By Femi Meyungbe Olufunmilade
I look at politics and politicians in my part of Nigeria ( Southwest) today and I cannot but remember Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s brand of politics longingly.
I am a believer in the approach of Chief Obafemi Awolowo to politics and governance because that approach, precisely, was responsible for his tremendous success.
I believe in Awolowo not because he was a Yoruba like myself or because he was a fraternal friend of my grandfather, Chief Amos Meyungbe Onasemowo, the Bashorun of Ilugun Alaro Ijebu. Nor because my father, Sam Olufunmilade Meyungbe, was such a fanatical follower of his, he deemed it a righteous thing to drop an advisory letter against passing an unjust judgement at the doorstep of Justice Sodeinde Sowemimo in 1963 over the treasonable felony trial of Awolowo and 21 of his political lieutenants for plotting a phantom coup, whereupon the judge declared “my hands are tied”.
I believe in Awolowo because I’ve read all his 13 books and had gone further to the Federal Archives at the University of Ibadan to photocopy his policy papers and strategic documents as Leader of the Action Group and Premier of the Western Region. On the African continent, he comes next only to Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, pioneer prime minister of Ghana, his good friend, in terms of intellectual legacies as a statesman-philosopher.
While 90 percent of Nkrumah’s 15 or so books were devoted to Africa’s liberation, with only one focused on Ghana (i.e. “Dark Days in Ghana”), 12 of Awolowo’s 13 books focused Nigeria. The exception being “The Problems of Africa: The Need for Ideological Reappraisal”, an original, provocative work of political theory that qualifies him for a doctorate by publication in Political Science. The book was deliberately focused on Africa, being the text of a lecture he gave as a mark of honour to the memory of Kwame Nkrumah at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.
I believe in Awolowo not just because of his sterling intellectual legacies, but much more because he was an archetypal action man of letters. His ideological professions in “The Strategy and Tactics of People’s Republic of Nigeria”, “Voice of Reason”, “Voice of Wisdom”, “Voice of Courage”, “Awo: An Autobiography “, “Path to Nigeria’s Freedom”, “Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution” etc rubbed off on his priorities and performance in government.
Awolowo’s professed ideology resonated with the masses in Western Region where it pleased God to afford him opportunity to put his philosophy to practice. Even the illiterate masses understood his political ideology as “ijoba aparo kan o ga ju kan lo”, meaning egalitarian government (or socialism), which was being implemented in phases, starting with free education, introduction of minimum wage, free healthcare, higher returns for cocoa farmers, integrated rural development etc.
In essence, Awolowo had core values that informed his politics and government. This made him predictable and stable such that Sir Ahmadu Bello once remarked that, “With Awolowo, you know where he stands on any issue”. He was a convinced federalist, an anti-colonialist, an anti-imperialist agitator; and a professor of democratic (or gradualist) socialism.
It was his anti-imperialist orientation that made him mobilise locally and overseas, using Nigerian students in the United Kingdom, to protest against a proposed Anglo-Nigerian Defence pact that could have brought the Tafawa Balewa government under the protection of British troops to be deployed to Nigeria in 1961. That probably had to do with his trial for a concocted coup d’etat. Nigeria would have had to endure a neo-colonial civilian dictatorship protected by the British military till heavens know when.
I went into this recollection about the inimitable, immortal Awo as a basis of assessment of the present political leadership of the Southwest of Nigeria. Can anyone tell me what core values any of them represent and is actively pursuing in politics and government presently?
Granted, some of them identify with Awolowo by wearing his cap and his eyeglasses. But the identification ends there. Ideologically they are poles apart. Awolowo fought hard to actualise his political ideals and was able to mobilise the masses behind him as co-believers, which explained why they stood with him through his travails and triumphs.
I don’t want to mention names, but I’m constrained to ask myself what some leading politicians in the Southwest spotting Awolowo’s cap and donning his round lens eyeglasses stand for ideologically?
Then I ask, Were Awolowo to be alive now, what would be his stance on critical national issues? Let me limit the issues to restructuring, which is the core element of the manifesto of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Let me be charitable enough to judge the current leaders by the only ideal they professed when the APC was formed.
Were Awolowo to be one of the founding APC leaders from the Southwest, what would be his reaction to the non-implementation of the APC restructuring agenda by the Buhari administration?
The Awolowo I know and I saw for the last time in January 1987 at the convocation ground of Ogun State University, and I had accompanied, amidst a surging crowd, to his sky-blue Benz, flanked by Mama HID Awolowo, as he departed for his Ikenne country home, unaccompanied by a single armed security man because Jehovah Elohim and the unbounded love of the masses were his security, would have called for a strategic meeting of the Southwest caucus of the APC long ago. That was a leader guided by ideals. Not primitive accumulation and a blindfolding quest for power.
