Yoruba Leadership: Post Olanihun Ajayi



A convergence of political events has, once again, conspired to make a re-examination of this subject matter — Yoruba political prospect, compelling. The least problematic of the contemporary chain of events is the exit of Pa Olanihun Ajayi (conscientious member of the Afenifere hierarchy) – he has answered the final call of nature; gone the way of all mortals and at a ripe old age for good measure.

The only issue his death left outstanding is common to all societies. It is the universal question of leadership succession and recruitment. Specifically, it is the reverberation of the Yoruba leadership question which he and his cohorts like Ajibola Ige, Reuben Fasoranti, Ayo Adebanjo and Abraham Adesanya responded to under the dispensation of the Afenifere political oligarchy.

Yoruba leadership is of course by no means limited to the Afenifere. There is, at the minimum, the residual socio political leadership of the traditional leadership institution. In order to guard against being superfluous, I have elected to discharge the obligation I owe to the memory of Ajayi by adopting all the encomiums and tributes that have accompanied his rite of passage. And I do so with standing applause.

At the larger Nigerian level, one crucial deficiency of the political development of the country was the vacuum created by a broken generational leadership succession. Political leadership succession and recruitment conventionally occurs as a cardinal role of political parties within the context and system of civil democratic rule. In Nigeria, the performance of this role was repeatedly broken by military rule abrogation of the political party system and civil democratic rule. This arrested political development is reflected in the apparent lack of preparedness and consequent poor quality of the post 1999 political successor class.

Spared of military rule disruption, the political party system has an inbuilt mechanism of self-regulating standards that preclude and forestall the degradation attendant on the all comers affair syndrome. How many members of contemporary Nigerian political elite especially those in office are conversant with the meaningful knowledge of Nigeria’s fragmented political history? How many have read and digested the Nigerian constitution beyond the regularly invoked provisions on immunity, impeachment and remuneration?

Next in the chain of events is the recrudescence of the supremacist contention within the All Progressives Congress (APC) for superiority and dominance of Yoruba politics — as it played out, first, in the steamrolling of the APC Ondo State governorship primaries and inclusively in the subversion of the governorship election. I am going to hazard a guess that we are going to look back with regret and nostalgia at the Nigerian political bequest of May 29th 2015. Politically and economically, Nigeria has been tottering down the hill since the commencement of that politically stable inheritance.

From the standpoint of Nigeria’s political stability and given that the status quo was already weighted in favour of the ruling party, why would anyone desire to upset the finely tuned political equilibrium of APC, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in control of 20, 14 and two states that obtained at the onset of the present four-year tenure? Why would the dominant Muhammadu Buhari faction of the APC not tolerate the live and let live latitude of the South-west faction under the leadership of Bola Tinubu? Why would the same dominant faction brazenly orchestrate the ‘capture’ (to borrow from the vocabulary of the hitherto elephantine PDP) of the governorship of Ondo State?

I recall an earlier statement of this misgiving ‘In tandem and against the spirit of fairness-which requires the expeditious dispatch of the appeal sought by the authentic candidate of the PDP, Eyitayo Jegede, two appeal panel of Judges, one after another, recused themselves and avoided pronouncement on the case — up onto the eve of the election… Inadvertent or not, the behaviour of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the judiciary in this instance was quite suggestive of a mutual conspiracy to stop or irreparably damage Jegede’s candidacy… President Buhari has adopted the attitude of see no evil and may well not be personally involved in the machinations but there is no power in Nigeria that can compel the orchestration of a conspiracy of this magnitude other than the dominant powers of the ultimate political Nigerian office’.

Inevitably, the negative trend has given rise to a sense of déjà vu, of a typical power politics subversion that dates back to the pre-colonial legacy of Yoruba resistance against the imperial incursion of the Sokoto caliphate and, latterly, against the ruling party at the centre. Why is the federal government never able to resist the temptation of this overreach? This expansionist tendency and the abbreviation of the multi-party system towards one party dictatorship is a recurrent trait to all the four Nigerian republics and it has proven the nemesis of the sustenance and stability of those republics. In these four recurrences, the South-west enjoys the dubious distinction of providing the theatre where the drama is given full throttle and the location where the push-back begins.

In the first republic, the political overreach played out in the partisan engagement of the Tafawa Balewa-led federal government in the factional crisis of the Action Group (AG) (the ruling party in the Western region) in 1962. Otherwise known as the Awolowo-Akintola feud, it degenerated into a protracted crisis spiralling from year to year until it climaxed in the termination of the first republic through the agency of military coup of January 1966 and thence the civil war. In the fullness of the power grab, the notorious 1964\65 general election served the phyrric victory of the acquisition of the Western region by the ruling party at the centre, the newly amalgamated Nigeria national alliance, NNA/NPC writ large.

