By Tunde Rahman
For Lagosians, this Saturday’s governorship election promises to be decisive. It will put many issues finally to bed. One of the issues that must be put to rest is the chasm that some are trying to create and exploit between Yoruba and Igbo people in Lagos. Even among brothers within the same family who love and care for each other, differences arise at times. No two people can see eye to eye on all things. But because of the bonds of affection, shared interests and common objectives, brothers usually mend their differences and this process can even evoke a stronger, more empathetic relationship.
The same holds true for the relationship between the two tribes. The relationship is a complex, multidimensional one running the full gamut of socio-cultural and political interaction and exchange. This means there will be points of harmony and convergence of interests as well as points where interests diverge. This is but a function of human nature and thus should generate no unique animus between the two groups. Truth be told this same dynamic is at work within each group. Neither Yoruba nor Igbo are entirely monolithic. Subdivisions and divisions exist within the groups that are as profound and telling as those between the two groups. The real issue is not that there are differences. The more pertinent issue is how we treat those matters. Do we allow these differences to enflame ethnic passions? Or do we resolve these differences as Lagosians seeking to resolve matters in a way that benefits us all as citizens of the same Lagos.
Lagos has been very accommodating because the people and the government in the state are cosmopolitan and broad-minded in outlook. The Lagos model has been a very good one. On a functional, day to day basis, we have tried to minimize the harsh distinction many places draw between indigene and others. We want people to function and see themselves as Lagosians. With the inclusion of Igbo in appointments as commissioners and chairmen of agencies in the state, which began during the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s era as governor, Lagos has set a standard of ethnic inclusion in the governance of this state.
The prism through which we view Saturday’s governorship elections has been altered by the results of the presidential election. Prior to the presidential contest, the PDP doused the nation with fulsome boasting that the election was already in their hands. They were celebrating victory before the players had even taken the field. Then reality came. They lost and lost by a great margin. Buhari won over 15 million votes. Barely clearing 11 million, Atiku Abubakar’s and the PDP’s defeat was a resounding one. They can shout as loud and as long as they want, they lost and they know they lost. The reality of this loss has set them on the path of desperation. Being rebuked from the seat of federal power, they have become adamant that they must conquer Lagos. They crave Lagos because they need access to government funds to maintain themselves and their party. They are still not accustomed to being the party in opposition. The funds they amassed after 16 years with their hand in the federal purse have been sorely depleted. If they can’t have access to federal money for another four years, then tapping into the Lagosian treasury is the next best thing in their estimation. If they cannot eat of the fruits of Lagos as their electoral consolation prize, they fear they will collapse from political starvation.
Additionally, a sense of revenge motivates them to attack Lagos. Lagos is the home of the APC National Leader Asiwaju Tinubu. The PDP understands the pivotal role Tinubu played as the co chairman of the winning presidential campaign council. He was at the heart of the campaign planning and strategy that culminated in the deracination of the PDP’s presidential hopes. So, in an act of desperate revenge, the PDP and many of its key personalities have shifted their angry attention and dwindling resources to Lagos in a bid to capture the state. They pledged to themselves that they would stop at nothing and let nothing stop them in this mission of misplaced revenge.
PDP Presidential Candidate Atiku, outgoing Senate President Bukola Saraki, who also succumbed by tumultuous defeat, and their agents have committed themselves to this spiteful objective. The PDP hopes to stoke the embers of Yoruba-Igbo animosity in order to accomplish their aim. The PDP believes Igbo were the bulk of the vote that Atiku achieved in Lagos during the presidential poll. The PDP has misread this as a sign of a great divide between Yoruba and Igbo in the state. Thus, the PDP now weaponises the divide and frames the governorship election as some sort of battle between the Igbo and Yoruba. This is far from correct but close to reckless.
