Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola today described the Ndigbos as his kindred and tendered an unreserved apology to the segment of the people who misunderstood his decision to send their kinsmen to the East, even as he insisted that there was a need to discuss factors that could be responsible for under-development in the South East.
Governor Fashola, who spoke at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island venue of a Symposium to mark the 25th Anniversary of the Igbo socio-cultural group, Aka Ikenga, said although majority of Ndigbo in Lagos understood and appreciated the action of the State Government, it was obvious that some Igbos did not understand it.
According to the Governor, who referred to Ndigbo everywhere as “My kindred”, “There are people who clearly do not understand me and they have misunderstood words said or misrepresented actions taken in the way that it has pleased them to do so. To those people, I owe an explanation in defense of what has happened and that is partly why I am here as well”.
Noting that the Igbo and the Yoruba have built a relationship based on tolerance, based on mutual respect, based on trust and love”, Governor Fashola declared, “That relationship was started by our ancestors. It was handed over to us and we have nourished it with a lot of trust and a lot of understanding and a lot of fidelity”.
“Those who misunderstand that relationship, who think that there is no value in that relationship, I have come here to correct that. I put a lot of value in that relationship. And so if those people have misunderstood me or they have misunderstood actions taken by our Government, here, now, today I offer an unqualified and unreserved apology”, he said.
The Governor, however, said even the apology does not take away the real issue that provoked the misunderstanding pointing out that the real issue lay in the reason or reason why some sections feel compelled to migrate from one part of the country to the other.
Urging Aka Ikenga to rise up to the challenge of underdevelopment in the Southeast, Governor Fashola declared, “There are questions that caused the misunderstanding and it is those questions the Aka Ikenga must address if it must continue to fulfill its purpose”. Continuing, the Governor said there was a need to raise certain pertinent questions. “Is there one part of this country that is less endowed whether with human or natural resources? Is that the problem? Is it the case that, perhaps, some parts are so endowed and not well managed? Those are the honest debates that we must have”, the Governor said.
He recalled the remarks of the President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Gary Ighariwe, who made a distinction between the Igbo in Lagos and those at home, adding, “As he began to distinguish between the Igbo in Lagos and the Igbo at home I knew there was a real issue; that those at home don’t look like those of you here and you don’t look like them. They are questions that I think the Aka Ikenga should address”.
Stressing the commitment of his administration to making life better for residents, Governor Fashola said if other state governments and their indigenes should commit to developing their state and making life better for the rural communities, the issue of people being compelled to migrate from their homes to other states, without any concrete plans, would be greatly curtailed wondering how a state that produced so many great Nigerians could lag behind in development.
“How can development be so difficult in the part of Nigeria that gave us Ike Nwachukwu; that gave us Chinua Achebe, Azikiwe, Odumegwu Ojukwu, Ekwueme and so on and so forth? How can development be so hard in that part of this country? I think those are the real issues”, he said adding, “And as I listened to talks about Ndigbo, perhaps, we should reflect deeply more about the issues that Bishop Kukah’s speech has provoked here. Are we more Igbo than Nigerian or are we more Nigerian than Igbo”.
Governor Fashola debunked the notion that he was at the occasion “to settle his problem with the Igbos” pointing out that such a “problem” was non-existent pointing out that he had come first to thank the Igbo who, according to him, donated the largest herd of cattle during his father’s burial.
“The truth is that I do not have a problem with the Igbo and they know that; because the largest herd of cattle that I received during my father’s burial was from the Igbo. In fact, when the first cow came, my wife was asking me what this rope is about. But in the fullness of time we got educated and rope followed rope. So those people who came under their many colours are not people I have a problem with. They are my kindred, they are my people”, he said.
The Governor expressed dismay that the relationship among different segments of the people has been in the news “for all of the wrong reasons in the last few weeks”, pointing out, “But if you listen to the voices of those who speak the loudest, you will see that they do not speak about us, they do not speak about the problems, they speak about themselves.
“Majority of us are concerned about how to make it better. This is what concerns all in Lagos. It is not an easy decision to make. The pursuit to make it better makes us adopt policies which are always subject to the human test of fallibility”, he said.
Urging all residents to embrace the recently launched Lagos State Residents Registration scheme , Governor Fashola declared, “One of those policies is the Residents Registration Scheme which I urge you all to embrace because if you live here, it will enable us serve you better if we know that you are here. But the most blue blooded Lagosian who does not live here we don’t want him on that data because he does not live here”.
“It is on those who live here that our biggest responsibility lies. Those are the people for whom we have the responsibility to provide water, to provide security, to provide comfort and safety and the freedoms to express their dreams and to pursue their aspirations”, he said.
The Governor, however, reiterated his call about the need to shun politics of divisiveness and ethnicity for selfish ends adding, “and as the political storm gathers, yes President Clinton says that politics is like pro-football, is a contact sport and if you don’t like to be hit you stay on the sideline. I agree; but even contact sports has rules, you can’t tackle from behind and you can’t hit from behind. And to that extent, therefore, those who are victims of our own inadequacies and shortcomings as professionals in and out of government should not be pawns on the political chess table”.
Governor Fashola praised the Guest Lecturer, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, for delivering a most erudite lecture adding, “When I looked at the programme and I saw that he was the Guest Lecturer, it was obvious to me that really there was no need for any one of us to attempt to make any long speech here. We were here to come and listen to him and I think he has done justice to his subject”.
In his goodwill message, the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan paid glowing tribute to the Igbo socio-cultural group saying, “For 25 years, you have successfully negotiated the interface between your dictates of care for the Igbo nation and the duty of your unflinching loyalty to the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
Represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, the President declared, “Remarkably in doing so, you have found and learnt to respect the precarious balance between power and principles, between personal ambitions and group obligations, between professional interests and political intrigues.
“This explains why this group has never had any confrontations with the authorities or even any internal squabble that come to public light. It is, therefore, not surprising that in a short period of 25 years, Aka Ikenga has emerged as one of the most respected and articulate socio-cultural think-tank”, the President said.
Others who gave goodwill messages included the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha who called for a road map for the development of Igboland, President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Gary Ighariwe who spoke glowingly about the transformational leadership of Governor Fashola in Lagos State and urged the Igbo in Lagos to go and develop Igboland.
The Ohanaeze Ndigbo President, while giving his goodwill message, told the Igbo at the occasion, “When I came in here and saw all of you, I remembered the Igbo at home. I do not say you should leave Lagos and relocate to home but you must extend what you have here to those at home. You must go and develop the home”.
Highlight of the occasion was the lecture by the Bishop of Sokoto, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah who raised issues of lack of focused leadership and the inability of the powers that be to commit themselves to addressing the problems of the nation expressing regrets that the various political alignments and realignments going on in the country were not for the benefit of the ordinary Nigerians.
Earlier in his welcome address, President of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, said the 25 year old group was founded on righteousness, justice and uprightness all of which are according to him, encapsulated in the name Aka Ikenga which literally means, “Hand of Uprightness or Righteousness”.
“Over the years, we have devoted our minds, cash, time and our specializations in the pursuit of good. We have our members who must fall into one of these groups, deep thinkers, details men, philanthropists, foresight and execution people”, he said adding that there is no room for hangers on, laggards and opportunists.
Also present at the occasion were the former Nigerian Ambassador to the United States of America, Professor George Obiozor, General Ike Nwachukwu who was the Chairman of the occasion, Professor Pat Utomi, Chief Chris Asoluka, former Finance Minister, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, the Lagos State Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Mr. Ben Akabueze, Traditional Rulers, members of the National and State Assemblies and prominent Igbo men and women from all walks of life as well as top government functionaries.