By Lawrence Olaoye
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has accused the nation’s elites of always recoiling into their ethnic and religious cocoon to gain political advantage at the detriment of national unity.
Osinbajo made the allegation in his address at the public presentation
of Chief Olusegun Osoba’s memoir, Battlelines: Adventures in Journalism and Politics in Abeokuta yesterday.
Osinbajo said “The collapse of our national achievements and attainments at every stage of our history has been that Achilles Heel, the tribal and religious suspicions. The inability at crucial moments, to bridge the gaps of ethnic and religious prejudice. So, from the execution of the coup of 1966, the countercoup, later that year, and the Civil War, starting in 1967, it is clear that these tragedies occurred because the once united Military wing of the Nigerian elite, finally gave way to its basest instincts – ethnicity and tribal prejudices. Years later, the scars and fractures remain.
Chief Osoba’s story also tells us how the political elite also played the ethnic card to defeat, what would have been a national struggle for democracy; the struggle to restore MKO Abiola’s mandate won by votes enthusiastically given by men and women of all tribes and faiths across the country, including the Kano home State of his opponent.
But it wasn’t difficult to begin a process of delegitimizing it. The tactic is the same and the consequences devastatingly effective: ethicize it. And so, they did. Northern Governors of the NRC, the party that lost the election, issued a statement saying that Abiola should be advised to give up his campaign for the restoration of the June 12th mandate, that any such restoration should begin with the restoration of the sacred mandate given to Shehu Shagari and forcefully taken from him in the wake of the 1983 Military coup. The Eastern NRC Governors had earlier issued a statement threatening a secession of the Eastern States from the rest of the country, if the annulment of the June 12 election was reversed.
The Military dictatorship took advantage of the ethnic divisions, to make it seem like a Southwest struggle for one of its own, rather than a struggle for democracy and justice, in the process imposing one of the most fearsome repressions of liberties anywhere in the world.
Our recent history is the same. The religious or ethnic card is pulled out regularly to win the argument or the votes. The problem is that the resort to our fault lines is a cover-up for the failure of a vision and a genuine programme to address the real concerns of the millions of our countrymen and women. It also breaks our ranks and prevents the pursuit of our real enemies, poverty and its causes and manifestation, poor education and healthcare, violent extremism, etc.
There are, for example, those who for political reasons, promoted the point of view that violent extremism of Boko Haram was the brainchild of the APC and its putative presidential candidate, a plot to Islamize Nigeria.
This wicked lie was only debunked when then General Muhammadu Buhari was attacked by the same Boko Haram, he barely escaped with his life and he lost seven close aides and relations. Not long after, the same group attacked the Emir of Kano who sustained serious injuries. In the lead up to the 2019 elections, similar accusations on the Boko Haram insurgency, the Fulani Herder and farmer clashes were made. The attempts by the political elite to delegitimize the government by the suggestions that it promotes insurgency are, of course, dangerous mainly because they help the insurgents by weakening the opposition to them.
What is the truth? As we have seen, there has been a curtailing of the threat represented by Boko Haram, but we have also seen other threats emerging; Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) and others in the Lake Chad islands and parts of Southern Borno, radical Islamist terrorism, is an evil that must be seen as the common enemy of all faiths, including Islam.
As the President said and I paraphrase, “anyone who says Allahu Akbar and goes on to kill is either insane or dangerously ignorant of the tenets of Islam.”