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"The Oba’s words were disturbing, but its context is even more disturbing"-Chimamanda Adichie





A few days ago, the Oba of Lagos threatened Igbo leaders. If they did not vote for his governorship candidate in Lagos, he said, they would be thrown into the lagoon. His entire speech was a flagrant performance of disregard. His words said, in effect: I think so little of you that I don’t have to cajole you but will just threaten you and, by the way, your safety in Lagos is not assured, it is negotiable.
There have been condemnations of the Oba’s words. Sadly, many of the condemnations from non-Igbo people have come with the ugly impatience of expressions like ‘move on,’ and  ‘don’t be over-emotional’ and ‘calm down.’ These take away the power, even the sincerity, of the condemnations. It is highhanded and offensive to tell an aggrieved person how to feel, or how quickly to forgive, just as an apology becomes a non-apology when it comes with ‘now get over it.’
Other condemnations of the Oba’s words have been couched in dismissive or diminishing language such as ‘The Oba can’t really do anything, he isn’t actually going to kill anyone. He was joking. He was just being a loudmouth.’

Or – the basest yet – ‘we are all prejudiced.’ It is dishonest to respond to a specific act of prejudice by ignoring that act and instead stressing the generic and the general.  It is similar to responding to a specific crime by saying ‘we are all capable of crime.’ Indeed we are. But responses such as these are diversionary tactics. They dismiss the specific act, diminish its importance, and ultimately aim at silencing the legitimate fears of people.

We are indeed all prejudiced, but that is not an appropriate response to an issue this serious. The Oba is not an ordinary citizen. He is a traditional ruler in a part of a country where traditional rulers command considerable influence – the reluctance on the part of many to directly chastise the Oba speaks to his power. The Oba’s words matter. He is not a singular voice; he represents traditional authority. The Oba’s words matter because they are enough to incite violence in a political setting already fraught with uncertainty. The Oba’s words matter even more in the event that Ambode loses the governorship election, because it would then be easy to scapegoat Igbo people and hold them punishable.

Nigerians who consider themselves enlightened might dismiss the Oba’s words as illogical. But the scapegoating of groups – which has a long history all over the world – has never been about logic. The Oba’s words matter because they bring worrying echoes of the early 1960s in Nigeria, when Igbo people were scapegoated for political reasons. Chinua Achebe, when he finally accepted that Lagos, the city he called home, was unsafe for him because he was Igbo, saw crowds at the motor park taunting Igbo people as they boarded buses: ‘Go, Igbo, go so that garri will be cheaper in Lagos!’
Of course Igbo people were not responsible for the cost of garri. But they were perceived as people who were responsible for a coup and who were ‘taking over’ and who, consequently, could be held responsible for everything bad.

Any group of people would understandably be troubled by a threat such as the Oba’s, but the Igbo, because of their history in Nigeria, have been particularly troubled. And it is a recent history. There are people alive today who were publicly attacked in cosmopolitan Lagos in the 1960s because they were Igbo. Even people who were merely light-skinned were at risk of violence in Lagos markets, because to be light-skinned was to be mistaken for Igbo.

Almost every Nigerian ethnic group has a grouse of some sort with the Nigerian state. The Nigerian state has, by turns, been violent, unfair, neglectful, of different parts of the country. Almost every ethnic group has derogatory stereotypes attached to it by other ethnic groups.

But it is disingenuous to suggest that the experience of every ethnic group has been the same. Anti-Igbo violence began under the British colonial government, with complex roots and manifestations. But the end result is a certain psychic difference in the relationship of Igbo people to the Nigerian state. To be Igbo in Nigeria is constantly to be suspect; your national patriotism is never taken as the norm, you are continually expected to prove it.

All groups are conditioned by their specific histories. Perhaps another ethnic group would have reacted with less concern to the Oba’s threat, because that ethnic group would not be conditioned by a history of being targets of violence, as the Igbo have been.

Many responses to the Oba’s threat have mentioned the ‘welcoming’ nature of Lagos, and have made comparisons between Lagos and southeastern towns like Onitsha. It is valid to debate the ethnic diversity of different parts of Nigeria, to compare, for example, Ibadan and Enugu, Ado-Ekiti and Aba, and to debate who moves where, and who feels comfortable living where and why that is. But it is odd to pretend that Lagos is like any other city in Nigeria. It is not. The political history of Lagos and its development as the first national capital set it apart. Lagos is Nigeria’s metropolis. There are ethnic Igbo people whose entire lives have been spent in Lagos, who have little or no ties to the southeast, who speak Yoruba better than Igbo. Should they, too, be reminded to be ‘grateful’ each time an election draws near?

