On Nigeria’s Old But New Politics of Tribe in 2023

Oris Aigbokhaevbolo
3 min readMar 21, 2023

LP won the presidential elections in my polling unit. That evening, many of the young people in the area stood with the INEC officers till late. These are people nobody ever sees at any time of the day on the street.

At the time, it seemed as if the real division in the country was generational. Old vs Young. Of course, Peter Obi of Labour Party isn’t exactly young but he is the one that young people have come to believe is on their side. With good reason, if you look at the antecedents of his rivals.

But online, over the past week, it appears that the real division in Nigeria is exactly the one we all grew up with: Yoruba vs Igbo. At least in Lagos. It is the same one that played out four years ago.

It reminds me of my years in primary school in Lagos, back in the 1990s. A group of boys in my school liked to use a weird phrase to refer to me when they got in the mood: Omo Nna. I’d laugh it off or I like to think I did. Wetin concern me? None of my parents was from Igboland.

But wherever you are really from has no bearing on matters of this sort. It is just enough to look a certain way or to not come from the place the people speaking are from. In fact, if you read the reports on Twitter and think about the methodology some of the hoodlums who were “screening” individuals at various polling units deployed, it seems like class was the stronger criterion in deciding who gets to vote and who gets turned away or gets threatened with violence.

This is one reason a lot of this noise and rhetoric is nonsense. In a country of poor people and an exploitative ruling class, the real division that should bring anger is the wealth gap. But idiots are chanting ethnicity and tribe all over the place. Go to Abuja a weekend from now and all of the wealthy politicians and their kids are drinking from each other’s champagne bottle in the same clubs.

But blindness to the truth is a big feature of the foolishness displayed over the past week. Apparently, the illogic of Lagos schoolboys in the 1990s hasn’t quite left the adults those kids became. But these things never really leave. It’s encoded in our bones.

The tribal distrust that our parents held in the hearts was ceded to their kids and the kids have become adults with their own kids. You want to hope that things change but that is naivete. The centre will simply not hold.

As the elections become old news online and the tension of today is doused by the jokes, banter, and salacious news of tomorrow, I think everyone now understands that the more things change, the more they remain the same. The young snake will inherit his mother’s poison.

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