Mr Yinka Odumakin is the Publicity Secretary of the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere. In this interview by DEPUTY EDITOR, DAPO FALADE, he speaks on the rumoured plans for a third force in the politics of the country and on the crisis in the PDP and the APC. He also warned that the forthcoming governorship election in Ondo State should be handled with care.
Re-alignment of forces appears to be the main issue in the polity at the moment. What is your view about the whole thing?
Well, there are movements across the board and things are happening in the political parties we have in the country today. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is in disarray; the All Progressives Congress (APC), the ruling party, has never been a political party, but a movement and an amalgam of different forces that are seeking power and they came together in a multi-purpose vehicle for election purposes and the engine of that vehicle, today, has knocked. That, I think, is the major reason for all the movements that we are witnessing now, in terms of who joins who to regroup and to form political parties so that they can take an advantage of the mess that is going on in the political parties. That is my view of all the criss-cross that is going on in the land.
But don’t you see the possibility of the emergence of a third force, given what is happening in the two leading political parties in the country?
The critical issue that faces Nigeria today goes beyond political parties. There are up to 50 registered political parties in the country. So, the issue is not about parties, really. I think it can be likened to a situation of software and hardware; you can use all your money to buy all the software that you want, but if you don’t have hardware to put all the software into, you are just wasting your time. The critical issue facing Nigeria today is nationhood; we don’t have a nation, we don’t have a country. It is within a country that all the existing political parties can operate. The ingredients of nationhood are lacking in Nigeria; Nigeria is not a settled polity. You can see all kinds of games going on; you saw all the people who were waving brooms two years ago, today, everybody is doing his own thing his own way, holding different types of brooms. Some people have taken over power and they are drunk with it. All the people that came with them, they have left them behind. It is no longer about a political party; now, it is about religion, it is about other factors that have nothing to do with the aggregation of interest within a political party.
If we don’t resolve these issues, if we don’t address nationhood, if we don’t build consensus, if we don’t agree on the type of country we want and if we are not properly constituted to have a proper constitution as our guiding article of living together, but we form 200 other political parties, we are not going to solve the problem. Nigeria will remain where it is. Today, we are more divided than we were before the amalgamation of 1914 as a country. Therefore, people can come together now on the basis of exigencies, but it cannot be sustained because all the columns of nation-building have been removed and, until you erect those columns all over again, there is no productive politics that can be played. This is more especially in this situation of deprivation all over the country, hunger, disillusionment and the rest of them. So, it is only the elite, the fat-cash who today can be talking of politics, election and the rest. The mass of the people are disoriented, they are in agony and they are in discomfort.
Some leaders of the Afenifere recently held a meeting with some South West governors. What does the group really want from these governors?
Well, the initiative of the leaders of Afenifere is about the Yoruba Nation. When you look at Nigeria today, from East to West, North to South, we are the group that is in the worst form and shape in terms of where we are coming from, who we are, what we are and where we have found ourselves. It is not about political parties; it is not about elections or such other things. It is about who we are as Yoruba people; the value we hold dear, how we are losing them and how and what we need to do to bring back those values so that we can take back our pride, once again, in the comity of nationalities.
How realisable is this in view of the divisive tendencies common in human nature and given that some of these governors are said to be hobnobbing with some forces that may not be working in the interest of the Yoruba race?
Ultimately, every politics should be local. God forbid, but if Nigeria should disintegrate today, I don’t think any of them will relocate to Sokoto or Daura; Yorubaland is their home and we have a common saying that ile la ti nko eso rode. If you don’t have a home and you say you are playing national politics or stuff like that, you are lost completely. So, the meeting is not about people not playing their politics but in any case, if Yorubaland is to be a country of its own today, definitely, it cannot be a one-party state. There will be different political parties. But at this stage now, what we should be looking at is a Yoruba party within Nigeria so that the interest of our people and nation will be guided jealously.
Of all the countries that make up the United Nations, less than 40 of them have population figures comparable to that of Nigeria. Today, we talk about Singapore. At independence, it had only three million people. They have been able to move from Third World to the First World. Before the collapse of federalism in Nigeria, we saw where the Yoruba people were going under Chief Obafemi Awolowo, but look at where we are today. So, it is those things that are paramount and important to us at this stage; it is not about your party or whatever.
And, at the end of the day, we have even seen the end of party politics in Nigeria; can you see any political party around? People are talking about their interests and we Yoruba people should not be unmindful of that. So, we are not saying people should not play their politics or align to the centre, outside or anywhere but there is a common denominator among the Yoruba people and that is what is of paramount importance to us now.
Another current issue in the country is the seeming face-off between President Muhammadu Buhari and former Lagos State governor, Senator Bola Tinubu. What is your view on the travails of the APC chieftain?
Well, there are contradictions within their political party and most of them, I think, stemmed from the fact that in a hurry to take over power, many issues were not ironed out before they put themselves in the same vehicle. Now, they entered into the vehicle and they want to drive in different directions. But, you know, a vehicle can drive in only one direction. So, those who are in charge of steering the vehicle will decide in which direction they will want it to go and those who are not happy with that are raising eyebrow.
