How I influenced appointment of Igbos into LagosState

By Nwankwo T. Nwaezeigwe

The policy of appointing Ndigbo into Lagos State Government Executive Council as Commissioner was the result of my initiative powered by Dr. Frederick Faseun’s magnanimity. Based on my suggestion Dr. Faseun instructed me to write a proposal to that effect and bring to him for onward transmission to Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu. After going through the draft proposal Dr. Faseun made some useful corrections and instructed me to put them in order and bring back to him. 

As naïve as I was then, operating with unwavering trust with my colleagues, I handed over the document to my Deputy Comrade Chris Ezeiyiaku from Akaeze in Ohaozara Local Government Area of Ebonyi State now late to go through, append his signature and return to me. Everything went like the flash of lightening from a dimming thunderstorm. Mr. Ezeiyiaku did not return the document to me and I forgot everything about it for over one month. 

Unknown to me, Mr. Ezeiyiaku took the document to Mr. Joe Igbokwe and they both clandestinely colluded to convert it to their own initiative without reference to me, with Joe Igbokwe signing as the President of Igbo People’s Congress and Mr. Ezeiyiaku morosely retaining his position as Deputy President. They subsequently submitted the document to Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu without reference to both Dr. Faseun and I.

Since I never used the title of President but National Coordinator and Tinubu’s aids were familiar with my name, when the document was presented to Tinubu, he referred it back to his Chief of Staff Alhaji Lai Mohammed to confirm its authenticity from Dr. Faseun. When Lai Mohammed presented the document to Dr. Faseun at Government House, Alausa, Dr. Faseun acknowledged the knowledge of the document but not the signatories. He subsequently told Lai Mohammed to keep it in viewed until he had reconciled the signatories, which in Nigerian official terms means, killing it. As soon as Dr. Faseun got back to his office in Century Hotel he invited me immediately to his office. When I came, he demandedme for the proposal he gave me to correct and return to him. 

For the next one minute I was standing akimbo looking morose. I saw myself confronted with acute amnesia, fidgeting like someone with acute pneumonia caked in acute malaria fever. Within that short moment of wild bewilderment my mind recoiled fast with the speed of lightening and eventually caught the scene of my bespoken stupidity. I told him, I could now remember that I gave it to my Mr. Chris Ezeiyiaku to go through and append his signature but he never returned it to me. He said yes, and beckoned on me to sit.

Dr. Faseun then narrated to me what transpired in Alausa and that he had told Lai Mohammed to kill the proposal. He said he had warned me before to be cautious with most of those working with me because I am a different person from most Igbo men he had associated with. I however pleaded with him to reconsider his decision to kill the proposal because it was not aimed primarily for me to benefit as an individual but for the entire Igbo people in Lagos State in line with our memorandum of understanding. Looking at me straight on the face, he said, ok Tony, if that is your decision I will do it. But I said why not call Lai Mohammed right now because I know you might forget. He said ok, and called Lai Mohammed and informed him that he had reconciled the issue and that he should go ahead with the approval.

Indeed in several serious matters of Igbo concern in Lagos State that required OPC attention, I was often the first person to be consulted by Dr. Faseun before adopting any opinion or action on the matter. This was how I intervened to stop the proposal by the Lagos State Council of Obas and Chiefs to ban Eze Ndigbo title in Lagos State, following the protracted dispute between Chief Christian Nwachukwu of Okota from Obodoukwu, Imo State, and Chief Hyacinth Ohazurike of Ifako Ijaiye from Ihiala, Anambra State, popularly known as Tokas, after his popular sachet water brand.

 Even though Chief Ohazurike was richer and thus had the upper hand, the strong dichotomy between Anambra State and Imo State indigenes in Lagos State made it impossible for a decisive recognition one against the other. Hence there was a precarious stalemate which the Lagos State Government considered as possible threat to peace and security among the Igbo in the State. Consequently, Dr. Frederick Faseun was asked to get a prominent unbiased Igbo leader in Lagos State to advise the Council on the right decision to take. I was subsequently invited by the Lagos State Council of Obas and Chiefs through Dr. Faseun to present an unbiased solution to the dispute.

