DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN
In anticipation of the instant umbrage of the short attention span category of rejoinders-who are wilfully constrained from reading beyond the title and perhaps the first paragraph of this essay, I need to quickly enter a proviso. It is to the effect that, I am, by no means, insinuating Governor Olusegun Mimiko as the crown prince to the Obafemi Awolowo legacy. In making this concession, I crave the indulgence of those who would otherwise adequately grapple with the totality of what is on offer today.
A significant character trait of the Fourth republic is how it uniquely bears the imprint of Yoruba triumphalism-hereby interpreted as the (Yoruba) concessionary and compensatory character of the 1998\99 transition to civil rule programme; and the subsequent role of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Afenifere and the expansive Ahmed BolaTinubu caucus. Collectively and severally the Yoruba have had the most decisive effect on the politics of Nigeria since 1999 but it was seldom to its advantage, long term aspiration and enduring benefit. It was at the same material time at war with itself-as it has always historically been the case.
To begin with, and as it is the case with the other Nigerian ethno-regional counterparts, Pan Yoruba political unification did not predate British colonialism. Significant evidence of this observation was the implosive 19th century interminable strife, wars and sundry internecine conflicts and crisis. Prior to 1914, Yoruba knew themselves not as Yoruba but Oyo, Ekiti, Ijesha, Egba, Ijebu and the like. There was a latent historical, linguistic and cultural unit which the name Yoruba subsequently encompassed-but the name was never formally applied and given spiritual unification force until the (colonialism) necessity became the mother of invention.
Nonetheless, to imagine that the Oyo Empire was on course to incorporate all potential Yoruba national affiliates is a logical projection and the intervention of colonialism may well have arrested this trajectory only to reinvent it. It is always useful to bear this harmless historical memory in mind as a guide and precursor to the interpretation of subsequent phases of Yoruba politics.
There was nothing particularly impressive in the formation of Egbe Omo Oduduwa in 1951 (the tribal predicate of the Action Group founded by Chief Obafemi Awolowo)-which was a politically realistic reaction to similar exploitation of tribal\cultural sentiments by rival political leaders of the other Nigerian regions. The nobility and pre-eminence of Chief Obafemi Awolowo as unrivalled Yoruba political leader derives from the exemplary quality of modernisation leadership he provided the Western region from 1951 to 1960. To be more specific, without his singular far sighted socially transformative education policy, there would never have been the Awolowo myth. It was from this singular utilitarian vision that he reaped a lifetime of hero worship from a grateful Yoruba confederation.
Awolowo would remain the most dominant Yoruba leadership figure in history but it is not in the nature of Yoruba traditional politics to become unified in submission to one political leader. Group survival instinct and perception of common threat may dictate a Pan Yoruba resolve to resist and fight as one but such concerted response seldom endured beyond the particular occasion-as was the case with the stance taken to battle and turn back the Fulani imperialist incursion into Yorubaland in 1840 and the resistance to the annulment of the 1993 Presidential election won by Chief Moshood Abiola. One of the more remarkable attributes of the Yoruba response to the shared sense of the annulment injury was how it was individually and personally appropriated; individuals concluded and decided they were going to resist-with or without collaboration from any group. I was struck by how personalities who never before expressed interest in politics took offence and responded with risky far reaching actions to confront the adversity.
The result was the concession of the Nigerian Presidency to the Yoruba and the acceptance of its participation in the Fourth republic politics on more or less its own terms. Granted that the concession was compelled by the force of circumstances (but) it was still a consummate act of conflict and crisis management by the transiting General Abdusalam Abubakar headed military government. It effectively tied the hands of the Yoruba by foisting on them the seductive role of anchoring the Fourth republic.
The deal clincher was the choice of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as the Yoruba compensatory President-the most passionate believer in Nigerian unity and challenger-in-chief of Yoruba regionalism standpoint. In tandem, the Yoruba nationalist fervour that was roused by the annulment crisis was pacified by throwing into the bargain the further concession of a regional political party sanctuary, the Alliance for Democracy, AD. This inbuilt political divergence (represented by Obasanjo and the AD) in the concessionary package meant that Yoruba triumphalism was birthed in conflict and guaranteed to remain so mired.
