Last week conferment of the highest award, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola, is seen by many as a political masterstroke capable of boosting the chances of President Muhammadu Buhari in his quest for another four-year tenancy of Aso Rock beyond 2019. Until last week investiture of the heroes of the historic June 12 struggle, Buhari’s hope of a harvest of votes in the South-West geo-political zone was literally hanging in the balance, given the depth of opposition to his style of leadership by many political heavyweights of Yoruba extraction.
In the weeks leading to the 25th anniversary of June 12, former President Olusegun Obasanjo met with leaders of Afenifere, a pan Yoruba socio-cultural organization in what analysts described as a move intended to forge a common front against the second bid aspiration of President Buhari. Obasanjo, Nigerians would recall, later drew the attention of the world to an alleged plot by the Buhari-led Presidency to implicate him in a bid to have him thrown into jail.
As it were, the federal government dismissed the allegations but not without a reminder to the former President that only the guilty need to be afraid. Rather than allow the rift to fester, notable South-West leaders including national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu prevailed on the first citizen not to take the region for granted. June 12, they told him, remained a symbol of historical reference, which if well handled, could swing the allegiance of the Yoruba people in the favour of the ruling party.
Buhari bought the counsel and did what previous Presidents – Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’ Adua and Goodluck Jonathan had failed to do, by recognising the heroes of the botched third republic with national honours to boot. Since last week investiture, the narrative has changed, with many pundits now arguing that Buhari has the zone in the bag, ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Already, it appears Abiola’s family has pitched its tent with Buhari if the statements credited to Hafsat Abiola-Costello are anything to go by. While thanking the President for the honour done her father by the award, she had this to say: “Who would have ever believed, given the relationship that you (Buhari) had with Chief MKO Abiola, that you would be the instrument God will use to honour this man and to bring recognition and healing to the country?
“You apologised to my family and it touched my heart. You know that I also lost my mother in this struggle, so that apology meant so much. Mr. President, on behalf of MKO Abiola’s family, we accept both the award and the apology.”
Asked if the honour could change the tide, Hafsat, first daughter of the late democracy martyr responded thus: “It could very well be a game changer. There was so much evil, darkness for 25 years…But this move has changed everything. In 1999 and the years that followed, one man had the chance to correct this but he chose to keep quiet. That silence set the tone for that injustice and for President Buhari to correct this, it is as if we were in chains and suddenly being set free,” she stated.
Not a few South-West leaders share Hafsat’s position but for human rights activist and constitutional lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, conferring the prestigious GCFR on Abiola is not enough for Buhari to reap bloc votes from the South-West. According to him, pertinent issues pertaining to structural imbalances in the Nigerian federation are more pertinent to the Yoruba nation than the posthumous award bestowed on the late philanthropist-turned politician.
Ozekhome told Saturday Vanguard exclusively that those who think the South-West is now Buhari to lose would need to have a rethink. “Many Yoruba people never agreed with Abiola even though many of them did. The issues that will determine or shape 2019 are multifarious than the GCFR award on Abiola. The award, though very important, is just one of them. The question of restructuring to remove the glaring and suffocating lopsided imbalances in Nigeria is more urgent and dear to the Yoruba nation than the GCFR. I don’t think this sophisticated ethnic group has been bribed,” he stated.
The lawyer’s position aligns with the thoughts of two prominent South-West leaders, Professors Tunde Adeniran and Taoheed Adedoja who argue that the Yoruba would not fall for cheap political carrots being dangled by the party in power ahead of the polls.
Buhari, APC should be worried
For sure, last week event at the Banquet Hall of the Aso Rock Villa has earned President Buhari a deserved accolade but there is more to worry about for him and his ruling party. In the South-West, the APC has suffered some electoral setbacks, enough to cause President Buhari sleepless nights in the months leading to the polls.
In July 2017, the then candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ademola Adeleke defeated APC’s Mudashir Hussain to win the Osun-West Senatorial bye-election with an impressive margin. While Ademola polled a total of 97, 480 votes, Hussain garnered a total of 66, 116 to emerged second on the log. This was in spite of the State being under the control of the APC government-led of Governor Rauf Aregbesola.
A fortnight ago, a similar scenario played out in the election to Ibarapa East parliamentary bye-election into the Oyo State House of Assembly. With Governor Abiola Ajimobi in charge, bookmakers’ expectation was that that the APC candidate would coast home to victory with ease but at the end of balloting, the PDP candidate, Honourable Adebo Ogundoyin garnered a total of 6, 227 votes to emerge the winner, leaving his APC counterpart, Olukunle Adeyemo with 4, 619 votes in second place.
Will Buhari change this pattern of electoral misfortune with the conferment of the GCFR on one of Yoruba’s notable sons? Will the Yoruba as a people carry the Buhari cross in 2019, believing it would be worth their sacrifice? The answers, as it were, remain buried in the womb of time.
My fears for Ekiti polls – Guber candidate
Ahead of the July 14 governorship election in Ekiti State, the candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Ambassador Ayodeji Ayodele has expressed worry over the role the use of money could play in determining the outcome of the polls, adding that if not checked, the eventual winner may not reflect the real choice of the people.
In an exclusive chat with Saturday Vanguard, Ayodele called for strict compliance to the electoral umpire’s regulations on the use of money, arguing that competence and readiness to deliver the dividends of democracy should be the yardstick in the choice of the governor of the state, rather than money or god-fatherism.
He promised to turn around the economy of the state if elected, through mechanized agriculture as well as creating of multiple windows of credit to fund small and medium scale enterprises. Ekiti, according to him, would only take her place in the sun, if creative energies of the people and state resources were harnessed in an efficient and effective manner by a result-driven government.
“If you look at the desperation which led these candidates to spend unreasonable amount of money to get the people’s vote; it is worrisome. It is bribery; let’s call a spade a spade. If you read the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) regulations on bribery, the use of money for the conduct of politics is a violation, but this is a country where rules are made but not obeyed. If not, by now, some of them should have been in jail with the kind of money they have put in the political process.
“My fear is that democracy may be endangered, state power might be used to ignore the voice of the people through their votes and we might have an announcement of fictitious figures which may not reflect the will of the people,” he said.
On the source of funding of his campaign, the APGA chieftain said he has been relying on private resources, adding however that external support would be appreciated as well.
“So far, we have been funding the campaign from private resources; we are also looking forward to people to support us. But I think we all have the responsibility to de-emphasize the role of money in politics, and in Ekiti a few individuals have used money to confuse people. We are teaching them that the money they give them will not feed them for up to a week,” he added.
He further spoke of his plan to reposition Ekiti to compete with other states of the federation, saying “the first thing we want to do is to develop a template for the short, medium and long term development of Ekiti, and we will back it up by law, so that no governor can change it with ease. We will develop a plan for the management, and growth of Ekiti for a minimum of 25 years, so that in 5 years, we will know what we want to achieve. In 10 years, we will also know what we want to achieve and so on.
“The focus will be on agriculture, but not the way it is done today. The state will actively encourage and support the creation of large scale agricultural operations and give the people all they need to operate. Our plan is to have farm clusters, so that support for that mode of agriculture will be easy and the idea is to create large scale farms for the agricultural value chains.
Ideology and principles are cardinal ingredients of political developments but in a democracy where most people would prefer financial gratifications to development of critical infrastructures, it would be interesting to see how Ayodele would change the narratives on July 14, 2018.