By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
It is in the nature of man, supposedly enlightened and exposed, to occasionally reveal the savage aspects of the homo sapiens. There is a beast in every man as evident inLord of the Flies by William Golding where children trapped on an island reveal savagery unbecoming of apparently innocent kids. French novelist Emile Zola in la Bete humaine wrote about how ‘individuals are derailed by atavistic forces beyond their control’. Similarly, whole communities sometimes expose the savagery in their hearts in time of tension. When it is interethnic, interracial, or interreligious, that is, when it concerns group behaviour, it could have devastating consequences on society just as the xenophobia directed against Nigerians in South Africa led to deaths of innocent immigrants. This is the only way I can describe the last mob mentality and the ethnic hatred that seized Lagos last week Saturday before, during and after the governorship and House of Assembly elections. Sadly, this ugly spectacle occurred in some other parts of the federation, especially Kano and Rivers State. The Igbo are being profiled, vilified, and made a target of mass hysteria!
Whoever thought that we still harboured such a degree of ethnic hatred in our hearts some sixty-three odd years after independence? And the silence of the elite while savagery reigned was mindboggling. Was this orchestrated from the highest level of society? Did they, as the world did during the Rwandan massacres, look the other way? Is there ever going to be integration or cultural acceptance of the ‘other’ in our disparate polity? Add to these the deployment of a supposedly cultural rite of purity, the Oro festival, to drive fear into the hearts of potential voters on the night before voting commenced! It seems we are not ready, not molded, not fashioned for democracy. Hoodlums went round voting points and prevented anyone who did not look Yoruba or who had non-Yoruba names from voting.
Democracy manages diversity. It does not emphasize difference. Lagos and Kano exposed our dirty underbelly both to us and the rest of the world. In some states, governors, their surrogates, and political gladiators, seized the instruments of state to intimidate their opponents. Political exclusion is antithetical to the practice of democracy. By engaging persons of all backgrounds before elections, they court voters. To set hoodlums on innocent citizens because they have a different view is dangerous to the survival of the Republic. The experience last week calls for a reconsideration of the creation of State Police. State governors will unleash them on opponents without let or hindrance. If non-state actors could unleash terror on voters, it is left for us to imagine what uniformed officials could do in the name of the law.
It is instructive that while hoodlums attacked and harassed voters last Saturday, policemen and other security agents looked the other way. In some states, policemen openly snatched ballot boxes. Such acts make citizens lose faith in the state. It is a recipe for civil disobedience.
It is instructive that while hoodlums attacked and harassed voters last Saturday, policemen and other security agents looked the other way. In some states, policemen openly snatched ballot boxes. Such acts make citizens lose faith in the state. It is a recipe for civil disobedience. If a state actor, elected by the people in any part of the federation decides to lead a sustained protest against the federal government, we would have a deadly situation in our hands. And that is how breakdown of law and order starts.
Persons of Igbo ethnic group who reside in Lagos must also refrain from making provocative statements which could generate hatred and rejection. To claim that Lagos is no-man’s land is provocative in our current circumstances. Lagos has been a good home to all, both good and bad. It has offered an opportunity for citizens who came to Lagos with a nylon bag exit as landlords and rich businessmen. All those who have found accommodation and a source of income in Lagos must respect the codes of social engagement. But state officials should not react to misguided statements from troublemakers in the land.
The people of Lagos and the State government must wake up to the realities of 21st century Lagos. No government has the power to exclude potential voters because they may support candidates that are not favoured by the establishment. And they must carry the mob of area boys and ethnic jingoists along in re-understanding their environment. In a truly democratic setting, governments initiate policies that could win them votes from certain demographic sections of society. In a multiracial society, the dominant class engages minorities with favourable policies as shown in the American experience.
What happened during the election was a form of coup against the people in a clinically arranged exercise by the state. Bullets and missiles were fired by non-military savages. Threats and intimidation restricted access to the ballot box. Some citizens who had access to the ballot box had their votes nullified. The so-called game changer BVAS was made a laughingstock. The young people watching the elections exercise are being encouraged to adopt dishonest means to achieve their goals in life. Yet, the victors have been pronounced. Cheating pays in this environment. It should be possible and indeed mandatory to order new elections to be carried out in any part of the federation where snatched ballot boxes prevented a conclusion to the exercise. This will reduce the criminal practice. The perpetrators must be brought to book. There is no report that those scoundrels who attacked innocent citizens last week have been arrested.
There must be a restitution. There must be punishment. There must be consequences for brigandage and violence. By allowing such rigged elections results to stand, we are digging the gave of democracy. Any politician who rigs his way into office lacks legitimacy. The people are angry. The people are waiting for the opportunity to have their pound of flesh. BVAS may have been compromised now. In future we will have an INEC chairman who will firmly ensure that election processes and results are sacrosanct. This will be in an era where the INEC chairman is appointed and fired by the people through the National Assembly. There will be an INEC chair who is not partisan, who will be prepared to do right by the Nigerian people. Until we have a truly independent electoral commission, thugs and their masters will continue to rule over us.
Out there Nigerians are angry. Bitter. Disappointed. Almost in despair. They believe the INEC Chairman misled them into believing that the elections would be free and fair. That INEC in connivance with the federal authorities deliberately sabotaged the dreams of the people. We are not sure whether that perception can ever be erased. Whatever it is, INEC and the current political class have taken us back to the Stone Age! Which is sad! Discontent has been driven underground. And until there is a purgation, only God (not the many false prophets around) can tell us how this macabre drama will end.