Over the last two decades, gubernatorial elections in Lagos State have offered ethnic chauvinists the opportunity to engage in ethnocentric gymnastics to score cheap political points. At every election curve, candidates of major political parties are forced to pick a side and engage in needless debates on whether Lagos is a ‘no man’s land’ or a land belonging to the Yorubas.
This needless debate, has, on the flip side, continued to offer Gubernatorial candidates an avenue to escape scrutiny concerning their manifesto and what they have to offer the state, which, in turn, exposes the state to ill-prepared leadership and poorly tested roadmaps.
Igbos, who are by far one of the most dominant non-Yoruba speaking ethnic nationalities in Lagos State have been caught in the web of these discussions. Given the volume of their investment in the state, they have oftentimes tried to assert themselves, which have mostly been misinterpreted and declared as a plot to dominate and take over from their Yoruba hosts.
While this article will not delve into the history of the distrust between both ethnic nationalities, it is important to highlight the fact that both the Yoruba and the Igbo tribes have held each other in mutual suspicion for the better part of the last 100 years.
This distrust was what came to its crescendo during the Nigerian civil war. The war or most appropriately genocide against Biafrans supposedly ended 52 years ago, but it appears the wounds are always fresh anytime the issues which led to it are discussed. Several events have brought these fault lines to the fore and both parties have not succeeded in their hopes to bury the hatchet forever.
The most recent provoker of this fault line came after Labour Party Presidential flagbearer, Peter Obi secured a victory in the February 25 presidential elections. That result meant that for the first time since 1999, a former number one citizen in the state, Bola Tinubu, who was on the ballot as a candidate of the All Progressives Congress, lost an election in Lagos State. Following the announcement, his supporters, who are mostly Yoruba, began threatening fire and brimstone especially given the fact that a gubernatorial election was weeks away, and if a similar situation occurs, then the APC might lose its grip on the state.
Ahead of the March 18th elections, the rivalries have been renewed and the old disdainful pattern of politicking seems to be back.
The truth is that ethnic squabbles during elections have grown to become an intermittent fight between the Igbo and Yoruba in Lagos. Whenever it erupts, it usually ends in acts of intimidation rather than a case of ‘two fightings,’ to employ the language of the Nigerian Police Force. The goal of this fight has always remained the same. What happens is that the aggressors simply deploy threatening words to frighten non-Lagosians away from polling stations so that they can determine who governs the State without much ado.
Against the backdrop of these threats, in situations where the foolhardy among these non-indigenous people attempt to join voting queues, the aggressor mobilises street rascals to disrupt proceedings and destroy the votes from such areas. These rascals snatch and whisk ballot boxes to ‘safe’ thumbprint destinations or destroy the votes therein. This is the barbarism that has continued to repeat itself every election year
The fact that the Igbos and the Yoruba must always pick political sides in every election and the subsequent rivalries continue to be worrisome. This setting then offers the ethnic chauvinists an opportunity to unleash their rhetorics just to induce a violence-palpable environment. Questions about the ownership of Lagos are asked and amplified as though Lagos was up for sale on a retail website, and this effectively flushed what is supposed to be the real electioneering issues down the drain.
Sadly, there are four major reasons why it has remained impossible to break these intermittent acts of barbarism and permanently nip them in the bud. The first is, this is not a real fight but contrived political ploys to catch votes during election cycles. Second, the antagonists, those who habitually provoke and escalate the fight, almost always have little or no vested interest in issues that propelled them into the fight. Third, it is a proxy fight for constituted authority –those whose responsibility it is to discourage or break up the fight. The fourth, and most impactful, is the aggressors’ battle rhetoric because, of course, no gullible Yoruba will idle away when he or she is warned that the ‘Igbos are planning to take over’!
What many people who have bought into these narratives have failed to do is that they have failed to recognise that this illusory struggle for the soul of Lagos is not a real fight. Any sound mind will easily recognise that what is at play is usually a bit of rodomontade to spice up well-coordinated propaganda aimed at rousing ethnic pride. Emotions are stirred and those sitting on the bench are roused into a false proxy fight where no casualties are ever recorded. The braggadocio may extend to threats to gather and drown an ethnic group in the Atlantic. All these are down despite the fact that nothing is actually at stake.
A fight is a struggle to overcome, eliminate or prevent. A real fight is a violent struggle that involves the exchange of physical blows or the use of weapons. But the worst that takes place is seeing hoodlums charge into voting booths, shooting into the air to frighten voters away, and destroying ballots or making away with their boxes. Perhaps, most of the individuals who have bought into these narratives have failed to clearly explain why is it that after the votes are announced, the aggressors go back to their business partnerships, inter-ethnic marriages, entertainment collaborations, and sales of landed property.
A quick return to normalcy is possible because the antagonists, those who habitually provoke and escalate the fight, almost always have little or no vested interest in issues that propelled them into the fight. What are these issues? Yoruba are incensed whenever an Igbo suggests that Easterners have a vested interest in Lagos. The people who ‘carry the fight on their heads’ are not Lagos landlords. As a matter of fact, the landlords are never consulted before they launch into their offensives. Neither have Lagos landlords ever complained about how members of a group, Igbo or non-Igbo, have been annexing their property. The reason why they do not bother is simple. The majority of non-Lagosians do not own Lagos land in perpetuity. The best they do is to lease the property for 45 or 99 years while the landowners use this lease to provide for succeeding generations.
It is encouraging that the Yoruba who understand these games have often condemned the intermittent voter intimidation in Lagos, even as this tiny band blatantly promotes it. What is interesting is that, while a permanent solution is being sought, both groups are actually exacerbating the tension with their rhetoric, rather than providing pathways.
A number of narratives have often been propagated about the Yoruba and non-Yoruba, which are actually quicksand of falsehoods. One of these narratives is that only the Yoruba sells real estate to non-Yoruba. Second, the built property and land exchanges are presented as if they were gifts to strangers rather than legitimate real estate transactions. Finally, non-Yoruba residents are presented as economic migrants, akin to those enduring the elements in the Sahara adventures to Europe.
Generally, the idea is to present the Yoruba as the only ethnic group that is welcoming and always willing to allow strangers an opportunity to thrive. However, when examined closely, accommodation of strangers is actually a Nigerian character trait, acknowledged by non-Nigerians who had the opportunity to visit any part of the country. Therefore, saying this is peculiar to a particular group reinforces the narrative that non-natives want to take over Lagos by renting or leasing property. It positions Nigerians as strangers in their own country. It draws the unwary into a needless fight that benefits only a tiny band of power-mongers who, in fact, are the real overlords of Lagos, using political power to reap where they do not sow.
Going forward, Lagosians and by extension, Nigerians must understand that the ‘Lagos is a No man’s land’ debate is a needless conversation often fuelled by people who do not want the real issues to be brought to the fore. The big question is; has Lagos State lived up to expectations in terms of infrastructural developments and provision of social amenities? Have the resources of Lagos State been properly utilised for the benefit of the common masses and not for the servicing of a select few? Is Lagos groaning under the drip of a powerful godfather? These are the questions that should spark debates and not the propagation of hate-filled messages aimed at creating an atmosphere of confusion for the real issues to be swept away.
Africa Digital News, New York