Ethnic profiling as dangerous campaign weapon, By Casmir Igbokwe

Last week, a certain Frederick Omondiale reacted to my piece on ‘Nigeria’s next president’ published last Monday. Writing via frederickomondiale@gmail.com, he said nasty things against the Igbo, how he hated them to his bone marrow and concluded that none of them would ever be President of Nigeria. His bitter diatribe partly reads, “How can you, but for being an Obi-diot, pick Peter Giringory Acabobo Obi over Asiwaju…? The thing about you Igbos is your propensity for stupidity! You’re poor strategists who would usually begin a campaign believing victory is already theirs, and this stupendous optimism and belief is based on nothing! Ojukwu did same, we know the result today, IPOB and now Obi. It would end in Obi-tuary…” Usually, it does not bother me when some unknown miscreants decide to swim in the gutter in the name of politics or hate speech.

But, there is a serious problem when columnists and senior media managers, who ordinarily should be enlightened minds, engage in similar fallacies, sweeping generalizations and dance of shame. Recall that the Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Nation newspaper, Sam Omatseye, had toed a similar path a few weeks ago. In his column titled ‘Obi-tuary’, he not only spewed lies against the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi, but also denigrated the entire Igbo race. According to him, Obi’s supporters “are a caterwauling group trying to seduce, without much success, those outside its ethno-religious tent.”

Reactions to Omatseye’s jaundiced and spurious piece were yet to die down when Segun Ayobolu came out with his own fatuous comment against the Igbo. In his article titled, ‘The Igbo, Peter Obi and 2023’, and published in the same The Nation newspaper on August 13, Ayobolu tried to make it look like Obi’s aspiration to be president is an Igbo project.  He did not link Bola Tinubu’s aspiration to a Yoruba project or Atiku Abubakar’s to a Fulani project for obvious reasons. Ayobolu added that “Obi’s presidential quest will be hurt by Kanu Nnamdi and his IPOB’s reckless and anarchic prosecution of their separatist Biafra agenda.” But he did not see the agitations of Sunday Igboho for the self-determination of the Yoruba race or the activities of the Fulani herdsmen as capable of hurting Tinubu and Atiku’s aspirations. He wonders “if the actualization of an Obi presidency will not afford Igbos the opportunity to seek to realise their ill-disguised imperial, expansionist ambitions in Lagos and possibly other urban agglomerations outside the South-East where they reside in substantial numbers.” This is pathetic!

More pathetic is the Facebook post by the Director, Media and Communications of the Bola Tinubu Presidential Campaign Organisation, Mr. Bayo Onanuga. According to him, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), disguised as #EndSARS protesters, were responsible for the destruction of Lagos assets in October 2020. “These are the same elements supporting Obi in Lagos, after substituting him with Nnamdi Kanu. Lagos will surely not forget these destroyers,” Onanuga said. I have also come across similar false narratives on the Internet, especially by the Tinubu Media Team.

These choreographed bitter write-ups are not a mere coincidence. It is a strategy. And the aim is to draw hatred against the Igbo and force them to engage in unnecessary verbal battles with other ethnic groups. They want to diminish the national movement canvassing support for Peter Obi’s emergence as President. Their fear is that Obi poses the greatest challenge to their candidate who said it’s his turn to become President.

In their attempt to cast a slur on an entire tribe and achieve cheap political gains, they forget that such stigmatization could ignite war or pogrom in a volatile society. Rwanda is a living example. The genocide that occurred in that country in 1994 was precipitated by Hutu extremists. They set up radio stations and newspapers urging their people to “weed out the cockroaches” (kill the Tutsi).What followed was the killing of about 800,000 people, mainly the minority Tutsi. It took the intervention of the then rebel group, Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led by the current President, Paul Kagame, and backed by the Ugandan army, to end the killings and restore order after about 100 days of crisis. Today, Rwandans are forbidden from identifying themselves by their ethnic origins.

The dangerous attempt to drag us to Rwanda will fail. Many good Nigerians across ethnic divides are in agreement that Obi is the man to rescue Nigeria at this critical moment in her life. Prominent among them is Pa Ayo Adebanjo, the leader of the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere. Across the streets of Abeokuta, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Owerri and many others, millions of people voluntarily come out to march for Obi.

The reason is simple. The former Anambra State governor towers above the other major candidates who have presented themselves for this coming election. People see in him a messiah who can rescue them from the catastrophe the ruling party has unleashed on them.

Economy-wise, Nigeria is bleeding. Currently, the rate of inflation has risen to 19.64 per cent. And it is still rising. Also climbing up the ladder are the rates of unemployment, poverty, hunger, and public debt. Our current debt profile is N41.6 trillion. It will rise further before the year ends. The black market exchange rate today is about N700 to a dollar. Hunger and poverty have knocked down almost 100 million Nigerians. Out of frustration, tens of thousands of professionals, especially medical doctors, have migrated abroad for greener pastures.

In today’s Nigeria, some university lecturers fry ‘akara’ and sell potatoes to survive. They have been on strike since February 14 this year and there is no end in sight to the strike. Students are the worst hit as many of them are frustrated sitting all day at home and doing nothing. Some have become salespersons to traders. Some have joined criminal gangs. Some have died. Those who gained admission in the 2021/2022 academic session are yet to matriculate. They have now been joined by the 2022/2023 new intakes. In a few months time, the 2023/2024 set will join. I am wondering how the university authorities will meander through this admission quagmire. I am also wondering how 20 million out-of-school Nigerian children (according to the latest global data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO) can be lured back to school.

Obviously, the current spate of insecurity in the country contributed to this poor school enrolment. From Chibok in Borno State to Dapchi in Yobe State; from Kankara in Katsina State to Kagara in Niger State; from Jangebe in Zamfara State to Kasarami in Kaduna State, thousands of innocent schoolchildren have suffered unimaginable trauma in the hands of kidnappers and terrorists.

In the larger society, the spate of insecurity is such that not even Aso Rock is safe anymore. Terrorists have boldly attacked supposedly well fortified places like prisons, barracks and some other military institutions. They even had the effrontery to threaten to kidnap our President. Mr. Muhammadu Buhari and the ruling party have no solution to all these.

So, how can anybody in his right senses still campaign for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its presidential candidate whose major claim to the presidency is that it is his turn? How can anybody who wants a change in the sorry state of this country still project characters who have put us where we are today? If not for selfish interests, how will any right thinking fellow convince Nigerians that a candidate who has questionable sources of income, origin, and academic certificates is better than a candidate who has verifiable certificates, well known origin and sources of income, as well as a track record of prudent management of public funds and resources?

As Obi had said, the 2023 election is not about ethnicity. It is not about religion. After all, Nigeria’s variegated problems did not choose any particular ethnic group or religion to attack. Almost everyone is affected. The election is about character, competence and the urgent need to rescue Nigeria which is currently on life support.

Nigerians have suffered enough. They want to take back their country. Unfortunately for those fanning the embers of primordial sentiments, they cannot stop the looming revolution.

Casmir first published this piece in the Daily Sun of Monday, September 5, 2022.

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