BULLETIN #34: The Yoruba Referendum: Closing The Gap Between The Dominant Political Party And Social Movements. (1)

By Femi Odedeyi
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The relationship between social movements and political parties came to the fore, especially in Yorubaland in the run-up to the Western Nigeria parliamentary elections held in 1951 when a decision had to be made on either reinforcing the dichotomy between a social and cultural movement which the Egbe Omo Oduduwa was, or the imperative of organizing a political party and establishing a nexus between the two.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo, despite being the Egbe’s Secretary, was convinced of the necessity to establish a political party different from the Egbe but in full concurrence with the Egbe’s ideals. He hence consulted with the leaders of the Egbe to get their blessing before convening the first meeting at which the Action Group was formed in Owo.

The Action Group, with a short-term objective of winning the 1951 Western Nigeria Parliamentary Elections simultaneously pursued the formation of a Nigeria-wide organization(party) to work towards the realization of self-government for the Western Region and Nigeria as a Federal State, both of which were in consonance with the objectives of the Egbe.

It must also be noted that some members of the Egbe decided to transform it into a political party. They were unable to make the necessary electoral impact in the Western Region. The victory of the AG in the 1951 Elections enabled it to pursue not only its economic and cultural policies but also to champion Federalism in Nigeria.

In the context of our current political realities, with a Yoruba as President, whose “Renewed Hope” is anchored on the twin issues of political and economic transformation, it is necessary to address the challenges posed by the dissonance as well as any possible nexus between Yoruba social movements and the dominant political party in Yorubaland.

In pursuit of this objective, the Yoruba Referendum Committee states as follows:

(i) We define social movements in Yorubaland, not only within the sociological sense but as representative of those organizations self-described as “socio-cultural” and/or “self-determination” and who have characterized themselves as defenders or promoters of “Yoruba interests” in a similar manner as the Egbe. These can be divided into two broad parts, each emerging from the crucible of the anti-military struggles, to wit: (a) some groups, like Afenifere and OPC, both of which have serially opposed the dominant party in Yorubaland, save the 2023 elections which created a split within Afenifere and (b) the self-determination groups, also emerging from the anti-military struggles but who have managed to remain outside electoral politics, without providing clear alternative roadmaps even though their aversion to electoral politics denies the reality of a military-enabled electoralism to legitimize its version of civilian rule.

(ii) It has been historically proven, from the days of the AG, that the electoral party is the vehicle for advancing or achieving the desired “Yoruba Interest”. The major opposition party of the time, the NCNC, had no such interest to pursue. Similarly, the second republic brought about the UPN and to date, only electoral parties in philosophical proximity to the AG (that is AD/AC/ACN/APC) tend to sustain the expectations of Yoruba People by acting as the “measuring rods” of governance, despite the twists and turns in Yoruba politics. A gap was thus created between these movements and the political party because the roadmap towards achieving the “Yoruba Interests” was and still is usually determined by the dominant political party while the movements end up tailgating them in one form or the other, thus becoming unable to either influence the political party or provide a credible alternative to electoral politics. In-between these two broad categories are the various groups and grouplets each anchoring itself on promoting “Yoruba interests”.

(iii) Knowing that True Federalism as the equitable form of State is central to Yoruba expectations, the methodology of its actualization became a bone of contention but without making an impact on electoral politics. Hence the different approaches, to wit: (a) a “Sovereign National Conference”, which is no longer a promising prospect, especially with the existence of a legitimate and elected Government in place (b) “implementation” of the reports of the various National Conferences, with an expectation that the central government will initiate the process (c) expecting the dominant political party to incrementally provide economic policies that will eventually lead to “Restructuring”, more so with a Yoruba Presidency in place (d) Amendments to the 1999 Constitution as small and necessary steps towards True Federalism, as in, for example, “state police”, “devolution” and “local government autonomy” (e) expecting some form of extra-constitutional enabling authority to return Nigeria to the Independence or 1963 Constitutions as another starting point and (f) the “Yoruba Nation” movement, which, despite the influence of academics and intellectuals within it, embarked on a series of miseducation and misrepresentation of Self-Determination by opposing Re-Federalization and proposing Yoruba Nationhood anchored on the UN Declaration on Self-Determination, a declaration which does not even apply to the Yoruba condition in Nigeria. All these co-exist, contend for influence, and reinforce the gap between the social movements and the dominant political party which has been consistent with its electoral paradigm as its route towards achieving “Yoruba interest”.

(iv)Yet, contestation for achieving power in Nigeria is a function of the balance of power and balance of forces in competition for control of the Nigerian political space. Since we exist within a multi-National environment, with inter-Nationality contestations for power, the intra-Nationality quest must therefore be based on a Legitimate mechanism to fully represent the aspirations of the concerned Nationality, the product of which will be a society able to resolve different political/philosophical tendencies within its own context.

(v) Moreover, the issue of “rejigging the APC to ensure the re-establishment of good governance in Nigeria”, as stated by its founding Chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, provides the avenue for the social movements to stake their claim not necessarily on party membership but on its “Renewed Hope” agenda. The results of the 2023 elections cemented the centrality, importance, and realities of the necessity to Re-Federalize Nigeria; otherwise, the political paradigm will be limited to revolving around ensuring the dominance of the philosophical/ideological trajectory of the SW APC in such a manner that it becomes dominant in the National APC, and which will produce its own contradictions, a reality injurious to the quest to Re-Federalize Nigeria. (To be continued in the next part)