Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, August 30, 2013

Vote for me because of who I am

This little case study is a good one for illustrating the role that ethnic group identity can play in Nigerian politics.

Three thoughts:
  • The issue of domestic migration is a big one in many parts of Nigeria. Not only are major cities magnets for migrants seeking more opportunities, but so are prosperous farming areas. But migrants almost always move into areas dominated where they are in ethnic minorities. Sometimes there are religious differences between the "indigenes" and the settlers.

  • Everyone goes to great lengths to avoid using the words tribe or tribal. Thus we refer to ethnic groups and cleavages between ethnic groups. The primary source of this "political correctness" is the incredible misunderstandings about relatively small, indigenous communities that Europeans, when they arrived the the Americas and Africa, called tribes. Rather than perpetuate First World misperceptions, it's better to make the effort to use the ethnic group term.

  • As the letter's author, Sola Odunfa, writes in the conclusion, it might be better for us to pay attention to the political cleavage between rich and poor in Nigeria rather than constantly focus on ethnic divisions.
Letter from Africa: Playing the ethnic card
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…

I then told him that I heard the story when it first hit the airwaves two weeks earlier. The accounts available from Anambra [a state in the southeast, where Igbo are the largest group] were so disjointed that I did not find them credible…

Suddenly, it occurred to me that the state governor, Peter Obi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (Apga) party, would be facing an election in two months' time.

The governing party at federal level, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) had launched a strong campaign to oust him from power.

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

A few of the 400+ language/ethnic groups in Nigeria
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…

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.

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