When I stood before the Lagos State Council of Obas and Chiefs with the charismatic imposing and lanky stature of Oba Oyekan II who was gracefully puffing a fat brown uncommon stick of cigarette presiding, what first struck my mind was how could such a man at the age of 90 years at the time be smoking such dangerous cigarette and still be walking tall and strong? In Oba Oyekan II, I saw not only the imposing splendor of a Majestic Oba in display with characteristic urbanity but the advertorial assertive profanity that those who smoke cigarette are liable to die young collapsing, even though I was not a cigarette-smoker. 

Wearing an unsuspecting smile and unchallengeable sense of power and authority, the Eleko Eko and Lord of Iga Idunganran, Alayeluwa Oba Oyekan beckoned on me to move a bit towards him in a tune that bespoke more of the tenderness of a loving father than the authoritative monarch which he was, and said, “My son we have decided to ban all Eze-Ibo in Lagos because they are causing trouble. What is your advice?” I said, “Baba, if you will permit me to suggest, I think the Eze-Igbo does not have authority over Igbo people in Lagos but only a private social and cultural title. So I don’t think they can cause trouble in Lagos. I think my advice is that you should not recognize any of them as Eze-Igbo Lagos State but allow them go and continue with their respective titles without disturbing the other or the peace of Lagos.” 

As soon as I concluded what was considered a very brief and insignificant presentation, there were myriads of low-toned expressions among the Obas and chiefs and without waiting for any question or comment from them discharged me immediately. That eventually turned out to be the decision of the Council. Consequently both Chief Christian Nwachukwu and Chief Hyacinth Ohazurike became separate Eze-Igbo of Lagos State operating from their respective palaces and with respective traditional cabinet. In other words, both men were eventually granted the freedom to organize their separate groups as Eze Igbo of Lagos State without interfering with the activities of the other or acting in such a manner as to generate conflicts among their respective supporters.
This explains why I never subscribed to the infantile threat of the Eze-Igbo of Ajao Estate, Lagos, Chief Fredrick Nwajagu to invite members of IPOB to protect Igbo residents of Lagos State, which I saw as childish affront not just to the Lagos State Government but the OPC. Chief Fredrick Nwajagu was neither there nor was the title of Eze-Igbo of Ajao Estate when we were in the battle for sustainable Igbo-Yoruba relations in Lagos State. The question is has IPOB finished securing Igboland from the menace of Fulani kidnappers and killer-herdsmen?

It was equally in the course of my role as the leader of Igbo People’s Congress that I came across the present Eze-Ndigbo of Igbogbo Bayeku, Ikorodu, Lagos State, Pastor Okey Anorue, then popularly known as “Okey Starch” who was the Chairman of Yaba Bus-Stop Railway Line Traders’ Association. The traders who were dealing on second (Okrika) clothing materials were facing constant harassments, extortion, threats and frequent demolition of their stalls by agents of Lagos State Government, when I was invited to intervene. Mobilizing other members of his association into Igbo People’s Congress, we fought uncompromisingly to ensure the protection of the interest of the traders until they were relocated to Olosa Bus-Stop Market, Mushin.

It was through my efforts that Dr. Faseun, once dreaded and avoided by many Igbo people in Lagos State became the toast of Igbo community in Lagos State gracing many Igbo social events and solving many Igbo problems emanating from purchase of landed property. Through my involvement with OPC I made sure that the Igbo were never victims of OPC onslaught throughout the deadly conflicts between the OPC and Hausa-Fulani in Ketu-Mile 12 and Idi-Araba and other areas. I also made sure the Igbo were not cut in the cross-fire between the OPC and the Ijaw during their conflict around Ajegunle and its environs. 

When the Igbo residents of Ojo Local Government Area took advantage of their superiority in number and threatened to produce the Chairman of the Local Government Council, in addition to the Deputy Chairman which they already had, the OPC reacted by attacking Igbo traders in Alaba International Market and its environs. This prompted some Igbo leaders led by Okwadike Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife to intervene and subsequently arranged a peace-meeting at Alaba International Market to resolve the conflict. That was after I had met Okwadike.
Dr. Faseun initially refused to accept the invitation because he did not see the reason why the Igbo should be contesting with the Yoruba over the Chairman of a Local Government Council in Lagos State after they had taken the position of Chairman. I was still the person contacted by some Igbo leaders to intervene and plead with him to stop his boys and attend the peace-meeting which took place in Alaba to settle the conflict.  That was indeed the first Igbo-OPC meeting Okwadike attended with Dr. Frederick Faseun to settle Igbo-Yoruba conflict. 

