Indigeneship crisis: Only 3 of our governors have clear Lagos ancestry —Oki, APC chieftain
The fissure has always been there, especially when the indigenes began to lose ground in the administration of the state as the population of the settlers and their influence in governance and politics grew. Today, real Eko indigenes now struggle for prominence in the land their forebears founded. But the schism became very pronounced in 2016 when the administration of then-governor Akinwumi Ambode chose Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, as the chairman of Lagos at 50, which eventually held in 2017, to commemorate the official birth of Lagos State in 1967. While Soyinka is a global citizen, he is a native of Ogun State and his appointment endlessly riled indigenes of Lagos State who felt insulted that no real Omo Eko was considered credible and capable enough to lead the planning of the golden jubilee. Following the furore the appointment generated, the late Rasheed Gbadamosi was appointed co-chairman but the plurality didn’t appease the feuding Lagosians, especially when the co-chairman who was already incapacitated at the point of his appointment, passed on before he could make any meaningful contributions.
Then, native groups came out smoking against the governor, whose Lagos identity too was cloudy with the most vociferous voice being the Eko Foundation, led then by Professor Imran Oluwole Smith, supported by the likes of Dr Muiz Banire, who himself parades a mix of Eko and Ijebu blood.
At a point, the indigenes threatened to have a parallel golden anniversary celebration until some sanity prevailed. From then, things have worsened progressively between the indigenes and the conquering settlers. Today, the Egbe Omo Eko Pataki, of which Banire is a founding leader, is at the forefront of the agitation to change what is gradually settling as the status quo in Nigeria’s most-populous and richest state. When asked four years ago what the agitation was all about, he said in an interview with our correspondent: ‘This is what brings up conflicts and needs to be addressed quickly. If you don’t address it quickly, it brings up conflicts. There is a book I can give you on the Palestinian Question. You will discover that what has happened is that Israel that came to meet them has overshadowed them. They suppressed them so the only way they could respond, not having the requisite capacity when it comes to responding appropriately, is to now take to guerilla warfare and that is what is going on there up till now. You can imagine the decades this thing has been ongoing’. Is there any likelihood of Lagos going the way of Gaza? Saturday Tribune sought an answer from another prominent Lagos indigene, a political leader and, Mr Fouad Oki. He spoke with LANRE ADEWOLE. scion of the popular Oki dynasty.
The issue of indigenes and settlers in the administration of Lagos State is becoming a recurring decimal and a kind of sore spot for the state, regarded as the most cosmopolitan in the country. What is this tribal issue getting to define relevance in a 21st century mega-city state?
To answer this question, I will start by looking at the historical overview of economic and social development and political evolution of Lagos (Eko). I will begin by asking: who are indigenous peoples in Lagos State? We are original settlers in Eko with unique traditions. We have social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in Lagos. This dates back to over 400 years ago. We are spread across the three senatorial districts and the administrative divisions of Lagos State, as the descendants of those who inhabited the geographical region known as Eko at the time when people of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived to settle.
Lagos was called Eko by the locals before colonisation. It served as a major centre for slave trade, which the then Oba of Benin Ado and all his successors for over four centuries supported – until 1841 when Oba Akitoye ascended to the throne of Eko and attempted to ban slave trade. The term ‘indigenous’ has prevailed as a generic term for many years. In some countries, other terms, including tribes, first peoples/nations, aboriginals, ethnic groups, etc, can be used interchangeably with ‘indigenous peoples’.
Peoples’ movement from the hinterland to Eko confirms the real indigenes of Eko as well as how they got here and when. Yoruba history is full of migrations occasioned by wars, famine, drought, power tussle, etc. Take Oyo for example; the present location of the town should be about the sixth or seventh location historically. We had Oyo Ile, Oyo Ajaka, Oyo Igboho, Ipapo before the current location Oyo Atiba.
It is pertinent to understand how people moved to Eko; some came through today’s Eti-Osa in the east. They are largely the people from Benin who probably passed through Ondo-Ijebu Waterside-Epe-Idumagbo, etc, on their ways to Eko, gathering people and culture as they come. It is called the Atijeere route and it is still being used by those dealing in charcoal and ogogoro. At Idumagbo on Lagos Island, as I speak, if you go there, you will see this centuries trading subsisting. The Bini settlements started from Idumagbo hence the homesteads of the Oloroguns (White Cap Chiefs) in Idumagbo. Indeed, six Oloroguns came from Bini with Oba Ado and their quarters and descendants are still at Idumagbo. Their chieftaincies came with Ebe, the brass insignia also used in Bini by the Oba. We call it Abere here in Lagos.
