When Nigeria’s first Nobel laureate in literature, Prof Wole Soyinka wrote his famous book: “The Man Died” in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny, I can imagine that the wordsmith never expected that he would be required by fair or foul to contextualize the central message in the book which is basically that a man dies if he does not speak out against tyranny.
But current events in our political firmament have drawn the sage in literature into the arena that has challenged him to release a couple of poisonous darts from his well-fortified arsenal against those he had termed fascist and specifically social media denizens and devotees of Mr. Peter Obi and Senator Datti Baba-Ahmed, presidential and vice-presidential candidates of the Labor Party, LP also known as ‘‘Obidients’’ who have been assailing him.
By speaking out against perceived injustice perpetrated by the Federal Government of Nigeria, FGN against the Igbos that degenerated into the civil war of 1967-1970, Prof Soyinka, a Yoruba man was taken into custody and held in detention by authorities.
His offense was that he attempted to take over a radio station by holding a gun to the head of a broadcaster with a view to forcibly compel his victim to allow him speak out against government just before the civil war that pitched the Igbos against the FGN.
It was while he was incarcerated that he wrote the book: “The Man Died” which is basically a prison note by a radical theatre arts lecturer from the premiere university in Nigeria, the University of Ibadan, UI.
It is amazing that over 50 years (1967-2023) after Prof Soyinka’s showdown with the authorities, history appears about to repeat itself as Senator Datti Baba-Ahmed, (also a university proprietor not a lecturer) like Prof Soyinka has gone to channels television(also a broadcast station) to air his grievances about what he deems as an act of tyranny -against him and the LP as a result of the unfavorable outcome of the presidential election, so he is demanding that government should not swear in the INEC declared winner of the 29 May contest as mandated by the 1999 constitution of the FGN.
The Baba-Ahmed outburst is in the manner that Soyinka attempted to denounce government in a rather violent manner by way of taking hostage a broadcaster in a radio station thereby threatening the corporate existence of Nigerian before he got apprehended and taken into custody. Most commentators have drawn that parallel-simplicita
While it might have been expected that it would be required of Prof Soyinka to be justifying the reasoning behind the theme of his seminal book in media interviews or during book reading sessions, as if in validation of the belief that life is very unpredictable, the renown poet has found himself in a situation in which he appears to be like a bull whose horns are caught in a thicket formed by a web of complex and complicated branches of trees packed densely together which is my simplest description of the Obidients.
To untangle himself, the erudite and revered Prof is demanding a television debate with Senator Datti Baba-Ahmed ,the vice presidential candidate of the insurgent political platform ,Labor Party, LP who seem to have borrowed a page out of Prof. Soyinka’s very prescient book by forcefully demanding that the candidate that has been declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC as president-elect, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, should not be sworn into office as president on 29 May as mandated by law.
It is an action that has been equated with Prof Soyinka’s speaking out against tyranny in 1967 and which landed him in hot waters, that is probably why the likes of my good friend Mr. Festus Keyamo, APC Presidential Campaign Council spokesman has on 23 March written a petition to the Directorate of State Security, DSS requesting it to apprehend the aggrieved LP vice presidential candidate, Senator Baba-Ahmed.
It may be recalled that the LP vice presidential candidate had spoken up against government via a television interview in the manner that Prof Soyinka attempted to seize a radio station to denounce government for similar case of injustice about a half century ago.
As lawyers always argue, no two (2) cases are the same.
That aphorism is derived from the belief that circumstances and time have roles to play in determining the appropriate actions to be taken or already taken in matters which appear to be similar in material, context and content.
It matters that Prof Soyinka attempted to speak out via a broadcast in a radio station during a military regime while Baba-Ahmed actually spoke out in an interview in a television station in a democratic dispensation.
Also it is critical to point out that while Soyinka never got round to actually speak out via a radio broadcast against injustice meted out to the Igbos as he had intended, so we have no idea what he really wanted to say, which also implies that we do not know whether he wanted to incite a street protest in the manner of a mob action against government or just air his grievances in the manner that Baba-Ahmed, did on Channels television on 22 March by demanding that the president-elect should not be sworn into office as president on the constitutionally scheduled date of 29th May.
