From Awo to What? Part One By Akin Osuntokun
Chief Obafemi Awolowo died 26 years ago and had more or less been in political limbo four years before he died in 1987. Yet it will be difficult to fully grapple with the politics of the South-west without reference to him. At the collapse of the Second Republic in 1983, he expressed a deep frustration with the system and projected that given the lopsided political configuration of Nigeria it was next to impossible for an Ijaw or any other minority aspirant to become the president of Nigeria. This negative projection was broken in 2010 albeit in unusual circumstances.
Next in rank in political importance and accomplishment among the Yoruba is former President Olusegun Obasanjo. When he chose to step down as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), I asked him his reasons. He said he had accomplished the political mission he set out for himself. Amongst others and hacking back to the downcast projection of Awolowo, he mentioned the imperative of equality of aspiration and access for all Nigerians to the office of the president. For both, the Presidency of Dr Goodluck Jonathan answers the question of their scepticism on the political possibilities of Nigeria.
Against the norm of sit tight military usurpers in Africa, the expeditious conclusion of the 1979 transition to civil democratic rule programme earned Obasanjo widespread acclamation nationally and across the international community. The exception to the near universal commendation was the thumbs down the effort received from Chief Awolowo and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). The Awolowo camp did not stop at mere condemnation of the general election, Obasanjo was actually declared an official enemy of the UPN. This unenviable designation was predicated on the certain belief that the election was manipulated by the military government to deliver a predetermined outcome-the victory of President Shehu Shagari and the National Party of Nigeria (NPN).
The antipathy between the two protagonists eventually snowballed to the status of political culture in the South-west. Under the regime of this culture, the definition of political correctness is not complete without the inclusion of a ready disposition to run Obasanjo down and denigrate him as a ‘Northern stooge’. In his capacity as a mutual friend to the then governor and deputy governor Oyo State, Chiefs Bola Ige and Sunday Afolabi; Obasanjo ventured to mend broken relations between the two and invited them to talk things over. The meeting almost ended the political career of Ige. He was summoned to appear before the National Executive Council of the UPN, to answer to the seditious charge of fraternising with an enemy of the party. Ige survived the inquisition and called it the night of the long knives.
Next in importance is the late president-elect, Chief Moshood Abiola, whose political inclination ran in tandem with that of Obasanjo. Abiola was a bigwig in the NPN, and sought to become president under its banner in 1983. The response he got was the quotable quote “the party was not for sale to the highest bidder”. Still the desire burned within him and finally got his desire gratified in 1993 and embarked on a journey of no return. He handily won the presidential election on June 12th 1993 with considerable support from across the country. Two weeks later the election was annulled by military President Ibrahim Babangida-which action initially provoked a Nigeria wide outrage.
Consistent with the enactment of power politics in Nigeria, national fragmentation was soon engineered by playing one section against another. The Igbos were reminded by Ikemba Emeka Ojukwu that the Yoruba did not support them in their hour of need and so the time had come to pay back with the same currency-by lining behind the annulment. The North were also reminded and reminded themselves that before Abiola’s election, the primaries of the two political parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republic Convention (NRC), which tentatively produced two Northerners as presidential standard bearers from the North was cancelled; and that this precedent was coextensive with the annulment.
The strategy of divide and rule was deployed to contain and isolate the South-west and portray the protests against the annulment as a case of Yoruba tribal intransigence against the Federal Republic. And it worked. But this success did not anticipate the resilience of the Yoruba and the crucial role the dominant media and intelligentsia establishment largely localised in the South-west was going to play. The agitation for the reversal of the annulment continued to boil and cast the spectre of the psychology of disintegration over the country. Arrayed against this opposition, General Sani Abacha upped the ante with the introduction of unsolved assassinations and assassination attempts.
The core, periphery and the outer perimeter of those who called Abacha’s bluff had coalesced into a well-knit political bloc and constituted a political party in waiting. Eventually the baby was delivered and it was christened the Alliance for Democracy (AD); and subsequently won the six states comprising the South-west zone in the general election of 1999. The party was projected as a reincarnation of Awolowo’s party in which Abiola was acknowledged as the Crown Prince.
