By Dele Sobowale
“A political party deserves the approbation of [the people it represents] only in so far as it represents the ideals, the aspirations and the hopes of [the people]. If it is anything else, it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.
US President Eisenhower, 1890-1969, November 7, 1956.
Never in the history of Nigeria and the creation of the Western Region, as an entity, had the majority of the Yoruba people had to question the leaders of the major political party representing them as they have been forced to do since 1999 when Obasanjo was elected President – imposed by northern elements. In the 1999 election, the Yoruba were contented to remain in the opposition; just as they did during the first and second republics. Obasanjo made clear whose son he is by neglecting to develop the South-West – even after deceiving gullible leaders of Afenifere, who were the authentic leaders of Yoruba at the time.
There was not much improvement under the late President Yar’Adua and former President Goodluck Jonathan. In fact, Jonathan provided the opportunity for a lot of Yoruba people who drifted to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to regain their senses and begin the search for new leadership. That search for a new beginning resulted in the upsurge of the Action Congress, AC – which gradually recaptured Osun, Ogun, Oyo and Ekiti at first and Ondo later. From 2011 to 2015, it appeared that the South-West was back on track to elect a party which strongly believed in the aspirations of the people – defined as quest for true federalism (Resource Control or Restructuring if you like), universal education, rapid economic development and reduction of poverty.
Everybody in the South-West firmly holds the belief that the Geographical Expression (apologies to late Chief Obafemi Awolowo), called Nigeria, had become a drag on the development of the South- West under all the governments at the centre since 1960. As a minimum, they wanted the freedom to grow and develop at their own pace. Nigeria, as currently constituted, is holding the SW down. For that matter, it is holding the South-East and South-South down. The recent declaration of Nigeria as the Poverty Capital of the world was one of the delayed consequences of the amalgamation of the North and South in 1914 and the series of bad leaders the nation had experienced. Even today, if the SE, SS and SW were isolated, the southern part could not possibly be the poorest nation on earth. So, we know where the stigma comes from. Again, the fact that 13 million Nigerian school-age children don’t attend schools, making the nation the worst in that respect can be directly traced to the section of the country which accounts for ten million of those kids; and the population is rising rapidly with no solution in sight. The leaders of the region either don’t care or don’t know how to solve the problem. With national power in their hands, it had been much easier for steps to be taken to hold others down.
All these were clear even when Jonathan, who deserved to be thrown out was in office. The major causes of the national backwardness, until 2010, were corruption, atrocious leadership and later insecurity. By 2013, it was obvious that the PDP was not leading Nigeria in the right direction. Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan were woeful failures and massive corruption had bled Nigeria by almost N8 trillion by the time Obasanjo left office in 2007. ( See, PDP: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED). Nigeria could not possibly continue with Jonathan.
That realisation led to the search for alternatives. Unfortunately, the leading opposition party, the AC, led by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, was not strong enough to challenge PDP alone; the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, led by Buhari, was even smaller. Even a coalition of the two could not have dislodged the PDP. Providence intervened. The PDP started disintegrating on its own and some of the elements switched to the new association called All Progressives Congress, APC. Great hopes for positive and purposeful followed the announcement of the re-alignment of political forces. Despite my endorsement of the new coalition, I was sceptical that this was the answer to our dreams of good governance. Writing in August 2013 in an article titled,. “Is APC the Answer?”, I had predicted as follows: “But, from now until 2015 and, perhaps beyond, the most urgent question is: Is APC, as presently constituted, the answer? My answer for now is: perhaps not. We may need another political party”.
That answer will probably shock a lot of people who had assumed that as a long-term critic of the PDP, I would naturally embrace any political association, especially one that has arrogated to itself the word “PROGRESSIVE”.
Today, given the horrors we experience as a nation, many of them novel to us, that observation has proved prophetic. Nowhere else in Nigeria is the feeling of hopes betrayed deeper than in the SW. The Yoruba had contributed the most, in the beginning, to bring about the new political association ( I refuse to call it a party because it lacks the ideals to which most Nigerians aspire). The Yoruba leaders who were the founding fathers of the APC had assured us that they will work for the realisation of the hopes of our people. Based on that, we gave them maximum support in 2015 – despite our serious misgivings. I will go no further. We were assured the situation would be managed.