Some of these first settlers were migrants from Ile-Ife who came to Eko through the hinterland. They came through a route from the hinterland. The word Awori is just a description of how they got to where they settled. When they left Ile Ife, they were consulting Ifa oracle as was the practice of our forefathers whenever they were migrating. The oracle instructed them to put a plate (awo) on the river along their path and follow it until it sinks. They were advised to settle anywhere the plate sank: ‘Ibi awo ri’. That is how they came about the term Awo-ri, not that Awori is a tribe in Eko but they are distinct migrants who settled in about 70 per cent of the geographic landscape known today as Lagos. It was at Isheri that the plate sank and that was where they settled.
Other indigenous inhabitants include the Ogus’ (Eguns’) in Badagry Divisions respectively. They are found mainly in Badagry. The first government was from Benin. Then to make Lagos a city at all, there were two other sets of people: the Brazilian slaves of Yoruba origin, who came in 1852, and the Yoruba-speaking slaves who came from Freetown, Sierra Leone. There were Portuguese and African returnees after the abolition of slave trade, who also joined the existing groups to make Lagos what it now is. They came around 1854. Other settlers were from the east of Lagos. Ilaje shares indigenous existence with the dominant Ijebu groups in the Epe and Ikorodu divisions in Majidun, Ijede, Owode, Ajegunle, Agbowa, etc. In the Egun/Awori area of the old Badagry Division, they established indigenous settlements in Ojo, Apa, Erekiti, Ajara, Topo, etc. Some popular communities in Lagos such as Obun Eko, Idunmagbo, Majidun, Igbo-Osere are obvious Ilaje names. Igbo-Osere, for instance, is named after the predominant ‘osere’ trees in that forest for the carving of canoes, the occupation of my biological father. The Mahin lagoon served as the route to other parts of the West African sub-region. Traditional trading activities in aso oke cloths existed between the Ilaje and other hinterland Yorubas, particularly through Lagos, the latter which still has strong population presence in Ilaje, only next to the Ijebu. The Ilaje in turn supplied fish and salt made from mangrove trees and sea water. Of course, the Ilaje relied absolutely on Ikale Ijebu and, to some extent, on the Apoi for the supply of farm produce, particularly garri and pupuru, both cassava products serving as Ilaje staple, in several parts of the riverine areas of the present Ondo State.
Lagos maintained its status as capital when Nigeria obtained its independence from Britain in 1960. Lagos was, therefore, the capital city of Nigeria from 1914 to 1991, when it was replaced with Abuja as the Federal Capital Territory. Having laid this background, you will see the evolution of a cosmopolitan city that has grown exponentially over time and carrying along its habitation of non-indigenous people who have come to accept the city as prosperity enabler.
The historical explanation shows how the small sleepy fishing Eko town spiraled into a cosmopolis over the last 400 years. Tribal or ethnic or indigenous nationality through accommodation and inclusion of non-indigenous people in Lagos is what defines Lagos for what it is truly as Lagos, the potpourri (amu sa ni Ilu Eko). Lagos is and will continue to be the melting pot for the ECOWAS sub-region which people from other countries continue to trade with. Indeed, citizens of other countries, especially Adjase (Porto-Novo), Accra, Kumasi, Creoles (Krios) of Freetown, Sierra Leone see themselves as Ekolites. This diversity is the innate strength and compelling reason why Lagos is the most relevant megapolise in Sub-Saharan 21st century. Its conglomeration, as a city-state, is why non-indigenous people in Lagos want to use their population to take over Lagos at all costs.
There are claims that the indigenes are not only in the minority in the state but they are also limited in geographical distribution…
This is not correct. Lagos indigenous people are all over Lagos State. Yes, we may be minorities in terms of our numbers, as it is all over the world. However, the fact remains that we are the aboriginal owners of the land. We are the first group of settlers who inhabited Lagos (Eko) and its suburbs. The indigenes, as I stated earlier, constitute the largest singular most ubiquitous group found significantly in all Lagos administrative territorial divisions of Ikeja, Badagry, Ikorodu, Lagos and Epe (IBILE) and spread even to Ogun State. We are spread as indigenous population in 17 out of the 20 local government areas in the state.
Is it true no true Lagosian has ever ruled the state as an elected governor?
It is a fallacy and should be discounted. Such remarks are borne out of ignorance or mischief. To date, there have been six elected governors that have served Lagos State. I will speak on those whose ancestry is very clear, and which I can stoutly confirm. I will start with the first civilian governor, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande. He is from Epetedo quarters of Lagos Island. He is a scion of the prominent Oluwo Jakande family. The family is a white cap chieftaincy. Sir Michael Otedola, the father of Mr Femi Otedola, was born at Odoragunsin, Epe Local Government Area of Lagos State. Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola is of the Suenu White Cap Chieftaincy in Isale Eko as well as Apa Royal family in Badagry. His also from the Somade and the prominent Sunmonu Animashaun family in Olowogbowo quarters of Lagos Island. These three gentle men will suffice unless you want to challenge this claim. Awa omo Eko mo ara wa. After all, Eko o to’bi (we aboriginal Lagosians know ourselves. After all, Lagos is small in geographical size).
