By Rotimi Fasan
IN a national election that in the main featured two Fulani politicians as presidential candidates, the Yoruba and Igbo are again at loggerheads, locking horns over a matter that some would say at best makes them meddlesome busybodies and mere bystanders. The tension between the Yoruba and the Igbo which is the fallout of the February 23 elections reflects the age-long political fault lines between the two largest ethnic groups from the southern parts of Nigeria. Dog eat s—t, na goat mout’ dey smell!
There were probably more cases of violence leading to loss of lives and property in the South of Nigeria than in any part of the North, including the Boko Haram-ravaged sections of the region. How did we get to this point, this state of affairs in which mourners now cry louder than the bereaved? In the case of the Yoruba and the Igbo, the matter all started after a group of thugs disrupted voting in Okota, a part of Lagos reputedly dominated by supporters of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, the main rival of the governing All Progressives Congress or APC.
These hoodlums chased away voters, overturned tables, snatched ballot boxes and set them on fire. One of them was apprehended and beaten within an inch of his life. In what could have led to a further escalation of tension, the apprehended thug reportedly died from his injuries. But this has been shown to be false. There are available images of the disruption caused by the thugs in Okota as well as of their apprehended member on his hospital bed.
There were cases of electoral violence in other parts of Lagos as in other parts of the country. None of these had the ethnic colouration of what happened in Okota. Thus, the Okota incident was not isolated but for the ethnic tinge added to the narrative. That things would take this ethnic turn was clear immediately the disruption was being read as an attack on the Igbo, said to be the dominant ethnic group in that area of Okota. But there is no reason to suppose all of the voters in that part of Lagos were Igbo even if it is conceded that they are concentrated in that area.
What the initial ethnic reading did was to feed into existing narratives of conspiracies against the Igbo within Lagos and the larger Nigerian context. This was then amplified in a manner that gave the impression that the Igbo were again being systematically targeted by the Yoruba in an election that did not even feature a Yoruba as president. Yet, what we must not forget is that attacks occurred in other parts of Lagos State that could not by any stretch of the imagination be described as Igbo-dominated to say nothing of the rest of the country.
The attack in Okota deserves the unreserved contempt of every Nigerian and should be condemned in the strongest terms possible. The authorities should go after and apprehend everyone connected to it. But that is what they should also do in other parts of the country where there were cases of electoral violence. Despicable as it was, there was nothing really that special about the disruption in Okota. Not in the light of what transpired in other parts of Lagos and the rest of the country where lives and property were lost. What made Okota look like an isolated case was the ethnic meaning that was read into what happened.
The thugs who struck in Okota, assuming they were all Yoruba, would have sooner attacked other Yoruba in opposition parties as they had those non-Yoruba in Okota. In other parts of Yorubaland where there were many incidents of electoral violence, the victims could not have been any people but the Yoruba? When thugs strike as they did in Okota, they are not necessarily discriminating on grounds of ethnic label. It just so happened that those thought to have been affected in Okota were overwhelmingly Igbo. My point, therefore, is that making too much of the ethnic factor in that one incident was an unnecessary distraction that could have been avoided given the situation in which we have found ourselves in this country. It was an unnecessary escalation of issues and there is no reason to suppose that those pushing that line of reasoning are entirely without design.
We are all falling under the wiles of politicians that would stop at nothing to gain electoral mileage. Is it any surprise that days after the incident in Okota, reports of hoodlums forcing Igbo shop owners in places like Oshodi to shut down would make the rounds? Who are the Nigerians ignorant of the fact that the people that control Oshodi market and environs are the armed band of the governing party in Lagos?
Which is not the same thing as saying that the opposition PDP that appears to be enjoying and perhaps fanning the anti-immigrant narrative in Lagos is without its armed section or is entirely at ease with the idea that Lagos is a ‘no-man’s land’ as is being purveyed by some of their Igbo supporters. The terrible thing about their antics is that they sit back and watch as an entire ethnic group is being portrayed in xenophobic terms and made to account for the action of politicians like them fighting for their own personal interest in the name of the people.
To clarify, the PDP is no less a party supported by the Yoruba than it is by the Igbo. Neither is the APC without its fair share of Igbo politicians. Igbo and Yoruba political leaders cut across the hierarchy of both parties and others. There is no reason why in Lagos the PDP should be made to look like an Igbo party or one that caters to their interest specially. While the dominant elements of the PDP might not be Yoruba, the party has it loyalists among the Yoruba as among the Igbo.
The electorates of Ondo and Ekiti, two Yoruba-speaking states carried by the PDP in last week’s elections surely can’t be anything but overwhelmingly Yoruba? If any one is, therefore, looking for an Igbo party, it’s to the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, they should look, not the PDP. There is no sense in making the APC in Lagos look like the champion of Yoruba interest. No! Leaders of the party may be the dominant arm of the Yoruba political elite for now. But their interest does not aggregate the interest of the Yoruba. The Igbo must resist the attempt to make them appear as victims of tribal hate in a crass game of power grab by groups and/or individuals with allegiance to no one but themselves.