These are the circumstances in which Lagosians have found themselves and in the midst of poverty and political chaos we should be forgiven for availing ourselves of the same desperate plea delivered by George Floyd: “We Can’t Breathe”.
What happened on Tuesday 20th October, 2020 at Lekki Tollgate was unprecedented in the history of Lagos and indeed that of Nigeria. Young men and women who had been protesting peacefully against, the impunity of SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) which had somehow deteriorated into the terrorist/Boko Haram wing of the police, decided to extend their demand to include “good governance”, justice and accountability.
Before the day was over, monumental tragedy had supplanted drama and upended reality. From nowhere, obviously sponsored hoodlums emerged in large numbers and proceeded to hijack the protest.
Then came the announcement by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu that he had imposed a curfew which would commence at 4pm. Later the time was shifted to 9pm. In the meantime, all hell was let loose when the lights were switched off and soldiers turned up. They converted the tollgate into a combination of shooting range, crime scene/putative coup attempt or rehearsal for regime change.
Thereafter, matters got completely out of control. The mourners and victims are still auditing the figures – the dead, maimed, traumatised and shocked. Rage has been further compounded by outrage.
Separately, we shall deal with the rampage that ensued as well as the looting and destruction of both private and public property.
The setting ablaze of police stations and the invasion of warehouses where COVID-19 palliatives had been stored as “booty and slush” material for sharing not on the basis of need or urgency but rather at the time and convenience of the hoarders have dominated print, electronic and social media. What remains a matter of profound concern is the invasion of Iga Idunganran, the abode of His Majesty, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, the Oba of Lagos and the desecration of the throne as well as the theft of the staff of office, the venerated symbol of authority.
Our ancestors never faltered in according our Royal Fathers respect and adoration in accordance with the dictates of our tradition and culture.
We are yet to entirely comprehend the witness statements filed by those who were nearly trapped by the inferno that engulfed the Lagos High Court which is located next to King’s College. What is truly shocking is the speculation over the choice and targeting of the iconic landmark (built in 1923) by the arsonists who literally razed everything to the ground.
When social media went on fire with reports that the arsonists had extended their rage to King’s College, it was the old boys of St. Gregory’s College who were the first to offer their sympathy. However, there is a catch (or lacuna). How come the old boys of St. Gregory’s College issued both a denial (that they had no hand in the fire) and their condolence BEFORE the fire outbreak? Shoprite was massively vandalised. So also, were the premises of TVC (television) and “The Nation” newspaper.
Perhaps, we should confine ourselves to Lagos. However, what transpired in Kano is most disturbing as the mob attack was infested with ethnic dimensions with echoes of what led us down the path that eventually resulted in civil war (1967 to 1970).
Let us focus on Lagos and remind ourselves that distinct from the American dream or vision, Eko (Lagos) from ancient times (after all United States of America is only two hundred and forty-four years old) had pre-empted the US and advertised itself as:
“The land of the free; and the home of the brave.”
Hence, Lagosians were supremely and divinely endowed with self-confidence (but not arrogance or conceit) and compassion which endeared us to all and sundry. We extended love, brotherhood (and sisterhood) to those from other ethnic groups. Our reward was respect and reverence. That was then. Now, it is hostility bordering on contempt combined with resentment.
Before we move on. We need to remind the next generation that our generation has profoundly repudiated the indulgent song of the lazy and idle:
“Ibi ti alagbara gben sise, ole asima rise” which translates as: “While the strong and resourceful may be hardworking, it is the idle and lazy who would reap the benefits.” No way. You can forget that nonsense. Our youths urgently require re-orientation and this is our last chance to instil in them that they cannot rely on the achievements of their parents. Neither can we as parents rest on our oars in the false belief that the achievements of our illustrious ancestors are sufficient to guarantee our survival and prosperity in the new dispensation where competition is fierce and ruthless.
In our capacity as elders, we have a sacred responsibility – to be the conduit whereby we are able to accurately feel the pulse of the indigenes of Lagos and convey their grievances to the government. Unlike pollsters, we have no room for margin of error.
Besides, we need to re-establish our identity and advertise what we stand for. We are not hustlers. Let me share with you what I had previously recorded in one of my books. It concerns one of our highly respected elders, Alhaji Musliu O. Anibaba, and past president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN).
When he returned from the UK in 1963 where he qualified as a Chartered Accountant, he joined the firm of Hamood Banner & Co., Chartered Accountants with offices at “Ebani House” (owned by John Holt), Broad Street, Lagos. The firm also provided him with accommodation – a flat in very exclusive Ikoyi, which was mostly occupied by expatriates.
As his office was only a short distance from his family house, “Cameron” (that was the name Alhaji Anibaba used to bear) would walk through the narrow streets that led to his mother’s house during his lunch break and walk back again to his office.
Most times, the elders would interrupt their game of draughts to acknowledge the greetings of young Cameron. They were so proud of the young newly arrived Chartered Accountant.
Unfortunately, on one occasion Cameron was so pre-occupied that he walked past the elders without paying them homage or extending any greetings. On his way back, when he greeted them they ignored him. This was the cold shoulder they accorded him for several days until he reported the matter to his mother. She immediately insisted on accompanying him to apologise to the elders and mend fences.
They did not mince words. In typical Lagos fashion, they scolded him. “Cameron, it is not you (on your own merit) that we have been admiring and showing great affection. Rather, it is to reciprocate the love, goodwill and respect your mother Saratu has extended to all of us over the years. That is why we pray for your success and thank the Almighty for the abundant blessings he has bestowed on you. We are not expecting any charity from you. Have you seen anyone of us on your doorstep at Ikoyi? The good Lord has provided us with the resources to cater for our needs and the steady supply of our Guinness.”
It was a much-chastened Cameron who apologised profusely. He is still alive. Indeed, one of his children, Taslim is here with us.
From the same Anibaba family we have the case of Farida who lived on Tokunbo Street, Lagos. At the age of sixteen as a student of Methodist Girls’ High School, she scored distinctions in all her nine subjects in the 1953 Cambridge School Certificate Examination. She became an instant sensation, a moslem girl flourishing in a Christian school.
Virtually the whole of Lagos trooped to her house (I think she was living with her cousins Oyekan at the time) to congratulate her and felicitate with her parents. Some mothers dragged their daughters along with them so that they could witness Lagos at its best. That was what Lagos was like then – each person’s success was everyone’s joy.
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Thankfully, she is still alive and well having retired as a Professor Mrs. Farida Salako (her married name) is the sister of Alhaji M.O. Anibaba.
Going back to 1948, Lagosians displayed the same quality if genuine delight and shared success when the BBC announced on radio that the son of the Registrar of the Lagos High Court, Mr. Norman Williams had qualified as a doctor – Dr. Charles Modupe Norman-Williams. Lagosians went wild with joy.
Without consulting with the colonial authorities, they declared a public day and trooped to the residence of the father of the brand-new doctor to rejoice with him and his wife – in celebration of the wonderful achievement of their son.
Considering the unfolding scenario, this is the appropriate time to exhort all indigenes of Lagos to ensure that they obtain their National (and state) Identity cards as well as their voter’s cards. We must ensure that we register for the next round of elections – Local Government Council; State and Federal/Presidential.
By nature, Lagosians are law-abiding and peace-loving. Hence, it was an aberration when in its overzealousness to collect tax, it was the government and its tax officials that went around sealing business and private premises.