The fears in various quarters that the rabid anti-Igbo profiling and campaign of hate in Lagos, which preceded the governorship election on March 18, may escalate into a big ethnic conflict in Lagos in the days ahead, may likely not turn out so. The reason is simple: that ignoble scheme has achieved its goal. Bola Tinubu has succeeded in renewing his grip on Lagos State.

The anxiety that he was about to lose that grip was the basis for the one-sided war. Curiously, while the assault raged on against them, the Igbo in Lagos, maligned, harassed and intimidated, to an unprecedented open level, remained restrained.

It is possible that the restraint of the Igbo in the face of the unwarranted assault reflected a realisation that they have no issues with the larger Yoruba populace, and vice versa. By every assessment, the Yoruba are a calculating people who hardly embark on a war with uncertain prospects, more so, when they are not under any threat. The Igbo in Lagos may have come to the conclusion that the Yoruba are not represented by one or two shallow hirlings and  drug addicts who have a history of guzzling their vomit without qualms.

The all-out war brought to the Igbo in Lagos in the weeks leading to the governorship election was, to all intents and purposes, a one-man project. The expedition was motivated by panic that someone was about to lose a prized estate. 

The root of the campaign of hate can be located to the situation in which Senator Bola Tinubu, superintendent of Lagos State, suddenly found himself, confronted by a prospect of losing Lagos. The former governor has established a firm grip over the state in the last quarter of a century. Of course, he is aware that some sons of the soil in Lagos do not approve of his sole proprietorship of the realm. He did not seem to be bothered by the largely subdued opposition. As far as he was concerned, he had Lagos in his hands and that would always be the case, as long as he breaths. Then Labour Party happened. Virtually out of nowhere.

The outcome of the presidential election on February 25, 2023, in which Tinubu was defeated in Lagos, among others, by the Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi (by a wide margin, if you go by some accounts), triggered off an alarm around him capable of causing heart attack. Public posturing aside, the former Lagos State governor knew he was well beaten in Lagos by the LP.

He knew that the LP is a passionate platform of youths from all over Nigeria and that its candidate Peter Obi paraded a profile and aura that portended danger to the old guard. How to contain Obi and his LP became an urgent assignment. With the governorship election in the offing, Tinubu found himself at a critical juncture where he had to fight to save himself from being politically annihilated. He declared war. No way was he going to stand and watch Lagos wrestled from him.

Having identified Labour Party as a threat to his political ambition nationally and now also in Lagos, Tinubu had to develop a strategy to sustain his grip on Lagos, first. Not for the first time in his career, he found playing the ethnic card his best strategy to ward off Labour Party. The Igbo in Lagos became, more or less, collateral damage. He couldn’t care less. He just had to retain his hold on Lagos. Suddenly, he made himself a knight and approximation of the Yoruba interest, a defender of phantom siege by the Igbo.

With the early effort to tag Labour Party an Igbo party not having achieved the desired impact as the result of the presidential election showed, the former governor and his team upped the ante. They launched a desperate campaign that Labour Party was not just an Igbo party but a vehicle through which the Igbo set out to take over Lagos.  Take over Lagos from who?  From him, of course, but that was not to be stated. As a peg for the campaign, a fake statement without source was thrown up, that the Igbo said Lagos is no man’s land, therefore, they are laying claim to the state. How? To become Oba of Lagos or governor or baales? Who cared about details!

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Before you knew it, enough attack dogs had been raised, baying that the Igbo were trying to take over Lagos. From who?

If the gratuitous campaign of calumny against the Igbo ran through and succeeded in galvanizing the Yoruba to adopt Tinubu as their own and vote for him and his interests, his team’s strategy would have made some sense. But that was not the case. The Tinubu team knew that the larger Yoruba society was not exactly with him. That presidential election result in Lagos was substantially Yoruba vote. They knew that.

The scheme to keep Lagos in Tinubu’s grip was unconscionable in execution. Was it necessary to contrive a war between the Igbo and the Yoruba for Tinubu to hold on to Lagos? Could he have done it another way? Yes, but that would require subtle, civilized means. Even traditional rulers and traditionalists were enrolled, some of whom carried out outlandish rituals in the open, whether to ward off the Igbo from voting or to confuse INEC officials from doing their job.

The vicious anti-Igbo campaign in Lagos by Tinubu’s team was despicable. While the prospect of another political party taking control of Lagos was scary to them, with reasons, they did not need to cross all red lines. When the young Labour Party governorship candidate said on air that he would promptly stop Alpha Beta from creaming off the resources of Lagos, he obviously did not appreciate that he had further declared war. Pronto, a scion of a well-heeled Lagos lineage was tagged an Igbo, a foreigner. Interestingly, all his traducers, from top to bottom (apologies to Buhari), were not from Lagos. It was that ridiculous.

Having created a bogey of the Igbo, the Tinubu/APC team spent the period leading to the March 18 election fighting the nightmare they created. The fear of the Igbo was so palpable in Lagos all through this period that all manner of unorthodox plans were devised to contain them. Not since the old Soviet Union has any system seemed so paranoid about other ideas.

When, finally, election day arrived, the fear of the Igbo still drove the Tinubu team to the most reprehensible anti-democratic acts ever witnessed in Nigeria. Never has it been that any ethnic group or people were crudely prevented from voting so that a party would “win”. Obviously not trusting the various initiatives they already put in place to muzzle other parties on the ballot, the APC in Lagos went all out for full disenfranchisement. They did not only prevent Igbo voters, they also prevented Yoruba voters who their enforcers reckoned resembled Igbo.

Or those who they suspected may not vote APC. In that way, they exposed themselves. It was no longer Yoruba against Igbo. It became APC versus all those who may have different political preference.

The antics of the APC would have been bearable if the INEC office in Lagos and the police did not become complicit. This is the tragedy of the 2023 elections. Institutions of the state grossly betrayed their obligations to the people in such a manner never experienced before. The instances of policemen watching hoodlums disrupt voting processes, or standing by while touts prevented eligible voters from stepping out to vote will haunt the Nigeria Police forever. Yet at the end of these sham elections, results were announced with a straight face. And celebration of victory will soon follow.