South-West is considered critical in major political camps in the country and events in recent times indicate intense and frenzy political manoeuvring among power blocs and their gladiators to forge fresh realignment, in the light of current realities in national politics, writes KUNLE ODEREMI
A few weeks ago, a major political gathering aimed at reshaping the South-west took place in Ibadan, the political headquarters of the South-West. The occasion was epochal, as it had all the elements of a grand alliance, given the political configuration and colour. The representation at the event cut across leading parties like APC, PDP, Accord, Labour Party, among others. The organizers had kept the event secret though, it was discovered to be the fifth meeting of the coalition, with intent to reinvent the politics of Yoruba land.
For about five hours, the prominent politicians that converged in the 200-capacity hall, , deliberated on a blueprint designed to forge a political alignment that will be of difference and enduring this time. The session was presided over by a founding father of the PDP, who was also a key presidential aide in the Second Republic. The main issue on the agenda at the meeting was to fast track a political realignment in the South-West. The roll call also include former ministers, former members of the National Assembly and representatives of serving senators, as well former Speakers of state House of Assembly from the zone, along with some egg heads of Yoruba extraction from universities. It was learnt that the leaders argued that they needed to speed up their effort at building formidable machinery that could inspire greater confidence in the political class in the South-West.
It was learnt that the leaders that met in Ibadan on the proposed alignment had set up various committees to carry out different assignments on the project. So, the leader of each committee was given the opportunity to give account of work however, the high-powered team dispatched to contact one of the former governors from the zone gave a cheerful message to the leaders. The team said it met with the former governor at his country home, and that he was excited about the visit and their mission. He reportedly expressed disappointment with the turnout of events after he and other South-West leaders had assisted in throwing a new political leadership in the land. He was said to have promised his total commitment to the new political movement meant to reshape the political structure in the South-West.
But, there was a sharp division among the leaders on the manner and categories of political figures that should be involved in the project. Some were of the belief that it will be counterproductive to send emissaries to another former governor even though they acknowledged his clout and influence in politics beyond the shores of Yoruba land. Others countered the argument saying the leaders should adopt the principle of inclusion with a conviction that things would take shape once the realignment succeeded A retired army officer who has been assigned a key role in the rainbow coalition said the question of integrity and character was crucial in the project, because of the issue of public perception of the individual members of the political class. It was indeed a prolonged debate, before they could reach a consensus.
They have decided to speed up their effort because of perception that there was no hope in the ongoing reconciliation move in PDP, as it might not percolate to the grassroots, where there is severe anger and suspicion among the leaders. So, the peace moves are cosmetic and salutary; the issue of pending court cases have not been addressed. The cases are there and which could be a last resirt for any of the groups,” a source said.
But it was learnt that the group has reportedly met with the former governor, who agreed to work together with other likeminds to achieve the ovrall goal of the movement. Already, the leaders are considering a number of options on if they should form a new party or adopt any of the existing ones such as AD in the ongoing realignment. AD, one of the five parties that contested the 1998 political transition programme that culminated in military exit from the political scene and power in 1999, formed government in all the six states in the zone.
However, the realignment of forces is also taking place at the level of ministers representing the South-West in the federal cabinet. They are said to be another power bloc determined to reshape the politics of the zone. The group is said to be networking with other power blocs across the other five zones to form a distinct power base along with some governors. There are insinuations that the group is part of a coalition of force that was determined to whittle down the influence and power of some leading political godfathers, believed to be unwilling to gurantee a level-playing field for all capable and younger politicians. This factor is said to have compounded the crisis over the governorship primary in Ondo state, where gladiators in the APC are at each others’ throat.
Role of governors
The involvement of state governors in the realignment process remains largely speculative. They themselves have been tactical in their actions and utterances on the matter, even though one of them was once quoted as endorsing the move to evolve a second force in the politics of the South-West. Those leaders from the zone that met recently have since sent emissaries to the governors, while some of their close associates have been attending similar meetings convened by the political movement.
The protracted crises in the two leading parties: Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC ), especially at the national level have been catalytic in the realignment talks. Some PDP stalwarts that form arrowheads of the movement claim to be neutral in the crisis rocking the party and wished to team with Like-Minds in other parties. Most them are drawn from the state chapters of the party in Lagos, Oyo, Osun and Ekiti states, who are averse to factionalisation in the PDP.
The idea of forging new alliances is not devoid of external factors. Similar coalitions are being formed by leading politicians in other zones of the country. The thinking among the promoters of the fresh alignment in the South-West is that they need to forge a cohesive and united front at home that would boast of a powerful negotiation power at the national level. They do not wish to become a junior partner at any point in time in any future political relationship. Some of them who formed the bulk of the stakeholders that participated in the coalition that produced APC believed if the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN) had gone into an alliance with the other legacy parties, CAN would have benefitted more than what it is getting now in terms of power sharing .
