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Ekiti Debacle: Exorcising the Ghost of Isolationism in South/West

Franklin Otorofani, Esq.

Dateline: 05:05:09

Discounting General Ibrahim Babangidaís failed attempt at inaugurating a Third Republic, Nigeria has forked out three full-fledged republics in her 49-year history. Unfortunately, however, the First and Second Republics were prematurely terminated by the military due mainly to the fact that the political gladiators that prowled the landscape at the time bluntly refused to play by the rules. And when matters got really ugly, they couldnít get their acts together either to resolve their political differences in a democratic manner as would be expected of those who loudly paraded themselves as "democrats." On the contrary and in total disservice to the democracy, differences arising from supposedly democratic contests were resolved by crude application of brute force to gain undue political advantage. Political violence, rigging, arsons and assassinations became the essential menu of inter-party political intercourse. And in this the South/West holds the singular distinction as the ultimate terminator of Nigeria republics.

Once again, in this Third Republic, Nigeria is on the throes of political convulsion. And as before, the South/West is, as it were, the locus of the fault line of Nigeriaís tectonic plate. Democracy is on trial in Ekiti state and by necessary extension, in Nigeria. Not surprisingly, this trial has all the morbid hallmarks of the previous epochs that asphyxiated and eventually entombed the young body of Nigeriaís democracy in the volcanic eruptions that originated in the South/West.

The electoral debacle in Ekiti, a tiny but combustible conclave of all the negative tendencies of the Nigerian political elites amplified, portends frightening prognosis for the survival of democracy in Nigeria. Itís not in the character of this writer to be unduly alarmist by crying wolf where there is none. There is a wolf in the barn and the Nigerian authorities must not allow themselves to be lulled into complacency by treating the Ekiti situation as a mere storm in a tea cup. Itís critically important for the authorities to move decisively with deliberate speed to deny the Ekiti inferno the oxygen that animates it before it turns into a national conflagration that could consume the Third Republic, and thus avert the fate that befell our previous attempts. Ekiti might be tiny, but the fire that consumed the Second Republic was lit in Ondo, the mother state of the present Ekiti state. And even in the present dispensation, Ekiti state had once lit a fire that threatened to consume the present republic in the second term of former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration leading to the declaration of a state of emergency, as indeed, happened in the First Republic in the South/West. Had the previous administration not moved decisively to contain the inferno, the nation might have had the misfortune of observing the third anniversary of the death of the Third Republic.

All things being equal, by the time this article gets published, the deadlocked Ekiti gubernatorial re-run should have been completed going by the announcement by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), to proceed with the election in the remaining wards , come Tuesday, May 05, 2009. What could not be foretold, however, is the aftermath of the rescheduled election. However, without meaning to second guess INEC, the way to go is not to proceed with the election in this poisoned atmosphere with daggers drawn. The prudent thing to do in the circumstances is postpone the election indefinitely. That would allow the authorities, INEC, and indeed the parties, sort themselves out and allow tempers to simmer down. Without being overly pessimistic, itís fair to say that Ekiti state has become a tinder box that only requires a spark to turn it into a raging inferno. More than the lure of an ill-fated re-election to fill gubernatorial vacancy, the immediate concern of the authorities at this moment should be security of lives and properties to forestall total break down of law and order which the result of a rerun may well engender from the losing side; especially so if it happens to be the opposition, AC.

And while the authorities are at it, it would be well worth their time to look beyond Ekiti to fix the problem in Ekiti because the crisis in Ekiti didnít origin in and therefore beyond Ekiti. This could turn out to be a tough sell for the Federal authorities in that theyíre complicit in the Ekiti debacle. The public faces of the crisis, Messrs Olusegun Oni and Fayemi, PDP and AC candidates respectively, are fighting a proxy war funded and prosecuted by external forces of which the Federal Government is, at the very least, an interested party. The President himself has invested political capital in the outcome of the Ekiti gubernatorial rerun by personally campaigning for Oni, the PDP candidate. Mr. Presidentís personal involvement in the Ekiti re-run is clear indication of the crucial importance both the PDP and the presidency attach to the outcome of the election. Ekiti might be a tiny state, but the ruling party has suddenly woken up to the realization that the road to the South/West now passes through Ekiti.

Although PDP swept all the states in the South/West except Lagos, it has seen its hold in the region slipping away one state at a time. It must be recalled that former President Obasanjo who hails from the South/West brilliantly executed a strategy that brought the South/West into the PDP fold except Lagos by sweeping away the AD governors who lost to the PDP in landslides. That was a historical first for the region to be brought into the mainstream of national politics. The Yorubas in the South/West had until now been sequestered in the South/West and unwilling to move out of their comfort zone to the national arena.

