Wednesday, 22 March 2023 03:47

Sanwo-olu has lost the plot - Ayodele Adio

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Ayodele Adio Ayodele Adio

As the results of the 25 February presidential election filtered in, it shocked many, especially the political elites in Lagos, that Bola Tinubu (now president-elect) had lost his home state to the candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi. Although the All Progressives Congress (APC) also failed to pull a win in Kano, Osun, Katsina, and the FCT, Abuja, losing Lagos seemed to cut deeper.

A post-mortem of the shocking result in Lagos yielded two significant conclusions. The first was that the ruling party in Lagos had lost the support of young voters – a critical demographic in the 2023 elections. Secondly, and even more worrying, was that it had lost the confidence of the educated middle class population in Lagos. And so, it became obvious that the party could suffer a similar fate in the governorship race if it went into that election without young voters and the educated middle class.

As a last resort, in a bid to maintain its flailing hold on power, the APC resorted to identity politics and ran the most divisive ethnocentric campaign ever witnessed in Lagos since the return to democratic rule in 1999. Even though some of his supporters believe that Sanwo-Olu is one of the better performing governors, his campaign was not based on the impact of his stewardship on the lives of Lagosians, but on a primordial technique of acquiring power – fascism.

The key thing about fascist politics is that it identifies an enemy and riles the in-group (usually the majority group) against that perceived enemy. In this case, they found a familiar foe, the usual punching bag, the Igbos. As with many fascist propaganda, the goal is to make the in-group majority (in this case, the Yorubas), feel like a victim who has lost something and that such a thing was taken away from them by a specific enemy.

In her book about totalitarianism, the Philosopher Hannah Arendt, makes the point that “fascists are never content to merely lie, they must transform their lie into a new reality, and they must persuade people to believe in the unreality they have created.” Hence the ruling party convinced Yorubas in Lagos that the candidate of the Labour Party, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, who himself ia a bona fide Lagosian, was not only an Igbo man but a sympathiser of the dreaded terrorist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Interestingly, both the incumbent and his deputy are not indigenous Lagosians but have somehow found a way to convince the people that a true Lagosian is the outsider.

This would not have mattered so much if the aim of this divisive strategy was simply to appeal to an indigenous base and mobilise them to the polls in large numbers to participate in a free and credible process. It turned out, unfortunately, to a suppression and intimidation tactic against a targeted group of voters, all of which ultimately resulted in widespread violence against the Igbos or people that look like Igbos.

In Amuwo Odofin, Isolo, Ajeromi, Eti-Osa, Igbos were either not allowed access to the polling booth or were violently attacked for insisting on exercising their right to vote, even if it meant casting their vote against the ruling party. Thugs mobilised themselves in groups brandishing weapons and walked round neighbourhoods dominated by Igbos, warning them not to step out to vote.

Igbos became victims of violence and intimidation in an election contested mainly by Yoruba men. I have asked what the problem most of these ethnic supremacists have with the Igbos, and the answers are often funny, if not ridiculous. “They call Lagos no man’s land,” “they do not respect our culture,” and “they are very arrogant.” Thankfully, I have many Igbo friends, and I’m incredibly lucky to be married to one. But not once have I heard anyone ever mention that Lagos is no man’s land. And if we’re being honest, even you reading this piece haven’t.

The issue about disrespecting the culture of Lagos is funny because the ruling party has, on several occasions, forcefully evicted indigenous families from their land, elevated cabinet chiefs to royal status, and pulled down heritage sites for luxury condominiums. That said, what really is the culture of Lagos? Before the unfortunate incidents on Saturday, Lagos could easily be described as the one place in Nigeria where ethnic nationalism has given way for cosmopolitanism – a place where mutual respect and universal values supersedes the feelings of shared identity.

Unfortunately, that core promise of liberalism to protect individual choice, that has made Lagos a magnet for talent and investment, is now threatened by a group of fascists who are bent on winning elections at all costs. In their usual myopia, these politicians forget that our tendency to assemble in groups and demand group recognition is responsible for the darkest chapters in human history. Clashes between different identity groups have been the greatest driver of human conflict, and an unfair and exclusionary democratic process can do much to exacerbate such conflicts.

Sanwo-Olu and the Lagos APC have opened the Pandora’s box. They have crossed a line that cannot be uncrossed. The physical wounds the thugs have inflicted on innocent people may heal in the weeks to come, but the scars of ethnic profiling and a vicious and malicious propaganda of hate, may take an entire generation to fix. Was it worth it?


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