- Why we’re not making waves like our Lagos counterparts – Eze Ndigbo
Igbo politicians in Lagos State seem to be breaking the jinx when it comes to non-indigenes of a state contesting and winning elections in their constituencies. They also hold key political positions in the cabinet of the government of their host state. For instance, during the last general election, three Igbo candidates won elections into the House of Representatives to represent Lagos State.
Chief Oghene Egboh, Mrs Rita Orji and Mr Tony Nwulu had contested on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and won the House of Representatives seats for Amuwo/Odofin, Ajeromi-Ifelodun and Oshodi/Isolo Federal Constituencies, respectively. Egboh had defeated the former occupant of his seat, Ganiyu Olukolu, an All Progressives Congress (APC) member. . The victory of the aforementioned Igbo lawmakers in Lagos State was, however, not unprecedented. There had been such feats in the past.
However, the same cannot be said of Oyo, another state with very strong Igbo presence. A popular belief among the people is that hell would freeze before an Igbo man can be appointed a commissioner or elected into a political position in the state. The population of the Igbo in Ibadan in particular and Oyo State in general is quite considerable. They dominate many businesses there, including automobile spare parts, building materials, clothing and electronics. Some of these Igbo merchants have spent decades in the state with some of them conferred with honorary traditional titles.
The Eze Ndi Igbo of Ibadan and Oyo State, Dr Alex Chukwudum Anozie, has lived and worked in Ibadan as an optician for 41 years. He spoke with Saturday Sun on why the Igbo shy away from joining politics in the state. According to him, for the past 20 years, he had served as the mouthpiece of the Igbo-speaking people living and working in Ibadan and Oyo State. During this period, he said several appeals made to the successive administrations to give Igbo people living in the state a chance to serve in public office were rebuffed.
On why he doesn’t want to join politics in the state given his popularity with the political elites in the state and despite having lived for so a long and achieved so much in his business in Ibadan, Dr Anozie simply said that his destiny did not align with politics.
On why some influential Igbo men and women, who have done extremely well for themselves in business, community building and have in one way or the other contributed to the development of Oyo State, are not showing interest in joining politics like their Lagos counterparts, Dr Anozie stated that it was not that they were not interested but the system had not made it easy for them to participate.
“In the whole of the South-West, after the indigenes, the next higher in population living in those states are the Igbo people, before any other tribe. I am happy that Lagos has blazed the trail as far as the political participation of the Igbo is concerned, which is one of the reasons the state is home to every Nigerian. It should be so all over the country.
“Whenever we called for the accommodation of one or two Igbo persons in the political arrangement, such calls were always turned down. That is enough to discourage us from politics in the state. Lagos State began to succeed more when the government started appointing Igbo people into the cabinet. This made the interest of the Igbo in the Lagos State politics to increase. For example, during the time of Senator Bola Tinubu as governor of the state, Mr Ben Akabueze was appointed the Commissioner for Economic Planning, while Mr Joe Igbokwe has been the spokesperson of the ruling party in the state. This has caused the Igbo in Lagos State to develop interest in politics and they are now occupying seats in the state House of Assembly and the National Assembly. They have been given the enabling environment and a level playing ground in politics. But we have not seen such in Oyo State. We have been calling for such but there has been no response.
“There was a time we submitted to the government, names of Igbo people who were successful and were eager to get platforms to contribute to the Oyo State politics but the government refused to respond and there was nothing we could do.
“During the last election, the Igbo people in Oyo State voted for this present administration but, according to what I gathered, the government does not believe that we voted for the APC. This is another issue we are facing in this state. They tend to dictate to us what party to vote for or risk being marginalised, which is not supposed to be. We should be given the freedom to choose whoever we wish to vote for and still have a say,” he said.
