These are dangerous times. Electoral politics is undermining rationality in otherwise rational circles as the rebellion against reason seeks to elevate the politics of division, masquerading as politics of principle by a deliberate exploitation of our differences.
The Yoruba are, by a wide margin, the most accommodating nationality in the Nigerian geographical space. This attitude is derived from an understanding that (a) humanity is one big family and (b) life experiences are reversible. A landlord here may become a renter elsewhere. An indigene here may become a foreigner elsewhere. Life is a pendulum, swinging back and forth. If you would like to be accommodated in a foreign land, accommodate foreigners in your midst.
Indeed, the Yoruba have been known to not just love foreigners in their midst, but to side with them against indigenes when their case is morally sound.
A vivid example of the politics of principle played out in the early days of nationalist movement in the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM). In 1941, a vacancy occurred in the Nigerian Legislative Council. NYM needed to choose a candidate to contest the bye-election. Both the President, Chief Ernest Ikoli and his deputy, Oba Samuel Akinsanya, expressed interest.
NYM had a pre-existing policy that gave preference to its President in such matters. Based on this policy, Chief Awolowo supported Ikoli. The Executive Committee of the organization voted in support of the candidacy of Ikoli. Though Oba Akinsanya congratulated Ikoli, when the list of candidates was published, Ikoli and Akinsanya were the two contestants. Awolowo campaigned for Ikoli against Akinsanya, a fellow Yoruba and Ijebu. Ikoli won. That was politics of principle.
Since the beginning of party politics, the Yoruba have been split in their party choice, but the majority have always embraced progressive politics that prioritize the welfare of the masses. From AG to UPN; from SDP to AD; from ACN to APC, plural majorities of Yoruba have rallied round these parties. However, other parties have had inroads into the Zone. From NCNC to NNDP, from NPN to NRC, and now PDP, the Yoruba like to brag concerning their fierce independence in matters of politics. Diversity of affiliation is an acceptable way of life.
Therefore, we should expect that individuals may pitch their political tent wherever they fancy, whether based on moral principle or simple self-interest. Therefore, we should not fault anyone for choice of affiliation even if it means their voting against an illustrious son of the soil. Many voted against the Sage.
The Yoruba have always sought alliances outside their zone. In 1959 Chief Awolowo initiated discussions with Dr. Azikiwe but the latter preferred to partner the North. 1n 1964, a southern alliance came through as UPGA, led by with Dr. Okpara after the NPC-NCNC alliance broke down. In the same year, Chief Akintola’s NNDP partnered NPC to form the NNA alliance, another reminder that the Yoruba have never slept facing one direction. The January 1966 coup ended both alliances.
The coup decimated the rank of Northern political and military leaders. The West had its share of the loss. Moreover, the counter-coup of July 1966 demonstrated clearly the Yoruba principle of accommodation and willingness to pay the supreme sacrifice when principle requires it. Col. Fajuyi offered himself for death if his guest, General Ironsi, was to die. Their captors granted his request. During the civil war, Igbo residents in Western region had all the support they needed to survive and prosper, and after the war, returnees and new residents were welcome with open hands.
Yet, in 1979 at the inception of the Second Republic, Chief Awolowo was demonized for his role as Vice Chair of the Federal Executive Council and Commissioner for Finance. However, with an Igbo Vice President, and an NPP-NPN coalition, the Igbo were fully reintegrated into the polity. Chief Ojukwu returned from exile and pitched his tent with NPN, the ruling party. The Yoruba never complained. Of course, the NPN-NPP alliance soon broke down again. But it hardly mattered as the Second Republic also got booted in December 1983.
June 12, 1993 election was fought by SDP and NRC and ethnicity hardly played a role in the electioneering as all ethnic nationalities featured prominently in both parties. That was, until the military annulled the election after Abiola had won the presidency. The struggle for the mandate and against the military was led by NADECO, an umbrella of all pro-democracy groups whose leadership cut across the regions.
Soon, however, it became clear that the military had its strategy to break the coalition. Chief Ojukwu and Chief Tony Anenih, who had been the Chairman of SDP, led a delegation to the US to canvass for the support of the superpower for the Abacha dictatorship. At a forum, Chief Ojukwu insisted that the Igbo could not support the prodemocracy groups because Nigeria was founded on a tripod and one leg of the tripod was missing in the Abiola-Tofa ticket. It hardly mattered that the Yoruba didn’t complain in 1959 and 1979.
The present republic began in 1999. Initially, Yoruba progressives found themselves in the same political associations with their counterparts from the Southeast and the North. In 1998, Chief Ige was a key participant in the drafting of the constitutions of the various political parties, including PDP and ANPP before he and others formed AD.
AD governors focused on the development of the Southwest, using the Awolowo 1951 template. Lagos, under Asiwaju Tinubu, championed an ethnicity-blind coalition that embraced all residents. He assembled a team of technocrats and experienced political operatives. The result was the beginning of the magical developmental strides that continue till today. Envisioning a mega-city, he increased internally generated revenue geometrically and created agencies and institutions for the development of the state.
Concerned for the welfare of the masses, Tinubu did not countenance any difference between the various groups and ethnicities in the state. From payment of WAEC fees to the recognition of excellence in school children, it was open opportunity or all. Igbo children who excelled in Spelling Bee competition served as Governor-For-a-Day. Civil service was open to all and large numbers of Igbo took advantage of this as heads of agencies and Commissioners.
Igbo men and women serve in various capacities in the party. So, in terms of symbolic and substantive outreach to Igbo residents who take advantage of their gesture, the Tinubu, Fashola, and Ambode administrations deserve a lot of credit.
It must also be acknowledged that until 2015, there has been no serious friction between the administrations, the party, and the Igbo. Since 1999, 2015 was the year when politics of ethnic solidarity appeared to surface in Lagos. Unfortunately, it was unscrupulously exploited by indigenes for partisan reasons hiding behind a facade of restructuring as a litmus test. This is what is most unnerving.
Since 1999, Lagos under AD, ACN, and now APC, has led the struggle for state rights. It struggled for an Independent Power Project, which the Obasanjo administration blocked before the courts decided in favor of the state. The state exercised its right to create local governments and Obasanjo administration chose to withhold its local government funds. Even after the Supreme Court decided in favor of the state, the funds were not released until a new president was inaugurated.
Since 1999, Lagos, under various administrations and the same political family, has focused on good governance with visible results for every resident. This is one of the few states in which workers don’t complain of late payment of salary.
Since 1999, Lagos has executed liberal policies of life more abundant for all without discrimination.
In the face of all the progressive developments open to all and the accommodating gesture and policies of subsequent administrations since 1999, what is the rationale for a politics of division that seeks to drive dangerous wedges between ethnic nationalities in Lagos? How does it benefit anyone to ever go this route if not for misguided calculations of political self-interest?
It is my hope that rational residents shine their sight and know what is best for them, especially in the present reality of a progressive government at the center.
Author: Segun Gbadegesin