As would be expected therefore, Obasanjoís coup didnít go down well with the losers because not only were they devastated and humiliated out of power in their own backyards, it led to the demise of the AD as a party. It was a double whammy! Since that political Tsunami hit the South/West, the ousted AD governors have understandably, been prosecuting a ferocious war of attrition against President Obasanjo, using every available forum to demonize him, not unlike the way the late Chief Moshood Abiola and Chief Akintola were treated by the mainstream Yorubu elites. The vitriolic attacks on the person and policies of the former President orchestrated and coordinated with the Lagos Media Axis has its roots in the terminal routing of the entrenched regional political powers in the South/West by the Obasanjo administration.

Now, however, the gains of that strategic victory are being threatened or reversed by the judicial nullification of the elections of some of the PDP governors in the South/West, the latest of which is in Ekiti state. Neighboring Ondo state was first to go, lost to Labor Party, and now, Ekiti. With President Obasanjo out of power, the PDP is losing the South/West one state at a time to the opposition, the AC in particular, when Edo state is factored in. While Edo state is geographically now outside the South/West, we must not forget it was part of the old Western Region before the carving out of Mid-Western Region in 1964. As a matter of fact, old Bendel state, which is the parent state of Edo and Delta states, was part of the "LOOBO" states controlled by the Yoruba-based Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).

There is no question therefore that the PDP is hemorrhaging in the South/West, extending as it is, all the way to Edo state and no one knows which shoe will drop next. And rather than strengthening the hand of the former President in the face of the renewed Yoruba onslaught, the PDPís present leadership seems to be doing everything to whittle down the powers and influence of its former leader who brought the party to its present commanding heights in Nigerian politics. The PDP is in that sense self-destructing. The party now appears to have been taken over by self-serving, vindictive forces that are only interested in settling their personal scores with the former President to the detriment of the strategic goals and long term interests of the party as they pertain to the South/West.

Without OBJís strategic coup against the AD in his second term, the entire South/West would still be firmly in the hands of the AD and the PDP wouldnít be talking about Ekiti today. OBJ is the only reason PDP exists in the South/West at all and also single-handedly wiped out the AD from the face of Nigerian democracy. By antagonizing him now, the PDP is playing right into the hands of the AC and stands a good chance of losing the entire South/West to the AC, come 2011 general elections. If the PDP doesnít change its ways in the South/West the AD will be back in power in the South/West through its AC incarnate. That would make ex-Governor Bola Tinubu, the undisputed Crown Prince to the throne of Chief Awolowo.

Itís especially important therefore, that the PDP maintains its national and all-inclusive outlook as opposed to the regional conclave of the opposition parties. Ekiti presents it with the opportunity not only to hold onto, but to protect its chickens now threatened by the regional hawks represented by the AC. While the PDP is gaining ground in the North/West and North/East, and indeed, in the North Central as well, the picture looks grim in the South/West.

On the other hand, the AC led by Tinubu is currently waging what might appropriately be characterized as a liberation war to retake the South/West from the ruling party at the center. Tinubu won and ruled Lagos on the platform of the defunct AD but managed to escape the OBJ Tsunami that swept his diehard tribal political war lords out of power. The routed chieftains of the defunct AD, now congregated in the AC, are determined to take back their region from the "Federal Forces" now represented by former President Obasanjo, PDP and its governors. Without characterizing it as such, Tinubu and the ethnic gladiators in the South/West, operating under the general superintendence of Afenifere the apex Yoruba cultural (?) organization, are practically waging a war of liberation of the South/West the end of which could spell doom for this republic if not recognized as such and appropriately handled by the Federal authorities.

The Ideology of Isolationism

That brings us to the kernel of this presentation. The crisis in Ekiti has its taproots firmly embedded in the past. Nearly all the actors in the AC cut their political teeth in First Republic under the tutelage of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the political mastermind of the Yorubas, and that includes Bola Tinubu and Bisi Akande, the present arrowheads of the AC onslaught. They were in the trenches with the late sage in his battle with the Federal Authorities represented locally by late Chief Akintola. Once again history is being repeated almost verbatim, and this imbues the crisis with cataclysmic portents.

To help cut through the thicket of political posturing and grandstanding currently taking place in Ekiti, itís important to understand the historical undercurrents of the political dynamics at play in Ekiti state. Right from the First Republic the people of the South/West have been nurtured and steeped in the ideology of isolationism and protectionism and want to be governed independently of the center. That translates in practical terms to the formation and operation of an exclusive independent political party from which the political leadership of the region would be recruited periodically independent of any national political formation operating at the federal or national level. Although its political formation usually attempts to broaden its outlook to other regions in order to gain access to power at the national level, its regional birthmarks prevent it from enjoying national acceptability from other regions of the federation.

