I was in an argument with a friend the other day. And harsh words were coming and going freely. He said I was a fool. I said he was rude. He said I was stupid. I said he was obnoxious. He said I was a hustler. And I said – Eh? Hustler? Yes, he said, glancing at me, that’s how you people are. It was the only thing he said to me that night that really stung. You people? I turned in my bed many times pondering – You people?
The Oba used the exact same words, you know – ‘you people’. It made me wonder. Like the morning I was at a table, surrounded by young change agents baying for political revolution, and the lady beside me (I forget the point she was trying to make) said – It’s just like you can’t bring an Igbo man to be Vice Chancellor of a Yoruba university. And I said – That’s new; I always thought Ife was a Federal University. And she looked away and shrugged – You know what I mean.
I do. But I also know who I am. I was born in a hospital in Mushin. The first flat I lived in was No. 45 Salami Shuaibu Street, Shomolu. I am not speaking theoretically. I am sorry. This is not a deliberate attempt to upset your neat categorizations. Grew up in Festac, went to secondary school on the Island, spent too many years in Sango-Ota to ever forget. And every Christmas when I went ‘home’, the people there, sometimes, questioned my Igboness – what, with my Lagos ways. And it made me proud, that I came from a city where it didn’t matter. It’s too late now to change, I tell you. I was a young boy when I first did it, associated parochialism with provincialism.
So, I don’t understand it – this movement to re-Yorubanize Lagos. It is not just that it is as impossible as the movement to re-Anglicize London. My brother, that ship sailed years ago, all over the world. That’s why Barack Obama is the President of the US. Because demographics shift – as imperceptibly as shadows on a wall, yes, but they SHIFT – and unless you are willing to resort to levels of violence that would disgust all but the most hardened bigots, you MUST accept it. That, one day, someone will come and drag land with you in your own village. And, on that day, you will decide for yourself whether humanity is something we all share, or whether you have what it takes to take another man’s life.
I don’t. I can tell you that here and now. I don’t have what it takes to erase the name of a child from a scholarship list, and substitute it with that of another child from the ‘right’ State. To call out to the passing mob and tell them that the family that lives next door – that have lived next door all my life – are, really, from somewhere else. To stand between my own daughter and love, to call her into the semi-darkness and whisper in her ears – Be careful of those people. To hear her ask, Which people, daddy? To explain a blighted version of history, teach her words like ‘Omo Ibo’, ‘Gambari’, ‘Ofe Mmanu’, ‘Malo’; to sit there calmly, lovingly, pouring my darkness into her. I cannot do this.
Because Lagos, in me, is a shining light. Do you understand? I had to wait till my GST lectures at the University of Abuja to really learn about ethnic groups and different tribes. Is that not what it really means to say that a city is 20 years ahead of the rest of the country? So, please, don’t stand your resurgent tribalism on the argument that such openness can never be found in Sokoto, or Umuahia. Yes, my brother, that is why we don’t look to those cities for inspiration. I tell you, every national identity needs a birthplace. And it is the irreversible destiny of Lagos to be the hometown of the Nigerian.
So, with all due respect, we will not perish in the lagoon. Not in that same Lagos where Herbert Macauley, H.O Davies, J.C Vaughn, Ernest Ikoli, Samuel Akinsanya, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and so many other restless dreamers helped create a movement that gave us a country. Did you not know? It was in Lagos, first, that a man got up and – as daringly audacious as it was at the time – waved his hand across this entire nation – every tongue, every tribe, every people – then turned, looked the British in the eye, and said, Your Excellency, WE want our Independence.