The Battle For The Soul Of Yoruba – Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, as you read this, the battle for which political party controls the State of Osun, in South West Nigeria, should be reaching a crescendo. The PDP and APC are locked in a duel of monumental proportions. Anything, and everything, possible and available has been thrown into what has become a war more than a mere election. Sadly, this is how we now do it in our neck of the woods. The Party responsible for letting us degenerate into such moral abyss is none less than the rampaging PDP which sees as its goal the vision of Nigeria as a one Party State.
Rewards from electoral victories are often stupendously heavy. Now, under the PDP, it has become even more so. While it may be easier to win elections in other parts of our nation, Yorubaland has always been a battleground for political gladiators. This is because the average Yoruba electorate is perceptive, knowledgeable, conscientious and equally critical and demanding. I will come back shortly to the reason why this zone has become all too important to our new breed politicians.
This fight didn’t start yesterday. It began decades ago, or even centuries. You only need to read the history of the Yoruba race to see how tough it is for any individual to Lord it over them. The people are highly territorial and would normally fight to protect their provinces. They also believe in development and emancipation. Hence, there have been too many wars fought, including Kiriji, Ekiti Parapo, Ibadan/Egba, and many heroes and heroines have emerged as various Yoruba communities struggled for self-determination. They include several Aare Ona Kakanfos’ from Oyo, Ogedengbe of Ijesaland, Ogunmola and Efunsetan Aniwura of Ibadanland, Sodeke and Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Egbaland, and many others.
The Yoruba respect men and women of valour and accord them the highest esteem. They received education quite early and understood the meaning of human rights, fairness and justice. This consciousness has made them somewhat difficult to govern because they believe that they have a right to be governed properly whereas a lot of politicians do not care about governance but are concerned only about their selfish interests and self preservation. Not even the Yoruba kings are allowed to trample on their subjects.
In the famous Oyo Kingdom, a semblance of democracy as we know it today has been practised since time immemorial. The Oyo Mesi in Council in their role as Kingmakers not only appointed the Alaafin, who was a truly paramount and maximum ruler, they also held the King in check in their primary role akin to Senators in dual Parliamentary system. The Ogboni, headed by the Oluwo, further acted as a check on the excesses of the Oyo Mesi almost as a lower house of Parliament does in modern times based on their composition and functions.
In most, if not all, of Yoruba kingdoms, Kingship is rotated amongst the ruling houses. And there are always conditions to be met. Even if the collapse of education plus the incursion of stomach infrastructure are beginning to affect the Yoruba adversely, they still possess a substantial degree of self-respect and self-worth. That is why the phrase Talika Alagidi refers to a stubborn poor fellow. He’s ready to duel with the rich man if he feels insulted.
The Yoruba sometimes suffer from mood-swings. They can hail you today and disgrace you tomorrow if they feel you’re playing God and feeling too cool with yourself. They have subtle ways of rejecting and resisting oppression. Pele o Baba Olowo is a satirical way of telling the big man to take things easy. Oba Mewa, Igba Mewa suggests that power is transient and it is turn by turn.
In recent memory, the Yoruba have been involved in leadership tussles. The most significant being the tussle between Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Ladoke Akintola. Such a tussle has been lately re-enacted between Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and former President Olusegun Obasanjo but it never reached the epic proportions of the 1960s because the calibre and depth of the gladiators and juggernauts of those times is not matched by that of the present day protagonists. Indeed, whereas the Awolowo/Akintola duel was to the death, by a quirk of fate, Tinubu and Obasanjo have suddenly found themselves on the same side of the political divide, sharing the same aspiration of taking the Yoruba back to their vaunted position of leadership in the development, morality and ethos of the Nigerian polity.
However, clearly the single most dominant factor in Yoruba politics remains Chief Obafemi Awolowo, even in death. All other contenders have not quite succeeded in climbing close to his pedestal. There was a rebellion against him in the First Republic which culminated in his imprisonment but he returned triumphantly. Chief Awolowo is widely regarded as a sage with very sharp intellect. He was very disciplined and frugal. In the Second Republic, he had a running battle with his fellow Yoruba men who wielded enormous power and influence in the National Party of Nigeria. He did not win the Presidential elections in 1979 and 1983 because of the way Nigeria was and is still configured against intelligent and cerebral candidates but his image yet loomed larger than life. That Republic collapsed like the First and our country was thrown into darkness. The military took over and put an abrupt end to the rascality that gave the NPN the audacity to declare themselves all-conquering winners under most improbable circumstances.
Nigeria suffered that military incursion for the next ten years. General Muhammadu Buhari came first and was closely followed by General Ibrahim Babangida. Military regimes were meant to correct the ills of society but Nigeria hasn’t been that lucky. Rather they soon became an integral part of the problem they purportedly came to correct. Some even took off their uniforms and joined the political rat race. They were goaded on by the ubiquitous soldiers of fortune. The 1993 election came and bigger trouble accompanied it. Before we knew it, an election that cemented our unity for the first time ever was aborted at childbirth in a most horrendous manner. We all watched in wonderment as our country bled away without anyone thinking of the repercussions. Of course, the military led by General Sani Abacha struck again and we were kicked black and blue for the next six years.
