If PDP is Dead, Who is Alive? A Warning to the Political Class of SouthWest Nigeria
In recent times it has become politically correct and popular to declare that the People's Democratic Party (PDP) is dead in the South-West of Nigeria. Some are less emphatic; they say the PDP is in its dying days in Yorubaland. This has become a particularly
common rhetoric in the light of the landmark rulings that gave the keys to the government houses in both Ekiti and Osun States to Governors Fayemi and Aregbesola respectively. Indeed these two men have fought and won and their inauguration as governors of these respective states could be rightly described as victory for democracy-certainly victory for the electorate and the ordinary people who cast their votes for them.
Earlier on, the Appeal Court in Benin had also quashed the illegal government of Dr Olusegun Agagu by declaring Dr Olusegun Mimiko as the duly elected governor of Ondo State. Before this, Comrade Adams Oshiomole had also secured victory in the law court over the illegal government of ex-Governor Osunbo of Edo State. One thing is common to all these gentlemen; they fought doggedly until their stolen mandates were restored to them. They all share a similar story in this and they seem to have a similar background in the Alliance for Democracy (AD) agenda that later became AC and now ACN except for Dr Mimiko who has had to travel from AD to PDP and before now getting into Labour Party. I read from the news that there is pressure on him to declare for the ACN. Indeed there is much to celebrate in this trend. That truth will prevail however long it takes is something Nigerian politicians must be getting used to. On this occasion, it is to the declaration that PDP is dead in the South West or Yorubaland that I would like to return. In the 2nd Republic, it is true that the whole of the region was under the UPN government led by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. In fact, attempts to rig them out of office in Ondo State were met with stiff resistance to the extent that many lives and properties were lost in ensuing crisis in Ondo State in 1983. It was an unambiguous message that the people would not acquiesce in the face of electoral fraud, especially when they knew that their rights and choice were being tampered with. It is the motivation for this that interests me more. I believe that these people appreciated so much of what their government was doing for them. The government was delivering for them and they had total confidence in the Adekunle-Ajasin led government that they were not going to submit to an Omoboriowo-led NPN government for any reason. Perhaps much more interesting was the respect and trust that the Yoruba people had for Awolowo, especially in view of his antecedents. When he was in power as Premier of the Western Region, he delivered. His programmes met the yearnings and aspirations of the people of the South-West and they were not interested in any retrogression under whatever guise. Today, more than two decades after the death of Chief Awolowo, his name continues to feature in the politics of the South-West as though he is only retired or dead a few years ago. It was his government that put the Southwest on very sound footing initiating many programmes that have benefited a lot of people. His free education policy is one that they are not quick to forget. The development and building of Cocoa House in Ibadan is another one. For the average Yoruba person Awolowo was trustworthy; he promised and he delivered. He knew what they wanted and he gave them. The current politicians know these about Awolowo, which is why they have continue to exploit his name more than 20 years after his death. Yet I see a lot of challenges here for the crop of politicians on the podium with Governor Rauf Aregbesola and indeed the political class of the South West. Before I proceed any further, it is worth asking how we got to the stage we are today. The argument before was that being on the opposition was not good for the Yoruba or the Southwest, hence some people wanted to impose the party of the Federal Government on the entire South West, forgetting that Awolowo was in opposition when he delivered to the people. In 2003, whether by crooked or genuine means, they were successful with the loss of the entire South-West except Lagos to the PDP government under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Whether in Ogun or Oyo, Osun or Ondo or Ekiti or Edo, PDP was in power. There were much disappointment, accusation and counter accusations of betrayal especially by the governors of the defunct AD who were outsmarted in their own political game. Nonetheless there was no appetite for strong resistance even where it was evident that there was open rigging and molestation of voters. No one was ready to fight. You might ask whether the people had then abandoned their love for Awolowo. No, they remained committed to Awolowo and his ideals but they were simply not persuaded that the ex-governors were Awoist enough. And so, it was not a genuine enough cause to risk their lives for. The governors were derailing and had begun to take their people for granted. No dividends of democracy; rather some of them were only interested in serving themselves and their cronies. That did not look like the Awo that the people had fought for in 1983 and in the 1st republic. They had become pompous. In fact, one recalls that the exit of Chief Bisi Akande from the governorship of Osun State was a relief to many teachers and civil servants in 2003. There was a lot of discontent everywhere. They had lost their right to govern and people had become hesitant to vote for them. Now I am not able to say whether the election was free or fair. But it was obvious even to outsiders that Osun wanted a changed. So here is another test for the Southwest governors, especially now that ACN has reclaimed Osun State. They would need to work and prove to the people that they deserve to rule. That is, they would need to go beyond mere rhetorics to real action, mindful of the true situation of the people of the state. They need a government that can identify with them but which they can also identify with. So there would need to be serious work to facilitate genuine human emancipation and poverty alleviation. A fire brigade approach will not last. A one-off free eye surgery will not suffice; a one-off hernia operation in a village will not do. Rather it is a policy that has a long term programme for treating people with such predicaments that will stand the test of time, not only in Osun but all over the South West. So is PDP truly on its way to extinction in the South-West? Maybe. But what guarantees have we? The Yorubas respect Awolowo and his political agenda even 23 years after his death, but I am convinced that they are not prepared to be taken for granted by any hungry and careless politician who cannot deliver to them. What determines who stays in power is the ability to serve and deliver good governance to the masses. This is Awolowo politics; not simply rhetorics. The rhetorics of a dying PDP would be music to the ears of many but the reality can only be achieved by responsible people-oriented government. If the ACN governors or those gradually taking over the reins of government in the Southwest think that they can deceive the people by simply appealing to the name of the revered late politician Chief Obafemi Awolowo, then they would be best advised that they would fail unless they serve and deliver in the manner Chief Awolowo served his people. Those who benefitted from Free Education in the South-West would always remember his programmes. At a time when life expectancy in our country is falling below 50 years, health of the people is a thing that true Awoists must take seriously and other programmes that could lift people out of poverty.
As if to answer our question the new Governor of Osun, Engineer Rauf Aragebsola confirmed that he would model his government after that of late Chief Awolowo when he ordered the singing of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) anthem during his inauguration. By declaring that Awolowo's government is back he seems to be striking the right chord with his people. But in a similar vein he has presented himself with an agenda on which his government will be assessed and challenged in the very near future. How truly UPN or Awolowo his government will be would be tested by his ability to deliver to the people what matters to them, just as Awolowo did in his own time. This is not a question for only Gov Aregbesola but a challenge to all these so-called Awoist governors. Will they live up to it? Is the PDP truly dead or on its way to dying in the Southwest? Time will tell. If PDP is to be truly dead in the Southwest, the governors of ACN/Labour in the region will have to demonstrate that they are capable of meeting the yearnings of the people. The only thing that can ensure it is, deliver, deliver and deliver! Avoid waste and concentrate on improving the lives of the people, then and only then can the rhetoric that PDP is dead come to reality. Dr Stephen Ayo Fagbemi