MIMIKO, LABOUR PARTY AND THE SOUTH WEST
It has been pointed out that the Broom Revolution in the South West represented by the ACN in the 2011 elections takes the South West back to its original mode as the stronghold of opposition politics in Nigeria, and thus puts an end to the dominance of the People’s Democratic Party in that part of the country since 2007. But whereas this has been widely remarked upon as an indication also of the South West being the only region that seems to have voted mostly for a “regional party” in nearly all the 2011 elections (except the Presidential), the analysis often overlooks how a state in the South West, Ondo, appears to be the only one that is untouched by the Broom Revolution, dominated as it is by the Labour Party. Both the ACN and the Labour Party in the South West are united in terms of one essential character: their leaders insist that they are progressives, they provide in their areas of influence an alternative to the PDP, both were determined to keep the PDP out and they succeeded in doing so, and once upon a time, the leaders of both parties worked together. There however seems to be an emerging rivalry between the ACN and the Labour Party in the South West which I think needs to be carefully managed, considering how what seems to have started as campaign-moment differences could degenerate into something unmanageable.
There have been insinuations that the Labour Party in Ondo state should dissolve into the ACN to give the South West one major political party running its affairs. Mrs Jumoke Anifowoshe, the ACN Chairperson in Ondo state has threatened that the “broom revolution of ACN would soon spread to Ondo state,” a coded threat that the ACN is determined to dislodge Governor Olusegun Mimiko from Ondo state in subsequent elections, the most critical being the 2012 Gubernatorial election in the state. However, elections should be determined by the electorate, not by threats issued by politicians. Besides, those who argue that small political parties are of no use miss the key point about the democratic ideal. The thinking that small parties serve no purpose and should be de-registered or be swallowed by bigger parties defeats the idea of the political party as an aggregation of expressed needs and aspirations in civil society. The real constraint that contemporary political parties taking part in Nigeria’s elections face is that they are required to have a national spread, and to win a certain number of seats in order to be considered viable.
The view has even been expressed for example, that with 63 political parties, the list of Nigerian political parties is unwieldy; on 2011 election day, so the argument goes, it was rather difficult looking for party names and logos with the ballot papers running into pages. That inconvenience should be a small price to pay for the diversity and broad choice that a multi-party system guarantees. In the First Republic, small parties made great impact in their localities, and where necessary, they went into alliances with other parties, supposedly bigger parties, in order to pursue their stated agenda in the public sphere.
The Mabolaje Grand Alliance was based in Ibadan. The OtuEdo Union’s sphere of influence was restricted to Benin City and parts of Edo. There were such political parties as the Borno Youth Movement, the Igbira Tribal Union, the Dynamic Party and the Zamfara Commoners Party. The party formation process should as we seek to further strengthen Nigerian democracy recognize the potentials of so-called small parties. Indeed, the ACN, the CPC, and the Labour Party prove this point each in its own way. Besides, in the 2011 election, a small party, the Accord Party was quite prominent in Oyo state, and an even much smaller and younger party, the Ogun state-based PPN ended up with two seats in the House of Representatives. APGA’s sphere of influence is restricted to the South East and yet in these elections, it wielded considerable influence in Imo and Anambra states. There were parties in the 2011 election that did not win more than 20, 000 votes in total, that should be no reason why they should be “swallowed” by bigger parties.