In the second republic, the Shehu Shagari-led federal government and the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) could not resist following suit. Unable to allow the South-west sleeping dog lie in peace, the federal alliance went for its jugular in Ondo and Oyo States in the NPN landslide victory of the 1983 general election. The ensuing crisis readily provided the foil for the opportunistic Nigerian military to strike and bring the second republic to its premature end. Incidentally, the major beneficiary of this political misfortune was none other than General Mohammadu Buhari. From the ashes of the second republic, he emerged the military head of state in December 31st 1983.

The recurrence deviated in the respect that the ill-conceived third republic was aborted before the pregnancy was fully formed (in the womb of the crisis of transition from military dictatorship to civil democratic rule in 1993). In the 1993 presidential election annulment crisis, the legacy was nonetheless affirmed in the conventional role of the South-west as the harbinger of the demise of another Nigerian republic, the ill-starred third republic.

In the fourth republic, the PDP ultimately choked of its own gluttony after gobbling more states than it can chew in the 2003 and 2007 general election. The logic of controlling 26 states and the federal government is the definitive indication of a lurch towards one party dictatorship. This political incontinence resulted in the creation of a peculiar and alternate locus of power called the PDP governors forum, which graduated to becoming an albatross on the neck of the federal government. It facilitated the implosion of the party into two factions — one of which broke away to play a decisive role in the formation of the APC. Again the beginning of the end for PDP was traceable to the controversial victories it recorded in five of the six states comprising the South-west zone in the 2003 general election. And now another siege has been laid to the region to crowd out any tendency that does not conform to the unfolding Abuja script.

In Yoruba historical experience, one lesson that has crystallised is the obsessive focus on the role of individuals at the expense of giving contemplation to predisposing general factors; repeatedly seeking scapegoats and convenient targets to demonise and criminalise as traitors. Time is ripe to challenge this perspective as overly reductionist and contend that individual personality roles are ultimately of secondary importance; that if it is not Afonja or Akintola, there will always be another individual to fill the role vacuum generated by the dynamics of Yoruba political character and its situation within the complexity of Nigeria.

Yoruba politics tends to be riven with egomania, schism; and improbable and conflicting mythologies. It is this legacy of dysfunction that constitutes the primary and proximate causation of the Yoruba dilemma. You can read it in the Alaafin Aole\Afonja; Alaafin Atiba\Kurumi; Awolowo\ Akintola; Awolowo\Obasanjo; Obasanjo\Soyinka; Bola Ige/Adesanya &co; Tinubu\Adesanya; Tinubu\Mimiko; Tinubu\Buhari protégés; Ooni\Alaafin schism and we can go on and on. Notwithstanding his commendable efforts to the contrary, the one year old reign of the new Ooni has been typically manoeuvred into another occasion for muscle flexing and ego massaging by brother Obas. A most perplexing manifestation of this baggage was the brand new fulmination of the flamboyant occupier of the hitherto obscured Olugbo stool. Turning on its head the little that we know of Oduduwa and Moremi role depiction in Yoruba antiquity he unloaded:

“Our forefathers descended from heaven, that is why we are called ‘Ugbo Atorunwo.’…To set the record straight, Moremi remains a traitor. She was a slave captured by Ugbo warriors during one of their many raids on Ile-Ife. She later became the wife of Osangangan Obamakin, the son of Oranfe, of who was the paramount ruler of over 13 aboriginal communities of ancient Ugbomokun, which later came to be called Ile Ife… Oduduwa came to Ugbomokun as a stranger and was welcomed in Ilero, the aboriginal palace of Osangangan Obamakin, which is still in existence in present day Iremo, in Ile-Ife. During the dynastic struggles, Osangangan Obamakin was directed by the oracles (Ifa and Osanyin) to leave Ile-Ife. Moremi betrayed her husband’s trust when she exposed the secret of the Ugbo warriors’ gallantry.”

Fractious ancestry is common to all societies in antiquity and left alone, the Yoruba would have conclusively resolved this universal ailment one way or another. Standing against the capability of the Yoruba to transcend this limitation is the coerced adaptation of the Yoruba into dysfunctional Nigeria; a country that seemingly thrives on exploiting the weaknesses rather than building on the strength of its hapless citizens. But it was not always like this…