THE political routing that was dealt the Peoples Democratic Party by the incoming Action Congress of Nigeria in southwestern Nigeria during the April 2011 general elections was reminiscent – minus the absence of blatant political chicanery by the latter – of another election in 2003, where the incumbent Alliance for Democracy politicians in the same region were out-maneuvered by the invading Peoples Democratic Party.
Yet, unlike in 2003 when the people of the states of Ogun, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti showed their disenchantment through resigned cynicism over the uninspiring performance of supposed political descendants of the revered Obafemi Awolowo who held elective posts between 1999 and 2003, the 2011 elections in the same region showcased the people’s decisive revolt against incumbent elected officials of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Persons like Christopher Alao-Akala of Oyo and many of his fellow politicians across the region, previously elected to various political posts under the banner of the Peoples Democratic Party, were not merely trounced at the ballot; they were actually sent packing with accompaning invectives from erstwhile constituents who simply saw them as charlatans in leadership positions. Evidence of the popular rejection of these politicians was everywhere, both in the mass media and on the street.
Of similar fates as the aforementioned were the fortunes of Governors Segun Oni of Ekiti, Olusegun Agagu of Ondo and Olagunsoye Oyinlola of Osun, all members of the influential Peoples Democratic Party who were treated to the same measure of unadulterated scorn as they were shown their way out of offices which the law courts had implicitly declared that these politicians attained through stolen mandates.
The public animosity towards then-Governor Oni in Ekiti was particularly caustic, so much so he became less visible in public. Any mention of his name in ordinary group discussions easily led to bile-laden denunciations of his person. From market women to white-collar civil servant employees of the government, it was the same caustic verdict on his stewardship everywhere. And it certainly didn’t help that Oni had almost no charisma either, a reality made worse by that unattractive cross between a sneer and a whine on his face. For that and everything else, he paid heavily.
Oni was also unfortunate to have emerged as governor not too long after a tumultuous stint by Ayodele Fayose, the often belligerent former governor whose tenure was ended by an impeachment vote influenced by one or more powerful persons at the center of federal power in Abuja. It wasn’t long into the Segun Oni era that people began to long for a return of the Fayose days, during which salary payments were up-to-date and on time, quite unlike the case was under Governor Oni. In the Fayose days, for good or evil, Ekiti was perpetually in the news – no thanks to Ayo Fayose’s ways.
Elsewhere across the southwest were varied events similar to the unwelcome drama in Fayose’s Ekiti. In Ogun, Gbenga Daniel held sway as the chief executive who bared his fangs after he had secured his second term in office, in an election that made whatever electoral malfeasance that occurred in 2003 look like what Baba Wole Soyinka likes to describe as ‘Child’s Play’. Governor Daniel later got himself locked in a perpetual battle of wits with virtually everyone who mattered in his state.
In Oyo, a similar battle of wits raged between then-governor Rasheed Ladoja and local agents of the powers at the center in Abuja. In general, between the period of 2003 and 2007 when the Peoples Democratic Party held sway in the southwest, the region was the site of petty but dangerous in-fighting between political gladiators intent on asserting their individual political power, which effectively undermined governance and overall development of the region while it lasted.
The ground was therefore prepared for an insurrection against the ruling party from within the rank and file of any viable opposition political organization present in the region, in this case the Bola Tinubu-led Action Congress of Nigeria. Having fought and held his ground as governor of Lagos, against the powerful Peoples Democratic Party in 2003 and 2007, Tinubu was battle-tested and ready to go toe-to-toe with his rivals. Indeed many observers of the political intrigues of this period will argue that Bola Tinubu was lionized by the ruling party, led by President Olusegun Obasanjo, who railed against Tinubu and indeed the people of Lagos for most of Tinubu's two-term tenure as governor.
By the time 2011 rolled-in, Bola Tinubu had garnered enough reputation, both positive and negative, in the eyes of many as the only politician who had what it takes to fight Olusegun Obasanjo and his Peoples Democratic Party machine to a standstill. For them, he is the Tinubu who has also lived to tell the story well enough to fire-up the passion of the southwestern Yoruba people specifically, and others elsewhere as well, to stand up to internal or external aggressors.
For many people, Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the emblem of defiance to servitude under the crushing power and influence of the almighty Peoples Democratic Party. And for many others as well, he is the very personification of the kind of skullduggery that undermines the mores of the Yoruba person as an Omoluabi – he is the Tinubu who is, as far as they are concerned, exploiting the ‘void of credible progressive leadership’ in Yorubaland to impress himself on the people as some sort of latter-day Awo, even as Tinubu continues to deny the notion that he is anything like the mostly well-regarded leader.
