Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
Obasanjo, A New PDP and A New Southwest: After APRIL 2003 - Part 1
Obasanjo, A Nigerian President Who Happens to be a Yoruba
Professor OMO OMORUYI, mni
Former Director General, Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS) (Abuja) 1989-1993
OBASANJO AND PAST YORUBA
The difference between Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and other Yoruba leaders is the extent to which he parades himself as the Yoruba leader. He never does. But this does not mean that he does not acknowledge his root and upbringing as Yoruba. This is a source of his disagreement with many Yoruba leaders who feel that
There is no doubt that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s relationship with the political leaders associated with Chief Obafemi Awolowo was sour from his past relationship with Chief Awolowo. Chief Awolowo and Chief Obasanjo in their different ways discussed their relationship in various publications in the past. The library is there for those interested in the source of friction. This is not the forum for me to rehash the matter.
For this essay, emphasis shall be on Chief Obasanjo’s relation with the present followers of Chief Awolowo. Chief Obasanjo genuinely thought that the present Yoruba political leaders who are followers of Chief Awolowo are deficient in many respects especially in their knowledge of people and places in the north. Here is a retired military officer that felt that the present followers of Chief Awolowo do not know and appreciate the political dynamics in Nigerian plural society.
COMPARING CHIEF OBASANJO
WITH OTHER YORUBA LEADRS.
Chief Obasanjo does not want to be compared to or contrasted with the known Yoruba politicians in the distant past. Specifically, he does not want people to compare him to or contrast him with Chief Obafemi Awolowo or his successor like Chief Abraham Adesanyan of the pan-Yoruba political organization. He just wants to be remembered as one Nigerian who by the Grace of God becomes what he is in Nigeria and who happens to be born a Yoruba.
It would appear that Chief Obasanjo does not like the way Chief Awolowo and his successors take on the north and make the north to develop some antagonistic and negative attitude toward the Yoruba political leaders and people. He thinks that this attitude of the Yoruba grows out of the contempt that the Yoruba intellectuals had toward others not well endowed as the Yoruba.
It would appear also that Chief Obasanjo does not buy the argument of Chief Awolowo that one should be a good Yoruba first before being a good Nigerian. To him, to be a good Yoruba must be defined in terms of how good one is as a Nigerian. This is the attribute of the hyphenated Nigerian: a Yoruba-Nigerian, an Edo-Nigerian etc, etc. It would appear that to him, a good Yoruba-Nigerian must be conversant with and appreciative of the feelings of other Nigerians. This was what he wanted to make of Chief Obafemi Awolowo when he as the military Head of State made him the Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He genuinely wanted Chief Awolowo to know the north through this and be appreciative of the yearning, aspiration and fears of the northern leaders.
In the past, Chief Obasanjo saw certain defects in the political knowledge of the revered Yoruba leader and since 1999; he was shocked that this was transferred to his successors in the Afenifere/AD. He genuinely wanted the Yoruba leader to know the north and what the northern leaders think. He thought that that would enable him to know them and influence them and other Nigerian leaders.
Chief Obasanjo genuinely wanted the Yoruba leaders to develop a fellow feeling toward other Nigerians not as educated or endowed as the Yoruba people. He wanted the Yoruba leaders to develop policy from the point of view of others and not from the point of view of the Yoruba.
KIND OF YORUBA LAND HE
His last whistle stop campaign in the six Yoruba States 48 hours to the Gubernatorial and Presidential elections said a lot about the kind of Yoruba people that he wants.
In all the State
capitals during his whistle stop campaign of the six Yoruba states, few days
before the April 19 election, he told the Yoruba people two aspects of his
a. his vision of Nigeria (THE NIGERIAN POLITICAL MAINSTREAM) and
b. the position of the Yoruba in it.
It was obvious that the AD Governors and the Afenifere would not fit into that vision. It was obvious that he was bent on bringing about a change of Governors that would be supportive of his vision and the place of the Yoruba in that vision.
He certainly did not
think that there would be a place for the Yoruba political organization (Afenifere)
in the kind of a Nigerian Political Mainstream that
he would be constructing from the series of election. This was why he made it
abundantly clear that since the AD Governors would not fit into his vision of
the “Nigerian Political Mainstream”, they would have to be shown their way out
of the Government Houses on April 19, 2003. This was why and how he called on
the AD Governors to be prepared to hand over to a new set of Governors from the
PDP that would come about as a result of the “wind of change” from the April 17
election. Quoting him,
"The wind of change is blowing through
the southwest and nobody can stop it."