There are many splinter groups fighting the alleged marginalisation of the indigenes in the scheme of things in the state. You are a strong and very visible advocate of their objectives. As a member of one of the largest groups, why is it difficult for all the groups to come under one umbrella?
Are there splinter indigenous groups in Lagos State? There are groups springing up today in Lagos clamouring for a rethink over the indigeneship issues because of the marginalisation and inequitable way that our common patrimony is being managed. You must understand this from various agitations which birthed Lagos State in 1967. Prior to the creation of Lagos State, there were several groups demanding for a separate state for Lagos. Mind you, Lagos enjoyed the status of a city independent from the Western Region. It was a federal territory with its own administrative organs. There was the Lagos movement headed, I think, by Prince Adelumola Akitoye, a lawyer who was residing in Aba at that time. There were the Lagos Aborigine Society, Egbe Omo Eko, Lagos Citizens Protection group and others.
These were the political tendencies. There were the social/cultural groups such as the Waka, Isale Eko Descendant Union as well as the Awori Descendant Union (ADU), Egun/Awori Development Towns Union, etc. Some of these groups were led by people like Alhaji Femi Okunu, Senator Adebayo Doherty, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Alhaji Ganiu Olawale Dawodu and Senator Sikiru Shittabey. These groups have one common goal which transcends politics. Some are agitating for cultural renaissance. Others are talking about education, health and the environment.
When you look at the marginalisation in Lagos against the indigenous people, it is very sad to note that larin opo, nise ni a nje owon (that we continue to be impoverished in the midst of plenty). You will understand why it is necessary for us to approach the issue from different angles. The most visible of these groups are the political ones. I am very involved in some of these groups. The approach is to ventilate our agitation on several platforms which will also enable a wider spread. The message is the same thing. There may be variant processes to the selling points.
The central objective of the indigeneship campaign is greater participation in the management of the state at the level of political leadership. Pre-2019 poll, your group was close to open endorsement of a particular candidate. Don’t you think that being openly partisan will continue to hurt your agenda?
Understanding the agitation about management of state resources and political power by indigenous people, state agencies and other stakeholders will offer substantial way of dealing with natural resource conflicts in a participatory and equitable manner. Experience shows that if this is not investigated now, it may snowball and set in motion new conflicts or cause old ones to escalate. The result of this, as we have seen in other climates, may result in a pervasive role of conflict in generating, shaping and influencing the performance of successive administrations in Lagos State. We are not begging for co-management regimes or power sharing but rather a strengthening of the indigenous people’s right to the control of their geographic location over resource policy, management and allocation.
We have knowledge systems and beliefs and possess invaluable knowledge for sustainable management of resources. We have been very accommodating until the last two decades, unfortunately. It has not been this bad. We have our history of being receptive and accommodating and people take this for granted. Even Britain, we hear of the Anglos, the Saxons, then, the English who claim the place today. But they will tell you England is for the English, not the whole of Europe. It is in the same vein that people must know that Lagos is our own home as people with over 600 years of ancestral claims to the place. Lagos is blessed. And this blessing lies in our evolution, history and tradition dating back to the foundation of the city state, according to oral history passed down to us by our ancestors. When they moved into Eko to establish a homestead, they sought Ifa divinity about the future of their new home and they were told in clear terms that the new city would attract people from all over the world and flourish very well.
It was divine that migrants who will flock to the city will flourish and prosper, that whoever comes to the town will succeed in his/her endeavour. Alarmed, our fathers asked what would now be the gains of the indigenes. They were told that the strangers must always respect the indigenes despite the success they will reap in the city; otherwise, they will leave the city the way they came without taking with them the fruits of their sweat.
This bit of our history is contained in our traditional praise-songs, but our elders do not like to recite it up to that point again. ‘Eko Akete, ile ogbon; aromisa legbelegbe; ilu to gbe alejo ju onile lo.’ (Eko Akete, the town of the wise, a place of aquatic splendor, an accommodating refuge for visitors more than their hosts). Our people don’t like repeating this part of the praise songs again though. But it is important to say this so that you will understand why we have some things as they are today in Lagos. It also explains why Lagosians are so accommodating and peaceful with strangers.
It was true that we resolved to endorse an indigene wherever they are fielded. This is because our party has taken the indigenous clan for a ride. We have been taken for granted, robbed, abused and maligned in several ways. It will interest you to note that indigenous areas where the Aworis constitute two-thirds spread do not have a single representation in strategic positions in the state, not in the executive or legislative arm of government. It is strange that anyone can be that dastardly in his calculation. That position is pretty much on the front burner, the die is cast.
