By Cheta Nwanze
A few months ago, the governor of Kaduna State, in his typically blunt manner, said that Lagosians should get a free pass to heaven because they live in hell on earth. His exact words: “I don’t know how people in Lagos survive. Everyday, four hours in traffic for five days. I don’t know if Saturdays and Sundays are enough for them to rest. That is why I feel that all those that have lived in Lagos for 20 years should just go straight to heaven because they have already lived in hell. Honestly, they have paid their dues so they should just be given free pass.”
If you want to hear his words, watch the video here. I took the liberty to start the link from the point where Mr El-Rufai, unprompted, laid into Lagos.
For the record, I completely agree with Mr El-Rufai on this. I am one of the lucky Lagosians that work at an organisation that, after seeing what was possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, decided that coming to the four walls of an office is not the only way to work. This means that I have to go into the office only twice a week, and like my other colleagues, I have seen the benefits of not sitting in traffic for hours on end every day. Goddey for example, no longer complains about the long hours he spends in traffic coming to the office.
To underscore the point, my organisation did a study a few years ago about the cost of traffic to Lagosians: the effect is bad. Heck, in putting together that report, we spoke with kids in the Badagry area of Lagos who do not see their parents during the week. In one family we spoke to, the eldest child (of four kids) at the time was 13, and she was responsible (more or less) for raising her siblings as both parents worked in low-wage jobs on Victoria Island, meaning that they left the house very early on Monday mornings, and returned very late on Friday evenings. We are building social problems for the future. But this piece is not about Mr El Rufai, or traffic in Lagos. It’s about something I saw this morning.
Ilemona Onoja, a PDP operative and member of the Atiku Abubakar campaign team, who happens to be a good friend of mine, had, in the manner natural to politicians, dredged up Mr El Rufai’s speech in a tweet. Someone replied, “Let the anambra pple leave first …weather it will be better afterall anambra is better. (sic)” The conversation that followed is interesting.
Leaving the cringe-worthy spelling aside, going through the chap’s Twitter timeline, it becomes immediately clear that the person behind that handle is an APC supporter. It is also clear that this person is doubling down on something that has become a clear part of the Tinubu campaign strategy – emphasising on the ethnicity of Peter Obi, the Labour Party candidate, as a negative.
I have written extensively about the Igbophobia that has existed as almost an unwritten policy of the current government, so I will not dwell on it other than to point out that Mr El-Rufai, of the Fulani ethnic group, is the governor of Kaduna. Mr Onoja, who is an ethnic Igala, identifies as being from Kogi State. It is very interesting that the character that came at him tried to bring in Anambra, and Igbo state. It speaks to something that has been an uncomfortable part of the Tinubu campaign thus far.
Many Igbo people on social media have been guilty of ethnic-based politicking. Many Yoruba people on social media have been guilty of ethnic-based politicking. Many people from Arewa on social media have been guilty of ethnic-based politicking.
These are facts that can’t be denied, and what is more, such acts are more or less inevitable in a fake country made up of many nations forced to squabble over scarce resources. I find it interesting that repeatedly, members of the Tinubu campaign never react to ethnic-based campaigning from Arewa, but routinely attack all Igbos including those who are not involved in any way in Peter Obi’s campaign. Many of them even go out of their way to project things done by Arewa people on Igbos. Witness the character in today’s Twitter exchange calling Ilemona an “Obidient.”
For me, this is a matter of principle. I have publicly stated my concerns about an Obi presidency. I have publicly stated my concerns about an Atiku presidency. However, I am OK with victory for either of them for the simple reason that the APC has failed. There are many things I have against a Tinubu presidency, but what counts against it first is this: he represents a party that has f****d Nigeria up for eight years. You can’t reward failure. We rewarded failure in 2019, look where we are now. In addition to that, the signs around Tinubu are not good. The man is clearly unwell and incapable of coping with the strains of the office. In the last 15 years we have had two occasions where the President was ill and incapable of discharging his official duties. Neither went well for the country. Why should we with clear eyes walk into another such situation? It makes no sense.
A word to Arewa people: the Tinubu crew are looking away from your jibes because they believe that they need your votes. They have clearly discounted the South-East, hence Tinubu’s actions during his “consultation” in which he visited various states in Arewa, and various states in the South-West, but then turned around and told South-East APC leaders to come to Abuja and consult with him.
As an electoral strategy, that is fine. The South-East traditionally has the lowest number of registered voters (about 45% of Igbos in Nigeria live outside of Igboland), and layered on that is that the region traditionally has low voter turnout. I repeat, as an electoral strategy, especially if you want to play Mason-Dixon-type politics, it is fine. You do not stress an old man who is ill with visits to places that have “limited” electoral value. But the way the Tinubu guys react to Igbo people and un-look Arewa jibes, do not for one second think that if they get what they want, they will not finally react to your mad jibes.
To all Nigerians, what the Tinubu campaign is trying to do is to create a siege mentality first among his supporters, and then among his ethnic fellow Yoruba people. From a strategic viewpoint, it is a fine strategy. What you need to understand though is this: however the next elections turn out, regardless of who wins, Nigeria is faced with a difficult four years. If you think things are bad now, let’s resume this discussion at the end of 2024. Both Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi have spoken about the mess we are in. What we have heard from Tinubu is silence, and multiple Houdini acts. The man has shown us how he would govern. He would not speak to us, and when we make more demands, he will disappear, and his supporters would actively try to turn us on each other. A word is enough for the wise.
Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence