The alleged marginalisation of the Yoruba has been turned into the issue before members of the ethnic group. The way the issue has been presented in the public sphere again confirms the position that members of the elite use their class advantage to impose their interpretation of reality on the majority of the people. Worse still, this interpretation of reality has nothing to do with the fundamental interests of the people. Yet those who have voice claim they are speaking for their people, regardless of the fact that what they present as the issue is meaningless to the people. It is an age-long ideological problem. Unfortunately, there is hardly any prospect of a definitive solution to the problem soon.
Meanwhile, the distortion of the reality by the various strands of the Yoruba faction of Nigerian ruling class should be unsettling to those who genuinely crave for progress. It is the duty of the progressive elements from the Yoruba ethnic group to combat these backward positions at the ideological level.
This is the time for proper clarification. Those who want progress ought to insist on the interpretation of the reality that would advance the genuine interests of the people. However, the matter becomes more worrisome when those who profess progressivism are the most conspicuous in this “struggle” against Yoruba marginalisation. For instance, Senator Femi Okunrounmu was recently quoted as saying inter alia: “Check from number one to number 15, you won’t find a Yoruba person there. Look at the people controlling the economy, the finance minister, the Central Bank Governor; no Yoruba person is there. The first lawyers in this country were Yoruba. Today, the Yoruba are marginalised in the judiciary. In the National Assembly... the Yoruba people are not in the leadership position. It is bad. It’s as if the Yoruba people are not wanted”.
Now, there could have been no problem with this reported statement of the Okunrounmu if he had talked of the Yoruba elite and not the Yoruba people whose name is being invoked in vain. It is hard to see how the Yoruba are marginalised simply because none of them occupies any of the first 15 offices in order of precedence. Even going by Okunroumu’s statement which, by the way, is a clear articulation of the position of the Yoruba Unity Front (YUF), let’s not forget what has happened in the last 14 years of this republic.During the period under review, a Yoruba man, Olusegun Obasanjo, combined the office of the President with that of the Minister of Petroleum for eight years.
During the first three years of Obasanjo in office, other Yoruba men held some of the positions the Yoruba elite now want to hold so soon again. Some of these Yoruba personalities were Chief Joseph Sanusi, Governor of the Central Bank; Alhaji Musiliu Smith, Inspector-General of Police; Chief Bola Ige, Attorney General, Chief Sunday Afolabi, Minister of Interior and others. Although, in fairness to President Obasanjo, you could not accuse him of ethnic chauvinism in the composition of his team, yet it is not true that the Yoruba elite have been excluded in the sharing of these offices in recent years. The prognosis is that by the current geo-political formula there are several ethnic groups this country that would not produce a President in many decades from now.
However, that is not even the point at issue. The question to ask is this: in what way has the fact of Obasanjo’s presidency or any Yoruba man holding any high position for that matter alleviated the mass poverty in Yoruba-speaking areas? In eight years of Obasanjo, was there a revamp of decaying infrastructure or reduction in youth unemployment in Yoruba land in a remarkably different way from what happened in other parts of the country? The Lagos-Ibadan Express Road was left to collapse; the road to Ota from where Obasanjo left to Abuja to take the oath of office, as President in 1999 was not fixed.
Did the federal government educational and health institutions located in the Yoruba-speaking fair better because a Yoruba man was President? When you consider all the indices of development, the condition of the Yoruba, like any other ethnic group, has never been determined by the positions held by its elite. The condition of the people has always been the consequence of poor governance of the country no matter the language spoken by the President and his ministers. So the material issues of underdevelopment facing the Yoruba like other Nigerians are not going to be tackled by the psychological satisfaction that someone who speaks their language is appointed to any of the high posts.
Similarly, it is yet to be seen how the fact of President Goodluck Jonathan being a son of Niger Delta has enhanced the fundamental resolution of the issues at the root of the agitation in the region. Just like Obasanjo played politics with Lagos-Ibadan Express Road; Jonathan is making the East-West Road, which traverses all the states of the Niger Delta, another political toy. The Amnesty Programme that was conceived by President Umaru Yar’Adua to be a tactical manouvre to create a peaceful atmosphere for development has now become the strategy.
