In an abandoned residence in Kudeti, an old man is making his way through the dilapidated walls of an ancient building. Slowly, I follow him. When he glances back, he smiles at me; his wrinkles showing his every unspoken expression. His smiles reek of experience, and something inside tells me he holds many secrets in his temporal lobe. His cold eyes are almost gray, and keep watching me. I try my best to fake a smile, but inside – especially after hearing his story, I am terrified of this old man. Papa’s name is Alao, he is 76, and we are in his home: a deserted building which is all he got after several decades of active involvement in the ever-intriguing politics of the ancient historic city of Ibadan.
“This,” papa spits out, “is the expansive veranda where we held private meetings before general meetings.” He gestures around at a series of wooden chairs arranged to form a semi-circle. “Way back then, there were more than sixty people who meet frequently on this property to strategize and perfect political plans. We lacked nothing. We had food. We had money. We even had beautiful women at our service. Talk less of the numerous political festivals extending from here (Kudeti) to Aremo, Oke Padre, Oje, Beere….” His frown disappears and is quickly replaced with smiles arising from a transient reminiscence of the good old days.
Pa Alao is not the only one intrigued with politics in Ibadan, it’s a common denominator that defines residents and indigenes of the historic city. According to local historians, shortly after the death of Lagelu – the Jagun (commander-in-chief) of Ife, Yoruba’s generalissimo and founder of Ibadan; he left behind a politically savvy people and a very stable community. Ibadan grew into an impressive sprawling urban center so much that by the end of 1829, the city has dominated the Yorùbá region militarily, politically and economically. The military sanctuary expanded even further when refugees began arriving in large numbers from northern Oyo following raids by Fulani warriors. After losing the northern portion of their region to the marauding Fulanis, many Oyo indigenes retreated deeper into Ibadan environs.
These consolidated strengths, external fortifications, heterogeneous people and a large non-sparse landmass that expands continually give Ibadan an edge over most Nigerian and almost every other African city. Before the dissolution of the regional Nigerian government system, Ibadan and its environs was the home of the most sophisticated and liberal scientific and cultural community on the African continent. It has the best and several “firsts” in the areas of economy, technology, broadcasting, sports, education, architecture, the list is endless. This enviable status has made leading the city big shoes that very few can step into and no one – yes, no one – that has worn those shoes once has been allowed to wear them again.
In his article entitled Ibadan: romancing the one-term jinx, Taju Tijani, like almost every Nigerian writer was just few words away from calling Ibadan elders overzealous pompous selfish elders. Innocently, it seems like a logical conclusion. But on the bright side, the unique scenario in Ibadan is the true essence of democracy – government chosen by the people, checked by the people, ruling the people, doing what the people wants and getting kicked out when its focus changes from that of the people to those of the governed.
Like other Yoruba monarchs, Ibadan king (Olubadan of Ibadan) throughout recorded history, even till present day, is subject to the continuing approval of the city’s constituting constituents. As a matter of policy, he could be easily compelled to abdicate for demonstrating dictatorial tendencies, unnecessary interferences or sheer incompetence. In the olden days, the order to vacate the throne was usually communicated through an aroko (symbolic message made up of parrots’ eggs delivered in a covered calabash bowl and delivered by the senators). This shows that Ibadan people, through their assigned representatives have put machineries in place to put their leaders in check.
According to the great scholar Benhenda, popular sovereignty is the founding principle of a democratic system. In Nikolas Kompridis’ “Technology’s Challenge to Democracy,” democracy is described as “not only a political system… [but] an ideal, an aspiration, really, intimately connected to and dependent upon a picture of what it is to be human—of what it is a human should be to be fully human.” In plain terms, democracy according to these scholars is not settling for less, setting targets, and finding those that will help meet such set targets. But when those targets are unattainable by those elected, democratically speaking, they should be replaced.
On June 15 1951, Chiefs Goke Akinlabu, Augustus Akinloye, Kola Balogun, T.O.S Benson, Samuel Lana with some eminent Ibadan indigenes who opposed the predominant tribalism and personality politics of the political era established Ibadan Peoples Party (IPP). And on their own part, residents and indigenes of Ibadan trouped out en masse to support their leaders by voting massively for the candidates presented by the IPP.
At the end of the November 1951 election into the Western Region House of Assembly, the ruling Action Group (AG) only won 29 out of the 80 seats contested. The AG had expected that as the “party of the Yorùbá,” it would sweep the elections with ease, at all levels; and in so doing, form the regional government. AG lost in all Ibadan constituencies as the IPP won all the six seats up for grabs. At the end of poll, the standing of the parties was as follows: Action Group 38; NCNC/Independents 25; IPP 6 and Ondo Improvement League 2.
In a political move that is still in use today, some of the leaders of the IPP were offered ministerial appointments to join the AG. One of them – Chief Augustus Akinloye who was appointed the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, reciprocated by persuading four out of his five victorious colleagues in the IPP into joining the AG. The only IPP member who refused to join AG was Hon Chief Adegoke Adelabu, who, instead of joining the bandwagon, joined the more national NCNC.
The Ibadan electorate did not take kindly to the defection of its elected representatives on the platform of IPP to the Action Group. They used the 1954 federal elections and 1956 regional elections to express their aversion of the Action Group. In the 1954 Federal elections, NCNC won 22 seats in the House of Representatives of Nigeria while AG secured 19 seats. In Ibadan, the ruling party AG secured just one out of the five federal seats up for grabs. The loathing of the AG by the Ibadan electorate was further demonstrated in the regional elections, which was held on May 26, 1956. Despite the fact that the election was held after the AG had been in power for five years, and had implemented significant social projects, particularly in the area of education; the results for 1956 were: 48 seats won by the AG and 32 seats by the NCNC. However, a closer scrutiny of the actual votes cast revealed that the margin of victory between the AG and the NCNC was just 39,270 votes. AG got 623,826 or (48.3%) of total votes, while NCNC got 584,556 or (45.3%) of the total votes cast.
Ibadan political tale is not totally a good one to tell since history is filled with several instances where the city’s machination got into wrong hands with serious grave consequences. Going by Dr Nnoli’s 1995 operational definition of politics as the manipulation of resources for the control of power, Ibadan electorate has been befuddled with extensive dubious manipulations, majorly of identities. And as a result, it has led to aggravated political marginalization and exacerbated regional conflicts resulting into exclusionary politics.
During the last polls, politica
l manipulations reared its ugly head as the ruling party (the PDP) attempted to pitch other regions against an evidently united Ibadan all to no avail as they all joined the Ibadan agenda to flush out governor Akala and elect Ajimobi. The various polling booths recorded large turnout of voters some of who slept at the stations to ensure that they cast their votes.
Ibadan holds the key to fostering democracy in Nigeria and Africa. If Africans can set standards for their leaders, there won’t be presidents ruling from sickbeds; dictators like Gaddafi killing citizens recklessly to hold on to power; and heads of state like Goodluck Jonathan who spend more time seeking tenure elongation than tackling unemployment, insecurity, labour and power crises.
Though ubiquitous, democracy is not yet internalized and personalized in Africa because the people play it safe and prefer the “known devil” to an “unknown angel.” They are afraid of challenging the status quo, standing up to dictators, testing promising candidates and turning their ballot papers into referee’s red card showing bad tacklers the way out. The unwritten no-second-term rule in Ibadan is not a jinx; it’s a strong foundation for future generations.