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YORUBA NEW POLITICAL CONSCIOUSNESS: WHAT LESSONS FOR IGBO?

By NBF News
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It is common knowledge that Yoruba solidarity, which transcends religious, political and social status, dates back to the time of the sagacious Obafemi Awolowo, who trod the political space of the West like a colossus. His achievements and vision for his people have earned him honour and prestige long after his death. His wife, Hannah, though very old, is still vibrant and held in the same awe and esteem as Awolowo himself till date. Her people (Yoruba) still see her as the driving force of the Yoruba struggle for recognition and have always consulted her on key issues.

As Premier of Western Region of Nigeria, Awolowo left irreplaceable legacies, which stand today as imprints of his sagacity, dexterity, resilience and vision. Under Action Group (AG) in the late 50s and early 60s and UPN in 1979 and 1983 (two powerful political platforms), he was able to secure for his people prominence, respect, and dignity in Nigeria's complex socio-political life. He offered free education, built schools and provided other social amenities that contributed significantly to the development of the region and its people. Under his regime, many young Yoruba studied on government scholarships and secured strategic positions in the public and private sectors thereafter. It stands till date that no singular ethnic grouping in Nigeria is as developed and strategically placed as the Yoruba.

Worth mentioning is the voting pattern of Yoruba at elections and the unity of purpose among them, which have given them some advantage over other ethnic groups in Nigeria. In 1979, for instance, they gave block vote to Awolowo, with which he almost won the presidential election. In that election, Awolowo's Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) won landslide in Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Bendel (now Edo and Delta) and Oyo States. Even their governors: Lateef Jakande of Lagos, Bisi Onabanjo of Ogun, Michael Ajasin of Ondo, Ambrose Alli of Bendel and Bola Ige of Oyo won massive votes to emerge as governors. In unison, it was agreed that these same governors were to stand for re-election in 1983 general elections. Hell was, however, let loose when the then ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) attempted to rig the elections. It almost succeeded with its foisting of Chief Akin Omoboriowo on the people of Ondo as governor. The violence that erupted almost consumed Akure, forcing the election umpire then the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) under the chairmanship of Justice Victor Ovie-Whiskey to reverse the earlier announcement of Omoboriowo as governor and announced Michael Ajasin (the people's choice) as the winner instead. But the Oyo result, where Dr. Victor Olunloyo was announced as the winner over sitting Governor Bola Ige (Cicero), could not be reversed before the military led by Muhammadu Buhari/Tunde Idiagbon struck on December 31, 1983.

The solidarity and political consciousness among Yoruba were again reignited in the 1999 elections when they regrouped under Alliance for Democracy (AD) to wallop other parties to capture the six states in the South West geopolitical zone, where the then President Olusegun Obasanjo was not allowed to win even his own ward. Certainly, Obasanjo did not emerge the president with Yoruba votes. His victory was facilitated by large votes from Igbo, in the South and Hausa in the North. Why then has he not found it expedient to reciprocate this reposition of confidence by Igbo?

Humiliated and jolted by what happened in 1999, I am sure, Obasanjo vowed to reverse the trend in 2003, whether by hook or crook. And so, he went to the drawing board to design a rigging formula that was to railroad the PDP into government houses in Akure, Ibadan, Ado-Ekiti, Abeokuta and Osogbo, except Ikeja. To achieve victory in the zone, PDP used extraordinary and queer tactics, which left AD governors stupefied. In their traditional savvy and resilient manner, they waited patiently while PDP swam in its own folly.

Having perfected the rigging process in the zone, PDP went to the 2007 elections with unconscionable effrontery and desperation. The party threw caution to the dogs and embarked on ballot-box snatching, intimidation, result falsification, killing and looting, which marred election in many states in the zone. In the end, it won illegitimately in Ondo, Ekiti, Osun and Edo, as already affirmed by the Court of Appeal which sat in Benin and Ilorin.

Characteristic of Yoruba, they did not go to sleep after their mandates had been stolen. They showed their distaste over the outcome of the elections in any way that offered itself. Rauf Aregbesola, Olusegun Mimiko, Kayode Fayemi, and Adams Oshiomhole went to court to challenge the charade and, after several months of legal battles, won back their mandates.

What happened in Ondo, where Olusegun Mimiko of Labour Party (LP) toppled Olusegun Agagu of PDP; Edo, where Adams Oshiomhole of Action Congress (now Action Congress of Nigeria - ACN) knocked out Osariehmen Osunbor of PDP; Ekiti, where Kayode Fayemi of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) kicked out Segun Oni of PDP; and Osun, where Rauf Aregbesola of Action Congress of Nigeria floored Olagunsoye Oyinlola of PDP; is a further proof of the resoluteness of Yoruba in achieving a common purpose. It took as many as 46 months to recover one of the four stolen mandates. Incidentally, the governors of Ogun (Gbenga Daniel) and Oyo (Alao-Akala) escaped by the whiskers.

