By Abimbola Olakunle
September 15, and a galaxy of stellar minds, gathered at Osogbo, the Osun capital, to discuss the Nigerian condition.
The prism was sharp — whither the South West, Nigeria’s perennial opposition since 1960, since its 2015 displacement of the South East and South-South, perpetual power sharers with the North?
You could, of course, counter, as Rauf Aregbesola, the perspicacious Osun governor, argued at the occasion, that a South West faction had always been in government since 1960.
Ay, but those didn’t belong to the progressive mainstream, under the tutelage of the Obafemi Awolowo school.
Olusegun Obasanjo, after all, was president for eight years (1999-2007). His Yoruba folks scorned him all through his first term. He willy-nilly corralled them, by military ambuscade, in the second.
But Obasanjo’s was a mere camouflage (military imagery again!) to compensate the Yoruba for the Abiola presidential injustice, but ensure the beneficiary was a Hobson’s choice, from the Yoruba conservative rank.
Nevertheless, the Yoruba mainstream, which Aregbesola called “Afenifere” (Yoruba political progressives) at the confab, romped into federal power, courtesy of the epochal Muhammadu Buhari presidential win of 2015.
That was a historic first, powered by a North West-South West entente, under the All Progressives Congress (APC) alliance.
Now, APC was sweet battle whoop; and even sweeter victory roar. But ideologically, it would appear a damp squib.
The reason is clear: both North West and South West are Nigeria’s most ideologically stubborn, whether pre-Abacha 1st Republic (1960-1966), with the three regions (later four) of North, West, East, (and later, Midwest); or post-Abacha geo-political coinage, courtesy of Dr. Alex Ekwueme, 2nd Republic Vice President (1979-1983), of North West, North East, North Central, South West, South East and South-South.
Now, the North West, with its unfazed conservatism, cohabiting with the South West, with its unapologetic social democracy, may well equate the Yoruba quip of two ferocious rams sharing a sole drinking pot. That could be recipe for chaos!
Now, factor in the slew of PDP rogue elements in the winning coalition, brutal power careerists, neither outside pissing in (to borrow that irreverent American quip), nor inside pissing out, but brazenly pressing their democratic right to piss in from inside — decency be damned! — you could then imagine the ensuing post-power melee.
That would explain the near-consensus that the post-power APC has been a study in how not to be a winning party. But while the hyper-critical media, mostly of the southern hue and boasting differing motives, got the end result right, they got the process frightfully wrong, because of their emotive approach.
Without those PDP rogue elements, embedded in the wrong places, pushing private or at best group agenda, the APC is no better or worse than any party, come to power, wearing the ideological version of Dolly Parton’s coat of many colours.
That reality prompted, as part of the Osogbo conference agenda, the idea of federalizing political parties, along geo-political lines, with local demands driving each party’s national charter, though with APC as case-point.
The jury is still out on the workability or even desirability of such party federalization. For one, it is a novel idea, likely to gather moss, as the days wear on, on the political front.
For another, the Nigerian party system received a kiss of death from Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s wayward political experimentations. Compared to the organic parties of the 1st and 2nd republics, his post old breed-new breed guinea-pigging has left the formal party system a hollow shell, devoid of any ideological direction, talk less of rigour.
There is therefore an urgent need to revitalize the party system, if Nigeria’s delicate democracy must be deepened.
Still, Olubunmi Adetunmbi, Ekiti North senator (2011-2015), lead speaker for the topic, gave it a brilliant shot.
The gathering also x-rayed Osun’s schools feeding system, a social democracy classic, and signature South West intervention, even at the best of times; and an imperative, even at the worst.
The worst of economic times — that is where both the Buhari presidency and the Aregbesola governorship, have found themselves.
Yet, for the society’s most vulnerable, Osun has pioneered this schools feeding programme, as part of its larger social safety-net agenda. The Federal Government too has adopted the programme, running as pilot in 14 states already; with the possibility of all 36 states buying into the idea.
That is a distinctive South West programme on the Nigerian national front; and the Osun government should be immensely proud for pioneering it.
For the pilot states, across geo-political zones and ideological blocs, the salutary message is clear: development is primal; and that basic human imperative, especially among the society’s most vulnerable, must trump political and ideological differences.
Like former Senator Adetunmbi, the other lead speakers, Prof. Mobolaji Aluko, famed public intellectual and founding vice-chancellor of the Federal University Otuoke, Bayelsa State (the South West critique) and Dr. Charles Akinola (who as director-general, Osun Office of Economic Development and Partnerships, is the policy wonk strutting the Osun safety-net programmes), discharged themselves creditably.
So did the panel chairs and their discussants: Prof. W. Alade Fawole (Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ife), Kanmi Ademiluyi (former Editorial Board Chairman, Daily Independent) and Dr. Akin Akande (OAU) — a last-minute stand-in for Kayode Komolafe, deputy managing director of This Day, who could not make the session for some personal challenges; and their panels: Dr. Bisi Olawunmi (Bowen University, Iwo), Dr. Harry Olufunwa (Federal University, Oye-Ekiti), Sanya Oni (Editorial Page Editor, The Nation), Dr. Emmanuel Oladesu (Political Editor, The Nation), Ismail Omipidan (Political Editor, Sun) and Sulaiman Salawudeen (Ekiti correspondent, New Telegraph).
The conference consensus, chaired by Chief Bisi Akande (represented by Chief Sola Akinwunmi), was that the result, of the last two years, was a mixed bag.
Still, the conferees warned that was no reason for some shrill irredentist baying, in some quarters; adding that with proper restructuring, Nigeria’s consumerist pseudo-federal system may well be tweaked into a productive and prosperous one.
Governor Aregbesola put it all in devastating statistics, saying that all Nigeria’s ballyhooed “petro-dollar” wealth amounted to was a mere N8, 000 a month, if you share the current oil output among its 140 million citizens — N10, 000 less than the national minimum wage!
Yet, poor Osun, as part of a South West economic zone, in a productive federal Nigeria, could easily gross N2.5 billion as monthly tax, even with the lowest paid earning N25, 000 a month. That would build better roads, more schools, and other infrastructure, physical and social.
The moral? Waiting for Abuja’s monthly dole has beggared everyone, while breeding a noxious breed of the corrupt, that gobbles up the common patrimony!
It’s time to properly federalize — but without the bogey of ethnic irredentism.
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