• Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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How 2023 elections destroyed our relationship — Nigerians tell personal stories

Nigerian lives matter too

The 2023 general election, observers say, may go down in Nigeria’s history as the most divisive poll since the return of the country to civil rule in 1999.

They speak in tandem that the election negatively impacted interpersonal relationships, even in religious circles.

Besides trust deficit in most national institutions which has deepened, ethnic division has widened, deep-seated phobia of one tribe against another has worsened while many relationships have soured almost irredeemably.

BusinessDay checks showed that friendships that were nurtured over the years took a serious hit as a result of arguments and bad blood that arose from the elections and their outcome.

Some of those who spoke to our correspondents said that unless there is a conscious effort by government to initiate a programme for national rebirth and true reconciliation, the fault lines would widen to a point of disintegration.

This immediately calls to mind events of the 30-month civil war of 1967 to 1970 which John Pepper Clarke, one of Nigeria’s finest poets captured in his poem—‘The Casualties’ where he observed that the casualties of the war were not just those who died fighting in the war.

“The casualties are not only those who are dead; they are well out of it. The casualties are not only those who are dead; though they await burial by installment; The casualties are not only those who have lost persons or property,” Pepper-Clarke said.

“The casualties are not only those who started a fire and now cannot put out; thousands are burning that have no say in the matter,” he added.

Unarguably, the national elections left a lot of casualties—those who suffered monumental losses.

Besides these, there are numerous other casualties—those who paid supreme price, those who lost their limbs, those who were disenfranchised and molested; those who had their national pride brutally bruised and left unprotected by the laws of the land. These too, were casualties of the elections that have been condemned across the globe as largely flawed.

These casualties who are victims of unintended and unexpected consequences of the elections represent a good number of Nigerians telling personal stories how the elections have destroyed what they used to enjoy as ‘good relationship’ with some people on account of their different support for candidates and their opinions about the elections.

Some say that even in churches, members are divided along party lines. Some market people who once shared good rapport are not doing so; some colleagues in offices are no longer on talking terms; some have deleted some people they were following on social media platforms; and in some homes it nearly caused friction.

Francis and Longinus are both journalists who met each other on the job about 10 years. They have been very good friends covering the same beat, sharing life and family experiences. Today, they are no longer on talking terms because each had different political party leaning from the other.

This was made worse by their ethnic nationalities. One is Igbo while the other is Yoruba. For them, it is not about Nigeria and what or who is good to lead the country. It is about “my tribe and my person.” They have disagreed so much on the suitability or otherwise of their choices that they no longer exchange messages and no greetings as before.

It is almost the same story from Olufemi Ogundipe and Magnus Munachi who have lived in the same estate as friends, visiting each other’s family at every given opportunity until the outcome of the presidential election threw in a spanner and caused serious disaffection between them.

“Election has been won and lost, yet my friend does not want to let go. Every day he posts offensive information on a WhatsApp platform to which both of us belong. I feel such things are targeted at me because he tells me the president-elect manufactured his mandate. Every attempt I make to explain brings out the worst of ethnic sentiments in him. I have advised myself to ignore him,” Ogundipe said.

The situation goes beyond individual relationships. It has affected families where members have differing political views and persuasions. The worst is how the outcome of the election has affected even churches.

Patrick Ovie worships in one of the churches in Ojo area of Lagos. Ovie told our reporter how worshippers from the South Eastern part of the country feel so bad with the inhuman treatment meted out to them during the election that they are reconsidering a decision earlier made on this year’s church Harvest and Thanksgiving.

“We have groups in the church and each year, one of the groups is chosen to host the Harvest and Thanksgiving. There is a particular group in the church whose membership is over 90 percent South Easterners. They are to host the Harvest this year but their president, after the election, went to the church priest and told him point blank that they won’t do the hosting again because they are annoyed,” Ovie recounted, adding that a good number of them have even left for a nearby “Igbo-speaking Church.”