The uneasy coexistence of the two power blocs, Obasanjo/PDP vs Afenifere/AD escalated in 2003 with the bloc displacement of the AD by the PDP from political power in five of the six South West states in the general elections of that year. The easy and convenient explanation of the PDP victory was its attribution as a product of outright electoral fraud. A little probe below the surface reveals a more detached and objective accounting. Beyond the general tar brush of electoral shenanigan, each of those five states offers probable individual explanations for the loss of AD and the victory of PDP.
The PDP triumph in Ogun state, for instance, will find better explanation in the leverage provided by the politically ascendant personalities of Obasanjo, Gbenga Daniel and Ibikunle Amosun. Obasanjo is from Abeokuta and after four years as incumbent Nigerian President it is reasonable to expect an uptick in the degree of the son of the soil support for him. Walking back from the present, it has to be a reflection of the grass root potency of the PDP tact team of Daniel and Amosun that the governorship of Ogun state had remained exclusive to both since 2003. The coincidence is clearly an indication of their proven political capability and by extension an explanation of the victory of the PDP in the 2003 elections in Ogun state.
Similarly, in regard of what transpired in Ekiti state in 2003, what inference can we draw, a posteriori, from the inspired Ayo Fayose overwhelming victory of the PDP in the 2014/2015 elections in Ekiti state? Would the superlative performance he posted at the 2014 elections not amount to a validation of his earlier success in the Ekiti governorship election of 2003?
Equally, if there was any doubt that Olusegun Mimiko was a more relevant and explanatory factor (than rigging) in the victory of PDP in the Ondo state governorship election of 2003; his subsequent commanding exploits in the 2007 and 2013 elections had categorically put to rest any such doubt. And he is, easily, one of the most outstanding political revelations of the Fourth republic. Against the Obasanjo norm of deferring to his protégé governors on the choice of ministerial nominees from the states (and they do not come more protégé than Governor Olusegun Agagu) Mimiko improbably emerged (given his chilly relationship with Agagu) the ministerial successor to Chief Mrs Mobolaji Osomo in 2005.
It was not quite clear whether to ascribe his abandonment of the lofty ministerial position in quest of a most uncertain Ondo state governorship, as borne of confidence or fool hardiness. And seemingly more fool hardy was that he took this leap of faith in defiance of the express wishes of an intimidating and hegemonic Obasanjo-not to run against Agagu. In full rebellion mode, Mimiko resigned from the government and the PDP, and ran, in effect, as an independent contestant on the nominal platform of the Labour party. He confounded sceptics and pulled off a major upset victory against the incumbent PDP governor.
In acknowledgement of the deeply flawed 2007 general elections, President Obasanjo had sought my opinion on possible remedial measures. I counselled the outright cancellation of the elections in six states where evidence of electoral irregularities was most compelling. I named Ondo state (where Agagu had been declared the winner) among the notorious six and the President agreed. The plan was ultimately aborted by the legal standpoint that once the result of an election is declared, only the authority of the court can invalidate such.
And to the courts did Mimiko proceed. The stars were aligned in his favour and after two years of judicial arguments, he was declared rightly elected governor by the final judicial authority on governorship adjudication on February 2009. He would go on to break the two term jinx of his predecessor governors-none of whom endured to serve out the maximum two-term tenure.
One of the stars that aligned in his favour was the coincidence of the Akure origins of Afenifere leader, Chief Reuben Fasoranti and crown prince Olu Falae. It devolved on him the role and honour of hosting and providing sanctuary for the Afenifere-the flagging preeminent custodian of the Awolowo heritage politics. In turn, the Afenifere boosted his legitimacy and gave wind to his sail in the intra Yoruba supremacist struggle between him and the ascendant Bola Tinubu faction of the South West political establishment. Yoruba politics then became a three track horse race between Obasanjo, Tinubu and Mimiko. His return to the PDP and the Fayose rout of the APC in Ekiti state further complicated the political calculations of the South West in the run up to the 2015 general elections.
In the run and tumble of this political quicksand, Mimiko remained dominant in Ondo state politics in a manner that no individual before him had accomplished. His political master class performance was well complemented by a remarkable governance effectiveness and substantial social welfare policy deliverance to the people of Ondo state. His lone ranger signature tune hacks back to the Yoruba national predilection for contradictorily destructive and creative political tension. The inability to mentor a successor governor represents for him the end of a phase in his extraordinary political career. In his subsisting political limbo and suspended animation, he will need to dig deep into his fabled well of providential political rescue and divine favour to chart a path forward. It is now time for me to say sayonara-fare thee well.