Part of the dynamics at work during the presidential election has much to do with the presence of former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi, on the ballot as running mate to Atiku. Thus a vote for the PDP in the presidential election was a vote for a popular fellow Igbo and not a vote against Yoruba or an indictment of the present state of relations between the two groups. Again, we must remember that the relationship is a complex one with many points of interaction. Some will be in unison but some will be different. Just as the Yoruba may understandably gravitate toward the APC because of VP Osinbajo, Igbo may have favored the PDP ticket because of Obi. Yet, this should not be construed for animosity. It is a point to develop greater understanding of each other for such is the way of human nature.
Contrary to the prejudiced wagging of PDP hired tongues, Igbo in Lagos have fared well. Many important businesses and investments in Lagos belong to them. Ethnicity is not used as a bar to prevent anyone from realizing their dream and seeking their fortune in Lagos. No one is denied school, medical care or housing because of their surname. The Igbo who live here are fully Lagosians. They have a stake in the state and the state is better because of their contributions and the contributions of all who live here. Having invested in Peter Obi in the February 23 vote, many Igbo will likely vote for Sanwo-Olu as governor, not due to any ethnic factors but simply because he is the most qualified and prepared candidate and because the PDP is not a viable alternative in Lagos since the PDP’s designs on Lagos are to drain the state resources not to use those resources for the people. In the end, people are wise enough to vote for their daily interests and those interests are better served by the APC and not by being coerced into a game of ethnic rivalry that has no victors.
Whereas the APC and its candidate are moving to douse whatever tension may have been engendered by any unfortunate and isolated incidents that occurred during the presidential poll, PDP and its candidate Agbaje are eagerly stoking discord because they believe such confrontation will profit their harmful aims. A few people may be taken in by these tricks. However, most people will maintain their rectitude and reason. Most people inherently know that such an important election – no election for that matter – should be reduced to ethnic bitterness and contestation.
Rather, a meaningful election must be a contest of ideas between the candidates and a decision as to which candidate shall lead them to a greater Lagos. A greater Lagos benefits all while a lesser state impairs us all, irrespective of whether we are Yoruba or Igbo.
You don’t need to look too deep to see the difference in posture between the two parties. The APC leaders and its candidate, Sanwo-Olu, have re-doubled their efforts, meeting Igbo leaders and people and members of other ethnic groups to ensure harmony, which remains our hallmark even during the intensity of the electoral period. This is why the atmosphere is one of tranquility and cooperation at the massive Aspamda Market and Balogun Business District among other places with heavy Igbo presence.
Only on Tuesday, Asiwaju Tinubu met with NURTW leaders in Lagos where he appealed to them to eschew violence. According to him, people have the right to vote for any candidate of their choice. He pleaded with them to resolve the crisis within their rank and to behave in all things without rancor.
Conversely, the PDP wants to rend the links between the Yoruba and Igbo in Lagos. Agbaje’s talking about Igbo allegedly receiving a short end of the stick in Lagos is but a cynical attempt at winning votes by lighting an ethnic bomb. But ask Agbaje, what has he ever really done for Igbo or anyone when he had a chance? He has only acted in his self-interest. Has he hired many people, given scholarship or provided medical care to people. The answers are no, no and no. he is in it for himself. If he thinks he must use you as his battering ram, he will not hesitate to dash your head against the wall of ethnic hatred if it sufficiently profits him.
In the final analysis, however, what will win the election is not who best ignites ethnic dispute but who presents the better way to guide the state forward so that all of its people enjoy prosperity, live under equal justice and carry the hope of a greater future. Such things are not to be found with those who sow discord. These greater things are only found with those who have vision and who are compassionate and wise enough to understand that division only reduces what the future may bring.
Lagos is for Lagosians and Lagosians must be for Lagos. That must be our standard. Any ploy to divide us is but a plan to ruin us. Lagosians should vote for a greater Lagos where Igbo and Yoruba as partners join hand in friendship and productive cooperation and not for a Lagos where our hands are at each other’s throat because we were deceived to see one another as enemies. If we are true to the spirit of Lagos, then we know that we are of each other. On Election Day, let us vote down animus and the PDP brokers of hatred. Let us vote for and realize our dream of an even greater Lagos.
*Rahman, former Editor Thisday on Sunday Newspaper, is Media Adviser to Asiwaju Tinubu.