Election fever makes room for all kinds of possibilities, and more often than not, the atmosphere tends to reach boiling point.
Unfortunately, there are those who hijack the heated nature of the polity to express their xenophobia and misguided ethnic bias. Nigeria's general elections which held on Saturday February 23 was bedevilled by irregularities, from brazen bribery to lateness of electoral officers, from the malfunctioning of card readers to snatching of ballot boxes, but the anti-climax played out in parts of Lagos state, where thugs loyal to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) forcefully prevented people from exercising their franchise in areas mainly populated by Igbo residents. Wielding guns, machetes and sticks, they left no stone unturned in creating chaos, issuing threats in the lines of "go back where you are coming from if you won't vote APC" and "this is Lagos, not Abakaliki."
Things took an uglier turn when someone who had snatched ballot boxes was apprehended and beaten to a pulp by an angry mob. The victim of the mob action was apparently a memeber of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), and what followed was a series of Facebook posts and tweets threatening reprisal attacks against people of Igbo extraction. Social media was agog with threads and counter-threads bordering on ethnic divisiveness. It was a sad sight.
Worse still, there is no respite in sight. On the morning of Monday February 25, Oshodi market in Lagos was thrown in disarray as thugs reportedly prevented traders from opening their stores to begin commercial activities for the day. Video footage posted on Twitter showed armed security operatives trying to restore calm in the market. Noteworthy is the fact that these stores are occupied and operated by mostly Igbo traders.
Four years ago, the Oba of Lagos ran his campaign for Ambode along these ethnic lines, directing Igbos to either support the APC or "dive into the lagoon."
How long will this go on? How long will one ethnic group be made to feel like they are "immigrants" in their own country? Is national unity an illusion in these parts? There are Nigerians who have a few questions for Lord Frederick Lugard, and not without cause. Sure enough, the tribalist lot do not represent the entire group, but it would be helpful to acknowledge the existence of these deep-seated problems, not make (feeble) attempts at self-exculpation. Just as enlightened Caucasians work hard to call racists to order, same is required of the detribalised individuals on both sides to lead their uneducated brothers to the light.
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