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Why Tinubu may face tough task uniting Nigeria

Unless the court rules otherwise, Bola Ahmed Tinubu would be inaugurated as the next president of Nigeria on May 29, 2023.

Among other daunting tasks that he would be confronted with is how to unite a country that has been torn apart by ethnic and religious sentiments.

Many observers believe that Nigeria appears to be more divided now along ethnic lines than in the last eight years.

In 2019, many Nigerians alleged that the presidential election was rigged in favour of the ruling party.

Their belief stemed from the fact that the first term of the ruling party did not deliver dividends promised by the party and the ground on which the electorate supported them in ousting the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after 16 years in power.

The aftermath was the difficulty in uniting the country as many disappointed citizens and the masses being weighed down by rising insecurity and unprecedented economic hardship saw no reason to believe in the party again.

The same scenario seems to be playing out now as many more people than in 2019 appear despondent over the outcome of 2023 presidential election, referring to the situation on ground as stolen mandate aided by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

For many, the conduct of the poll was disappointing, which is seen in the on-going protests in some states.

Prior to the 2023 polls, Nigerians were hopeful that with the reforms undertaken in the electoral process their votes would count, while INEC would fulfil its promise of conducting a free and fair poll in line with the newly amended Electoral Act.

However, to many, the reverse was the case in both polls.

Analysts believe the sharp division in the country was heightened the presidential election where support for the major candidates was largely along regional lines.

“The results only serve to highlight Nigeria’s deep, ongoing divisions. Many Nigerians voted according to ethnic, religious, and social sentiments.

“Generally, if you look at it, it only shows how deeply divided Nigerians will be for a long time,” Ene Ede, political analyst, said.

Perhaps, the division was further seen in the March 18 poll, where violence was unleashed on non-Yoruba residents in Lagos in a bid to suppress and intimidate them from exercising their franchise.

Tension is still high across Lagos between Yorubas and non-Yoruba-speaking residents in the state, due to the mayhem which was unleashed to those perceived to be supporters of opposition candidates.

But the President-elect has asked for the healing process to begin now that the general election is over.

Tinubu said he was saddened by the “isolated” infractions in some states as well as the divisive rhetoric that characterised the polls.

But many Nigerians doubt the sincerity of Tinubu’s comment and are wondering why the President-elect chose to speak now.

In the midst of the current tension, many believe Tinubu has the daunting task of uniting the country.

The President-elect’s comment has been condemned by notable political leaders across the country; they accused him of encouraging hooliganism and electoral violence in Lagos.

Some Nigerians who spoke to BusinessDay Sunday said the President-elect’s message was an after-thought and hypocritical.

They wondered why Tinubu kept mute while terror was unleashed on Igbo voters in Lagos in order to give the APC advantage during the March 18 gubernatorial election.

Ethnic and religious tension has heightened since the APC took over power in 2015, but many believe the situation has worsened due to the conduct and outcome of the 2023 poll.

Ogbidi Emmanuel, president, Network Of Civil Society Organization of Nigeria (NOCSON), said the call by the president-elect was not sincere and must be critically looked at.

“The truth is that, can there be peace without justice? One of the key ingredients for peace is justice. Ordinarily, the call for peace is unnecessary, the question, therefore, is who is creating war and calling for peace? Those who created war cannot be calling for peace.

“If the recent election was free, fair, credible and all concerned parties who participated and even Nigerians adjudged the process to be free and fair, then you will see that naturally there will be peace, joy and stability in the country. Everybody will rejoice that the will of the people reflected in the ballot.

“But because the will of the people did not reflect in the ballot and the process was not according to the Electoral Act, that is why you see everybody is agitated. Moreover, the person calling for peace, in his own region, which is the South West, was adjudged to witness the most tribal sentiment against others which was seen in some series of videos where a particular ethnic group was manhandled.

“You have already sold tribal war and that is what is in the minds of every South West against the South East even in Lagos and some other places. While everybody wants peace, we must look critically at the source of those calling for peace to know if it’s genuine,” Emmanuel said.

“How can you steal somebody’s property and start calling for a healing process? It’s hypocritical, you are taking our intelligence for granted,” Dayo Kayode, an academic said.
Kayode further said that the posture of the President-elect during the just concluded gubernatorial election does not show that he is a leader.

According to him, “Firstly, Tinubu has not shown the sincerity to match his words and no one would take him seriously.

“His message is hypocritical and as a leader you can’t call for settlement like that.

“They were doing ‘Oro’ festival in Lagos before the election. Did you call them to order? You have to return what you have hurt people to collect.

“You have to go to people you steal from. You have to go to people whose relations were killed, anything less than that is trying to play on people’s intelligence and emotion.

“If Bola Tinubu doesn’t do that, I don’t think people would take him seriously.”

Ifeanyi Edu, a banker said the President-elect was taking Nigerians for granted by the comment and knows he can’t be taken seriously.

“Tinubu knows people don’t accept him and such comments are just to save his face. Can he tell us where he was when people were killed and intimidated when attempting to vote in Lagos last week?

“I expected him to speak up as newly elected leader who want to change and embrace everyone, but he is just talking now,” Edu said.

Kunle Okunade, a political analyst, said that the political class needs to understand that they can’t continue to divide the masses on these two philosophies whenever elections come up, stressing that if it continues in every election cycle it could lead to genocide and affect drastically the homogeneity of the Nigeria state.

“What he said is expected of him being a President-elect. Yes, elections have come and gone, all that is needed now is conciliation and reinvention of our nationhood as a federalist nation-state.

“It is regrettable that the politicians fanned the embers of ethnicity and religion to win the elections but all hope is not lost on the unity of Nigeria.

“All leaders of thought need to stand up and condemn the ethnic slur that went on in Lagos and other states so that the political class will know when to draw the thin line between politics and the unity of Nigeria,” Okunade said.

