In every society, there are usually some persons who are viewed as role models or mentors. These persons are usually paragons of leadership. They are elders, statesmen, expected to show the light to the rest of society. Their words and actions can easily influence events in society. Decorum and wisdom is therefore expected to be their watchword. Hence, it is a thing of sadness when a statesman makes a gaffe and utters statements unbecoming of his status.
The internet is awash with discussions about the threat to Igbos by Oba Rilwan Akiolu, the Oba of Lagos. When the statements were first alleged, many persons doubted it. A spokesman from the Lagos throne even released a statement to discredit the allegation. Now that audio and video recordings have been released, the discussion has shifted from whether he said it or not, to why he said it.
Elections, a major activity in any democratic society is built on the premise of freewill. It is assumed that voters would make their choice freely without inducement nor intimidation. The 1999 Constitution and ancillary electoral laws guarantee the right of all Nigerians to vote wherever they are registered. Anything that undermines this legal guarantee is an infringement on the franchise of Nigerians.
In theory, any Nigerian can contest wherever he or she resides (after some years), and vote anywhere he or she registers. However, in practice, only the latter is acceptable in most parts of Nigeria. Aboriginal issues usually stymie the former. Oba Akiolu’s statements are a manifestation of deep-rooted tribalism in many Nigerians. Arguably, he and some of his subjects are unhappy that three Igbos (“strangers”) have just won House of Representatives’ seats in Lagos. This unhappiness surely triggered his ill-advised outburst.
Do you win elections by threatening voters? In a “rigging-setting”, the answer is YES! However, in a regime of free elections, it is a resounding NO. You win by appealing to voters to stand behind your candidate. Oba Akiolu just performed an act straight out of the 16th Century Kings’ Playbook. To say it is a deprecated act is being very generous.
His statements have now caused a rapid transfer of vitriolic bile via internet channels. Nigerians on both sides of the divide are now contributing their own two kobo to the debate. Other eminent personalities have also made statements; some using this as a medium to vent frustration over perceived sins by Igbos. This debate would not help Nigeria. We need unity at this time, not divisive issues to clutter national discourse.
Contrary to the notion being bandied around, Igbos contribute a meaningful quota to Lagos State’s economy. Virtually every wealthy city is cosmopolitan in nature. It is true that some Yorubas have issues with the actions of some Igbos. Disagreements would always exist. However, it must be clear that not all Igbos are pirates, or robbers, or fraudsters, or fakers. Anyone who thinks otherwise is clearly in a state of delirious bigotry. Issues with Igbos could be better handled through proper channels. That is the essence of a civilized society.
Trust Nigerians to catch fun at the slightest opportunity. Jocular comments and images have been released in response to the Oba’s statements. Some have offered to teach Igbos to swim, so if the Oba’s Lagoon threat comes true, they can swim to safety. Another person said no Igbo man would drown in the Lagoon because another Igbo man would be selling life vests at the entrance. That is pure Igbo entrepreneurism. Jokes like this help to diffuse the unnecessary tension in the air.
When you threaten a tribe to vote for your anointed candidate or face calamity, you will most likely get the reverse. By saying Igbos must vote for Ambode, the inherent human rebellion would push them towards Agbaje. The Oba probably expects obedience, except if as a popular celebrity suggested; he is actually working for Agbaje.
PS: I am not Igbo. Contrary to what many Nigerians believe, there are over 200 tribes, not 3.