Ethnic profiling in an Imperiled Republic

Ogunsakin Mustapha
8 Min Read
Prof Hope Eghagha

By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Nigeria is currently plagued by a myriad of debilitating problems – insecurity, hunger and poverty, rights of minorities, economic mismanagement and exploitation, corruption, myopic leadership, and a weak governance structure. Some of these directly threaten the corporate existence of Nigeria. There are too many unsettled issues about the conditions for mutual coexistence of the different ethnic groups in the country. There is a perception that the basis for national unity has not been negotiated and accepted. A master-servant relationship between a parasitic majority and the minorities is troubling the new generation of Nigerians.

So, the nation is in a flux. And some people love to have it so. This may be the reason parts of the federation suffer insurgent attacks. Religious supremacy has also been dangerously thrown into the mix. The fear is that a further attack on basic national values will lead to a collapse of the nation. The states do not have confidence in the federal government. Federal institutions have been hijacked by a cabal which claims to represent northern interests. But as we know, they represent their ilk and are indeed interested in the depth of their pockets! We have pushed our luck too far as a nation, especially through acts of brazen injustice. We may not be lucky if another civil war breaks out!

Ethnic profiling and its consequences threaten the existence of our republic. It is a game of deafness, deliberate deafness of one to the concerns and anxieties of the other. Difference has become a survival problem. The narrative says that one person is unwelcome because their ethnic origins are different. It doesn’t matter that some of these persons are multiethnic. Once profiling takes place, reason takes flight. Often the mob, that group so despised by Shakespeare, drives the infantile madness. They have nothing to cling to. They are poor. Despised. Neglected by the centre. They are not empowered. They misdirect their venom on other persons in their class. Often, they are the direct casualties when violence erupts. Their lives are lost in the sea of statistics. Yet, they carry the physical weapons of physical destruction.

The irony is that ignorance is at the core of our current experience of ethnic profiling. Persons who had hitherto lived in harmony suddenly become enemies and their very existence threatened. The economic denominator which unites all such persons in poverty is ignored. It is true that political gladiators help to promote difference when it pays off. They stand in the background. The enlightened ones often pretend and mouth politically correct statements in public.  A few misguided extremists supposedly in the rulership class let out tirades that goad their supporters into extreme reactions and behaviour. In any state where the rule of law takes preeminence such unruly behaviour ought to be punished. What we have experienced however is that some of these vermin are above the law. How else must we understand the arrogant message which an ethnic group has published on the latest killings in Benue State?

The ethnic profiling in Lagos is dangerous. In 2015, a traditional ruler made pejorative and inflammatory remarks about Igbo in Lagos. In the last elections, non-Yoruba citizens were physically prevented from voting in some parts of Lagos. I have not read any statements from prominent or leading politicians in the southwest condemn the brigandage that took place during the governorship elections. The subtext is that they gave tacit approval to voter suppression in the State. Which is unfortunate. I expect political leaders to work with groups in the state that have huge voting capacity. Not to threaten them. The incendiary write ups on social media are a threat to national unity. There must be a voice of caution from credible opinion leaders.

Ethnicism like racism is superficial. Yet historically it has led to wars and mass hysterical destructions. It does not matter that the ethnic groups sometimes have a common ancestry, traced back to less than a generation. It doesn’t matter that they sometimes share contiguous geographical space. Once that emotion of difference seizes their minds, the madness of foolishness takes over. The hysteria over Igbo voting in Lagos is a tragedy. In other jurisdictions, groups like the Igbo and Hausa in Lagos would be courted. They would be seen as representing special interests and ensure that their votes are won. The t=intimidation tactics of APC thugs in Lagos has further fractured the supposed interethnic harmony in the country.

If the nation succumbs to an interethnic conflagration, the rulers and their associates are likely to seek refuge in the big cities of the world, far away from the mess which they have created. We must not allow things to get to that stage. The President-elect lacks legitimacy on account of the acts of brigandage that took place in the name of elections. He does not seem to care about the opinions of those he is supposed to lead. He has been incommunicado since after the elections. In the tradition started and established by the incumbent president, BAT has simply left the country. It is only in Africa that such impudence can be displayed and tolerated.

There is need for atonement in Lagos State. There is need for healing. The governorship election was like a war and because Lagos is the proverbial city on a hill, activities cannot be hidden. Crimes committed atop a hill cannot escape the eyes of the world. The government’s reaction to ENDSARS and the Lekki toll gate incident is highly instructive. CNN broadcast the footage of the fatal encounter between innocent protesters and the nation’s security forces and the government had to eat its dirty words. The federal government must stop the carnage in Benue State. At some point, self help will become the order of the day. Once this starts, there will be no end to it. Ethnic profiling destroys the essence of competence and personal drive. Those at the benefiting end of ethnicism are privileged. So, they are comfortable. But the overall effect on the nation is retrogressive.

There should be deliberate steps to downplay ethnicism. The first national anthem, which captured the beauty of diversity points the way. ‘Though tribe and tongue may differ/In brotherhood we stand’, and ‘Help us to build a nation where no man is oppressed’ were deliberate exhortations on national unity. Where did we get it wrong?

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