One of the great mysteries for many is the incoherence of Nigeria despite its brilliant people. To unravel this mystery we must first start with an understanding of ‘fifth column’.
Britannica’s definition is as follows: ‘fifth column, clandestine group or faction of subversive agents who attempt to undermine a nation’s solidarity by any means at their disposal‘. (see note 1)
Mola is credited with inventing the concept of ‘fifth column’ during the Spanish Civil War. see note 2: ‘In October 1936, Mola launched a drive on Madrid with four columns of soldiers. He publically announced that a “fifth column” of Nationalists inside Madrid would help him take the city. ‘ Though the attack failed the phrase entered common usage.
Fifth column differs from open compradors such as Quisling.
Quislings are less dangerous because they are openly subservient to another power. Fifth columnists pretend to be loyal to the people, to the nation.
Quisling was a puppet proposed ruler of Norway for the Nazis during WW2.
Who are meant by the ‘Lagos Elite’? This will become apparent as we examine further. But for clarity’s sake we refer not to a standard body of persons but to what has become a cultural norm that spreads further than to the original members of the pre-Independence group who would strictly qualify as ‘Lagos Elite’.
The Lagos elite– where do they come from?
Patrick Cole did his PhD at Cambridge University on this topic, later published as ‘Modern and Traditional Elites in the politics of Lagos’.(note 3)
The answer is quite simple: the Lagos elite came from a mix of descendants of pre-abolition slave traders, Saro (ex Sierra leone freed slaves) and Brazilian ‘returnees’ all of whom worked with the British, Portuguese and Dutch. Later they accommodated the British colonial authorities. Lagos itself is named after a place in Algarve, Portugal. At the turn of the 20th century 10% of Lagos were Brazilian returnees (see note 4). The Independence leaders generally came from elsewhere. During the transition to independence, Britain made sure that many of these ‘emigre’ people inherited the most important administrative positions. It is not always remembered that the Lagos elite were not colonial subjects like the vast majority of Nigerians but full British citizens! This created an enormous legal and psychic gulf between them and the ‘natives’. Being full British citizens they had no incentive to seek Independence.
I recall being told by these people or their descendants that ‘Britain is our friend’. They valued Oxbridge education and the status of working with/for overseas companies and had contempt for Nigerian enterprises. They had no wish to create a competitor to Oxbridge i.e. a Nigerian elite alternative to Oxbridge. They managed to hoodwink most of Nigeria by telling them we are the people who brought you independence. They suggested that they ‘had a quiet word ‘ with the British who agreed to leave. I remember in the 60’s listening to traditional rulers in Abeokuta refer to Lagos representatives as the former slave traders! But the Lagos elite have now taken on the clothes of traditonal rulers . To what effect? During the endSARS rebellion the Governor had to send security forces to save the Oba of Lagos from the people of Lagos who were coming to lynch him. Think of that! ..The people seeking to lynch their own Oba? When I asked how he related to the local people of Lagos I learnt he treated them just as the old compradors class under British colonial rule treated the locals — with complete contempt.
I recall Ambode, when Governor of Lagos, publicly referring longingly to the times of great partnership with Britain to the British PM Theresa May. This was the era of slave trading and colonialism. Even the Brits were embarassed.
But this dressing up in the traditional clothes as a fig leaf for people who owed allegiance to foreign powers is not new or unique to Lagos. Mobutu one day decided that his previous uniform was too obviously that of a puppet and so he began wearing the clothes of the dissident African intellectuals — dashiki and buba. This caused a sensation! Within a month, dissident African intellectuals abandoned the dashiki. You will no longer find African intellectuals wearing dashiki. Soyinka was seen wearing traditional Yoruba hunters jackets! I had worn either dashiki or buba everyday I was at Cambridge. It was my signature. After I saw Mobutu wearing a dashiki I have never worn one since.
We have a Lagos culture which frankly is embodied in the phrase ‘our friends, the British’, maybe updated to ‘our colleagues, the Americans’.
A Lagos culture that is dominated by compradors cannot encourage a national culture or an internationally competing culture or any kind of national revival. It will have no faith in a Nigerian ‘Harvard.’ These are surprisingly easy to create and are dependent on low teacher/student ratio, teachers who must continue to perform advanced research and aggressive selection that seeks out the truly exceptionally talented. Harvard/Oxbridge do not give students talents they were not born with!
The culture of the independence movement was of collaboration among each other for a common purpose. Many members of the independence movement fought in liberation armies. Collaborate or die. Post-Independence, the countries of Africa were often taken over by the local allies of the former colonial powers.
This ‘Lagos Elite’ continues its vision without understanding how the world has since changed and that their ‘masters’ no longer need this behaviour. Basically, the Lagos Elite are obsessed with their guilty secret history of slave trading, focussed on hatred of their fellow Nigerians as they base their status on their superiority to the natives and closeness to the former colonials. If the natives develop greatly as the country wishes, their own sense of ‘superiority’ and their superior status will be destroyed. To see how far they will go, let us consider how they behave today. At an Oxford and Cambridge Club lunch I was told that several Lagosians claimed to groups of British interlocutors that they were descendants of Nigerian traditional rulers who had been slave traders and they were proud of this. They did not notice their interlocutors embarrassment. But what were they doing? They were seeking acceptance in the British power elite by disparaging the traditional rulers of Nigeria as willing slave traders and compradors. By claiming to be descendants and heirs they pretend to be making a ‘confession’ though for many reasons they can be shown to be utter liars. So even today, behind the scenes, these compradors are dedicating themselves to destroying Nigeria, the reputation of its people, and seeking acceptance within the British power elite as their ‘fifth column’. One has to remember these people had been made full British citizens under colonialism and identified with the colonial powers, not the independence movement.
Their greatest harm is the culture of compradorism that they have established, concealed behind the lying claim that they had brought Independence to Nigeria. This needs to be unmasked.
To be fair, the neo-liberal elite in the West show signs of a similar contempt for their own people. Recent events around the Ukraine war has shown that there are many members of Europe’s power elite who are willing to sacrifice their countries for their personal benefit and that of a foreign power. Russia itself has its own people who are happy to sacrifice their country for the benefit of another power.
There is no future for Nigeria until we rid ourselves not only of these people but also of the culture they have imbued in Lagos and in many places throughout the country. A cultural revolution is required. There is no alternative.
- Dr Patrick Cole ‘Modern and Traditional Elites in the politics of Lagos’ – Cambridge University Press available at: ‘https://archive.org/details/moderntraditiona0000cole/page/10/mode/2up?view=theater’
- Femi Oyebode https://femioyebode.com/2014/03/07/brazilians-in-lagos/’