“It was beautiful and simple as all truly great swindles are.”
- Henry. US writer, 1862-1910.
The first twenty appointments made by the newly-elected President served notice to us that our hope may have been misplaced. Virtually all the important appointments went North. The first to come to the SW was the appointment of the Special Adviser to the President on Media. Protests by Yoruba people about the lopsided appointments were rebuffed by the SA who asked southerners to wait. Area Boys know from everyday experience that morning on a bad day shows what the day will look like. We did not wait. Four years have passed, just like yesterday, the lopsidedness remains till today. Dr Kachikwu, from Delta, was removed as Chairman of NNPC, and replaced by one of “their brothers”.
Today, all the APC leaders who ran around telling us that this was going to be their government, which will bring CHANGE, were as silent as corpses. Instead of standing up for equitable distribution of the dividends of the victory, they were contented to be handed crumbs. One Accountant was handed the Ministry of Finance to placate Ogapatpata’s friend. She was possibly no match for the likes of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, or Dr Kalu Idika Kalu, who graced that office before. By December, SW officials in the party and government had become maginalised. Some even had tough sounding titles. But in reality, they had become paper tigers. There was only one Oga and he was not from the SW. Then, the real show began. To understand the transformation of Yoruba politicians from free politicians to what they are today, we need fast forward.
“Bandits, kidnappers killed 310 Nigerians in May [2019 alone], says report”.
Nigeria Mourns, Friday, June 30, 2019.
According to the report, Zamfara and Katsina in the Northwest lost 67 and 51 persons; in Borno in the Northeast 64 innocent souls were dispatched to the grave. Thus 59 per cent of those slaughtered that month were from states which gave over 95 per cent of their votes to APC. Is this the way to say “Thank you”?
The civil society group which published that report, obviously free men, must have heard the report from America. One of the SW politicians had gone there as an Ambassador of Nigeria. Let me remind you that “An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” (Sir Henry Wolton, 1568-1639). This particular one was once a “Man of God”. He told the Americans that most of the stories about kidnappings, rapes, bandits atrocities and Boko Haram were rumours. The Americans who have access to their Embassy’s briefings must have smiled derisively. If the speaker does not know he is lying, they bloody well know.
Back home in Nigeria, the old and young men of Afenifere, the SW political group, told the ambassador to go and kneel before God and pray for forgiveness for violating the Commandment against bearing false witness. Afenifere spoke in vain. South West political leaders can no longer speak the truth to power. They lack the guts and it is not in their interests to do so.
That brings me to the point of this article today. The real situation is this. Suspected Fulani herdsmen now occupy every corner of Yorubaland. One of the S/W politicians in the corridor of power had previously announced to us the options – “Your land or your life”. The ambassador is telling the world that our alarms are baseless. The Federal Government which they serve had just announced the creation of Ragu settlements on our land. And, none of the APC leaders or elected representatives is raising objections. The time has come for us to ask if they are representing us. And, if not, as it is becoming obvious, what do we do now?
“In the end, it will not matter to us whether we fought with flails or reeds. It will matter to us on what side we fought”. GK Chesterton, 1874-1936.
The year 2023 is four years away; but, there is no time to waste. Irrespective of their political affiliations, we must now begin the search for politicians who will fight for us. We must resolutely turn our backs on those who seek to sell the Yoruba people down the river; as their fore-fathers did during the slave trade. We must draw the line on the settlements and every politician in Yorubaland will now be judged on which side he fought on this issue at least. We already know on which side some of the politicians will fight. We also know who those seeking appointment with the FG will support. But, I have a message for them.
TIME IS LONGER THAN ROPE was the title of a book written by Nelson Mandela, which I read in 1967 at a time when it appeared as if the man might die in prison. That he lived long enough to rule South Africa gives me hope that those working against the interest of the SW, as well as the entire South and Middle Belt, will never get away with it – up to the third and fourth generations.