On our own, we shall continue to engage and dialogue with well-meaning non-indigenes who also believe that indigenous Lagosians have not been treated justly and fairly. We shall speak loudly and clearly at the appropriate time. I am sure that you are also hearing the painful noise to ‘let Lagos breathe from strangulation’.
On why we should or shouldn’t be openly partisan, I believe that we must participate openly and show cause why we must be accorded our pride of place. Granted that numbers are the most common ingredient in electoral politics, it is also incumbent on migrants to accord some rights and privileges to host communities. It is only in Lagos that people’s sovereignty is handed over to migrants all in the name of politics.
Is your advocacy on the indigeneship not offending the spirit and letters of the operational 1999 Constitution which has settled the issue of citizenship?
Our agitation by way of engagement does not infringe on the 1999 Constitution as amended in any way. Indeed, chapters of the document talk about the right of indigenous people, albeit in an unjusticiable manner. You should understand that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the General Assembly on 13 September, 2007. The United Nations
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted by the General Assembly on Thursday, 13 September, 2007 by a majority of 144 states in favour, four votes against and 11 abstentions. Nigeria was part of those who abstained because the country knew that it was obviously not being fair to indigenous people in Nigeria. Since the passage of that UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as adopted by the General Assembly, four countries who voted against the declaration have reversed their position and now support the declaration. Today, the declaration is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples. It establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world and it elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms as they apply to the specific situation of indigenous peoples.
You cannot talk about citizenship without talking about indigeneship and settlers. We all belong to some form of culture and identify, with that culture in varying degrees. Our understanding of our own cultural identity begins at birth and is developed by the environment in which we grow up. It may be a loose affiliation or the guide that directs our daily activities. Whatever the connection, our cultural identity provides a sense of belonging.
I hope that the government will be committed to reconciling with indigenous people of Lagos before it is too late. For generations, we have become stewards of the lands and waters across the state. Our wisdom and knowledge are crucial if we are to protect and conserve the place we all love. We are determined to reclaim our land. We don’t have gun or cutlass to fight but we have armlets and knowledge of alchemy which we shall bring to the fore if engagement and consultation fail. It is an inheritance. We continue to adhere to the divine instruction which is passed unto us but we will not fail to invoke the spirit of our progenitors if our cry is not harkened to. Oju ni o nti omo, ki iise eru (we are not afraid to stand up against injustice, rather we are only being humble).
As indigenous leaders in our communities, my colleagues and I are proud of the contributions we have made as partners in progress towards the development of this state. Our model of self-determination and reconciliation is premised on a shared understanding of responsibility, decision making, connection and respect for Mother Earth (awon onile). We will continue to build this partnership to realise our shared goal in strengthening our centuries-old communal relationship.
Today, the first 10 citizens of the state, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu; deputy governor, Femi Hamzat; Head of Service, Muri Okunola; the three senators representing the state before the passing of Senator Bayo Osinowo who was buried in his ancestral Ogun State; the state Chief Judge; Speaker, House of Assembly, et al, are suspected of not being indigenes of the state. As an insider, what do you make of the suspicion?
Again, my answer to this will not be different to the one you asked about indigenes who have been governors of the state. I will single out the governor, deputy governor and the Head of Service as people that I know about either their matrimony or patrimony. I confirm that Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s maternal side is the Cole family of Oke Olowogbowo. His maternal uncle, Mr Bolaji Cole, is my very close egbon and elder at both the Abegede group in Isale Eko as well as Yoruba Tennis Club. I grew up in Surulere with Governor Sanwo-Olu during our formative years, so I know his maternal side very well.
The deputy governor, Dr Obafemi Hamzat’s mother is from one of Lagos White Cap Chieftaincy, the Egbe Chieftaincy family. Indeed, his mother and my uncle, Prince Tajudeen Oluyole Olusi, are cousins from that prominent family. Lastly, my brother, Barrister Hakeem Muri-Okunola, is from Isale Eko and partly Isalegangan, like Honourable Minister BRF. They are cousins from his maternal side. His paternal uncle is the popular Lagos socialite and retired director at the State Inland Revenue Service, Mr T. K. Oseni. The state Chief Judge is one of us, a prominent son of Ikorodu. Others, unfortunately, are what Americans would call the dreamers, when you look at their sojourns to Lagos in search of the proverbial Golden Fleece. They have done well for themselves in Lagos. If anything, they are the confirmation of the divine prediction of what Lagos will be. Our agenda to make Lagos work for all and create an egalitarian society is a work in progress. We shall get there sooner than expected.