Beyond the above instances there were countless roles I played in defending collective Igbo interests in Lagos, most of which concerned the security of lives and property. Through my connections and subsequent efforts with the OPC the incessant dubious activities of the Omo n’ile in respect of re-possession of landed property purchased by the Igbo in Lagos State, especially along the once swampy Okota-Mile Two axis which was at that point in time                    undergoing rapid development, was curtailed  to the barest minimum. Many Igbo living in Lagos State who had one problem or the other with their Yoruba counterparts began to troop to Century Hotel to seek Dr. Faseun’s intervention using the IPC-OPC network.                                                             
In most of the conflicts that involved the OPC and the Hausa-Fulani community in Lagos State like the Ketu/Mile 12 and Idi-Araba conflicts, I risked my life on the battle-line just to ensure the safety of the Igbo in those areas. In fact it was through me that the Middle Belt Groups, including the Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU) then led by Isuwa Dogo, with Dr. Alex Mana as the initial contact person began to move closer towards the South for re-alignment of political forces and cooperation. That was coming after a Kaduna State-born Pastor of ECWA Church was killed by OPC militants during the Ketu/Mile-12 conflict in mistaken suspicion of being a Muslim Hausa-Fulani indigene because of his attire. I subsequently felt that there must a concerted move to redefine the context of one Northern Nigeria by separating the Christian Middle Belt from the dominant Muslim                          
It is remarkable to note that on the second day of the ketu/Mile 12 OPC-Hausa/Fulani conflict I and my Deputy Chris Ezeiyiaku were on a live AIT Kaakaki TV Morning Programme at their Alagbado Office under Mr. Jika Atoh’s anchorage when a detachment of Mobile Policemen invaded the premise arrest us together with Mr. Jika Atoh for supporting OPC action in our discussions. Luckily, we had just concluded the programme when they invaded the premises. As we marched out of the studio, we saw heavily armed Mobile Policemen trooping into the AIT premises in battle-readiness. We immediately sensed danger, moved to a corner and pulled off our neck-ties and boldly marched through them without their realizing we were the same people they were looking for. Of course with my age and tiny stature there was no way they could have noticed I  was their main target.                                                                  We eventually escaped through the already heavily-mounted Policemen at the main gate, took refuge briefly in a nearby provision store, and finally zoomed off to safety and landed at Oshodi Bus-Stop, where we bought new okrika shirts to change our previous ones in the bid to disguise ourselves in case we were being trailed. But Jika Atoh was not so lucky. He was apprehended right inside the studio as he was preparing to continue with another programme. He was beaten pulp and blue and eventually bundled away. That episode indeed turned out to be the end of his career as a presenter with AIT, as he eventually resigned after surviving the Mobile Police ordeal.

The last operation I witnessed was the February 2 to 4, 2002 Idi-Araba conflict, after the Hausa-Fulani residents of Idi-Araba carried out a pre-emptive attack against their Yoruba neighbours, burning their homes with unrivalled fury. The OPC was ready for immediate retaliation as was expected. But as would be equally expected, the Police force had quickly intervened by stationing a detachment of armed Mobile Policemen in the area to presumably stop possible retaliatory attack from OPC. That was during Mike Okiro’s tenure as Lagos State Commissioner of Police and Sunday Ehindero’s tenure as Assistant Inspector General of Police, Lagos Zone. 

Following the state of wild tension generated by the attack across Lagos State and the obvious possibility of a retaliatory attack by OPC militants, both Okiro and Ehindero had to visit the scene of the conflict for on-the-spot assessment of the damages and tensed security situation with Dr. Faseun invited to join the entourage. I was later invited by Dr. Faseun to meet him at the Idi-Araba scene. 