He would have invited the governors, senators, house of representatives’ members, party excos, opinion leaders etc for a meeting with a single agenda: how to push forward the restructuring agenda of the APC as men of honour who had a pact with Buhari and other stakeholders. You can take it for granted he would pursue the resolutions of the meeting courageously without minding whose ox is gored.
In the first place, Awolowo wouldn’t have supported Buhari to be president without first committing him to a Roadmap on Restructuring he would start implementing as soon as he won the 2015 presidential election. And he would have withheld his support for his reelection in 2019 if he had reneged on the 2015 Restructuring Roadmap.
But here we are, the Southwest APC leaders are still sailing in the same boat with President Buhari after he had reneged on restructuring and continues perpetrating infractions that are detrimental to the unity and progress of Nigeria in the form of lopsided appointments that breed sectional resentments and offend our federal character laws. They continue the sail in heavily troubled waters with President Buhari as horrendous killings, rape, robbery, kidnapping for ransom, and destruction of farms and houses of Yoruba rural communities by illegally armed Fulani terrorists masquerading as herdsmen continue unabated.
The Southwest leaders’ silence is so loud. They stay mute. They stay inactive, leaving the people to fend for themselves It’s like we have no government. And I’m forced to write this because what I read in today’s papers (21st February, 2021) attributed to the governors of Ogun and Oyo (albeit, a PDP governor) states on the armed Fulani killings in their respective domains is irresponsible and a betrayal of trust. Dapo Abiodun of Ogun said Fulani herdsmen are not killers; while Seyi Makinde of Oyo said the killers of Dr. Fatai Aborode in Igangan were Yoruba; not Fulani. We await their unassailable evidence.
It is now crystal clear that things could have been worse but for Sunday Igboho who sent the signal across that where our compromised leaders fail to protect Yoruba people, the people themselves would defend themselves. Even the Minister of Defence, Major Gen. Bashir Magashi (Rtd.), made a strong advocacy for self-defence earlier this week in Niger state.
In exasperation, I have talked to some people to enlighten me on why our leaders in the Southwest are so irresponsible and charlatanistic in a matter of life and death of the people they purport to lead and at a time a leader like Awolowo would have risen to the occasion to stand in the gap for the people he loved and who also loved him in return?
I was told the dumbness of our leaders stem from two things. One, some of them have stolen, and are still busy stealing, our commonwealth to the point that they sleep and wake up dreadful of the EFCC knocking on their doors. For them, there is wisdom in the saying that they that live in glass houses don’t throw stones.
Two, and this is the preponderant refrain in my chats, obsession with the hope of becoming president in 2023 has so consumed some of our leaders that they wouldn’t mind selling us into slavery to fulfill their ambition. They are not like Awolowo who would say death is preferable to prostrating before your tormentor.
I am told that our leaders in the Southwest are playing the Machiavellian game. They’re stooping in order to conquer. They are of the view that the high principles of Awolowo was what robbed him of Nigeria’s presidency. They are scheming, taking all the humiliation, insults, and killings of their people, patiently, in order to ascend presidential power.
It is thus clear that these so-called leaders, like Sunday Igboho said in one of his videos, are only serving the interest of themselves and their families. The rest of us in Yorubaland – in our millions – are mere canon fodders. We are only relevant in their scheme of things to the extent that our votes would be needed in 2023 to fulfill their ambition.
Their Machiavellian tactics reminds me of a song by a young Yoruba musician in which he threw a wisecrack thus: “Eni ti o se oogun aiku, to ba ku, bawo lo se maa gba refund”? The poser is about a man who paid for a charm that would make him immortal: should he die, how would he be refunded?
Let the Machiavellian Yoruba presidential hopefuls, sacrificing their own on the altar of presidential power, ponder this poser: what would you do if you don’t become president in 2023? What shall it then profit you that your people’s lives and livelihoods are ruined while you kept a deaf and dumb posture? How would you recover from the humiliation you’re going through now in the hands of those you helped to power?
Already, some northern governors rumoured to be interested in succeeding Buhari are, rather belatedly, canvassing for components of the omnibus concept we call restructuring: state, police, resource control, independent judiciary etc. That should tell you the Machiavellian tacticians, the presidency will not come to you on a platter of gold. You will have to struggle for it. Who will then support you in Yorubaland? Maybe those feeding from your hands within your party. You will then learn the hard way that charity begins at home.
As for the young Turks from the north of Nigeria, if you’re serious about your latter-day advocacy for restructuring, first influence President Buhari to restructure Nigeria before leaving office. Tell him to be a gentleman and Mai Gaskiya by keeping faith with his pact with Nigerians. But if you think we are so gullible that promising restructuring would ginger us to support you to become president in 2023, like our dumb leaders in the Southwest, you’re mistaken.
Without restructuring now, in 2023, the last thing Yoruba people would be doing would be electing a president of Nigeria. To what end?
*** Olufunmilade is Director, Center for Contemporary Security Affairs, Igbinedion University Okada, Nigeria.