By Onuoha Ukeh
It is natural for outrage to greet the outburst of Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, who had decreed that it’s either Igbo vote for the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, or they face the consequences. In a country where the constitution guarantees freedom of association and freedom of choice, anything that tends to deny this right will certainly be greeted with condemnation. This is why those who have spoken out against this statement, which is unbecoming of a monarch is in order.
Yes, Nigerians from all walks of life and all ethnic groups, who raised issues over Oba Akiolu’s Fatwa, as it were, are right to have so reacted. A threat to Igbo is a threat to every Nigerian. And if other ethnic groups keep quiet at such open declaration of war, perhaps, thinking that it does not concern them, since they are not directly being addressed or threatened, tomorrow it may be their turn. And the Igbo, who have expressed anger over such pronouncement have the right to so feel. Threatening Igbo over their right to decide who they want to vote for in an election is an attempt to dictate to them how to make their choices. And a typical Igbo man would resist this, even if heaven would fall. It’s not arrogance, but a self-preservation behaviour.
No matter how it is looked at, Oba of Lagos was wrong to have issued a threat to Igbo living in Lagos and by extension all non-indigenes. This, I dare say, is unObaship. Royal fathers bear words of wisdom. As custodians of culture and tradition, they are expected to live above board, just as Caesar’s wife. They ought not to be sentimental, but always dispassionate. Oba may love Ambode and, therefore, want him as the next governor in Lagos, but should support should not be open. This is so because Mr. Jimi Agbaje, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, is also the Oba’s subject and has equal rights as his major opponent. When a father begins to show preference to a particular child, certainly there will be problem in the family. Even in the Bible, it happens as regards Esau and Jacob. This is normal.
However, having said this, I think the Igbo should look at the positive side of the Oba Akiolu’s threat saga. He had said that he did not curse the Igbo. At least, he has the sense to explain himself, even if he did not make an outright retraction or apology. For me, it makes no difference. Besides, the Lagos APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and others have apologised to the Igbo. Let sleeping dogs lie. Instead of brooding, Igbo should rather be proud of themselves. What the Lagos State governorship election has revealed is that they have become a force to be reckoned with in the state. If an Oba is so worried that the Igbo vote could make his preferred candidate not to win election, I guess it’s something the Igbo should be proud of. It is not every day that people from another ethnic group would become so entrenched in a community outside their own, to the extent that they cannot be easily wished away. This is complimentary. It shows that those who may look at the Igbo and figuratively ask: Will anything good come out of Nazareth, as Nathaniel in the Bible did, should know that they miss the point.
Some months ago, when I had the privilege of meeting one of the two top candidates in the Lagos governorship election, at a time he was still an aspirant and a question was raised as to what he would do to embrace the Igbo, in particular, who claim to constitute about 40 per cent of the Lagos population, one of those in the meeting dismissed the question, saying that his own ethnic group also constituted about 40 per cent of the population of Lagos. Now the reality is beginning to dawn on everybody that Igbo, with other non-indigenes combined, may just hold the aces in elections in Lagos. This is a position of strength, which shows that although they are not the omooniles, the Igbo and non-indigenes are still major stakeholders in the politics of Lagos, just as in business and commerce. With such strength, therefore, the Igbo/non-indigenes are actually the beautiful bride that should be wooed by the candidates. This is why the onus is on the candidates to use persuasion, promises and even deals to get the Igbo/non-indigenes on their side. Threat will not do it.
Taking all these together, some people may ask: Where then will the Igbo/non-indigenes vote? Will they vote for Ambode or Agbaje? I do not think that the Igbo/non-indigenes will vote for any particular candidate, en bloc. Although sentiment will come in, I see them voting according to the dictates of their consciences, looking at the candidates and their political parties. In doing this, they are likely to look at the APC, in terms of performance under the Babatunde Fashola. They will see that Fashola kept faith in delivering on promise. And with a development plan that Ambode will inherit if he wins, it means that there will likely be sustained development.
For Agbaje, he has gained the sympathy of many a Lagosian who likes him as a person. I do not think that people are judging Agbaje by the performance or failures of the PDP. They are judging him as Agbaje. He has endeared himself to some voters by the campaign he ran. People seem to related with his slogan: JK, we know; JK, we trust. And come to think of it, people still remember Agbaje’s campaign in 2007, when he contested against Fashola in the governorship election.
However, the minus Agbaje seems to have is the fear that his governorship will put Lagos, again, in the opposition. Valid point. In a country where the winners take it all, I know that it’s an issue. But the ideal thing should be that no matter the government in place in Lagos, it should not stop a federal support.
By its status as a former capital city and an economic hob, Lagos deserves the attention of the Federal Government. This is why the PDP Federal Government, in the last 16 years, played bad politics by leaving Lagos in the lurch and development stagnation. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo started it. The late President Umar Yar’Adua continued it. And President Goodluck Jonathan sustained it. This is bad politics, indeed. Take, for instance, the International Airport Road, in Lagos. It’s a shame that the Federal Government left it in such sorry state. It’s a disgrace that the gateway to the country is in such sordid state as the International Airport Road, Lagos. And the Federal Government does not see anything wrong with it. This is rubbish. This is the type of thing that would affect Agbaje.
However, I am shocked that the vice president-elect, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, said that Lagos would suffer if it’s in the hands of the opposition. This means that with General Muhammadu Buhari as president and APC in control of the federal structure, Lagos under PDP will be neglected. Excuse me! I thought we are talking about change? PDP made that mistake of neglecting Lagos. APC should not, even if PDP wins the state. This will be the difference between the two parties.
Well, as Nigerians pick new governors today nationwide, I believe that the fate of Ambode and Agbaje is in the hands of the non-indigenes. With the Lagos recognition, the Igbo should see that they have the potentiality to make things happen in politics. What they need is to organise themselves, get more focused, forward-looking and more ambitious, always looking at the bigger picture. If they do this, the current setback caused by the support of a political party that eventually lost election would be the beginning of reengineering for greater things to come.
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