By Tochukwu Ezukanma
Just before the 2007 general election, a high ranking official of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in Lagos State suggested that I write an article stating that the then governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, promoted an enabling environment for Igbo businesses to thrive in Lagos State. And that the then ACN gubernatorial candidate for Lagos state, Babatunde Fashola, if elected governor, will, like his political mentor, Bola Tinubu, continue to provide a conducive atmosphere for Igbo businesses to flourish in the state. .
However, my research for the article revealed that Governor Tinubu was not in any way pro-Igbo commerce, that he was actually anti-Igbo businesses. For example, for the flimsiest reasons, he closed down several markets predominately populated by Igbo traders. On election to power, Babatunde Fashola followed in the trail of his political mentor with his own anti-Igbo policies.
He invigorated the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI), an existing, but mostly ineffective organization. Although there are too many forms of indiscipline to kick against in this notoriously undisciplined and lawless city, KAI officials took to mostly harassing and beating up street hawkers and road side traders, destroying their shops, dispossessing them of their goods and extorting money from them.
With the cruelty that will startle the conscience of even the most conscienceless, they assault and rough up hapless individuals, demolish their stores, expropriate their valuables, and seize and cart away their goods. Their barbarity and cruelty conjure up images of slave drivers brutalizing recalcitrant slaves. And you are forced to wonder why anyone can be so wicked and malicious in dealing with his fellow human beings. KAI officials can be this wicked and malicious because they are not just motivated by the need to enforce discipline in the state, but driven by tribal hate.
The majority of people bearing the brunt of KAI’s operations are Igbo. Still, KAI’s activities did not seem discriminatory or tribalistic because there is a disproportionate representation of the Igbo among street hawkers and traders in Lagos State. Secondly, politicians, in their verbal sophistry, can successfully couch their meanest intents in moralistic homilies. They convinced most people that there is no ethnic biased in the Fashola administration’s bid to enforce discipline and keep Lagos clean. And, in our gullibility, we believed that hounding and assaulting street hawkers and traders were the most effective approach to cleaning up this trash strewn city with clogged, festering and oozing gutters and where grown men urinate, and even, defecate on the street.
However, the interview granted to Channels TV by the KAI Marshal General, Danjuma Maigeri, was instructive. He is a retired army officer and not a politician. Lacking the verbal sleight of the politicians, he stated it as it is. He made it clear that the actions of KAI in Lagos state are anti-Igbo. He wondered why “people are eager to come into Lagos instead of going to other states”. He vehemently enunciated his disgust for “those people –dirty people, looking like animals – from Abakaliki”. And he affirmed his resolve to ruthlessly deal with them and stem their influx into Lagos.
Abakaliki is in Ebony State, and Ebony is one of the Igbo States. So, by the “dirty people, looking like animals from Abakaliki”, he was alluding to the Igbo. I was deeply offended by this crude, rude and brute ex-army officer’s characterization of the Igbo coming to Lagos to find means of livelihood as “dirty people, looking like animals from Abakaliki.”
That gross and mindless ethnic slur was inexcusable and morally reprehensible. After all, these are Nigerians citizens with the inalienable right to be treated with respect and dignity in their own country. Moreover, the Nigerian constitution guarantees the rights and liberty of every Nigerians, including those he derisively referred to as: dirty people, looking like animals – from Abakaliki.
No empirical evidence can indicate that the Yoruba are generally cleaner than the Igbo. Therefore, new entrants into Lagos from Osun, Ogun and other Yoruba state are not, by any stretch of the imagination, cleaner that those from Ebonyi and other Igbo states. However, the arrival of individuals from the Yoruba hinterland into Lagos is acceptable. They are welcomed to Lagos because they have the right passport; they are Yoruba. They are therefore not targets for KAI officials’ mistreatment and denial of the right to earn a living in Lagos State. On the other hand, the entry of the Igbo into Lagos is an anathema to KAI officials, the KAI Marshal General and their political sponsors at Alausa. And as such, they are ready targets of KAI officials’ harassment and dispossession.
Let me remind Mr. KAI Marshal General and Governor Babatunde Fashola that the Igbo do not owe anyone an apology for being in Lagos. They are Nigerians and have the right to live in any part of the country of their choice. And the law dictates that their human rights be respected and their right to earn a living not trampled by any government or government agent.
After all, it is one Nigeria. Were the Yoruba not a party to those who railed to the banner “to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done”? And here is our one Nigeria. Secondly, there are Yoruba, not renowned for their sparkling cleanliness and disarming good looks, working and going about their different businesses in other parts of Nigeria, including Igbo land.
To call the Igbo “dirty people, looking like animals, from Abakaliki” was the height of ignorance, narrow-mindedness, bigotry and tribalism. Actually, the Igbo entrants into Lagos are energetic and motivated young men and women seeking expanding frontiers for their enterprising vigor. They are people whose boundless, bubbling innovative and resourceful energies are spilling, inexorably, beyond the confines of their own regional borders. They are people driven, by those admirable and enviable Igbo attributes of courage, determination, hard work and entrepreneurship, to every nook and cranny of Nigeria.
Mr. KAI Marshal General, it is imperative that you rise above the vices that rule your mind, and have thus, perverted your perception of the Igbo. Then, you can awaken to the fact that it is unlawful, actually, criminal for you, your political masters at Alausa and the goons and thugs that make up KAI to continue to terrorize innocent Nigerians for no crime of theirs, but their ethnicity.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.