No law-abiding Nigerian should be expected to show gratitude for living peacefully in any part of Nigeria. Landlords in Lagos should not, as still happens too often, be able to refuse to rent their property to Igbo people.

The Oba’s words were disturbing, but its context is even more disturbing:
The anti-Igbo rhetoric that has been part of the political discourse since the presidential election results.  Accusatory and derogatory language – using words like ‘brainwashed,’ ‘tribalistic voting’ – has been used to describe President Jonathan’s overwhelming win in the southeast. All democracies have regions that vote in large numbers for one side, and even though parts of Northern Nigeria showed voting patterns similar to the Southeast, the opprobrium has been reserved for the Southeast.
But the rhetoric is about more than mere voting. It is really about citizenship. To be so entitled as to question the legitimacy of a people’s choice in a democratic election is not only a sign of disrespect but is also a questioning of the full citizenship of those people.

What does it mean to be a Nigerian citizen?
When Igbo people are urged to be ‘grateful’ for being in Lagos, do they somehow have less of a right as citizens to live where they live? Every Nigerian should be able to live in any part of Nigeria. The only expectation for a Nigerian citizen living in any part of Nigeria is to be law-abiding. Not to be ‘grateful.’ Not to be expected to pay back some sort of unspoken favour by toeing a particular political line. Nigerian citizens can vote for whomever they choose, and should never be expected to justify or apologize for their choice.

Only by feeling a collective sense of ownership of Nigeria can we start to forge a nation. A nation is an idea. Nigeria is still in progress. To make this a nation, we must collectively agree on what citizenship means: all Nigerians must matter equally.

Comments

  1. A lot of us have faced this. I've been told I speak English well. Eh hen, Hausa get sense (yes, someone said this to me). We caused Nigeria's problems. My rights are upheld in the UK, where I am a tourist, than in my own country. I can't work for Lagos state govt as I am not an indigene. I can't work for my own state govt as I am not Fulani enough, to them. Thelma, do you remember when Justice Aloma refused to swear in a justice of the state appeal court? Someone petitioned that she isn't from Abia as such she shouldn't be sworn in. But she is Nigerian. Her husband is from Abia. And that was the Chief Justice of the federation. It's hurtful. But the reality is, that is the life we are forced to live in this country. I detest it. In the civil service, you can't be promoted if too many of your kinsmen have been promoted. Is it my fault that they failed the exams while I passed. If we need 200 competent persons to get things moving, does it matter if they're from the same village or family? What the Oba said is the way a lot of people feel towards other ethnicities. They let you know you're not one of them. You're only good for the taxes and levies you pay. If Chima had remained in Nigeria, she wouldn't be this successful. The way to deal with such bigots is to trump them. To drive yourself and succeed. They're everywhere. After the war, each Igbo family was given £20. Irrespective of their worth. Two generations on, that £20 has spurned so much than was expected. If we all left town, how many people will be left in his domain? How much does he think he'll earn?

    Mallama

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Igbos were given £1 after the biafran war....not £20.

      Delete
  2. As usuall, well articulated. Why do other major ethnic groups feel threatened by the igbos? It baffles me o. After Biafra, I thought they should learn that even war cannot suppress an Igbo man. J

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nwando we need a like button! 100 likes to Mallama's comment. I have a friend we call Mallama, are you faith?. J

    ReplyDelete
  4. May God help us as a nation.
    It's just sad that it went from begging for ur votes with bags of rice and oil to being threatend with ur life.
    I just pray the drama the Presidential elections didn't witness wldnt manifest in this gubernatorial.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is just a result of the ineptitude of one Yoruba man(OBA or not). With that, the Ibos now feel they need to vote against who he support. Not for rational reasons but for an Oba's statement.

    Ever heard the statement, never make important decisions when you are mad.? We are letting our emotion control us.

    Lagos is working and we want to let everything that is being built for a better economy go down the drain just because of Oba of Lagos. I was so pissed off by what he said but I realised DAT he's not even a member of APC nor is the APC government supporting him. He's totally on his own. Why should Ambode become the scapegoat? Why should a working government become the scapegoat?

    Agbaje is planning to destroy the foundation that has been laid for 8,years and try to rebuild it in 4years. How's that even possible? How is that even a logical thing to do? Especially when the federal government can now be in line with the Lagos state government policies for good governance.

    All I see from this post is the same Igbo of yesteryears still acting their usual self, Nothing changes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Biko no lemme vex!

      Delete
    2. Hahahahahahaha. Uyi you've tampered with some nerves. I agree with you though. It's just like a fan of Don Jazzy berated him of his lack of response to the Oba's statement. Everyone agrees the statement's offensive but to douse emotions we are (rightly) advised to focus on the main issue and not allow a titanic problem sway our judgment. After all these vexation, what next? It's not like we're going to get different reactions to the ones we already have if we go the same road as Chimamanda.

      How many of us refer to Hausa boys doing menial jobs as *aboki*, yet get offended when we're called the same? It's like she said, "...We are indeed all prejudiced, but that is not an appropriate response to an issue this serious...". Great. In case she has forgotten, calling someone an *aboki* is also VERY SERIOUS and derogatory. Should we then start debating on that please?

      Delete
    3. Mtcheeew @Uyi

      Delete
  6. As usual, Chimamanda Adichie's article leaves me in awe. The reasoning behind the choice of words and the message her articles pass are edifying.

    She raises valid points and I feel any addition on my part would just distort the essence of a beautifully crafted message.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @uyi,This is the beauty of democracy, I vote who I please and I may base my reason on anythn I like be it rational or irrational.

    I love the APC concept of change, they do not even understand the concept of change themselves. I'm pro Buhari and pro Agbaje. My reason is change. My customer in the market got too comfortable that I buy things from her everytime and I noticed the dry fish I usually buy reduced in quantity. Next time I changed and bought from her neighbour ( I didn't really like the fish). Next time I went back to my customer, not only did my dry fish get back to the usuall quantity, I had extra fisi.

    The concept of change will bring out the best in any sitting governor whn he knows fully well that people can always vote for the other party even with no valid reason. Buhari would probably give his all knowing fully well that next elections, Nigeria will be pro some other party with candidate with even a questionable past. That is the concept of change.

    We don't need these politicians to be comfortable, we need them on their toes to give us the best. Whatever your reason is to vote any candidate, it is your right and therefore valid.

    APC has done well in the past years maybe PDP will do better. I don't know for sure but i'll willing to try somethn new if it does not work out we change it again. We must not be scared of change. J

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In medical surgery, there's a popular saying 'when you hear hoofbeats don't go think zebras, think horses'. We are complicating the essence of democracy, if something is working why change it?

      Delete
    2. Do you honestly think we can't do better than the present. With Fashola in power for the next 50 yrs will Lagos be somewhere near New York? Think big my dear. Mediocrity is what I call not wanting better than the present esp when the present does not represent the best. If America still dreams of a better govt with every election how much more Nigeria. Let me put it out there, Fashola did well but with the kind of revenue Lagos generates he scored 40 out of 100. He did good, can we do better, a resounding YES!!!. J

      Delete
    3. J, you have forgotten that Lagos is the most densely population land area in Nigeria and even Africa as a whole. And you think it is just with a snap that everything will start working? You said it ursef, he's working. So the template is already on ground till 2025. if not for federal govt. Do you know that fashola had planned to internally generate electricity for lagosians but since federal government has a final say to that, he couldn't do more than just state government agencies.
      These and more why APC wants to align with a like-minded federal govt. And now that they have DAT so as to better this state we want to change to PDP? C'mon.

      Lagos is a do or die affair for APC oh! And I second it cos PDP are really giving them a run for their votes(both legally and illegally). Hopefully APC wins

      Delete
  8. The biggest problems of the ibo man is himself and his fellow ibo man.

    They keep crying for justice but they are very much divided amongst themselves.

    The day igbos choose to unite as one and take a stand, their destinies will change forever.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Uyi, your reasoning baffles me at time, you change something working because something else might work better, if you have a stove working optimally, you change to gas because gas is a better not because the stove isn't working. Did Agbaje sin you down to discuss his plans for Lagos. How you know say he wan destroy am.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Same question to you too. Did he sit u down to tell you DAT he's the gas you've been looking for?

      Man's insatiability....

      Delete
  10. *sit. P. S I am not PRO Agbaje or pro Ambode

    ReplyDelete

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