The systematic exclusion of Igbo people or those who resemble them from voting during the Lagos Governorship election was the result of an extreme political movement that was fueled by false information and nurtured for several months on the internet.
Thankfully, more and more political organisations and regulatory bodies are beginning to question how false information contributed to the violence on March 18th and are investigating ways to hold those responsible accountable. However, there has not been enough focus on how misinformation in conjunction with ethnic baiting contributes to violent extremism online. It is crucial to address this issue directly, not only to protect voters’ rights but also for the sake of national security.
Ethnic baiting has become a pervasive and insidious threat to Nigeria’s national security and democracy. By exploiting ethnic and religious differences, politicians and their supporters have sown the seeds of division and intolerance, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the country.
Around the world, politicians and their allies are increasingly deploying ethnic disinformation to eliminate their critics and consolidate power. By placing ethnic disinformation and the fight against authoritarianism at the centre of the policy agenda to reduce harm, the Federal Government has a chance to not only score a significant victory for voters’ rights but also to advance critical national security objectives around preventing further democratic backsliding.
With ethnic baiting, politicians are able to use their “divide and rule” policy, which allows them to gain and maintain power divisively. Numerous administrations from the 60s onwards have succeeded in doing this in Nigeria, which is familiar to Lagos politics. Unscrupulous Nigerian politicians have taken stoking and fanning ethnic and religious suspicion, fear, and hatred to an art form.
In recent years, Nigeria has witnessed a surge in ethnic and religious tensions, leading to violence and even deaths. Political leaders, often seeking to advance their interests or those of their ethnic or religious group, have exploited these divisions by engaging in ethnic baiting, using inflammatory language and spreading false information to incite hate and hostility.
In the fight against ethnic baiting, some argue that we need to use existing laws or create new legislation to prohibit ethnic baiting tactics by politicians and political parties and to monitor more closely how these groups use social media platforms to spread such messages. Occasionally, hate and online threats fueled by ethnic disinformation campaigns are followed by physical violence.
The abuse can cause psychological harm and waste energy and time, even in milder cases. The consequences of such actions are far-reaching. In addition to fueling violence, ethnic baiting undermines trust and confidence in government institutions, weakens the rule of law, and erodes social cohesion. It also impedes economic growth and development by deterring investment and creating an environment of uncertainty and instability.
Moreover, ethnic baiting poses a grave threat to Nigeria’s democracy. By exploiting ethnic and religious divisions, politicians seek to manipulate voters and mobilise support based on identity rather than merit or policy positions. The act of depriving individuals of their voting rights is frequently the initial phase of a more far-reaching and perilous tactic aimed at undermining democracy and violating human rights