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Nigeria decides 2023: The next big thing is the census not March 11

By Dolapo Aina
07 March 2023   |   4:45 pm
Part One: Lagos First things first, I don’t do politics and I clear the air and clear assumptions when I have to write on political themes, I stopped writing about since 2019. The Presidential election which held in Nigeria has come and gone but the political intricacies of that week still linger on. Several political…

A voter casts her ballot at a polling station in Egbeda, Lagos on February 25, 2023, during Nigeria’s presidential and general election. (Photo by Benson Ibeabuchi / AFP)

Part One: Lagos

First things first, I don’t do politics and I clear the air and clear assumptions when I have to write on political themes, I stopped writing about since 2019. The Presidential election which held in Nigeria has come and gone but the political intricacies of that week still linger on. Several political and ethnic incidents played out. I would skip the political incidents and touch briefly on the one major incident which reared its hydra-headed minotaur appearance.

And the focus on this major re-occurrence is because one understands the import of such reckless descent. If you have visited the Genocide Memorials in Kigali and other parts of Rwanda, you would grasp the ramifications of hate speech. Ironically, I had written pieces in 2015 during Nigeria’s elections and drawing similarities from what I saw at the Kigali Genocide Memorial back then when I was visiting Rwanda. And now in 2023, during Nigeria’s elections, I find myself writing about the same occurrences in Nigeria. Following proceedings from Kigali, Rwanda like the over 200 million Nigerians, you wonder if a lot of actors have not played in the graveside of reputation.

You begin to ruminate if anything changed from 2015 to 2023 with regards worrisome remarks. You found it online via social media posts and via Whatsapp groups. The online keyboard warriors (millennials and Generation Z) who usually get paid to stoke the embers of discord were contesting with their baby boomer comrades who were in Whatsapp groups spreading age-long tribalistic views and ethnic bigotry.

Both camps outdid each other for the numero uno spot for most vile ethnic comments in a long while. Why was this so? Why was it that what is usually hushed in private discussions became public discourse? One could deduce that it was due to the fact that it was the first time in a long while that the major presidential candidates were from the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria. The vocalised diatribes laced with ethnic bigotry that one read was nothing short of mindboggling. And for a city of Lagos’ stature, prestige, history and enlightenment, the vociferous and combustible comments leave you bewildered and labouring under a misapprehension.

Anyone who knows and understand the history of countries in the mould of Rwanda and The Genocide Against The Tutsi where more than a million Tutsi were killed in a spate of 100 days. Not forgetting The Genocide which took place in Namibia and perpetrated by German soldiers during the turn of 19th Century (1904 and 1908), where more than 80% of the Herero population and 50% of the Nama population of Namibia were killed by German soldiers. If you knew the ramifications of what occurred in both countries, even the thought of ethnic hate speech would be avoided as one cannot teleguide the numerous fall-outs. It is disheartening to read from individuals who should know better than to descend into tribalism especially in a city like Lagos.

The founder and chairman of Proshare Nigeria, Mr. Olufemi Awoyemi in his lucid social media posts on Sunday, the 5th of March 2023 stated thus: “If Lagos is to become the Lagos of our dreams, she must first become free from ethnic segregation. Above is my play on Santosh Kalwar’s words, while describing Nepal. As difficult as this may be for some to process at this time, we only progress based on Strength-In-Numbers. That said, I do think all men of goodwill can rise beyond the emotional state some have dragged us into. This mindset, however, must equally apply to others who seek progressive development in their states to bring about the nation-state we collectively desire.”

Part Two: Census

In February 2022, I had written an article titled “Letters From Lagos, Nigeria: What My Eyes Have Seen And What My Ears Have Heard”; after an interesting discussion with a close friend (in the notorious traffic jam on Allen avenue road, Ikeja, Lagos in December 2021) who understands Nigerian politics because this individual is a young card-carrying party member. This individual’s insights were spot on about the primaries and who would emerge then in the ruling party’s primaries. And this individual was spot on, again; months before the presidential election.