Having given this brief profile of the political developments in the west, it is now important to look at the implication of this on the Igbo survival in Nigeria's complex political space. But before I venture into exercise, I would like to state unequivocally that Yoruba have shown unmatchable consistency and persistency in the pursuit of their collective aspiration. These contrast sharply with the flirtatious and capricious attitude of some Igbo politicians, who, despite their numerical strength and enterprise, have continued to play the second fiddle.

The political tsunami that has swept through the entire South West, since the annulment of Olusegun Agagu's election as the governor of Ondo State up till that of Olagunsoye Oyinlola three weeks ago, has further heightened the respect Yoruba command in our political life. It has also sent a clear signal about their determination to remain relevant and united, no matter the devious plots by anybody or any other ethnic group to displace them. From the solid political block they have been able to build over the years they will continue to dictate the direction in which Nigeria's political pendulum will swing.

I am particularly amazed by the tenacity they have shown in holding Lagos from being snatched by desperadoes – even when it was almost clear that the enemy had amassed against it. From 1979 to 2007 Lagos has voted for progressives. Despite all the manipulations and grandstanding by PDP to win Lagos in 2007, all its efforts proved abortive. And it will remain so for a very long time. I do not see any force that has the capacity of snatching Lagos away from the forces that gang up against it. In fact, the much any opposing party can do in Lagos (and indeed the entire Yoruba Land) is to make noise and fizzle into obscurity and inconsequence when the chips are down. Who will win Lagos and its brother-states in 2010 is very certainly not any other party but ACN.

What is happening in Yoruba land today was what we had hoped to achieve when we formed the Progressive Peoples' Alliance (PPA). PPA was a political movement aimed primarily at creating a distinct identity for Igbo who have wallowed in political limbo for quite some time. It was the famed Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who attempted to draw Igbo together through his masterly political masterstrokes. Sadly, the centre could no longer hold since he exited from this earth planet. Igbo, who used to occupy a strategic place in the politics of Nigeria, suddenly, developed cold feet to reassert themselves and regain their lost position. The civil war did not help matters either.

The worst thing that has happened to Igbo since the death of Azikiwe was their inability to get a replacement for him. Since Awolowo died in 1987 at the age of 78 years, Yoruba have not failed to remain focused. Abraham Adesanya took over when it mattered most and guided them through the difficult times with fearlessness and sagacity. Since his demise, they have continued to trudge on. New leaders have since emerged. The irrepressible and cerebral Bola Ahmed Tinubu is one of them. He took it upon himself to act as the Yoruba Talisman - going by the way he went beyond the frontiers of Eko to give leadership to the entire Yoruba nation. The victories of ACN in Lagos, Ekiti, Osun, Ondo, and even Edo would not have been possible without him. And he has assured of capturing Ogun and Oyo in 2011. Anybody who thinks this is not possible is doing so at his own peril.

Tinubu succeeded because his people stood by him, not minding his age, number of years in active politics, or where he comes from. Nobody has questioned his indirect involvement in the government of Lagos State since he was the pillar behind the installation of Raji Fashola as governor. The cordial relationship between the two has astounded even their worst critics. Yoruba simply saw the potentialities in him and gave him their support. But the reverse was the case in Igbo Land. Those who knew what transpired can attest to the huge sacrifice we made to win Imo and Abia states. We were planning to add the remaining South East states to the kitty when katakata burst. The rest is history.

The point I try to make here is that Igbo lack the maturity and tact needed to build the kind of homogeneity required to shoot them into political prominence. There is nothing they will be able to accomplish politically until they learn to speak with one voice, tolerate one another, and eschew hatred, envy and pettiness. Does it really matter whom God uses to liberate a people? Igbo are derogatorily referred to as a people without king (Igbo enwe eze). What this truly means is that they are a people too difficult to govern. This probably explains why they have failed to marshal and defend their interests forcefully.

The one singular obstacle to their unity again is betrayal. And this fiendish instinct is traceable to the propensity of some of them to outsmart one another. They could not win the civil war because of the shameful and adverse activities of saboteurs. All the efforts to build Igbo unity have failed as a result of betrayal. When I stuck out my neck to fight for the rights of our people I was called all kinds of names just to destroy my reputation in the eyes of the people. The authorities did everything to frustrate me: they repealed the licences of our airline, banks and other business interests - just to get at me. Those Igbo who gang up against me fail to realise that whatever is done against me is indirectly targeted at the entire Igbo nation.

For those who did not know: Igbo are an endangered species. The last thing their detractors would want to see is their liberation. They derive joy from the second-fiddle role Igbo play at the moment. They know that Igbo unity would render them irrelevant. This is why there is a constant plot to keep Igbo divided and marginalised.

I must confess that I feel terribly pained by the marginalisation of Igbo, even though this unfortunate situation is caused by some greedy and egotistic Igbo politicians, who have no iota of love for their race. The major concern of many Igbo is how to enrich themselves. They care no hoot if this is achieved at the detriment of their own very survival or not.