Southwest and Mainstream Politics: Where Are the Gains?

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In the First and Second Republics, Southwest shunned the mainstream politics, following the failure of the defunct Action Group (AG) and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) to form the government at the centre. Also, for 16 years, between 1999 and 2015, the region supported the Alliance for Democracy (AD), the Action Congress (AC) and later, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), which were the opposition parties. However, for the first time, the zone voted for the All Progressives Congress (APC), which produced President Muhammadu Buhari. Two and half years after, has the Southwest gained from its alliance with the centre? Participants at the recent appraisal conference in Osogbo, the capital of Osun State, provided answers to the question. Group Political Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU reports. 

After many failed attempts, the alliance between the North and the Southwest gave birth to a national government during the 2015 presidential elections. The region was full of enthusiasm and expectation. Southwest political leaders believed that the alliance will halt the trend of marginalization and isolation and attract the hitherto elusive dividends of democracy to the geo-political zone.

Unlike other zones, Southwest has been very cautious to collaborate with the distant Federal Government without clear terms. While the Southsouth, Southeast, Northwest, Northeast and Northcentral regions were natural allies of the central government, the Southwest seemed to believe in a bottom-to-top approach to development and its capacity to look inwards.

But, there was a paradigm shift two and half years ago. Apart from voting for President Muhammadu Buhari on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the region voted for APC governors in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ogun, and later, Ondo States. Also, for the first time, the Southwest produced a vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN). Following Buhari’s inauguration, Yoruba became Ministers of Finance, Works, Power and Housing; Steel and Solid Minerals Development, Communications, Health; and Minister of State for Niger Delta. The zone also got its share of ambassadorial, parastatal and board appointments. For the first time, the feeling of marginalization was fizzling out.

Before 2015 polls, opinion was divided on the involvement of the Southwest in the ‘mainstream politics,’ which had become the barometer for gagging its disposition to federal power in a heterogeneous federation characterised by a puzzling diversity. Mainstream politics, according to observers, was a veritable weapon of sentiment and propaganda. The question was: should the Southwest join the central government to avoid imaginary political isolation or simply align with the Federal Government in anticipation of an exaggerated federal attention?

The feeling was premised on the perception of the power-loaded Federal Government as the whipping master, which could guarantee easy progress to zones that have endorsed the ruling party, while at the same time turning a deaf ear to the cries of states governed by the opposition.

Instructively, the entrenched political establishment in the highly enlightened and politically sophisticated zone refused to jettison its time-tested radical and progressive ideals for ultra-conservative ideology to secure a short cut to power at the center. In rejecting an inordinate collaboration with the centre, Southwest progressives leaders believed that they could not convince their vast followers, who since the pre-independence era, had rejected the promise of artificial political integration offered by few conservative kinsmen collaborating with feudalist and reactionary overlords, in preference for Awoist creed of ‘ Freedom for All, Life More Abundant.’

The 2015 political strategy review heralded the cooperation with like-minds across the six geo-political zones under the banner of the APC. But, what gains have accrued to the region since then?

At the Osogbo conference on the second anniversary of the Southwest in national governance, participants expressed mixed feelings. The theme of the conference chaired by former APC Interim Chairman Chief Bisi Akande was: Southwest To Abuja: A Mid-Term Appraisal. The one-day event was organised by Urban Media Resources Limited, led by activist Femi Odere. TThere were three sessions with different sub-themes. The first sub-theme was: ‘The Southwest In National Governance: An Appraisal Of The First Two Years.’ The second was: ‘Osun To Abuja: Investing In Social Infrastructure In A Recession. The third was: “Federalising Political Parties To Conform With Local Needs.”

Participants included scholars, politicians, top government officials, members of the civil society, youths, women groups, students and artisans.

Akande, former governor of Osun State, who was represented by former Secretary to Government Chief Sola Akinwumi, observed that the performance review and governance assessment would be more productive and educative, if they are used to critically recall and objectively evaluate past experiences rather than being done in regime isolation.

The elder statesman focused on two imperatives. Akande cautioned on over-dependence on income from oil money. He also emphasized on the need to drastically cut waste. But, he also reflected on the present challenge and predicament of the ruling party. He said the APC should be henceforth, be encouraged to stimulate “deliberative democracy.” The submission is loaded with interpretations. He said this could be done by “frequently convening every organ of the party to brainstorming sessions where party leaders should discuss and be informed about various intended policies, plans and decisions of the party at its National Working Committee, at the state and the National Executive Committees, at the Board of Trustees, at the Elders’ caucuses, at the congresses and the convention levels.”

He added: “Through such regular policy deliberations and understandings, party members could become reasonably adequately informed and enlightened, and they would thus become regular mouthpieces and foot soldiers of the party and its governments at all levels, with a view to favourably modulating and moderating the opinions of the general public, particularly now when Nigerians are reading back to the APC its manifesto promises and are looking forward to the party and the government to bring back true federalism.”

