The ethnic irredentists who regularly punctuate the atmosphere with the dog whistle of Yorùbá ro’nú are not sincerely invested in the gains of contemplation. If they were, they would deploy the same gusto to call for a reflection on the Yorùbá condition within this contraption called Nigeria. We would be asked to ponder if this is all there is to our life or if we are being shortchanged by our self-serving leaders and their herd of brownnosers who remind us to use our power of reason only when it potentially benefits the political class. Deploying the force of our thought to further the ambitions of our leaders is not all there is to the expression of the life of the mind.
Yorùbá ro’nú should not be an errand we are asked to run each time an election is around the corner, and our leaders are worried their snouts would be removed from an accustomed feeding trough. Yorùbá ro’nú should be a regular exercise to take stock of our politics and determine how to better hold our leaders accountable to deliver the highest standards of governance.
As the governorship election approaches, Lagos—mostly due to its cosmopolitanism—is, again, the battleground for debates around belonging and nationalism. At this rate, the quarrel over who ought to dominate Lagos has become akin to a quadrennial festival. You wonder: is life in Nigeria so zombifying that people cannot even fight fresh battles? Will people ever get tired of this revenant, or are we perpetually condemned to the Sisyphean task of resurrecting it every election season? Given how much Nigerians suffered in the past eight years under the clueless All Progressives Congress government, one would imagine that this election cycle would feature frank deliberations on our fates. Rather than serious people discussing serious issues, the elections have largely boiled down to the standard fare of primordialism.
By now, it should be self-evident to the discerning that Yorùbá ro’nú is a tool they use to arouse primordial instincts, sort people into tribes, and motivate them to use the polls to wage a war that will ultimately benefit greedy overlords. An otherwise routine civic exercise becomes warfare and survivalism as people go to the polls thinking they are servicing a larger nationalist and moral cause. I have seen this movie repeatedly, and I know how it ends. What I would rather contemplate is what this perennial reduction of politics to ethnic/religious identity obscures. What other possibilities of living and being are we being shut out of when we buy into the sentiment of antagonising others just so that some reprobate politicians can get a free pass?
There have been enough of these Yorùbá ro’nú sessions for us to see that the whole hoopla they make about protecting Lagos from “invaders” has nothing to do with either Lagos indigenes or as an entity. This is—and has always been about—shielding the sordid finances of Lagos from public scrutiny. The APC has been in power for an unbroken 23 years, and they desperately need that streak extended for as long as possible. As long as they keep winning that state, there will never be proper accountability for what goes down in terms of the revenue and the pipelines through which it flows into private pockets. They are haunted by the fear of losing Lagos because they know that everything they have done in the dark will be brought into the noonday sunlight. The disgrace they will suffer if the books are opened, and the receipts of their activities printed will be far worse than the embarrassment the Peoples Democratic Party endured when the APC took over Aso Rock in 2015.
After the recent presidential election, they have seen how much their hold on that state has considerably weakened and they are desperate. Shortly before last Saturday’s election, an analyst told me that the votes of Alimosho local government alone for the APC would blow the other parties out of the water. That never happened. Now, their fear of losing the governorship election is so palpable that they are trotting out virtually every one of their payrolls to the partisan war front: the career politicians, pseudo-intellectuals, pay-per-paragraph writers, bureaucrats, motor park louts, influence peddlers, bottom feeders, and even traditional rulers. That is why even a religious irredentist like that MURIC man would issue a statement begging Muslims to vote a Christian governor. The support is not about religious cooperation or liberalism, nor an appreciation of Governor Jide Sanwo-Olu. It is merely to protect the APC headquarters from demystification.
The tactic of galvanising people through the politics of ethnicity has worked for the APC to the point it has become a nostrum. When Jimi Agbaje of the PDP contested against them twice, their deprecation of his candidature was by other-ing him as Igbo. They are using the playbook again, this time against Labour Party candidate Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour who they fear can get revenge votes next Saturday. The unintended effect of whipping up ethnic sentiment against a section of the state is that it can become a rallying factor. You cannot threaten people to either vote for you (or they get harmed), and then complain they are ungrateful because they voted for your opponents (who they expect will protect them from your harassment). People will naturally seek to put in power whoever they think will protect their best interests.
Over the years, the ethnic strategy has worked well enough to keep power in the hands of the APC, but the presidential election suggests it has peaked. The tribe of the disaffected has grown beyond ethnicity and will eventually culminate in APC loss. Power will change hands; it is only a matter of time. Until then, know this and know peace: non-Yoruba Lagosians are not going anywhere. If racism in the West does not deter migrants from other countries, you can take it for granted that non-Yoruba Nigerians will continue to live in any part of Nigeria they choose. That is why Bola Tinubu himself gets to claim Lagos even though he is a non-indigene.
Lagosians—whether indigenes or born/resident in Lagos—all have the right to determine who rules them collectively. If you are resident in a place and you pay your taxes, you have earned the right to choose your leaders even if your interests differ from that of the indigenes. Democracy is about balancing wildly disparate interests. Anyone who does not like that non-indigenes of a state get the privilege of residency can wait patiently till the new government is sworn in and then lobby for constitutional amendment. Until then, it is what it is.
It is thanks to such republicanism that Nigerian migrants abroad and their children attain some of the highest positions in host countries. That is why even the son of the chief lout of Lagos Musiliu Akinsanya (MC Oluomo) could, according to his own father, receive scholarships worth $2.7m in the USA. Yes, the same MC Oluomo allegedly caught on video threatening to kill any Igbo person that voted against his principal. What entitles his son, a non-American and Black, to get that much privilege in a country where he did not originate from but dis-entitles other Nigerians from exercising their franchise in their own country?
The demographic of Lagos (and other major Nigeria cities) will continue to shift, and the state’s politics will correspond to that reality. Who knows, in some years down the line, some of the scions of those crying Yorùbá ro’nú today will pay rent to the Chinese who would have built a factory on their ancestral land. The world will change whether we like it or not. Those who truly believe in the power of thought should rest this cryfest of Yorùbá ro’nú and put on their own thinking caps already.