The presidential election of Saturday, February 25, 2023 offered the electorate a glimpse of a new Nigeria and also a glimpse of the founder of a new Nigeria (hard to believe but true.) Why? Wait for it. Electoral maps were broken and blown to smithereens; myths were demystified and broken like calabashes; the lack or absence of accountability and consequences was broken; the Muslim-Muslim ticket myth was thrown out of the window. Everyone now understands that politicians are now accountable and it is no longer business as usual. You are answerable to your constituency. What the people want is now the centre of attraction. The people cum electorate are now the beautiful bride.

Also, the court processes would be tested in ways not probably seen in a long time. The Labour Party Movement has the opportunity to become the new and tangible opposition as the party has disrupted the political status quo. As seen in Lagos State and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. The economic and political representation which is known of Lagos and Abuja for decades had a different tune this time around and for several factors which I would leave out of this piece for party members and insiders to dissect by themselves. And that economic and political representation by Lagos and Abuja reflects the mood. They understand the need and growth for change, real change. A word is enough for the wise.

It is now as glaring as the sun that nobody is going to serve his or her constituency without looking over his or her shoulders. The electorate would ask questions that have to be answered convincingly. The electorate now understand they can swing votes to and from politicians.

Few questions to ask; isn’t the academia illegitimising themselves? Shouldn’t logistics operations be handed over to tried and tested logistics firms who know their craft?

In another post, Mr Olufemi Awoyemi stated that; “The 2023 National Population and Housing Census will be held from March 29 – April 1, 2023. Analyst Proshare reason that this is perhaps the most consequential socio-political event in the country for which fewer entities than required, are paying attention. The ensuing distractions has taken away the required focus and planning required from/by communities to get ahead of the CENSUS imperatives which would determine/form the basis of development, resource allocation, revenue sharing and electoral positioning. The timing and the focus on elections, without prejudice, has not allowed for a proper interrogation of the process, rules and verification/validation ethos of the census figures which will drive activities in the next decade or two. It is important that the focus be shifted back to the ground-norm of political, economic and social development of sub-nationals within the Federation and its units. We will remain vigilant and so should you. We will expand on this in the next few days to allow the people know why this will be the most decisive action you are engaged in as a citizen.”

At this juncture, let me state that Nigerians may bend but we don’t break. Why don’t we break? Our resilience is cultural. Get this, Generation Z has an advantage of having a clear future, they aren’t carrying any old baggage of ethnic biases and ethnic bigotry. The barriers that baby boomers and millennials faced which came to the fore during the presidential election; aren’t faced by the Generation Z; that is why they have tasted what the power of block voting can propel. But they would still have to learn the strategic thinking of the baby boomers who patiently play long-term.

Our can-do-spirit is our relevance and the Generation Z have understood this. Everyone now understands that “we don’t need structure is the new structure.” And the citizens and Generation Z understand this as they simply disrupted the political status quo to a considerable degree. Thereby bringing to the fore the fact that Nigeria has a unique opportunity to direct the path of democracy for Africa (Pan-Africanism.)

Nations evolve due to processes. Efidi Bina Jennifer (the lady who at a polling unit in Surulere, was beaten by thugs and sustained a nasty injury on her right eye by an urchin who can traced) is the clearest example of our can-do-spirit. Heroism in Nigeria is about regular people doing good things and deeds. Nigerians can recognise the moment and seize the moment. It is about a journey, the zeal to continue the journey and to get to the destination of the journey.

Real thinking and strategising (which the old order possess) which the electorate must now possess requires calmness. BVAs (Biometric Voter Accreditation System) allowed Nigeria to know who really voted and the same presidential election energy should be used for the census. Why the census? Well, real thinking dictates that the next big thing is the census not the elections on March 11.

Dolapo Aina writes from Kigali, Rwanda.