The issue that is eliciting mutual suspicion in the realignment talks is the awesome influence of some political gladiators. Though their interest is still being promoter by proxies, other partakers are expressing fears of the likely clash of interest because of them. For instance, many of the speakers at the recent talks on political realignment are expressed concern that certain political figures and godfathers could hijack the machinery of the coalition, given their antecedents since 1999. They have not only dominated the political scene but also determined the power sharing formula and beneficiaries of elective and appointive offices. Their overbearing influence is believed to be a major cause of the frequent frictions and conflicts in the parties.
For one reason or the other, the former Lagos State governor, senator Bola Tinubu has become a critical factor in the politics of the zone. His pivotal role in the formation of defunct Action Congress (AC) that transformed into the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) accentuated his credential as an issue in the politics of the south-West. Having led ACN into the marriage that produced APC, its victory at the 2015 polls and emergence of a former governor of Edo State, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun as the national chairman of the party, it was envisaged that he will be able to leverage on the feat. However, he has had to fight a number of fresh battles bordering on the internal contradictions within the APC. His disagreement with Oyegun over the conduct of the governorship primary of the party in Ondo State drew flak from some APC power blocs. The war of words between the two camps is already becoming an issue in the hands of the promoters of new political alignments in the South-West.
The Aregbesola/Fayose visits
Last January, the Ekiti State governor, Mr Ayodele Fayose paid a surprise visit to his Osun State counterpart, Mr Rauf Aregbesola, in Osogbo, with some persons insinuating that Fayose, who was elected into office on PDP ticket was on the verge of defecting to APC. But, he quickly set the record straight concerning the visit, saying it was based on his belief in the unity of the Yoruba race, while Aregbesola, said regardless of the differences in political party, Fayose’s visit was a mark of maturity. On October 1, Aregbesola went to Ekiti State on the invitation of Fayose to deliver a lecture, entitled: The imperative of unity, as part of events commemorating the 20th anniversary of the creation of the state creation and Nigeria’s 56 Independent anniversary celebrations. On his choice Aregbesola as the guest lecturer, Fayose said: “I took this decision that you should come instead of my colleague from my party, because if we don’t take away the veil of politics and wear the armour of Nigeria, we would be wasting our time. I’ve personally visited you before and Im glad you are also here.”
Who leads the coalition?
A lot of people, including some the proponents of the fresh alignmemt are beginning to raise some fundamental teasers. Some of the critical questions are informed by past political experiences in the zone. The leaders had failed to rise above personal interests when there was need for such in the overall interest of the zone. Some of them have been accused on conspiratorial tendencies at the threshold of major elections, while others thought less of their immediate constituencies once they secure elective or appointive offices. There is also the question of ideological compatibility of those in the current drive, in view of the circumstances that decapitated AD, the once vibrant and formidable political machinery of the political class/elite at the dawn of civil rule in 1999. There are other posers such as can some of the key promoters of realignment return to the path of reason, as their antecedents portray them as two parallel lines. Will the elders be left behind? What will the roles for the governors, as PDP and APC control the political lever in the zone?
Cold war in APC
Since the verbal exchanges between Tinubu and chief John Odigie-Oyegun over the governorship primary in Ondo State started, has further accelerated speculations about likely implosion in the party. it is speculated that the widening crack could benefit those behind the current political realignment in the South-west. Secondly, the cordiality manifesting between Fayose and Aregbesola is being generally perceived as a point to the granite coalition. Both governors have set aside their different political affiliations to engage an exchange of visits. A former minister of aviation put the issue in proper perspective in a widely publicised piece recently and advocated that many other like-kinds in the South-West take a cue from the duo. Kayode said of Aregbesola’s visit to Fayose d his predication about fresh political realignment: “We may all have our differences in terms of political party affiliation but one thing is clear: as he rightly told Fayose during their recent meeting in Ado Ekiti a few days ago, there will be a realignment of political forces both in and outside of the South West very soon. There is no question about the fact that he is right about that. And when that time comes we all need to wise up, smell the coffee, and accept the fact that we must stand together as one in order to defend the interest of our people.
He went further: “I do not refer to those that have consistently derided the idea of southern unity even if we may have had our differences in the past. Such creatures are not welcome to the table of rapprochement or reconciliation. There can be no realignment with such beasts because there is no fellowship between light and darkness. Such a table is reserved only for the omuoluabis of the West; the civilised, the well-educated, the humble, the enlightened, the contrite and the well-to-do. The earlier that men like Rauf Aregebesola, Ayo Fayose, Olusegun Mimiko and a number of others put their differences aside and join forces to protect and further the interests of the Yoruba people in a wider Nigeria, the better. Given what is slowly unfolding in our respective political parties and our country it is obvious that we have little choice. Whether you are in the PDP or the APC the paramount interest must be how to further the Yoruba interest, how to restore the dignity of our people and how to ensure that our country is redefined or restructured before it is too late.”