[OPINION] Has Our Democracy Come of Age? The Lagos State Example By Raheem Oluwafunminiyi

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Last Saturday’s Presidential and Legislative elections has come and gone and will go down in our history as one of the most unprecedented in terms of its peaceful outcome. It has been categorised as the most free and fair election since the turn of democracy in 1999. Without mincing words, the election have not only proved doubting Thomases wrong about our electoral process but showed the world that Nigeria can hold its own even amidst its numerous challenges. No doubt, our electoral process has been strengthened one step further by the altruistic actions and selfless sportsmanship taken by all actors involved and has shown that transition from one party or administration to the other, could be made possible without rancour, fear or intimidation. The question therefore, is whether our nascent democracy, just a little at 16, has come of age.

As an ardent follower of both our historical emergence as a nation state and democratic process, I have no doubt in my mind that with the success recorded in the last election, we have sufficient reasons to be identified as an exceptional democracy, to borrow such appellation from scholars of Venezuelan history. Ours has been a democracy that survived many daunting challenges and despite the noticeable fault-lines, our “Nigerianness” can never be compromised. We have in a matter of 16 years evolved and shown to be an epitome for other African countries to emulate, most especially countries with leaders who fail to toe the path of reason in the aftermath of a national election.

More often than not, it is imperative to take caution in trying to admit that Nigeria’s democracy has come of age. Doubts still pervades in some parts of the country about the outcome of the election even when it is clear to malcontents that it was won square and fair by the former opposition. Despite this, one must be sincere enough, without being too overtly patriotic, to state that our democracy is now more than ever strengthened. The reason for this rather brazen position cannot be far-fetched, if the recent legislative election held in Lagos state is anything to go by.

Lagos as we know it has always been a hotbed of diverse human activities. It is a melting pot of some sort for so many people looking for a place to work, relax, or reside. For whatever reasons, Lagos has become a home for more than half of all Nigeria’s ethnic groups such that, her cosmopolitan nature today cannot be compared to any part of Nigeria and most parts of the world. There is a popular belief that there is no Nigerian anywhere who does not have at least a close member residing in Lagos, little wonder its population continues to grow in its millions against statistics made available by the federal government. For the fact that Lagos provides anyone at all with opportunities to live and enjoy the Lagos Dream, many have found it as a comfort zone and home to make money. Apart from other noticeable ethnic groupings in Nigeria, the Igbo have come to form a sizeable population resident in Lagos. As we speak, the Igbo are about the most populated non-Yoruba group domiciled in Lagos. Just like the Sabo communities of Northern extraction noticeable in parts of Lagos, the Igbo, unlike the Sabo areas, could be found everywhere. Remarkably, they constitute a higher percentage of people living in local government areas like Amuwo Odofin, Ajeromi/Ifelodun, Ojo, Surulere etc., and in communities like Satellite and FESTAC-Towns, Aguda, Alaba, Kirikiri, Ajegunle to mention a few. Their huge number, frightening in some quarters, is a welcome development and a good omen for Lagos. In fact, the dominance of the Igbo, typical as their entrepreneurial spirit entails, portends greater economic propects for Lagos and Nigeria as a whole. This is a however, a topic for another day.

It is on record that Lagos state accommodates the meek and weak, even the strong and wrong and would never allow ethnic sentiments get the better part of its developmental process. Ben Akabueze, an Igbo from Anambra as Lagos state’s Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget is a typical example of how Lagos has assumed the role of a detribalised state. Looking further, Engineer Joe Igbokwe, another Igbo from Nnewi is till date a very strong heavyweight in Lagos politics, being the Publicity Secretary of the APC in the state. These individuals among others continue to hold their own and have contributed in no small measure to the growth and development of Lagos state as a whole.

Apart from being an economic force, the Igbo today have become a very strong political factor in Lagos state. At a time when a section of the country some time ago wrongly lampooned and viciously criticised the Lagos state government for deporting some people, the enabling environment to be politically relevant given most importantly to the Igbo today in the state should be seen as a kind gesture by the government in embracing all irrespective of where we come from. It is not every day one sees a Yoruba or Hausa appointed a Commissioner in states like Cross River or Delta or an Igbo as Chairman of a parastatal in Katsina, Taraba, Ekiti or Bayelsa. None to the best of this writer’s knowledge exist.

However, nobody would have thought it possible for a non-Yoruba residing in Lagos state to contest elections and win. It is not that some of them do not come out to vie for elective positions but chances of winning such positions have always remained very slim. It is quite surprising therefore, to discover a number of non-Yoruba living in the state vying and in turn winning legislative posts in the just concluded federal legislative election. In Amuwo Odofin local government for example, one Mr Oghene Egboh, a Delta state indigene defeated Ganiyu Olukolu a Yoruba.  Also in Ajeromi/Ifelodun, Mrs Rita an Easterner defeated Taiwo Adenekan another Yoruba while in Oshodi/Isolo federal constituency 2, Mr Tony Nwoolu defeated the incumbent, Mr Akeem Munir. A major factor has been attributed to the victory of these individuals in the election, chief of which is the dominance of Igbo residents in these constituencies who voted massively not necessarily for these candidates but because of their strong affinity for the party the candidates contested under. True as this may seem, we should however not forget that tolerance, freewill and accommodation Lagos seems to freely give to all played a significant role in the victory of these candidates at the polls. This feat ordinarily wouldn’t have been possible many states in the country

This is therefore, a huge lesson for us all as a people to learn from. Nigeria belongs to us all and so, irrespective of differences in tongue and tribe, everyone should be seen as one and the same. We must begin to see the positives of togetherness and brotherhood and understand that every Nigerian, no matter where he resides, is part of the Nigerian project. We must begin to tolerate ourselves and in tolerating the other, must allow anyone at all the freewill to participate in the political process, no matter the religion, place of residence or ethnic affiliation. Nigeria and Nigerians should take a cue from events in the 50s when Mallam Umaru Altine was elected twice as Mayor of Enugu. Mallam Altine, a Fulani was nominated by the NCNC, contested and won the election in that state. Also, the story of Mallam Umaru Yushau is noteworthy here. As the Chief of the Hausa community in Onitsha, he was elected member of the Eastern House of Chiefs and occupied that position until the 1966 coup.

At a time when the CHANGE mantra is fast overwhelming the entire country, it is time we began to see our democracy as one that can stand the test of time. No country has ever moved forward with its people heavily divided along tribal or religious lines. Somalia and Sudan are typical examples of countries where ethnic differences has regressed its development. Despite the fact that we have not been able to properly come to terms with our differences for the common good of the country over a long period of time, it is hoped that the recently conducted election will open our eyes to the reality of greatness in diversity. Lagos state has set the stage for our democracy to thrive by giving non-Yoruba residents the free-hand to participate in the electoral process. Other states too should learn and follow suit

The possibility that one day a southerner will hold public office in any part of the north and vice versa is a dream this writer hopes will come to pass in his life time. It is only when we see the virtues in this dream rather than the vices that we can move towards greatness as a nation. We must therefore not lose sight of that. Now, has our democracy come of age?


Raheem Oluwafunminiyi wrote via [email protected]