My sleepy eyes were half closed as I listened to President Muhammadu Buhari’s televised New Year speech but they popped wide open when I heard him say that other parts of Nigeria should learn decent politics from the South West. He said, “As the electioneering season approaches, politicians must avoid exploiting ethnicity and religion by linking ethnicity with religion and religion with politics. Such must be avoided at all costs if we are to live in harmony. In this respect the rest of Nigeria could learn from the South Western states who have successfully internalized religion, ethnicity and politics. Political discourse should be conducted with civility, decorum and in a constitutional manner. We all have a collective responsibility to strengthen our democracy and entrench the rule of law.”
I do not begrudge the president his liking for the South West, without whose political turn-around he might not have won the 2015 election. However, when he says that other Nigerians should learn political civility, decorous conduct and following constitutional processes from the region, I must seek his pardon and ask him to name the exemplary things he has in mind that he wants other Nigerians to emulate.
Is he thinking of the political art of carpet crossing? In 1951 when elections were held to elect members of the Western Region House of Assembly, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe arrived in Ibadan for its inauguration in January 1952, fully expecting to be elected Leader of Government Business. To his utter shock, the independent members he relied on to team up with NCNC carpet crossed to the Action Group. AG’s leader Chief Obafemi Awolowo became Leader of Government Business [and later Premier] while Zik was made Leader of the Opposition. I must acknowledge here the many South West writers and historians who say that AG, not NCNC won those elections and that Chief Adisa Akinloye’s Ibadan Peoples Party [IPP] that gave AG the majority did not cross carpet from NCNC because they stood as independents. Still, that episode had serious consequences in Nigerian history because when Zik failed in his bid to govern Western Nigeria, he went to the East, engineered the pushing aside of NCNC’s Leader of Government Business Prof Eyo Ita and took away the job. That was how ethnic politics became well rooted in Nigerian politics.
Maybe President Buhari was thinking of intra-party crisis. The earliest and nastiest intra-party crisis in Nigeria’s history was the struggle that erupted between Chief Awolowo and his deputy Chief Akintola at AG’s Jos Convention in 1961. In June 1962 Awo expelled Akintola from AG, so some AG members of the Western House of Assembly tried to remove Akintola as Premier of the West. This led to the first fracas, the first mace breaking, the first exchange of punches, the first throwing of chairs and the first police firing of tear gas in a Nigerian parliament. It also led to the first State of Emergency, the first dissolution of a regional parliament by the Federal Government and the first appointing of an Administrator, Dr. Majekodunmi, to rule the West.
Was President Buhari thinking of Operation Weti-e, the South West invention of drenching a man with petrol and setting him ablaze? Following the South West regional elections of September 1965 which Akintola’s NNDP “won,” violence broke out all over the South West and hundreds of people were killed. It earned our dear South West the appellation of “Wild, Wild West.” When Buhari’s supporters in the North copied this fine example in the 2011 post-election violence, there was a howl of protest from Lagos newspapers, who forgot that the South West held the patent.
Or maybe the President wants us to emulate the system whereby members of a large ethnic group congregate in one political party through several decades. In the First Republic most South Westerners supported AG. In the 1979 general elections Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria [UPN] won an average 90% of the vote in Ogun, Ondo and Lagos states and 88% in Oyo State. For good measure, it got almost 0% of the vote in most Northern and South Eastern states. Is that what President Buhari means by internalising ethnicity?
May be the president wants us to learn the art of automatic tickets. As the 1983 elections approached, UPN chieftains all over the South West prepared to contest governorship primary elections but the party leader determined that incumbent UPN governors Bola Ige [Oyo], Michael Ajasin [Ondo], Bisi Onabanjo [Ogun], Lateef Jakande [Lagos] and Prof Ambrose Alli [Bendel] should be given automatic tickets. It led to a nasty crisis and a major rupture within UPN with big party chieftains such as Chief Sunday Afolabi, Chief Akin Omoboriowo and Alhaji Busari Adelakun [Eru o b’odo] leaving for NPN.
In 1978, fifteen years before Chief M.K.O. Abiola’s choice of Ambassador Babagana Kingibe as his running mate in the June 12, 1993 election created uproar about a “Muslim-Muslim ticket,” the South West pioneered the Southerner-Southerner ticket when UPN’s presidential candidate Chief Awolowo picked Chief Phillip Umeadi of Anambra State as his running mate. Since President Buhari wants us to learn from South Western inventions, I urge him to pick his running mate from the North East when he contests again later this year.
According to the president, the South West can teach other Nigerians how to uphold constitutional processes. It sure did so in 1983 when FEDECO declared Dr. Victor Olunloyo and Chief Akin Omoboriowo of NPN as winners of the Oyo and Ondo governorship elections respectively. Within hours of the announcement both states were on fire and a lot of people were set ablaze. Amidst the ashes, UPN went to court and the Supreme Court handed back the Ondo governorship to Chief Michael Ajasin. It ruled that Ajasin got 1.2 million votes while Omoboriowo got 0.5million. However, the returning officer added “1” behind Omoboriowo’s 0.5m and it became 1.5m. Isn’t that something we should learn from South West?
Perhaps President Buhari wants others to learn from the South West how to merge a political party with an ethnic congress. In 1998 Afenifere, which emerged out of the ashes of June 12, launched a political wing called Alliance for Democracy. The two bodies were indistinguishable. AD became Afenifere at politics, much like the Church of England was once described as Conservative Party at Prayer. The system also resembled the apartheid-era National Party of South Africa, which was indistinguishable from the secret Afrikaner organisation, the Broederbond.
Or maybe President Buhari probably wants other Nigerians to emulate the South West method of nominating a presidential candidate. In January 1999, 23 Afenifere chieftains met at the D’Rovans Hotel in Ibadan and elected AD’s presidential candidate. There was no convention at all. Chief Olu Falae defeated Chief Bola Ige among the 23 “delegates”. No party member questioned how 23 men substituted for a convention.
Still another South West invention that President Buhari probably wants us to emulate is for a party to refuse to field a presidential candidate out of ethnic solidarity. In 2003 AD refused to field a candidate against PDP’s candidate President Obasanjo. The only notable voice that opposed that decision was Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu. That gamble led to AD’s evisceration. Unknown to it, Obasanjo also plotted the defeat of its governors. Only Tinubu survived among its six governors.
Finally, there was the notable political example of 2011 when Action Congress [AC], rooted in the South West, fielded Nuhu Ribadu as its presidential candidate, only to abandon him midstream. Ribadu won only one AC-controlled state, Osun. I am therefore appealing to President Buhari to kindly tell us which of these South West political inventions he wants the rest of Nigerians to emulate.