By Ochereome Nnanna
There have always been two opposing sides to Yoruba politics. The South-West has always been Nigeria’s gateway, which is why Ogun State is called “The Gateway State”. The first national party – the National Council for Nigeria and Cameroons, NCNC – held sway in the Lagos and Western axis before Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe took it to the East and elsewhere.
When the Action Group, AG, grew out of the Egbe Omo Yoruba to establish a core regional base for Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his group, many Yoruba who shared nationalist and pan-Africanist visions of politics were opposed to it and vice versa. The nationalists felt that the Yoruba needed to ally with others to build a strong nation. Eventually, Awolowo’s AG took charge of the Western political mainstream.
About 20 years after the civil war, the North had continued to monopolise power. Even the 43-month rule of General Olusegun Obasanjo between 1976 and 1979 was seen as an offshoot of Northern rule. As from 1989, former Chief of General Staff, Rtd Commodore Okoh Ebitu Ukiwe, got together with people like Chief Bola Ige, Rtd General Theophilus Danjuma, Rtd Air Commodore Dan Suleiman and others, to form the Council for Unity and Understanding, CUU. Its primary purpose was to create a cross-regional alliance among the Igbo, Yoruba and Minorities of the North and South towards effecting “Power Shift” or de-monopolising Northern grip on power.
It was this group that transformed into the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, in 1994. Moshood Abiola’s victory at the June 12, 1993 presidential election had achieved CUU’s vision – Power Shift. The election’s annulment became a slap in the face of the CUU collective, not just Abiola and the Yoruba. NADECO was an ethno-regional alliance of the South and Middle Belt to fight for the reversal of the annulment.
Pa Ayo Adebanjo Afenifere’s support for the presidential aspiration of Peter Obi on the grounds of being the best among the major contenders and “justice” is rooted in the support of some Igbo leaders for NADECO. Indeed, NADECO originated from the East, not South- West as erroneously believed in some quarters. Bola Ahmed Tinubu was elected Senator in 1992 as part of retired Major General Shehu Yar’ Adua’s Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, faction of the Social Democratic Party, SDP.
But he achieved his “heroic” status because he abandoned the PDM which chose to go to the Abacha Constitutional Conference to bury June 12. Tinubu chose, instead, to enter the trenches with NADECO, and later went into self-exile. When Afenifere, a strong NADECO constituent, accepted to participate in General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s transitional programme, Tinubu’s role in Afenifere/NADECO struggle earned him the ticket of the Alliance for Democracy, AD.
It was thanks to Tinubu’s political sagacity that he refused to join Afenifere in its ill-fated decision to help Obasanjo win the 2003 election. That decision led to the end of Afenifere/AD as the political mainstream of the South-West. Obasanjo used and annihilated it as a political force.
When Tinubu pulled out, he formed his Action Congress, AC. He “miraculously” won his second term in 2003 after the late Funsho Williams of the PDP had initially seemed poised to win. He shot to political stardom when he survived Obasanjo’s freezing of Lagos State’s local government funds from the Federation Account. Tinubu tweaked the revenue of the state and effectively launched it to what it has become today – the fourth largest economy in Africa.
Tinubu also successfully expanded his political kingdom throughout the South-West with a spur in Edo State under Adams Oshiomhole. He had single-handedly captured the Yoruba mainstream. This was when he started entertaining presidential ambition.
Tinubu and his strategy team put the metrics on the table and reasoned that an alliance between the North-West (which usually drags the rest of the North with it) and Tinubu’s South- West can become the new formula for perpetual domination of Nigerian politics.
Already, there was this Muhammadu Buhari, who had emerged as the cult figure of the North with his proverbial “12 million locked-down votes”. Despite his fanatical fanbase, however, Buhari failed in his three attempts. Tinubu concluded that a give-and-take alliance with Buhari was the only way he (Tinubu) could become president.
He initiated the move for the merger between his camp and that of Buhari. He made sure it was a “merger”, whereby the merging partners would discard their original identities, rather than an alliance that could easily come unstuck.
Buhari was only too eager to merge his Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, and Tinubu’s Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN. Tinubu’s funding, powerful propaganda machine and media empire were fully deployed to whip up a frenzy in Buhari’s favour. His camp endured Buhari’s incompetent misrule and Fulanisation of his government, consoled that after Buhari, Tinubu would take over and “do his own”.
Even his fight for the presidential ticket of the APC, which many thought would be denied him in favour of another Northerner, eventually swung around in Tinubu’s favour, despite his failing health and ridiculed image in the social media.
Tinubu is now at the cusp of achievement of his hard-laboured presidential ambition. His party is still in power at the Lagos and Federal levels, with 22 governors and majority of National Assembly and State Assembly lawmakers. The odds are strongly his favour, or so it seems.
The sudden upsurge of the Obidient Movement all over the country is a great shocker and bad omen, more especially to Tinubu than Atiku Abubakar. When you hear Tinubu’s wife, Remi, lamenting that Igbo people want to “spoil everything”, it is because the Tinubu camp feels greatly threatened by Obi’s revolutionary eruption.
Our final take next week will explore how Obi and Tinubu’s candidacies could threaten the peaceful coexistence between Igbo and Yoruba.