Anytime the name “Ijebu” is mentioned, the typical negative spirit of man ensures that only negatives are stressed. If Mr. A wants to cheat Mr. B but Mr. B resists, Mr. A immediately calls Mr. B “Ijebu man”. When someone decides to save and plan for the future rather than fritter away one’s resources, the person is tagged an Ijebu.
As an Igbo, the first thing you hear about Ijebu (especially Ijebu Ode) is that if you want to get the most potent charm or the strongest medicine-men, you go to Ijebu Ode, just as we were made to believe that India is the world’s capital for the most potent medicine-men.
That was an ignorant deduction made from Indian films from the 1960s and 1970s. There was an urban legend that many of us believed then about India: that India never play in the football World Cup because India once beat a country 100 goals to nothing, and was subsequently banned from the World Cup. The story said that 11 Indian players were in the field while another invisible 11 were in the air from where they scored continuously to the amazement of their opponents. Sometimes a shot from an Indian player would come as a ball of fire or a head of palm nuts with all the thorns. The unfortunate goalkeeper of the opposing team would flee the goalpost at the sight of such danger.
It was when I grew up that I found out that no ban was placed on India, but rather India are poor in football and hardly qualify from their Asian group. India are known for cricket rather than football: that is why it is said that there are 10 sports in India, with cricket being nine of them while all other sports are the tenth. Curiously, there are many adults who still believe the folktales about India because Indian films show human beings disappearing or turning into snakes, or because an Indian film is rarely complete if there is no scene where someone is before the statue of one of their deities.
The first thing I noticed about the Ijebu when I came to Lagos was that my first landlord and the landlords of some of my friends were from Ijebu. My second landlord was also an Ijebu man. I began to take note of Ijebu people. I noticed that it was not coincidence or luck. If it were luck, why should it always come to the Ijebu? There must be something special about the Ijebu. There must be something they are doing better than others.
And what is that thing? It comes in three forms: 1. an eye for business; 2. a conscious effort to save; 3. a systematic plan to channel the saved money into investments that yield good returns, especially for a long period. Where others see difficulties and problems, the Ijebu person sees opportunities. The person looks deeply and sees the needs of the people that can be met even in a place filled with challenges. Even if at first money is not rushing in like a flood, the Ijebu person perseveres, knowing that it is just a matter of time. Eventually that patience pays off.
The easiest and sweetest thing to do on earth is to spend money. It takes no effort at all and it fills one with a sense of worth and pride. When the person makes a million naira, he or she feels overjoyed about it, then borrows some five hundred thousand naira and buys a fairly-used sports utility vehicle. The person makes some eight hundred thousand naira, then borrows some four hundred thousand naira to be able to take the entire family on a holiday to the UK or US. Soon after, the furniture in the house is changed, or the person even changes apartments and neighbourhoods, as well as the schools of the children.
In spite of the increase on income, the person is still living in debt with no savings. If anything suddenly happens to the source of income, trouble starts within a month. The person begins to visit different pastors or imams or medicine-men to fight against the badluck-causing “enemies”. That is what makes many people to continue to wallow in lack, blaming witches and wizards for being against their progress.
But that is not the attitude that makes an Ijebu person prosperous. For refusing to feed this wasteful and greedy spirit, the Ijebu person gets vilified as being “stingy”. Does that not remind you of some Nigerian governors who frittered away their federal allocations on private jets, chartered flights, endless convoys, political donations and sponsorships, graft, etc, incurring many months of unpaid salaries, only to turn around to demand bailout from the Federal Government?
It requires discipline to save money. But money one laboured to save for years can vanish in a matter of seconds if not wisely invested. That is what gives sustained wealth: wealth that continues to give and give. The Ijebu understand that and it has worked well in their favour.
These are not issues that are peculiar to the Ijebu. They are life principles that have been in existence from the beginning of time. When applied by a man in Israel or Afghanistan, he will obtain similar results.
However, there is one thing the Ijebu have not taken advantage of in full. That is the promixity of their homeland to Lagos. Even though there are Ijebu in Lagos (Ikorodu and Epe), the bulk of Ijebu land is in Ogun State. Lagos is the commercial capital of Nigeria. The big businesses and big markets are in it. It also is the most densely populated state in Nigeria.
Given the financial power and business acumen of Ijebu people, it is surprising that they have not created a mega market that will birth a mega city in Ijebu land. How can this be done? One way is to decide on one product that the Ijebu have comparative advantage in over every other people, and make it available in wholesale prices in the market.
Buyers from Lagos, Ibadan, Akure and other parts of Nigeria have to come to the market in Ijebu land to get it in large quantities and at the best prices. It could be clothing materials or even specifically lace materials oradire, furniture, jewellery, or makeup materials. It could be hospitals or eye clinics. It could be resorts for seminars and conferences.
But whatever it is, there is a need to create something that will attract people into Ijebu land. But there must be a deliberate effort of the people to ensure that all religious or traditional festivities or rituals that have the possibility of being a threat to the life of human beings are eliminated or fine tuned. No visitor would like to spend the night in a place where there is the possibility that a traditional event can cause harm or death to a visitor who is coming into town late at night.
Ijebuland should be packaged in a way that people living in Lagos can take a weekend trip to Ijebu just for relaxation and return Sunday evening or Monday morning.
Ijebu people have consciously made the Ijebu name special over the years through their business acumen and knack for success.
How many areas can boast of names like Otunba Subomi Balogun of FCMB, Chief Chris Ogunbanjo of Chris Ogunbabjo & Co, Dr. Oba Otudeko of the Honeywell Group, Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas of CFAO Motors, Chief Rasaq Okoya of Eleganza Industries, Dr. Mike Adenuga of Globacom/Conoil, Mr. Biodun Shobanjo of Insight Communications, Sir Olu Okeowo of Gibraltar Construction, Mr. Femi Otedola of Forte Oil, Chief Bayo Kuku of Mobil Nigeria, Dr. Sunny Kuku, co-founder EKO Hospital, Mr. Funmi Onabolu of Bates Cosse, and many more?
Rather than the usual stereotype of always looking for a negative thing to say about the Ijebu, most Nigerians need to study the Ijebu and attempt to replicate their success story across the length and breadth of the nation.