Urban Media President Odere, who welcomed participants, said assessing the Southwest foray into the mainstream politics is a worthwhile exercise.

Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola noted that Southwest has added value to the Federal Government through the alliance and contributed to national unity and stability. “We are happy that, for the first time, we in Afenifere have a part in the Federal Government. Yoruba have been there before, but it is the first time progressive Yoruba will be there,” he added.

Activist scholar and former Vice Chancellor of Otuoke Federal University Prof. Bolaji Aluko was the Lead Speaker at the first session, which was moderated by a professor of International Relations from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Prof. Alade Fawole. Discussants were Dr. Bisi Olawumi, veteran journalist and Mass Communication teacher at Bowen University, Iwo, and Ismail Omipidan, a journalist.

Aluko observed that the North/Southwest alliance has produced mixed results. He submitted that, even if the Southwest is a country, it would survive, judging by its population, which was put at 28 million by 2006 Census, land mass and maritime opportunities. But, when he compared the internally generated revenue in states outside Lagos to their federal allocations, he discovered a huge gulf. Only Lagos and Ogun states’ internally generated revenue exceeded their allocations put at 73 billion and 27 billion respectively. “When the allocation is more than internally generated revenue, it is not sustainable,” Aluko said.

He drew attention to the performance of Vice President Osinbajo, who held forth for President Muhammadu Buhari during his medical trip abroad. But, Aluko raised a poser: what have the ministers done to represent the Southwest that is worthy of pride? The criteria for assessment include energy, education, roads, housing, agriculture, ease of doing business, economic diversification and employment.

On power, Aluko observed that while 4,000 megawatts of municipal power required for the region, with Lagos and Ibadan requiring 60 percent of the energy allocation, only 33 percent is allocated. Also, while the Federal Government has approved 13 solar power facilities, there is no one in the Southwest. There is one in Enugu. This is despite the fact that there is solar intensity in the Southwest that is more intensive than Germany.

It is not surprising that Southwest is still the leader in tertiary education. Out of 40 federal universities, the region has six. Out of 67 private ones, the zone has 29. But, it also has its negative implications in the period of crisis. Aluko said: “The crisis in the university system will disproportionately affect the Southwest.”

Aluko acknowledged the push for restructuring by the ruling party, in accordance with its campaign promises, stressing that its inevitability is dawning. The question, in his view, is who will bell the cat constitutionally? Urging Southwest governors to practice locally what they preach, he said, in the spirit of restructuring, they should not lord it over the councils.

Omipidan, a political analyst, observed that Southwest is at cross roads. “Are we really enjoying harmony with the centre, despite the fact that the centre and the Southwest belong to the same party? How do we play our politics in the Southwest? Why can’t Abuja politicians cooperate with home-based politicians? We must as a region agree on what we want from the partnership. Our leaders and ministers are not on the same page. So, we may not benefit maximally,” he said.

The quest for restructuring was an attractive topic to Dr. Olawumi. But, he said it should begin at the state level, urging the governors to give independence to local councils. The Bowen University lecturer urged Southwest states to do away with laziness, be creative and generate more revenues for development. He had harsh words for those representing the region, saying they have not exerted efforts to bring more projects to the zone. Olawumi emphasized that it required lobbying.

He also berated the culture of dumping political parties at will, saying it smacked of lack of ideological orientation. “There is no ideological culture. People can be in three different parties in four years. It does not speak about integrity,” Olawumi fumed.

The moderator, Fawole, expressed concerned over the attitude of the governors. He described them as local lords, pointing out that the council is groaning under their leadership. He said: “Nigeria cannot develop from the centre. We need to coordinate our developmental efforts in the region.”

Aluko and Fawole also dismissed insinuations that restructuring will herald disintegration. Fawole said: “Nigeria will not break. There is an advantage in number. We can leverage on the huge population.

Also, Aluko said: “Nigeria may not collapse, if we don’t restructure. The country will continue, but we will be unhappy.”

At the conference were Elder Lowo Adebiyi, former Osun APC Chairman, his successor, Gboyega Famodun, Dr. Adebisi Obawale, Osun State Commissioner for Home Affairs, Pa Wale Lasisi, veteran educationist and Chairman of Osun State Civil Service Commission, Hon. Salensile,  Osun APC Secretary, Alhaja Fakolade,  Osun APC Women Leader, Chief Kunle Odeyemi, Prince Adelani Bolarinwa, Osun State Commissioner for Information, Iyaloja Asindemade, Semiu Okanlawon, Special Adviser on Information and Strategy, Sola Fasure, Chief Press Secretary to governor, David Morakinyo, Oladosun Ogunremi, Osun East APC leader and Jimoh Adekunle, a leader of the Motorcyclist Association.

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