For Mike Ewansiha, a Benin resident, the president-elect’s call for peace is germane amid the growing disunity among Nigerians.

“The All Progressives Congress (APC)-controlled Federal Government of President Muhammadu Buhari has been very divisive. So, Tinubu as the man the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has pronounced to be the winner, is on the right path if he is calling for healing because the whole country has been divided so much in the past seven years.

“He has identified the first step and he will be saddled with the task of healing the country. Usually, a man is the best carrier of his own message. He has said the whole country should come together. As a matter of fact, I will expect him to form a government of national unity,” Ewansiha said.

He added: “I am yet to find out which election in Nigeria was not characterised by the same manner of violence among other things. Nigeria has always witnessed it and we intend to end it. We should show progress in ending all these things.”

With all these bottled emotions and anger, Bola Tinubu, the president-elect, and his party, are likely going to face tougher tasks than President Muhammadu Buhari in uniting the country.

“To say that Nigerian are terribly divided now along ethnic line is an understatement with the level of hatred out there today. We all witnessed attacks, Killings and destruction of properties before, during and after the elections. I don’t know that Nigerians can hate this much. It will be difficult to unite people after the realities they have faced because of the elections,” Chijioke Umelahi, a former Abia lawmaker, lamented.

According to the Abuja-based lawyer, the worst side of Nigerians was unleashed and many, who were hitherto friends and associates, sacrificed their friendship on the altar of religion and tribalism.

“One of my legal team members who has lived all his life in Laffia, Nasarawa State was attacked for the first time by people he grew up with because he was supporting a candidate not endorsed by Laffia kingmakers.

“My cousin lost a shop to tribal attacks in Ajegunle Lagos, and many other sad incidents across the country,” he said.

Considering the unfortunate incidents across the country, Umelahi said that the new president has a huge task of brokering peace.

“But I don’t see that happening because President Buhari presides over a lopsided nation and the ruling party has never expressed remorse over this. The incoming president will likely follow the same precedent,” he noted.

Still in shock over the level of electoral violence fueled by religion and tribal sentiments, Samuel Onikoyi, a Belgium-based Nigerian academia, said that the hatred was nearing the civil war level with some respected people and professionals vomiting hatred amid unacceptable actions to defend their stand, tribal and religious stands on the unwarranted electoral violence.

“We usually expect a form of violence in any election year, but the 2023 general election was unprecedented because many Nigerians crossed the line in their hateful speeches, incitements and actions that led to the killings of some innocent people.

“So, the big issue now is how to get everybody to move on and still hope for a united Nigeria. Of course, we know that it is not going to be easy when some people felt that they won and when the youth now see that their votes at last did not count.

“It is going to be a very big task for the next president to unite the country. Some are already saying he is going to run an illegitimate government and they have the right to say so,” Onikoyi said.

Read also:Tinubu’s presidency will disenfranchise, suppress people, create one party state — Rhodes-Vivour

But Lanre Ifatokun, university don and research fellow with University of Ife, thinks that Bola Tinubu, the president-elect, has been able to gather Nigerians from all tribes and religions to work with him when he was the governor of Lagos State and that he bequeathed that legacy to his successors.

Based on that large-heartedness and tolerance, Ifatokun insisted that the president-elect can unite the country, though it is not going to be easy.

“I was a young lecturer when Tinubu was governor of Lagos. He had many people from outside Lagos and Nigeria as a whole in his government. The likes of Ben Akabueze, Adama Igholi, and others were names that were not Yoruba, yet they functioned well under Tinubu. It may be difficult in the first one year, but unity will return afterwards,” Ifatokun said.

In the same vein, Alexander Idachaba, a consultant gynecologist and an indigene of Ankpa in Kogi State, said that Bola Tinubu did all he can to win, but afterwards, he will do all he can to unite Nigerians unlike Muhammadu Buhari, who never cared for the Eastern part, some North Central states and South-South of Nigeria for not voting for him.

“I think Bola Tinubu knows the dynamics of politics more than any of us. He will send his foot soldiers and move where necessary to gather people back to support his government.

We will wait for his cabinet that will tell us how ready he is to unite the citizens after the election troubles,” he said.

Reacting to Idachaba’s views, Onikoyi said that the president-elect has never hidden his plans and post-election actions and that even during campaign, he warned that “those who invest will reap.” He doesn’t see him extending olive branch to people who see his victory as the highest scam in Nigerian politics.

“Though I live in Brussels, I still followed the violence and rigging during the presidential election, what about the governorship? The truth is that Nigeria has slipped further down in democracy rating, and the politicians who orchestrated that to steal the mandate of the masses are less concerned. People know this and this is a major reason unity talk will not work for those who call for the restoration of the masses’ mandate,” Onikoyi explained.

Umelahi also thinks that Tinubu will follow the footsteps of President Buhari in not reaching out to all Nigerians, especially those who did not vote for him.

“The APC government often seems less concerned about people’s plight. Buhari never showed concern when Nigerians were crying and I fear Tinubu may toe that line because being former Lagos State governor has hardened him. Instead of the unity moves, he may go after perceived enemies with state security apparatus,” he said.

In all, there is this feeling that the desired unity may be far-fetched as agitations will continue in some parts of the country, where people feel marginalised.

“If you remember vividly, before the general election, Ayo Adebanjo, leader of the pan-Yoruba cultural organisation, Afenifere, and President Olusegun Obasanjo had warned that Nigeria may experience a serious crisis arising from increased rebellion from certain parts of the country, particularly, the South East, if someone from the geopolitical zone did not win the Presidential election. Of this warning is anything to go by, Tinubu’s administration must be ready to battle open rebellion,” Kelvin Arung, a Kaduna-based scholar, said.