April 1, 2023

POST ELECTION BRUISES: The road to healing will be slow

female governorship candidates

By Muyiwa Adetiba

A face of a middle aged man tearing up his international passport in a video which has since gone viral stared at me. I don’t know whether what he did was criminal or not – it would at least be considered disrespectful and a desecration worthy of recriminations in some countries to tear up the flag or the passport. Some commentators have cynically said it was probably an expired passport; or that it probably did not contain any European Visa. Another school of thought opined that he had probably secured citizenship of another country.

Even if these schools of thought were true, they still do not explain why a man would tear up a symbol of his Nigerian citizenship. I still have my first Nigerian passport and it would never occur to me, almost fifty years on, to tear it up. In my opinion, it would take an extreme hurt, an extreme disenchantment to burn your country’s flag or tear your international passport, expired or not. And what I saw from his baleful eyes and quivering mouth looked like both to me.

There are many people who feel like that man in the video. They may not have gone to the extreme extent of tearing their passports although many have since joined him. But their post-election comments were those of people who were done with Nigeria. People who felt the last hope of redeeming Nigeria went with the last election. That they are mainly from, though not limited to, a particular part of the country makes it worrisome. It is easy to say they are sore losers – some would probably be. It is easy to say they over invested emotionally in the elections – but then politics is about passion and emotions.

It is easy to say they expected too much from the novel system and therefore its outcome – but to do otherwise would be cynical and counterproductive. It is easy to say there was little wrong with the election, that they simply over reached themselves and were bound to crash – but then it is better imagined what would have happened to their psyche and to the Nigerian story if their preferred candidate had succeeded. Whatever the reasons we give, their sense of loss is real and that dull pain which makes the heart heavy will take a while to heal. But let them take solace in late Collin Powell’ words that ‘it always looks better in the morning’.Yes, it usually does, especially if victors reach out to losers in a reconciliatory embrace.

But what could take much longer to heal are the distrust and animosity this election has caused between the Igbos and Yoruba in particular. It is difficult to take when friendships of thirty, forty years are put on the line as a result of an election. It is heart rending when these friends throw largely unverified but hurtful posts at each other; when liberal platforms of old friends become deeply polarised. It is saddening when a friend of over forty years is taken off a platform because of his opposing posts. It is even worse when spouses take opposing sides acrimoniously and their children are left with an identity crisis.

How to pick up the pieces of broken friendships will be the challenge. How to mend fractured marriages will be the task. But some of the relationships are so badly broken up that it would be difficult to piece together. This is on a personal level. As sad as this is, of more concern is the ethnic profiling – on both sides – that this election has caused. On one hand, it must be very disconcerting to be treated like a stranger in a place you grew up in and have invested so much in. Nobody likes being profiled negatively and I can understand how those who were allegedly denied their voting rights on account of their tribe must feel. On the other hand, it is probably seen as a betrayal when a guest now wants to decide who runs your space. This might look basic, but it is me trying to understand the heart of the matter.

The Igbos feel they have invested too much in Lagos to be seen as outsiders. They believe they have paid their dues and deserve rights, including political rights, as residents and as Nigerians. They are right. That is how it is when a country becomes a nation and every seed thrives wherever it is planted. Unfortunately, Nigeria might be a country, but it is not yet a nation. The other side feels these rights are not easily reciprocated in other areas, especially in the South-east.  They therefore see in the Igbos, an attitude of ‘what is mine is mine and what is yours is negotiable’ to quote J.F Kennedy.

The whole thing seemingly came to a head during the gubernatorial election when the Igbos in Lagos State virtually massed in support of GRV, if the social media accounts are anything to go by. I personally like the young man. He seems smart. But he is a neophyte. That he is of mixed parentage should not be an issue. My wife is not Yoruba, and I would not wish my son to be disadvantaged as a result of that. But ethnic brows would be raised if his mother’s people massed up in his support in a contest against an incumbent as in the case of GRV.

Especially if he is not more qualified for the job in terms of requisite skills and experience; moreso if unnecessary boasts have been made before the contest. I asked a close friend, a former HR expert who is Obidient, whom he would recommend if the CVs of Vivour and Sanwo-olu were placed on his table for the job of CEO for Africa’s fourth largest economy. He kept quiet because he knew in which direction his training would have led him.

My recommendation towards the healing process is that all boasting, gloating and ethnic baiting should stop. They serve no purpose. Agitators on both sides should pause and do some introspection. There is need for an appreciation of the stakes involved – economic, historical and political – and the reality on the ground. The Igbos have come to stay. They are stakeholders. Even a minority shareholder has a say in the running of a company and a promoter knows he is no longer the sole owner once he brings investors in. He is accountable to them.

But ethical brows would be raised if the investors’ subsequent actions suggest a take-over. Lagos State, like Anambra State or Enugu State, is not a no man’s land. And the owners, like other owners, would loath to cede control of its administration. That should be made clear. Within that parameter, mutual understanding and respect should hold sway. The extremists on both sides should come to the middle and look at the bigger picture. The road to healing is to acknowledge and not to focus on differences but on collective strengths. It lies in our commitment to truth, fairness and progress. Make no mistake, it will be slow and bumpy given the loss of trust on both sides.