The violence unleashed on voters in some areas of Lagos during the governorship elections yesterday was a well-planned scheme at voter suppression designed to achieve victory for governing APC and perpetuate the Tinubu dynasty on the nation’s major economic hub. Lagos, and indeed, the western parts of the country, have always been a hotbed of radical political activities and violence, but yesterday, it was assumed a dangerous ethnic dimension. In many areas dominated by Ibgo and other non-Yoruba voters, hooligans ran riot, assaulting voters, destroying voting materials and generally disrupting voting. In Okota, where I lived about 20 ago, a Labour Party candidate was beaten by thugs and his shirt torn. He was seen in a video crying. In all, Labour Party strongholds were prevented by marauding thugs, apparently sponsored by the APC, from voting. Igbo people and even some Yoruba persons who were suspected of being Igbos for their looks, were singled out of the voting lines and assaulted. The whole exercise was eerily reminiscent of the hounding and persecution of Jews in Germany in the 1930s. Nigeria is degenerating every day.
My fears are that by demonizing and targeting the Igbos, the major supporters of the Labor Party simply because they chose to vote for their preferred candidates, the masterminds of yesterday’s attacks have set in motion a very dangerous precedent in the country. In subsequent elections, I foresee a situation in which non-indigenes in some states would be warned to vote in a particular manner or they may lose their property or businesses. Although our country has experienced many religious and ethnic violence in the past, never before has a major ethnic bloc been so violated, humiliated and demonized for choosing to support a candidate of their choice. This certainly poses a grave danger for our search for unity and nationhood, and belies the spirit and letter of the Peace Accord which all the Presidential and governorship candidates consented to.
So far, neither the Lagos governor and the President-elect has issued a statement to condemn the attacks, thus fueling speculations that they were privy to the plans. Whether they were in the know or not, violence and tainted elections have set the subtext for the Tinubu presidency. Just as President Buhari was perceived to be condoning of the atrocities of Fulani herdsmen for reasons of tribal affinity, Tinubu would be remembered for supporting attacks against a major ethnic group political reason.
The Governorship candidate of Labour Party in Lagos State, Mr. Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, is a Yoruba man of a decent ancestry, born of an Igbo woman and married to an Igbo woman. Based on the energy of Labour voters and the strong performance of Peter Obi, its presidential candidate in the presidential election of February 25, Rhodes-Vivour was widely expected to win the gubernatorial race. Such an upset would terminate Tinubu’s 24-year grip on the N40 trillion economy, upend his many lucrative deals and possibly open up a pandora box. It was therefore a little naïve not to have anticipated a big fight from the APC, but I must confess that I did not, however, foresee the specific ethnic profiling and derogation of the Igbos as foreigners who wanted to take over Lagos and the constant attacks against Rhodes-Vivour as a foreigner. The Igbos did not ever want to assume the leadership of Lagos. There is nothing to show that they wanted to take over Lagos government. Rhodes-Vivour is a Yoruba man, just as Tinubu’s children, born of an Itsekiri woman, are also Yoruba. The violence in Lagos yesterday was therefore a ploy by some powerful and ruthless persons to protect their business interests.
The real danger now lies in the future and fate of the Igbos in Lagos. With Tinubu himself as President, it is difficult not to expect that the over 10 million Igbos (and even other non-Yoruba persons) in that city would not suffer one form of vengeance or another. Tinubu’s spokesman, Bayo Onanuga, who will likely become the President’s Chief Press Secretary, yesterday offered what could be an ominous hint. He tweeted: ‘’Let 2023 be the last of Igbo Interference in Lagos politics. Let there be no repeat in 2027. Lagos is like Anambra, Imo, any Nigerian State. It is not No Man’s Land; not Federal Capital Territory. It is a Yoruba Land. Mind your business’’. Implicit in this threatening message is the warning: Lagos belongs to the Boss. Don’t ever contemplate going against his will. Mafia bosses in Italy and their descendants in New York and Chicago were known to be very ruthless in their territorial control. Their minions, eager to sustain their privileges, also acted cruelly against rivals and perceived threats. Onanuga’s message is his own way of assuring the Big Boss that he remains loyal and is ready to play his own part in furtherance of the survival of the empire. In the days ahead, I expect to read long essays from Sam Omatseye and other writers in The Nation newspaper, lampooning Rhodes-Vivour; Peter Obi; Dr. Sam Amadi; Dr. Oby Ezekwesili and other Igbos who have spoken out against the assaults for their effrontery. Remember what they did to Prof Yemi Osinbajo?
So far, neither Ohaneze Ndi’gbo, the main sociocultural association of South East people nor Labour Party has uttered a word, but a few bold members of the Igbo intelligentsia have spoken. In a statement titled, Time for Major Statement on Igbos as Citizens of Nigeria, Dr. Amadi, a former university professor, notes that ‘’the violence against Igbo voters in Lagos because of their perceived political preferences about an election by all Lagosians is a serious threat to national unity and a renewal of the hateful past by APC leaders. It is now time for a major action by Igbo leaders. The Igbos are being targeted for attack in Nigeria. If there are Igbo leaders this is time for a major meeting to task Nigeria on the protection of Igbo lives. Igbo are Nigerians and should be protected. This is time to make a strong and blunt statement for equal citizenship. If Igbos cannot vote freely in any part of Nigeria, then they are not citizen’’.
For me personally, it is quite strange that the Igbos are being humiliated under the watchful eyes of Bola Ahmed Tinubu. As Lagos governor, he had appointed Ben Akabueze from Anambra State, as his Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning. Before then, Akabueze was the Chief Executive of NAL Bank till the bank merged with others to form Sterling Bank in January 2006. He was in retirement from banking when Tinubu tapped him into this cabinet, and he served as a commissioner for the remaining part of the Tinubu administration and for all the eight years of the Fashola era. Akabueze had hired me in NAL in December 2000, and so in early 2007, I was delighted to attend his inauguration as a Commissioner in Lagos State government. Tinubu spoke glowingly of Akabueze and praised the Igbos in Lagos for their industry and political sagacity. Sixteen years after, what has changed?