We are all familiar with the genesis of the current spat which is sparked by the claim and counter claim that the 2023 elections (particularly the presidential contest), were rigged in favor of the presidential candidate if the ruling party that has been declared the winner.
Arising from the above, tension has been rising and falling between the Yoruba ethnic group of the ruling APC candidate that has been declared the winner of the presidential contest by INEC and the Igbos which is the ethnic nationality of the LP flag bearer that was placed in the third (3rd) position in the race to Aso Rock Villa.
The attention that the verbal and written exchanges between the Nobel laureate Prof Soyinka, and Senator Datti Baba-Ahmed has received in both virtual and real-life space, compels its characterization as Rumble in the Jungle. That is how the epic boxing bout between the legendary pugilists Mohammed Ali and George Foreman was branded when the world boxing dwell to determine who would be heavy weight champion of the world was staged in Kinshasa, Zaire in Africa back in 1974.
Although elections are supposed to be another form of war without guns, it is disheartening that politics in Nigeria is more often than not being turned into a blood sport. Based on experience, most election seasons in Nigeria come with significant peculiar changes in the process that are more often calamitous than salutary. So, as a people, Nigerians have been searching for improvements in the process of recruiting our political leaders.
That is why elections 2023 which is supposed to be the crowning glory of our evolving democratic process that is about to hit the milestone of continuous or back-to-back practice for twenty-four (24) years without a break, is turning out to be a harbinger of ethnic and religious conflicts.
It is more disappointing because technology in the form of Bimodal Voters Accreditation System, BVAS which was relied upon to deliver elections 2023 and was touted as a panacea to the past election malpractices that had dogged our electoral system, in the assessment of most Nigerians failed to live up to their high expectations.
It is on account of the identified malaise intrinsic in the ongoing conflict between the Igbos and Yorubas that manifested mainly in Lagos state leading to the Igbo/Yoruba spat wherein the Igbos residing in the state were allegedly intimidated by the Yoruba goons that prevented them from voting during the 18 March gubernatorial elections, that has put our country on edge.
By the same token, the allusion to religious war allegedly by Mr. Peter Obi in his conversation with Bishop David Oyedepo, General Overseer of Winners church during the run up to the nationwide presidential election of 25 February, has also been interpreted as weaponization of religion by Mr. Obi who was presumably caught on tape soliciting for Christian votes from Bishop Oyedepo. That incident now infamously dubbed ‘‘Yes Daddy Gate’’ is responsible for the political blow out that is literally sucking out all the oxygen of civility in our political space.
Obviously, the leaked or manipulated audio tape is tagged ‘‘Yes Daddy Gate’’ after the order of the infamous Water Gate scandal that rocked the US and led to the resignation of president Richard Nixon in 1974 when it was discovered that some thieves had broken into the Democratic National Party, DNC data base, carted away valuable data and the truth was leaked that there was a cover up by the president.
In Nigeria, a type of Water Gate scandal had also occurred when an alleged diversion of funds estimated to be about $2.1 billion was made against then National Security Adviser, NSA, Col Ahmed Dasuki by the current regime and the scandal was tagged ‘‘Dasuki Gate.’’ So, Nigerians are basically used to the effusion of putrefying scandals into the public space from time to time.
There are two (2) significant fall outs from elections 2023 that are preventing Nigerians from fully digesting or processing the outcome of the election exercise that should have been put behind us by now.
The first is the rift between the Yorubas that have been hosting the Igbos with a few or no irreconcilable differences leading to conflicts over the years until politics reared its ugly head in 2019 and the current election 2023 season. The second is the vice role that religion now plays in our politics which was hitherto mainly defined by ethic nationalism.
With ethnic nationalism becoming a significant factor in politics in Lagos and differences in religion taking on a life of its own nationwide, our beloved country maybe descending into an uncharted territory.
