Elections: Nigerians Must Resist Politicians Stoking Ethnic Hate
While the United States and the British government have announced plans to impose sanctions on Nigerian politicians who instigated violence and perpetrated electoral fraud and anti-democratic exercises during the just-concluded general election, local authorities are yet to condemn or arrest agent provocateurs whose actions and utterances led to the loss of lives, limbs, and livelihoods of Nigerians and prevented voters from exercising their franchise. America categorically decried the “use of inflammatory ethnoreligious language by some public and political figures.” This newspaper expects that the US and UK will proceed to impose visa restrictions on these sponsors of violence and persons whose incendiary claims during the general election could have set Nigeria aflame. The West shouldn’t be deterred from this righteous path by the investments of these provocative politicians.
The UK Minister of State for Development and Africa, Andrew Mitchell, in a statement issued on Wednesday, stated that “members of our observation mission personally observed violence and voter suppression in numerous voting locations,” adding that “we are collating relevant information, with a view to taking action against some individuals.” The statement from the United States Embassy in Nigeria read: “We call on Nigerian authorities to hold accountable and bring to justice any individual found to have ordered or carried out efforts to intimidate voters and suppress voting during the election process.” When foreign missions, which are usually diplomatic and speak tongue in cheek about happenings in their host countries, become this censorious, it highlights the extent of the bad behaviour they have to rebuke.
Indeed, at no other election in Nigerian history did politicians throw caution to the wind in deploying tribal bile and slur for electoral gains. Given the competitive nature of the general elections, failed politicians who used to take it for granted that they would win because of weak opposition found themselves contending with new-wave candidates who are quite popular. Faced with imminent defeat, they resorted to ethnic baiting and an us-verses-them inflammatory narrative. Indeed, the upset caused in Lagos State by the presidential election made the operatives and minions of the entrenched political interest go haywire, threatening violence on Nigerians who intend to vote in a particular direction during the gubernatorial election. They followed this up with unbridled brigandage at the polls. So brazen were these thugs and ethnic jingoists in their hate speeches and action that the United States mission took notice and expressed deep concern over the deployment “of ethnically charged rhetoric before, during, and after the gubernatorial election in Lagos.”
Unfortunately, those close to the president-elect were the belligerent ones as they were found to be fanning the embers of ethnic division in Lagos State. Even Bola Tinubu’s chief spokesman, Bayo Onanuga, doubled down on an inciting tweet he made, which is too uncouth to be reproduced here. Similar slurs have been peddled on social media by Femi Fani-Kayode and APC foot soldiers in an apparent response to which the United Kingdom called “on all leaders not just to distance themselves from this kind of language, but to prevent those who speak on their behalf from doing so in this way.”
It is therefore not surprising that the first runner-up in the presidential election, Atiku Abubakar derided the president-elect’s conciliatory statement thus: “Tinubu’s latest statement is laced with hypocrisy and lies. For a whole month, traditional leaders, transport hooligans, and politicians in his camp threatened non-indigenes, but Tinubu kept mute. His lackey, MC Oluomo, who is a member of his Presidential campaign council, was seen on video threatening Igbo people, but Tinubu said nothing. His campaign spokesmen, Bayo Onanuga and Femi Fani-Kayode, went on social media to warn Igbo people against exercising their franchise, but Tinubu looked the other way.
“Traditional rulers imposed curfews and went about slaughtering goats and placing them in front of polling units, but Tinubu said nothing. A traditional leader and council chairman in the Gbara community, Eti Osa local government summoned non-indigenes to a meeting where they threatened non-indigenes with eviction if they failed to vote for the APC, but Tinubu said nothing. Those invited by the police ignored invitations because Tinubu was shielding them.” These are condemnable developments, variants of which regrettably manifested in other parts of the country like Rivers, Enugu, and Kano States. As widespread as the ethnically charged rhetorics were during the elections that they also caught the attention of Amnesty International, the Federal government was remiss as neither Lai Mohammed nor the presidency came out to denounce any of the statements, online or otherwise, which advocated violence against a specific ethnic group. Not even the law enforcement agencies called the agent provocateurs in for questioning. Yet, there are instances of thugs right in the presence of police operatives threatening those who won’t vote in a particular direction to leave the polling unit.
Naija News refuses to accept this as the new normal during elections in the country. Politicians can’t be allowed to brazenly beat the drums of war or stress the country’s fault lines just because they want to win an election. The survival of Nigeria is more important than anyone’s political ambition. Nigerians must stop lending themselves to this macabre antic of the political class. We believe that if the people don’t get unduly excited when ethnicity is introduced into politicking, the politicians would have to find other means of winning the people’s mandate. Nigerians attached to primordial sentiment must remember how they celebrate when their kinsmen win elections abroad. A British woman of Nigeria extraction, Kemi Badenoch, almost became the prime minister of the UK, and a lot of Nigerians turned cheerleaders while her campaign lasted.
Nigerians must realize that their neighbor who is from another part of the country isn’t their problem but their politician brother who upon getting elected, becomes self-absorbed and inaccessible to the very people they had claimed to be defending their heritage. If the drums of war they are beating burst, these politicians will be the first to relocate abroad, leaving their tribesmen to bear the brunt of their indiscretions. Besides, they are supposed settlers who speak the indigenous language better and contribute more to the development of the community than even the so-called aborigines. So, why the fuss? Nigerian politicians are a tribe unto themselves, with their allegiance more to their aligned interests than any ethnic or religious affiliation.
In the final analysis, Naija News charges all those who are quick to play the ethnic card to be mindful of Section 41 (1) of the revised 1999 Constitution, which stipulates that “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit therefrom.” It is the same way that Nigerians are entitled to vote their conscience wherever they reside. Aside from being Nigerians, they should enjoy all privileges due to those who are born in an area, whether they are aborigines or not. No tribal sentiment can supersede this ground norm. Enough of Nigerians suffering xenophobia in their country just so that politicians can have their way!