Papa’s Land Or No Man’s Land – By Douglas Akunnia


Some people call America a no man’s land because it is a land of immigrants. Some say that everyone in America is an immigrant or born of an immigrant or descendant of an immigrant.  But there are people who are referred to as indigenous to America, the people commonly referred to as ‘Indians’.  Then there are some white folks who say it is their country because they have been there for generations, coupled with the fact their ancestors took over the place by force in most cases when they came to settle.  Can the same be said about Lagos since the debate of who owns Lagos has been raging?  Even longer than that is the debate about indigene, settler and citizenship in Nigeria as a whole.

To countries like The United States of America, England, France and others, citizenship is what is in use as opposed to indigenes.  Anyone born there, or born to a citizen or who applies and qualifies and is granted and conferred (that is if you have what they like), is a citizen.  That was a practice started by the Roman Empire.  For local purposes in America, residency is used.  That allows people to move around, migrate, emigrate, basically settle anywhere they see fit.

Who is an indigene or aborigine anywhere and who is a settler.  The United Nations has left it as undefined while the Webster dictionary defines it simply as ‘native to’.  So generally it is defined as a person or thing that is indigenous or native to a particular place.    My simpler definition is someone or something that has been at a place before others became introduced to the area or those that survived there the longest.   So who is native to where?  For our purpose I will define indigene as the people who have been at particular place, continuously and survived the longest.

Some people like some Yoruba people have argued that their god created them and put them where they are at the beginning of time through their progenitor, Oduduwa who descended from the sky.  Then there was a debate that he came from Benin or that the Bini came from Ife.   OK, whatever.  Some Igbo people and some Nri people, some Ijaw and  some even some Ikwere people have also argued that their maker made their ancestors and put them where they are today since the beginning of time.  Are these people right?  Yes and no.  Not literally at least but it is my belief that it is by divine power that anything happens.

What we do know is that human beings originated from Africa.   Anthropology and archeology determine that mankind first walked on two feet around two million years ago around the rift valley in Africa as Homo erectus.    By another million years, they had migrated as far as China where fire was first discovered about 400000 years ago.  But these would not be regarded as human beings as we know it today.  The Bible tells us that the first humans were Adam and Eve who existed in the Garden of Eden in the Tigris -Euphrates Valley, really we don’t know when but on the 6th day of creation. But we know from anthropology that Homo sapiens evolved around 90000 to 100000 years ago and then again migrated around the world.  That is the first evolved modern human beings, albeit early man.  The culture of food gathering and animal domestication started in South East Asia around 9000 BC and by 7000 BC to 6800 BC had spread to and taken hold at the Fertile Crescent resulting in the first Neolithic settlements around Jericho and giving rise to the Sumerian civilization, about the same time, hunters were gathering around and eventually forming upper Egypt (Nubia or part of Sudan) and lower Egypt. This made human beings to stop wandering and existing alone and started settling down in groups.   This resultant farming culture that started in the Fertile Crescent then spread around the world, to Europe between 7000 and 3000BC (the Mesolithic period), to Indus valley by 5000BC, to China and South Asia by 3500BC and to Americas by 2000BC. Somewhere in between, farming and farming settlements spread around Africa.  But some form of the early man still exists in the jungles of South America and as the Pygmies in the Congo jungle.  The process of ice melt and continental divide happened until around 9500 years ago.  According to the Bible, human beings scattered twice, first after the tower of Babel and then after great flood which archeologists say might have happened around 2500 BC.  Abraham, an eleventh descendant of Noah left Ur around 1800 BC.

The biggest migration of mankind happened in Africa.  With settlements and culture of farming came populations and fights for survival among peoples which resulted in migrations. As early as 3000 BC, language groups were already forming in west and Central Africa region referred to as the Niger Congo groups.  These include the Benue Congo groups which consist of 11 subgroups, the Igboid, the Edoid, the Defoid (including Yoruba and Igala), Bantu (including the Tiv) and so on.  These groups were formed around the Nigeria- Cameroon border.  It took about 2000 years for the Bantu people to migrate from the Benue Congo area east ward, first to Central Africa (1500Bc), East African great lakes (1000BC), and finally to South African savannah around 500BC.

It is believed that there was a group, a proto- Bantu group which would be the ancestor of the Bantu’s and which has a strong affinity with languages of Southeastern Nigeria.  Could that the Calabar area groups or the Ijaws who claim that they settled there earliest or could it be a set of Igbo or even all of them?  The earliest civilization in the Nigeria area is the NOK.  They settled and flourished around 1000BC to 500 AD and then disappeared.  The civilization was from 500 BC to 200 AD around the Benue Plateau, southern Kaduna state region.  Influences of NOK civilization are found later on in Igboukwu and Ife.  Any connection? Most of the surviving settlements in today’s Nigeria started around 8th to 11th century AD with some of them growing to empires by the 13th to 14th centuries including Benin and Oyo empires.

So throughout history, there are migrations and settlements of people all over the world including  Nigeria.  The indigenes then are those that came to an area, either first and settled the empty space with no one there, or they defeated the people there and killed them off, or they intermingled with the people there and became the dominant group or a new group is formed and survives.  Either way, everyone is a settler and this goes on.

In America, the Mexicans are claiming that California and other border states was their land and will be their land again when they out populate everyone else.   But America doesn’t recognize ‘indigene’ except ‘Indians’.  All that matters is where one is born and where one lives.

The Albanians claimed Kosovo because they out populated the indigene Serbians and America and others supported them and help them get independence there.

