History Repeating Itself

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DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA AKIN OSUNTOKUN akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com

One of the unique characteristics of this political dispensation is the degree to which it has lent itself to the interpretation of history repeating itself and thereby validating political stereotypes. A most painful regret about contemporary Nigeria politics is the extent to which the conduct of principal actors has conformed true to type. Leading the return of this political recrudescence; of leopards refusing to change their spots, of the most advantageously placed political leader setting the pace and example for others to follow, of parlaying the change slogan with the change begins with me escapism is the Nigerian president himself.

Hacking back to Nigeria’s inglorious past of coups and counter coups, Joshua Dogonyaro might as well be speaking to contemporary Nigeria when he heralded the removal of the reigning military dictator in 1985 with the rationale that ‘The Nigerian public has been made to believe that the slow pace of action of the federal government headed by Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was due to the enormity of the problems left by the last civilian administration. Although it is true that a lot of problems were left behind by the last civilian government, the real reason, however, for the very slow pace of action is due to lack of unanimity of purpose among the ruling body; subsequently, the business of governance has gradually been subjected to ill-motivated power play considerations’.

The most consequential political stereotype that has defined Nigerian politics more than any other political stereotype is the abiding notion of Hausa Fulani hegemony. It is the singular perception that invites and provokes power politics reactions from the other fragments and segments of the Nigeria polity. Before going any further, I need to discharge the obligation of clarifying myself to my objective audience. I know factually and first hand that many Hausa Fulani do not buy into any crass hegemony agenda and themselves are embarrassed at the lopsided excesses of President Muhammadu Buhari. So then, when we talk of Hausa Fulani hegemony agenda, it is employed as a generic identification of an ideology and behaviour typical of delimited power elite or in this instance, a particular regime. It is the reason I call it a stereotype and deem myself culpable of its inevitable inherent flaw of over generalisation. With specific regard to Buhari however, I make no such apology.

The open secret of the marginalisation and disaffection of the national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu, within the structures of the APC finally blew open in the wake of the party’s primaries to elect the standard-bearer in the forthcoming governorship election in Ondo State. Within the context of the culture of governorship primaries in Nigeria, the APC governorship primaries in Ondo State was peculiar in one important respect namely the close competitiveness of the contest not just between two but among the four leading aspirants (Rotimi Akeredolu-669, Segun Abrahams- 635, Ajayi Boroffice- 431 and Olusola Oke equally polled over 400 votes). The implication of this pattern of result is that there exist not less than four contending powerful caucuses within the party. We can easily conjecture the two most formidable as the presidency-Abuja allied forces on one hand and the one man army of Tinubu on the other. The power politics implication of the emergence of Akeredolu over Abrahams (Tinubu’s proxy) in the party primaries is the intensification of the supremacist struggle against Tinubu in his South-west base.

Before now and since the ascendance of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in Yoruba politics and subsequent merger to form APC, Tinubu has emerged the personification of the APC in the South-west. More than any other individual political actor, he can lay claim to motivating the decisive role of the Yoruba political establishment in assuring the victory of Buhari in the last presidential election. He did this against the historical background of a deep seated Yoruba memory and consciousness of the prototype adversarial encounter and resistance of jihadist imperialist incursion into Yorubaland in the 18th century.

The persistent reflection of this imperialist mentality in the conduct of the dominant conservative wing of the Northern political establishment down the ages has done nothing to alleviate Yoruba consciousness of the original sense of adversity. In resonance of this memory and vindication of those who stood on the lessons of Yoruba historical experience to dissuade him from thus committing himself, Tinubu’s latter day journey has mostly amounted to political misadventure. It has not been easy to resist the temptation to scoff at him for bringing all this upon himself, but there is a mitigating factor.

The mitigation is in the nature of the threat perception that he is no less a victim than the rest of us-of the political style and conduct of the government of President Buhari — the default modus operandi of the ruling APC government, so to say. As military dictator and elected president, Buhari has proven himself incapable of shedding the toga of a most unrepentant standard-bearer of a political creed and stereotype that answers to the title of Hausa-Fulani hegemony agenda. Put differently, were Buhari perceived as harbouring and pursuing a broad minded pan Nigerian agenda, Tinubu’s political troubles would have amounted to little more than an acceptable collateral damage of the important task of moving Nigeria forward.

