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In defence of Oba Rilwan Akiolu of Lagos

However distorted, Nigeria runs a federal system. The Ibos, like other immigrants from other parts of the country, have lived peacefully with their Yoruba host communities for decades.  The Ibos have always enjoyed better privileges in Yoruba land than among their own people at home. That they won an election in Lagos to represent indigenes whose language they don’t speak without the killings and mayhem we have witnessed in parts of the southeast is enough evidence.

But even long before now, in the 1940s at a time when non indigenous Onitsha were regarded as settlers and denied the same privileges as the Onitsha indigenes, the Ibos in Lagos and part of Yoruba land were already standing for elections. (G I Jones, Report of the position, status and influence of chiefs and natural rulers in the eastern region of Nigeria (Enugu 1957).

In 1950 when the indigenous ‘Onitshans’ which constituted only 12.5% of the population controlled majority of the members of the council and the non Onitsha Ibo had to form an association to agitate for equal treatment for non Onitsha in the manner of allocation of stalls and equal democratic representation in the Onitsha local council, (Richard Sklar, Nigerian political Parties: Power in An Emergent African Nation), the Igbo in Lagos controlled the NCNC which was initially a Yoruba party.  Zik, who was the only non-Yoruba at the inaugural meeting of NCNC rose on merit to become the leader of the party.

Zik became a household name in major towns of Yoruba country. But for the overbearing activities of Igbo hawks and Zik’s 1949 gaffe when as the president of Ibo Federation Union he declared; ‘the martial prowess of the Igbo nation at all stages of human history has enabled them not only to conquer others but also to adapt themselves to the role of preserver,” yet, he was on his way to becoming the premier of the Yoruba country. That unrestrained statement was all the Action Group led by young Yoruba professionals and intellectuals needed to mobilise and convince Yoruba voters and traditional rulers that a Yoruba country should be led by a Yoruba and not an Igbo irredentist.

Oba Akinolu’s anguish, I’m sure was not that Igbo won elections to represent his people but the body language and the indiscretion of a segment of Igbo elite. After the first round of elections, the Ibos, who gave block votes to President Jonathan not out of principle, (for four years he did not fulfill any of the promises to the south east), wanted the Oba to appreciate their newly acquired power to decide who governs Lagos.  If they embark on irrational block vote for the President, it becomes even more irrational to do the same to derail a government that everyone adjudged better than any PDP- run state in the country and which has allowed the Igbo to thrive.

We must not forget these are the luxuries they don’t have in Abia, Ebonyin, Enugu, and Rivers Akwa Ibom where the Ohanezes, the Obis and Amayanabos decreed who to vote for and their anointed candidates won a landslide with statically impossible electoral returns of about 95% of registered voters.

Leaders and Obas in Yoruba country cannot go against the will of their people. This perhaps explains why the Oba told the Igbo that those who work against the interest of Lagos will die in the lagoon. The Oba couldn’t have put it differently. Unfortunately, his Igbo visitors singing ‘winners o winner’, saw the Obas reaction as a threat because they don’t understand our culture that teaches us not to bite the fingers that fed us, a culture defines our behaviours and worldview.

While it is part of the Igbo culture to ‘run away when calamity befalls the owners of the land who know how to appease their own gods, we as Yoruba have been forewarned that “eiyele ki ba onile je, ba onile mu, ki o salo ni ojo isoro” literarily saying you are not allowed to abandon your benefactor when he is in difficulty. Our respected leaders say:  ‘eniti o ba dale , a bale lo’(those who betray the cause of the Yoruba race will die a miserable death).

This is not a curse but a call to maintain certain standard of behavior expected of ‘Omoluabi’. The only people who have anything to fear are those who are planning evil. Unfortunately, a segment of the Igbo elite, in the last few days have engaged in futile exercise of trying to teach the Oba democracy ignoring what was described by observers as vote allocation in the south south and southeast followed by screaming newspaper headlines such as “Bloody polls in Rivers, Ebonyi and Akwa Ibom”; “Police, thugs kill 18”; houses, cars burnt”; “policeman, youth, leader shot dead”; “INEC office, vehicles bombed”; “AIG Ogunsakin ordered out of Rivers”; “10 NYSC member, soldiers caught voting in General’s house”.

They forget the dominant party ran neck to neck in Lagos and other parts of Yoruba country. And that was not by accident. If democracy is about participation, freedom of choice, checks and balances and accountability, the Yoruba country had practiced democracy for a thousand years before the advent of the Europeans. The pre -colonial history of Nigeria clearly shows a system of government existed in Oyo that was as good if not superior to the modern democracy, the world new god.

The embattled Oba’s warning against an irrational use of block votes in the name of democracy to derail 16 years of development recorded in spite of efforts of clueless PDP-led federal government that did everything, including seizing Lagos state local government allocations, instigation of non indigenes against indigenes and bribing outlawed militant groups to cause mayhem during elections, came against the back drop of mischievous claims such as “we came from the east to turn jungle into a city” and “Lagos is no man’s land”.

With such statements from a former governor of a state where elected governor was kidnapped and locked up like a criminal in broad day light by gangsters or from barely literate street traders who became stupendously wealthy; or still some parasites who emerged from detention over fuel subsidy scam to become chief fund raiser and campaign manager to a president, one can understand the righteous indignation of the Oba of Lagos.

It cannot be any less exasperating when immigrants lay claim to a kingdom and territories his illustrious forbears fought the British to protect until they were forced to sign a treaty with the British in 1861.

And for those on civilization mission, P C Lloyd has shown that the Yoruba country was more culturally developed not only than any part of Nigeria but more than Europe as at the time the Europeans came if we use urbanisation as index of measurement. For instance, while in 1921 the population of Ibadan was put at 287,133, Lagos 99,890, Ogbomosho, 84,880; Oshogbo 51, 413 Iwo 51,183, Ede 48,300, Enugu, a mining village had a population of only 3,170, Aba 2,327 and Onitsha 10,309.

Of all the capitals of The Fulani caliphates, Sokoto had 19,335; Zaria -25,000); Katsina-17, 489 and Kano with a figure of 49,938 was the only town in the north with a population of close to fifty thousand. Ilorin that was closest to Kano with a population of 38,388 was for all intent and purposes a Yoruba town. As a matter of fact by 1931 when Ibadan had a population of about 400,000 and Lagos about 130,000, the most densely populated town in the old eastern region was Onitsha with population of about 18,000; ( P. Amaury Talbot “The People of Southern Nigeria(London 1935)vol.iv.)

Oba Akinolu is greatly misunderstood. He has not threatened the Ibos. He was merely carrying out his responsibilities to his people.  As Thomas Hodgin has explained, ‘Yoruba Obas are constitutional monarchs who ratify decisions made by council of hereditary lineage chiefs who had consulted the wishes of their people’. Not much has changed in Yoruba land since that study. Except that we live in denial, even the United Nations recognized the right of indigenous people and has since December 23, 1994, dedicated 9th of August every year to the celebration of The International Day of Indigenous People

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