense of insecurity in it. Some decades ago, Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, was the commercial hub of the Middle East. Warlords destroyed the place with strife. The United Arab Emirates took advantage of that by projecting Dubai and welcoming people. Nobody hears of Beirut today. Dubai is the new tourist kid on the block. The leaders of the UAE will resist any attempt to create ethnic or religious tension in Dubai, because they know its implications. Those who love Lagos should drop the ethnic threats and think of how to make Lagos comparable to other great cities of the world. It is not termed a megacity for nothing. –Twitter @BrandAzuka]]>
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