A number of progressive minded Yoruba have often argued that the South-West does not need to be part of mainstream politics in Nigeria to ensure its development. I have also been part of that argument. With the benefit of hindsight, that argument was just a consolation, because mainstream Yoruba have never been part of victory at the Centre.
Yes, the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, developed Western Nigeria without any support whatsoever from the Centre. He had vision. He had commitment. But I am sure Awo himself would have wondered how much more could have been done if he had been part of a friendly Centre. Immortal Awo had only spent one term as Premier of Western Region when he sought to become Nigeria’s national leader. In the event that this was not going to be possible, he sought a coalition with the leadership of the Eastern Region with an under-the-table arrangement towards the North for same.
It just did not work out because the old man was not a politician like either Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe or Sir Ahmadu Bello. Awo could not pretend. He was not deceptive. He was too concerned about things eternal, thus his enormous efforts to free the grassroots from the shackles of poverty failed, unlike his contemporaries, who were excellent schemers in things of the present, thus better politicians.
With the victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the just-concluded general elections, it might be time to let go of a taboo among the Yoruba that the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, should not be compared with any living being, given his vision and enduring legacy. The victorious presidential candidate of the APC, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, is Fulani. But the political party that gave him victory had its roots in mainstream South-West politics. And this is the first time such will happen either before or after Nigeria’s independence.
It was Awolowo who put today’s Yoruba on the global stage through his progressive policies on Education, Healthcare Services, Infrastructure, Industrialisation and Rural Development among other quality initiatives, which saw the old Western Region competing with some European countries in terms of socio-economic development, especially during the First Republic (1960 – 1966).
Today, using the instruments of politics, the architect of a victorious mainstream Yoruba political project in alliance with others is no other than former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
On the national stage, it was Awolowo, using sound management principles, who guided a troubled Nigeria through the civil war years (1967 – 1970). He was always bubbling with ideas about how governance could positively affect a greater number of people, especially the downtrodden. But if the truth must be told, Awolowo did not have the same degree of success in politics when placed side by side with what the old man can achieve within a short period if given any opportunity in public office.
I’ll insist Awolowo was never a politician in the real sense of the word as he was always at loggerheads with key associates almost all through his active political life. He never understood politicians. Meanwhile, politicians could see through him. Awolowo was too religious. Honesty, arising out of his belief in God was an article of faith for him. He hated cutting corners. Tinubu’s political ascendancy, which has been crowned with the APC defeating the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is very different. The Jagaban Borgu is a thoroughbred politician in every sense of the word. And, to date, he remains a successful one at that.
It is to Tinubu’s credit that majority of those who make up the membership of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in 1999 remain under the umbrella of a progressive political party, APC, to date. He maneuvered his way to safety as his colleagues sank in the political waters of their first term in office. Not only did he survive, Tinubu went ahead to set up structure after structure with which he was able to recover almost all the states lost to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2003. Today, the APC, a structure Tinubu put in place along with others, has succeeded in chasing the PDP out of Abuja.
Former Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters, Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, may have inadvertently midwifed today’s marriage of convenience between a conservative North-West and progressive South-West during his short sojourn in partisan politics as a leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the aborted Third Republic. Tinubu was one of his disciples in the South-West.
Awo took the Yoruba to the Centre in 1967 on what he believed was the Western Region’s terms. He was deceived by the much more politically minded Northerners around Gowon, and was a sad man when he resigned. This time around, Tinubu has taken the Yoruba Nation to Abuja on their own terms and through a platform of their choice. And I doubt that Tinubu will suffer Awo’s fate, if a national calamity will not befall Nigeria shortly after. Like Ahmadu Bello who sent Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to Lagos as Prime Minister, Vice President-elect, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, is a Tinubu protégé. Tinubu sacrificed personal ambition to maintain a rear-guard position in case things go awry.
What should the Yoruba be looking forward to at the Centre? The Yoruba want a restructured polity to guarantee the development of each component unit at its own pace. One part of the country should not hold the others down. This may not materialize under the current arrangement. The political class in Northern Nigeria prefers the current fiscal and administrative structure in Nigeria. Devolution of power, whether in the area of internal security, approval for major transportation systems (Railways, Seaports, Airports, etc) is another Yoruba area of interest, which the North may not want to talk about. A special status for Lagos as former seat of the Federal Government and Nigeria’s commercial capital might happen, and very quickly too. But window-dressing of needs of the Yoruba is certain to happen through Federal Government’s prompt approval of capital intensive projects for the South-West.