Dr Anozie noted that the contribution of the Igbo people to the development of Oyo State speaks volumes and cannot be overstated. “The average Igbo man in this state has a landed property, unlike a Yoruba or Hausa man living outside his native state. A landed property could also be in the form of completed structures. Igbo people invest everywhere they live and do their businesses. That is why we will continue to say that the Igbo are frontline Nigerians. They are more Nigerian than all the other tribes that are claiming to be Nigerians, because we invest everywhere we live. But, unfortunately, we have always received the negative side of things in the country. Igbo have contributed so much in Oyo State, what other development are you expecting the Igbo to do to the state to show their appreciation? Go to so many business areas in Ibadan and, indeed, the state, so many buildings are springing up and most of them are owned by the Igbo. It is like that in Lagos, Abuja and every other part of the country where Igbo people are living and doing business. The Igbo people are doing very well in Oyo State. Even the governor of the state can testify to that. If you count the landed property in Oyo State, if there are 100 of them, at least 30 belong to the Igbo people. That is a commendable contribution to the development of the state. If the Yoruba and the Hausa are doing such in Igbo land, you can imagine how things would look like.
“When Governor Abiola Ajimobi was canvassing for our votes during the election period, we gave him the assurance of massive support from the Igbo community and in exchange, when elected, he would give us political appointments. After he was sworn in, he told us to send names of Igbo people who were capable of occupying political positions in his administration. We compiled names and sent a list to him. We kept reminding them but they have never said anything about it up to today,” he stated.
Lack of unity among Igbo
There is a lack of unity among the Igbo people in the state. The Eze Ndi Igbo title tussle between Anozie and Chief Aloysius Obi, another successful businessman in Ibadan, which had been in court, has led to two Igbo factions in the state. Although the court has pronounced Dr Anozie as the rightful holder of the title, Chief Obi has refused to back down. Dr Anozie, however, said the issue cannot be a barrier to having the Igbo people recognised in the scheme of things in the state, because, according to him, there is no tribe that is not divided in any state.
“The Hausa in Oyo State are not one; they have their own rift and division. Even the Yoruba are not so much united; they are equally divided. Therefore, that shouldn’t be an excuse. The court has ruled in my favour that I am the Eze Ndi Igbo in Ibadan and Oyo State and told the other party to stop parading himself as such. Whenever there is a meeting that requires a leader representing the Igbo in Oyo State, they send me an invite. But unfortunately, that is where it stops; the government doesn’t want to give us what we have been demanding from them, which is to incorporate us into the affairs of the state,” he added.
Some wealthy Igbo businessmen who have spent decades doing business in the state told Saturday Sun that it is easy for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for the state to give them political appointment or be voted for by the indigenes, if they plan to go into politics.
According to Chief Mich Orji, an importer and exporter, “Oyo State is the centre of the Yoruba race, therefore, a Yoruba man can never give you any chance to perform better than him, especially if you are a non-indigene. Even for employment into the civil service, they don’t even accept any other tribe, not to talk of integrating us into governance or political appointment. That is their nature. The Ibadan indigenes can never give us that opportunity. I am not speaking under assumption, I can say it anywhere anytime: the Ibadan people cannot give any political appointment to a non-indigene. They can never appoint an outsider as commissioner; I have worked in this state for over 20 years, therefore I know what I am talking about.”
Chief Emmanuel Ezenwamma, building material merchant and Chairman, Iwo road traders association have this to say, “I have been living and doing business in Ibadan for the past 30 years. It is not everybody that is good in playing politics as in places like Lagos State. The population of the Igbo people there are almost more than the indigenes. If you do politics in Lagos, you will sell well but here in Ibadan, the indigenes here are more than us. Therefore, there is no way that we would do politics here and succeed. Although one of our sons came out recently, declaring his interest to contest for the position of a councilor. We supported him and urged him to go ahead but later on, he backed out. He complained of the way he was treated in his party and therefore, he said he was urged to drop from the race. For me, it is only the act of business that I know best, I am not interested in joining politics. I have been in business for over 30 years and know it like the back of my palms but in politics, I don’t know anything about it, the little one that I am doing as the chairman here, you can’t call that politics anyway. If you want to go into a political party, so many things are required, and in fact I can say that it is the business that takes so much of our time that we hardly think about joining politics. Politics requires time and of course resources because you can’t join politics with an empty pocket. We don’t belong to any political party because for slots to be given to us, we ought to become part and parcel of them. And I don’t think our people will give their time to participate in politics.”
