Saturday, May 28, 2022

South-West in disarray

What is wrong with us? Even if it is a curse, can’t we awake from our bewitchment and deliver ourselves from captivity?

• May 4, 2022
Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Ekiti governor, Kayode Fayemi
Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Ekiti governor, Kayode Fayemi

For us in what I prefer to refer to as Western Nigeria, but which is now colloquially spoken of as “South-West” Nigeria in the context of the so-called “six geo-political zones,” it seems that our case is now appearing to be like that of the biblical Job – “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me” (Job 3: 25 KJV). 

For the past two years or perhaps more, I have recognized that our region is susceptible to the classical “divide and rule” scenario in which several presidential aspirants would emerge from the region within the All Progressives Congress (APC), precipitating a divisive and bitter fight within Yorubaland that creates the conditions that allow an “outsider” to take away the prize. Indeed, I warned in my article, ‘The Journey to 2023’, published online on this medium on December 10, 2021, that “…if the Western candidates engage in a “fight-to-finish,” they may open the door for some northern candidates (who appear to have settled for the vice presidency) to quietly re-enter the race.”

I am aware that dating back more than 18 months ago, a group of us had gathered to discuss, strategise and embark on consultations precisely to prevent such a situation from emerging. Those efforts were spirited and reasoned but, in the end, appeared to have been sub-optimized by a multiplicity of factors, not excluding our predilection amongst the children of Oduduwa for suspecting each other’s motives and disinclination to unity, except under conditions of adversity and crises. 

Well, the crisis is now more-or-less upon us, God forbid! At the last count, six well-qualified politicians within the six states of Yorubaland are said to be interested in the presidential ticket of the APC: former Lagos State Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu; former Lagos State Attorney General and current Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Ekiti State Governor and Chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum Dr Kayode Fayemi; former Ogun State Governor and Senator Ibikunle Amosun; former House of Representatives Speaker Dimeji Bankole; and Pastor Tunde Bakare. 

Ogun State alone has four (Osinbajo, Amosun, Bankole and Bakare) of these aspirants, while Lagos and Ekiti have one each.

All six, as I said earlier, are well qualified and respected within the region and Nigeria, but it must be obvious to all of them and their supporters that six formidable aspirants from within the region, with at least four of them emerging more-or-less from the same ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria) caucus of the APC is a recipe for “mutually assured destruction” that guarantees as many of us feared that the Buhari inner circle would at the very least pick the candidate of their choice, who would then probably govern as a proxy for them or worse, spring a candidate from the North-East or North-Central who would sustain and deepen Northern hegemony over Nigeria. 

In line with this hypothesis, rumours have recently emerged suggesting that Senate President Ahmed Lawan may be a “consensus” candidate for the APC ticket.

To make things worse, the intra South-West jostling within the APC, especially between the camps of Tinubu and Osinbajo, is already becoming acrimonious. Some people have attempted, unfairly in my view, to paint Osinbajo as an Akintola who betrayed Tinubu, seeking to draw direct parallels with the destructive battle between the great Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his deputy Chief Ladoke Akintola that destabilized Yoruba politics since 1962, the negative vestiges of which remain with us till today. 

What is wrong with us? Even if it is a curse, can’t we awake from our bewitchment and deliver ourselves from captivity? I am, of course, able to understand Tinubu’s expectation that Osinbajo, who has been his close associate since 1999, would not wish to contest a direct primary against him, but I would counsel that politics and power, as Tinubu may appreciate, are a complicated endeavour.

The more appropriate parallel with the great Awo that I recall has instead been how the northern power brokers persuaded many of Awolowo’s key supporters to abandon Awolowo, the Committee of Friends and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in 1979 in favour of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) virtually all of them enticed with the prospect of Nigeria’s presidency. 

I recall as a secondary school student watching Awo himself speaking in his rare but powerful television interviews about wondering about how many of his supporters had been simultaneously promised Nigeria’s presidency by his opponents. So Chief Anthony Enahoro, Chief J. S Tarka, Mr S. G Ikoku, Chief Meredith Adisa Akinloye, Chief O. B Akin-Olugbade and several others who were with Awolowo in the First Republic deserted him and joined the NPN in the Second Republic. 

None of them became president. 

They were joined in the NPN by the new billionaire on the block, Chief MKO Abiola, who dissipated considerable resources on the NPN in expectation of securing the party’s presidential candidacy in 1983 until he was advised by northern power hawks that Nigeria’s presidency was not for sale.

All of the Yoruba APC presidential aspirants are worthy candidates for Nigeria’s presidency. Asiwaju Tinubu is a successful two-term Governor of Lagos State and a formidable politician who secured political control of the West and led efforts to create the APC and ensure it displaced the PDP as Nigeria’s ruling party in 2015. While his political legacy is still subject to debate, only the uncharitable will deny his contributions to the APC. Vice President Osinbajo has been Nigeria’s No. 2 for seven years and is generally regarded as intelligent, mature and sensible. 

He was a very successful Attorney General in Lagos State, and most Nigerians believe he will be a good president. Dr Kayode Fayemi is calm and a team leader. His ability to maintain cohesion with the NGF is a testament to his leadership skills and maturity. Amosun is a forceful character who contributed his quota to the development of Ogun State in his eight years as governor. I am informed that there is a possibility that Dimeji Bankole may step down his (tactical?) presidential aspiration in favour of replacing Amosun at the Senate. 

Pastor Bakare is a courageous clergyman and leader who believes it is his anointed destiny to take over from Buhari as Nigeria’s next president. 

At the very least, none of these individuals will be worse than the incumbent, and I dare say several of them may be significantly better. Given the history of the APC and its support base, the presidential ticket of the APC should ordinarily go to the South-West without contest, but the seeming disarray in the region may make it possible for the puppet masters (who appear to have encouraged all our leaders to fight amongst themselves) to then orchestrate a set of circumstances in which the presidency returns to the North. 

I still believe APC, from the point of view of electoral mathematics, is best served by picking a presidential candidate from the South-West and a running-mate from the North-East and that those imagining it is possible to foist another northern Muslim president on Nigeria in 2023 may be foolishly and arrogantly taking Nigeria’s unity for granted. 

Nevertheless, the multiplicity of powerful presidential aspirants and the prospect of a divided Western Nigeria surely make the puppet masters consider their schemes capable of success.

I recommend that Tinubu, Osinbajo, Fayemi and Amosun should immediately restore dialogue and communication amongst them. They do not require any third party to get them talking again, and if there is any need for anyone to mediate such dialogue, I am certain there are many who could facilitate such conversations. Such people would know themselves. Secondly, I believe a non-partisan, non-political group of Yoruba elders should be interested in intervening to avert unnecessary bickering or worse in our motherland. 

I would be thinking of persons like Chief Afe Babalola, Prof Wale Omole, Prof Akin Ibidapo-Obe, Justice Rhodes-Vivour, Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi, Pastor (Dr) David Oyedepo, Mr Kayode Sofola and Chief Mrs Folake Solanke amongst others. The criteria for selecting these distinguished elders apart from non-partisanship and lacking political affiliations must include integrity, courage, discipline and self-restraint.

The West must urgently move to put an end to the emerging political disarray in our region. If we don’t, our generations will suffer for it.    

Opeyemi Agbaje is Founder and CEO of leading strategy and business advisory firm, RTC Advisory Services Ltd. He was former Head of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at Lagos Business School and is a lawyer, economic and policy expert and strategist. He is also Chairman of Stairways Communications and Advocacy ltd, a political consultancy.

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