When COVID-19 burst NADECO’s ‘ambush’ on issues of Nigeria’s politics, structure
• Is mainstream politics death to Yoruba?
Coming in the cusp of some impactful developments in the polity, especially the redeployment of Major General Olusegun Adeniyi, the creation of a regional security outfit and leadership crisis within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), reminiscences of the exploits of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) would have touched on my issues of national interest.
In the first place, it would have helped to deepen public knowledge on how the interplay of public intellectuals and social activists combined to make Southwest of Nigeria the hotbed of the country’s politics. Secondly, it would have sent out warning signals that the Southwest geopolitical zone has gone through some unsavoury historical experiences that do not deserve a repeat in Nigeria’s march towards true nationhood.
However, no thanks to the Coronavirus thrombosis cautions the need for social distancing and abolition of crowds, the 70th anniversary of Wale Oshun, which could have passed as a NADECO ‘ambush’, but it did not hold. But prior to the postponement or cancellation, elaborate arrangements had been made, invitations sent out and keynote speaker readied with his ‘recapitulations’.
For those who may not readily recall, NADECO came into existence in the 1990s after the election that would have ushered in Chief Moshood Kashimowo Olawale Abiola as the second democratically elected president was annulled by the military administration of military President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida.
Although the nucleus of the members of the organization comprised mainly of Yoruba elites activists and politicians, it was a national coalition indeed, with a twin agenda of revalidating Abiola’s popular mandate and restoring Nigeria on the path of constitutional democracy.
Oshun’s birthday was not fashioned as NADECO’s reunion simply because it came barely two months to the June 12 commemoration, but most importantly for the fact that the celebrant, in leaning and writing, did much to espouse the salient issues that made NADECO inevitable.
Dean of the Department of Sociology, University of Lagos and former national commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Lai Olurode, who was to deliver a keynote, had prepared an elaborate lecture that captures the length and breadth of Oshun’s politics and writing.
What is more, going by the posers, which he outlined for public contemplation, Prof, Olurode was poised to show that there could not have been a more fitting resource person to navigate the contours of the political rivers that watered NADECO and Southwest politics.
With the knowledge of the caliber of guests expected, Prof. Olurode expressed the following sentiments in his lecture, which was made available to The Guardian: “I wish to appreciate all the guests here present for their diverse contributions to the resolution of Nigeria’s development conundrum and for sustaining directly and otherwise, the spirit and legacy of Obafemi Awolowo, who laid a solid infrastructure for the metamorphosis of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) and on which successive government officials in the region continue to build.
“Permit me to specially acknowledge the six governors of Southwest for the boldness, diverse governance architecture and synergy that culminated in the historical Amotekun initiative.
“The Southwest remains the best and a traditional trailblazer. This is a demonstration and an expression of our collective desire to overcome development conundrum and lethargy. Of course, Nigerians are generally consistently sceptical about their own goodness. But this need not be so.”
There is no doubt that the scepticism that Olurode alludes to always comes to the fore whenever the issue of Nigeria’s socio-economic and political structure becomes the subject of discussion. That may in part explain why the keynote speaker noted, when eulogizing the celebrant, that “in a country where the average lifespan for male hovers around 56 years, to attain the age of 70 and thereby become a septuagenarian is an accomplishment and a milestone that is worth celebrating.”
Come October 1 this year, Nigeria would have attained the age of 60, and going by the various ups and downs that continue to characterise its socio-political progression, is it feasible that its unity and progress would witness the 70-year mark?
It is perhaps in the attempt to interrogate the realities of Nigeria’s statehood that the sociologist formulates what could be described as core research questions into the politics of the country’s structure, leadership and leadership selection processes.
“Is Nigeria’s present political structure antithetical to its development? A corollary of this is: What is the relationship between structure and agency; can’t good agents make a difference? Should an individual’s membership of an ethnic/national group extinguish or erode his membership of a nation-state? Can an individual be a good Yoruba man and retain his loyalty to Nigeria? Can the two phenomena operate simultaneously and independently? Should Nigeria continue to deny identity politics?”
Those were the key lofty posers set out by the former INEC commissioner.Before delving into the issues, Olurode asserted that “it is not surprising that in most of Africa, political leaders are generally distrusted and hated for not being nation-builders. (Because) Rather than embarking on policies that narrow the wedge between groups, they actively pursue divisions and promote differences.”
From NADECO days to APC
THE crisis in APC, which the Southwest helped to access presidential powers, seems to have reignited concerns about the place of the region in Nigerian politics. Is the Southwest programmed to play the continuous role of opposition rather than being at the helms of affairs of governance of the country?
That question comes to light based on speculations that the incumbent Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, is not having the free expression of his fullest potential as the nation’s number two in the country’s leadership organogram. That seeming short shrift has subtly stoked conversations around the recapitulation of similar distasteful experiences from past seconds-in-commands, including Col. Tunde Idiagbon and General Oladipo Diya, during the military interregnum, as well as the flagrant dispossession of Abiola from enjoying the fruits of his perceived electoral victory in 1993.
What is the import of ideas, which the Yoruba of Southwest largely espouse in politics, in the country’s march to egalitarian social structure and democratic culture? That question must have informed Prof. Olurode’s formulation of a second related question: “Whether Yoruba nationalism can have an independent existence within Nigeria or rather, whether the two phenomena can co-exist?
“Can an individual be a good Yoruba person (indeed, an avowed Afenifere advocate) and a committed Nigerian simultaneously? And can that individual be trusted by other stakeholders outside of the Southwest in ascending power?”