Two caustic yet informative commentaries written by Prof Soyinka and Mr. Femi Kusa individually and published separately in the traditional mass media and social media platforms recently reveal how deep the ongoing Yoruba/Igbo spat and the introduction of religion into Nigeria’s political milieu really is.
The first is the piece titled: “Fascism On Course” which is in defense of himself against the onslaught from Obidients following his condemnation of Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed’s television comments that is considered as incendiary by LP supporters.
Expectedly, the Nobel laureate practically took no prisoners “The refusal to entertain correctlve criticism, even differing perspectives of the same position has become a badge of honour and certificate of commitment. What is at stake, ultimately is – Truth, and at a most elementary level of social regulation: when you are party to a conflict, you do not attempt to intimidate the arbiter, attempt to dictate the outcome, or impugn, without credible cause, his or her neutrality even before hearing has commenced. That is a ground rule of just proceeding. Short of this, Truth remains permanently elusive.”
Prof Soyinka was unapologetic. Instead, he seemed sorely vexed by attacks from LP devotees that rule the social media space also known as the Obidients.
On his part, Mr. Femi Kuta who is a founding member of the Guardian newspaper and its first editor also took umbrage against the Igbos who the Yorubas, especially in Lagos believe are nursing territorial ambition of taking over Lagos state.
Here is how he expressed his outrage with a deep dive into the history of Lagos.
‘‘Two questions grossly unrelated to good or bad governance were the dominant questions in the Presidential and Governorship elections in Lagos.’’
He argued further by stressing that “These questions were:
WHO OWNS LAGOS? and, IS LAGOS A NO MAN’S LAND? Both questions are related.
“The Yorubas of South Western Nigeria say Lagos is their political capital and that LAGOS is not a NO MAN’S LAND. Ibos say LAGOS is NO MAN’S LAND.
Then he forcefully made his case with the foregoing inference “This means everyone can come to Lagos and do whatever he or she likes with Lagos. They cite the cases of Nigerians becoming Mayors in the United States. But they forget to remind us that the U.S IS NO MAN’S LAND because Europeans who fled their continent when life became unbearable for them there forcibly took the land from American Indians. In Nigeria, save for the Fulani conquest of the Hausa states, no other nationality conquered another and colonized it”.
At the end of his narrative, he was kind of conciliatory and sensitive to the interests of the Igbo settlers as he recognized that life should be guided by the principle of live and let live, therefore he seems to have cut settlers or strangers in Lagos some slack.
The vexatious issues that both media interventions addressed are in my assessment quite despicable and deserving of denunciation. So, the rebuttals are pungent and unfortunate because the crisis are avoidable and should not have been allowed to beset a metropolitan city like Lagos, or unravel a pivotal country such as Nigeria.
That is simply because Lagos state and Nigeria need their inhabitants to be united in order to enjoy the benefits of their large size advantage, made possible by the multiplicity of ethnic nationalities that make up the state and country.
By and large, the trigger for the fiasco in Lagos is the parentage of the LP candidate Mr. Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour whose mother is an Igbo woman who married a dye-in-the-wool Lagos indigene Mr. Akinwunmi Rhodes-Vivour with a family tree that has tap roots in Lagos.
The purity of ethnicity of a potential governor of Lagos was weaponized in 2023 because it was the most vulnerable underbelly which the ruling party could explore to win over the hearts and minds of Lagosians, more so because the LP candidate also has as a wife who is an Igbo lady. To the ignorant voters only indigenes with both parents from Lagos can rule over them, as such, none indigenes should not be voted for.
It is a wrong mindset planted by politicians with nihilistic inclinations and which from experience is not the attitude of Lagosians (at least in the recent past) that have long made their home a melting pot for all Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike to thrive. That is what has conferred on it the status of being the foremost business hub in the entire west African sub-region.
And the exploitation of the presumed weakness of promoting the notion of Lagos for only indigenous Lagosians is the existential issue that triggered the ethic rivalry between the Yorubas and Igbos in Lagos which must be countered as soon as the winner of the contest commences its renewed mandate, because it is actually an abnormal occurrence.