For Chief Agu Okolie, an automobile business mogul and philanthropist, “I have spent 53 years in Ibadan and have been given a chieftaincy title, the Atunluse of Aro-Meta in the Eleyele area of the city, which happens to be my community. The title, approved by the immediate past Olubadan of Ibadanland, was presented to me by the Baale of my community. I have received awards from the Oyo State government for my contributions to community development. I have been honoured by the Nigeria Police, Igbo, Yoruba and several other groups for my philanthropic gestures towards my community. But despite all that, I have never nursed the idea of getting involved in politics. There is what we call job satisfaction. I don’t want to be probed for the source of my wealth as it is being done to politicians. Besides, my father, before he died, warned us, his children, not to be two things – a lawyer and a politician. He said lawyers are liars, while politicians are thieves. I have tarred several roads, provided pipe-borne water, dredged drainages and several other community projects as my way of contributing to the development of the state but I can’t join politics because I don’t want anything that will tarnish my reputation.”
In his own account, Chief Elisha Okoli, building material merchant and former chairman of Iwo road traders association in Ibadan said, “I have been living and doing business in Ibadan for the past 44 years and I must tell you that we are here strictly for business, not for politics. But if we see a party that is doing fine, we would vote for it. The All Progressives Congress APC has been doing tremendously well in Oyo state and we voted for it during the last election. But to join as a member, we can’t do that. That is our choice here. We are non-political. You can’t compare Lagos to Ibadan; in Lagos they have many business moguls and Igbo billionaires, that is why it is so easy for them there but we don’t have such people in Ibadan here. Where do you want us to get that kind of money from? We just want to do our business here peacefully and nothing more. We pay our taxes and all our dues to make sure that the state is moving forward. You know that politics is a dirty game, if I want to join politics, I would go to my state and join but to do politics here, it is not a good decision for me.”
Also, Chief Bernard Obiezu, a medical practitioner, said “I wouldn’t say that I am shying away from politics but it depends on the government and the people. I have been living and working in Ibadan since 1978, when I returned from Europe for my medical practice. The problem is that there is a lot of rancour and disagreement among the Igbo people in Ibadan. And because of that, the government thinks that since we are divided, they should leave us alone and as a result, they don’t give to us what is rightly ours. What they give to the northerners and the Ebira around here, they don’t give to us because they feel that we are divided. That is the issue that is confronting us here. If we are organised, I don’t see why we can’t enjoy what the other ethnic groups are enjoying.”
In his own submission, Chief Felix Ene, businessman, said “I think the reason some of us are not getting nods for political appointment is due to the leadership crisis between Dr Alex Anozi and Chief Aloysius Obi and this has been a problem and unless that problem is resolved, we will not get there. Although the court has ruled in favor of Dr Anozie, the other group has continued to foment trouble. They have gone to the court to appeal the judgment. The danger there is that if a particular side is favored for a political appointment, the other side will take it up and begin to foment trouble. We don’t want that to disturb the peace of the Igbo people in Ibadan. Then of course, Lagos is more cosmopolitan than Ibadan, a lot of things happen in Lagos; you can’t compare Lagos to Ibadan. I have spent over 27 years in Ibadan and retired from an accounting firm as a chartered secretary after spending 17 years there.”
Oyo govt reacts
Speaking on the reason the Igbo people in Ibadan are relegated to the background in terms of politics in the state, Special Adviser to Governor Abiola Ajimobi on Community Relations, Alhaji Mursiq Siyanbade, said Lagos State is more cosmopolitan than Oyo State but that shouldn’t deter the Igbo people in the state from integrating themselves into the system.
“We are willing to accommodate everybody in Oyo State. In the electoral laws, as long as one has lived in a certain place for 10 years, one can contest an election as an indigene of the state. What I would advise is for the two warring factions of the Igbo groups to harmonise. The time is now. They should integrate into our party and they can be sure that they will get tickets for the general election coming up very soon. I can assure them that as soon they integrate, they will get political appointments but there is the need for them to work with us. Politics is about working. You work and contribute to the party and you will be considered as part of the party.”
Reacting to the allegation that it is even more difficult to get a job in the civil service in Oyo State as an Igbo person, not to talk of allowing them the opportunity to hold political positions, Mr Siyanbade said Dr Alex Anozie is a member of the Oyo state inter-religious\inter-ethnic committee and as a member of that committee, he contributes to their decisions there and as such, if he brings it up, the issues would be addressed at that level.
“How many of them have ever obtained the civil service commission form? If they have done so, they should let us know, bring the form to us and we look into it. Governor Abiola Ajimobi is not an ethnic bigot. Recently, his son got married to the daughter of the Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje. He also has a very strong affiliation with the South east. The Igbo should come closer to us, make their demands and we will see what we can do. I would also advise that they join the party’s mainstream, contest elections, win to the state House of Assembly, the National Assembly and contest for any position like the Igbo people are doing in Lagos State.
“I think they are also scared of approaching us. So, we are going to use this forum to appeal to them that they can always obtain the civil service form when it is out, they can obtain the local government service form once it is out, and the management board service forms for appointments and let us see what happens then. Because of our relationship with them, it will be so easy for us to allocate a particular quota to them. The belief of the governor is that there cannot be development without non indigenes; it is strangers that help to develop all economies. Lagos is developing more than other parts of the country because it accommodates all ethnic groups, local and international and we are following on that path too. I appreciate the points they have raised, it is ideal that they raise such issues so that we can work together and achieve it. I have not seen any letter written to the governor by the leaders of the Ndi Igbo in the state on issue of slot allocations. The short time left to complete this term, they can still come on board and join us. Our doors are open; we are ready to accommodate them,” Alhaji Siyanbade stressed.
However, the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Saliu Adetunji, may have made things worse for the Igbo people in Oyo State. Sometime last year, he warned the two leaders of the warring factions, Dr Anozie and Chief Obi, to stop parading themselves as kings in the state or face the wrath of the ruling council, as according to him, there can’t be two rulers at the same time.
When Saturday Sun visited the palace of Oba Adetunji to get him to shed more light on his warning to the Igbo in the state, he was said to be in a meeting but his Personal Assistant and Director of Media and Public Affairs, Mr Adeola Oloko, has this to say:
“We recognise the position of the Ndi Igbo in Oyo State. We recognise them as a very viable community and their contributions to the socio-economic development of our state, particularly Ibadan, where we are based cannot be overemphasised. We can see it in different facets of our lives. If you go to Ekotedo, their presence is strong there, thriving in their businesses and giving jobs to people. There is also a place called Ologuneru in Ibadan where the one-third of that place is taken over by the Igbo people. Ibadan has 21 towns, 1,681 villages and one people, including the Igbo. There is no discrimination against the Igbo. In fact, Ibadan is the only city in the country that has given the Igbo the greatest chance to thrive.
There have been different occasions where different groups would come to the palace and declare that they are the authentic Igbo groups and another group would come and say something different. They must be united if they want us to recognise them as a block. As for the Olubadan’s comment, these different disagreeing groups were the ones who dragged themselves to the palace of the Olubadan and told the monarch of their state of unity. As a result, the chiefs sat down during the council meeting and said look, instead of fueling the crisis, they would rather stay away from it and allow peace to reign. If they put up a paper and say that they are a united entity, then we will recognise them, that is as far as the local government traditional council is concerned on the Igbo crisis. It was not a malicious decision, of course, we recognise their contributions to the socio-economic development of our land and we cannot wish them away. We want them to contribute even in governance, because these people are talented. If you go to Ibadan North Local Government, there are slots for people of northern extraction who are living in an area with concentration of northerners and they are represented in local government council in Ibadan North. I believe that the same thing should apply to the Igbo people. But they need to first address their problems. Also, there was a memo from the Ezes in the east that they don’t want anybody to retain the title of Eze Ndi Igbo in Oyo state.
“There was a memo to that effect, which was why the Olubadan and the council of chiefs took the decision asking the groups to desist from addressing themselves as kings. These traditional rulers usually meet during their conference of traditional rulers in Nigeria meetings, which was where the decision was made by the Council of Eze from the east to the Olubadan that Ohanaeze ndi Igbo should take another title. The Oba attends the Igbo people’s festivals or sometimes he would be represented. So, you cannot say that there is no recognition.”