Buhari legacy

The desperation for a Yoruba presidency in 2023

Many Nigerians seem to be genuinely perplexed at the level of desperation, especially by southwest members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to produce the party’s presidential candidate. I outline below some of the reasons for that desperation.

By 2014, the former governor of Lagos State and the generalissimo of the southwest politics, Bola Tinubu, had had enough of local politics and decided to go for the big prize – the presidency. In 2011, he thought he had a deal with Goodluck Jonathan, but Jonathan abandoned the pact the moment he was elected. Tinubu had a clear path to victory. He will team up with the hitherto tribalist/unelectable Muhamadu Buhari who has a cult-like following in the north of the country but couldn’t appeal to other parts of the country. A north/southwest alliance will clinch it for them – and it did.

Having been persuaded to drop his vice-presidential bid to assuage religious sensibilities, he personally hand-picked the vice president and many top shots of the Buhari administration in 2015. Besides that, he struck an agreement with Buhari and the party that power would move to the southwest after eight years in the north.

But they have a higher goal. Like I argued some months ago, “the star boys of Lagos have deadened their consciences. They have conveniently hidden their disgust

The match between the usually progressive southwest and the arch-conservative section of the north could not be starker: Southwest progressives have spent the last 20 years fighting and campaigning for restructuring of the country and true federalism – more regional/state autonomy, fiscal autonomy, and state police.

In fact, they had anchored their politics and activism on the achievement of these goals. But the conservative sections of the north they are entering into an alliance with are viscerally opposed to those principles. They rather believed states already have too much autonomy and the powers of the Federal Government should remain the same or should even be expanded.

They were also aggressively opposed to fiscal autonomy for the states and to any talk of state police. They were not even happy with the 13 percent revenue derivation principle implemented by the Obasanjo government in 2001 that disproportionately benefited the oil-producing states.

They contend that while that constitutional provision put so much money in the hands of oil-producing states, there has been no commensurate development in those states.

Rather, corruption, poverty and squalor just ballooned, leading to the deadly Niger Delta militancy that cost the government billions of dollars in security and amnesty deals to quell.

In striking that deal, Tinubu and the southwest progressives have had to abandon their ideology for the sake of the alliance – and I dare say, for the sake of power.

All the talk about restructuring, true federalism, fiscal autonomy, and state police were abandoned for the single goal of fighting corruption and insecurity in the country.

Perhaps, the southwest thought that was the immediate need of the country or they had absorbed the African political ethos: “seek ye first the political kingdom and all else shall be added unto you.”

In any case, the first four years of the Buhari administration, by all accounts, were a failure. The government fared comparatively worse on corruption and insecurity, which were once thought to be the natural forte of the president. Nigeria’s annual corruption perception index has been on a decline from its steady 136 between 2014 and 2016 to a high of 148 in 2017.

Nigeria currently ranks Nigeria 146 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. Security of lives and property is virtually non-existent in the country except for high government officials as kidnappers, killer herdsmen, bandits and Boko Haram insurgents now operate almost unchecked in all nooks and crannies of the country. Life in Nigeria, especially, outside high urban areas like Lagos, Abuja has become intolerable, nasty, brutish, and short.

Worse, the president built a ‘nepotistic court’ around him, looked the other way or even frequently sought to intimidate the numerous victims of his kinsmen (Fulani herdsmen) brutal attacks and killings into giving up their lands in exchange for peace.

He so thoroughly alienated a large section of the country that Tinubu and the southwest remained his only hope of winning re-election.

But even in the southwest, the administration’s failures were so apparent. Above all, public opinion was already shifting towards the opposition.

Read also: ‘Yoruba Lokan’ vs Muhammadu Buhari: Afonja Redux

The star boys of the region and leading southwest members of the administration had no choice but to resort to ethnic politics and the prospect of a Yoruba presidency in 2023 to rally their people to vote for Buhari again in 2019. During the campaigns, Osinbajo was at the palace of the Alaafin of Oyo and was quoted as saying:

“The 2019 general election is our own. We are not looking at 2019 but 2023. If we get it in 2019, Yoruba will get it in 2023. Because if we don’t get it in 2019, we may not get it in 2023 and it may take a very long time to get it. We need to look at tomorrow and not because of today. What we are doing now is for tomorrow and not for today.”

Similarly Fashola, at a town hall meeting in October 2018 and speaking in Yoruba, said:

“Did you know that power is rotating to the South-West after the completion of Buhari’s tenure if you vote for him in 2019?” spicing it up with a beautiful Yoruba proverb, he continued:

“Your child cannot surrender her waist for edifying beads and you will use the bead to decorate another child’s waist.”

A vote for Buhari in 2019 means a return of power to the southwest in 2023. I am sure you will vote wisely,” he counselled.

Even during the Lekki massacre in October 2020 and at the peak of the insecurity in the region, the southwest APC bigwigs could not utter a word. It’s painful to see the despoliation of their region. But they have a higher goal. Like I argued some months ago, “the star boys of Lagos have deadened their consciences. They have conveniently hidden their disgust.

They have tolerated Buhari for seven years and will not now back out when the time to achieve their ultimate goal is approaching. They will bet on the short memory of Nigerians and the appeal of ethnic politics to rally the southwest to their course in 2023.”

A substantial part of this piece was first published on January 21, 2021