By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Plans to reinvent the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN raises dust in the Southwest as the hierarchy of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN allege it is another strategy of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP to undermine it in its stronghold.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the national publicity secretary of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN was understandably, seething with indignation at what he alleged as the latest machination of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP directed at his party last Sunday.
Before now, suggestions that the ACN, the dominant political party in the Southwest or its officials could be harassed in its stronghold with a new party could have been farfetched.
But not if the new party is the reincarnation of a popular party that reigned almost unchallenged in the Southwest and had as leader, a visionary ideologue in the person of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
So, it was not surprising that news of the reinvention of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, which governed the whole of the Southwest, including Edo and Delta States in the second republic would come as a shock to the ACN hierarchy. It was especially seen as a direct hit at the underbelly of the ACN, which controls what used to be UPN’s domain. And hence, Mohammed’s raging invectives directed at the PDP, which he claimed was set on another game of intrigues directed at the ACN.
The fear of the ACN was that it had all the while claimed ownership of the progressive political legacies of the respected sage, Chief Awolowo who founded the UPN and left a legacy of political and economic philosophising that is yet unmatched in recent memory in Yoruba land, and arguably in Nigeria.
So reintroducing Awolowo’s last political party, ACN officials apparently believed, was an attempt to undercut the support base of their party at home.
Even more disturbing for the ACN was the fact that the move to reinvent the UPN is being championed by Dr. Fredrick Fasheun, leader of the pan Yoruba social cultural group, Odua Peoples Congress, OPC.
So a mixture of Fasheun’s undiluted Yoruba centric cultural credentials and Awolowo’s political image was something the ACN hierarchy found more than troubling.
Fasheun’s OPC has since the 1993 presidential election fiasco come to symbolise a sort of cultural standby force in the Southwest with the group’s operatives in many instances being praised for living above board where regular policemen have failed.
So noting that the PDP has decided to go for broke last Sunday, Mohammed at his press conference alleged among others, that one of the champions of the new UPN recently won a pipeline protection contract from the Federal Government, which according to him, was to provide finances for the reinvigoration of the UPN.
“The PDP is keenly aware that it has totally lost the confidence of all Nigerians, and the long-suffering people of this great country are now ready and eager to vote out this clueless party,” Mohammed said last Sunday.
“Keenly aware of this fact, the PDP has now realized that if indeed the 2015 elections are free and fair and conducted in a conducive environment, there will be no chance for the party.
“The party has decided to go for broke: Either there will be no elections in 2015 or the polls will be conducted in an atmosphere of chaos, thereby paving the way for the PDP to do what it does best – rig the elections!”
Noting what he claimed to be the PDP’s game of subterfuge in the Southwest, he said:
“A multi-billion naira contract has suddenly been awarded for the protection of oil pipelines in the region. The main beneficiary of the contract has suddenly realized that the Unity Party of Nigeria, formed by the respected statesman Chief Obafemi Awolowo, is no longer in existence, and has thus decided to revive it.”
He further asked, “Is it a mere coincidence that the main beneficiary of the multi-billion naira oil pipeline protection contract is also the same fellow who is promoting the revival of the UPN?”
“Is it true that the so-called revival of the UPN is to provide a platform for anarchists and end-gamers in the South-west to infiltrate the ranks of the progressives and throw the region into chaos?”
Following a meeting of the conveners of the new UPN in Dr. Fasheun’s Century Hotel, in Lagos last Wednesday, Dr. Fasheun replied ACN’s Mohammed:
“UPN has come to provide such a credible platform. Those championing the resuscitation of UPN aim to bring sanity into the Nigeria’s political space, beginning with the South-West.” “A credible political association such as UPN will serve as a reliable, focused, people-oriented political vehicle. UPN shall meet the true yearnings of Nigerians for quality education, for free health for all, for a functional transportation system, for rural-urban integration and for mass housing.”
Accusing Mohammed of lying against him on the issue of the oil pipeline contract, he said: “He lied against me and the Oodua People’s Congress, OPC by misinforming the public that I had secured a N2.4 billion contract to guard pipelines. Trouble dey sleep, yanga go wake am. Let us reemphasise that we shall not go out of our way to look for trouble, but if trouble comes knocking, we shall return fire for fire. A word is enough for the wise.”
One of the strongmen of the old UPN, Chief Ebenezer Babatope contacted on the development claimed ignorance of the move behind the reinvention of the old UPN. Babatope who was director of organisation of the UPN and one of the closest associates of the late Awolowo, nevertheless confessed in a telephone chat with Vanguard that he would remain a member of the PDP until he exits politics.
Babatope, a member of the Board of Trustees, BoT of the PDP when pressed on the issue, however, confessed that one of the brains behind the reinvention of the party was a former personal aide of his while he was minister of transport during the Sanni Abacha regime.
The move to reinvent the UPN, controversial as it may be, however, remains a double edged sword for the PDP and those against the ascendancy of the ACN in the region. In the eyes of some stakeholders the ACN which presently governs all but one of the six Southwest States could remain unassailable if the incumbent governors produce the kind of performance that was associated with the old UPN or even better.