Is This The Return of A Prodigal Son?

by Banjo Odutola

The 2003 elections for the coveted office of the president of this great country has come and gone. At least, so it seems. Its electoral process is now consigned to the bin of history. At least, so it seems. The violence foretold was contained and the country did not go up in flames. At least, so it seems. The president to whom the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has awarded its signet to certify the choice of the electorate is the incumbent president. At least, that is for sure. Amidst the varied uncertainties that surround these last elections, there is one that is of interest and it is the stature of Olusegun Obasanjo in the home polity of his people – the Yorubas.

Obasanjo symbolizes the center of our national politics, which means nothing. After all, that is a place achievable by liberality rather than astuteness and percipiency in Social Sciences or Humanities. This of course is not in disregard of his background as a soldier without formal grounding in the above disciplines. Many would argue that the military offers as much of these disciplines and his exposures are comparable to others.

The observations herein are not about his military training; albeit, it is a pointer to deliberate on what Commodore Bode George (Rtd), the Vice Chairman of his party in the Southwest of the country attributes or more precisely gloats as the factor, which provided the defeat of other parties and the Alliance for Democracy particularly in its territory. The argument of stratagems that the Retired Commodore deploys is possibly because of his inability of proper assessment of the victory of his party or his bereft of an intellectual capacity to separate political goodwill and opportunities from the aforesaid.

If the victory of the ruling party was a military operation, then its victory is a poor show. George ought to realize that the subterfuge he argues was available to other retired military tacticians in other camps. And, there were many of them that did not want Obasanjo or his party to succeed. Also, each military retiree that contested ought to have conquered his territory. If George was right, the battle for the presidency should have been a tight race as anticipated by Ikemba Nnewi, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu. Clearly, the declared results did not support such a position. Rather, the preference of Obasanjo seems to reflect a theatre of an honest captain battling to save a beleaguered ship operated by dishonest lieutenants. In our case, it is a polity steered by a class of dishonest politicians. Take for example, his battles with the legislature and his own party does not provide an explication of the famously often repeated and discrediting reasons proffered by the retired navy Commodore, who appears complaisant of his master at Aso Rock. There is no way the rife in the ruling party could have been rewarded with a landslide victory, if the elections were free and fair. That aside, the die is cast and future analyses of what really occurred may be revelatory and instructive.

In analyzing the victories of Obasanjo and his ruling party, an attempt herewith is to circumscribe them to the southwest and the routing of the isolationist Afenifere. The politics in which Bola Tinubu, who by the time of the elections was extricating himself and his government from the incoherent and parlous decisions of the soi-disant Afenifere elders. But, does that mean that the victory of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) marks the end of Afenifere or Yoruba politics? Methinks not and submissions will be proffered.

Where others believe that Yoruba politics have now been moved from isolationism to the center, I beg to differ because such change cannot be attained in a period of four years nor can it be achieved in a country where basic necessities of livelihood are not provided. For as long as our country fails to operate a basic infrastructure of accountability and social justice to enhance the lives of the people, our politics shall remain fragmented as it happens in all developing economies of the world. The masses will only affiliate with a commonality when the system is equitable in basic expectations. The converse is the thriving of sectarian interest, where the center cannot be relied upon and this has existed since our independence and it is what we presently experience in this country. The masses rely on a few sectarian leaders with access to the center to inhabit its power base. Those leaders are expected to cart spoils back to their regions for development of their people. But, Obafemi Awolowo envisioned the empowerment of his people with education, which he considered as a birthright to be provided freely. If you look around the southwest of this country, the beneficiaries of that free education policy are now in positions of power and many realize that given the poverty of their parents, they would not have had basic education. It is such politics of provision of basic infrastructure such as Health, Education and Empowerment that endeared the sage to his people.

This Afenifere leadership did not in the last four years espouse a policy that can be likened to what Awolowo did. Instead, if they were not commencing a quarrel between two factions of AD, they were firefighting one or bellicose in another. They were experts in what elders or leaders do to alienate their followers. If the dizzy rise of their children in the corridors of power was not being arranged, they were splashed in newsprints as forerunners of governance in the region. Accordingly, they competed for the oxygen and illusion of publicity with elected officials; many of the elders where more popular than elected officials of the party. This is the reason for the resentment of the elders by the people.

Has Obasanjo taken advantage of this melee between Afenifere and the brand of politics it champions? Perhaps. But, it is submitted that the answers are more complex. This president like any other politician must have felt the rejection of his own people when he was elected without the support of his own people. It may be noted that he rarely referred to the 1999 rejection. But now, the story is different. The ink has hardly dried on the victory certificate, his resounding victory made him reflect and rejoice at what appears as the acceptance of a prodigal son. The elections may provide comfort for Obasanjo because out of the choice of aspiring candidates, he was head and shoulder above others; that does not speak the same of the politics of his party in Yoruba territory. What else was expected of the Yoruba electorate? Was it expected that his kinsmen should reject him at the polls after he was blamed for favoring them for government appointments? That is puerile and a senseless analysis. It was through the persistent objurgatory rantings by certain Northern politicians that an approval of him and not his party emanated by stealth. It is logical to expect that when the sponsors of his 1999 elections were ostracising him for not doing their bidding, his people would see heroism in him and that is what brought what a section of Yoruba politics regard as the welcome home of a prodigal son.

But can Obasanjo be likened to the Biblical prodigal son or the character in St. John Hankin’s – The Return of the Prodigal. The latter rather than former is apt. Hankin in his book set an extraordinary saga of Eustace Jackson, who upon his return to his family after a spendthrift life faked an illness to gain sympathy, steals the clothes of his brother, and makes a play for his brother’s aristocratic girl-friend. The faking of Jackson’s illness may be the stratagem that Bode George refers.

The application of the morals of this story is the dexterity of the prodigal son in making his way back to the family he had abandoned. Obasanjo at no time abandoned Yoruba politics; the circumstances of 1979 for which he is blamed for denying Awolowo the electoral victory were beyond him. And, at least in the last four years, he seems to have atoned for that perception.

It may well be that the president has made a play for the hearts of his kinsmen like Jackson for his brother’s aristocratic girlfriend. Nevertheless, it is doubtful that his party can equally make the same claim; at least for now. As the president has intimated his desire to serve the second term without tampering with our Constitution; if the antecedent of “Mr. Fix it” – Tony Anenih’s – “no vacancy at Aso Rock” can be extended to his announcement that the PDP presidency is Northbound at the next elections; then the Yorubas would have to rely on the success of the initiatives of the newly elected PDP governors. I doubt if that is possible. For as long as the Yorubas do not have a powerful operator at the center after the next elections, the capture of Yoruba politics by Obasanjo and his party may be oneiric.

In closing, Yoruba politics can inhabit the center in its own right but that is only, if its leaders stop the public exchanges of unpleasantness as characterized in the last four years. The new crop of its leadership must start empowering their constituencies with abiding legacies for which the electorate can rely that their mandates are entrusted to safe hands.

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