Now back to Lagos.  Is it a no man’s land? Not in the literal sense.  The Yoruba say it is their land and some others say it is a no man’s land.   Why? When the Portuguese came to Lagos in the 15th century AD, no one was there.  Then later it became a farm or war camp known as Eko by the Benin or Edo people who were the first to come there and establish a farm settlement while they traded with the Portuguese and war camp to fight others.  Bini Empire was the dominant empire in much of Southern Nigeria west of the Niger River at the time.  They established the first kingdom there in the 17th century answerable to the Oba of Benin.  So since they still exist, though in minority since the British made the place independent of the Benin crown, does it belong to Bini people?

Then came the Awori, a Yoruba group who were fleeing wars in the Yoruba land.  They came from the Ife and settled first in what is now the mainland of Lagos. They were followed by other Yoruba groups like the Egba and Ijebus who were also escaping wars or just seeking greener pastures to survive. Originally, Yoruba people did not live at the coast.  Due to proximity, they have settled, coexisted and out populated the Binis and everyone else and became the dominant culture.  Does the place then belong to the Yoruba?  How about those Aworis and the people that actually settled there continuously till date?

All of Nigeria was eventually colonized by Britain, mostly by force or by arm twisting, well except Lagos.  Lagos (the island) was unique in the sense that in fact it was sold to Britain by Oba Akintoye in order to get back the crown from his cousin or nephew, king Kosoko who did not want to end slave trade. King Kosoko had deposed him with help of Madam Tinubu so that they could continue the slave trade.  King Kosoko then went on to establish settlements in Badagry, Epe and some of the islands.  Britain then merged the Lagos colony with the rest of Nigeria in 1914 and gave it to Nigeria (note Nigeria) at independence in 1960.  So doesn’t it then belong to all Nigerians?  If Nigeria were to break today, shouldn’t the British come back and claim it?  Why not if the party they gave their possession to is no more? That will not happen though.  It will belong to the origins, Bini and Awori people who should then have to settle other Nigerians.  If they then decide to merge with other Yoruba state, it will then be up to them.  Some arrangement could then be worked out like in Hong Kong.  Hopefully it will not get that due the complexity.

People like Femi Fani Kayode have argued that since the government of the Western region under Awolowo set up industries and investments around Ikeja and Agege areas and developed much of the mainland north of Surulere, which he did, therefore Lagos is a “Yoruba heritage” and inheritance.  Well, how about others in the then Western region like the Edos, Itsekiris, Urhobos, Ishan and others, including the Igbos from the west of the Niger?   It is therefore their heritage and inheritance as well by that logic.

How about the fact that Lagos was the federal capital and developed as such first by the British then by the federal government of Nigeria and since then by individuals.  In addition to federal government ministries, parastatals and agencies, almost every big company, banks, media houses, insurance and advertising companies and so on, owned by people from all over Nigeria was head quartered in Lagos. Ikoyi and Victoria Island were the residential areas for the upper class and senior federal workers and for the colonialists, the government reserved area while Surulere and some others were residential areas for middle class workers. Apapa has and supports the wharf.  Infrastructure buil all over there.   Shouldn’t it then belong to all Nigerians?

For those saying that the Yoruba were magnanimous in letting others to come there, note that the same thing happened to Zungeru when it was capital of the North and later Kaduna.  Same as Calabar when it was capital of Southern protectorate.   They always attracted people from everywhere.

Historically, Lagos was never under any Yoruba empire like the Oyo Empire.  It was always independent of any Yoruba empire or people.  So the original surviving settlers of Lagos are the indigenes there.   In Nigeria, we are natives or indigenes of our home towns. Home town is where your father is from or your family has been for generations, we follow the y- chromosome and that is fine and correct because it establishes identity or who we are.  We therefore have affinity and allegiance to the home town first and foremost.  But that should be relevant just for identity or for cultural purposes like chieftaincy and so on or in case of rotational presidency if we have that.  Everyone is a citizen of Nigeria as defined by the constitution and the qualifying rights are the same all over the country.  Everyone then should be able to live anywhere, do business and pay tax there, vote there and when they have established residency after a period, should be voted for there

Lagos by virtue of it’s unique position and history, belongs to all Nigerians.  As a cosmopolitan city in the modern world, it belongs to anyone who calls it home, lives there and pays tax, contributes to the development even if by the mere fact the person was counted there in the census and the government gets federal money based on that. But it is a home town to some people. After them, then everyone else has the same right there, whether from Ibadan or from Asaba or from Yola for that matter.

There is also an argument that rages on about who the Ikwere land belongs to.   My position is that since all the Igbo towns were independent of each other as independent city state (or village state) when the British came and colonized them and then united them under the Eastern region for their convenience, each town belongs to the ‘indigenes’ of that town, again for cultural purposes. There was never an Igbo empire or ‘Igbo nation’.  In fact Igbo migration did not come at one time or from one source.

The same as the Yoruba people who were neither all the same people.   Some came out of Ife, some came and settled and then became part of the Oyo Empire while others were never part of it and they always had wars among themselves.  They also came at different times and from different sources, eventually united by a dominant culture and language.  Ogbomosho for example is a Yoruba town today but the original settlers were not Yoruba.  They came and settled independently but sought protection from Oyo Empire and thus became part of it.   The north was a different story.

I suggest again that the zones as in SW, SE etc should be scrapped because they are causing more harm than good.   They are not even recognized in the constitution and shouldn’t.

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