The Danger of Political Ethnicism and Tribal Bigotry in Lagos
The Cosmopolitan Kaduna Before it was Brought to its Knees
Kaduna used to be one of the most cosmopolitan places in Nigeria. I know of places in Kaduna that are named ‘ Obalende’ in Yoruba and ‘Arochukwu’ in Igbo. Some of my older siblings understand and speak Yoruba. Interestingly, they understand this language in the comfort of my family’s home in Kaduna without travelling or staying in any of the states in the south-west. My late father used to have Yoruba tenants, and we had Yoruba, Igbo, Urhobo, Ibibio, Ijaw, Kanuri, Marghi, and many other tribes in my neighbourhood. We grew up with no special emphasis on tribe or having to extend favour based on religion. My Igbo and Yoruba friends speak Hausa fluently. I also know a few of them who were born about the same time as me and who cannot speak their dialect apart from Hausa and then English, which we all learned and were compelled to speak in school.
During the Ramadan fasting, before the Iftar—the time when Muslims break their fast—we used to queue, as children, in the compound of our well-to-do Muslim neighbours with cups and plates for ‘Koko’ and ‘Kosai’, which they generously gave to us. I recall that none of the Muslims who shared this pap and akara ever asked if anybody in the queue was a Muslim or Christian, Igbo or Yoruba, Hausa or Kanuri, Urhobo or Ijaw, Adara or Ham, Ibibio or Bajju, Gbagyi or Atyap, etc. We also ate the meal without making a fuss about the tribe or religion of the givers. At Sallah or Christmas celebration, foods were shared and exchanged among Christians, Muslims, and all the tribes. There were also visits and exchanges of festive messages between and among all the tribes and religions.
The foregoing depicts the cosmopolitan Kaduna before it was brought to its knees by ethnic and religious clashes. It all started somehow to gain political advantage. While the elite and politicians called it “mere politics,” they were unaware that they were creating a monster that would one day grow and consume everyone. Now, there is a tribal-religious dichotomy in Kaduna, where even the metropolis is purely divided by religion. More sadly, your choice of residence is determined by your religion and, in some instances, your tribe.
The Tribal-Religious Dichotomy in Kaduna Now
Although nobody will officially prevent you from living wherever you choose, your safety and that of your property will make you not be reckless in your choice. Suspicion between the two major religions reigns supreme, and a mere rumour may trigger a crisis. This impacts the economic growth and development of the one-time political capital and the major industrial centre of northern Nigeria.
Lagos Plies the Dangerous Route of Political Ethnicism and Tribal Bigotry
Unfortunately, Lagos is beginning to ply the dangerous route of political ethnicism and tribal bigotry. The politics of thuggery and hooliganism are not new in Nigeria. Thugs have been used by politicians since the First Republic to intimidate voters, snatch ballot boxes, and even harm perceived political opponents.
However, what was experienced in the just concluded gubernatorial elections in Lagos revivifies the dark period before and during the Nigerian civil war when people were subjected to inappropriate and disproportionate stop searches, questioning, and ethnic identification at the airport, on the street, and in their homes with the view of identifying the Igbo and people of eastern extraction.
The Threat of MC Oluomo
Before the 2023 gubernatorial election, Musiliu Akinsaya, alias MC Oluomo, who heads the Lagos State Park and Gardens Management, released a video threatening the Igbo against voting for the opposition candidate, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour of the Labour Party. The police dismissed the threat as a joke.
On March 18, 2023, in many polling units across the state, the Igbo or those identified as Igbo and supporters of the Labour Party were beaten, denied voting, or sent away by thugs even in the presence of armed policemen. There were reports of shooting and ballot snatching in the stronghold of the opposition.
The Existential Threat of the Igbo
There are claims that the gubernatorial candidate of the Labour Party is not a ‘proper Yoruba’ man considering that his mother is Igbo and rhetoric about the influence of Igbo in the political affairs of the state. Bayo Onanuga and Femi Fani-Kayode, who worked in the media arm of the presidential campaign council of the president-elect, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, called the Igbo an existential threat.
Learning from Kaduna to Maintain Lagos’s Commercial Hub Status
Considering the position of Lagos as the commercial hub of the nation and its level of enlightenment, one would think such tribal slurs and ethnic profiling should not arise in modern-day politics. Albeit a Yoruba state, Lagos is able to maintain its status as Africa’s 7th largest economy and the continent’s startup capital, generating a GDP of $432.3 billion and a private wealth of $97 billion.
This is due to its both metropolitan and cosmopolitan nature, its ability to attract and accommodate all tribes, and the fact that it creates an environment for businesses to thrive. The Igbo, known for their excellent business acumen, have invested in critical sectors and contribute immensely to the economy of Lagos. This makes profiling the tribe or its complete political isolation an unwise decision for any political party or leader who still wants the progress of the state.
Indeed, Lagos has a lot to learn from Kaduna, which is a giant that fails to realise its potential due to incessant ethnic-religious tensions and clashes.