When, at first, I heard that the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, had threatened to drown any Igbo person who does not vote for the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Lagos, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, I did not believe it.
It was simply inconceivable for the occupant of what is seen as the paramount royal stool of Lagos, the nation’s former political capital which is now its economic capital and melting pot, to say such an unfortunate thing. The Lagos traditional stool is certainly one of the most prestigious cultural institutions, not only in Nigeria but West Africa. And as the economy grows and Lagos becomes one of the largest cities in the world, the prestige can only grow.
But as things turned out, it became evident that the Oba did make the gaffe, even though a palace statement tried to blunt its effect by wrapping the words with the mystery of traditional garb. If you want to know the potential danger such a reckless statement can spark in our society which is demon-crazed by ethnic and religious sentiments, just go online and see for yourself!
This outburst is totally antithetical to the current mood of the nation defined by President Goodluck Jonathan’s sportsmanly concession of defeat to the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari, after the presidential election. Jonathan’s noble gesture killed the explosive tension that enveloped the country and saved the lives of thousands of possible post-electoral violence victims across the land. This is a great example in Waziri Ibrahim’s “politics without bitterness”.
Oba Akiolu’s dangerous sabre-rattling and barefaced attempt to intimidate millions of Igbos in Lagos fell far short of expectations of a king who should be a father to all who reside in Lagos. Where will we all be if other equally entitled royal fathers in the state, such as the Menu Toyi of Badagry, Olu of Ikeja, Ayangburen of Ikorodu and others join in unbridled, confrontational partisan politics that pits people of different ethnic groups in their domains against one another? Who can possibly benefit from such?
Let me remind the respected royal father that many Igbos share his so-called love for Ambode and prefer the continuation of the Ahmed Bola Tinubu political legacies in Lagos. But there are others who, just like other Lagos residents, prefer change, and therefore would rather want Mr Jimi Agbaje of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to climb into the coveted seat of Governor of Lagos. It is their constitutionally guaranteed right to choose whom they will elect come Saturday, April 11, 2015. They will do so, irrespective of effete intimidation and harassment from any quarters.
When this election is lost and won, nothing will happen to anybody. Why should it? Choice is not crime. But should anything happen to anybody due to their constitutionally guaranteed democratic choice, the law knows where to start.
Both Agbaje and Ambode are Lagos indigenes. The Oba has a duty to “bless” both of them and encourage them to play according to civilised rules of the game, even though, as a free citizen, he will have his own preferred candidate. I don’t care whether Ambode or Agbaje wins. Both are good materials to run the state. And I am pretty sure that if it turns out that Agbaje wins the election, Oba Akiolu will be one of the first to go and pledge his loyalty.
The election of Saturday April 11, 2015 is not about the “will” of any Oba. The Oba himself has only vote he can be sure where it will go. Nobody has any right to impose his will on others in a democracy, and nobody is bound to honour such imposition. Democracy is about persuasion, not intimidation. The truth is that if there is any major breakdown of law and order in a city like Lagos, no one, not even the Oba, will be safe. Then, the law enforcement agencies will intervene. Those who think they can cow other ethnic groups through threats of violence will discover that their efforts were in vain.
The truth is that Lagos is home to all Nigerians and even foreigners alike. There is absolutely nothing anyone can do about it. Whether you are an indigene or settler, we are all bound by the same constitutional rights which are inalienable. That Igbos and other groups are asserting their democratic rights and clout in Lagos is nothing new. That has been the character of Lagos politics even before Nigeria was amalgamated.
We are all in Lagos because it was once our Federal Capital and our commonwealth. If Calabar had been retained as the capital of Nigeria, we would probably be there instead of Lagos. Are we not all in Abuja today? These are cities built up with the wealth of the nation, especially the oil wealth of the former Eastern Region (now South East and South-South). The Igbos and other groups who are in Lagos have contributed in large measure in making the city-state what it is. They are stakeholders in Lagos, even though some mischievously interpret this to mean they are trying to “claim” Lagos, whatever that means.
Even if some Igbos have now been elected to represent parts of Lagos in the National Assembly, there is nothing new or strange in that. Democracy is a game of numbers, and Igbos regularly won election in Lagos even before the civil war. There is nothing bad about a Nigerian winning election in the part of the country where he resides. It is a sign of development.
We keep reminding Nigerians that before the war, non-Igbos regularly won elections in Igboland. The first Lord Mayor of Enugu, Alhaji Umaru Altine (who hailed from Sokoto) was elected in 1952 and served meritoriously for seven years. The late Sir Udo Udoma, an Ibibio and Chief Margaret Ekpo, an Efik, were strong in Aba politics in their prime.
Nigerians should release the tightly sprung ethnic stress in their bodies and give themselves the opportunity to live longer.