My 61st Birthday Reflections, By Tony Iyare


Happenings in these states of the federation have always been dear to my heart. Lagos, Edo, Ogun, Osun, Kaduna, Plateau, Adamawa and Taraba. In a way, it also underpins my multi-ethnic cum socio-cultural world view. 

Though I greatly appreciates the concerns of self determination advocates, and believes that only policies genuinely ensconced in justice, equity and fairness rather than some empty rhetorics on unity, can take the wind beneath their sail, unwittingly, I may be a victim if Nigeria crumbles as a country.

Lagos is my home. I was born in Lagos and have spent virtually all my life here. My last primary school (I attended four because of regular transfer of my Policeman father) and secondary school are located within earshot in Apapa. 

Save for my Great Ife years, the one and a half year sojourn in Kaduna and the three year service as Special Adviser to former Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, a great deal of my formative and adult years have been spent in Lagos. 

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I’m proudly Esan from Emaudo, Ekpoma, Edo where my dad, paternal grandfather and grandmother hail from. Emaudo is an almagam of 9 clans consisting of different Edo groups which settled there many years ago through a process of migration and re-migration. Our clan, Ikhin originally came from Owan East with some settling in Iruekpen while the remnants moved further down and found abode in Emaudo. 

My paternal grandmother who died in the process of the fifth child birth, is from Ukeke, made up of people who migrated from Kukuruku (Edo north). She shares ancestry with former Bendel State Governor, Prof Ambrose Alli and many others who bear northern names. 

Although extensive migration to the Diaspora and other parts of Nigeria particularly Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja, Benin City and Warri, has negatively impacted on the population of Esan, one of Edo’s most industrious and resourceful ethnic groups where revered elder statesmen like Chief Anthony Enahoro, Prof Ambrose Alli and Dr Christopher Okojie draw their ancestry, pruning it to 16 per cent, you undermine the Esan only at your peril. 

I support the plan of the newly created Esan socio-cultural group, Esan Okpa Initiative (EOI) to vigorously promote Esan language and culture which is seriously facing extinction. I have no apologies to offer to those who condescendingly refer to any discussions about ethnic groups including their rights and desires for self expression as ethnic talk.

My mum has roots in Osun and Ogun. My Ijesha maternal grandfather with an ancestry in the Lemodu family of kingmakers in Ilesha, was born in Abeokuta where he lived his entire life. I’m miffed each time I see some of our country men and women hankering over titles because my maternal family is a repository of what they seek.

My maternal grandmother who nursed me to the early stage of my adult life is Egba. Please pardon me, I’m not given to discussing my parents and grandparents in past tense because they’ve always supported and protected me with their armour.

Even though I did my NYSC in Lagos, Kaduna offered me my first job which I got within twinkles, as a secondary school teacher 36 years ago. As corpers attached to the Federal Youth Development Department, Iganmu, Lagos, then affiliated to the Federal Ministry of Information, Youth & Sports Development, we were always on the move, traversing the country. 

I had my birth on air flight with the defunct Nigerian Airways in this period. I remember landing in Abuja in 1984 and seeing the fledgling Federal capital which then only had few streets, virtually covered with greens. I recall devouring a plate of hot pounded yam and egusi soup on our Nigerian Airways flight to New York during Easter in 1985 on our trip to the US and Jamaica for the International Youth Year (IYY) Conference. So it was on one of such trips on assignment to Kaduna that Mr Bitiyong, then chief education officer offered Jide, a fellow corper and I a job.

The Kaduna I met both from my first trip in early 1981 on excursion from Ife Varsity and mid 85 when I took up my teaching job was cosmopolitan, only a thin line separated the city from Lagos where different ethnic and multi cultural groups have lived harmoniously for ages.

I had great fun living with soldiers, understanding their huge task of defending the country and exploring the lure of many hangouts that made life eventful. From the peppered fish shop on Ibadan street, the pepper soup joints in Tudunwada and Kabala Costain and the tasty suya spots at the approach of Rabba road, it was fun. 

I lived off Gamagira road in Kawo, now largely inhabited by Muslims in a new Kaduna city torn apart by religious divide and ethnic bickering with everyone at each other’s throat. Government Day Secondary School (GDSS), Kawo where I taught was long transformed into a girls only school by the military administration of then Col Mukhtar which cancelled all co-educational schools in Kaduna.

When I visited Kaduna last May, the city which houses many security establishments was like a shadow of its old self. Northern Kaduna city was a ghost town almost without any night life. Weeks before my arrival, there has been the invasion of the airport residential staff quarters by a band of terrorist group that we prefer to call bandits. I took refuge in a security vehicle to get to town on a road you dared not pass after 5pm. 

“The bandits armed with highly sophisticated weapons and RPGs swoop and overwhelm you in hundreds,” laments the officer that offered me a ride sending shivers down my spine. You now have to look beyond your shoulders at every turn. Even before they struck at the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), killing two officers and abducting one, the bandits had a field day in Kaduna where they invaded different communities at  will.

After a 15 year absence, I could hardly recognize Kaduna city where Governor Nasir el Rufai had transformed the former capital of the old Northern Region to a massive construction site. No doubt, his administration has built new roads and expanded the old ones, but his neo liberal policies lacked human face, leaving many families reeling from daily survival. For instance, the geometric increase in school fees saw many students at the state’s owned Kaduna State University unable to continue their studies. With a region already dealing with millions of street children, this is surely a disservice.

Obviously a stormy petrel, whose policies have attracted flaks from many quarters, el-Rufai’s legacy is the bold move to take back encroached choice lands of many top schools like St John’s College ( now Rimi College), located in GRA, Kaduna, Ahudahuda College, Zaria and others where the elite have indiscriminately built posh homes.

With its beautiful and alluring weather, I fell in love with Plateau’s capital, Jos and had initially nursed the idea of settling there after my first sojourn. The tin mines which gave Fillip to the city had also cultivated a multi-cultural society congenial to peaceful co-existence.

Adamawa and Taraba which constitutes the defunct Gongola state have also offered me a professional sojourn. When I opted to cover the Northeast of Nigeria as reporters and editors at Timesweek angled for different areas of focus in the country, I wasn’t really sure about how to effectively carried out the assignment. However, my first trip from Lagos to Yola in early 1991 changed all that. 

After the tortuous battle to get a boarding pass and the long wait to depart Lagos on the one and a half hour trip to Yola, I was blessed with the company of Boni Haruna, who took me on a very deep and incisive historical and political excursion of the different forces in old Gongola. 

We got to Yola at 2.30am, checked into the same hotel room and continued the conversation into the later part of the morning until we both slept off. Haruna, who became personal assistant to Taraba State Governor, Jolly Nyame and later assumed leadership in Adamawa State as Governor,  lightened my burden. 

As I celebrate my 61st birthday today and effusively thank the Almighty God for adding another year to my life, I crave for a more harmonious country where our diversity is turned into strength. And that’s why I’m a great fan of the railway project around the country. In spite of our challenges, it represents a tool for massive industrialization, re-engineering of businesses and provision of thousands of jobs in many towns and communities across Nigeria. 

I look forward to the ground breaking ceremony of the Lagos-Calabar railway by President Muhammadu Buhari that will not only open a novel East-West Railway in the country but offer a huge tourism potential with the link to Obudu cattle ranch. It will also offer new outlet for the massive movement of passengers and cargo which will eventually save some of our busiest roads from carnage.