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2023 election and the tribalisation of public discourse

By Taju Tijani
29 September 2022   |   2:42 am
Tribal emotions are running high. The autopilot of tribal affiliations is throttling ahead of the volatile 2023 elections across Nigeria

INEC

Tribal emotions are running high. The autopilot of tribal affiliations is throttling ahead of the volatile 2023 elections across Nigeria.

Yoruba and Ndigbo are running to their tribal tents in a show of solidarity that is daily confounding the national myth that diversity unites us. Oh no. Not in this election.

There seem to be tribal genuflections among the chattering classes that are daily gaslighting any semblance of detribalised impulses. Our tongues are truly different in the preparations for the coming election. We know the road to our villages- our clan, heritage, family, and genetic bloodline. We are now watching as tribal hostilities and clannish narratives are heating up public discourse as we sail to the precipice of the 2023 election.

Developing a tribal ecosystem is one of the defining markers of this coming election. To your tent, O Israel is an understatement. Unrefined tribalism is staring us in the face. We show it online and offline. Emeka knows where Peter Obi is. Kunle knows the road to Bola Tinubu. Danladi knows how to get to Abubakar Atiku. The cauldron of clannish sentiment is boiling like a hot ‘ogbono’ stew. 2023 election has given us the liberty to normalise the abnormality of tribe in our political permutations and alliances.

One Prophet Israel Oladele of Genesis Church categorically, if shamelessly, said that he will never vote for Peter Obi when Bola Tinubu, his clan’s man, is a contender. Here him: “Omo eni o sedi bebere… I cannot be a Yoruba boy and vote for Ibo boy. I will vote for Tinubu. I will support Tinubu. If you like it or not, I don’t care. You know me I am not afraid. Journalists hear me. If you want to write, write. I cannot be a Yoruba boy and vote for Ibo. I am not afraid. I am not eating from Tinubu money. I have not asked him for money, and I will never ask for his money. We Yoruba are now against Yoruba.”

By example, he called out a lady of Igbo extraction and a member of his church to the pulpit. “You, who are you going to vote for?” the pastor-inquisitor asked. Without hesitation, the lady answered Peter Obi. Then manna dropped from heaven for Oladele. “You see what I am talking about, no matter what, Igbo will never abandon their own. They are ever supportive and loyal to their own.” He then asked for the lady’s bank account and promised to send money the next day for being true to her own tribe.

Not to be left out of the tribal fray, Nigerian singer, writer and social activist, Charly Boy launched his own tribal tirade against the Yoruba. Hear him: “Almost 70yrs I have lived, I have never heard any story of my Yoruba brothers being harassed or terrorized in the eastern part of this country. Why is the reverse the case in the west What offence did their Igbo brothers commit to always be targeted any time election draws near.”

Political harlot and delinquent, Femi Fani-Kayode also enlisted for the tribal trenches where he launched an abysmal rocket on Peter Obi. “Your sickness has deluded you into thinking that you can be President when deep down you know that you do not have a hope in hell of winning even up to 10% of the vote in any state.” He continued by stating that Obi is not trustworthy, nor does he have integrity as a person. He said Obi’s action is also capable of triggering a tribal war between the Igbo and Yoruba tribes in Nigeria.

What is at play as election day draws near is the near-universal submission to the deadly snare of tribal shibboleths among ordinary and influential Nigerians.

Tribal merchants and apologists have invaded the cyberspaces with antagonistic clannish chutzpa as to wonder where common sense and rationality are. There is irrational tribal apologetics that seems to be resurrecting Stalinesque cropping of propaganda that speaks to language solidarity, tribal jingoism, veiled threat, heritage discourse and historical muddle of the civil war designed to fuddle supporters into supporting their own than sell out to others.

What has become noticeable from the public domain is the total absence of clinical and dispassionate analysis of the leading candidates on offer – Atiku, Obi and Tinubu.

In the place of cold dissection, we are re-embracing the futility of the ancient but silent animosity between the Igbo and Yoruba. Washed-up Internet commentators are focussing more on tribal discourse than the knotty political quagmire we are battling against.