Four years after, a combination of factors including the perceived persecution of Obasanjo by his Northern allies; the arrival of politically savvy young turks in the PDP; below par performance and arrogance of their governors led to a virtual wipeout of the AD, in the South-west . The lone survivor of the tectonic shift was the master of political brinkmanship, Senator Bola Tinubu. He survived and in association with his wounded colleagues reclaimed all the lost ground save Ondo State under the banner of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
The general election of 2007 was a political bazaar especially at the state level. In response to a request from my principal, President Obasanjo, for suggestions on how the damage can be mitigated, I proposed the cancellation of the results in the six states that I felt constituted the poster boys of the debacle. The suggestion ran to the stone wall of the laws governing the elections-to the effect that once the result of an election had been declared it is only the judiciary that can invalidate it. And it was in the exact order of my earlier prescription, that the declared results of Anambra, Edo and Ondo was subsequently thrashed one after the other by the judiciary.
In 2010, political tragedy struck the PDP in Ekiti and Osun States. The harbinger of the sorrowful dispossession of those states was the then President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, and the beneficiary was the ACN. I retain filial affection for Governors Rauf Aregbesola and Kayode Fayemi but I do not have confidence in the two judgments that brought them to power. I believe the judgment merely took advantage of the poor media perception of the PDP in the South-west-largely fostered and promoted by the masterful propaganda machinery of the other party.
I was in Ekiti State during the election and the educated impression I got was that the election ended in a stalemate and that neither party scored outright victory. I couldn’t claim a similar familiarity with Osun State but a judgment that disenfranchised a third of the electorate seems to me flawed. The 2011 elections in Oyo and Ogun States constituted a peculiar situation where the ACN did not win the elections but the PDP lost. In both states, the PDP suffered the fate of united we stand and divided we fall.
Going forward to 2014 and 2015, there are growing complications in the politics of a number of states in that zone. The dynamics have changed. The All Progressive Party (APC), as they are now known, has had the opportunity to disappoint and impress. An important category of those who will be disappointed are key political players and segments whose understanding of what constitutes good governance is the degree of personal patronage they were able to secure. In addition to this are individuals and communities that are genuinely disappointed and for whom the Sun always appeared to shine brighter on the other side.
In Ekiti State, the APC has invited opponents to come and fish in its troubled waters. Fayemi is under an improbable pressure from another sibling, Opeyemi Bamidele, who feels cheated and alienated over an issue that is presently in the realm of conjecture. If the status-quo remains, it will boost the ordinarily good chances of PDP and the Labour Party (LP) to wrest control in Ekiti State. Following the unsung achievements of his predecessor, Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State has given considerable facelift to Ibadan; and the achievement is not diminished by the fact that a huge loan was procured to execute the urban renewal projects.
What is new and portentous in Oyo State politics is the unbelievable ascendance of Governor Rasheed Ladoja to the all-powerful pedestal of the Godfather of Ibadan politics. My sister, Jumoke Akinjide, offered an insight to the understanding of this phenomenon. She brought it down to the penchant of Ibadan politics to be seasonally embodied in an individual to whom the mass followership voluntarily submit and hero worship. As it was with Penkelemesi Adegoke Adelabu, so was it with Lamidi Adedibu and so it is with Rasheed Ladoja. It is a seasonal ritual. Only Governor Ajimobi can tell why he threw away such a prized asset. The combination of residual PDP and Ladoja may yet prove the undoing of APC in Oyo State.
Governor Rauf Aregbesola is prone to controversies-some good and some bad. I cannot, for instance, fathom the necessity to summon such a divisive and explosive issue as religion in the governance of Osun State. I think it amounts to crying more than the bereaved for him to consecrate a muslim holiday that is not recognised as such in Saudi-Arabia. This controversy is one too many. No Nigerian public official should be more theocratic and royalist than King Abdullah.
Lagos State has the appearance an impregnable fortress for the APC but a lot is hanging on how the departure of Governor Babatunde Fashola is managed. And if I were contending against the APC in Lagos right now, I will not be far from Alaba market and other similarly colonised havens of our Igbo brothers. Such a move may likely benefit from the lately rekindled Igbo nationalist anger in Lagos. I think you get my point.
I do not get the feeling that Governor Ibikunle Amosun is particularly at ease with the original landlords of APC in Ogun State. But since I cannot deny the evidence of my eyes I will have to admit that he has turned substantial parts of Abeokuta into a massive reconstruction site. What I don’t know is the extent to which he too has partnered the bond market in sourcing for funds. Unfortunately though, he will have to contend with the formidable political machine of his friend turned political foe, Chief Gbenga Daniel. Ondo State is in the firm grip of the rising star of South-west politics, Governor Olusegun Mimiko; and will remain so till 2017 and beyond.
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