Nigerian politicians love to travel by air. They know the roads are bad and that occasionally the kidnappers may be lying in ambush. They fly often for they are sure there are no kidnappers in the sky. They also hop in helicopters to cover the short distances. Now the general election is around the corner and the leading politicians may be earth-bound for some months to come. They are also preaching new gospel called restructuring. It is a hip word that has an old story and that is what is ruffling the feathers of Afenifere, the political and cultural movement of the Yoruba people which was once the super-power of Yoruba politics.
Who can remember now what the big politicians stand for? How many of those who voted in the last general elections has ever sighted the manifesto of any of the big parties especially the lumbering Peoples Democratic Party and the obese party in power, the All Progressive Congress, APC? Now there are rumbles in the land from the high quarters and we may be entering the session of marketing of ideas. For this, we owe a lot to the peripatetic presidential hopeful, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former Vice-President and the longest running candidate for the Presidency.
Many may not remember now that in 1993, while he was standing on the sturdy shoulders of Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, he almost became the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party, SDP. The winner of that contest, Chief Moshood Abiola, promised to make Atiku his running mate and then reneged, picking the smooth-talking Babagana Kingibe instead.
Since then Atiku has acquired the capacity for smooth talk as he has been doing in recent days and weeks. He has been outspoken in his call for the restructuring of the country, telling old stories in the process on how he sabotaged the efforts of his boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, to win Lagos State for the then ruling PDP in the 2003 governorship election. It is a good thing that Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, a professor of law and former Attorney-General of Lagos State has joined the debate on the true meaning of restructuring. Everyone, it seems, is interpreting the gospel as it suits him.
In the past we use to know what our leaders stood for. With this debate, we may be going back to the good old days when politicians learn to debate ideas. In the current arena, some exhibit their dancing skills or their capacity to climb trees and therefore ask us to vote for them for these fantastic feats. With this Atiku-Osinbajo debate, we may be returning to a saner era when politicians knew how to say something reasonable instead of throwing money at the electorate.
One of the hallmarks of politics in the old West was the definitive position taken by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the secular saint of the Awoists movement. In 1978, the military government of General Olusegun Obasanjo, lifted the 13-year old ban on partisan politics. The following day, Chief Awolowo announced the formation of his party, the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, stating the four cardinal programmes of the party: Free Education, Free Health Service, Integrated Rural Development and Full Employment.
The following year, Awolowo lost the presidential contest to Alhaji Shehu Shagari, a former minister in the First Republic government of Prime-Minister Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa. But that did not deter the Awolowo’s UPN from implementing the four cardinal programmes of the party. The five governors, Alhaji Lateef Jakande of Lagos, Chief Bisi Onabanjo of Ogun, Chief Bola Ige of Oyo, Chief Adekunle Ajasin of Ondo and Professor Ambrose Alli of Bendel State (now Edo and Delta) were determined to implement the party’s programme. Chief Cornelious Adebayo was also elected on the ticket of the party in 1983 and was in office for three months before the coup.
It is the era of credible programme that Atiku is trying to bring back. Whether he is singing out of desperation for power or he genuinely believes his new lyrics is another matter. At least we have something to hold him on. Last week, he visited leading Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo at home in Lagos. He was accompanied by the Director General of the Atiku Abubakar Campaign Organisation, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, himself an Afenifere chieftain and the first governor of Ogun State to spend two terms in office. In the meeting, Atiku was reported to have promised Adebanjo that if and when he gets to power, he would immediately embark on the restructuring of the Federation. I don’t know whether Papa Adebanjo gave the contestant a copy of The Yoruba Agenda, a pamphlet in which the Yoruba position on the constitutional reform of Nigeria was well explained.
Enthusiastic supporters of Atiku went to town to announce that with the meeting between the candidate and Adebanjo, it meant Afenifere has endorsed Atiku. Afenifere chairman, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, issued a statement clarifying that there was no such thing. What happened was a mere courtesy call. To underscore the importance of the issue, Fasoranti, stated that there cannot be an endorsement now because the parties are yet to pick their candidates. It is when candidates are chosen that Afenifere, if it finds it necessary, can consider endorsing a candidate. In the last general elections, the group went to the market with the then President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and his PDP.
I believe this debate between Osinbajo and Atiku presents Afenifere another opportunity to unveil the nitty-gritty of what it means by the restructuring of the federation. The report of the Jonathan Constitutional Conference has never been properly examined before President Muhammadu Buhari took it to the morgue. In replying Atiku’s criticism, Osinbanjo also remembered his dancing step as a lawyer. For the former law teacher restructuring means tackling corruption among other ills of the republic. “Surprisingly, Alhaji Atiku leaves out the elephant in the room – corruption,” Osinbajo wrote. “And how grand corruption fuelled by a renter economic structure that benefits those who can use political positions or access to either loot the treasury or get favourable concession to enrich themselves.”
Osinbajo’s position is not what is included in the Yoruba Agenda. After the Second Republic was toppled by the military headed by Major-General Buhari, Ajasin and his colleagues were sent to prisons. After his return in 1985, I visited the old man in Owo in the company of my friend, Bayode Ajala. The old man explained the meaning of constitutional reform. He said Awolowo believes that the natural boundary between the North and the West is the River Niger. “Ahmadu Bello wanted another river,” Papa Ajasin said. “The Sardauna did not agree to Awolowo’s claim on Ilorin.”
What the Yoruba Agenda stated is that all Yoruba people of Nigeria should be under one regional government and that Nigeria should be a federation of six to eight regions. The current 36-structure is not considered sustainable in the long run. Apparently now, Osinbajo has surrendered to the reality of the current system. He wants to tinker with it, curb it of corruption and deodorize it with legalese. Goodluck to him.