The assertion above is underscored by the fact that on the several occasions that Mr. Jimmy Agbaje contested for the office of governor of the state, on the platform of PDP, since both his parents are Lagosians, the type of Igbo/Yoruba acrimony that has defined the 18 March gubernatorial elections never arose. So hopefully, the current feud is a one-off incident.
And it is envisaged that it would not happen again once both the Igbos and Yorubas accept the realities and protocols of host/indigenes and settlers’ relationship.
All over the world it is foreigners that often help develop cities, states, regions and nations not necessarily the indigenes. That is why the US and Canada in particular are annually processing diversity programs aimed at attracting the best brains and skills from around the world.
ln fact the footprints of the UK and US in the development of some Middle East countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait are unmistakable. So, also are the UK and US responsible for the industrial development of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan in the far eastern region of the world.
My point is that it is on record globally that foreigners play critical roles in helping cities and countries grow economically.
And often, the migration of people from one country and culture to the other leads to the blending of cultures that produce people of mixed heritage.
That is the reason there are Irish, African, Jewish, Chinese, and Indian Americans amongst others. It is also why there are Nigerian, Indian, Pakistani, Iranian and Lebanese that are also British.
The aphorism: ‘‘no man is an island runs true here.’’
Arising from integration of people from distinct origins that converge in distant locations in search of better socio-economic opportunities, the prime minister of the UK today, Mr. Rishi Sunak is originally from India. Even as the current major of London Sadiq Khan is originally from Pakistan.
Similarly, President Joe Biden of the US has Northern Ireland heritage-a country that he is currently visiting. The same applies to former President Donald Trump of the US whose ancestry is also traceable to Scotland in the United Kingdom, UK. So, also is the first African American president of the US, Barack Obama whose father is of Kenyan descent who married the American (Hawaiian) mother of President Obama.
In the light of the above, the earlier our political leaders enlightened their followers about the realities catalogued above, the better for our country which cannot afford to play politics with the highly combustible issue of ethnic supremacy with its allied horrendous and grave consequences.
Regarding the abuse of religion as reflected by the ‘‘Yes Daddy Gate’’ revelation, I had in fact expressed concern about the potential danger of presidential candidates marketing themselves on the basis of religion in an article titled: “Presidency 2023, Obi-Dients and Weaponization Of Christianity”, first published in this column and social media platforms on 18 august last year, where I made the following observations:
“While not being unmindful of the fallout of Muslim-Muslim presidency ticket by the ruling APC and the riling up of Christians who feel that they are about to be erased from Aso Rock Villa if APC is voted back with Muslim president and Vice President, I worry about the consequences of weaponizing Christianity by Obi and his supporters who have been visiting churches – Dr. Paul Enenche’s Dunamis Church in Abuja and Pa Enoch Adeboye’s Redeem Christian Church of God Camp in Lagos – where men and women of God have been giving him rousing welcome, even as some online video footages of pastors where they are quoting Bible verses to validate their support for the LP candidate have been trending”.
I further made the argument below:
“Thus, wittingly and unwittingly, the church is being dragged into the arena of politics in Nigeria which in my view bodes no good to the body of Christ as it might amount to desecrating the house of God and it could even set Christians and Muslims on a collision path. More so as it has the tendency to exacerbate the negative energy which the APC standard bearer Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his running mate, Kashim Shettima, Muslim-Muslim ticket is already eliciting.
“Contrast Mr. Obi’s cavorting with men and women of God in their sanctuaries alongside their congregation to the presidential candidates of the three other political parties – Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso that are front runners and Muslims, but are not directly or indirectly campaigning in mosques.
I had pointed out that; “Not even Peter Obi’s running mate senator Datti Ahmed, also a Muslim is openly visiting mosques to lobby fellow Muslims, directly or indirectly”.
Continuing, I stated that “I recognize and commend Mr. Obi’s determination to appear detribalized by making his quest for the presidency a pan-Nigeria initiative, hence he has resisted attempts to make his campaign an Igbo agenda by distancing himself from Ohaneze Ndigbo, Indigenous People of Biafra, IPoB and other Igbo-centric agendas, which is good.
