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The Escalating Dangerous Contestation Between Yoruba and Igbo in Lagos

Professor Mundy Castle taught me Psychological Foundation in 1980 in the University of Lagos for a whole academic session. Castle was Oxford trained and a world class scholar. In one of the classes he warned us on the danger of stereotypes and and name calling in human society, especially in a country like Nigeria which is daily assailed by bewildering diversities with considerable centrifugal and fissiparous forces working in concert and relentlessly to achieve its atomisatisation and balkanisation within the context of a tenuous unity whose propensity for stability is doubtful. This reality is usually an integral part of the national question in large and diverse country like Nigeria which must be continuously interrogated both at the levels of theory and praxis in order to promote harmonious and peaceful co-existence. The genocide in Rwanda would have been prevented if the Hutu and the Tutsi had maintained restraints and caution by nipping stereotypes in the bud. Perhaps, the estimated two million lives that were lost in the Nigerian civil war would have been saved if the Nigerian leaders and people had been circumspect in their actions and utterances. There are no differences that could not be amicably resolved in an atmosphere of goodwill and brotherhood.

Lately, there have been serious altercations between the Yoruba and Igbo, especially since the 23 February, 2019 Presidential elections in Lagos in which there were reported violent attacks between the Yoruba and Igbo in Lagos. Since then, there have been arguments on the status of Lagos ‘a no man’s land’. Consequently, there have been considerable verbal fireworks from both sides of the divide. 

In view of the growing dangerous escalation of the crisis, I will want to make three remarks. The first is that the perspectives of the Yoruba and Igbo in the current political dispensation is that both of them are trying to produce the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Professor Yemi Osibajo, the current Vice president is Yoruba while Peter Obi, the running mate of Atiku Abubakar is Igbo. So, while the Igbo are trying to vote out Muhammadu Buhari and Osibajo, the Yoruba want them to continue. From the last elections, Buhari and Osibajo have won and the Yoruba see this as victory for themselves. 

My second submission is that ethnic politics is still very strong in Nigeria. So, the clashes between the Igbo and Yoruba in Lagos should be expected and should not escalate to the point of violence.

Thirdly, now that the Yoruba have produced the President twice and the north several times, the Igbo should produce the next Nigerian President in 2023 and Nigerians should assist them to achieve this. Without any equivocation, the Igbo have been severely marginalized in the Nigerian Politics because they are hardly united. So, they should start putting their house in order and come under a political platform to realise this. Any thing different from this will amount to a serious threat to Nigeria’s national unity. 

Lagos State; Photo Credit: BuzzNigeria

Fourthly, on the status of Lagos, I make bold to submit that Lagos is a traditional Yoruba city and it can never be a no man’s land. You can not come from Aba or Onitsha and lay claim to traditional titles in Lagos. Nigeria has not mature to that level. Even in advanced countries of the West, they insist that their customs, laws and traditions are respected. On this, it would be appropriate for me to quote the Australian Prime Minister in a her warning to the Islamic fundamentalists in her country.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard says: “Muslims, who are demanding Sharia law have been asked to leave Australia by Wednesday because Australia sees fanatic Muslims as terrorists. Each and every mosque will be searched and Muslims will cooperate with us in this process. All the Muslims who have migrated from other countries to Australia will have to adapt and change themselves as per our country and not expect us to change as per them. If they are unable to do so, they are most welcome to leave Australia. A lot of Australian are worried that we may be insulting a particular religion…. but I assure the people of Australia that whatever is being done is for the betterment of Australia and its people. We speak English here and not Arabic or Urdu or any other Islamic language. So if you want to stay in our country you better learn to speak English. In Australia we believe in Jesus who is our God and we believe in God. Just because we believe in and follow Christianity and no other religion, does not make us Communal which is why you will find God’s Pictures and religious books everywhere. If you have any objection to this, you are free to leave Australia and go anywhere else in the world. Australia is our land, our country and this is our culture. We do not follow your religion but we respect your sentiments which is why if you want to read Koran and offer namaaz, please do not create noise pollution by using speakers and reading out loudly. Please DO NOT Read Koran or offer prayers in our schools, offices or public places. You can do so in the quiet of your home or in a mosque which will not inconvenience us. If you have any issues with our national flag or national anthem or our religion or our lifestyle, kindly leave Australia at this very moment and never ever return back”. 

The above position of the Australian government is not different from that of Saudi Arabia and many other Islamic countries. It would be unthinkable as a Christian in Saudi Arabia to hold your Bible in your hand in any of the Saudi cities and embark on a Christian crusade. The consequences would be very stiff. So, the Igbo should respect the customs and traditions of the Yoruba people in Lagos. Then, their host community should learn to be more tolerant of other ethnic groups in their midst. 


Photo Credit: LagSchools

Finally, I must say that the issue of national question is always a delicate one that must be handled with care. The onus therefore lies on all Nigerians to support the Buhari government to succeed in the governance of Nigeria in the next four years. Nigerians have spoken in the last presidential elections and until otherwise declared by the Supreme Court, the Buhari government is the government of the day and all hands must be on deck to support it in its efforts to develop the country. And I must also warn that any attempt to rob the igbo the Nigerian Presidency in 2023 would be extremely dangerous for the stability of this country. So, those who are trying to toy with this potentially explosive idea should perish the thought. There can never be peace in an atmosphere of injustice and oppression. Meanwhile, the Igbo should start strategising in order to consummate this ambition. 

Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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  1. Wow. I believe all Nigeria should read this article. We haven’t really been able to understand ourselves due to religious and ethnic divide. Well said Prof. We need more editorials like this one.

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