2015: Southwest Still Up For Grabs
A lot of people, including this reporter, thought it would be uphill task for President Goodluck Jonathan to appeal to voters in the Southwest. We did not think and feel the man had cultivated us enough in the last four years to deserve our votes in the upcoming presidential election. In addition to our thoughts, the opposition media bedlam and high wire propaganda was strong enough to sway the uninitiated and those yet to make up their minds on whom among the 11 presidential candidates to queue behind. We, therefore, thought that GEJ was on the verge of losing out in Nigeria’s most sophisticated political zone. But that was months ago and the tide, from many accounts, appears to have changed significantly.
We need a little background here to make good sense. In 2011, and slightly before then, Jonathan was the toast of the Southwest, except in Osun State, where some diehard progressives are entrenched. When Jonathan did not have many people to champion his course, when some power mongers worked extra hard to deny the Constitution and deny him access to the Presidency, it was in the Southwest that the pro-Jonathan rally was borne. The Save Nigeria Group, which mobilised support for Jonathan across the country, was planted in the Southwest. And the man won.
Again, in the 2011 elections, GEJ did not have to campaign in this zone. He was (and is still) well loved because of his humble background and the fact that he comes from the South-south, the zone where the oil that services Nigeria is recklessly drained. People of the Southwest, people of conscience, who had long agitated for true federalism felt and knew that it was a good opportunity to compensate the South-south, which until 2011 did not stand any chance to produce a presidential candidate. It was a good opportunity for the Southwest to act what they had preached for decades. They voted overwhelmingly for Jonathan. Even the leader of the opposition, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was at the forefront in the campaign for Jonathan. He put politics aside and joined the winning team.
So, what has changed in four years to alter perception and choice in the Zone? Professional politicians, who make a hard choice at elections, do not do so for nothing. They do so with the mind of an investor who expects to reap after election is won. If it turns out that their investments do not yield good dividend or no dividend at all, they would switch camp before the next election. Politicians who invested in Jonathan’s election in 2011 expected to be compensated. That is normal everywhere.
But we cannot say for truth why leading opposition members who supported Jonathan in 2011 are now having a change of heart. We cannot say whether they are now angry because they were not compensated for their previous support. What we know is that the PDP tradition, whose seed was sown by former president Obasanjo does not compensate. It dehydrates the opposition and sucks it in. What we also observe in the last four years is that, the PDP has refused to demonstrate its imperial nature. Instead, it is the PDP that is being sucked in by the opposition. Perhaps, that speaks of the nature of the leader of the party, Jonathan, who prefers to live and let others live. Unfortunately for him and our democracy, there is a huge price to pay for playing lenient in Nigeria’s crooked politics.
What we can talk about more authoritatively is what has changed for the people, ordinary voters in the Southwest. Yes, democracy has not benefitted the people the way we all expected. That is talking about 16 years of civilian rule. Expectations were very high, especially in the first years, when we had men of high integrity serving in government. We were once promised electricity in a matter of months. Ten years on, power supply went from bad to worse. Federal roads in the Southwest for the first eight years of the return of democracy were death traps. Lagos-Abeokuta expressway was an eyesore, for those whose memories have not been bludgeoned by opposition’s goebbelian blitzkrieg.
What is Sango Ota, today, was one huge mess of craters and mud. It was like that until Umaru Yar’Adua came in and injected some funds into the works ministry to enable Julius Begger remedy the situation. The road is not complete yet, because it is still in the files of the works ministry. It is, however, now passable, and if care is not taken, memories of its sordid past could vanish. Those who are familiar with Ibadan-Oyo-Ogbomoso-Ilorin highway know for how long contractors have idled there before Jonathan came on board. Those who are fair-minded also know what the railways were and what agriculture, the mainstay of the people of the South used to be between 1999 and 2007. But because we have all agreed that government is a continuum, especially under party politics, we must also admit that liability can be transferred from one dispensation to another. That is the cross Jonathan must bear. Southwest has not enjoyed a fair deal from the PDP. South-westerners deserve to be excused if they feel cumulatively ostracised by PDP governments.
Going forward, politics is about engagement and the ability to change tactics. Some Yoruba leaders of thought took it upon themselves to lament the poor representation of the zone in the Jonathan administration. They made it very clear that what they are getting did not equate their investments of 2011. They listed all the ranking appointments where the Yoruba do not feature and had meetings with government to present their petitions. I suspect that those meetings facilitated the appointment of the current Chief of Staff (CoS) to the President, Brigadier-General Jones Oladehinde Arogbofa (rtd), who is from Ondo State.
Such genuine complaints may have also spurred Jonathan to quicken action on the ongoing expansion work on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. On agriculture, the Southwest stands to benefit hugely from improved packages being introduced by the current minister, Dr. Adewunmi Adesina. Those who are familiar with the place of cocoa in the economy of the zone will understand this point.
Clearly, Jonathan must have realised too that his government had not been fair to these great people. Gladly too, he quickly adjusted his sharing formula to ensure that the zone benefits. That, to me, is good politics. In time past, we could never hold some people accountable, because they thought they were next to God. And if you made the mistake to remind them of their promises, they would insult your father and mother, and tell you to go to hell.
By coming to Southwest for votes this time, I see a good opportunity to hold Jonathan accountable for previous sins and even newer ones. I see greater hope in his promise to implement the report of the National conference, which he engineered. Nigeria is going to be very tough economically for the next administration and the quickest way out will be to implement the Confab Report that will strip the Federal Government of its excesses. It is the states that should have more money to do agriculture, own power companies, build dams and also have money to invest in developing minerals resources in their domains. The Confab Report has provided for a fund that will take care of that.
As of today, some states can no longer pay salaries and many states will become liabilities very soon. Winning elections cannot guarantee a better economy unless the fundamentals are holistically addressed. Implementing the Confab Report should commence the process of liberating states from perpetual dependence on Abuja for survival; that should lead eventually to the practice of a better federalism. No other zone dreams this better than Southwest.
Coming to Southwest, GEJ, like a good winger, has come from the flanks to take the game to the opposition. He has won to his side, remnants of Afenifere, which the opposition has sucked and thrown away. Afenifere, except for those who have murderously deleted the group from their Southwest history, was responsible for the formation of Alliance for Democracy (AD) in 1998/99. Afenifere gave the current political leadership of the zone a foothold in this dispensation. But the group has suffered losses, both in relevance and in numbers. Those who have stayed back and have not allowed that name to disappear from history books are to be commended. Such great men like Ayo Adebanjo, Olu Falae, Olanihun Ajayi, and Baba Fasoranti do not deserve editorial insults even when we disagree with them. In political engagement, every group is relevant, but if the APC thinks these men are spent forces, Jonathan does not. He is engaging them skillfully, using upfront players, Olusegun Mimiko and Ayo Fayose.
Jonathan is meeting various Southwest groups and kneeling before Obas, to the anger of some in the opposition. Outside campaign tricks, I see more of a type of humility that could melt stony hearts and win more votes.