Awarding huge contracts to a handful “ex-militants” has become a development programme. When Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe was Works Minister under Obasanjo, no federal road was done in his home state of Lagos just as the earlier tenure of Mr. Fix It, Chief Tony Anenih, as Works Minister could not ensure the fixing of even the Benin-Ore Road. Yet by his presence in government, Edo State is presumed to be represented and not “marginalised” like the Yoruba elite would say now.
Going by the Okunroumu’s logic, can we now say that the appointment of Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi has reduced poverty in Kano, the home state of the prince? Or has the fact of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala being Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister for the Economy shortened the job queue in Delta State where her parents come from or Abia the home state of her husband? She is rather expected to manage the economy for the development of the whole of Nigeria. The foregoing is just to demonstrate the point that appointing persons of any ethnic or regional group into office does not necessarily translate to the development of the area. It is honest development efforts that can benefit the people.
Come to think of it, the Nigerian constitution provides for the reflection of federal character in appointments and staff recruitment in public sector. The purpose is not for the person occupying any office to serve his ethnic group alone. Even though every section of Nigeria should be represented in making appointments, whoever is so appointed is expected to work for the good of the whole country and not his area alone. So if you concede that Obasanjo’s policy in the telecom sector succeeded, the benefits have not been restricted to the Yoruba. It cannot be otherwise.
That is the correct interpretation of reality. It is also necessary to distinguish career posts in the public service from political appointments. The Federal Character Commission is there to ensure that every section of the country is represented based on the competence of the respective officers. The National Assembly has committees in both houses performing over-sight functions in matters of federal character. So the Yoruba are not the only with complaints.
It is interesting that the other factions of the Yoruba elite strike the same chord as the YUF in this latter day cry of marginalisation. The agitation is in itself a gross decline of politics. It is derogation from the rigour of the Awolowo’s politics, which the competing factions claim as their root. More appropriately, the marginalisation talk is symptomatic of the inherent malaise of bourgeois politics. The emptiness of this sort of politics is shown when under stress. That is why in his response to the YUF, the presidential spokesman, Dr. Doyin Okupe, also substitutes the interest of the elite with those of the people. His politics is driven by the same bourgeois calculations.
It is even more disappointing that among the agitators is a personality such as Chief Olu Falae. Here is a man who had the opportunity to influence policy at the highest level as Secretary to the Federal Government and later Finance Minister under the regime of President Babangida in the 1980s. Subsequently, he contested presidential primaries during the Babangida transition programme. In 1999 Falae contested the presidential election against Obasanjo.
The Yoruba elite have forgotten so soon that the political elite in other parts of the country could bear with the fact that the two candidates in that election that put an end to military were Yoruba politicians. You would expect from a man of Falae’s experience and his group to articulate alternative development strategy for the country if they are not satisfied that the Jonathan agenda could tackle mass poverty. The Nigerian political elite is a study in contradiction: yesterday you wanted to govern Nigeria, today you are an ethnic champion and tomorrow you may again seek to be Nigeria’s president.
The majority of the Yoruba people are poor like most other Nigerians. They are the ones on the margins of this political economy and not the elite. The NOI-Polls released only yesterday showed that almost 50% of Nigerians lacks access to clean water. The Yoruba poor are among the millions captured in this grim statistics. You don’t need a Yoruba man to be the Finance Minister, Governor of Central Bank or Speaker of the House of Representatives to reverse this ugly trend. The ethnic origin of Minister of Water resources does not even matter in making potable water available in every home.
All this talk about the marginalisation of the Yoruba is a distortion of the reality facing the people. It is coming from the disaffected members of the Yoruba elite. Their agitation has no bearing with the problems of poverty of the people. The problem is not the alleged marginalisation; the issues are hunger, disease and ignorance of the poor. These problems will not disappear even if Jonathan makes peace with the elite by merely appointing some of them into positions. The people should see beyond the veil of this “struggle” against marginalisation.