2019 and the Imperative of South-west Unity

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The unity of the South-west has never been this threatened, writes Victor Ogunje, as he situates the place of the region in the 2019 equation

From time immemorial, the South-west region has always played pivotal role in the politics of the nation. As a result, it has remained a critical factor in deciding where the pendulum would swing in any presidential race. Above all, the body language of the people in the zone had always signposted whether or not democracy would be fortified or grossly endangered.

To go down memory lane, South-west’s full involvement in the 1964 politics branded operation ‘wetie’ led to the demise of the first Republic then piloted by the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. The ding-dong that ensued from the region after the rigged 1983 elections caused military usurpation that killed the second Republic. Conversely, the region played active role in the return of democracy in 1999 after several years of military interregnum.

Without overestimating the strength of the region in the power equation in Nigeria, the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari into office after three unsuccessful times further buttressed how strong and potent the region has been in changing the political fortunes of the nation.

Thus, taking cognizance of this chequered political trajectory, it would be foolhardy for anyone to downplay the role of the Yoruba race in Nigeria. It is understandable, therefore, why historians believe that the zone would also be a good bride to be courted across political divides in 2019.

But in recent time, the region has not been enjoying the kind of cohesion it is known for. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which ruled this country for 16 years, has been ripped apart by power tussle. The cleavages existing in the All Progressives Congress (APC) have decimated the power that resides in the leadership of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Emerging power blocks are beginning to challenge the old folks and this had created such factors now undermining the importance of the region.

The pointer to the fact that the region seems to be tearing apart was confirmed by a recent exchange of verbal tirades between a former military governor of the Old Ondo State and former National Deputy Chairman of the PDP (South), Chief Bode George and a former governor of Osun State and ex-National Secretary of the PDP, Olagunsoye Oyinlola.

The two were known political allies under former President Olusegun Obasanjo but power games and quests for leadership had separated them and the open confrontation seems to be unsettling the zone and heating up the polity in a way that can undermine the unity of the region.

Obasanjo has his own crowd and the likes of George and Oyinlola belong to his political family that held sway in the region since 2003 before they were disgracefully routed in 2010, through the instrumentality of a Tinubu-led Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).

The former President was known to be close to the two eminent Nigerians and was involved in so many political dealings that gave the PDP a slight edge over other contending forces in the zone before certain realignments altered the configurations.

But to the consternation of many Nigerians, the ex-President had exhibited deep resentment towards Buhari’s government. He overtly expressed disappointment about the alleged clannish style of the APC-led government, which propelled him to consummate the National Intervention Movement (NIM), rumoured to be planning a merger with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) to unseat the present government.

But many Nigerians viewed the NIM from different prisms. While some applauded the move, branding it as a way to salvage the country from Buhari’s palpable misrule, many viewed it as a voyage of futility that would not suffice or gain enough traction in 2019 to disgrace Buhari out of government.

However, while Oyinlola was one of those that held the view that NIM was a well-conceived political movement, coming to salvage the land, George perceived it as merely dissipating energy that could have been coalesced to develop the existing party, particularly the PDP. The two extreme views by these politicians would later stoke an unsavoury altercation that is now unsettling the land.

Espousing his views on NIM, George didn’t mince words, when he upbraided the proponents of this movement. He was of the opinion that people were just trying to overrate their political relevance and this he warned, might boomerang.
Though George did not clearly make allusions to Obasanjo in an interview, the whole nation knew where the fingers were pointed, having already known the true identities of those propping the group.

But Oyinlola, who hurriedly resigned his position as the Chairman of the National Identity Card Management Commission (NIMC) to assume the role of coordinator of the political group believed that the comment made by George against their former benefactor was harsh, uncouth and venomous. He therefore counseled George in a manner he found repulsive.

Oyinlola went further to say George was the least expected Nigerian to have gone so hard on Obasanjo on any issue, having benefited enormously from the former President, when he was in the saddle of governance in Abuja. With this, Oyinlola succeeded in portraying George as disloyal, which did not augur well with those in the camp of the Lagos State PDP Chief.

Oyinlola’s position, however, seemed to have elicited many reactions with some agreeing that George was only articulating his views and that such should not have generated any statement that could deride his personality. Those who belong to this school told Oyinlola to learn how to be tolerant of the opposition for Yoruba nation to remain united and protect the culture of Omoluabi that has become a long standing norm among the race.

George’s Special Adviser on Political Matters, Mr. Uthman Sodipe-Dosunmu, said Oyinlola goofed in asking his principal to beg for forgiveness, saying the former Osun State governor was the one, who actually manifested ingratitude considering what Chief George did for him to emerge the gubernatorial candidate of the party in 2003.
Like the two sides of a coin, former Nigerian Ambassador to Canada and SDP governorship aspirant in Ekiti State, Chief Dare Bejide, described Obasanjo as an icon in Nigeria and the most patriotic Nigerian ever to have ruled the nation, as a military and civilian leader.

Bejide said politics revolves around loyalty and that it would be a serious aberration for anyone to condemn whoever had benefited him in the course of his political journey on a platter of the prevailing political misunderstanding.

As these opposing views were becoming more heated, the elders of Yoruba land viewed the turn of event as a threat to the peaceful co-existence among the political gladiators in the zone, which some thought could heat up the temperature beyond normal ahead of 2019.

Rattled by the development, the Secretary General of a Pan-Yoruba Political Group, Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr. Kunle Olajide, said he had made several efforts to contact George on the need to advise him that it was wrong for two elders, particularly those that had held positions of responsibilities to spit at each other in public, but that his efforts were futile. He warned that such could embolden the youth and breed acrimony in the land.

He said Yoruba race has never been this divided in the history of this nation over election, saying leaders of good conscience must combine efforts to nip the impending battle.

Olajide added that allowing such two leaders to continue to fight in the public may expose the race to enemies and create cracks for them to weaken the already debilitating political base of the West and make it irrelevant in national politics.

Today, there is no state in the zone where there are no factions. In Ekiti State, the two dominant parties, APC and PDP are up in arms against each other. Even, internal crises in each of these parties are worrisome. In Ondo, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and Senator Ajayi Boroffice are arch enemies. In Oyo, Governor Abiola AJimobi and the Minister of Communications, Alhaji Adebayo Shittu, do not speak to each other. In Ogun, Governor Ibikunle Amosun and the Senator representing Lagos West, Solomon Solomon Adeola, are like cat and mouse.

In Osun, Governor Rauf Aregbesola is battling the Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon Yusuff Lasun. Even in Lagos, which has enjoyed seemingly limitless level of stability and effective leadership now has some pockets of crises.

All these, observers reckon, have combined to corroborate the fact that the South-west is becoming more and more polarised and there is a need for an emergency fence-mending interventions to restore normalcy and civility for the region to retain its place in the body polity.