“Nevertheless, I would like to respectfully advise Mr. Peter Obi’s camp to borrow a leaf or two from the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama who avoided being cocooned into becoming or being cast as a black candidate during his run for the office of president in 2008 by dissociating himself from rhetorical comments about his race by the pastor of the church in Chicago where he worshipped.”
Then l referenced experiences of politicians in other climes by pointing out that:
“The deployment of that strategy helped in many ways to bolster Obama’s ‘there is no such thing as black, brown or white America’ element in his famous speech to the Democratic Party convention as he was commencing his race to the White House which he won in 2008.
“Also, does the LP flagbearer’s romance with the churches not vitiate his strategy of detaching himself from the Igbos, and could it not pitch Christians who are showing open preference for him against Muslims who may be wary and therefore cast their votes against Obi’s run for the presidency even when one of their own is Obi’s running mate?”, l inquired.
“Without a doubt, the presidential candidates of the other political parties who are Muslims are consulting and courting members of their faith, but in more nuanced ways.
Is there nothing in the approach of other presidential flag bearers to guide Obi’s camp? Can ‘Obi-Dients’ be less noisome and more strategically subtle?” I wondered aloud?
I then cautioned that “If Obi comes across to Nigerians as solely enjoying the confidence of Christians, how about lfeanyi Okowa, governor of Delta state and vice-presidential candidate of the PDP who is also a Christian? Would Christians ditch him?”.
The position above was taken as far back as august last year when l expressed the views which is an advice that Mr. Obi should have taken to heart and thus save himself and the nation the current stress.
In the same piece l had also nursed fears that there could be negative effect on the nation if the opinion polls that kept suggesting that the LP candidate would win the presidency that are mere opinions of the pollsters, are allowed to fester, as they appeared not have been produced via technically sound polling process.
And I had also cautioned that the Obidients may end up being Mr. Obi’s Achilles heels as they would likely turn the tide of public opinion against him because of their rabid behavior, when more Nigerians start deciphering their subterfuge, unless he reins them in. Now, that moment appears to be here.
My prediction in similar write ups on election 2023 was that if proper care was not taken, 6th January 2020 type election deniers’ mentality that drove president Trump’s supporters into violent frenzy after the last US presidential election that degenerated into the controversy that culminated into the invasion of the US Capitol which is the seat of the legislature in the world’s foremost democracy, may be replicated in Nigeria.
Given that the world is now a global village owing to advancements in telecommunications interconnectivity facilitated by the internet, it was unsurprising that the sort of political uprising unleashed on the US Capitol on 6 January 2020 was re-enacted in Brazil after the general elections in 2022 whose result was also disputed violently by the supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, incumbent president at the time who was declared the loser and Lula Da-Sylva, the returning former president, that was declared the winner of the polls. It is sad that such a dark cloud seems to be hovering in the horizon over our cherished country.
Over all, religion has never really divided Nigerians in politics in the way it is about to, hence the South-east and south-south have always been the voters support base of the PDP irrespective of whether a Muslim or Christian, northerner or southerner was the presidential candidate of the party, until elections 2023 which has upended the status quo.
To cure the evolving malady about to become a scourge in our country, if not nipped in the bud, reigniting the National Orientation Agency, NOA that is meant to promote ethnic harmony and the National Youth Service Corp, NYSC also aimed at bringing our youth together by living and working in environments and locations not indigenous to them in order to blend culturally with people in their host communities, should be the priority of the incoming government.
By all indications the broken fabric of unity of our beloved country needs to be rewoven very quickly before it becomes tattered and not amenable to mending.
Hopefully, the current unease would end up only as a war of words or intellectual firestorm which it currently is and would not degenerate further into physical violence.
That is because I believe that sooner than later, elders in both Yoruba and Igbo nations as well as senior clergymen and clerics from Christendom and the Islamic world respectively from across the country, would step up to the plate to douse the tension casting dark clouds and shadows over Nigeria.