As he expatiated on the theme of his lecture, which is the place of identify politics in Nigeria, the erudite professor of sociology and anthropology was forced to caricature a poser along the lines of Nigeria’s contemporary socio-political challenges, by asking whether mainstream politics is tantamount to death for the Yoruba.
While acquiescing that nation-building in Africa, especially in most populous Nigeria, has been most protracted as it is tasking and challenging, Prof. Olurode recalled that the scramble for Africa and its arbitrary partition in 1884, following the Berlin Conference, meant that no serious consideration was given to history and culture of the people. He stated: “People that had little in common were all hounded together in spite of differences in nationality affiliation. At independence, they were expected to display unflinching loyalty to the new state, its flag and constitution.
“The new statesmen hardly see themselves beyond their ethno-national and religious enclave. They deliberately promote social exclusion rather than inclusion in recruiting people into state institutions. You can almost predict, correctly, the staff profile of a department of government once you know the nationality background of the departmental head.
“National institutions do not often reflect expected diversity as obtained in the general population. Top and juicy positions are reserved for the president’s or minister’s people. Indeed, it is as if there are superior races within a country or some ethnic nationalities are born to rule. Thus many fuel a sense of exclusion, rejection, and denial of citizenship rights and thus an acute sense of alienation in accessing state resources.”
As the former INEC commissioner described Oshun as the type of politician worthy of emulation, he frowns at others, who “display the mentality of a typical Nigerian politician, who has little regard for procedure, acts with impunity, is greedy for money and votes, while in deficit of values associated with institution building.”
It was, however, Olurode’s belief that “the issue of restructuring has caused so much distraction, rancour, bickering and bitterness among leading political lights from the Southwest,” and cited as example the altercations between Ayo Adebanjo and Bisi Akande on restructuring, during which the Alliance for Democracy (AD) picked its presidential candidate through reliance on 23 wise men.
His words: “In Wale Oshun’s account, Olu Falae scored 14, whereas Bola Ige had nine votes. Ayo Adebayo’s account conceded 17 votes to Olu Falae and only six to Bola Ige. Justifiably perhaps, Bola Ige felt betrayed; Afenifere had not been the same since then, it had been fight to finish.
“Three or so camps had emerged since the D’Rovans disastrous outing of early 1999. There is the Afenifere group led by Ayo Adebanjo, probably a chip from the old Afenifere for which Awolowo, Ajasin and Adesanya had previously provided leadership. The group of progressives led by Bisi Akande and Bola Tinubu seems to be a separate camp.
“It was this group as ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria) that merged with other political parties to form APC (All Progressives Congress) and is now the one in government at the federal level. There is also the Afenifere Renewal Group of which today’s celebrant is the chairman.”
Prof. Olurode declared that in the final analysis, “I do not expect Afenifere to go into 2023 general election without reconciliation and reforms. There is need to terminate political and electoral haemorrhage in the Southwest region, which is fast turning it into a wasteland of political heist and a metaphor for the slaughter’s slab.”
While expressing dismay that “Nigeria’s development features are dismal, pathetic, unwarranted and confounding,” Olurode maintains that since the country’s population remains a guesswork, “there is therefore no scientific basis for most of its development statistics.”
While calling for the urgent pursuit of an alternative path, the keynote speaker said certain guides could be retrieved to understand Oshun’s preoccupation with travails of identity politics in our country.
“Without doubt, the overarching concern of Oshun is how best we can manage pluralism and multiple identities in ways that would neither mortgage citizenship rights nor derail Nigeria’s democratization project and trade-off its unity. The pursuit of unity in diversity has preoccupied Wale Oshun over the years,” he surmised.
Oshun’s writings provide windows to understanding the political ferment in Southwest. According to Olurode in ‘Clapping with One Hand’, the author provides an insider’s narrative of Nigeria’s 1993 Presidential election, its annulment and the leading characters in the struggle for its validation and subsequent events.
Oshun believes that “if other sections of the country had risen to challenge the annulment, probably Nigeria would not have been held by the jugular for too long. Probably, the discussions about restructuring or regional autonomy would have been frozen and there probably would have been better feelings of nationalism.”
That view was also supported by Alani Akinrinade in his foreword to Oshun’s The Open Grave, when he stated that “if June 12 was not annulled, the call for a sovereign national conference as a way of resolving the crisis of nation-building would not have been necessary.”
The real gist of the formation of NADECO and the roles of its star members, the deprivations they went through while at home and in exile, was the subject of The Open Grave, in which Oshun details the period of 1994-1998, the era immediately following the annulment of June 12 1993. The publication was a continuation of Nigeria’s encounters with democratization processes and transition under the military.
Some prominent members (home and abroad), included Abraham Adesanya, Anthony Enahoro, Ige, Adebanjo, Akinriade, Tinubu, Oshun, Opadokun, Kayode Fayemi, Adeyinka Adebayo, Theophilus Danjuma, Dan Suleiman, Ebitu Ukiwe, Christian C. Onoh, Chief Alfred Rewane, Ralph Obioha, Ralph Uwechue, John Odigie-Oyegun, Chris Obadan….
But for COVID-19 and the attendant lockdown, the wisdom of Nigeria’s fight for democracy would have been celebrated. However, as Nigerians yearn that Coronavirus goes away quickly, there is hope that the story of NADECO and Nigeria’s democratic experiments would still be told, perhaps at Wale Oshun’s 80th birthday in 10 years’ time.