The violence against the Igbo is condemnable, writes Paul Nwabuikwu
“I was told to go back to Anambra! How does Bolarinwa sound like an Igbo name? I was rough handled, beaten and sent out because I look Igbo? Because I was not going to vote APC? This evil fire will burn you and your generation!”-
IYANUOLUWA BOLARINWA: @Bolarinwaiyanu
“I was harassed today at the polling unit, told that I looked like an Igbo person. It’s obvious that the ruling party plans to use intimidation, tactical disenfranchisement, violence, thuggery and tribal bigotry to hold on to power. This is not an election. This is a crime scene”
DR. OLAWALE OGUNLANA: @olawalesmd
“I was born in Lagos. I’m a Lagos woman. This is my “village” but I was not allowed to vote because I don’t look like Yoruba?”
Over the coming days, weeks, months and perhaps even years, there will be attempts to disprove, discredit and play down the facts and significance of what took place last Saturday in many parts of Lagos during the governorship and state assembly elections which are captured in the searing tweets above.
Motivated by cash incentives in a struggling economy, inspired by access to the winners of the elections and expectations of imminent profit, galvanized by a primordial urge to protect their “heritage”, many “experts” will do their best to justify the unjustifiable.
Spin doctors will spin, journalists will produce alternative facts and theories to counter or distract from the awful incidents of unprovoked violence against people whose only crime was to leave their houses and head for the polling units to cast their votes.
“Elder statesmen” will be wheeled out to assert that the horrors were nothing but a storm in the national tea cup. They will spout patriotic platitudes to support their point that “Area Boys and miscreants” were responsible for the harassment, attacks and deaths that have defined the Lagos polls forever.
Less principled persons, like some individuals I have the misfortune of knowing have already gone to town with an old but effective strategy: whataboutism. “Why are you focusing on Lagos only? What about the violence in other parts of the country? You’re just exaggerating for your own political purposes”, they scream, apoplectic with invented indignation, their physical and metaphorical veins bulging with hypocrisy. One can almost hear Gani Fawehinmi and Fela turning in their graves, appalled by the performance of these humans who are ready to do violence to the most noble virtues in pursuit of personal and group interests, defined in the basest ways.
But their efforts will fail ultimately. As the personal stories of the brave patriots who went public with their experiences on Twitter testifies, the bigotry that characterized the polls in many parts of Lagos is already a part of our history. As Badero Olusola, the popular podcaster known as Maiyegun Politico captured it in a searing episode, the widespread attacks against Igbos and persons who are unfortunate enough to look like Igbos was “open bigotry” perpetrated by “dark minded and primitive persons” claiming to represent the interests of Yorubas, perhaps the most educated and cosmopolitan ethnicity in Nigeria. Maiyegun Politico, no fan of Bola Tinubu, puts the blame squarely on the recently declared president-elect who he says has the ultimate responsibility for the orchestrated attacks.
Some have compared the targeting of Igbos as reminiscent of both the pogroms that preceded the Civil War and the more recent Rwandan genocide that witnessed the murder of nearly a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
This is because of the orchestrated threats of “we will deal with you if you don’t vote for APC”, the mobs of youths captured in social media videos armed with sticks and machetes and the occasional gun, implacable in their rage and determination to hurt any unfortunate Igbo who crossed their path, the fear in the eyes of fleeing victims told disturbing stories.
Others disagree. They assert that a few attacks by “miscreants” in a few parts of Lagos cannot credibly be compared to the unspeakable awfulness of Biafra and Rwanda. They’re partly right. In scale and sheer savagery, what happened last weekend in Lagos is small potatoes and can certainly not be compared to genocides. As a wit once said: “wetin consain aeroplane with bridge?”
But while admitting the incongruity of the comparison, it would be unwise to be dismissive. For one thing, neither the pre-Biafra pogroms nor the Rwandan genocide happened in one day. Like the reverse aftershocks of an earthquake, smaller acts of violence paved the way for the final cataclysm. And that’s the reason we cannot afford to be complacent about the attacks of Igbo supporters of Peter Obi and Labour Party in Lagos.
The political incitement against Igbos did not start last weekend. It has been building up for some time. It’s become a part of the electoral cycle as APC, scared of the electoral strength of the significant Igbo population, has made it a habit to deploy underhand tactics to reduce Igbo turnout which they believe will not favour them. In the most infamous example of this strategy, the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu publicly threatened to ensure that Igbos who did not vote for APC perished in the Lagos lagoon. Though Akiolu later claimed he was quoted out of context, the threat by the most powerful traditional ruler in Lagos has been reinforced by others. For instance, the Bale of Igbara community in Eti-Osa local council in Lagos also declared before the presidential elections that “only residents who have their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and ready to vote for the All Progressives Congress (APC) would be allowed to do business in the community”.
It is significant that Lagos APC, scared by the popularity of Obi and his party, decided to go beyond the previous attempts to intimidate by threats into street violence and physical attacks. The logical question: how far will they go next time?
And that’s why the efforts to spin and dismiss the violence against Igbos and even Yorubas who were suspected to be Igbos should be taken seriously. Something ugly happened in Lagos and, like the rancid gutters of Lagos, strong action will be required to achieve the political equivalent of unclogging the drainage, disinfection and odour elimination. Anyone who believes that what happened in Lagos last weekend was exclusively an Igbo problem is wrong. It wasn’t just some Igbos that were under siege. The very soul of the Nigerian project and the essence of Nigerian citizenship in our democracy were under attack.
Nwabuikwu is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board