2023 elections and the morning after

By Olukayode Oyeleye

Pondering over the 2023 elections that are expected to usher in new crops of political leaders in Nigeria, I remembered 1979 when my dad, who never went to school but learnt to read and write in local language at home, asked to know the manifestos of the leading political parties then. Based on the compelling arguments on the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) that sounded more convincing than others, my dad chose to align with, and voted for, the UPN. He had told me stories of global events during World War II, the Great Depression and local events in the period before and immediately after independence in Nigeria, especially when Yoruba people turned against themselves because of political differences, burning people and houses in attacks and counter attacks. He obviously wanted a more refined brand of politics with the return of democracy during the second republic. He taught me about objectivity in political decisions. Dad died in 2021 at the age of 103. I wish he is still here today to spot vast similarities and contrasts from what he saw in those days.

The putative outcomes of the presidential and parliamentary elections a week ago have thrown up a lot of issues. I am not here to comment on the results of those elections as much has been written on them and more will still be heard on them. Of great interest and concerns here is the governorship election coming up next Saturday, particularly the one of Lagos State. Some contestants in a camp, either for lack of benefit of hindsight, mischief or deliberate ignorance, are playing the same cards of what characterised the polity of 60 years ago: what could best be described as an ill wind that blows nobody any good. It is baffling to hear or read someone’s comment trying to fan an ember of ethnicity to win support for their preferred candidate. More disheartening it is when some of those narratives come from people you thought were enlightened, objective, pragmatic or open-minded. Every tribe has good people and bad people. Your overriding opinion depends on which sentiment you choose to give greater emphasis.

Any incumbent seeking re-election should by now have records of performance upon which to run a campaign. Things get worrisome when supporters of any candidate descend into the gutter, spinning dangerous narratives that touch on certain sensibilities. Henceforth, in political campaigns within such a heterogeneous community as ours, there should be clearly defined red lines that must not be crossed. Hate speech is one of them. I am not convinced that any of of the hostile rhetorics making rounds in Lagos State ahead of next Saturday’s election is not known to or spearheaded by those political leaders contesting for some positions or trying to retain some positions.

Lateef Jakande, a man who governed Lagos State under the UPN during the second republic must be mistaken then, going by the dispositions of those trying to pocket Lagos under the guise of ownership of the state now. I have been struggling with the idea of governments banning History as a subject in schools. This could very well be one of the outcomes of such a decision on our educational system, in which the past is easily obliterated. During his time as governor, Jakande gave children access to free primary and secondary education without resorting to segregation on tribal grounds. Health care services then were blind to individuals’ names or states of origin. Residence in Lagos State was the prerequisite. Jakande took his integrated rural development to various parts of the state such that, today’s urban development is building upon it, even if some try to teach all that there was no modern Lagos before them. Such was the power of focusing on the ball as Jakande got reelected seamlessly, even though the second term was truncated by the military.

Today’s politicians and their followers are supposed to be more civilised and more articulate and logical in selling their candidates. But, sadly, they are obviously undoing Jakande’s legacy as they seem poised to upset the inclusive metropolitan state he laboured to build. The impression I am having now is that those non-indigenes who were attracted to Lagos State when Lagos served as Nigeria’s capital ought to have moved out by now, leaving the state to indigenes alone. Nothing can be more moronic. Those children that attended elementary, secondary and tertiary education in Lagos should have a limit to what they can aspire to within the polity of Lagos? The inconsistent claims in forms of historical names; the cold logic in reference to “invaders;” the hollow illustration in the forms of references to and eulogies for handpicked political actors into elective positions that smack of democratic dictatorship, the brazen display of intolerance, bully tactics and open threats to those not in support of certain candidates: all these are antithetical to liberal democracy, social inclusiveness, freedom of association and richness in diversity that ought to characterise such a pluralistic community.

Indiscreet use of political propaganda to win an election is one that smacks of dangerous gambit. The pedestrian mindset projected by some people who fail to understand what a modern city (or city-state in a broader context) entails is very scary. Are those trying to rule Lagos aware of the characteristics of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 11 and how it applies to the Lagos they are trying to protect from invasion? In fact, their arguments give a clue to their lack of understanding of these global benchmarks. Those who became unhinged because of a gubernatorial candidate of Labour Party on tribal sentiments have betrayed their worry about an impending hurricane. In their thinking, the best way to stop him is to tar him with ethnic brush. By so doing, they have only just shown how half-hearted they are in accommodating others. The unintended consequences could be enormous as they have chosen to deny one of their own for the sin of being born by a non-Yoruba mother. All this is part of crooked and half baked tactic to win election. Why didn’t they channel this misplaced energy into convincing the people to vote on the merits of their preferred candidates.

There will be a new morning after the election day. Yoruba man will go to an Igbo man’s shop to buy goods. Yoruba man who is a driver will beckon to and call an Igbo passenger into his commercial vehicle. The Yoruba landlord will expect rent payment from his Igbo tenant. The Yoruba job seeker will apply for job in a company owned by Igbo. School children of Yoruba and Igbo parents will resume school and sit side by side in the same class. The government of Lagos State that boasts of high Internally Generated Revenues (IGR) will come knocking at the enterprises of Igbo entrepreneur for tax. The discrimination that divisive political actors are escalating now will not run the state’s economy. Those who understand the attributes of a modern city and the city of the future will come to realise the inappropriateness of their approach now, as it will have consequences. I thought I heard some Yoruba people upbeat and rejoicing sometimes last year when Kemi Badenoch came close to becoming the Prime Minister in the UK. How is that different from or similar to a Yoruba man from an Igbo mother trying to become the governor of Lagos State? Under what circumstances is one appropriate and the other not?

The dangerous game some politicians and their foot soldiers in Lagos are playing now is an expensive one and it brings us back to those immediate post-independent years. It means no lasting lesson has been passed down the succeeding generation that is now about to leave the political stage. It provides oxygen for the embers of HATE for electoral gains. In fact, there’s a blurred line between their narratives and hate speeches. By now the DSS ought to have started picking up some of those spinning such narratives. It’s clear that those promoting these hate speeches have run short of noble ideas and are at a loss on the unique selling points they could possibly project as election winning strategies. They then resort to base and pedestrian sentiments. Surely this won’t help them. It is clear that many of the promoters of this tactic are poorly educated and those with some level of education among them don’t read about causes of bitter hostilities elsewhere. The cause of wars and genocides in Rwanda and Burundi is nothing but weaponisation and manipulation of ethnic division for political advantage. It wasn’t even religion. Thousands of people died needlessly. In the end, it became an ill wind that blows nobody any good. After the politicians in both countries have exploited the ethnic divide to cause war, the people had to come back to live together, although with scars of the war yet to heal in more than two decades after ceasefire. What a disingenuous way to play politics!

Dr. Olukayode Oyeleye is a public analyst and commentator.

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