When I met him he specifically told me in a whispering tone that he had called me to warn the Igbo residents in Idi-Araba who had fled the conflict not to return and to as well warn those still around to leave immediately the Police entourage leaves because they were not going to take the attack against their people in their land lightly. He said if the Mobile Policemen stationed here want action they would give them together. That was when OPC was OPC. I knew right from the onset that the OPC would not take the attack lightly in spite of the detachment of Mobile Policemen stationed there. Even from the countenances of both Okiro and Ehindero, it was obvious that it would be very difficult for them to stop the OPC from retaliation.

I quickly made hasty enquiries after the entourage had left and subsequently reported back assuring him that there were no Igbo living around that Idi-Araba LUTH axis and that if there were at all, it would be foolish of them to have returned to their homes so quickly. The rest had become history. Following the presence of the Mobile Policemen many Hausa-Fulani residents who had fled their homes returned with the assurance of Police protection. However, after mid-night all the Mobile Policemen stationed at Idi-Araba were unceremoniously withdrawn. In less than thirty minutes later, before those who returned and those still in their homes could realize the absence of the Mobile Policemen, the OPC militants invaded the area and carried out one of the most devastating attacks ever undertaken against the Hausa-Fulani in Yorubaland. It was indeed that Idi-Arab episode that subsequently put a stop to the incessant belligerent dispositions of the Hausa-Fulani residents in Lagos State.                              There was no doubt that Dr. Faseun believed in me and rarely disagreed with my opinion on most national issues. It is instructive to further point out that at the time I left University of Nigeria, Nsukka in April 1999, I had no car and that my first and second cars after leaving the university— a white Daewoo Racer and red Daewoo Espero were bought with proceeds of political consultancies initiated by Dr. Frederick Faseun. He also once told me to go and take over flat from the abandoned Federal Housing scheme in Iyana Ipaja but which I declined. 

But these did not in any manner obliterate my sense of objectivity and principle when dealing with him in such issues that demanded the test of my principle; hence I had few occasions that demanded serious disagreements with him. One of such disagreements was the fraudulent sale of a five-storey building of more than fifty rooms (Number 5 Olatilewa Street, Ikate, Surulere) belonging Mr. Michael Ololo-Ogwu from Umuahia, Abia State, to one Yoruba man called Akintomide at the cost of two million naira when the asking price of such house was put at thirty million naira at the time.

Working in concert with Michael Ololo-Ogwu’s Ngwa-born mother who had earlier divorced his father and, his younger siblings, Mr. Akintomide got Mr. Michael Ololo-Ogwu arrested by the Police and subsequently quarantined at Federal Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, where he was injected with lethal substances and ridiculously certified insane and unable to negotiate the sale of his father’s property as the first son and customary inheritor. He thereafter enlisted some OPC militants to eject more than twenty mainly Igbo tenants of the building in his bid for final possession of the building. 

The pandemonium created by the invasion of OPC militants prompted the tenants seek refuge at Lawanson Police Station and through further enquiries traced Mr. Michael Ololo-Ogwu to Federal Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, where he was chained to his bed after his recovery from the lethal injection to prevent his escape. He was subsequently released and with the presence of Nigeria Police, the invading OPC militants melted into the tin air. This prompted Mr. Akintomide to report to Dr. Frederick Faseun alleging that he bought a house from an Igbo family but one of them refused to vacate the premises. It was then that I was summoned by Dr. Faseun with the threat that if the man refuses to vacate the building he would send OPC to force him out.

When I got to his office at Century Hotel, Ago-Palace Way, Okota he at once brandished before me a copy of the original Survey Plan of the property in dispute which was built in early 1950s    and advised me to go back and ensure that the young man quits the house immediately. I said okay Baba, let me go there and investigate the matter first and return back to you latest the next day. He said okay. I then left and moved straight to the property which was on a short street that links Falowiyo Bankole Street with the main Ikate Street by the popular Kilo Hotel Bus-Stop, just directly opposite number 28 Folawiyo Bankole Street, my kinsman’s office—Mr. Bialonwu  Okonta where he published  our town’s local newspaper—Ibusa Pathfinder, which I later used as my temporary office base.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

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