April 2011 has rolled-by and the rest is now history, with the attendant result that the southwest is now the most politically homogenous region in Nigeria. Five of the six southwestern states of Yorubaland are under the Action Congress of Nigeria leadership. Ondo State, under the leadership of Governor Olusegun Mimiko of the Labor Party, is the only state outside the control of the Action Congress of Nigeria. The Yoruba cousins in Edo State, too, are not left out as Adams Oshiomhole currently governs as an Action Congress of Nigeria governor.
Of all the elected politicians of the Action Congress of Nigeria in the southwest today, the most openly defiant in expressed thought and comport is Rafiu Adesoji Aregbesola, governor of the “State of Osun” who prefers to be addressed as Ogbeni – the Yoruba word that most aptly captures the simplicity of the universal title “Mr.” Ogbeni Aregbesola came to power after a bitterly contested mandate, first at the ballot and later in the courts of law. In many ways he is as lionized by his experience as an underdog politician as Bola Tinubu is lionized by the same experience. And he is quick to show whoever cares to know that he doesn’t give a farthing for formal niceties when it comes to confronting what he believes to be the truth with his rivals.
A man of average-height and slight build, Rafiu Aregbesola cuts the image of a person who is as mentally agile as he is physically agile. On occasions at public rallies and other functions, you find him jovially lacing his remarks with biting derisions aimed at those whom he considers as political adversaries, without recourse to prepared texts of any kind. This he does quite fluently both in his native Yoruba tongue and in the English language, which makes for easy connection between him and his audiences – something which many of his contemporaries cannot do without punctuating their remarks with borrowed words from the English language.
Aregbesola is the latest out of many like him to feature in contemporary Nigerian politics, from Adegoke Adelabu of the Penkelemesi fame, to the often garrulous Ayodele Fayose, whose brief tenure as governor in Ekiti shook the state to its core. People like these individuals tend to upend the status-quo for good or bad. They call events as they see them without a care about whose ox is gored. You may not like how they do what they do, but they tend to be lightening-rods who fire-up passions that may be inspired by a desire for truth and justice, or by deceitful opportunism and anarchy.
These types of people don’t simply appear on the political horizon at random. Certain types of events and situations create the right condition and environment for them to sprout out of the political terrain. Such situations could be, say, a generational shift in political realities which sets into motion a chain of events that trigger the kind of [misguided] anxieties that produce hell-raisers as seen in the case of the tea party candidates currently holding the Americans Republican Party hostage to their whims.
On other occasions, an environment of naked persecution, exploitative manipulation and crass opportunism often lionizes even the most dormant of observers from among the persecuted, the manipulated and the cheated, to take action and fight back. Even more so, failure, inefficiency and cluelessness often results in the thirst for a new dawn of success, efficiency and sure-footed leadership, as seen with the emergence of Barack Obama as the leader of the United States in 2009, after eight years of George W. Bush.
Indeed, nothing goes for nothing. For every action or inaction, there is a consequence. The injustice meted upon the Nigerian citizenry under the leadership of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in its first eight years of complete dominance of Nigerian politics [2003 – 2011] naturally should invite the righteous ire of any Nigerian with the least modicum of private esteem. The injustice during this period was naked in its manifestation, it was exploitative of the collective trust of Nigerians in its function and it was generally crass in virtually every sphere of the political consciousness of Nigerians. Such were the negatives of those days, that when the Nigerian judiciary began to show sparks of independence in its rulings, which in many ways benefited opposition political parties across the board, the joy of the people burst forth in frenzied celebrations.
The appearance of Rafiu Aregbesola on the political scene in Osun, after the whirlwinds of justice had swept-out those whom the courts had declared as pretenders to the seat of power, lived-up to the expectation that one or more lionized political operators would emerge from within the region. And Aregbesola emerged as a politician who not only took deep umbrage at the excesses of those who denied him the mandate he worked to earn from the people, but also as a leader who is maddened that the same illegally acquired mandate was used as a bludgeon to assault the people from which such powers supposedly derived. He has since gone to town to deride, taunt, expose and assail his political opponents with every missile in his political arsenal.
It is not surprising therefore that Aregbesola is now the cynosure of the collective ire of these same political opponents in Osun and beyond, even as he appears to relish every bit of the attention he gets from them. A day hardly goes by without the apparatchiks of the Peoples Democratic Party, particularly the ones affiliated with the southwestern arm of the party, firing off the usual volley of coordinated attacks on Governor Aregbesola’s leadership in the state of the living spring, where every utterance or action of the governor is treated to the Peoples Democratic Party’s version of intelligent opposition criticism, mostly made up of poorly worded script.
Some of the charges made against Governor Aregbesola by the Peoples Democratic Party operatives, particularly from the southwest hierarchy of the party as headed by Mr. Segun Oni, make for good comedy whenever they don’t sound too juvenile. But Aregbesola likes to show anyone who cares to know that he is a ‘good sport’ of sorts, as he often responds to some of these charges with the usual jovial jibes, couched in dismissively sarcastic tones. "My immediate younger sister from the same parents is a Christian;” he said in a recent interview on Lagos-based Channels TV, stressing that “If I cannot Islamize my own family, how can Islamize a whole state?"