Nigerians would recall that this expression was reminiscent of the words used by the British Prime Minister during his tour of Africa in the late 1959. He used identical phrase, the “wind of change blowing through Africa” to describe the kind of changes that were taking place in Africa. As this was during the last days of decolonization, one should ask if what Obasanjo was referring to in Yoruba land should be interpreted as another freedom in Yoruba land from the old order. Was candidate Obasanjo right? Could anybody stop it? How prophetic!
In response to the fear of Nigerians, Chief Obasanjo told his Yoruba people that "We want the whole world to know that we can transit from civil rule to civil rule."
He then warned those who are threatening to stop the “wind of change” in the southwest by force with the following words:
OBASANJO DISOWNED AD/AFENIFERE
Obasanjo then shocked the AD Governors by publicly disowning the pact supposedly existing between him and the Governors. In effect, they were told that they were on their own. For the first time, he told the AD Governors not in a private meeting that he used to have with them but in a campaign rally organized by the PDP 48 hours to April 19 publicly disowning the AD Governors. Contrary to what was said in the southwest, he publicly told the people that he did not have an accord with the AD Governors on the basis of how their seats would be guaranteed on April 19. This was coming after the AD national legislators were thrown out on April 12.
This was a great
shock for the AD Governors. They had thought that they were to exchange their
support for him for a tacit endorsement from candidate Obasanjo. This was why
they were happy that the election of the President and of the Governors would be
on the same day and at the same spot. They were wrong. So when he told the
Governors through a PDP rally that they should start packing from their
respective Government Houses, they were devastated. They lost the election
that day and not on April 19. Put in another way, the Yoruba voters threw out
the AD Governors before the April 19.
His specific plea
with the Yoruba people to vote for the PDP Governorship candidates along with
him on April 19 was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. What he was
saying in effect was that the Yoruba people should not indulge in American
politics is called ‘split voting’ that would have meant voting for the AD
Governors and for the PDP President on April 19. He did not end there. He
told the Yoruba people that their interest would not be served if they voted for
the AD Governorship Candidates along with him, the PDP presidential candidate.
OBASANJO’S IDEA OF STATE
Should State Governors be independent of the President? This was a tricky problem during the Second Republic that was well discussed in the memoir of the Second Republic President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Se his memoir, Beckoned to Serve.
The relationship between the President and the Governors of the southwestern States was no warmer under the Second Republic under Alhaji Shagari than under the Fourth Republic under Chief Obasanjo. The difference between Alhaji Shagari and Chief Obasanjo with respect to their home region must be borne in mind.
There was no state in
the north where the Governor was of a different party from that of the President
that did not give him (Shagari) the minimum of support during the election.
They did not humiliate him in the 1979 and 1983 elections by denying him the
minimum 25% votes in the election. But Obasanjo was humiliated by the Yoruba
voters acting on the instigation of the leaders of AD/Afenifere. They denied
him the minimum vote in the 1999 election in all the six states in the
southwest. Chief Obasanjo bore this; but he swore to change it as soon as he
took office. Was he acting like a military man out to physically conquer the
southwest and capture the people or was he behaving as a politician out to win
the people of the southwest over? This has to do with image, whether he would
be seen as a military man or as a politician?
In reacting to what happened to him in 1999, candidate Obasanjo told the Yoruba people that he needed Governors for the Yoruba states that he could work with in the interest of the people of the southwest. This was a request that was at the root of the Constitution and raised some constitutional issues. Maybe we could ask some pertinent questions.
Was the President
saying as follows:
1. That the AD Governors did not work with him from 1999 to 2003?
That he did not find them useful as his window to the southwest as
That he needed the State Governors who would be his representatives in
That the State Governors should not be autonomous of the Federal
The answer to these issues was positive. Should the State Governors be free to act in accordance with the Constitution? This would appear not to be Obasanjo’s view of division of power. This was why he pleaded with the Yoruba leaders and voters that he needed a new set of Governors in the southwest who can work with him on their behalf.