But, as far as I am concerned, that is a matter for them to resolve within their party and whatever they are trying to do in their party should not disturb us, as Yoruba people, in putting ourselves together because the fate of the Yoruba people is not tied to the stake of any political party; it is not tied to any arrangement. I know that Senator Bola Tinubu is a fighter and he knows his way. He will sort himself out. While we take note of what is going on around, for us, the larger stake for us is about the Yoruba Nation, not individual interests. What is happening between Tinubu and his party is not our primary focus at the moment.
But to some people, the target is not really Tinubu; what is happening to him is an affront on the Yoruba race. Do you subscribe to such a view?
Well, when you go down the history lane, we have always seen what has happened within Nigeria when any Yoruba man wants to rise or is rising. Chief Awolowo was one of the people who led the quest for the independence of Nigeria, but less than two years after independence, he was imprisoned. In fact, at the Independence Dinner, held in Lagos, Awolowo was seated in a dark corner among ex-service men and we saw all his travails throughout his political life. He won an election, but he was not allowed to rule, in an alliance of the British and the caliphate in Nigeria.
The late Bashorun MKO Abiola once said that maybe it was because Awolowo was not friendly enough with the caliphate. Abiola spent 70 per cent of his wealth and his life, building mosques, buying vehicles for obas and emirs. Then, he went for an election, he won the election all over the country but they told him that ‘nobody can get up from the part of the country and say you want to be the president of Nigeria’. So, the four years he should have spent as president, he spent them in prison before he was liquidated. He was not allowed to be president.
General Oladipo Diya said we should forget about Abiola’s mandate and went with the late General Sani Abacha as his number two man. When Al-Mustapha and others handled him, I don’t want to talk about what was coming from his trousers from his backside-they beat and tortured him and it was only God that saved him that Abacha died the night before he would have been executed. Even former President Olusegun Obasanjo, remember how he was sent to prison under the same Abacha before they brought him back, after several years in prison.
So, there is this historical connect that a Yoruba man can only play second fiddle in Nigeria and that anyone that attempts to say he wants to play number one or to be in the front row, there is a way they have always been dealt with. So, I believe that it is in that context that some would want to see the travails of Tinubu. But like I said, I believe that, at this point, that should not be our pre-occupation. Like I also said, he is a fighter and he can fight his way. But what should concern us should be the larger interest of the Yoruba people; how we are able to rebuild our institutions; how our strength as Yoruba people, and not that of individuals who can easily be defeated, can be further raised; how to improve upon our collective effort, which has always been our Rock of Gilbratar. Those are the things we want to get back to.
All eyes are on Ondo State in respect of the forthcoming governorship election but we are witnessing crisis within the leading political parties and among the major contenders. What is your take on the happenings in the state?
It is clear that there has always been this attempt to kind of tranquillise the Yoruba Nation. I want to look at what is happening in Ondo State within the context of what is going on Nigeria at the moment. We can see the crisis in PDP; it is a replay of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) scenario in 2003 when you have the Abdulkadir and Mamman Yusuf leading the two factions of AD until the party was completely liquidated and we saw how our people were divided into the two camps, even when both Abdulkadir and Mamman Yusuf were reporting to the same master. So, the crisis in PDP and APC are what you are seeing playing out in Ondo State at the moment and we are waiting with bated breath for the outcome of that contest. When children are cutting a tree in the forest, the elders know where it will fall. We know where all this will end, but we have to follow it through. But by and large, I think the outcome of what is happening in Ondo State now will determine the future of Nigeria.
The state governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, was seen publicly with two prominent APC chieftains, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State and the governorship candidate for the election, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu and they later had a closed-door meeting. This has raised the suspicion that another alliance is probably playing out…
I spoke with Governor Mimiko this morning (Wednesday) and I think what you called a meeting was just a chanced meeting at the Akure Airport. It had nothing to do with the Ondo State politics or the matter at hand there. I think different governors were in Ondo State yesterday (Tuesday), including Governor Seriake Dickson and two others, in different capacity. The airport meeting was a chanced meeting and whatever discussion Mimiko had with Okorocha was over some issues they are pursuing at the federal level. Don’t forget that Mimiko is the chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum and Okorocha is the chairman of that of APC. So, within that context, and from what I heard, the meeting has nothing to do with the Ondo election.
How do you think the lingering crisis in the major political parties can be resolved to avoid a repeat of the violence that was witnessed during the 1983 elections in the state?
We hope that the courts will resolve the PDP crisis because that has some potential forms of implosion in terms of the fact that, with what is ground, the two sides fighting for the PDP governorship slot, the minority has been recognised, while the majority has been shut out. When you do that kind of politics of exclusion, you are bound to create crisis. So, we hope that the courts will resolve it and create a level-playing field so that PDP can rightly go into the election with the strength of the votes it has. APC should go with its strength and AD should also go with its strength. The other political parties should also go into the election with their strengths and let the Ondo people decide on who they want to govern them in a free and fair election.
But if that is not done, when you look at the history of Ondo State, any attempt to play any hanky-panky in the state has always had dire consequences. The peace in the country is too fragile than to open up a centre of attrition in a volatile state like Ondo. Those who are managing the country should ensure that there is an orderly and peaceful election. The courts have a very important and crucial role to play in that regard. Let the people pick their governor in a free and fair election, devoid of any intimidation and devoid of any rigmarole among all the political parties that put forward candidates for the election in that state.