Akin Osuntokun: I see no reason why the Yorubas should vote Buhari

by Akin Osuntokun


The stubborn fact of the scientific imagination and reasoning is that it holds true for all seasons and so it is with the prescription of federalism for Nigeria. It was true in 1948, 1960, 1970, 1993 as it is true today.

As tomorrow looms large on the horizon of Nigeria’s destiny, I feel called upon to make a restatement of the germane positions that I had taken, especially in the last several months. Going forward to the 2015 general elections I had been guided and instructed by a strategic and tactical purpose in my reflections-that is the long and short term perspective.

At all times, it is imperative (with the accomplishment of the objective in view) that we are able to delineate and reconcile both. The strategy is the overall framework within which tactics are accommodated and deployed; and strategies are effective only in so far at it motivates the tactic; and to the extent that they are in a general and continuous state of interaction and responsiveness. There must be inherent harmony and conformity between the two.

You will recall that the best President Nigeria never had, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo indeed wrote a book titled the Strategy and Tactics of the Peoples Republic. In terms of laying a blueprint for the development of Nigeria, it is difficult to find any cause to add or subtract from this compendium especially in regard of the specification of federalism as best suited to Nigeria’s circumstances. Earlier in 1948, he had published ‘Path to Nigerian freedom’ in which he first enunciated federalism as the only viable system of government for Nigeria.

Before and after him, the British colonial authorities were of the same persuasion and after a succession of constitutional conferences in concert with Nigerian political leaders came to the firm conclusion that federalism was self-prescriptive for Nigeria hence the birth of the federal republic of Nigeria in 1960.

I stand to be corrected but I am of the opinion that the first republic from 1960 to 1966 was the golden era of Nigeria’s socio-political development. One or two or all of the three comprising regions (left undisturbed) had the potential to match the ascendance of Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia on the ladder of development.

It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions and so it came to be with the relatively idealistic military coup that terminated the first republic on January 15 1966. The tragedy of the first coup was compounded by the bigger tragedy of the July 1966 counter coup. The two coups terminated the first republic, killed federalism and directly led Nigeria to the civil war.

The outcome of the war resulted in the demonization of decentralised federalism as antithetical to the unity of Nigeria-heretofore designated as an end in itself. The question of which structure best serves Nigeria was subordinated to the ideology of one Nigeria and deemed a faux pas in national discourse. Three post war factors conspired to facilitate this trend.

First was the amorality of the war-it was not a contention between good and bad. It was simply power politics-that might is right and that the vision of Nigeria’s future was coterminous with whatever suits the purpose and design of the victors. The second and allied factor was the acculturation of unitary system attendant on the protracted duration of the unified command culture of military rule.

Third was the fiscal federalism shattering phenomenon of the emergent oil economy. Fidelity to the derivation principle (as a cardinal point in the practise of federalism) was rendered impracticable by the oil boom and the fact that the regional location of the crude oil resource was a conquered territory.

The stubborn fact of the scientific imagination and reasoning is that it holds true for all seasons and so it is with the prescription of federalism for Nigeria. It was true in 1948, 1960, 1970, 1993 as it is true today.

Perhaps the greatest contradiction of Chief Awolowo’s political life was the alliance he struck with Nigeria’s military rulers during and after the civil war. He could not have foreseen the unintended consequence of its irreparable damage to the advocacy and sustenance of the federalist structure. Haven suffered political imprisonment until he was freed by the military guys in 1966, this misstep is partly extenuated by his psychological vulnerability to the blandishments of those who restored him to freedom and political vindication.

Excuse and explanation could also be found in the error prone volatile miasma of the immediate aftermath of the 1966 coups and the descent into civil war. Given the political trajectory of post-civil war Nigeria and his unfulfilled ambition to govern Nigeria it is highly improbable that Awolowo would have lived happily ever after with the memory of the path he inadvertently helped chart for Nigeria since 1966.

In a manner of speaking, much of his political conduct commends him to the characterisation of political naivety personified. Despite the reality of the power politics that emanated from the 1966 counter coup he did not perceive himself to have entered into a client-patron relationship with the Northern hegemony fostered political dispensation. Any Nigerian politician or political party that intended to be a beneficiary of transfer of power from the military disengagement transition programme cannot afford to define himself or itself in autonomous terms as Awolowo did in post-civil war Nigerian politics.