The Hausa Fulani hegemony stereotype has, itself, spawned a counter hegemony Yoruba stereotype now christened the Afonja syndrome-what, I believe, social scientists characterise as counter elite behaviour. The Afonja syndrome is a subjective Yoruba recast and admonition. It is embedded in an Afonja corporate identity morality tale; the camp betrayal misadventure of the Oyo empire field marshal who sought alliance with a Fulani cleric, Alimi, in a rebellion against the supreme authority of the Yoruba monarchy. Thus isolated from the shield of his Yoruba community, Afonja ended up consumed in the conspiracy of Alimi (who turned on him) and imperial forces of the Sokoto caliphate led by Alimi’s brother, Abdusalam, to divest the Oyo empire of its prized Northern outpost possession, Ilorin.

In the fullness of the conspiracy, Afonja was butchered and Ilorin, hitherto secured by the Yoruba generalismo, was confiscated and incorporated into the expansive Sokoto caliphate-hence the invocation of the Afonja cautionary tale at the semblance of any political straying into the allure of collaboration with those that are deemed the heirs of the caliphate heritage. In the tradition of stereotypes, all I have said here has been recounted and applied several times, and pressed to the service of varying political complexities.
It took no special gift of clairvoyance to pen the anticipatory turn of events rendered hereunder on 23rd May 2014.

Tinubu For One Nigeria

Life has a way of going round in circles. The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo went to prison in 1963 and attributed his woes to the machinations of the alliance between the late Premier of the Western Region, Chief Ladoke Akintola, and the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa-headed federal government. In a deft political move, the military head of state of Nigeria in 1967, General Yakubu Gowon, sprung Awolowo from prison and romanced him into joining his government to preempt potential solidarity and unity of purpose between the two southern regions of the east and the west.

With respect to the turn Nigeria took after the civil war up on to the time of his death in 1987, I do not think that Awolowo lived happily ever after with this decision. At the height of his despair after the 1983 elections he predicted the doomsday scenario that Nigeria would never know democracy again.
In the intimacy of their friendship, there was no daylight between the late Chief Moshood Abiola and military president Ibrahim Babangida.

The friendship contributed substantially to the emergence of Abiola as the winner of the 1993 presidential election. It was assumed and Abiola did confirm that he went into the race practically at the behest of Babangida. Under whatever pressure the latter annulled the election and sentenced Nigeria particularly the South-west into political turmoil that claimed the lives of Abiola, his wife Kudirat and scores of other martyrs. Culpability for this cruel visitation was generalised as inclusive of the entire Muslim north.

I know for a fact that communities are often held hostage by the ultra-nationalist posturing and irredentism of a minority- akin to the rule of the mob. They dictate the definition of, for instance, what constitutes the ‘Northern interest’ and dare the rest of society to voice a contrary opinion and be liable to demonisation as traitor.

No matter his political party affiliation, Senator Tinubu is one person for whom I have confidence in his capacity to join in charting a good path forward for the Yoruba community. I have always held the unity of Nigeria suspect and the events of the past few years have done nothing to alleviate this suspicion. I’m not happy to say so but I think many of us still answer to Nigerian citizenship for the negative reason of the collateral damage of disintegration. But for how long?

My assessment of the mood in the South-west is the equivalence of outrage at both President Goodluck Jonathan and those aiming to render the National Conference meaningless and barren. There is a convergence of purpose and opinion between the antagonistic members of the conference and the leading lights of the APC from the north. This is the dice Tinubu has to throw. As the personification of the APC in the South-west, he is in the awkward position of being the restraining figure against full-blown regionalist resurgence among the Yoruba. I hope posterity would judge him.

Between then and now, it is clear that whatever utilitarian mission (or otherwise) may have motivated the merger and formation of the APC, the party is not serving Nigeria well and will never serve Nigeria well. Indeed no political party or government will optimally serve Nigeria within the constraints and limitations of the self-debilitating and dysfunctions of the prevailing constitutional structure.

Time was when it was to the greater service of realising the positive overhaul of this Nigerian deadweight that Tinubu pledged and applied himself. Perhaps this was the political calling and purpose of his existence. I truly believe that unto us, including all who wish Nigeria well is appointed the vision of the restructuring of Nigeria and though it may tarry, it shall surely come to pass. In a season riven with plagiarism, I hasten to credit the invocation of the last statement to the holy book.