Imagining Lagos without the Igbo

Professor Soyinka.


By Professor Wole Soyinka.

But I always find it utterly ludicrous when some scoundrel issues an ultimatum on the Igbo to vacate Yorubaland. And by Yorubaland, they mean Lagos. It is laughable because only a fool who hates the Yoruba will commit such knavery. Not that it will ever happen, but the day the Igbo leave Lagos is the day Lagos moves from being Africa’s most thriving commercial hub to one of the poorest states, not just in Nigeria and Africa, but the the world. In case these charlatans haven’t figured it out yet, the Igbo are the main drivers of Lagos.

The Igbo have invested in Lagos more than the Yoruba have. They are the workhorses of Lagos. Two weeks every year, the Igbo voluntarily observe a partial vacation of Lagos. December 23 to January 3, when the Igbo travel to Southeast Igboland, is always a mini experiment in Lagos without the Igbo. Lagos is a ghost town during Christmas. The usual heavy and hectic Lagos traffic is gone. You can organize and play football on Lagos highways. There is minimal activity at the Apapa Wharf, the mainstay of Lagos economy. The state is in partial shutdown when the Igbo leave town for two weeks. It loses billions in revenue.

The best residential houses and properties in Lagos are owned and occupied by the Igbo. It’s not just the best, but also most, of the residential properties in Lagos. The Igbo are the only group in Nigeria that go into a valueless swampy bush in Lagos and turn it into an El Dorado overnight. Truth is that Lagos is Lagos because the Igbo live and roll in it.

And to know the Igbo is to know that they make home wherever they find themselves. They are a confident and comfortable bunch. They are the only group in Nigeria who will travel with everything they have, including their cultural heritage. From city to city across Nigeria and the world, the Igbo create a sense of community. Eze Ndi Igbo na Lagos, Eze Ndi Igbo na Kano, Eze Ndi Igbo na China, Eze Ndi Igbo na Dallas, Eze Ndi Igbo na Johannesburg, Eze Ndi Igbo na New Delhi, Eze Ndi Igbo na Boston, Eze Ndi Igbo na Malaysia are all efforts by the Igbo, not just to recreate Igbo land and the Igbo cultural experience wherever the Igbo find themselves in the world, but also an effort to foster cordial relationship with their host cultures. Only the Igbo do that.

“We are a peaceful and peace-loving people. We don’t ask for much. Just sell to us a space to build and live, a space to set up our shops, a space to set up our beer parlours for isi ewu, nkwobi, and egusi soup, a space for our parties and new yam festivals, be fair with property taxes and business regulations, and watch us play. Watch us grow and watch us grow your community. We add value to communities that welcome us, because we are the hardest working group that God has ever created. For the value we add, we don’t ask for much in return. We only ask for respect. We change your communities, but we also charge that you don’t take us for granted. We are a proud, but not prideful people. We celebrate our hardwork and the success that comes with it. And we expect you to be happy for us. Is that too much to ask? That your women run after us is only natural. Success attracts. It should be no reason for xenophobia in Joburg.

The Igbo and the Yoruba are good neighbours in Lagos. They have always been. The Igbo are the only people in Nigeria who speak more than one native Nigerian language. They speak Yoruba and Hausa more than the native tongues. They are the only truly detribalized Nigerians. How many Yoruba speak fluent Igbo language? How many Hausa do? Not many, if any. They don’t because they have to live among the native Igbo to do that. Igbo land is a beautiful space with tasteful real estate. But how many of those houses in Enugu, Onitsha, Owerri, and Umuahia are owned by the Yoruba? None. So, you can see why it is easy for some failed nondescript cubicle rat in London to squeeze his fat ass into his 2 by 2-feet kitchen and spew the atrocious shenanigan the fella did. If the Yoruba were as invested in Igboland as do the Igbo in Yorubaland, there would be no incentive to attempt to order the Igbo out of Yorubaland. If you are jealous of the Igbo in Lagos, go build a house in Enugu. Otherwise, shut the hell up!

Thanks again.

Professor Soyinka is a Nobel Laureate for Literature and a renowned social crusader.