• Wednesday, February 28, 2024
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BusinessDay

How 2023 general election worsened Yoruba-Igbo relationship in Lagos

abidjan-lagos corridor (1)

The 2023 general election has come and gone but the effect of the exercise appears to linger. One major effect seems to be the strained relationship between the Yorubas and the Igbos in Lagos.

A lot has been going on that people interpret to mean the offshoot of the last general election, eventhough they may be co-incidence.

It is no doubt that the political class played up the ethnic cards pre, during and after the 2023 electioneering period. However, it is also quite worrisome that every government action and inaction has been tied to or given an ethnic coloration.

Read also: Awolowo, Azikiwe and the Igbo-Yoruba ‘Lagos Press War’

This has got political analysts, public commentators and other public spirited individuals worried about the medium and long term effect of such distrust between the government and the citizenry.

While it is true that the government is saddled with the responsibility of protecting the lives and property of its citizens; citizens on the other hand must play their civic role effectively for the country.

It is also a thing of concern to see the current distrust between the political class and the governed grow to its current state where each and every government action gets sneered at and watered down on social media.

But, can we blame the people for not trusting their government? Should we just expect the people to trust their government wholesale without any form of checks and balances? There are lots to question about in the social contract between the government and the governed.

A situation that allows the people’s representatives to pledge allegiance to the head of the executive arm of government against the wishes and aspirations of the millions of men and women who voted them to represent their interest speaks volume about public expectations from the National Assembly as the peoples’ representatives.

Nigerians divided along ethno-religious lines

It is commonplace that many Nigerians are currently divided along their ethnic and religious inclinations. For these Nigerians, they are first Christians or Muslims before being Nigerians. Their allegiance is primarily to their tribe or ethnicities against the collective belief of being Nigerian.

“It brings grief to the heart that many Nigerians have become so deadened to the noble idea of patriotism. While this trend may be attributable to the severe economic hardship and other negative experiences that we are facing, it is still not acceptable.

“Many Nigerians will not wince at sharing unpalatable news about the nation, and will always be glad to accept the worst about the nation,” Taiwo Akinola, the presiding bishop, Rhema Christian Church and Towers (RCC&T), said in a recent interview with BusinessDay.

Read also: Nigeria will be better than Dubai if Yoruba and Igbo agree – Yinka Odumakin

According to him, the national situation may be bad but it is not a song to be sung so gleefully by Nigerians. He said further that the unwarranted negative attention given to Nigeria in global circles is not helpful to the general reformist clamour, or even to the country’s collective national outlook.

“Unfortunately, the reputation we build by ourselves makes us stink wherever we go. As a Church, even though we are significantly apolitical, yet we strongly urge all Nigerians to desist from careless talks about the country. We urge all citizens to realize that the current socio-political situation of the country is bad enough, and we certainly have no need for further distractions that could eventually plunge us deeper into abysmal darkness,” Akinola said.

Solomon Oyeleye, HoD, Mass Communication, Caleb University, Lagos, told BusinessDay that the issue of ethnicity has been part of Nigeria’s socio-political make-up even before independence.

However, it continues to assume a more frightening dimension each election cycle. “I think that was the case with the 2023 election, influenced perhaps more than previous ones by the emergence of a candidate who was presented largely, consciously or otherwise, as representing the Igbo in the race.

“And, we cannot close our mind to the reality that over the years, Lagos being the commercial centre of Nigeria, and the Igbos being naturally more commerce oriented, have made Lagos a convenient settlement and have been welcomed all along,” Oyeleye said.

However, a Lagos-based political analyst and social commentator, Badru Saleh Abiona, told BusinessDay that hatred is taught and learned. According to him, the perceived strain relations between the Yorubas and Igbos in Lagos is an aftermath of the 2023 general election.

“I will say that it started in 2015 after GEJ was voted out of office. Subtle though but the events that characterised the last elections aggravated the ugly situation,” he said.

But, another analyst pointed to the statement credited to Mudashiru Obasa, Speaker of the Lagos House of Assembly, where he stated that the legislature will make laws in the areas of property and economy to protect indigenes of the state.

“Lagos is a Yoruba land as against the assertions of some people that it is a no-man’s land. Therefore, part of our legislative agenda is to ensure the translation of laws passed by this House to Yoruba Language,” Obasa stated.