Candidate Obasanjo also introduced another element in the campaign. He
gave a firm assurance that the new PDP Governors would unlike the AD Governors
be obedient to the people with the President as the protector of the Yoruba
interest. He then asked the people to report the PDP Governors to him at
Abuja, if any of them should misbehave. My fear is that the people could take
this very literally and flood the President at Abuja with petitions against the
Governor because the candidate Obasanjo asked them during the campaign to report
any PDP Governors in the southwest to him.
This was a veiled criticism of the AD Governors who could not be checked and who were not accountable to anyone but themselves. This was part of the problem of the AD Governors who saw themselves as superior to the party in whose name they became the Governors. In fact he echoed the general criticism of the AD Governors who only saw themselves as agents of Afenifere, an organization not known to law or the Constitution.
As Kayode Samuel rightly put it, “the Governors enslaved the party and constituted themselves into warlords answerable only to themselves”. (see Vanguard April 18, 2003). This was why Chief Obasanjo assured the leaders and people of the southwest and they believed him that the new PDP Governors he wanted them to vote for on April 19 would not be like the outgoing AD Governors that had no one to check them, if they misbehaved. This was the usual complaint of the leaders and people of the states in the southwest as the Governors were individual actors who felt too superior to the party under whose platform they were elected.
Some Yoruba leaders did not like how the leader of the Afenifere (Senator Adesanyan) was equating himself or was being equated by the AD Governors with the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the late Chief Michael Ajasin as the Leader of the Yoruba. Some Yoruba leaders in business and most traditional rulers did not like the way the AD Governors used to troop to his Ijebu-Igbo home for meeting and advice instead going to the party headquarters.
OBASANJO PLEA FOR A NEW
RELATIONSHIP WITH SOUTHWEST
He then challenged
his people who did not vote for him in 1999 with the following words: "If I
have not disappointed you in the last four years when you did not vote for me,
now you are all voting, I will not disappoint you."
This was a painful reminder of how he was humiliated, but even then he did not revenge. He bore this and only openly talked about this episode in April 2003. What he was telling his people was simple. Let me paraphrase his feeling. “You denied your votes in 1999, but I did not pay you back for the way I was humiliated in 1999 like the run of the mill politicians who served you in the past”. Was he not right? One would recall the politicians in the past that would go about campaigning that “if you vote for me, I will vote for you”, meaning if you do not vote for me I would deny amenities.
One would recall that the Yoruba leaders of the AD/Afenifere made the Yoruba voters to deny candidate Obasanjo their votes in the series of election including the presidential election in 1999. Was he trying to compare himself with the traditional politicians who would have been vindictive? This was a food for thought for the leaders who spearheaded the campaign to deny him the votes in 1999. He won many over with the way he did not pay them back with their humiliation.
Contrary to the view of him as a military, candidate Obasanjo as elected President on other people’s votes did not declare the Yoruba people who did not vote for him his enemies. He did not set out to humiliate them. But he did set out to capture their minds and soul. This was mischaracterized by the leaders of the Afenifere to mean that he set out like a military officer to physically capture the southwest.
He expressed confidence that he was on the same page with the voters in the southwest with the following words of assurance that “nobody can stop the Yoruba from voting for me tomorrow”. Was he not right from the results of the April 19 election? He was.
He pleaded with
them that they should not be “intimidated by the antics of some politicians in
the zone” and assured the Yoruba people that
"The PDP victory in Yoruba land is a foregone
conclusion And that the PDP victory in Yoruba is not only non-negotiable but
This is a rebuttal
to those who accuse him of ‘rigging’, ‘rigging’. Candidate Obasanjo was very
sure that the people of the southwest would reject the AD/Afenifere and would
support him and the PDP in the series of elections.
DECLINE OR DEATH OF AD
AND OTHER ETHNIC BASED PARTIES
Chief Obasanjo was confident that there should be an end to the ethnic party that holds the people prisoners. This was obvious or could be inferred from the assurance he gave to the Yoruba people that “the wind of change was blowing through the southwest” and that “the victory of the PDP in the southwest would be irreversible”. It should have been obvious by then especially after the National Assembly election of April 12, that the April 19 election would signal the beginning of, if not the end of the AD and other parties like the AD in Nigeria. The fundamental change to the Afenifere as a social political organization would be consequential to the decay in the AD.
