By Olu Fasan
THE Yoruba are the most ardent federalist in Nigeria. They don’t believe they must belong to the party controlling the centre to survive. As a result, they are immune to the “bandwagon effect” in Nigeria’s elections, whereby people vote in gubernatorial and state assembly elections for the party of the declared winner of the earlier presidential poll. The Yoruba don’t do that. They are the Californians of Nigerian politics.
In the US, California State, the world’s sixth largest economy, is the bulwark against encroachments on the federalist ideals. For instance, California, which voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, has resisted President Trump’s controversial policies on climate change and immigration, which it believes undermine its basic values and the 10th Amendment that underpins American federalism. Thus, while California and other states, such as Texas, want the party they support to produce the president, their federalist spirit is so strong that they don’t feel threatened if they are in opposition. That’s precisely the Yoruba attitude: confident and proud of their exceptionalism!
But that’s also why the Yoruba clamour for true federalism in Nigeria. For them, restructuring Nigeria is an article of faith. Indeed, if you give the Yoruba a choice between a) producing a president, with no restructuring and b) having a properly restructured Nigeria, but skipping a slot for the presidency, they would opt for the latter. After all, Obasanjo was president for eight years and most Yoruba would say his presidency hardly benefitted the region. So, those talking about Yoruba presidency in 2023 as if it’s in Yoruba’s interest, albeit for personal ambitions, miss the point. The Yoruba don’t want symbolic national leadership, they need a properly restructured Nigeria.
During the 2015 elections, restructuring was such a key demand of the Yoruba that President Jonathan interrupted his campaign to convene a meeting of the Federal Executive Council to approve the report of the 2014 National Conference just to convince them that, if re-elected, he would implement the report. Of course, Jonathan’s unpopularity and the countervailing influence of Yoruba APC leaders were so strong that his last-minute action couldn’t win him the zone. Even so, he still won 42% of the votes against Buhari’s 56%.
But APC didn’t ignore the restructuring issue in 2015. The party’s Yoruba leaders knew how important it was to their people. Here is what APC’s manifesto said: “We will initiate action to amend our Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to the states and local governments to entrench true federalism and the Federal spirit”. Is there any ambiguity in that pledge? No. So, what have they done to fulfil the promise?
Truth is, South West APC leaders have largely gone quiet on the issue, some have even become renegade. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said in 2017, and again last year, that Nigeria didn’t need political restructuring but economic diversification. Never mind the centrality of an enduring political settlement to any development, economic or otherwise! In later interventions, Osinbajo rejected restructuring along ethnic or regional lines, which he called “geographical restructuring”. But how can you have true federalism in a multinational country if the different nationalities can’t feel the fullest autonomy of nationhood within a federal structure?
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who wrote Nigeria’s federalist treatise, the same way Alexander Hamilton and others wrote the American federalist papers, said in Path to Nigerian Freedom that, having studied the constitutions of virtually all countries of the world, he believed a federal structure based on ethnic and linguistic affinities was best suited to Nigeria. Obviously, Osinbajo disagrees with Awolowo’s research, analysis and conclusion. Fair enough, he’s a professor and entitled to differ!
Perhaps, in rejecting geographical restructuring, Professor Osinbajo wants to avoid being seen as an ethnicist, but rather a Nigerian nationalist. Well, if so, he then undermined his stance by playing ethnic politics in this election. Osinbajo asked the Yoruba to vote for Buhari to secure the presidency in 2023. Babatunde Fashola, Minister of Power, also made the same point. But a true nationalist would know that given that, since 1999, the South West has produced president for eight years and the South-South for six years, the South East should provide national leadership in 2023 when power returns to the South. But leaving that aside, is Yoruba presidency without restructuring the goal of the Yoruba? Where is the restructuring that Yoruba APC leaders promised their people?
To be fair, APC set up the el-Rufai committee, which produced a report on restructuring. But President Buhari is adamantly opposed to restructuring. The issue is not even mentioned in APC’s Next Level manifesto. So, restructuring is not on APC’s radar, and won’t be while Buhari is president!
Of course, the Yoruba alone cannot restructure Nigeria. But the APC and the Buhari government wouldn’t have existed without the South West, and Buhari won’t be re-elected without the South West. So, what has the South West benefitted from the alliance? Okay, some say, Buhari recognised June 12 as Democracy Day. But is that symbolic gesture a substitute for restructuring? Yoruba APC leaders are merely occupying political offices; they are powerless on restructuring. That’s a betrayal of the Yoruba cause!