The winner of the Presidential election was clamped into detention so callously for demanding a mandate freely given to him by the Nigerian people. On July 7, 1998, the worst happened and Abiola died suddenly and most painfully for the people of Nigeria. As usual members of the privilegentsia quickly re-strategised and gave birth to what is today known as PDP and brought back General Olusegun Obasanjo to power. Since then and 15 years after, Nigeria has known no peace. The country has waltzed from one crisis to another. It is surprising that in all those odd years it never occurred to our leaders to examine what we gained on June 12, 1993, and what we lost thereafter so that we can restore such a united nation again.
It is pertinent to repeat this sad episode of our history for the sake of all of us who seem to suffer from what has been described as “collective amnesia”. The way our country operates like a victim of brain damage requires urgent treatment and speedy restoration. Most of our structures have collapsed or wobbly. The essence of my sermon today should be obvious; nothing has changed. As a matter of fact, our politicians are digging themselves deeper and deeper into the mire and the nation into the abyss. The consequences do not need repeating. Nigerian history is replete with what happens when a few deluded politicians or soldiers take the country for granted.
The general elections scheduled for 2015 have again raised the red alert in Nigeria. The desperation to retain power has brought Yorubaland back into focus. Results of the 2011 presidential election would make it mandatory for the ruling PDP to penetrate the South West of Nigeria at all costs and by any means. The calculation is simply that as politics stands today, the President can bank on winning South South and South East overwhelmingly. If Buhari emerges as APC flag-bearer, as pundits expect him to, he is expected to sweep the North West and North East. The two candidates would split the North Central down the line, especially along religious lines. The final battle will shift once again to the South West with its very complex voters.
What I see is that PDP is not willing to wait till next year before going through the ritual of negotiating with Yoruba leaders like it did in 2011. The plan is to hijack as many States as possible and reduce its dependence on some leaders who may not play ball this time around. Its sudden confidence is rested on its victory in Ekiti State. They believe Ondo State already belongs to them by proxy. Some of its die-hard members are already dreaming of a repeat performance in Osun today and even salivating on taking over Oyo and Ogun States. They are hoping on achieving the feat of President Obasanjo who captured all the Yoruba States except Lagos. Let me say without any fear of contradiction that this is a tall order.
One, President Obasanjo is a Yoruba man. Even at that, it was not an easy mission for him. The Yoruba leaders within Obasanjo’s PDP were much more sophisticated and inspiring. I believe PDP has shot itself in the leg by handing over its operations to those who may not be able to carry the majority of Yoruba people along. The current crop of Yoruba leaders appears to be rabble rousing personalities with odiously controversial character and antecedents.
When the chips are down, the Yorubas are sensitive and demanding. They want the best and expect the best from the best of their lot. That is what the PDP presently lacks. The PDP should re-examine its dramatis personae in the South West and hopefully admit to itself that they are too light to be effective. Most of the people they are relying upon lack the capacity to equal Obasanjo’s charm, native intelligence, personality and ability to mesmerise his opponents. What is more, it should be obvious to any discerning observer of Nigerian politics that only Obasanjo’s body is presently in PDP, his soul is elsewhere. What has therefore happened is that PDP has now become a headless chicken in Yorubaland and many other parts.
This is the reason for the declaration of war in the South West. If our security forces showed the same level of preparedness and seriousness in the States ravaged by terrorism Nigerians would have felt extremely secured. What is the logic in over-policing States that are relatively safe while under-militarising known war zones where terror rages unabated? The sad impression thus created is that winning elections is far more important than winning against terrorists for example.
The battle in Osun State epitomises the battle for the survival of Nigeria. Whilst one Party, APC, can point to a myriad of stellar achievements in the States under its control in the area of provision of quantitative and qualitative education, social infrastructure including roads, job creation and gainful employment, the other Party PDP urges the electorate to vote for the Party in order to be part of mainstream Nigerian politics and to buttress their point they appeal to what is now known as “stomach infrastructure” as trump card.
This PDP consciously asks the electorate to forget the woes inflicted on the generality of Nigerians these past years and in particular task the electorate in the South West to forget that they did join the mainstream for four fruitless years under Obasanjo but only got further marginalised with massive degradation of their hard earned development and hard fought for values. The Mainstream of the Obasanjo era merely provided, for the Yoruba, a group of discredited leaders who believe that the soul of the Yoruba can be bought for a few pieces of silver. That is the level of the thinking that PDP wants to foist again on the South West. Hopefully the good people of Osun State are about to prove that development for them is not about bulging stomachs but structured development that will sustain generations of them, as Awolowo once did.
Life must not get as bad as the PDP wants for us because of a desperate desire to cling to power for power’s sake. Creating tension all over the place can only get us into bigger troubles. I’m reasonably convinced that President Jonathan has nothing more to achieve or prove in politics. He should resist the temptation of being lured into fighting an unnecessary war to retain power. If he feels, he has performed well he should have nothing to worry about. He should just carry on with his transformation and leave his destiny in God’s hands. I’m surprised that he seems not to feel or see the danger his men are about to cause for Nigeria. For the sake of the people and for God’s sake, he should slow them down.
Nothing is worth all this trouble.