Progress Godfrey: Indigeneship vs residency: Nigeria’s emerging political realities


A lot has been said already about the just-concluded 2023 Presidential and the Governorship Elections. However, beyond the rhythmic harmony about religion, ethnicity and party affiliation which has been sung since the pre- and post-party primaries, there are salient and existential issues that the political establishment must take cognizance of, in the post-election season.

At the crux of such issues is the negligence of the yearnings of the electorate by our leaders, which prepared the grounds and provided a viral atmosphere for the rise of the Obi/Datti wave, a wave that swept across many traditional strongholds of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the All Progressives Congress (APC). To set the record straight, I would like to state that this piece is not in any way intended to push for an Ndigbo agenda, but to draw the attention of the political class to lessons that must be learnt, as we push for a better Nigeria.

The campaign season saw a drastic paradigm shift. It showed just how tired the people are of the rhetoric of merely campaigning to win elections, and it exposed the existing disconnect between government and the governed. This was evident with the strides of Mr Peter Obi, presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP). Indeed, only misguided Nigerians will dismiss the giant strides of Obi, as has never been seen, at least since Nigeria adopted the democratic system of government in 1999.

For too long, we have had leaders who won elections with several campaign promises that were jettisoned the moment they (the leaders) were declared winners, only for them to resurface with another set of empty promises four years later.

My first instance is Lagos, the epicentre of the indigene versus residents debacle, where the greatest surprise ensued with battles and counter-battles of ownership. It remains an error for anybody to attribute the reelection victory of the Governor Babjide Sanwo-Olu to ownership of Lagos. Sanwo-Olu could not have owned Lagos more than President-Elect and former governor of Lagos, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who lost the state to Obi in the presidential election.

Tinubu’s loss rather exposed the lapses in the leadership style in Lagos that didn’t consider the legitimate concerns of non-indigenous residents enough. It is widely believed that the ruling class in Lagos didn’t make enough efforts to curtail the excesses of the ‘Agberos’; to the utmost chagrin of large sections of residents. This, and many similar unattended concerns paved the way for the Obi/Datti wave to prevail.

It would suffice to say that the lessons from the presidential elections opened Sanwo-Olu’s eyes, because that remains the only rationale behind his unusual frequency of social media engagement. He suddenly engaged Lagosians, with a keen show of attention to non-indigenous residents in his last campaign endeavours before the March 18 governorship election.

The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was not left out. In the 2019 general election, the major opposition party, PDP, swept through all nooks and crannies. At the time, we saw how PDP’s presidential flagbearer, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, defeated the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC in the FCT; a show of just how much change the people needed from the perceived failure of the government. Even though President Buhari had his scorecard in infrastructure among a few other areas, residents of the FCT knew better what they deserved.

Similarly, PDP’s shine extended to winning all three seats in the National Assembly – Philips Tanimu Aduda won the election for Senate; Hassan Sokodabo Usman and Micah Yohanna Jiba also clinched their bids for the House of Representatives seats, it was a sweet victory. But as usual, after winning, our politicians abruptly become unreachable, they forget that election victory only lasts for four years. They pay lip service to the people’s needs, only to come back for campaign during another election season. Aren’t the people tired?

It should have been an easy feat for the PDP to maintain its stronghold on the FCT, but its leaders failed to pay due attention to the residents versus Indigenes dynamics staring them in the face. This proved their undoing. Obi’s campaign, which many have described as unprecedented, came like a hurricane, introducing an “Obi effect” that gave LP victory in the FCT in both Presidency, Senate and Reps. Could Obi have won the hearts of FCT residents by mere campaign strategy? The glaring answer is no. Against the backdrop of ethnicity, religion and partisan politics, residents of the FCT saw hope, they saw a platform which connected with the needs of the people.

The APC didn’t fare much better. The present ‘Governor’ of the FCT has earned his criticisms by his sheer aloofness and apathy, leaving his Minister of State, Ramatu Aliyu with no back to stand on. Despite her best efforts, the APC barely wrestled one out of the two Reps seats, else, Obi, a man with a campaign tagline “we no dey give shishi” would have floored the establishment with almost a top-to-bottom win. It is a clear-cut display of the people’s will against what the PDP thought was a routine exercise.

Going down South, to Abia, the outcome of the governorship poll could be foreseen before it was officially announced; the people were tired and needed a shift. What could Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of the PDP tell anybody in Abia to make them vote for his ex-chief of staff and governorship candidate of the PDP, Okey Ahiwe?

Ikpeazu may have wished for party continuity through Ahiwe, but his wishful thinking could not have put a smile on the faces of the people he governed for eight years, only a thorough delivery of good governance could have done that. Alex Otti of the LP won by a wide margin, nearly doubling Ahiwe’s votes. Again, it shows how deeply neglected the needs of Abians were for eight years.

Not far-fetched was Rivers State, whereby in the runup to the governorship election, we saw how a former governor and ex-Minister of Transportation Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, promised non-indigenes heaven on earth, all in a bid to secure the win for his party man, the APC candidate, Tonye Cole. Perhaps, Amaechi must have learnt his lessons from the bold statement made in Rivers during the presidential election – the poll reflected the fact that residents also constitute the voter register of every polling unit, not just indigenes.

In the same vein, Governor Nyesom Wike romanced the Igbos in several engagements, canvassing for votes for his anointed candidate, Siminialaye Fubara who eventually won. The first question that comes to mind is: did they just realise that the politics of indigeneship is a politics of failure?

If Wike spent his eight years in office, recognising that not only indigenes make up the voters of a state, clearly, he wouldn’t have to wait until campaign time to identify with either the Igbos or other residents in the state. I bet the presidential election proved a point to Wike; that while the indigenes have their rights to the dividends of democracy, every other resident and tax-payer in the state deserved to be provided for alike.

Kaura federal constituency in Kaduna State was popular for producing a reps candidate from the LP, Mr Donatus Mathew, who was said to have been an “Okada rider” before the February 25 presidential and national assembly election that gave him victory over the incumbent reps member and candidate of the PDP, Hon Gideon Lucas Gwani, who came second. How could an Okada rider defeat an incumbent Reps member if his incumbency made lives any easier for his constituents?

Now that Nigeria has rounded up its 2023 general elections and leaders have emerged from various ethnicities, tribes and religions, in my submission, I must stress the need to govern for all. Our leaders must now, more than ever, put the needs of the people at the forefront of their plans, devoid of undue emphasis on indigeneship. Their olive branches must be extended, such that it benefits all.

Clearly, the consciousness of the electorate has risen exponentially and must be taken seriously. Let’s hope the right lessons have been learnt.

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