By Ochereome Nnanna

THIS is the first time, since 1983, that strong Igbo and Yoruba candidates, Peter Obi of the Labour Party, LP, and Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, APC, are contesting for the presidency. Two Northern counterparts, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigerian Peoples Party, NNPP, are also among the 18 presidential flagbearers.

There is no tension between Atiku and Kwankwaso. There is no tension between the Northern and Southern candidates. If anything, Kwankwaso looks more like a Tinubu loyalist. But there is an ethnic tension between Tinubu and Obi. The Yoruba political elite are split between Obi and Tinubu. Pa Ayo Adebanjo’s Afenifere, a strong geopolitical ally of the Igbo nation, has announced its support for Obi based on “competence and equity”. But the Afenifere Renewal Group, ARG, is fronting the support for Tinubu based on ethnic solidarity.

In our past two episodes, we traced the roots of the Afenifere’s political partnership with the Igbo which benefited the Yoruba politically. A section of the Igbo elite partnered with the Yoruba and others in the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, to fight for the restoration of Chief Moshood Abiola’s annulled presidential mandate. Since 1999, the Igbo electorate have voted for a Yoruba president (Olusegun Obasanjo) twice (1999 and 2003).  Afenifere’s “equity” argument is a reference to these. The dog says: “You fall for me I fall for you. That is how to play”.

We also traced Tinubu’s political trajectory: from Senator to NADECO, exile, Governor of Lagos State, leader of the new South-West mainstream and cofounder of the ruling APC. Tinubu has achieved almost everything except the presidency. He feels entitled to that coveted post. He has worked very hard for it through complex political manoeuvering, alliances and mergers in favour of his ally, President Muhammadu Buhari. He now has the presidential ticket of his party.

Besides questions about his health, personal identity issues, academic records, source of wealth and Muslim-Muslim ticket, Tinubu has seemingly unlimited financial war chest at his disposal. He also has the APC’s humongous political structure behind him (or so it seems). On the surface, he is the candidate to beat. If there is a major obstacle between Tinubu and his ultimate political ambition both in Lagos and towards the presidency, it is the Igbo factor.

In 2019, the fear in his camp of the Igbo voters’ capacity to remove his party from power probably prompted armed hoodlums to invade areas of dense Igbo populations to destroy electoral materials and disrupt the elections. They retained their hold on power through violence and the deprivation of the Igbo residents’ constitutional right to vote.

Since then, a cold war has been brewing between them. Youths from all ethnic groups participated in the #EndSARS protests at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos in October 2020. Following the military intervention which ended in the massacre of the unarmed protesters, a deadly riot broke out. Hoodlums attacked Lagos State facilities.

Properties belonging to some politicians in the Tinubu camp were also targeted. The palace of the Oba of Lagos, an ardent Tinubu acolyte, was ransacked. Businesses and stores were looted and vandalised. Police stations were burnt down and many policemen killed.

Despite the obvious and verifiable fact that the riot was fronted by indigenous youths who were disgruntled with the mafia-like vice grip of Tinubu’s political group in the region, especially Lagos, the group blamed “Biafra” activists for “waging war” against Lagos and unabashedly incited the Yoruba to levy violence on the Igbo residents of the state.

The timely intervention of Pa Adebanjo’s Afenifere and other patriotic and God-fearing Yoruba groups at home and the Diaspora doused the smoke that could have ignited into a conflagration. If evil forces had succeeded, that would have been the first time the Igbo and Yoruba would have engaged in major bloodletting.

The sudden and explosive emergence of Peter Obi as the choice of majority of Nigerian youths to take back Nigeria from the other parties is driving melancholy in Tinubu’s camp. They see Obi as the greatest threat to the life ambition of their candidate. Bayo Onanuga and other mouthpieces of the Tinubu campaign organisation have been tweaking the “Biafra” narrative against Obi and Ndi Igbo, hoping to excite hatred against them.

Following the hugely successful Four Million-Man march in Lagos and other parts of the country for Obi, thugs have been seen on viral social media videos extorting money from traders and forcing them to join a pro-Tinubu rally in Lagos Island, or their shops would be permanently shut.

The social media is awash with plots to re-enact the violence used to beat down the vote in Igbo-populated areas of Lagos come 2023. A young man known simply as “Obi Flagboy”, who canvasses support for his candidate with the Labour Party’s flag, was beaten to stupor and nearly killed in Oshodi by hoodlums.

This desperate deployment of violence, intimidation and force in a vain attempt to oppress people, especially Igbo elements resident in Lagos, is akin to toying with a fused bomb. The mood of the youths at the moment is too precarious to push them further. If ethnic violence breaks out, nobody can benefit from it. Nobody knows what it will lead to. 

The post-#EndSARS violence of 2020 should be a lesson to all. Even the police could no longer help themselves, let alone responding to the public. And it was not even an ethnic violence! Whoever uses force to win power will depend on force to rule. Let the candidates test their popularity with the electorate. Let the people decide. Let us have free, fair, peaceful, credible and acceptable elections in 2023.

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