Ethnic profiling and 2023 campaigns
weeks until the official kickoff of the 2023 presidential campaigns, the signs of what is to come are becoming clearer. And disturbing! Nigerians might have a bad deal, possibly worse than they have, if the morning, as they say, determines the day. Ethnic smears and recriminations can dominate public engagements, in place of thematic campaigns.
Presidential campaigns are a kind of carnival. These are occasions for glamour, for showing off eloquence and style. But in addition to the parallel shows, these are moments of assessment, reflection and definition of the future of the country. This is why presidential debates and manifesto parties are generally taken seriously in advanced democracies.
These are ways for candidates to market themselves and their parties to the people and tell them what to expect of them if elected to office. Whatever statements flag bearers make about such occurrences are considered criteria against which they would be measured during their tenure. For the incumbent, they offer opportunities to brandish their gains, while the opposition takes advantage of the showcase to denounce the mistakes of the ruling party and project itself as the alternative.
An episode of the 1980 American presidential election provides a good illustration of this. In the final week of campaigning between ruling Democratic Party nominee President Jimmy Carter and Republican nominee Ronald Reagan, the two have been thrown into debate. During the exercise, Reagan asked what has become one of the most important campaign questions of all time: “Are you better today than you were four years ago?” Carter’s answer was a resounding “NO”. That response was what voters needed to deny him re-election, but America as a country won in the long run. That’s the beauty of presidential campaigning.
As the Independent National Electoral Commission prepares to lift the campaign seal, one would expect the presidential candidates of the country’s major political parties and their foot soldiers to address such important issues. The presidency is the hardest job in the world, says American essayist John Dickerson in his article on the White House. It prescribes that when the national fabric tears, the President shall administer the needle and thread, or at least reach the unit’s sewing box. This is a great lesson for those who aspire to the office.
But that’s not what we’re getting here, so far. Rather, they are campaigns of slander and regurgitation of primordial feelings. The use of ethnicity is more dominant. Instead of questioning and analyzing the contents of presidential candidates’ statements, their personalities and their pedigrees, questions of regions of birth are put forward, obviously to divide the people.
In Lagos, for example, the campaigns drift from the challenges facing the country to such an ephemeral topic as city ownership. In the process, drinking common jokes or flippant jokes by cowardly spirits are cited as reasons to profile others and accuse them of trying to take over the state. Since the emergence of Labor Party (LP) presidential candidate Peter Obi and the momentum he generated, particularly among young people and oppressed Nigerians, there have been waves of insinuations about the Igbo for “conspiring to covet Lagos State”. Suddenly, the Igbo claim that “Lagos is no man’s land” grew and penetrated. Supporters of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Bola Tinubu, are firing relentlessly on this.
But it’s a trick. There is no space that can be called “no man’s land”. Each entity has an indigenous population with certain claims of ownership or autochthony. Lagos cannot be an exception. No matter how long an Igbo or any other non-indigenous has resided in Lagos, he remains a visitor.
Alongside this is the lazy recollection of subjective accounts of First Republic politics featuring the well-worn mistrust between Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, for which some Igbo and Yoruba seem to have sworn not to stand. accept. The idea behind raking in these baseless topics is to further widen the gap between the people of the two regions. The agenda may seem simple at first sight. But most genocides and ethnic cleansings in history began with casual profiling of victims. That’s why these reckless expressions of sordid feelings shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Above all, these are not issues that should bother Nigerians, currently. Candidates must tell us how they intend to meet the challenges facing the country. These are problems of failing governance, collapsing infrastructure, insecurity, youth unemployment, depreciation of the national currency, endemic strikes in institutions of higher learning and unrest in the component units of the country. .
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) just released a figure the other day, which puts Nigeria as having around 20 million out-of-school children. The rate before was between 10.5 and 13.5 million. But with insecurity and kidnappings of school children, some parents are afraid to send their wards to school in some parts of the country. The current estimate is worrying.
Elsewhere, although there appears to be disagreement over an earlier report by a global terrorism research/analysis group, Jihad Analytics (JA), which placed Nigeria as the second most terrorized/attacked country, and that of fact-checking which cites the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) as saying that the country is sixth in the championship, the fact is that the climate of insecurity remains high here. Farmers can no longer access their farms, leading to food insecurity on the land. In other development indices, we fare no better. Nigeria has remained the poverty capital of the world since 2018.
Nigeria tops the list of fragile and failing states and is now the most stressful country to live in, according to the stress level index. For seven consecutive months, students at public universities have been out of school due to confrontation between their teachers under the Union of University Academic Staff and the federal government over broken agreements. Some Nigerians abducted on the train bound for Abuja-Kaduna on March 28 are still being held by their captors, while the government turns a blind eye.
These are the questions that should matter in the debate of 2023. The task ahead of us is enormous and not the insignificant problems of the Igbo or any group trying to take over Lagos or any state in the country for that matter. Nigerians have no time for such chatter.