Letter from Africa: Playing the ethnic card

 
Igbo chiefs in Ogidi, Nigeria, on 23 May 2013

In our series of letters from African journalists, Sola Odunfa in Lagos writes about how ethnicity is exploited in Nigeria to win political support.

I laughed in amazement shortly after an otherwise well-informed friend living abroad telephoned to alert me about a serious political crisis about to burst in Nigeria.

He said that the Igbo people of the south-east and the Yoruba of the south-west were smarting for war over alleged maltreatment meted to some Igbo people residing in Lagos, the commercial capital.

He said the matter was already dominating social media sites.

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The governor fell back on a line which was sure to resonate with the justifiably angry electorate: Igbo people were being persecuted”

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I asked what the meat of the matter was. My anxious friend explained that some Igbo persons were "deported" from Lagos to the south-eastern town of Onitsha in Anambra State and abandoned at a dangerous roadside.

My friend said that the angry governor of Anambra had sent a strongly worded protest letter to President Goodluck Jonathan over the matter.

"All Igbo people were angry," he added.

"Is that all," I asked? "You too have been conned," I told him and burst into laughter.

He was surprised. "So that's all you will say," he demanded to know.

'Integration'

I then told him that I heard the story when it first hit the airwaves two weeks earlier. The accounts available from Anambra were so disjointed that I did not find them credible.

Were the "deportees" 62 or 73? Did they travel in a passenger bus or a goods lorry?

A street scene in Onitsha, Nigeria (7 December 2005) Most people in Onitsha belong to the minority Igbo ethnic group

Where exactly in Onitsha were they driven to - a roadside or motor park? They arrived at 03:00 or thereabout and by day-break they were being attended to by Nigerian Red Cross officers in front of press and TV cameras!

Suddenly, it occurred to me that there would be elections for governor of Anambra in two months' time.

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The ethnic warriors have stood down”

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The governing party at federal level, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), had launched a strong campaign to oust the All Progressives Grand Alliance (Apga) of outgoing governor Peter Obi from power in the state.

Also, a new opposition party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), had joined the fray.

So, the governor fell back on a line which was sure to resonate with the justifiably angry electorate: Igbo people were being persecuted in Lagos and he was standing up in their defence! I don't know of a better election winner.

The governor of Lagos state, Babatunde Fashola, who ordered the evacuation of the people, has since come out with his side of the story.

According to him, the number of people involved was 14 and he listed them.

'Rich versus poor'

He said that the state had been in correspondence with the government in Anambra since April over the issue.

A beggar in Nigeria (10 March 2008) Beggars risk being "deported" from cities

He described the action of his government in transporting the 14 - described in reports as beggars and people who were destitute - as "integration" with their families and not "deportation".

And now, as I was sure it would, the matter has died down in the media.

The ethnic warriors have stood down. Mr Obi's Apga party is cruising towards the election with some more confidence.

Meanwhile, the more important constitutional issue of the freedom of Nigerians within Nigeria has been swept under the carpet.

Soon, the federal government will "abduct" poor people and the destitute from the streets of the capital, Abuja, and send them away.

State governments - all of them - are doing this in the name of urban renewal.

As it is, only the rich and comfortable are guaranteed the enjoyment of freedom of movement, of residency and of speech stated in Nigeria's constitution.

The rest of us are at the mercy of the various governments.

Ethnicity has little or nothing to do with it. It is a case of the elite versus the rest, the rich versus the poor.

Correction 4 September 2013: An earlier version of this article stated that Peter Obi was seeking re-election as governor of Anambra state. The story has been amended as he will be standing down after serving two terms in office.

If you would like to comment on Sola Odunfa's column, please do so below.

 

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 37.

    WHY DID SOLA HAVE TO PROTRAY THIS LITTLE BOY PHOTO WHO KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT LIFE OF SUCH. I THINK HE WOULD SHOWN SOME WHO IS AGEABLE ENOUGH RATHER THAN THE LITTLE BOY WHO IS SOMEBODY THAT NEED TO BE TAKEN CARE OF.

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    Comment number 36.

    It's sad that a BBC reporter based in Lagos wrote this disjointed and patronizing article in an attempt to play down the shameful lawlessness perpetrated by his tribe's man, Alhaji Fashola. It's even more shameful that the said Fashola who undertook to deprive fellow citizens of their constitutional rights, is a lawyer. Fashola's ethnic agenda in this facade is too well known to most Nigerians.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 35.

    Igbo activists should shelve their emotion and look at the issue critically with an open mind. It is a known fact today that Governor Fashola has gone out of his way to integrate the Igbo in his state more than any governor in Nigeria’s history”. The concern of Igbo at large should be the growing inability of the present generation of the Igbo elites to meet the needs of our people.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 34.

    I agree with you Odunfa, Nigeria is a country where no Government obeys the constitution. Peter obi - the Anambra state Governor two months before the Lagos deportation also deported some non - indigenous beggars to their respective states.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 33.

