Shortly after the first set of results in the presidential election emerged and it turned out that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had received a shellacking at his polling unit at the Victoria Garden City, a prime neigbourhood in Lagos, I saw a rash of messages circulated on social media that quickly attributed his loss to elitism and corruption. These commentators claimed that those in the upscale neighbourhoods where President Muhammadu Buhari had not won, from Lagos to Abuja, were the rich and snotty elite who had been forcefully weaned off the nation’s feeding bottle they had successfully suckled for 16 years under the PDP government. Their not voting Buhari was their payback. This government might not be clueless when it comes to tackling the nation’s problems, but it makes up for that in propaganda. They were savvy enough to preempt the shame of the VP’s loss among his own neighbours.
However, when the Special Adviser to the President on Political Affairs, Babafemi Ojudu, penned an article, “The Battle Osinbajo Couldn’t Win,” and buttressed those rants by a bellicose minority, I realised this idle gossip has wormed its way into official and permanent archives. Like any decent democrat, Ojudu should have just reminded those he said besieged him with questions of why Osinbajo lost his polling unit that in a democracy, nobody owes anyone their votes. The fact that we live in the same privileged community does not mean your politics has to align with mine. But no, Ojudu joined in the demonisation of the VGC residents and similar places. On the one hand, he blames ethnicity and elitism for their electoral choices. On the other hand, he presents many of them as shallow and crass, some folk rich in everything but class.
Ojudu presents himself as an eyewitness to history and by taking such standpoint, he imbues his accusations with credibility. For that reason, he deserves a response. Otherwise, the tale of morally depraved rich people who refused to vote the anti-corruption President will become a classic case of a single story becoming the only story. For a government that has subsisted on the huff and puff of propaganda, it is dangerous not to refute the populist pander that underlines their rationale for how and why Osinbajo lost the VGC. We are not fooled, while the governing class might have spent half of their first term valorising poverty, it does not dislike wealth and enterprise. We remember that at the start of their campaign, they listed two famous billionaires – Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola – as members of the advisory committee for Buhari’s re-election. That means their problem is not with wealth in itself; it is that their owners refuse to submit it at the feet of Buhari’s ambition.
Ojudu did not only re-echo the same fatuous nonsense that has become the official narrative for why people are getting more impoverished in the country, he – either wittingly or not – also fed the calumny of wealth the APC supporters have been parroting for a while now. Under the Buhari administration, poverty is treated as an emblem of pride and mode of virtue signalling. Whereas poverty is no virtue, it either means you made the wrong choices, or you were born into inauspicious circumstances. To the devotees of the Buhari personality cult, the spread of poverty like cancer is proof that anti-corruption policies such as the TSA and the BVN are working. The avenues through which some people got “free money” are closing up. It fails to register to them that they too are falling victims to the declining quality of life. Also, the more the rich people they resent refuse to vote Buhari, the more resolute they get in their “Sai Babaism”. Ojudu pandered to this basal sentiment when he wrote that Osinbajo lost his polling unit at the VGC because the residents of that neighbourhood are “new money,” importers of goods, and beneficiaries of the corrupt practices that Buhari insists on stamping out. His criticisms of the VGC residents follow a sequential pattern of the APC’s anti-elitist habit of vilifying everyone who does not support Buhari, and also happens to have a relatively better life than the abject poor who have beatified Buhari as their patron saint.
The APC is promoting a class war, and it will not end well; people will only get poorer, and we could end up with a fate similar to Cambodia under Pol Pot. Meanwhile, the APC and Buhari’s supporters’ valourisation of poverty is not because they love poor people but because those folk have been easy enough for them to exploit. It must have bruised their ego to be rejected by VGC residents. They resorted to their default mode of diminishing wealth and reducing its existence to the consequence of corrupt practices. If the majority of those living in the so-called elite neighbourhoods did not vote for the APC, God forbid! it was because they have other legitimate concerns as Nigerians. It could only be because they are full of bile against a government that has tried to level the ground between the rich and the poor. By vilifying the rich, they make the unfortunate poor consider their present status as a moral strength and thereby overlook the failure of successive and current government policies to generate opportunities for all.
There is another reason this anti-rich attitude is jarring: it is a pointer towards how unreflective this government will be now that it has won a second term. By the time the official results of the elections all came in around Thursday, it was apparent that Buhari took a beating in the South, particularly in the western region. For all the promises they made about Yoruba agenda from now till 2023/27, they won the region by the mere skin of their teeth. A more introspective government would have been humbled enough to ask hard-hitting questions about why they were soundly rejected, but no, they are reaching for the strawmen of the VGC who were driven by “bile,” “ethnicity,” and “elite mentality.”
These narratives are dangerous and unproductive. Anyone who has been at the receiving end of the classism that underlines the APC propaganda will understand the necessity of confronting these attitudes before they fester. These days, it is virtually impossible to criticise Buhari’s actions without someone putting you down as merely being aggrieved because you are no longer getting free money as you did under 16 years of the PDP. It does not matter who you are, whatever profession you are in, and what your pedigree is; your refusal to orient your politics towards servicing Buhari is chalked down to bitterness. All arguments, no matter its level of complexity, can be downsized this way to fit into the smallness of their minds. The Buhari supporters peddling this nonsense also lack nuance in their understanding of issues. Their worldview has been neatly compartmentalised into two neat halves. Like the chickens of the Orwellian dystopian Animal Farm, all they do all day is cluck “two legs bad, four legs good.”
We should all be careful that these sentiments do not take roots. Otherwise, a time will come that the classism will no longer have the undertones of the rich corrupt vs. the incorruptible poor. They will tactically transform the narrative of who is corrupt or not into who supports Buhari (equals “good”) and who does not (equals “bad”). We are going into the times where Buhari himself has told us will be tough. When it gets to that point, they will not even let us protest our conditions. To do so, especially if you are not poor to the point of eating garri with your tears, you will be labelled one of the corrupt VGC elite. That will be enough to legitimatise whatever “ruthless” action they want to take against you.