Ovie expressed fears that if the priest did not find a way to assuage the anger of these brethren, it might affect the stability and revenue of the church as these brothers and sisters were more in number than any other tribe in that church and contribute most to the church finances.

Some of those who spoke to our correspondents said that if there was a way to measure the level of hatred and division in the country, especially since after the elections, the result would obviously show a near-civil war experience where everything was fair for the warring sides with no affection.

According to them, “the election was a test of the purported ‘unity’ of the people, but the people failed, they exhibited hatred at an unprecedented level after a long time of pretense.”

Weeks after the elections, healing is not in sight because many stabbed their very trusted friends in the back, contacts were deleted, relationships soiled, integrity compromised on the altar of hatred and tribal sentiment. The victims, which include all Nigerians, are feeling the negative impacts today.

Jude Abulu, a Kwale Delta State indigene, is one of the many victims of the hatred spree. The father of three was last weekend ejected from his two-bedroom apartment at Isolo, Lagos by his landlord of eight years because he did not renew his rent after one month.

“I have always renewed by rent within three months since I packed into that house eight years ago. But the ejection without notice was simply an act of wickedness because I openly supported another party at the election,” Abulu lamented.

His concern is that more tenants may face same treatment as the landlords are using local thugs to enforce the ejection, while insisting that the aggrieved tenants should return to their states or villages.

Also surprised at the “devil” his once kind-hearted employer has become, Elvis Akani, a hotel waiter, is still in shock over the sack of some staff members because of their choice of candidates at the 2023 election.

“Our human resources manager has been the one fighting for our welfare but our Oga asked her and five others to go because of the argument among some of us that the election was a scam and that if things go the way they are now, an illegitimate government will be in power. We are looking for replacements but not by people from certain places,” Akani, who was employed by the sacked human resources manager, said.

But some are having funny experiences too. A young medical doctor was left unattended to at a petrol station in Gbagada area of Lagos because he couldn’t communicate with the fuel attendant who told him in a local language that it is cash only, no PoS.

The doctor, who works at Gbagada General Hospital got furious when the attendant hung the pump and left.

“I always buy fuel here and he knows I don’t understand their language. He should have communicated to me his challenge in English than walking out on me because I don’t speak his language. This is sad and bad for business,” he decried before leaving without buying fuel.

But a customer who had the same experience and was waiting to be served overheard another attendant saying that they should go to their state and buy fuel.

It was at that point that choas erupted and a senior attendant sent the rude attendants away and sold fuel to all with the PoS they claimed was not working earlier.

The worsening situation has also impacted the volume of business for traders beyond the cashless and PoS challenges to now being reluctant or outright refusal to sell or do business with certain people who are perceived to have voted for another party or who are generalised as ‘enemies of our progress’.

Last weekend, a woman took it out on her supposedly customer of over five years at Ejigbo market when the dealer on wholesale provision refused to sell to her customer for no reason.

“Why will you say you are not open today when other customers are being attended to by your daughters in the same shop?” the customer voiced out in anger and quarrel ensued between former friends.

People around explained that since the election, the woman who is said to be among the women leaders of a political party in her area, has not been relating well with some customers. But the question remains how she knows who voted for her party and who did not.

On the other hand, some traders ignore or insist they do not have whatever item some certain customers ask for, all because of their wrong perception about them since the election.

Of course, traders who are open to all customers are taking advantage of the situation now with signs such as ‘No PoS’, ‘I collect old and new Naira’ boldly written and placed in their shops.

At Idumota, a popular market for clothing and fashions accessories, some shops are now regularly locked by owners of the buildings, a sad situation requiring shop owners to beg for the opening despite not owing rent.

Emeka Oforkansi, a shoe dealer, decried that the situation is getting out of hand as they have complained to the market leaders, security and Lagos Island Police without solution.

“Yes, I voted my choice of candidate and so also you. Why will you want to punish me for expressing my civic right? They are taking the issue very personal and we will not keep quiet because our source of livelihood is being threatened,” he said.

