Lagos and the politics of Igbophobia

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Bayo Onanuga, spokesperson for the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, during the just concluded gubernatorial election conducted on 18 March, 2023 warned Igbo in Lagos against “interfering” in the politics of the state. 

Onanuga, who is the director, media and publicity of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Presidential Campaign Council, issued the warning in a tweet via his official Twitter account, @aonanuga1956. 

He said, “Let 2023 be the last time of Igbo interference in Lagos politics. Let there be no repeat in 2027. Lagos is like Anambra, Imo, any Nigerian state. It is not No Man’s Land, not Federal Capital Territory. It is Yoruba land. Mind your business.” 

The tweet, which was not deleted despite the hues and cries that trailed it from Nigerians, has been described as uncalled for, a threat to national unity and corporate existence. 

Onanuga’s tweet came on the heels of his party (APC), losing Lagos to the Labour Party (LP) on the February 25, presidential and National Assembly elections. President-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu was defeated by Peter Obi in Lagos which many considered as his strong hold.

 The igbo who have been in Lagos for centuries, transacting their businesses, contributing to the growth and development of modern Lagos are not to blame for the APC’s defeat. The candidate of Labour Party, Peter Obi, enjoyed massive support not only from his Igbo kinsmen but the Christian community in the country. 

The 2023 elections have been won and lost on the altar or basis of ethnic and religious sentiments. Peter Obi’s love and popularity spread like wild fire into the hearts of many Christians due to his religious affiliation. Among the strong contenders, he was the only Christian.

And for the fact that the ruling party opted for same faith ticket to win the election, Obi had to get the sympathy and votes from the Christian community. In Lagos, it was not only the igbo’ votes that aided him to defeat Tinubu but other tribes including Yoruba. 

Maybe Bayo Onanuga did not witness how the voting pattern changes in presidential polls. Katsina ,Yobe and Osun had been APC states but fell into the hands of PDP. Benue and Rivers which are PDP controlled states moved to the APC kits. 

Moreover, despite their businesses and other investment, Igbo have never claimed ownership of Lagos. Igbo carry the corpses of their loved ones for burial to their ancestral homes in the South-east. During festive periods, especially Christmas, many igbo travel to their states to spend the time with their kiths and kin.

While Bayo Onanuga was busy throwing tantrums or fire and brimstone at Igbo, he ignored the fact that like any other Nigerian, they have the constitutional right to vote for any candidate of their choice. 

It is unfortunate that our over two decades of democracy has failed to cement or promote mutual coexistence among the diverse ethnic composition of the country. 

One remembers with nostalgia, in 1952, Alhaji Umaru Altine, married an igbo woman and became the mayor of Enugu. Umaru Altine was a northern business man from Sokoto who settled in Enugu. In Sabon Gari Kano, many igbo were voted to the position of councillors. In other states, Hausa people are appointed as special advisers to governors. 

However, this good development is being thrown to the wind. One had expected the momentum to be sustained for national unity and development. Alas, what Nigerians see today, is politics of ethnicity and religion. The igbophobia during the last election in Lagos has stoked the embers of disunity and regurgitated ethnic supremacy. 

The country has been battling the menace of ethnic irredentists. The emergency of Sunday Uoboho and Nnamdi Kanu are products of ethnic baiting. The incubator of this dangerous trend is hatred and politics of exclusiveness.

President-elect Tinubu has stated that he would not form a government of national unity. Instead, he will make his appointments based on competence and merit. While this is a welcome development, the president-elect should be mindful of the mood of the nation over his victory. His appointment should reflect the federal character principle. 

He should “belong to everybody and belong to nobody,” to borrow from the speech of President Muhammadu Buhari. Tinubu should hit the ground running by carrying every Nigerian along, inrespective of his ethnic, regional or religious affiliation. By so doing, the palpable tension his election has generated will be doused.

The politics of Igbophobia which played out in Lagos should not be allowed to repeat itself in the future. Our constitution gives every Nigerian the right to live anywhere in the country and exercise his civil responsibility, i.e elect leaders who will govern them.

Therefore, it is high time Nigerians stopped the politics of ethnicity. It is an ill wind which will blow no one any good.

Ibrahim Mustapha,

Pambegua, Kaduna state


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