    Odunfa has lived passed his productive years. It is very evident that Sola Odunfa can no longer write a credible article, commentary or an editorial. Other wise, how can Sola write such an article laden with inaccuracies and false statements. Sola has betrayed his trade and as such lost me and I believe many others as his fan. BBC should remove this person as a correspondent forth with.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 32.

    @BlessedNaomi,You can't just arrest people who are walking the street and truck them to a state border line and call it rehabilitation. If Blessed Naomi is a Igbo-Yoruba, then he will agree that there are no Igbo beggars in Lagos as the deportees claim to be petty traders. I am not ascribing the deportation of any Nigerian beggar but enabling them to do something with there life wherever they live

  • rate this
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    Comment number 31.

    @Blessednaomi, No, it's not ok to deport a Nigerian from one corner of the country to the order in the name of rehabilitation. What constitution are you relying on? Rehabilitation need to start right there in Lagos. Everybody who calls Lagos home and needs rehabilitating should be rehabilitated or asked to choose to go home with assistance if that's what Fashola was aiming.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 30.

    Odunfa should not even try to worry about the fact that rumors about the action may have blown the matter out of proportion. There is no need to defend Fashola because if he did even what he acknowledged he did, it was a misguided action that may have violated the basic right of those people as Nigerians. Nigerians want to remain united not divided along tribal lines.

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    Comment number 29.

    Seems to me Fashola is claiming more Nigerian than others. Who has the right to forcefully move a Nigerian from one place to the other in the name of repatriation???. Who is playing ethnic cards here,Fashola, Odunfa or those on the street??. Odunfa sound more like a hypocrites and Lagos for the information of Fashola does not belong to him and was not made what it is by him alone.

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    Comment number 28.

    BlessedNaomi, this article is full of inaccuracies. Only a bigot could stand up to defend this article. How can an old man like Odunfa with his knowledge of Nigeria come up this nonsenses, and I beg BBC to pull this article down.

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    Comment number 27.

    I read Sola's article several times. Nowhere did he say that Fashola belonged to PDP. My people, let us be factual and rational when reacting to articles. Sola was emphatic that anybody in Nigeria who is not a member of the rich and comfortable club can be subject to deportation or should I say anybody who does not know a big man who can come to his rescue can be subjected to indignities.

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    Comment number 26.

    We Igbos cannot be homeless anywhere unless something like drug addiction is involved; then kinsmen in the cities will have nothing to do with the person. Let's look at this matter with some reason. As for saying Igbos are a minority in Nigeria. That has to be a typo or the BBC itself should bear the blame for that error. Igbos, Yorubas and Hausas are the major ethnic groups. BBC should know that.

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    Comment number 25.

    As someone who is both Igbo and Yoruba I see nothing wrong with 'repatriation', 'integration' or 'deportation' of people back to their hometowns rather than have them sleep on streets like 'government pikin'. That is not part of our culture be it Yoruba or Igbo. If Fashola,s government contacted Anambra State, they should have responded and prepared for the deportees. Be real Ndigbo. When did we

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    Comment number 24.

    Okay, Sola apparently did not do his homework by not being aware that Peter obi is not due for re-election.. I have read all the comments so far and only a few sound reasonable. One person pointed out that Peter Obi had also deported some people from Anambra State. Did any of usknow this? It appears most of the people offended are my Igbo brethren. As someone belonging to both ethnic groups I can

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    Comment number 23.

    Shola sounds like Fashola's mouthpiece. In a sense he is guilty of the same ethnic sentiments he is condemning. Peter Obi is not contesting for re-election. Months ago he declared he was retiring from politics. What I can't understand is why Fashola thinks has more rights to live in Lagos than the Igbos he deported to Onitsha? Where would Fashola deport all the area boys in Lagos to?

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    Comment number 22.

    Shola's stance on the 'noble' action of Governor Fashola is laughable. More laughable is his effort to cast this as a class warfare between the rich and the poor. If anything, he's exposed himself as hypocritical and ignorant. No Igbo is a beggar on the streets of Lagos. The beggars cum robbers are the 'Area Boys'. Can they be reintegrated with their families? Does charity begin at home?

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    Comment number 21.

    This action does not bode well for the unity of our people. Fashola may have been doing very well in the eyes of the people of his state but how can he defend this weird transporting of 14 homeless people to integrate with families in another state. What if they were from Lagos? Locate their relatives address and transport them home? Is this Part of his plan to beautify and transform Lagos?

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    Comment number 20.

    LOL. Is BBC ignorant?? to publish this nonsense from Mr Odunfa. I think BBC is poring petrol on the fire. We all should condemn this act by the Lagos State.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 19.

    This report is so filled with distorted facts. Let's remind Mr. Odunfa that Governor Peter Obi cannot and is not seeking re-election as the governor of Anambra State because he has served two constitutional terms. Also the issue here as it regards 'deportation' of Nigerian citizens for whatever reason is condemnable and bad and has nothing to do with using tribalism or religion to play politics.

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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