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Africa Last Updated: May 28, 2023 - 10:52:52 AM

Nigeria 2023: Biafra agitations may deepen after divisive elections
By Eniola Akinku, Africa Report, 20 March 2023
Mar 25, 2023 - 4:55:40 PM

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After a violent governorship election in Lagos State where Igbo and other non-Yoruba speakers were profiled and prevented from voting, renewed hostility is brewing, evoking memories of a civil war that ended 53 years ago.

Musician Aituaje Iruobe, known professionally as Waje, believed in the Nigerian dream. She was among those recruited by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the EU to compose a song titled ‘Not for Sale’, to promote Nigerian unity and peaceful elections.

On 18 March 2023, she, along with a few friends, went to a polling unit in Lagos to cast their votes, but what they witnessed was unexpected. She said her friend was attacked by thugs and told to go and vote in Anambra in the southeast.

    They beat my friend…They slapped him, beat him up. They whipped him

“One guy started chasing him and beating him, saying he is an Igbo man and he should go back to Anambra to go and vote. They beat my friend…They slapped him, beat him up. They whipped him,” she said while holding back tears.

Waje’s encounter was just one among many. A prominent food blogger and author, Yemisi Odusanya, professionally known as Sissy Yemmie, who is Yoruba, said she and her husband were prevented from voting in the Awoyaya area of the state because they “looked Igbo.”

In a video she attached to her post, voices can be heard saying: “You are Igbo, you are not an indigene of Lagos. We don’t want Igbo here.”

Peter Obi’s rise

The Igbo have been living in Lagos for over a century due to the state’s status as a former national capital and the country’s commercial centre. Millions of Igbo people live in Lagos and thrive in trade and the entertainment industry.

However, The Africa Report notes that the deepened hostility towards the Igbo hinged mainly on the victory of Labour party candidate, Peter Obi, over Bola Tinubu of the APC in Lagos at the 25 February presidential poll. The result was seen as a slap in the face of Tinubu whose position as the godfather of Lagos had hitherto never been challenged.

Of the 20 local governments in Lagos, Obi won nine, gaining large votes in Eti Osa, Alimosho, Kosofe, Somolu and a few other areas that had hitherto been considered strongholds of the ruling party. He also won in all local governments that have many Igbo residents like Ojo, Ajeromi/Ifelodun, Amuwo Odofin and Oshodi/Isolo councils.

On the day of election, some of Obi’s supporters were attacked in a few polling units even as viral videos show some APC thugs asking his supporters to leave polling stations.

The result of the election also showed that a bulk of Obi’s votes came from middle class professionals, urban youths, Christian communities, and non-Yoruba speakers, especially the Igbo, who share ethnic ties with Obi.
head of the governorship election, the APC began preaching about the need to ensure that the Igbo do not take over Lagos. Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, the candidate of the Labour

Party, was tagged an ‘Igbo project’ even though he is a Yoruba from Lagos. They hinged their argument on the fact that he can’t speak Yoruba fluently and his mother and wife are both Igbo.

Influencers were hired on social media to press home the message that Igbo must never be allowed to “rule Lagos” as doing so would render the Yoruba as slaves. Monarchs who support the ruling party ordered traditionalists to slaughter goats publicly as sacrifices for the victory of the APC and the heads of animals were put in calabashes and placed near polling units to scare voters.

Police look away

Ahead of the elections, tensions were high as ever and it was obvious that the election would be a violent one. Two days to the poll, transport kingpin Musiliu Akinsanya aka MC Oluomo, who is also a henchman for the ruling party and a state government official, was caught on video threatening the Igbo to stay at home if they had no plan of voting for the APC.

When pressured to arrest him for inciting violence, the police said he was only joking and there was no cause for alarm. MC Oluomo later said he was not threatening anyone and that his words were misconstrued.

    There was widespread beating, intimidation, and attacks on voters across Lagos. Many ended up with severe injuries.

Amnesty International called on the police not to treat the threat lightly, but this was ignored.

By the morning of the election, it had become obvious that this was no joke as thugs working for the ruling party stormed various polling units and asked all those who were not willing to vote for the ruling party to return home.

In viral videos, thugs wielding sticks are seen enforcing this threat. They also profiled people who were Igbo or who looked Igbo and chased them away.

“There was widespread beating, intimidation, and attacks on voters across Lagos. Many ended up with severe injuries. Threats of violence were also used to scare people from voting. This is unacceptable and must be investigated thoroughly,” said Amnesty International.

An election observer, Opeyemi Oriniowo, a member of advocacy group, ElectHer, tells The Africa Report that he was beaten up in the Osapa area of Eti Osa local government area because he insisted that people be allowed to vote.

“This was a polling unit that Peter Obi had won at the presidential election and it was stationed in front of the house of an APC chieftain. They didn’t want to allow people to vote and I stood up and insisted on recording what was happening. They beat me, broke my phone screen and my glasses. The police stood by and did nothing,” he says.

Biafra agitation

For the last eight years, the southeast, in particular, has witnessed a spike in separatist agitations. Although the agitations started peacefully, they turned violent about four years ago leading to the proscription of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) led by Nnamdi Kanu who is in detention.

Every week, lockdowns are imposed on residents of the region, which is often violently enforced and has affected its economy. Even so, electoral offices are attacked almost every other week. Reports say there are over 30 separatist groups in the region today.

Generally, it is believed that these agitations were embraced by the people of the region due to the political marginalisation the region has faced. Although the Igbo are among the three largest tribes in the country, they have not produced a Nigerian leader since 1966.

The region also has the lowest number of states and the smallest representation in national politics, which has deepened resentment.

Although the agitations are still very much present, Obi’s candidacy was seen as a ray of hope and this made cynical Igbo begin to believe in Nigeria so much so that Obi got 86.84% of the votes in the region. In Anambra State alone he got 95.24% of the total votes.

However, with Obi’s defeat and targeted attack at the Igbo, the Biafra message may resonate even deeper with the people of the southeast, says historian and public affairs commentator Abimbola Oyarinu.

“Beyond Lagos, the entire process has not given anyone confidence to be part of the Nigerian union and it will be tough for the next president to entrench himself in power especially since he didn’t get a convincing victory,” he tells The Africa Report.

More tension

With the loss suffered by Obi coupled with attacks on Igbo, surrogates of President-elect Bola Tinubu took to social media to rub salt into the wound.

“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,” Bayo Onanuga, a spokesman for Tinubu’s campaign, said on Twitter.

    If it [tension] is not halted and reversed, it will continue to escalate and it will ultimately lead to the kind of pogroms we saw in Nigeria in 1966 and the genocide we saw at Rwanda

Similarly, Femi Fani-Kayode, another spokesman for Tinubu’s campaign, said the Igbo who were not willing to bow to the will of the Yoruba people in Lagos should “get out”.

However, author and veteran journalist Chuks Iloegbunam says things could boil over if this is not dealt with carefully.

“If it [tension] is not halted and reversed, it will continue to escalate and it will ultimately lead to the kind of pogroms we saw in Nigeria in 1966 and the genocide we saw at Rwanda,” says Iloegbunam, who wrote the Biafra civil war book, General of the People’s Army (Independent, 2021).

The 71-year-old author, who himself witnessed the civil war, tells The Africa Report that it was unfortunate that days after the targeted attacks on the Igbo people in Lagos, there was no word from the central government.

Similarly, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, tells The Africa Report that there might be renewed agitation following the attacks on Igbo.

The leader of Ohanaeze, Damian Okeke-Ogene, who also witnessed the Nigerian civil war of the late 1960s, says the fact that policemen looked away while Igbo people were being attacked shows collusion.

“We are praying that what happened in the First Republic doesn’t happen again. What happened is a shame to Nigeria as the biggest democracy in Africa and shows failure of the government.

“It happened in [the] presidential election and it happened again in [the] governorship election while the police looked the other way. Don’t be surprised that there will be more agitations after the election,” Okeke-Ogene says.

Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, who polled 312,329 votes as declared by the electoral commission, has rejected the results, adding that he will be challenging Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s victory in court.

However, Governor Sanwo-Olu of the APC, who polled 762,134 votes, has called on the people of the state to unite and not allow tribalism to divide them.

How he intends to unite a deeply divided people after a violent poll remains to be seen.

Source:Ocnus.net 2023

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