We had in this space, drawn attention to the dangers of actions driven by petty sentiments. They can always be catastrophic.
Take for instance, the heat among the plebeians in William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, for which a certain poet, Gaius Helvius Cinna was lynched at the funeral of Julius Caesar, the tragic hero of the drama. It may serve to recap the story.
Caesar, a Roman general and statesman, was killed by members of his political class, on suspicion that he was becoming too dictatorial. Later explanation that Caesar was not the picture painted by the elite provoked anger among the ordinary people. Driven by the mood of the moment, they took to the streets, hunting for the conspirators.
Cinna the poet was unfortunate to be in their way. He was mistaken by the mob for Cornelius Cinna who had spoken in support of Caesar’s assassination. Because he bore the same name as Cinna the conspirator and being in the way of the protesters at the time, he was killed by the rampaging plebians, despite his vigorous profession of innocence.
His cries of, “I am not Cinna the conspirator, I am Cinna the poet”, were disregarded. The mob rather chanted, “Kill him for his poor verses”. That is the danger of misplaced aggression.
A certain Yoruba lady came close to such fatal fate at the March 18 governorship election in Lagos State. According to her, she was denied the right to vote in the election in the Awoyaya axis of the state because she looked like an Igbo.
In her shocking narrative that went viral, she was heard on video explaining that she was of Yoruba decent despite her bearing physical features of an Igbo person. But her explanations that she was not Igbo did not help her case. When asked if she would vote the All Progressives Congress (APC) and she demanded to be allowed to enter the polling booth first, her traducers proceeded to lock the gate. Her vote was lost. And her faith in the Nigerian nation shaken.
That is the extent the country has degenerated to. The 2023 general election brought out the worst in us as a people and as a nation. By 1983 I had attained the electoral voting age. I also participated in the botched Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha political transition programmes. Between 1999 and 2019, I had become an active participant in the political processes in the country, by virtue of my job as a journalist and particularly as politics reporter. These past political experiences had been tainted with certain malfeasance, no doubt, but at no time had irredentism and ethnic bigotry been so pronounced as they were manifested in Lagos in the February 25 presidential election and March 18 governorship poll.
For reasons known to them, APC henchmen in the state unleashed their attack dogs on the Igbo and their businesses for the singular offence of daring to take part in the electoral process. On February 25, Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of Labour Party (LP), who from the outset announced that he was running on the basis of his competence and capacity, not as an Igbo or Christian, became a reason for the Igbo to be vilified. Three weeks after, at the state elections, the LP governorship candidate, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour (GRV), literally caused problems for the Igbo because his mother and wife were Igbo.
Even after the elections, the victors were yet to sheathe their swords. They were not done, marching through the fields and clobbering opponents to irrelevance. They still bayed for blood and angled for a kill. Three days after the March 18 election, Bayo Onanuga, the director of media and publicity of the All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Council, kept prancing about, mocking the Igbo that they may not have had the worst, until they stopped interfering in Lagos politics.
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.
“I hope the Obidients and their LP have now realized that Lagos is not ‘no man’s land’. The state has indigenous owners and today they emphatically made the statement loud and clear”.
Calls by sane minds on him to pull the brakes on the dangerous path he was toeing did not deter Onanuga. He rather boasted, “Let me make myself abundantly clear: the views I express on Twitter are my personal views. I don’t owe anyone any apology for addressing the existential threats of our people. I am after all, first of all a Yoruba, before being a Nigerian.”
Bayo Onanuga is from Ijebu Ode, in Ogun State. Like any other Nigerian from Imo, Bayelsa or Kebbi, he is not an indigene of Lagos State, but has appropriated the rights of living in the state and having a say in what happens in it to the exclusion of others. He is a senior journalist who should have known better but chose to behave otherwise. There are others like him. It may be easy to dismiss their antics and assume that they do not matter. But, indeed, they matter. Sadly, the state is not doing much to address the menace. It is Lagos today, it may happen elsewhere tomorrow. It is about the Igbo today, it may be against other ethnic groups tomorrow.
The danger in condoning or turning a blind eye to these anti-social behaviours is that they fester over time and eat into the fabric of society during which certain groups begin to see themselves as superior to others. The Rwandan genocide, a mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority, in which an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 citizens were killed during the 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July 1994, started like this.
Adolf Hitler, the German maximum ruler, commenced his “final solution to the Jewish question”, in this manner. At the end, an estimated six million Jews were massacred all over Europe during the Second World War. Back here, incendiary comments and hatchet writings by fleeting characters played a big role in the 1966 pogrom and consequent 1967-1970 Civil War.
This is the time for all men and women of goodwill to rise up and call out the ethnic bigots in our midst before they, again, set Nigeria on the edge.