While it is true that the primary responsibility of the Lagos Assembly is to legislate on laws affecting citizens of a particular state or nation, the analyst said further that it was divisive for the Speaker of the House to have made such a statement in public.

Similarly, the Labour Party governorship candidate in Lagos State for the 2023 election, Gbadebo Rhodes Vivour, also condemned the comments, and cautioned the Speaker against laws that will divide Lagos residents along ethnic lines.

Rhodes Vivour stated this in a statement posted on his official X handle and warned that any enacted law that seeks to reverse property rights in favour of the indigenous people of Lagos state at the expense of other residents is divisive and not in the economic interest of Lagos.

“In the course of their interactions there have been bruises, even going back as far as the civil war and its aftermath and it was the emergence of an Igbo presidential candidate, contesting against a Yoruba candidate from Lagos that pitched the two tribes against each other, exhuming negative histories that many thought had been buried by the intervention of time,” Oyeleye said.

According to him, given what happened during the campaign, and the real election which saw an upset in Lagos, it is natural that the two sides would, post-election, sit back and review their situation and strategies, in order to both continue living together and also plan for the next round of election and what it will throw up.

Political differences and socio-economic implications

For many Nigerians, it appears the election circle every four years has no direct or indirect relationship with their day-to-day life. The election is literally seen as a one-off event with little or no implications on other aspects of life.

Hence, it is no doubt that many Nigerians are yet to come to the understanding that there is a correlation between their political views/differences and the socio-economic situation of the country.

This is so because every electoral choice has a direct socio-economic implication on the electorates. And, the Nigerian voting public must begin to look beyond taking the election as a one off event that happen every four year; to begin to see every election as a daily activity that affects their everyday choices.

The victory of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the APC at the election over Peter Obi of the Labour Party and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, was seen as a precursor to a series of events that has taken place since the election was concluded.

“Usually, when top political elite continue to fight dirty, it is the poor masses and downtrodden in the society that usually bear the brunt. Hence, we use this medium to appeal to all Nigerians across the various political spectrums, to please end all the diverse battles and needless controversies on the matters of 2023 Presidential election and electioneering, and sheathe our political swords now as law abiding and patriotic citizens,” Akinola said.

Speaking further, Akinola urged all Nigerians to allow their political and emotional wounds to heal. He said Nigerians should forgive and leave behind the ugly irritations of the past few months, and decide to be good and patriotic Nigerians. “Let us free our minds from all forms of vendetta, ill feelings, tribal animosity and egregious negativism against each other. Let’s forgive.”

Oyeleye said further that one major weakness of the political landscape in Nigeria is that people are not legally held accountable for their utterances in the public sphere. Hence, they assume they can say anything, no matter how degrading they are about others, including their ethnic membership.

“To build the wall would take conscious efforts and advocacy by political and business leaders of the two tribes seeking to convince their followers about the need for building a wall of oneness instead of one of independence,” he said..

According to him, Donald Trump, a former president of the U.S.A is being tried for calling the election that ousted him fake, and politicians in their clime are learning from that. “What are we learning from in Nigeria? That is the problem, and in dealing with it lies partly the answer to the dilemma we have in Lagos state,” Oyeleye said.

Speaking to the level of distrust among two of the major ethnic nationalities in Lagos, Saleh said that logically, we have had a series of fire incidents in Lagos State before and after elections. “Only a shallow thinker would attribute the ones that occurred before the last elections to an imaginary feud or hatred towards the Igbos. Apart from Lagos, some states in the northern part of the country also had their own share of the sad incidents”.

According to him, the victims of the fire incidents across the country were not only Igbos but every individual who had business interests or investment in the affected markets. “Is it rational to say that the fire only burnt the Igbo goods? The answer is obvious to those who see things beyond the prism of tribalism,” Saleh said.

According to Saleh, every decision has consequences. He said that what transpired in the last elections in Lagos was an open declaration of animosity by the Igbos towards the ruling party and especially Tinubu. While every Nigerian has a choice to support any political party and candidate of their choice, courtesy also demands that you respect your host and the rights.

“Demolition of houses is not targeted at only the Igbos. Many non-Igbos, even Yorubas too, were affected. The case of Yoruba landlords refusing to give out their house as rent to Igbos depends on their experience with them,” he said.