|Image courtsey of Chris Ogunlowo|
Personally, I do not see a big deal in not being an indigene of my place of residence, which currently is Lagos. I am a citizen of Lagos and that is enough. I do not believe in double dipping. My family arrived in Warri circa 1970/71. Through our almost 40 year sojourn, we also built houses, created employment and added value. In turn, we received many blessings in that town. We made friends, engaged in all kinds of endeavors and had relative peace. Yet, a day came when people suddenly started adding their native middle names to their name. The Niger Delta/Resource Control era was born.
Edafe, Onanefe, Ovie, Efemena, etc., started showing up on tags that previously just read "James" or "Jacob". And then you had to go to your local government area HQ or your King to bring a letter of indigence before you could get rebate at the government clinic for specialist care, etc. You could not be on some contractors’ lists in Shell (SPDC) without coming from certain places. Suddenly the most important word in Warri became "community". You could not come from Okumagba area and freely be a bricklayer in Uvwie, etc. Yet we thrived. My cousin, Ishola from Shagamu, was beaten so badly by "youths" in Uvwie/Effurun that he lost hearing in one ear permanently. What was his crime? Setting up a bakery in their land, without making them shareholders through the instrument of never ending forced cash calls or "deve" as it was then known. We blamed him. He should have known not to question the culture, etc. But no grudges held.
My roots are still firmly planted in that town. Till date I have all kinds of interests there. I would never disparage her or her people. I will continue to hold them in high esteem and treasure my memories founded on experiences and interactions from my roots at James Street to Okumagba layout all the way to Airport road, Bendel estate, Ighogbadu and Nana primary schools, etc. I still share a strong sense of brotherhood with folks from Warri whenever we meet. But I never considered myself more than a citizen. I could run for and win a seat in their government or even get appointed a public service executive. We even had Yoruba people get chieftaincy titles in Delta state. But that's as far as it would go. We could never be considered for local scholarships, community related job placements and other such "indigene" entitlements. That would be the point where it would be asked: where are you from? And, regardless of where you were born and how long you've lived there, you dare not say Alaka, Udumusobo, Effurun-Otor, Ogidigben, Big Warri or Okpe.
Again, that is the structure of our society. My experience as a current resident of Eti-Osa is similar in some aspects. I am an "Omo Ijebu" from Ogun State. Even with sharing the same tongue with my new neigbours. The background of Lagos state, still being the most liberal space in Nigeria, notwithstanding. I do not fight it. I respect it. I would thrive in it. All that is needed is mutual respect and understanding. I must point out here that Lagos State has no record of denying people access to the deliverables of governance based on "where they are from". People are quick to point to Lagos being a federal capital as the reason why her people must now lose their heritage. I wonder if Calabar, the first Nigerian capital city, ever had the same “free hold” status. Also, most people do not realize that “Lagos State” was never a Nigerian capital; “Lagos City” was. Lagos as a federal capital territory was made up of three municipal areas, namely: Lagos Island, Victoria Island and Ikoyi/Obalende. The rest of Lagos comprising of the Mainland metropolis, Ikorodu, Epe and Badagry and other hinterland territories, were under the administration of the Western Region.
Lagos has traditional institutions, culture and history that date as far back as before 1630 when the first recorded Oba of Lagos reigned. Prior to this time, the land had been inhabited by the Aworis who moved down from Ile-Ife, circa 1400s, with their leader - an Oduduwa prince named Olofin, to Iddo, Isheri and Isale Eko. Olumegbon, Aromire, Oniru, Oluwa, Onisiwo, Elegushi and Onitolo were all children of Olofin Agbodere. The Aworis started doing business with the Europeans in 1472 when a trade expedition arrived in Lagos Island from Portugal. Lagos was peacefully annexed by the Benin Kingdom, initially as a trade outpost, with a Benin prince named Ado becoming the first recorded Oba of Lagos in 1630. Badagry, Ikorodu and Epe have always been well established towns in their own right.
Here is a recent quote from Chimamanda Adichie “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.’” As much as I agree with this statement, I would also caution that peaceful coexistence requires social intelligence and a display of sensitivity and empathy from all of us. As a people, we still cling to certain traditions. No one likes their heritage or the legacy of their fore fathers to be wished away on the altar of inclusion and the need to conform to a cosmopolitan outlook.
So you see, as “invincible and insignificant” as they may be, there are original Lagos indigenes out there; and they are no different from the folks in Ilesha, Awka, Zaria, Ekpoma or Agbaro, diluted as their society may seem. It is not only disrespectful and mischievous to call Lagos a no man’s land, it can also be termed as offensive behavior.