In the First Republic, the attempts by the Action Group (AG), to expand its ranks beyond the Western Region for the purpose of capturing power at the national level was largely rebuffed even by the minorities in the South who soon broke away from the Western Region as alluded to earlier. And what is more, its alliance with disaffected minority elements in the Middle-Belt led by the charismatic Joseph Tarka, was too little too late to make any significant electoral difference in the national power equation. In the end the AD remained the regional conclave it was designed to be in the first place unable to make any political headway nationally. Its national aspiration was a contradiction in constant clash with its regional birthmarks.

However, if the AD failed to make it nationally, it sure succeeded in etching in the psyche of the average Yoruba elite the ideology of isolationism and protectionism. The Yorubas regard the South/West as their exclusive political turf not open to those considered outsiders, and would use their last drop of blood to defend and protect their political fortress. The attempt by Chief Atintola, their very own, to move the region into the mainstream of Nigerian politics by aligning with the NPC in control at the center, was fiercely resisted culminating in the political paroxysm that convulsed the region, eventually engulfed the entire nation, and aborted the First Republic. A similar fate befell Chief Moshood Abiola, again, their very own, who in the Second Republic, just like Atintola before him, aligned with the ruling party at the center, the National Party of Nigerian (NPN), to move the region into mainstream. Abiola, together with the likes of Chief Adisa Akinloye who was the national Chairman of the NPN, Chief Olunloyo, ex-governor of Oyo state, Chief Omoboriowo, and all those who believed in breaking the West/West out of its self-imposed political cocoon, were all but ostracized by their kinsmen and women, and derided as traitors. Nigerians will not forget in a hurry the deaths and destruction wrought on Ondo state when Omoboriowo of the NPN was declared winner the gubernatorial election in 1983 under the Shehu Shagari administration. Itís interesting to note also that only the Yorubas voted against Abiola in 1993 presidential election that was adjudged the freest and fairest in the annals of Nigerian elections. Had the election not be annulled by the military rulers then, Abiola, rejected by his own people, would have been president of Nigeria without the votes of his own kinsmen and women. But the Yorubas were not done.

To understand how deep the protectionist and isolationist ideology is rooted in the South/West, another of their own illustrious son, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, contesting under a national political platform, the PDP, was flatly rejected by the Yorubas who, true to type, fiercely resisted his dogged attempt to bring them into the mainstream of national politics. In the 1999 presidential election, Obasanjo was humiliated in the South/West losing even his own state of Ogun. In the place of Obasanjo and his national platform, the PDP, the Yorubas promptly broke away from the NPP, and floated a wholly regional party, AD, and then proceeded to field Chief Olu Falae who shares the same protectionist and isolationist ideology with them. Itís noteworthy that only the South/West floated its own political party and proceeded to field its own as its presidential candidate in 1999, when the military quit the stage. That is the extent to which the Yorubas are prepared to go to defend their political turf by all means necessary.

Any Yoruba man or woman who seeks to bring the Yorubas into the mainstream of national politics is marked down for destruction and character assassination. Itís the fate suffered by Akintola, Abiola, and now Obasanjo. But General Obasanjo as a consummate military strategist acting like a political bulldozer broke their backs anyway and moved the entire South/West save Lagos state, into the mainstream regardless. In one Tsunamic gust, the old guards of Yoruba politics were swept away for good and turned into political deadwoods.

Itís amusing how a people so well read and so exposed could ever imagine that the road to national leadership is through a regional conclave of tribal tin-gods.

Thus the events in Ekiti must be seen in the light of these historical legacies. That the South/West is today in the hands of a national party is anathema to the Yoruba political class weaned on the ideology of isolationism and protectionism. President Obasanjo might have succeeded in smashing this isolationist cocoon in the South/West, but Afenifere and the defeated forces in the region knew only too well that Obasanjo would not be president forever and only had to bid their time to stage a come back. Although they had set their sights on the 2011 general elections, the Appeal Court verdict decreeing gubernatorial rerun in Ekiti has presented them with a veritable opportunity to test the waters and launch a comeback to the politics of isolation. The forces of revision are currently massed up in Ekiti for a showdown. Truckloads of thugs have been imported into Ekiti from Lagos and elsewhere for the showdown. This is what makes Ekiti state the tinder box that it has become. The authorities in particular and Nigerians in general, should understand that the crisis in Ekiti is bigger than Ekiti. Itís a test battle for the heart and soul of the Yorubas for the ultimate 2011 showdown.

This writer is however confident that whatever happens in the end the South/West will never return to its inglorious past. It has been integrated in the mainstream of national politics and the revisionist attempts by Tinubu and his AC tribal gladiators to turn back the hand of the clock and return the South/West to its tribal cocoon is doomed to failure regardless of the outcome of the Ekiti rerun.

The genie is already out of the bottle!

Long live Ekiti state!

Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Franklin Otorofani, Esq. is a Nigerian-trained attorney and political analyst based in the United States of America and can be reached at:

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