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Tuesday, 28 March 2023 11:52

[OPINION] Lagos and the Politics of Nativism - Jideofor Adibe

The violence, aggressive voter suppression and Igbophobia that characterized the 25 February 2023 Presidential and National Assembly elections and the 18 March 2023 Governorship and State Assembly contests respectively in Lagos State have raised several concerns. These attributes of Lagos politics, hitherto nuanced, became first weaponized in the run-up to the 2015 Presidential and Governorship elections in the State when the Oba of Lagos was quoted as threatening to drown the Igbos in the Lagoon if they failed to vote for his political preference.

At the root of this conflict is the tension between nativism and cosmopolitanism – a trend discernible in many megacities across the world. Nativism is the quest to protect the assumed interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those regarded as immigrants. Its antonym is the aspirational notion of cosmopolitanism which is premised on the idea that human beings can and should become ‘world citizens’ in a ‘universal community’. While in the Western world the push-back to cosmopolitanism is the mainstreaming of anti-immigrant driven right-wing politics, in Nigeria’s megacities like Lagos where Diaspora-oriented ethnic groups like the Igbos are disproportionally represented, the idea of a ‘universal community’ is confronted by the glaring failures in the country’s nation-building processes.


There has been a tendency to mischaracterize the Igbophobia in Lagos as a response by the Yoruba to an alleged Igbo claim that Lagos is ‘No Man’s Land’ – ostensibly as a prelude to their taking it over. The truth is that the Igbophobia in Lagos has never been a purely Yoruba versus Igbo conflict but largely a scaremongering tactic by the Tinubu political machine in Lagos. The aim has been to ensure that the Igbos are prevented from influencing electoral outcomes in the State. Following the February 25 2023 presidential election in which Tinubu lost the state to Peter Obi’s Labour Party, the scaremongering about the supposed Igbo plans to takeover Lagos was amplified and weaponized by clout-seeking pseudo intellectual clowns like Femi Fani Kayode and Bayo Onanuga and their agbero enforcers like MC Oluomo.

But what happens in Lagos with every election cycle since at least 2015 also brings to fore the unresolved conversation on the relationship between citizenship rights and the rights of indigenes. Chapter Four of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) outlines the Fundamental Rights of all Nigerians, including the right to be free from discrimination while Section 41(1) gives every citizen the right to “move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof.”  Section 43 guarantees every citizen “the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria.”  These are citizenship rights. There are rightly no constitutional provisions that make these rights dependent on indigene status.  However, what the Constitution fails to take into consideration is that the basis of nationhood remains contested across the country, making host communities generally suspicious of outsiders. While it is not a known practice in any democracy that residents in communities must adopt the voting preferences of their host communities, we may have to revisit the conversation around ‘indigene –settler’ dichotomy and consider whether the aspirational provisions of citizenship rights in our Constitution should be temporarily tinkered with to allay the fears of host communities.

The fear of being ‘suffocated’ by non-indigenes is worsened by what Amy Chua, Professor of Law at Yale Law School, called “market dominant minorities”. In her very important book, World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability (2003), Chua explored the inherent tensions and ethnic conflict caused in many societies by the disproportionate economic or political influence wielded by some “market dominant minorities” such as overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, Whites in Latin America and South Africa, Croats in the former Yugoslavia and Yoruba, Igbos, Kikuyus, Tutsis, Indians and Lebanese, among others, in Sub-Saharan Africa. As she put it: “As markets enrich the market-dominant minority, democratization increases the political voice and power of the frustrated majority.” In essence, nativism in Lagos may actually be part of the problems of globalizing the markets in an era in which liberal democracy has become triumphant. In the case of Lagos, it only became weaponized by politics. For the Igbo in Lagos, the conflict is not helped by the achievement-oriented character of Igbo culture and the lack of subtlety by some in celebrating their successes.

The politically-motivated nativists who drive the Igbophobia during election cycles in Lagos are however unwittingly doing incalculable harm to both Lagos State and their mentor, Bola Tinubu. This is because the Lagos template will gradually be copied across the country as we do with almost everything – from kidnapping to our sartorial tastes. This means that if the courts eventually affirm the election of Tinubu as President, he will move to Abuja where he will be a non-indigene and where the indigenes have probably also been studying the Lagos template. Besides, the militarization of nativism in Lagos sends negative signals to investors, both foreign and local – including the likes of Dangote, Tony Elumelu, Jim Ovia, and Allen Onyema – that their investments outside their ethnic homelands in the country may not be safe. Additionally, the push by the nativists increases the apprehension about a Tinubu presidency – already dogged by numerous controversies and scandals – on whether his presidency would transpose to Abuja the sort of ‘gangster democracy’ we see in Lagos during elections – with thuggery, violence and money as the propellants.

Bigotry is an attitude of mind that must have victims to continue to thrive. Like in the class idiot theory, when one contrived class idiot is forced to leave, the class quickly invents another idiot to take his/her place. The same with bigotry. And this reminds one of the famous lines by Martin Niemöller, initially an anti-Semitic Nazi supporter but whose views on Nazism changed when he was imprisoned in a concentration camp for speaking out against Nazi control of churches. According to Niemöller:

“First they came for the Communists. And I did not speak out because I was not a Communist; “Then they came for the Socialists. And I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. “Then they came for the trade unionists. And I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist “Then they came for the Jews. And I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

“Then they came for me. And there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Jideofor Adibe is Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Nasarawa State University, Keffi and founder of Adonis & Abbey Publishers. He can be reached at 0705 807 8842 (WhatsApp/Text message only)

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