The Obidients are accused of using mob and lynch attacks on Yoruba critics of Peter Obi. Ndiobidient kwenu… biko, calm things down a bit! Hate between the two tribes is rearing its sentimental head all over again. Yoruba and Ndigbo tribal warriors are now infecting and endangering the public sphere with overwhelming polemics on why this election is purely tribal warfare between the two antagonistic tribes. Shame!!!

Unedifying as it is, there is a historical narrative to this tribal shenanigan. Over the years, Yoruba have developed “knowing” character traits of Ndigbo. They have nurtured dangerous mythology of the Igbo character, and this has continued to hobble any chance of trust, solidarity, and unity between the two tribes.

First, the Yoruba believe that Igbo republicanism has given them a ruinous perception of themselves as superior to other tribes. This has continued to create a crisis of confidence and acceptance among the Yoruba. Yoruba believe that Igbo’s superior mentality and self-nobility have always made full assimilation with Yoruba an impossibility.

Second, the Yoruba have inbred animosity toward Igbo because of the baton of the first among the best being held buy Ndigbo. Yoruba believe that Ndigbo have a strange infallibility when it comes to intellectual, economic, social, cultural, and political comparison with the Yoruba. There is palpable anger against the Igbo’s supreme sense of self-assurance that speaks to being born to lead the Yoruba and not the other way round.

Third, the Yoruba respect the nomadic, pioneering, and adventurous spirit of an average Ndigbo. However, they frown at Igbo’s desire to hoist Biafran flags on all Yoruba territories they cynically called No Man’s Land. Here they accuse the Igbo of greed and tribal hubris. They believe that Igbo cultural mooring will never allow a Yoruba man to live freely in Iboland as they do in especially Yoruba land.

The Yoruba tribal gladiators are overwhelmingly self-assured that Igbo cannot produce a leader like Obasanjo who showed expansive statesmanship, inclusion, and accommodation of Igbo people in his administration. Obasanjo worked with Oby Ezekwesili, Okonjo-Iweala, Dora Akinyuli, Charles Soludo and other Ndigbo. Lagos State, to the Yoruba purists, has always accommodated Igbo in its administration since the time of Bola Tinubu. To Yoruba, such an expansive and accommodating spirit is antithetical to the Igbo tribal worldview.

Many of the Tinubu followers are of the opinion that Igbo will not intermarry with Yoruba and that Igbo have zero trust for the Yoruba as a friend, colleague, neighbour, associate, and business partner. Also, there is an accusation of Ndigbo intimidating arrogance and self-deification that disallows respect for the Yoruba people who accommodate them in their homelands. Further, Igbo collective dislike of Obafemi Awolowo is further seen as evidence of hate for the Yoruba. The two sides are forever sounding the drum of uneasy tribal tantrums that hang on delicate toleration.

For the Yoruba, Igbo must learn how to relate in binary dimensions – inwardly with themselves and outwardly with others. The Yoruba tribal champions are also saying that Igbo must repackage and reinvent themselves and come down from that golden horse of “I better pass other tribes” syndrome – an aching faultline.

As we walk into the 2023 election, the Tinubu/Obi tribal tussle has opened a gaping absence of lateral thinking in both tribes. We gamble our shared destiny away through a mutually induced hatred for one another’s shadow. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo’s political fallibilities have become a generational curse on all living Igbo and Yoruba. The trouble with the Igbo and Yoruba tribalists is their blindness to see that we are our own worst enemies.

To this writer, Yoruba are not the political enemy of Igbo. Igbo are not the political enemy of Yoruba. Our old blinkers must be removed considering Fulani’s agenda to make Yoruba and Ndigbo their indentured slaves through the unhealable mutual hatred that sets us against one another.

The Aka Ikenga, the pan Igbo think tank, could initiate a national reconciliatory conversation that speaks to our collective strength and similarities. We must initiate a warm conversation of mutual cooperation and close our febrile animosity, identity politics and generational distrust. We must rise to the challenges of our tribal complexities and reject primordial descent into tribal silos. We must close the tribal echo chamber that is becoming louder as we approach what seems like Nigeria’s most tribally fuelled election in our history.

Tijani lives in London.