The presidential election is over and a winner has emerged. But it has left in its trail the usual aftermath of divisions, bitterness, expressions of entitlement of some regions to the ‘national cake’ than others and anxiety in some sections of what is to come in the next four years.
We know that ours is a sharply divided country. As a matter of fact, our divisions are as old as the country. We have also suffered the misfortune of having leaders prior to, during and post independence that lack the vision, foresight and political will to prioritize our national unity. Quite contrary to the expectations of leadership, our politicians have right from the days of Zik, Awolowo, Balewa and Sardauna to the present day, have mined, exploited and weaponised our diversity with policies and actions for political goals.
Our endemic dividing lines are usually emphasised and given practical manifestations during elections with political rhetoric. The story was no different in the just concluded 2019 presidential election. The campaigns were laced with ethnic and religious sentiments. But paradoxically, the election was not between a Muslim and a Christian, Hausa/Fulani and Indi Igbo or Kanuri and Ijaw. It was Fulani against Fulani, Muslim against Muslim and North against North. But somehow, Southerners preferred one of the candidates to the other and the voting pattern reflected this preference. While the South voted predominantly for Atiku, the votes from the North were decisive in Buhari’s re-election. So, the election and it’s outcome has been given an ethnic and religious colouration of a contest between the north and south and Christians and Muslims.
Miffed and disappointed by the overwhelming support of Buhari’s re-election by the North, a lot of Southerners have activated a mood of indifference and contempt for the suffering and insecurity ravaging parts of the North. Since the announcement of the election results, we have read statements like ‘I will never give a dime to any Hausa/Fulani beggar again since they have chosen to remain backward and poor’, ‘I won’t sympathise with the middle belt anymore for Herdsmen attacks since with all the casualties this government inflicted on them, they still voted for Buhari and the like. I have also seen calls from the North to the government to reward the region’s support by paying special attention to the region. Southerners, particularly the Igbos have also been perceived as unrepentant opponents of Northern and Muslim interests. Another interpretation of the outcome is that illiteracy, ignorance and poverty in the North were largely responsible for the massive support Buhari received from the North.
Those in the Buhari camp have continued to gloat and bask in the euphoria of victory while the Atiku camp have immersed themselves in the pain and anger of loss.
But the truth of the matter is that the election was not between North and South, Christianity and Islam, illiteracy and enlightenment or poverty and prosperity. The reactions are therefore not justified by the facts. Atiku, just like Buhari, is a Fulani Muslim. It is therefore mischievous and illogical to think that the South voted for him because they hate Northerners or Muslims. They only preferred one Fulani Muslim to the other. In any event, there were hundreds of thousands of Southerners who voted for Buhari. As a matter of fact, some of my brothers in my hometown of Sabagreia in Bayelsa State have continued to gloat with the 4+4 sign since Buhari was declared winner. It is therefore also not correct to assume that the South was against Buhari.
While some persons believe that illiteracy and poverty played a role in expanding Buhari’s support base in the North, this role may not have been decisive or significant. There are thousands of brilliant and intelligent people from the South who believe Buhari is the best thing that had happened to Nigeria since independence. I have a UK trained colleague who will go any length to support Buhari. I also have brilliant friends from the North who are diehard supporters of Buhari. So the illiteracy and poverty theory does not also hold water.
You see, politics is a game of interest and democracy is a game of numbers. Whatever the motivations may have been, Nigerians voted in line with their interests. In any election, there is always a winner and of course, a loser. But victory and loss are phenomena that evoke profound emotions. While feelings of dominance and excitement are natural consequences of victory, loss comes with despondency, anxiety and pain. Therefore, the gloating and bitterness were expected and understandable. But we must manage our emotions and forge ahead as a nation. After all, irrespective of our feelings, we are still Nigerians and will remain so in the foreseeable future. We should therefore redirect our energies at building a better country for ourselves and children. Don’t loose your humanity because your candidate lost an election. Do not brand an entire region as illiterate, ignorant and backward because they voted for a particular candidate. After all, the educated ones from your region and other regions also voted the same candidate. In any event, that region also has countless literates, several of whom voted for Buhari. Don’t vilify or calumniate people from the South, particularly the Igbos because the region voted more for Atiku. After all, people from every region also voted for Buhari, and Atiku is also a Northern Muslim. Do not stop helping people from the North because they voted for Buhari if you won’t treat people from your region who voted for him in the same way. The emotions of the moment must not be allowed to do more damage to our collectiveness.
We must brace up for what lies ahead and contribute in our little ways to make governance and Nigeria better.
PS: I’m a proud Atiku supporter. But most importantly, I’m a Nigerian.