If you’re an ordinary, economically disadvantaged, politically subjugated and socially excluded Nigerian, then you should Brace for Impact. You are about to be hit by a massive hurricane of heated, hate-filled and divisive utterances and gestures from your political leaders. They will claim to be doing this for you–your region, tribe or religion, but it’s not that difficult to see, and to know, that their motivation is one thing alone – power (for themselves) in 2019.
It’s not a coincidence that once general elections draw near, political unrest, in every shape and form, heighten across the country. At the moment, the Southeast is the centre-spread. There, the Nigerian Army embarked on an unwise and insensitive military exercise, Operation Egwu Eke II, that’s only succeeded in ratcheting up the unease created by the secessionist campaign of Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB supporters. Hate speech and sectarian violence are also growing in the North were fringe elements of the Arewa Group are campaigning to drive out Igbos from the region. These events have firmly focused the national conversation on divisive ethnoregional politics, which is a gift to our politicians, most of who, beyond ethnic and religious demagoguery, have nothing else to offer.
So, if you consider yourself as among the millions of ordinary men and women of this country, for many of whom making ends meet is a daily painful struggle, then you’re better off skimming through all your news sources and media channels for only political conversations that concern growing the economy, accelerating development, creating jobs and curbing poverty. If the politician or commentator, in print, online or on TV is “spitting fire and brimstone” about the region, ethnicity and religion, just log off. No good has ever come from such divisive sectarian politics. In fact, sectarianism constitutes a large part of the reason Nigeria has the largest number of people living in abject poverty in Africa, one of the worst access to basic facilities in the world and an abysmally high tendency for sectarian conflicts. The last 19 years demonstrate this perfectly.
Since 1999, every general election has been framed as a regional battle, for national power, between the largely Muslim North and Christian-dominated South. The prevailing logic is that if you’re a Southern Christian, then your default choice for President has to be the Southern Christian candidate of the major political party, except the running mate of the other guy is from “your side.” If you’re a northern Muslim, the same logic applies, and the benefit that you stand to gain is not the socioeconomic development that reaches you and other ordinary Nigerians, but that the President that will stack the Federal Government with elites from your region.
This logic is flawed and unfavourable to you as history, and the present times, have shown.
The past five general elections have produced two Southern Christian Presidents, Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, and the same number of Northern Muslim Presidents, Shehu Musa Yaradua and Muhammadu Buhari. Yet, the plight of the ordinary Nigerian, from the deep south to the far north, has marginally remained the same, or, as in the present dispensation, gotten worse. This means that all those who have killed and died in previous election battles, as villains or victims of riots and political bringandry, did so in vain. The same fate would befall those who, this time again, let themselves become pawns in the sectarian baiting of our politicians.
It’s understandably difficult, given the several layers of injustice and frustrations piled up on Nigerians, to totally shut oneself off the pervasive sentiments of ethnicity and religion in politics. But try you must, if you want to get through the next two years with fewer confrontations (at home, in the pubs or at your workplace) and lesser worries. Because the truth is, sectarian politics is a distraction posed by politicians to deflect your attention from the real issues that matter to you, that is, chiefly, the issues of your socioeconomic welfare. So, deny them the opportunity to duck from the conversations that they should be having on socioeconomic growth and development by refusing to give in to their ethnoreligiously divisive utterances and gestures. It’s only when you do this that you, as an ordinary Nigerian, win.