OP-ED: Unity and Identity in Nigeria By Prince Adewole Adebayo
The essence of unification is for someone who has spent 69 years in Awka to speak Igbo, blend with Igbo culture and his children and grandchildren be as normal as any other Awka indigene not to have mini enclaves of their foreign ethnicities in their new home.
We cannot be a cluster of tribal ghettos refusing to blend like water and oil. My community is an admixture of diverse backgrounds such as Nupe, Bini, Igala, Oyos (Yorubas as originally called) , Ife, Brazilian returnees, American mercenaries who came to fight Kiriji war, Ebiras, Ijebu, Agatus, but each had given up where they came from and become the Ondo Kingdom. Ekwuemes Igala (Idokos) who left Ondo due to a dispute over refusal to accept the rulership of we Oyo princes when we arrived circa 1500, moved back to Idoko near Idah and from there established a farm settlement (Oko) now in Oko, Anambra State have since blended with their Igbo hosts and cannot be denied their Igbo identity and culture. Ekwueme which was a nickname for the honesty and integrity of the Igala man has overtaken his original Idoko name. The notion of being born in Lagos and insisting on Anambra, Ondo, Enugu, Imo, Rivers, Kano etc as State of Origin in all your documents and returning home for all milestones such as wedding, funeral Christmas etc punctures any claim of equal citizenship with those who have only Lagos as their home.
People who refer to Obama and the American presidency should not forget that Obama speaks American, lives American and doesn’t return to Kenya routinely for life milestones. Everything about him is American. The USA has people from all parts of the world. The melting process creates one American identity based on long term residence without looking back to former homelands
This is where Nigeria needs to head to. A situation where ethnic enclaves in Lagos vote en bloc and in one direction in elections is not assimilation. It is the opposite of it. There should be no Igbo vote in Lagos, Kano etc. And there should be no Yoruba votes in Enugu or Kaduna. Neither should there be Hausa votes in Apapa or Owerri or Port Harcourt. I was sad when my governorship candidates said he was looking for Igala votes in Delta. I asked if they tend to vote in one direction. The answer was yes! Sad.
A situation whereby Igbo or Hausa or Yoruba factory workers in Lagos vote the same way as their ethnic brethren who are factory owners in Lagos. Why should an Igbo tenant or homeless vote alongside an Igbo landowner or estate developer in an election in which housing and welfare should be in focus? What interests should they have in common? What is the interest of a Yoruba Okada rider in common with a Yoruba politician who denied him livelihood without a replacement?
I have paid attention to the present squabbles which are a rehash of ethno-sensitivities of the 1950s to 1960s culminating in the creation of Lagos State. It is like a spell cast on Nigerians that history must not only repeat itself but the bad parts of history must repeat themselves in more regularity. The good and sweet parts rarely repeat themselves.
If anyone wants to be a Lagosian, they need to be Lagosian. And old identities passed away. I am not Lagosian. I lived there for 22 years. Hundreds of my family members are now Lagosians. How do I know? It is because they don’t return to Ondo. They come once in years when someone is to be buried or married to spend one night and vamoose back to Lagos. Many of my blood are buried at Atan and other cemeteries in Lagos despite all entreaties to be brought to Ondo. As my grandfather lamented over the remains of her beloved niece: Abegbe ti gbe s’Eko. Abegbe is lost to Lagos. Abegbe has great grandchildren now. Ondo is a faint memory if at all, lost way back in the family tree. That is how to be a Lagosian.
For me, I am an economic operator in Lagos. I go to do business wherever there is business to do, just as I am an economic operator in Aba and Kano and wherever value can be exchanged. I lived many years in New York but I am not a New Yorker. When law practice took me to Sydney and Melbourne in Australia, I did my job. I remain an Ondo man. I am not Australian.
I think that we must raise issues of common concerns to our electorates so that they may ponder over them and identify their interests and mobilise support for measures and solutions they believe in. And when issues of poverty, insecurity, poor infrastructure, human development etc are raised, people of the same ethnicity won’t agree across the board. There will be no ethnic block votes to squabble over. Voters will gravitate towards where their shoes pinch them. They will scratch where the itching is