In all the areas where Obas were dollarized in the run-up to the presidential elections, the one who brought the dollar rain eventually lost. In a democracy, it is difficult to coerce people to vote against their conscience. The process INEC operates, gives you a fair chance to decide and exercise your option through a secret ballot! While I will not denigrate the position of the Oba, I will say here that he was wrong. He had no right to decree a position on electoral choices. His statement on retributive action was not only inappropriate but callous and capable of causing a disturbance of the peace and sowing/promoting disharmony between two tribes that have lived together peacefully in Lagos, even before his ascendance.
That being said, it is not my place to apologize for his actions. Though I am from Ogun state, I am a resident of Lagos just like the Igbos who were so harshly vilified. We have equal stakes as citizens of Lagos. What I feel instead is shame for seeing this self-inflicted embarrassment on the royal stool and a deep sense of empathy for every Igbo and non-Igbo resident who shares the pain and indignation from those damning words.
The Oba alone must take responsibility for his actions. I have heard it said, that he spoke in parables; that the Yoruba translation of his English statement was just saying “anyone who goes against the Oba ends up in the sea”…like some kind of traditional metaphor. It is still inexcusable in this modern age. Especially as our “subject” status, where applicable, is more ceremonial in this day when our civil governments are actually in charge. I can tell you for free though, that regardless of any regret he feels, he is not going to be apologizing anytime soon. Unfortunately, It is an abomination in our culture, for a king to take back his words.
While it is instructive to note that the Oba does not speak for the APC or any of her candidates, some damage has obviously been done. The Ambode camp must be in some kind of confusion now. What are they to do? They cannot come out to openly dissociate from the Oba. That in itself will be an insult. Also, the Oba has been an unapologetic supporter from day one, often putting himself in the line of fire for this candidate. This is coming at a time when so much gain have been made across several groups and the momentum was soaring, riding on the back of the presidential elections victory of the APC. The refrain has been: APC in Lagos and at the centre. Synergy at last! Then this happens.
I remember the Reverend Wright saga of 2008 in the US. Obama, a democrat primaries candidate was linked with a very vocal social consciousness leaning pastor. Several videos went viral, showing the pastor ranting against the US state and blaming them for everything from sponsoring terrorism to developing AIDS as a biological weapon to being ultimately responsible for 911, etc. The Obama camp was thrown into a dilemma. The discussion had been successfully changed, just a few weeks to the democrat presidential primaries. Interviews and debates now focused more on how much of Rev. Wright’s fiery rhetoric Obama believed in, seeing that he was his spiritual mentor and had baptized his two girls, etc. Something had to be done. Neutrals were beginning to respond with disgust. The Hilary camp was amped up and The GOP, lying in wait, already smelled blood ahead of the main elections. His detractors had scored a bulls eye, it seemed. In one of the early responses, Obama said, referring to Reverend Wright: “His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church. They certainly don’t portray accurately my values and beliefs.”
Folks were still not buying. He had to do something more.
Like every great statesman, your mettle is proven in times of adversity. Obama did something that turned the game around and greatly increased his profile. After several press releases and rebuttals, he gave his famous speech titled “A More Perfect Union”. It scored 1.2 million views on YouTube within the first 24 hours of posting. In that speech, he showed his empathy, honesty, weakness and resolve to address difficult issues. As a US resident at that time, I would never forget the buzz generated by that speech across the whole country. It was electrifying as it was soothing. It served as some kind of healing balm for millions of Americans who had previously been unable to speak up about the racial tensions in their society. It rallied the democrat base and his ratings soared across most polls. In addition to this speech, he publicly denounced and severed ties with Rev. Wright and ended his romance with his Church. Democrat pressure groups also prevailed on Reverend Wright to discontinue giving press interviews through the period of the elections. We all know how the elections gave the democrats an unprecedented landslide, even across traditional battlegrounds.
Where is this leading to? If you are more than a casual onlooker you would see that we have a less than perfect union in Nigeria. Did you see the voting pattern in the last elections? Only the Southwest had anything close to a diverse spread. Both top presidential candidates were in a 60/40 on the average. Some parts of the North central also had close scores. The story in the rest of the country especially in the SE/SS and NW/NE was something else. I digress. Though largely prompted by politicians, Lagos is the latest symptom of this ugliness.
There is growing apprehension within the Lagos traditional institutions, and indeed, a large part of the indigene populace, that their society is being diluted and their choices and resolve are at risk of being subsumed by folks who may not share the same interests or have the same traditional ties to common centres of power.
This was what you heard the Oba echoing. He spoke out of a growing anxiety and concern. The refrain was: The Igbos have just won electoral positions (again) in certain areas of Lagos, as is their constitutional right, and now they’re “threatening” to subvert the wishes of the Oba and vote against his preferred candidate. This is the root cause of the drama and harshness we saw in that video. In several quarters, people are already calling Lagos a “no man’s land’. This is also not helping matters. It activates a sense of defense and protection of that which people think is about to be taken from them. They fear for their heritage. The rhetoric, on both sides, both online and in the streets has not been helpful. I hope we arrest this before it tips over.
What can Ambode do? Is it his cross to bear? I suspect his chances will be impacted by the backlash from the Oba’s actions. As such, his party needs to come up with some immediate mitigating actions.
Here are some options:
1. Air a brief speech, expressing your belief in the safety, security and freedom of expression and political choice of ALL Lagosians.
a. Assure us that your government will not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity and religion, etc.
b. Speak of your personal experience in FGC that has come to shape your diverse worldview, your lifelong friends, etc.
c. Speak of the great strides of your party and their governors in showing their belief in diversity. Use the LASG example. (Lagos leads here by the way).
d. Say that you hope that people will vote for your party because of your record of performance and the promise of the continuation of the gains of the previous administration. And that they are free to vote for any candidate of their choosing…you will still be their governor if you win, regardless. No retribution of any kind.
In conclusion, Akinwunmi Ambode is my candidate. I know the views he shares. He being one whose “Lagos indigene-ship” has also been questioned through this electoral season. Beyond that he has 27 solid years of serving Lagos state with several performance records. I do not see this egg-in-the-face as being strong enough to derail his aspiration. In the end Lagosians will rise above sentiments and do what is needed for Lagos to have a better chance at increased prosperity, good governance and a more perfect union.