They met at Afor Nnobi last year during Ashaolu, the New Yam festival. They had gone on a couple of dates in Lagos and laughed a lot, especially when she made fun of him. Emeka was talking about introducing Uju, his girlfriend to our family members when she revealed: she will vote for Buhari. That was when e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g turned up-side-down. My brother Emeka, an IPOB activist who recently metamorphosed to Atiku supporter told me he will stop seeing her. “That is it”, he told me.
To put this story in context, I should mention that Emeka, the youngest in his family has been searching for a wife for over three years now. His friends and sisters have been urging him to get a good lady from his hometown, Nnobi. They argued that since the spouses of all his siblings are from other towns, it will be good to have someone from the same town to “keep watch” over their properties at home. From the first day, my brother met Uju, he liked her and everyone in the family have been excited and happy for them.
When I reminded Emeka of this, he told me that “I didn’t feel like I could still love her, knowing that she supports Buhari - I am too emotional. It the beginning, I thought I will live with it, but it just keeps getting worse. I can’t get over it.” Emeka was in an annoyance, the kind that often seizes and overwhelms the better judgment of people who follow Nigerian politics closely these days.
In this time of Buhari’s Presidency who polls poorly with Nigerians from Southeast, my bet is that these kinds of surprises have happened more often than usual. Igbos expect their “brothers and sisters” to broadly agree with them politically, at least enough to distaste everything about President Buhari. They want all Igbos to support their new love Atiku at the expense of their Supreme leader Nnamdi Kanu. Unfortunately for my brother Emeka, Uju happens to be a die-hard supporter of Buhari. Emeka was thus baffled.
In response, he freaked out on someone whose company he enjoys. For Emeka, the rule is: vote Buhari, get dumped. But, if you can’t kiss someone who disagrees with you; if you can’t love someone who disagrees with you; you’ve failed a basic mark. When you change the way, you treated someone - who you liked - simply because they disagree with you, you personify intolerance. You committed dialogic infanticide. You decided there’s nothing more to learn about people at least ostensibly on the other side of the political divide.
Even if you believe that being a Buhari backer proves that the person holding your hand is a “Fulani Slave,” that wouldn’t absolve you from the need to keep trying to understand, from remaining open. One would have thought that Igbos who are republican by nature, who pride themselves on their tolerance, who are outgoing and are in every city and village in Nigeria, living harmoniously or at least coexisting with other Nigerians will be open to plurality.
When I saw how pissed off Emeka was, I called Uju to find out how she is dealing with the delicate situation. She told me that she is now used to the trauma of losing close friends for believing in Buhari. She told me of how she lost her childhood friend, Ada, who broke up with her via text message when she saw her Facebook post praising Buhari for rescuing Nigeria from the looters. “Emeka is very emotional about this 2019 election,” said Uju. “He took it very personally that I did not agree with him.”
How can a people divided by the defeat of their “hero”, Goodluck Jonathan and the election of an “enemy” President Buhari move on? Many PDP members say they want to, but they are paralyzed with anxiety that President Buhari might win again in 2019. The die-hard supporters of Buhari say their brothers and sisters on the other side simply need to lighten up. They even joke that “we are all Hausa-Fulani slaves now” since their new-found love, Atiku Abubakar is also an Hausa-Fulani man.
When I talked to Uju last week about my bother Emeka, she said that “you can’t even kid him about Buhari. It’s like the sky is falling. What strikes me as odd is how defensive he is. We’ve been friends through challenging times and it’s never been like this.” Uju said she’s been avoiding political posts on Facebook. She said that some of her friends who are supporters of Buhari are logging off the site altogether, to avoid verbal fights with their brother and sister who have suddenly stooped “hailing Biafra” and metamorphosed to Atiku’s internet soldiers.
“I love my Emeka and I will always love him no matter who he votes for,” Uju told me, almost lamenting. “I’m hopeful it will get better as time goes on, but I don’t know if it will. The way I see it, as long as President Buhari is on the ballot box, the elephant is always in the room.” I told my brother Emeka that if he feels so passionately about voting Buhari out and having Atiku in, he should fight forward, but not at the cost of losing this sweet girl, Uju.
I consoled Uju not to give up on Emeka and that their relationships can survive this time of political polarization. What it will take, I told her, is having the ability to de-escalate the problem respectfully, and a commitment to repair the relationship. I also told Emeka that his problem is a lack of listening and a cultural belief that relationships are kind of “disposable”. I told him that rather than be civil it has become normal to call each other losers and cut people off completely.
President Buhari has been in office for over three years, but the rancor before and after the 2015 elections among families and friends is not fading. I know that bridging an ever-widening political gap in personal relationships isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible. It’s important to remind ourselves that the bonds go deeper than political orientation “Blood is thicker than politics, childhood friendship and marriage vows should not come with a commitment for life ‘unless you like a candidate I hate.’ ”
When you kill the love and friendship in your heart because of different political opinion, you suck. Disliking someone’s beliefs (or disagreeing with them) isn’t itself bigotry, changing how you treat them is. If you want to defend disagreement, don’t break up with your Buhari girlfriend or boyfriend or childhood friend you’ve loved for two decades. So, reach out to loved ones and tell them that nothing outside is more important than loved ones and your relationship; not Goodluck Jonathan, not Buhari, not Atiku, and definitely not saint Peter Obi.
Paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr., I refuse to accept the view that Igbos are so tragically bound to the starless midnight of Atiku and Peter Obi that the bright daybreak of love and brotherhood can be sacrificed. So, let us leave your fears and suspicion and embrace your brothers and sister across the political divide and we will be amazed as to how much we all have in common.
Together, we can.
You can email Churchill at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @churchillnnobi