A “tribalistic” Lagos

5 min readMar 9, 2023

You exclude Lagos from the Nigerian narrative, and what you’re left with is a large expanse of geography afflicted by an oil curse, conservatism, ethnic strife, poverty and political dilly dallying. Lagos, a port state in South-Western Nigeria, is the country’s biggest PR. The Lagos metropolis houses the most liberal political ideas and is a preferred hub for business, tech, entertainment, and sexual infidelity.

Global headlines present Nigeria as the African headquarters of islamic extremism, an abode for corrupt and catastrophic leadership, a country with 20 million out-of-school children, and an incubator for future immigrants. Ironically, this reputation conveniently co-exists with colourful headlines on breakout African tech start-ups, stories on grammy awards forced upon random Afrobeats artists, or lousy news debates on Nigerian and Ghanaian jollof. It is as though within the fiasco that is Nigeria, a disco party exists. A disco party that is vaccinated from the bloodshed, from 276 girls in Hijabi captured from school in Northern Nigeria and married off to extremists, from the eastern separatist killings. A disco party of Fenty Stores, Burger Kings, transnational businesses, December concerts, elaborate music videos, and Netflix sponsored screenplay.

The disco party that was Lagos. Until the 20th day of October, 2020.

The nepotism of a headline is only second to that of the Nigerian civil service. The headline is selective, biassed, racist, unfair, partisan, and I dare say, one of the biggest violators of human equality. An American murder captures the attention of the headline over 20 Congolese murders. On the 20th day of October 2020, innocent Nigerians who were protesting unjust killings by the Nigerian police, were brutally shot at by members of the Nigerian armed forces. There’s no greater irony than people getting killed for peacefully protesting unjust killings. Till date, justice has not been served in this regard. The perpetrators, the Nigerian government, never concede to their moral failings, let alone pursue justice or causes that benefit the governed. In as much as the Lekki incident received only global media attention which was attended by no form of real justice, its victims are ironically luckier than the average Nigerian victim situated outside the privileged confines of Lekki, Lagos. Global headlines may never find the average Nigerian victim worth its time, but a brutal response to peaceful protesters in Lagos was worthy of its note. What makes Lagos, Lagos?

Lagos was the capital of Nigeria from the country’s establishment in 1914 until the early 90’s. The slave masters used it as a passageway for captured slaves, and the era of colonialism ushered in a period where its ports would serve colonial interests. In colonial and pre-colonial times, the typical Nigerian dreamer from the rural parts imagined Lagos as some theatre of dreams. Since it was a colonial capital, it was home to state-of-the-art infrastructural facilities and this incentivized trade and encouraged migration. Lagos earned a status as an epicentre for diverse culture and languages despite it being situated in South-West Nigeria. Soon, it mirrored cosmopolitanism, same as what it mirrors till date.

Today, it’s 2023, and not the 19th or the 20th century anymore. It’s the year of arguably the most significant Nigerian election of this generation. The presidential and federal election, conducted amidst a lot of tribal propaganda took a sharp, unprecedented turn in Lagos. Much of that progressive turn is projected to take place again in the governorship election next week. Lagos, of Yoruba tribal heritage, miraculously favoured a non-Yoruba presidential candidate over its Yoruba ex-governor and political godfather. African politics elevates sentiments over critical analysis, so this feat is indeed novel and might kick start a change in the dynamics of Nigerian politics.

But it is not so easy.

Before “Half of a Yellow Sun” populated bookshelves across the globe and stole our hearts, the divisive nature of Nigerian politics and ethnic leadership was a subject too complex to present to a non-Nigerian. The country is divided into six (6) recognised “geo-political” zones which are areas that appear to have been demarcated across ethnic divisions and not geography. Lagos is located in South-Western Nigeria and is historically of Yoruba and Benin heritage. However, one of humanity’s most frequent flaws is overestimating the place of history in the present or in the future. The conservatives make a case for sticking to history as opposed to experimenting with social evolution and political progression.

Given Lagos’ evolution as a melting pot of people and an epicentre of diversity, the case for a non-Yoruba leadership is not misplaced. In fact, the success of Lagos is hinged on millions of immigrants who have carried it on their back. However, like white America’s myopia, Yoruba Lagos insists on making Lagos ‘remain Yoruba’ or ‘great again’ or whatever new slogan conservatives have crafted to display their non-tolerance for social evolution.

However, allegations of bigotry cannot be levied on the Yoruba majority alone, every Nigerian has a spot under this “MAGA hat”. The typical Nigerian does not entirely hate oppression, he only hates it when he is the oppressed. He may campaign for a democratic non-Yoruba Lagos, and in the same vein, argue in a beer-parlour debate in Onitsha that no non-Ibo should be permitted to purchase landed property on Ibo soil. Selective enlightenment and selective sentiments is how to properly navigate being Nigerian.

Inasmuch as counter-tribalism is no justification for tribalism, an antidote for Nigeria’s ethnic infused hate is an acknowledgement by “villain” and “victim” that every group has weaponised tribalism. The Lagos situation is long-overdue but it represents no actual progress for detribalisation when the hinterlands are still locked in tribal hostilities. The misrepresentation of Lagos as “no man’s land” is the typical error of every liberal: overkill. Lagos is not a “no man’s land”, it is an “every man’s land”. It is in fact, of Yoruba ancestral heritage, but modern times and social evolution has placed it in the custodianship of every immigrant, with none holding a more special place than the other. A non-Yoruba can be and should be governor of Lagos, and this need not be mutually exclusive of its traditional Yoruba heritage. The past and the future can co-exist in the present.

Both villain and victim have weaponised tribal dissensions. All I look forward to is a valid win of the majority, a win that reflects the changing times, corrects the ills of the Lekki murders and also diplomatically integrates all sides of Lagos for the sake of development. You should seek no Ibo, nor Yoruba, nor sectional win. The illusion of discrimination is that it only exists among the masses who should otherwise be united. The persons who propagate tribalistic ideals do so to blind everyday people from the real evils they have perpetuated. He misleads you to place your focus on the fact that he’s your brother, and not on the items he stole from the communal purse which directly affects you. In the upper echelon, he, ‘your brother’, dines with men of influence from other tribes who also keep the poor busy by arming them with new suggestions on what to war about.

Which is why — more often than not, we sacrifice morality on the altar of loyalty. Vote wisely.