This naivety attained a defiant apogee in the composition of his 1979 presidential ticket comprising him and Phillp Umeadi from the South East. So what was the rationale and where was the benefit of his civil war alliance if his running mate could not be sourced from the North but had to be found amidst those he arraigned himself against in the civil war equation? This political floundering was ironically the evidence that he had not compromised his political integrity and fidelity to federalism at the altar of personal ambition.

At the root of governance failure and political dysfunction of Nigeria today is the persistent deviation from decentralised federalism and its sustained displacement by the quasi-unitarist legacy of the 1966 military intervention and the civil war. In comparison with his predecessors I can see no unique leadership failure in the incumbency of President Goodluck Jonathan. As borne out of late, if there was any such unique failure, it was the failure to adequately market his accomplishments and make his voice heard over the cacophony of censorious disinformation and misinformation.

This is not to say that there is no problem with the presidency of Nigeria but it is not the problem of Jonathan, it is the problem of over concentration of power at the centre and the concomitant emasculation of the concurrent powers and viability of component states.

This is my own understanding of the political problem of Nigeria and it is from this understanding that I arrived at the conclusion that it amounts to unpardonable oversimplification to reduce Nigeria’s ailment to the leadership capacity of any incumbent President. This is my strategic long term perspective of our political challenge and my tactical response is to support the least likely political candidate to perpetuate the dysfunctional political status quo.

Even though he summoned the courage to convene a national conference to take the agenda of the restoration of meaningful federalism a step further I do not see Jonathan as overly enthused of the national conference idea. Whereas the President was a reluctant and latter day convert, his main challenger, General Mohammadu Buhari-by ideological and ethno-regional orientation, by self-definition and pronouncement, is adamantly opposed to any such political agenda.

Recently asked of his views on fiscal federalism and resource control, he retorted in barely concealed irritation and disdain-‘what is the meaning of that’? yet he is the Presidential candidate of a political party, APC, whose dominant South-West faction hitherto has no identity beyond vaunted tenuous historical continuity from the Awolowo legacy and ideological commitment to precisely the same national conference agenda.

Between the two strange bird fellows something had to give. In the event it was the identity shroud of the latter that gave way to the unrepentant Buhari in all his parochial stiffness. In the comprehensive personality profile of Buhari that Professor Wole Soyinka drew of him eight years ago I have not seen any liability that had fallen off his parochial and condescending essence.

If there is any Nigerian political personality that the Yoruba people of the South-West have reasons to deem politically objectionable, that personality is Buhari. By default or design, no segment of Nigeria has had the kind of rough experience that the Yoruba people had with Buhari.

From the humiliation and hounding of Awolowo to the persecution unto physical and psychological emasculation of the second tier level of Yoruba political leaders to the highly social and economically consequential cancellation of the metroline light rail in Lagos state to the contrived sharia crisis insurrection against former President Olusegun Obasanjo to raising the Fulani warrior banner against the late Governor Lam Adesina and the people of Oyo state through to his inherent opposition to the cosmopolitan world view of the Yoruba people I am yet to see any reason why the South West voters should give him a quarter.

It would have been difficult to write this of Buhari were he to have been humble enough to seize one or two symbolic opportunities to show remorse and fellow feeling on his campaign trail this time around. He went in company of his running mate who happens to be married to a granddaughter on a courtesy call on the Awolowo matriarch.

People do make mistakes and it may also well be the case that he knew nothing of some of the outrageous conduct that were perpetrated in the name of his military regime. Yet all this assumption should never excuse his wilful disregard to acknowledge and express regret to the Awolowo matriarch for the ordeal that her illustrious husband and former Yoruba leader suffered at the hands of his security establishment.

Similarly I don’t know if any Yoruba should be happy that Buhari decided that customary courtesy visit on foremost traditional rulers and prominent leaders should not be extended to the Ooni of Ife when his campaign schedule took him to Osun state. Is it conceivable that a Yoruba Presidential candidate of the APC would go to campaign in Sokoto state and not deem it obligatory to go pay obeisance to the Sultan?


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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