Also looking at the many fire outbreaks in markets across Lagos within a short period of time, Ademola Gbamgboye, a human rights activist, decried that without sentiments, the fire outbreaks seem well-planned and targeted at businesses run by the Igbos.

“Let’s say the truth, the shops being locked and those burnt are mainly owned by the Igbos. No Yoruba trader will say his/her shop was touched during this election brouhaha. It is hatred no matter how you paint it,” Gbamgboye said.

Even across places of worship, some members have been absent since the election because of the division that has crept into supposedly holy places.

For many, some respected clergy crossed the line with their comments, actions and inactions during the election.

“We have seen all of them that claim to be holy. How will you support evil and still want people to to listen to what you preach on pulpit. They have supported their own, many people who are aggrieved like me will leave their church, let their people fill our space if they can. There are many places to worship,” Terh Akah, an aggrieved church goer said.

However, there is fear that the situation may worsen after the inauguration of the new government.

“We have voted and are now being hated for expressing our rigjt with our votes. We have also prepared for the worst afterall the current president promised to do nothing for us and he kept his promise. But we even prospered more. We will survive,” Odirichi Okike, an Abuja-based civil engineer, said.

Gloria Umukotete Principal Gloria Umukotete Campaign Organisation (GUCO) and former
candidate, Ughelli/Udu Federal Constituency disclosed how the relationship between her and her friend was destroyed in the course of last general election.

“This was the very person I took my time, left my house in Delta to be with her for weeks in Edo State. At the end of the day, she paid me back in a bad coin,” she lamented.

“She ran for House of Representatives seat in Edo State under the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) and because of my involvement in women development, I decided to support her because she was a woman involved in politics. As a friend, I assisted and marketed her candidacy to the best of my ability. She however, turned around and became angry with me when she lost the election.

“She was my friend and will never be again. I cannot be friend with everybody; if the friendship is not working I have to move on,” she said.

Kenneth Orusi, a journalist in Asaba, Delta State said he had a friction with his friend on the basis of the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) he supported.

A trader, Ogu Samuel who resides at Canon in Ajao Estate, Oshodi-Isolo Local Government Area of Lagos State, said there has been tension between Yorubas and non-Yorubas in his locality since the result of the presidential poll was announced.
Samuel said that some leaders of the ruling party in the locality were not happy that their candidate lost the presidential poll and mobilised thugs to attack those perceived to be against him in the area.

“There has been tension in this area since the presidential election when the Labour Party won Lagos State. The next day after the election results were announced, they came to scatter our market and burn some of our shops on the road built with planks.

“On the day of the governorship election, they attacked Igbos here, threatening us if we come out to vote that they would kill us. One man was stabbed during the fight that happened on that day.

“Three days ago, we heard the man died and the hoodlums caused trouble by attacking anyone they saw on the road, especially when you are not Yoruba.

“It is so sad that we allowed the election outcome to divide us this way. Unfortunately, it is the politicians that are using these boys, but their own children are abroad.”

Also recounting her experience, Ijeoma Uba, a nurse who resides in Ikotun, Alimosho Local Government Area, said the outcome of the general election had led to division between Igbos and some individuals in the locality, stressing that she now closes early from her shop because of fear of attack.

“A lot of people are now more careful; closing time is now earlier. One man was attacked in this area, his head was hit with a bottle.

“They said he was campaigning for Peter Obi. Since Obi won in Lagos, things have not been the same for us. We now live in fear. I don’t allow my children to go out after 7:30 pm,” Uba said.

Similarly, Ovie Owa, a lawyer, who resides in Agege Lagos State, said that he had serious disagreement with his colleagues on the best presidential candidate for Nigeria, stressing that he was surprised some of them put ethnicity first in the choice of their candidate, rather than competency.

“Personally, I had a bitter experience with some of my colleagues and up till today, we still have not agreed on the outcome of the presidential election and who is the best candidate for Nigeria.

