By ‘Sola Adeyoose
As the race to the general elections gets keener, political parties are deploying several tactics to garner votes and secure victory at the polls. The latest of the tricks, not so new, but one which may prove potent is being put forward by the APC, that whichever of the South West or South East delivers the highest vote in the election, will be rewarded with the presidency in 2023.
That audacious claim was first put forward by Boss Mustapha – Secretary to the Government of the Federation, weeks ago. While canvassing for votes at an Igbo populated event, Mustapha explored the sensibilities of easterners who usually feel they’ve been denied the presidency since independence. Equally, Babatunde Raji Fashola, the Minister for Power, works, and Housing, and most recently, vice president Yemi Osinbajo have made the same sentimental appeal to their Yoruba kinsmen. So as it stands, it seems the presidential slot, at least, of the APC is reserved for whoever shows the greatest support of the two ethnic groups.
By that reasoning, we are supposed to endure another stint of the irresponsible and insensitive administration of President Muhammadu Buhari with the hope that 2023 is only four years away. If we manage to survive those years, which judging from the present, will be marked by poverty, insecurity, nepotism, corruption, and insouciance, our only consolation is not even going to be that someone competent will come on board to turn the tide. It will be that a man from our ethnic group will get a chance to occupy the presidency, whatever that’s worth.
Some political analysts have validated that bargain. It’s been called different names from political pragmatism to realism. Indeed, I understand that politics is about patronage. And politics is first, local. I, in fact, understand that the political equation that produced Professor Yemi Osinbajo as vice president is one with ethnicity and religion as constants.
In 2015, there was a need to pair Buhari with a man whose political capital can douse perceptions of bigotry and incompetence around him. Being a sound Professor of law, a pastor at the RCCG – one of the largest Christian congregations in Nigeria, and married to Dolapo Osinbajo – granddaughter of the late Obafemi Awolowo, a beloved political icon in the West, there could have been no better choice than Yemi Osinbajo whose academic background sold him to intellectuals, pastoral work appealed to the largely Christian South and marriage ties to the Awolowo political dynasty attracted sympathy from Westerners. Osinbajo is, therefore, a product of the ethnic and religious sentiments to which he appeals.
The only concern should be for the ordinary Nigerian whose interest is never represented by these permutations. By far the largest constituency in Nigeria is that of the poor, underprivileged people of Nigeria. In this constituency, there’s no uniformity of faith or tribe. Every creed is represented. The true wedge is economical. We, therefore, must appraise and make tangible this self-serving bargain by members of the Nigerian top 1 percent socioeconomic class.
If the Presidency should come to the South West in 2023, Osinbajo or any of his cronies can be rewarded with the seat; if it is zoned to the East, Okorocha, or any of the other proponents of the ethnic equation, may be chosen. And there will be plenty of contracts to go around. But how does a Yoruba presidency short of good governance profit Ladipo Akanbi, a peasant farmer in Fiditi? How will simply having an Igbo as president benefit Obinna, a petty trader in Awka? Will the interest rate on the much- needed loan he needs to grow his business be lowered because someone from the East is president?
The reign of Dr. Olusegun Mimiko as Ondo State governor was defined by the patronage of his Ondo people at the expense of other parts of the state. Mimiko concentrated infrastructural projects mostly in his central senatorial district, his hometown – Ondo, and Akure – the state capital, to be precise. Yet his popularity was soaring, particularly outside the state. It was Mimiko that taught me how mistaken it can be to assess a Nigerian governor solely on reports of projects in the Media. This is because the Nigerian media is for the highest bidder, and such reports do not usually showcase local contexts unless one is on the ground.
It was under Mimiko that the municipal water supply of my community crashed, not because the system developed any fault. The government simply stopped supplying diesel to pump water, diesel, which could have been financed with household contributions if the system was properly organized. But the same Mimiko that could not provide pipe borne water is quick to showcase mother and child centres he built, even if there’s no water to bath the babies following delivery. Never mind that there were functional hospitals before he came on board.
In the same vein, rather than employ teachers, equip laboratories and build classroom blocks where such was needed like his predecessors, Mimiko chose to erect gigantic structures that are as large as university faculties in primary schools. He called them mega schools. The preference for construction works and big structures couldn’t have been innocent. Contracts can be inflated. Structures can be painted red so that all can see. But when you employ teachers, there are no ribbons to cut. The unsuspecting public would applaud gigantic school structures even if such schools have no teachers in all the relevant science subjects. And the administration would score cheap political points even if those were detrimental to the overall wellbeing of the state.
Prioritizing inanities and frivolities across the state, Mimiko soon plunged the state into debts, despite inheriting over 30 billion Naira when he assumed office. As state resources dwindled, that administration stopped paying workers, but fancy projects continued.
At the height of it, workers were not paid for 7 months. Oh, the pangs of hunger! People died. Civil servants in Ondo and Akure, the central senatorial district were not spared. Even though projects had been concentrated in that section of the state, when hunger came it was common to all. The story is told of a particular school teacher in Akure who couldn’t feed for two days. On the third day, he became very weak. Not knowing any better, concerned onlookers rushed to get him roasted plantain, but that isn’t a ready supply of glucose. He subsequently lapsed into a coma and he never recovered.
The point is now made with that digression into the calamity that was the Mimiko administration. We do not need people of our ethnic stock at the helm of affairs before we can enjoy the dividends of democracy. Our people are at least the honourables and senators who only represent their pockets at the National Assembly. There’s no better recipe for underdevelopment than this governance by exclusion called ethnic politics. Developmental efforts need to be continuous. Short bouts of intense activity whenever our kinsman is in office are futile. All that is accumulated in the interregnum is infrastructural decay.
Most Nigerian presidents have been from the North. Yet, the North is the most backward and retrogressive part of the country. While southern members of the 1 percent sociopolitical class may be jealous that they’ve not had an equal chance to steal state resources and accumulate wealth like their northern counterparts, the average member of the backward and retrogressive North should indeed be envious of the South.
The amnesty scheme, a government policy that has so benefitted the Niger Delta was designed under the late President Umaru Musa Yaradua, a Fulani man. The North, the region whose people have occupied the presidency the most is equally the bastion of world poverty, illiteracy, and soon, under-5 mortality. The Igbo have had the least stint at the presidency, yet it would be the subject of a hot debate that there’s a more prosperous ethnic group in Nigeria. What then is the trophy really worth? We must never mistake personal ambition for regional interest. The only transfer of power we need is from the rulers to the ruled.
Adeyoose wrote from Lagos. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org