Nigeria Decides 2023: Nigerians must step away from politics of division
The last few weeks leading up to the elections in Nigeria have been fraught with very negative narratives, and the last days leading up to the Governorship elections in Lagos have been particularly harrowing and frankly speaking, very heartbreaking. Because of the political ambitions and greed of a few, we have seen the manipulative use of bigotry and ethnic hatred to divide what was a peacefully cohabiting and mutually beneficial economic and social community that is Lagos; Nigeria.
In recent times, we have witnessed scapegoating; politicians blaming a particular ethnic group and supporters of an opposition political party for all sorts of imaginary crimes and using this to appeal to the fears and frustrations of voters. We have seen polarization; with politicians and their party supporters using very divisive rhetoric to create an us-vs-them mentality, pitting one ethnic group against another. This has resulted in extreme tribalism, with voters identifying strongly with their own ethnic group and viewing others with suspicion or hostility.
These tactics are very unethical and harmful to democracy. A political party that seeks to take and hold on to power by any means necessary including state-sanctioned thuggery, violence and the encouragement of bigotry and ethnic hatred, can never form a legitimate and truly inclusive government. Politicians who use ethnic hatred to divide voters are appealing to the worst instincts of human nature, and their actions can have lasting negative effects on society.
The shameful reports of electoral violence and the deliberate and coordinated disenfranchisement of Igbo voters yesterday in Lagos is wrong; and to say it plainly, setting a dangerously evil precedent.
Bigotry and ethnic hatred have led to some of the worst atrocities in human history, including genocide, war, and oppression. Nigeria is not a stranger to the devastating effects of ethnic hatred. The 1966 pogroms in which an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 Igbo people were killed was a tragic and traumatic event in Nigeria’s history. The violence led to increased ethnic tensions in the country and contributed to the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War in 1967. That 3 year war resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1-3 million people, mostly Igbos.
Nigeria has still not completely healed from that conflict.
That is why it is completely selfish and evil for anyone to stroke the embers of ethnic hatred through the use of stereotypes, ethnic slurs, pushing of false narratives, uninformed and biased opinions because of political differences.
The outright discrimination and violence that have been meted out to fellow Nigerians of Igbo extraction is evil and must be stopped. These attitudes undermine the very fabric of our society, eroding the trust and mutual respect that are essential for social harmony.
As individuals, we can take steps to combat bigotry and ethnic hatred. We need to refuse to be manipulated and speak loudly against this evil everywhere. We need to deliberately examine ourselves, challenge our own biases, and speak out against prejudice when we encounter it.
The beauty of being Nigerian is how we can be diverse in our culture, lifestyles, languages, religions and beliefs but are still united in the love of our country and unique “Nigerianess”. Greedy politicians should not be allowed to take that away from us.
It is time to deliberately build bridges of understanding and dialogue between our different communities. Politicians clearly will not do it for us, so we must stand up for ourselves and speak up in defence of one another.
Above all, let us remember that we human together.
Fola Folayan is a Rwanda-based media consultant and communications strategist.