“We had serious disagreements and I had to stay away from some of them. It hurt me personally, even though I may not show it. We may be back together now, I am still hurt emotionally,” he said

“Two of my relatives are no longer in talking terms as of today. They are now enemies. One is a PDP card carrying member while the other is of APC. We as family members are initiating moves to resolve the problem that arose from their individual stands during the election.

“The Church is not left out. Paul and his friend Ekene are members of the same Church in Owerri. They fell out during the election. The faceoff is now so deeply-rooted that they do not sit closer to each other in the church. Ekene said he had decided to sit at the back to avoid close contact or eye contact with Paul,” Udo Ekenna, a grassroots politician in Imo State, told our correspondent.

Read also: Nigerians get reprieve as cash scarcity eases

Obinna Nwagbara, a human rights activist, said many if his friends called him stupid for supporting a candidate of his choice.

According to him, “They hated me and never wanted to have anything to do me. Many blocked me on social media, but I was never disturbed.

“I didn’t need anybody’s approval of who to support in an election. It’s my fundamental human right.”

Nwagbara further said: “For future elections, I will try as much as possible to be political party/candidate-neutral. I will be more interested in playing the role of a civil society actor.”

For Goodluck Ibem, president general, Coalition of South-East Youth Leaders (COSEYL), “We have these troubles because politicians use tribal sentiments to divide Nigerians along ethnic lines, which is why people who were friends suddenly became foes.”
He further observed that political office holders or politicians, who have nothing to offer decided to whip up tribal sentiments as a tool to win elections, noting that it is only those, who have nothing “upstairs” that often fall for such cheap mechanisms.
Similarly, Oluseyi Dasilva also a public affairs analyst, said: “My views on the just concluded elections in Nigeria is that, the 2023 general election has come and gone, but the irregularities that come with it is the disappointing factor.
Nigerians had for a long time been apathetic to the electoral system, but various groups urged Nigerians on the need to participate in the elections.

“As it is now, many politicians are aggrieved as to the transparency of the elections, due to suspicion on non-transmission of votes as promised by INEC. Many believe that the election was rigged in favour of Bola Ahmed Tinubu and that all intrigues were mastered by his ruling party, APC.”

Ramat Adeshina, a politician said: “We are not getting it right at all; democracy is a government of the people made by the people’s choices but in the last election, the reverse was the case where Nigerians were threatened for not voting for one political party and those that voted for their choices were not counted and at the end they introduced over-voting.

“Also, INEC staff and some people caught thumb-printing for one political party in some places, PoS agents were caught at polling unit centres doing the same thing and vote buying is now legitimate under this government. All these are given us a set back as a nation and bad image even at international level.

“Nigeria has not gotten it so badly when you check the previous elections since the democracy has come to stay in 1999. INEC needs to be corrected on certain abnormalities that occurred and I call on the leadership of this country to always put people of integrity in sensitive positions because Nigeria is a great Nation,” Adeshina said.

The way forward
Tunde Salman, a public affairs analyst, said: “Personally, I think we need to write a new constitution in which power rotation clauses between the North and South would be clearly codified to minimise opportunistic interpretation. Many deeply divided societies have institutions, a form of power rotation in their countries’ constitutions for equity and fairness. For example, the Lebanese Constitution.

“Election technologies or digital democracy are still evolving and countries even in advanced democracies approach these innovations in phases. But INEC’s over-ambitiousness to deploy the technology, notwithstanding the genuine concerns raised by stakeholders about limited IT infrastructure, was part of the problem. I trust the aggrieved presidential candidates and their parties as true democrats would table their grievances to appropriate grievances redress mechanism (GRM) as stipulated by the law.

“The statesmanship of the presidential candidate of Labour Party as the face of an organic movement that many people initially dismissed as inconsequential, including Yours Sincerely, would be needed now to sustain peace and tranquility by his passionate supporters and admirers.”