‘Grab it! Snatch it! And run with it!’

Adéwálé Májà-Pearce

There is a doctored photo doing the rounds on social media that pretends to show Bọ́lá Ahmed Tinúbú, Nigeria’s president-elect, and Babájídé Sanwó-Olú, the re-elected Lagos State governor, on the back of a motorbike carrying a ballot box. It’s based on a real photo of two agbèrò, or hoodlums, who snatched a box from a polling booth during the state elections on 18 March. The caption is real, too: ‘Grab it! Snatch it! And run with it!’ Tinúbú instructed his inner circle at a meeting in London in early December, much to the amusement of those present, one of whom approvingly shouted ‘Jagaban!’ (‘warrior’), the title Tinúbú appears to treasure above his many others.

Amusing, perhaps, but also accurate. Tinúbú’s chief agbèrò, Musiliu Akínsànyà, aka MC Oluomo, had publicly warned the Igbo population of Lagos to stay indoors if they weren’t going to vote for the ruling All Progressives Congress: ‘We have begged them. If they don’t want to vote for us, it is not a fight … If you don’t want to vote for us, sit down at home.’ He later claimed he’d been making a ‘joke’. When a police spokesman was asked why MC Oluomo hadn’t been arrested on suspicion of inciting violence, he replied: ‘Let us take it as a joke, like he said.’

The police were content to look away while the agbèrò went about their work on polling day. Around my neighbourhood they were to be seen in intimidating groups of a dozen or so, drinking beer. Turnout in Lagos was the lowest it’s been since the return of democracy in 1999. After the voting was over and Sanwó-Olú’s re-election as governor secured, Báyọ̀ Ọnánúgà, Tinúbú’s chief spokesperson, issued a warning: ‘Let 2023 be the last time of Igbo interference in Lagos politics. Let there be no repeat in 2027. Lagos is like Anambra, Imo, any Nigerian state. It is not No Man’s Land, not Federal Capital Territory. It is Yoruba land. Mind your business.’

Ọnánúgà appears to have forgotten his visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda in 2018, which he left ‘deeply sober’, recommending it ‘as a must-go place to ethnic Champions … harbouring hatred about their fellow human beings … I hope they will take away, as I did, that all human beings do not in most cases have a choice about who they are in this world. Our ethnic identity is determined for us by our maker. So why do we hate a person because he is not a member of our ethnic group?’

Tinúbú, claiming to be ‘saddened by the reported isolated infractions’, has called on the country ‘to rise above our differences, which, in reality, are fewer than the valued strings that bind us together’. Nobody is fooled, least of all Peter Obi, the Labour Party presidential candidate: ‘I will challenge this rascality for the future of the country,’ he said. ‘This is not the end but the beginning of the journey for the birth of a new Nigeria.’ He has filed a suit at the Supreme Court challenging Tinúbú’s election victory.

As I have noted before, Tinúbú epitomises everything that is wrong with the old guard who have trashed their ‘fatherland’ over the six decades of what has passed for our independence. But our much-compromised legal system can’t be relied on to see justice done, even if there is no substance to the rumours, categorically denied by Ọnánúgà, that Tinúbú and the chief justice met secretly in London earlier this month.

Meanwhile, there are ongoing demonstrations in Abuja calling for the elections to be annulled altogether and an interim national government put in place. Nobody, mercifully, is calling on the army to intercede, as happened after the similarly botched 1983 elections, resulting in the dictatorship of Muhammadu Buhari, who took delight in executing people by retroactive decree but somehow managed to convince the electorate in 2015 that he was a ‘born again democrat’ (his second term is now drawing to a close). In this sense, at least, we might celebrate progress, but what is certain is that too many Nigerians do not believe Tinúbú has a mandate to govern. We inch towards the 29 May handover date as if in a state of suspended animation, everything up in the air.


  • 29 March 2023 at 7:53pm
    Idowu Omoyele says:
    There is something to be said for self-respecting journalists not serving as spokespersons for governments and government leaders, whether at local, state or federal levels. Journalists, who used to be professional and morally principled, tend to lose their journalistic freedom and jettison their values and resort to pandering to the whims of an often corrupt political dispensation they would otherwise have felt it their duty to expose, critique, hold culpable or accountable.

    Bayo Onanuga used to be a principled journalist. In 1989, he had been appointed as editor of the magazine 'African Concord', published by the Nigerian businessman, philanthropist and media mogul, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, as part of the Concord Group of Newspapers. However, Onanuga resigned his editorship of the magazine in April 1992, admirably refusing to heed his publisher's instruction that he apologize to the then military dictator, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, following the magazine's publication of a cover story: "Has Babangida Given Up?" (The same Babangida who, or whose regime, would annul the largely free and fair June 12, 1993 Nigerian presidential election, widely presumed to have been won by Abiola.)

    That such a journalist and editor can now resort to the cheap trick of tribalism or ethnicist prejudice, the sort which resulted in the tragedy of Biafra, is utterly shameful. Lagos remains Nigeria's commercial centre and was its capital city until 1991 when Abuja assumed that position. It may be located in the southwestern, largely Yoruba-speaking region of the country, but it is home to many people whose ethnicities are spread across a vast and diverse nation; you'd find people speaking Hausa and Igbo as well as Yoruba, with pidgin English serving as unofficial lingua franca.

    Lagos is Nigeria in miniature; the city is a microcosm of modern Nigeria. Of Lagos, it can be said that all Nigerian human life is here.