Apparently disturbed by an advertorial placed by a group known as Eko Foundation over the choice of professorial Wole Soyinka as the Chairman of the Lagos at 50 committee, the Punch newspaper has responded in a harsh way and termed the agitation as being childish and irresponsible. The paper’s editorial on the matter reads:
“THERE are worrying reports that a group known as Eko Foundation has questioned The choice of Wole Soyinka, a Noble laureate, as co-chairman of the 50th anniversary of the creation of Lagos State. Pettiness, ignorance and intolerance were on display in an advertorial put out on Wednesday by the group, insisting that being a non-indigene of the state, his choice to co-chair the 12-man 50th Anniversary Committee was wrong and offensive. Jointly signed by Imran Smith, a professor and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and Kunle Uthman, as president and general secretary, respectively, the advertorial acknowledged Soyinka’s towering image as an international playwright and scholar, but still declared him unfit for the assignment “because he has no family house or compound in the geographical conglomeration of the (Lagos) State,” and does not “speak any of the dialects of the indigenous people and cannot connect with their sights and sounds.”
With brazen arrogance, they urged Soyinka to “do what is right in law, in fact and in morality, by resigning and relinquishing this appointment, in order for an indigene of Lagos State who has a social connection with his people to be appointed as chairman of the committee.” This naive argument is invalid. The content of Eko Foundation’s protest is, indeed, a sign of the pervasive retrogression in the quality of Nigeria’s public space; and it is lamentable that educated elders, professionals and the well-travelled elite would allow themselves to be associated with such petulance. Neither Governor Akinwunmi Ambode nor the Nobel laureate should buckle to this egregious blackmail.
The advertorial is baffling in many ways. Its authors averred that Ambode had wronged the indigenes of Lagos, saying his choice of Soyinka had sent shock waves, trepidation and disbelief to all “true” indigenes of the state “in a resonating, reverberating and deafening sound of ‘enough is enough.’’ This is sheer grandstanding.
For them, the facts that Lagos is a magnet for all Nigerians and foreigners alike, that its indigenes are accommodating, and that it is Nigeria’s commercial and financial powerhouse, rather than foster inclusiveness, compel having only indigenes on a planning committee of an event that targets a global audience. The protest was selfish and ill-informed, squared and cubed.
But ignoring the uniqueness of Lagos in the 21st century, as Eko Foundation has done, can only be explained away by ignorance, selfish interest or mischief. The sobering truth is that Lagos’ melting pot status means there is a different history everywhere you look. The city is home to an enormous number and variety of cultures. Ranked by the United Nations as the world’s third largest city after Shanghai and Karachi, with a GDP of $131 billion, bigger than most African economies and hosting the country’s major ports, industries and financial institutions, Lagos’ strength and success lie in its globalised population, culture and diversified economy.
Since the initial peopling of Lagos by the enterprising Awori in the 16th century, Lagos, like the world’s most successful megacities – London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, New York, Los Angeles – has been shaped by immigration and integration.
The capacity to harness the best from its magnetising diversity has made the city what it is today. Even the names, Eko and Lagos, lean heavily on Benin and Portuguese influences respectively. The group’s demand that Soyinka should step down stands logic on its head, especially as a respected economist, writer and indigene, Rasheed Gbadamosi, is the co-chair and 10 others, mostly indigenes, are also on the planning committee.
It is time Nigerians learnt to move with the world. After serving as the country’s political and commercial capital for many decades, Lagos’ demography is unique. With a population estimated at 18.5 million (some say 22 million), it has become a melting pot of diverse nationalities and cultures. According to the Global City Power Index, London remains one of the “command centres” of the global economy, generating 22 per cent of the United Kingdom’s GDP, a feat the Brookings Institution partly attributes to its capacity to attract people of diverse cultures. The multicultural diversity of New York and as the major gateway for legal immigration into the United States helps it to retain its status as a global power city, with great impact on America’s commerce, finance, media, and a centre for international diplomacy.
Lagos, the pivot of Nigeria nationalism, education and pan-Africanism, is certainly not the place for primordial sentiments such as the foundation suggests. Eko Foundation’s misguided position negates the “accommodating renown” that it announces and we are persuaded that they do not reflect the sentiments of the majority of Lagos indigenes. What does Lagos lose by having Nigeria’s, and indeed Africa’s preeminent literary personage involved in planning the success story of sub-Saharan Africa’s most successful economy?
When Adewale Adeyemo was appointed by President Obama as deputy national security adviser and Chuka Umunna, Member of Parliament, virtually aspired to the UK Labour Party’s leadership, neither Americans nor Britons raised dust over their Nigerian roots. The most successful countries of the world are those that promote inclusiveness and harness the best brains for the good of all.
Eko Foundation should return to the drawing board; the world is leaving it behind. Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, whose appointment to the state’s job-creation initiative it had also unwisely opposed, has just been appointed by Kaduna State to drive its internal revenue generating reforms, a job she did with some distinction at the federal level a few years ago. Ben Akabueze, another non-indigene, was part of the team that created a revenue and budget process in Lagos that is second to none in Nigeria.
It is time for Eko Foundation to cast off its parochialism. Its leaders should explore more mature and intelligent ways to advance the interests of the indigenous people of Lagos. What they need to fear is not the assortment of peoples, but the lack of the conditions that have enabled multiculturalism to flourish: security, jobs, homes, education − all those elements that ensure integration into the wider community. Unlike the foundation, we commend Ambode’s astuteness in co-opting Soyinka, a citizen of the world and an icon of culture, into the anniversary plan. His presence lends prestige to the event, just as it did for the Port Harcourt Book Festival and similar projects Soyinka’s name has been associated with”