The attacks directed at Aregbesola and his government in Osun peaked in recent weeks with the charge that he was running something of a Cuban-trained militia with which he plans to execute the secession of Osun from the Federal Republic.
As proof of this apparent cock-and-bull story about Rauf Aregbesola, these brilliant folks point to things as the fact that he has strengthened the identity of Osun with a new coat of arms and a flag, and a state anthem to run alongside the Nigerian national anthem. Then they point at his beard, which is not really as bushy as Baba Wole Soyinka’s or Dr. Tunji Braithwaite’s, or Chief Yemisi Falae’s for that matter, but nevertheless disturbing enough to cause concern[!]. And then there the issue of his pants – those Boko Haram pants! How about the charge that he wants to impose Islam on the state of Osun, just as those Boko Haram folks wish to impose on Nigerian?
Those are the kinds of charges leveled at Aregbesola, his government and his Action Congress of Nigeria party, on an almost daily basis by his Peoples Democratic Party opponents, with enough tenacity and certainty that makes one wonder if they actually believe these tales. The governor has found time in the last couple of weeks to tackle the charge that he is being investigated by the Directorate of State Security, formerly known as the State Security Service, of subversive acts bordering on treason – among other charges thrown around the place about him.
The contrast could not have been starker between Aregbesola's live evening address on state television and the daily charges churned from the stables of his opponents. The same man tagged severally by his opponents as a thug and a loudmouth spoke in clear, educated tones that immediately cleared the air on the alleged developments in his state, exuding an enlightened confidence while the address lasted. The address, delivered on Saturday, April 14 2012, was reminiscent of another address he made on January 18 2012, after Nigerian soldiers were sent into the streets to put down the largely peaceful protests against the sudden removal of fuel by the federal government.
Aregbesola is a mercurial personality whose disposition is often a reflection of whatever environment he finds himself. It is easy to mistake him at informal settings as just another member of the crowd as he joins in taunting and deriding those whom he repeatedly tags as saboteurs of the Yoruba agenda for progress, daring them to make good their threats to undermine his authority as governor or the sovereign will of the people of Osun. At other times, Governor Aregbesola simply expresses himself with serious passion, often in his native Yoruba tongue as he did at a recent Afenifere event where Yoruba leaders of various political leanings had gathered to discuss the Yoruba Agenda.
Aregbesola’s opinions have often fed the fodder that describes him a divisive personality. But is he really a divisive public figure or he is simply one who cares deeply for progress of the Yoruba after over 50 years of being burdened by the lack of progress of the Nigerian state? Is Aregbesola’s desire for regional integration among Yoruba states within the larger community of Nigerian states a bad idea or, as alleged, a cover for secession planned for the future? Should Aregbesola apologize for his anger and revulsion for the Peoples Democratic Party as a political organization, or should he apologize for his pride in himself and his heritage as true-born Yoruba to the core?
The truth is that Governor Rauf Aregbesola is a product of the time and circumstance of his emergence. His arrival on the scene as the chief executive of the State of Osun could not have been better timed, at a period when suffocating docility permeates our political terra firma, not only in Yorubaland, but across the Nigerian nation in general.
In Bayelsa, a sitting president who likes to boast that his party is Africa’s best political party, indirectly superintended a perverted form of internal democracy in his party, even as the same party ignored a court ruling on the matter – and the people sat suffering and smiling. In the same Bayelsa, the same president confessed, or gave a testimony, that he flouted the spirit of the official Code of Conduct by soliciting a contractor’s help to re-build his local Anglican church, and few in Bayelsa uttered a squeak of protest against such blatant corruption. The list of similar realities goes on.
Perhaps the battle ahead requires not docility or some pretension at some ‘civility’ - civility that too many Nigerians do not posses, anyway. Perhaps to battle the grandfathered cultures of corruption and impunity currently strangulating our society, an attitude of unapologetic defiance needs to be adopted – much in the same way that Bola Ahmed Tinubu had deployed same, first to keep Lagos from being garrisonized by the “garrison commanders,” and later to keep the entire southwest from being overrun as it once was during the days when the Peoples Democratic Party held sway in the region, when the rate of murders and political assassinations spiked everywhere from Lagos to Ekiti.
Perhaps now more than ever, Yorubaland and indeed Nigeria need persons like Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola as opposition leaders, from Birin-Kebbi to Oloibiri, to poke their fingers in the eyes of those who shortchange the masses of Nigeria at will.
Or, perhaps, Nigerians can simply remain ‘suffering and smiling’ and attending the local Redeemed Christian Church of God or Winners Chapel and Ayo ni O church, where everyone will perpetually plead on Jesus to come on down to re-enact the scene where he chased the gamblers and the rest of them out of the temple. Perhaps..