No one should be intimidated in the name of elections, writes Anthony A. Kila
There are moments and events in history where being aloof or confused is not only wrong but ultimately dangerous. The current crises in Lagos wherein electioneering has shifted to sounds of threat, actions of intimidation, rumours and feeling of insecurity and clannish division is one of those sad moments and we must be clear, sooner than later, history will judge us all for the roles we play or do not play during such crises. Truth be told, all these could and some of it has happened elsewhere, but for it to happen in my own Lagos is really sad and it is a grave sign of retrogression. This is not my Lagos. This is not our Lagos.
The Lagos we know and love is a metropolitan and cosmopolitan space where all, from everywhere in the world regardless of their race, gender, ethnic background or ideological inclination, can find a house to turn to home and corner of work to trade and thrive. Though, with no apology to anyone, we do not and should not write “Welcome to Lagos” on billboards at our boarders, we are conscious and proud of the fact that Lagos is a place where all can see that everyone has the right and the peace of mind to give their dreams a shot. We are also the capital of owambe and though too many have not had the graciousness and the intellectual honesty to acknowledge it, we know we taught many how to party and how to dress in Nigeria and beyond.
The milieu that has made and continues to make Lagos what it is now is beyond the space of Lagos: It is a concept. It is an idea that has allowed ethnic and religious diversity to grow hand in hand with creation of wealth, job and general prosperity for all. The Lagos we know and love could have helped all in Nigeria if some of those that have ruled Nigeria had possessed the clarity of mind and courage of voice to say “let us build a Nigeria like Lagos”. It is still not too late for such but now there is a risk.
The Lagos that turns electioneering to physical threat and widespread feeling of fear and intimidation is therefore alien to us and it is not our Lagos. It is even sinister for it degrades us to the level of other violent states in Nigeria, this Lagos that targets a specific part of its residents (Igbo) and send them message of fear just because there are prone to voting an opposition party is not our Lagos. Elections will come and go; amongst politicians, some will lose and others will win after which most of them will disappear only to come back for votes in four years’ time. During that time, as citizens, you will probably see them again when on the roads and at events, they obstruct you and infuriate you with their sirens.
Before and after elections though, we the people are and remain neighbours, colleagues and partners. So why, I ponder, should anyone with some sense and that has earned things that matter in life risk a limb or scare another fellow for the sake of a politician?
At times like this, those who have the grace need to find the courage to remind others that elections are not about you and me but simply about choosing or better still employing some people to manage our collective affairs. It does not make sense therefore to hate our old selves for a new few. It is too risky to be quiet, we all need to be counted on this issue and we must let others know that they need to be counted too. Everyone that counts needs to say something and act accordingly.
The police need to treat matter of violence and any other form of intimidation very seriously. A police commissioner or any security officer that cannot assure the security of his residents is not fit for purpose. Those directly and physically committing these atrocities like all violent atrocities are never in their thousands. Election is a test and all actors will be graded. Security officers are warned, if for any reason people are intimidated or forced to stay away from voting, the commissioner of police should be ready to be seen as incompetent and maybe even face a formal query.
All candidates need to come out in a very clear and strong way to publicly denounce violence and any form of intimidation. They need to show us proof that they have an understanding and respect for the process of democracy that is giving them the chance to be considered candidates and eventually elected into office.
Across the country, the role of most ethnic and religious leaders has been more shameful than glorious in election period, we shall come back to them another day. In the meantime, for the sake of lives today and history tomorrow, it is important that Yoruba leaders come out with a clear voice to condemn any form of intimidation against the Igbo in the name of elections.
In a country where we all agree that there is no distinctive ideologies between political parties, it is legitimate to wonder why majority of Igbo people will consistently (and I add legitimately) vote for the PDP when in and outside Igboland, but the answer is not violence or intimidation. Igbo leaders of thoughts and other influencers of Igbo origin have to be counted in this discussion, beyond playing victims and defenders of fellow Igbo people, they need to share with the rest of us the ethics and etiquettes of living as non-indigenes in a developing country highly moulded by ethnic clays.
Kila, a Jean Monnet professor of Strategy and Development, is currently Director of Studies at the Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies