A worrying dimension of the impending presidential poll is the recourse to playing the ethnic card by some quite informed personalities to sway the electorate. Louis Achi looks at the positions marketed by Festus Keyamo, spokesperson for the President Muhammadu Buhari’s Re-election Campaign, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, within the context of next Saturday’s elections and those of 2023
Expressing a position on the troubling incidence of ethnic nationalism in Nigeria, former military President Ibrahim Babangida once held that the existence of multiple ethnic nationalities does not by itself necessarily constitute a problem or an issue with political consequences.
His words: “This situation alters in the process of social change or modernisation, when the interest of ethnic groups becomes elevated to the political realm.”
In his view, purposeful leadership could tackle the challenges which multi-ethnic nationalism poses for governance.
“The task before leadership at all levels of governance is the use to which government apparatus and public resources are ordered around public policy in order to reduce the destabilising dimensions of multi-ethnic nationalities and the forging of a wholesome Nigerian state within the federation,” he further noted.
Tensions spawned by ethnic nationalism, he recalls, “gave rise to the colonial investigatory committee usually referred to as the Willink Commission, which became the precursor of the multiple creations of sub-system state in the country between 1963 and 1996.”
Indeed, democracy would lose its defining egalitarianism if it foreclosed the free expression of viewpoints by its adherents – including often unreasoned perspectives by forces that seek to diminish and divide.
It would appear that the penumbra of electoral contests usually ramps up humdrum, unreasoned perspectives, which support a slew of often unsalutary agenda that diminishes and stunts, instead of rigorously researched viewpoints that inform and leverage society.
It could be recalled that speaking recently during a Channels TV’s programme, ‘Politics Today’, Keyamo said the “Yoruba can’t be foolish to see Ohaneze endorsing their son and keep quiet and say they will go and support that son. A senior advocate of Nigeria, a renowned professor, they will now leave him for a China man?”
As curious as the position was, Keyamo prefaced it by telling a national television audience how his mother is Yoruba. He laboriously explained how Yorubas will vote Buhari, because Osinbajo is their son as the Igbo will vote Atiku, because of Peter Obi, a ‘China man’ is their son.
Though seen as very disappointing by many, Keyamo’s position was still quite within his rights as a free democracy guarantees. But by labeling Peter Obi, the vice presidential running mate to Alhaji Atiku of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a ‘China man,’ and asking Yorubas to reject him, not because he is unqualified, but because he is Igbo, Keyamo was essentially doing damage to a new Nigeria, which his principal arguably, though pretentiously, espouses.
Worse, a human rights lawyer, now coming across as an ethnic rights advocate, Keyamo’s position sharply contradicts even the fundamental grounds on which he set sail as the official spokesperson for the President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election campaign: “for the good of the country and for posterity.”
In his new found championship of ethnic jingoism, the good of Nigeria and posterity greatly suffer.
Keyamo was even prepared to create disunity and ethnic division in the country to achieve his goal by vigorously trying to show the Igbo as tribalists, who were going to vote based on tribal sentiments. But electoral facts in the public square would appear to sharply contradict such flawed pitch.
In 2003, when Buhari picked a well-respected Igbo, Chuba Okadigbo as his running mate, Ndigbo voted overwhelmingly for Obasanjo. Even the fact that folk hero Ikemba Nnewi, Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu was in this camp did not stop the Igbo from voting for Obasanjo.
Also, in 2007, when Buhari picked Chief Godwin Ume-ezeoke, another respected Igbo as his running mate, the Igbo voted for a Fulani/Ijaw ticket in Yaradua/Jonathan. At those points, nobody called them tribalists. The chanting then was that Igbos don’t love their own or themselves.
Unfortunately, with eyes on the 2023 presidential slot, Vice President reinforced this quirky narrative, when he recently visited the palace of the Alafin of Oyo. According to him, the Yoruba are those who will determine if a Yoruba person succeeds President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023, that is, if Buhari gets a second term.
His words: “The 2019 general election is our own. We are not looking at the 2019 but 2023. If we get it in 2019, Yoruba (read: I) will get it in 2023, because if we don’t get it in 2019, we may not get it in 2023 and it may take a very long time to get it.”
According to Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State, who accompanied Osinbajo, “This coming 2019 election is between Hausa and Yoruba on one hand and Hausa and Ibo on the other side. It is only a bastard in Yorubaland that will not support APC.”
Still chanting the same ethnic mantra, Babatunde Fashola, Minister of Works, Power and Housing appealed to the Yoruba to vote Buhari for a second term. He had said at a recent town hall meeting organised by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture that voting for Buhari would amount to the presidency returning to the Southwest in 2023.
His call came against the campaign by many Southeast supporters of the president that a second term for Buhari was the surest and quickest route for the Igbo to become president in 2023.
Amidst the rivalry by the Southwest and Southeast for 2023, the secretary general of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Anthony Z. Sanni, also gave a warning to the two zones that the North may not be ruled out of 2023. In a coded warning to the two zones, Sanni affirmed that 70 out of the 76 candidates for the 2019 presidential election were Southerners!
Amidst the ongoing din, the Secretary to the Federal Government, Boss Mustapha weighed in, assuring Ndigbo that the shortest route to producing a president of Igbo extraction is by supporting and voting for APC in 2019.
He urged them to ensure that President Buhari is returned in 2019. This position curiously contradicted those expressed by both the vice president and Babatunde Fashola.
“The 2023 Igbo Presidency agenda is not only realisable by sticking with President Muhammadu Buhari, but will also be a watershed in the lives of Igbos,” he said. He soon corroborated by the president’s media aide, Femi Adeshina, who also maintained that the Igbo actually deserve to produce the president after Buhari’s second term but advised that they must play their politics well.
Responding to the debate between Buhari’s Southwest, Southeast, Afenifere speaking through its spokesman Yinka Odumakin said that both advocates were on fool’s errand.
His words: “Both the Buhari advocates in Southeast and Southwest are not in tune with the mood of both zones. The mood of both zones is not Nigerian presidency in 2023, but restructuring in 2019.
“If we restructure the country in 2019 and everybody has the autonomy to run their lives as they want within corporate Nigeria, both zones may even say that they don’t want the presidency in 2023.
“In the First Republic, Ahmadu Bello refused to be prime minister of Nigeria; he sent his lieutenant to be the prime minister of Nigeria while he stayed back as premier of Northern Nigeria. So, both Fashola and Ngige and the rest of them saying that Buhari is the fastest route to 2023 are not in sync with the mood of their zones.
“The mood of their zones is that the fastest route to recovery for Nigeria and for every section of Nigeria is to restructure Nigeria in 2019. It is a mere diversion that resonates with nobody. The Yoruba had the presidency for eight years, did it make any difference? The South-South had it for six years. What did it do for them? The North that has had it more than any other region what has it done for the ordinary Northerner?”In all, if the quality and scope of this debate represents a road map for achieving the dream of a new Nigeria, the emerging consensus is that Africa must then wait for the visionary leader-nation that would guide the continent’s transformation.