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Threat to Igbos: London cleric tells Oba Akiolu, ‘You went too far, Kabiyesi’

Agu Irukwu, Senior Pastor, Jesus House of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Brent Cross, London, is a Lagosian by birth and length of residency. He is also a proud Igbo man. He reacted with passion and balance to the controversial death threat the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, made to Igbo voters, compelling them to vote for APC’s Akinwunmi Ambode, Easter Sunday.

My euphoria at what was certainly a coming of age of the Nigeria in the March 28 presidential elections was rudely shattered by a message I received on my phone a few days ago in which the Oba of Lagos allegedly addressed leaders in the Igbo community. I subsequently had the actual recording played to me.

My first reaction was one of incredulity. Surely this could not be the highly respected Oba of Lagos speaking with such venom and anger, and in such an inflammatory and condescending manner to the leaders of the Igbo community in Lagos. I am aware that his words were probably provoked by some immature statements credited to politicians and some business men with regards to the position of the Igbos in Lagos.

The position of the Oba of Lagos is a highly esteemed one. Along with most Lagosians, I have looked to it as a rallying point in times past. This places an onerous responsibility on our Oba to be careful with his words and his actions. I must confess a part of me still wants to believe that this was just another propaganda tool, as is common in partisan politics. However, since he has not come out to categorically deny it, we can only assume the worst.

As we entered the dawn of a new era, with an election having been won by an opposition party for the first time and an incumbent president calling the opposition candidate before the results had been officially confirmed, to concede to him and offer his congratulations, the action of our Oba is a stark reminder that we still have a long way to go and that many are more comfortable with the old Nigeria than with the new.

Someone reading this might say in that quaint Nigerian way ‘Ah ah, Agu, what is your own?’ Well, ‘my own’ is that I care passionately about Lagos and more so about Nigeria. I am a ‘Lagos boy’ born at the Lagos Island maternity hospital, educated at Fountain Primary School in Surulere and very proud of my alma mater Igbobi College Yaba.

My parents spent literally all their working lives in Lagos and are well known for their contributions not just to Lagos but to Nigeria. I would number amongst my closest friends the Folawiyos, Obaguns, Cokers and Baloguns, just to mention a few of the well-known Lagos families, some of whom I have known for the last 35 years or more.

My family’s most valuable assets and investments are in Lagos and apart from my sojourn abroad I have lived in Lagos literally most of my life. I am married to Sola who, whilst not being from Lagos, is Yoruba by birth and from a distinguished Yoruba lineage. My admiration and closeness to the Ajimobis, another very prominent Yoruba family, is well known and whilst I am not partisan, I do hope and pray that His Excellency wins the forthcoming governorship elections, becoming the first Governor to be re-elected for a second term in the history of Oyo State. I believe he has been the most impactful governor in the history of the state.

Just before someone runs off on a tangent, my support does not make me a card-carrying member of APC in much the same way that my support of Alex Otti in my home state Abia does not make me a card-carrying member of APGA, or my support of Emmanuel Udom in my maternal home state of Akwa Ibom does not make me a card-carrying PDP member. I have chosen to support persons and issues as opposed to parties in this election.

Going back to the point I was making, I see Lagos as my home and I belong to a group of Nigerians who are detribalised; that is how my father and mother raised us. Yes, I am Ibo and very proud of that fact. Anyone close to me would have been regaled with stories of my ancestral homeland, Amaokwe Item, in the Bende Local Government Area of Abia State. That might be my ancestral homeland but Lagos is my home. In the ‘New Nigeria’ it should not be a paradox that an Ibo boy can call Lagos home and see himself as a Lagosian.

The ‘new Lagos’ is a cosmopolitan melting pot where people like me who are originally not from Lagos adopt it and work side by side and might I add, respectfully, with the indigenes of Lagos to build a healthy and prosperous Lagos. What sets Lagos apart in Nigeria is this cosmopolitan mix working together for the benefit of the city.

I am also a Christian and a very committed one. I am a preacher of the Gospel. The gospel message is one of love. The very antithesis of the message that was said to have been ‘preached’ by our Oba. I do not feel called in any way to partisan politics, as I believe that some of us must remain above the fray to serve to heal the wounds that invariably arise when politics is as intense and in some cases, as bitter as it has been and still is.

I however feel that irrespective of our party affiliations, all well-meaning Lagosians in particular, and Nigerians generally, must roundly condemn the underlying message of hatred, enmity and the fanning of the flames of tribalism fuelled by our Oba’s words; I choose to believe this was not his intention. In the new Nigeria, the end must not justify the means.

Kabiyesi, your position is a revered one; I hold you in high regard. You are a father to all Lagosians, whether they are Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Efik, Ibibio, Ijaw, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Benin, Igala, Tiv, Idoma etc. No father would threaten to chase his children into the sea and to swear with the name of Allah while so threatening. My muslim friends tell me this is not the way of Islam.

Let us all go out and vote according to our conscience, shunning all attempts to instigate violence and fan the flames of hatred or tribalism. The loudest way we can answer those who want to do so is to have the most peaceful elections and aftermath ever seen in Lagos State. That is the new Lagos and the new Nigeria.

Pastor Agu Irukwu is a law graduate from the University of Warwick, a barrister and former investment banker. He was ordained a pastor in August 1993 and took over as Senior Pastor of Jesus House in April 1994, two months after it was birthed.

Irukwu also serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees and Head of the Executive Council of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in the United Kingdom which acts in a supervisory capacity over the 600 parishes located in the United Kingdom. In addition he is Chairman of the Festival of Life organising committee.

He is the founder of the Mandate Men’s Ministries which is dedicated to building men of integrity who will be role models in their families, churches and society at large.

Irukwu’s interests include swimming, current affairs and reading; he is also a passionate supporter of Chelsea football club.

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