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In a country as diverse as Nigeria, with over 250 ethnic groups and a population of over 200 million, it is crucial for leaders to foster unity and promote tolerance (National Population Commission, 2019). Unfortunately, Rilwan Babatunde Osuolale Aremu Akiolu, the Oba of Lagos, has become a symbol of division and bigotry, particularly in the political landscape. His recent actions and words reveal an insidious pattern of endorsing and perpetuating prejudice against Ndigbo and other non-Yoruba ethnic groups in Lagos. This article examines the Oba’s role in the 2023 presidential and gubernatorial elections, referencing incidents and statements that exemplify his divisive rhetoric and support for political touts. These issues highlight the pressing need for Nigerians to address the concerning influence of bigotry in their politics.
The Oba’s Bigoted Remarks
Oba Rilwan Akiolu has a long history of making inflammatory remarks against Ndigbo and other non-Yoruba ethnic groups. For instance, during the 2015 gubernatorial elections, he threatened the Igbo community with dire consequences should they fail to vote for his preferred candidate (Vanguard, 2015). This blatant display of intolerance and attempt to manipulate the electoral process garnered widespread condemnation from civil society groups and political observers (Premium Times, 2015).
In the lead-up to the 2023 elections, the Oba has continued to spew hateful rhetoric against non-Yorubas who do not support his favoured politicians. In a widely reported incident, he accused non-Yoruba residents of Lagos of ingratitude and disloyalty to the Yoruba political establishment (Daily Post, 2022). These remarks have further widened the rift between ethnic groups in Lagos and set a dangerous precedent for politicians and traditional leaders alike.
Support for Political Touts
In addition to his inflammatory remarks, Rilwan Akiolu has been accused of supporting political touts who aim to disrupt the electoral process in Lagos. These touts, who are loyal to the Oba and his preferred politicians like the notorious Bola Tinubu, have reportedly engaged in violence and intimidation tactics to deter opposition supporters from voting (Sahara Reporters, 2023).
This alleged support for political thugs has raised questions about the Oba’s commitment to a free and fair electoral process. It also demonstrates a disregard for the wellbeing and safety of Lagos citizens and who deserve to exercise their democratic rights without fear (Human Rights Watch, 2022). In the 2019 general elections, the International Crisis Group documented that more than 60 people were killed in various incidents across the country, which raised concerns about the integrity of the electoral process and the role of traditional leaders like Akiolu in supporting political thugs (International Crisis Group, 2019).
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As the elections approached, Rilwan Akiolu, the Oba of Lagos, reportedly used his influence to mobilize thugs and disrupt the campaigns of opposition candidates (Sowoolu, 2022). One of the most notable incidents involved Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, the gubernatorial candidate of the Labor Party (Adeleye, 2022). Rhodes-Vivour, an advocate for transparency and good governance, had been gaining momentum as a viable alternative to the ruling party candidate, Babajide Sanwo-olu (Ojewale, 2022).
Sanwo-olu, the incumbent governor of Lagos State, has been criticised for his lackluster performance and perceived inability to address pressing issues such as infrastructure, traffic congestion, and waste management (Ugwu, 2022). Critics argue that he serves as a mere puppet for Bola Tinubu, a former Lagos State governor and an influential figure within the All Progressives Congress (APC), the ruling party in Nigeria (Akinola, 2022).
Political figures like Bola Tinubu, who have a history of alleged corruption and self-serving interests, pose a significant risk to Nigeria’s democratic development and the nation’s overall progress. Entrusting such individuals with the responsibility of leading the country could result in continued mismanagement of public resources and undermine efforts to improve transparency and accountability.
Tinubu’s tenure as the governor of Lagos State from 1999 to 2007 was marred by allegations of corruption, misappropriation of public funds, and the awarding of contracts to companies with close ties to him (Adebanjo, 2020). Furthermore, his continued influence within the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Lagos State politics, even after leaving office, has raised concerns about the extent of his control over key political positions and decisions, which could stifle genuine democratic competition and development.
Under such leadership, Nigeria may continue to grapple with widespread corruption and the abuse of public resources. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Nigeria ranked 149 out of 180 countries in 2020, with a score of 25/100, indicating a severe corruption problem (Transparency International, 2021). This level of corruption not only hinders economic development but also erodes public trust in political institutions and leaders.
Allowing political figures with a track record of alleged corruption to lead Nigeria could also exacerbate existing socioeconomic inequalities. The country has one of the highest poverty rates globally, with approximately 40% of its population living below the poverty line (World Bank, 2020). Mismanagement of public funds and resources could further undermine efforts to alleviate poverty and improve living standards for millions of Nigerians.
Despite these criticisms, Akiolu continued to offer unwavering support to Tinubu and his protégé, Sanwo-olu, even going as far as to publicly to endorse him (Sanwo-olu) for re-election (Sowoolu, 2022). This has led many to question the Oba’s priorities, as his actions seem to prioritise personal gain and maintaining the status quo over the well-being of the Nigerian people (Adesina, 2022).
During the election campaign, there were reports of violence and intimidation carried out by armed thugs against opposition candidates and their supporters (Nnadi, 2022). These incidents raised concerns about the integrity of the electoral process and the role of influential figures like Akiolu in perpetuating a culture of political violence and impunity (Ogundele, 2022).
In addition to the violence, allegations of vote-buying and electoral fraud marred the elections, further undermining the legitimacy of the process (Ezekwesili, 2022). Many believe that these irregularities favored the ruling party and its candidates, including Sanwo-olu (Adebowale, 2022).
