It’s been 165 years since Oba Akitoye signed the “Protection Treaty” with the British which for better or worse put Lagos on the path to what it has eventually become, and while it is far from perfect, I am very sure he would be in great shock if he saw what has become of his old kingdom.
There are cities which because of their unique location, and geopolitical/ cultural conditions prevalent at certain points in history, had no choice but to become great; Jerusalem, Venice, Boston, Prague and Surprise Surprise Lagos.
Being a coastal city and the main point of entry for anyone seeking a toe hold in this area, Lagos has attracted and has been very receptive to all sorts of immigrants and invaders like the Awori, the Edo, the British, the Saro, and the Amaro. The latter groups consisted of former slaves who knew they were from this area, but couldn’t plausibly find their way back to the villages where they or their parents were originally taken from, so chose to settle in Major cities like Lagos, Calabar, Port Harcourt and Ibadan. And they played a very pivotal role in the fight for independence from the British. Their descendants still live in Lagos today as natives and bear distinctly English or Spanish last names. Many of these people belong to other Yoruba tribes, Igbo, Hausa and even Efik, but due to the unique circumstances of their arrival have totally immersed and assimilated with the local culture and identify as “Lagos Yoruba”.
The Lagos at 50 celebration which is currently all the rave here in Lagos has given me cause to pause and wonder, who has the right to celebrate Lagos at 50? Whose Lagos is it anyway?
The question might sound fairly intuitive…. or not but if you were to take a mic and ask 50 people this same question, you would be surprised at the answers you would get. And this all takes me back to a few years ago when the then Governor of Lagos (Voluntarily?) deported some Igbo’s to Onitsha causing a brief uproar, which led a famous Nigerian Politician of Igbo extraction to say that Lagos was ‘No man’s land’. Ironically, this statement caused more of an uproar than the actual deportations themselves, with various Nigerians falling over themselves to either condemn or defend his statement.
The point of this article though is not to defend or condemn the premise that Lagos is no man’s land, but to try and answer the titular question “Whose Lagos is it anyway?”.
I have long argued of the emergence of a new kind of Igbo, The Lagos Igbo, Igbos who were either born here or have lived here for a very long time, still very proud of their heritage, but love Lagos and are actually more comfortable here than in their ancestral homes. And this applies to every other tribe and ethnic group which has taken up residence in Lagos over time.
Every single group that has passed through Lagos has left their mark, and generally left it the better for it. And you see this with cities that are very accommodating of immigrants, over time the immigrants after initial assimilation pains tend to contribute hugely to the growth of their host community, books, articles, movies have been made about the impact of immigrants in the economy but it is enough to look at immigrant societies like the US, South Africa, Australia and Israel to see the wonders that are wrought when you have successful integration of newcomers with the existing population.
Leaving aside the economic benefits, there is the fact that Lagos is one of the few places where the Nigerian project has actually been successful. Even though it’s been more than 100 years since the British forced us together, we have not yet managed to live together and behave like one, the majority of Nigerians live in distinct communities, in our hometowns, in places where we have little chance of encountering our fellow countrymen, thereby allowing us form and perpetuate misguided stereotypes of people whom we have never come across. Lagos serves as a microcosm of the Nigerian society, Igbos, live with Yoruba’s, Efik’s, with Ijaw’s, Hausas etc, and there is a lot of intermarrying going on, creating a lot of families with both parents from different tribes, it is obvious that if tribalism will be defeated in Nigeria, Lagos is the only place capable of leading the charge.
Lagos is obviously a western city, belonging to the Yoruba’s but it also belongs to everyone who lives loves, and contributes to Lagos. I believe it has always been the manifest destiny of Eko to become Lagos, to become this great monument to what can be achieved if all the various tribes which make up this union, leave aside petty consideration and identity politics and focus on the things that really matter.
Lagos is turning 50, and I as a proud Lagosian of Igbo extraction, join my fellow Yoruba Lagosians, Hausa Lagosians, Efik Lagosians, Ijaw Lagosians, and every single person who lives in Lagos to celebrate this great anniversary. God bless us all.