As at 2007, the ACN was largely a Lagos state-based party, where it won nearly all the available elective seats, including the Gubernatorial; it would subsequently gain a wider spread in other parts of the South, as it secured the Governorship positions in Ekiti, Edo and Osun through the courts, quickly turning those states into its strongholds. In the 2011 elections, the ACN proved to be the most improved political party in the country, it increased its representation ratio in the National Assembly, swept Edo state and the South West except Ondo state, and became a much stronger party in Edo, Plateau, Benue, Akwa Ibom, and Kwara states. The ACN is thus now a perfect example of how a small party could grow, bottom-up, through careful management and promotion. The CPC was formed about ten months ago and yet in the 2011 elections, it won the Gubernatorial election in one state (Nasarawa), 35 seats in the House of Representatives and about six seats in the Senate. General Buhari’s personality is the driving force of that party, but it has great potential to become a much stranger political movement. It would be wrong to expect the CPC to dissolve into the PDP or its members to be encouraged to join the bigger party, and whatever may be his future plans, General Buhari would be doing a lot more good by working harder to transform the CPC into a strong opposition. This is why all things considered, it seems to stand to reason that both the ACN and the CPC have rejected offers by the PDP to join a proposed Government of National Unity.
In the 2011 elections, the Labour Party had highly visible candidates in Bayelsa state (Timi Alaibe, LP Gubernatorial candidate); and Plateau state, (Pauline Tallen as LP Gubernatorial candidate), it won state assembly seats in Bayelsa, Anambra and Plateau but it was in Ondo state that the party has put up its best performance so far. LP is only seven years old. In the 2007 general elections, the party won nine seats in the Ondo state House of Assembly, but following the determination of election petitions in that election and ordered re-runs/by elections and cross-carpeting from PDP to LP, by February 2009, Olusegun Mimiko had replaced PDP’s Olusegun Agagu as Governor and the political face of politics in the state soon changed from PDP to Labour. In 2011, the Labour Party performed better winning 25 of the 26 seats in the House of Assembly, eight out of the nine seats for the House of Representatives and all three Senatorial seats. The latter was particularly dramatic, with relatively unknown candidates and first-timers, beating well established PDP chieftains. Former state Governor, Dr Olusegun Agagu lost to one Boluwaji Kunlere, Senator Bode Olajumoke and Senator Gbenga Ogunniya, both tested politicians also lost to rookies. The ACN, the dominant party in the South West was almost non-existent in Ondo state, going by the 2011 results.
The key to the Labour Party’s victory is the Mimiko factor. In the 2011 elections, many voters were unimpressed by party flags or symbols; they were interested in the candidate and what he or she represents, or the performance of the particular party in power. In two years of being in office in Ondo state, the Mimiko administration has been able to connect with the grassroots, through a series of people-friendly initiatives such as the renovation of markets and the provision of basic infrastructure, improved access to healthcare and careful electorate perception management. It is the same strategy that has helped to make Babatunde Fashola, a popular Governor, and has worked also in Osun state where in less than one year of former Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola’s exit, the PDP has been completely routed in that state.
The similarity between Mimiko’s strategy and that of the ACN is perhaps what is responsible for the competition for territory between both parties. The sub-text of this is the lingering debate over who has the best chance of emerging as the next Yoruba leader, with certain commentators suggesting that Mimiko’s achievement in almost single-handedly building the Labour Party into a credible party, makes him a potential leader of the Yoruba. I think the talk about producing the next Awolowo in Yorubaland is utterly diversionary. Awarding the best prize to the best politician in the South West is not a priority for the electorate either.
Both the ACN and the Labour Party have an urgent duty to justify their victory over the PDP in the 2011 general elections in the South West through greater service delivery to the people. The ACN should seek to build on its incursion into other parts of Nigeria in order to become an effective opposition party on the national stage, the Labour Party faces the same challenge but the leaders of both parties should not in seeking more territory in the South West create needless tension, indeed, they should seek to work together on common ideological grounds, without one party threatening to “swallow” the other, and with less emphasis on personal ambitions. This point is made advisedly considering how in the lead up to the 2011 elections, the campaigns in Ondo state almost degenerated into name-calling between the leadership of the Labour Party and the ACN. Both the Chairman of the ACN, Chief Bisi Akande and Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, the leader of the ACN, were said to have dismissed Mimiko as “ungrateful” and his party as “worse than the PDP”, with the LP also describing the ACN as the party of “fake progressives.” Such currents tend to run much deeper in Yoruba politics.
Written by Reuben Abati.