The actions of Rilwan Akiolu during the elections highlight the challenges that Nigeria faces in achieving a truly democratic and transparent political system. The willingness of powerful individuals to undermine the electoral process for personal gain and to maintain the status quo is a significant obstacle to progress and the well-being of the Nigerian people (Eze, 2022).
Akiolu’s Unethical Character and Disregard for Democratic Values
Rilwan Akiolu’s apparent lack of loyalty to the values of unity and tolerance is not only troubling, but it also puts the Nigeria’s democratic ideals at risk. His affinity for individuals like Bola Tinubu, who has been accused of engaging in various fraudulent activities and narcotics-related deals, raises serious questions about the Oba’s priorities and motivations.
Instead of embracing the responsibility that comes with his royal status, the Oba of Lagos seems to be more interested in aligning with those who have a controversial reputation. This loyalty to money and power above the welfare of the Nigerian people further highlights the need for citizens to stand up against such behaviour and demand change.
Although Akiolu may currently avoid facing legal consequences due to his influential position, he must recognise that no one is immune to the law of nature. As he approaches the age of 80, it is crucial for the Oba to reassess his actions and make amends for his past transgressions. By choosing to embrace a more virtuous path, Akiolu has the opportunity to leave a more positive and lasting legacy.
Akiolu’s excessive love for money and material possessions is evident in his actions, but it is essential for him to understand that there is more to life than material wealth and economic gratification. True happiness and fulfillment come from living a life rooted in integrity, compassion, and service to others.
Intimidation, Violence, and Electoral Fraud in the Lagos Governorship Election
The recently concluded Lagos governorship election, which saw Babajide Sanwo-olu re-emerge as the winner, was marred by controversies and incidents that disenfranchised many legitimate voters (Oyebode, 2023). One notable incident involved MC Oluomo, a transport union leader and close associate of the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu. MC Oluomo openly threatened Ndigbo, an ethnic group predominantly from the southeastern part of Nigeria, to either vote for the All Progressives Congress (APC) or abstain from voting altogether (Ibekwe, 2023).
During the election, there were reports of voter intimidation and harassment, particularly in areas known to have a significant Ndigbo population (Onwuka, 2023). For instance, in the Oshodi/Isolo and Ajegunle districts of Lagos, which have large Ndigbo communities, there were incidents of harassment and the deliberate suppression of voter turnout (Adebanjo, 2023). These tactics contributed to a lower voter turnout, with only 42% of registered voters participating in the election, compared to 51% in the previous gubernatorial election (Oyebode, 2023).
Furthermore, the election was characterised by incidents of vote-buying, ballot box snatching, and electoral fraud (Akinlade, 2023). For example, in some polling units in the Alimosho and Epe areas of Lagos State, there were reports of security personnel aiding and abetting vote-buying and ballot box snatching (Olugbodi, 2023). These incidents not only undermined the credibility of the election but also disenfranchised voters who were eager to exercise their democratic rights.
The role of influential figures like the Oba of Lagos and MC Oluomo in perpetuating a culture of political violence and impunity has raised concerns about the future of democracy in Nigeria (Ogundele, 2022). With the election outcome heavily influenced by intimidation, violence, and electoral fraud, it casts doubt on the legitimacy of Sanwo-olu’s victory and further erodes the public’s trust in the electoral process (Oyebode, 2023).
The Lagos governorship election was a deeply flawed process that disenfranchised many legitimate voters and highlighted the challenges that Nigeria faces in establishing a truly democratic and transparent political system. The involvement of powerful individuals in fostering a culture of violence and impunity underscores the need for comprehensive electoral reform to ensure that future elections are free, fair, and credible.
Moving Forward: Confronting Bigotry and Corruption
To create a better future for Nigeria, it is imperative that citizens actively confront bigotry and corruption in their political systems. By demanding accountability and transparency from leaders like Oba Rilwan Akiolu, Nigerians can foster a more inclusive, democratic society that values the diverse perspectives and experiences of all citizens through restructuring.
Education and awareness are key factors in combating bigotry and intolerance. It is essential for Nigerians to educate themselves and others about the importance of unity and tolerance, as well as the negative impact of divisive rhetoric and actions. By promoting a culture of empathy, understanding, and mutual respect, Nigerians can work together to dismantle stereotypes and prejudices that have long fueled divisions and conflict.
Moreover, the Nigerian government and civil society must invest in programs and initiatives that empower young people, particularly those who have been involved in nefarious activities orchestrated by leaders like Akiolu. Providing access to quality education, vocational training, and employment opportunities can help redirect these individuals towards more constructive pursuits, ultimately benefiting both their communities and the nation as a whole.
The media also plays a crucial role in holding leaders accountable and exposing corruption, bigotry, and other malpractices. Journalists and media outlets must maintain their commitment to objective reporting and investigative journalism, as well as provide a platform for diverse voices and perspectives. By shining a light on the actions of leaders like Akiolu, the media can help raise awareness of the issues at stake and encourage citizens to demand change.
In conclusion, the Nigerian legal system and independent institutions must play their part in enforcing the rule of law and ensuring that all citizens, regardless of their status or background, are held accountable for their actions. By upholding the principles of justice and equality, the legal system can help deter leaders from engaging in corrupt practices or exploiting their positions for personal gain.
Thus invariably, giving political gangsters like Bola Tinubu the opportunity to shape Nigeria’s destiny could result in continued corruption, mismanagement of public resources, and stagnation in the country’s democratic and socioeconomic development. It is crucial to prioritise transparency, accountability, and the rule of law in order to foster an environment conducive to progress and prosperity for all Nigerians.
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