In a matter of hours, Nigerians will head to the polls in what seems like the most polarising election the country has ever had. Ethnic and religious fault lines have come to the fore again, threatening to snap the thin thread that holds Nigeria together delicately. In a frantic effort aimed at winning over their voter base, politicians and their associates, who ought to uphold peace and stability, are desperately deploying divisive rhetoric centred around ethnicity and religion. Unrestrained, these actions set the ideal condition for electoral violence and devastation, a prospect that we must resolutely oppose.
Painful historical lessons from Rwanda, South Africa, and Myanmar suggest that a wolf could be at the door. Historical tragedies, like the Rwandan genocide, which is estimated to have claimed over half a million lives in just 100 days, serve as cautionary reminders of the catastrophic impact of hate speech and derogatory remarks. If that seems too old to find expression in our modern society, the recent genocide of the Rohingya tribe in Myanmar, which claimed 25,000 lives, kicks all doubts to the curb. Within our shores, reports indicate that over the past three election cycles, hate speech and ethnoreligious assertions have resulted in the tragic loss of at least a thousand lives.
For a population that has endured years of social and economic deprivations at the hands of their political stewards, the tensions heading into the polls are at feverish levels. Expectations are high, and patience is wearing thin. There’s anger, bitterness, and fear in the air. A little trigger might set the nation on fire. Our conduct between now and the aftermath of the elections would determine the peace and security we would enjoy in the coming years. Therefore, We all should be more circumspect during this election for the sake of ourselves, our families, and our friends. Rwanda is a constant reminder of how hate speech and divisive statements can turn otherwise innocent humans into monsters that let hell loose on their friends.
Politicians and electoral seasons are like the ebb and flow of the tides, but our nation remains. Likewise, the consequences of our present actions on the well-being of our future generations will linger. We must look beyond the now and contemplate the future we’re creating for ourselves and the people we love. After the elections, your opposition would return to being your neighbour, colleague, friend, or business partner. Would you want them to hate you forever?
Nigeria is already the 6th most terrorized country in the world, according to the Global Terrorism Index. Nigerians face different, often intractable, security challenges across the six geopolitical zones. More than 35,000 people have been killed and three million displaced in the north alone since the Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009. In the decade between 2009 and 2019, terrorism and insecurity cost the Nigerian economy over 141 billion USD. For perspective, Nigeria needs 100 billion USD to solve our power supply challenges and 2 billion USD to fix our primary healthcare sector according to the Financial Derivatives Company (FDC).
Insecurity is costly, both in human and material resources. We should do all we can to ensure this election does not create new security challenges for us. Remember, your opposition thinks he’s also doing what’s right for the country. The path to achieving that is just different from yours. Respectfully and peacefully exercise your opposition to their proposal at the polls. Vote, not fight.
I am aware politicians are fond of defaulting to their tribal sentiments during elections, creating an ‘Us versus Them’ bunker mentality. See through their manipulations and selfish tendencies. As you pursue your interests through them, be careful not to become a tool for incitement and violence. You’d be left alone to nurture your wounds at the end. The Bible says the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There’s no law against these (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV). Regardless of who triumphs at the polls, advocate peace and tolerance always. If you feel any injustice or you have evidence of electoral fraud, protest the injustice legally and peacefully. Violence will create more problems without addressing your grievances.
Above all, see the task of building Nigeria as a noble and personal responsibility. While it’s good to elect great leaders, their effort will amount to nought if the citizens are uncooperative and irresponsible. Nation-building is a bottom-up process. From the individual to the community and up to the national level. Beyond Elections and political differences, it takes everyone to build a nation. If you and I make the right choices daily, shunning corruption and greed in our respective corners, things will take a turn for the better. Leaders are products of their community. So, even if your favourite candidates don’t emerge winners, never give up on your country. Form a formidable and peaceful opposition while contributing to Nigeria positively. That’s what patriotism demands. God established us in the land purposely. Impact it in the way God expects you to.
As a final note, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite verses from the Bible: Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” 2 Corinthians 13:11 NIV.
Nigeria will rise.
Global Lead Pastor, The Elevation Church