This would also have implications for such organizations as the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and the Ohaneze Ndigbo as they are NOT in consonant with the Obasanjo’s vision for Nigeria.
My advice is that
the second term should lead to a formal declaration that the Constitution should
be upheld as they relate to the role of non-parties in elections. There should
be formal declaration that never again would private, religious, ethnic,
regional and cultural organizations are allowed to act in place political
I agree with Yahaya Abdullahi that the AD/Afenifere debacle would be a lesson for the xenophobes on religious matter in the north like Buhari and xenophobes on ethnic matters from the southeast like Ojukwu. For Abdullahi story, see Vanguard of April 18, 2003.
OBASANJO WANTS YORUBA TO
STOP LIVING IN THE PAST
The utterances of Chief Obasanjo during the last 48 hours before the election could be said to be the most partisan utterances that were ever associated with him in Yoruba land. He used to publicly make a plea for some understanding between him and the AD/Afenifere leaders and Governors during his formal and private visits to the southwest especially during his visit to Abeokuta. The AD/Afenifere leaders took his plea for weakness and wanted to negotiate deals that would have worked against the best interest of the PDP in Obasanjo’s image. He declined this.
This time he declared the AD Governors and Afenifere leaders as men of yesterday and living in the past eulogizing the past Yoruba leaders and taking past achievements in Yoruba land their own and for refusing to focus on the plight of the Yoruba in the 21st Century and beyond. He did not like how the AD Governors lay claim to the legacies of Chief Awolowo in Yoruba land as their own and how they tried to establish continuity between Papa Awo and the current leaders of Afenifere. He indirectly tried to remind them of ignoring what Papa Awo stood for through out his period in the southwest.
In fact, Chief Shupo Shonibare one of the leaders of Afenifere and others confirmed candidate Obasanjo’s criticism recently after the electoral debacle of the AD. As Shonibare aptly put it:
It should be noted
that Chief Shupo Shonibare, a chieftain of the Afenifere did not characterize
the role of Obasanjo as one of the “conqueror” that “captured” the southwest
from the AD. This is a politician who had to start with himself and NOT with
his opponents and the INEC and security agencies. This is how it should be.
For Shobibare’s assessment of AD, see Daily Independent on line of May
What Chief Obasanjo was trying to convey to the Yoruba people was that the PDP Governorship candidates would not live in the past, but would be men of today and the future of the Yoruba.
He tried to convey to the Yoruba people that the PDP Governors with him as the President at Abuja would be committed to transforming the Yoruba image to one of a Nigerian image.
INCORPORATION OF YORUBA IN NEW “NIGERIAN POLITICAL MAINSTREAM”
Obasanjo’s view of Nigeria and the place of the Yoruba in Nigeria made me recall the view of MKO Abiola that he would have liked to implement if he were given the opportunity. I am not surprised that both held the same view about the Yoruba people as part of Nigeria or at the center of Nigeria. Both had the same background being fellow Egba sons and raised in the same High School, Baptist High School, Abeokuta. The difference between them was a matter of style. Both were committed to making the Yoruba land an integral part of a highly strengthened Nigeria.
I hope scholars would and should study what Obasanjo had been doing since 1999 in the Yoruba land to turn the Yorubaland to be part of the “NIGERIAN POLITICAL MAINSTREAM”. A new Nigerian Political Mainstream is his vision for Nigeria. As for the Yoruba, candidate Obasanjo strongly believes in the incorporation of the Yoruba into that mainstream. This is his vision for the Yoruba land and people.
What should be noted that this is Obasanjo’s vision for Nigeria where every nationality no matter how big or small would have a place This is what I call the “INCORPORATIONIST VISION”. This vision would be applicable to all ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. Obasanjo wants all ethnic nationalities in Nigeria to trust him that he has the same vision for all ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. He would have to sell this to all those who did not trust him before the election that he would not discriminate against them in favor of the Yoruba. After his swearing-in, he should launch a powerful campaign among many ethnic nationalities outside the Yoruba reminding them of how he was humiliated by his people in 1999 and how he still treated them like those who voted for him. He should be able to remind them that if he did not revenge when his people humiliated him in 1999, there would be no reason why he should do so to other groups that had reasons to vote against him in 2003.
I am told by those
who know him as a Baptist, that he does not worship human beings and that he
only worships Jesus Christ. This is why he does not want to be called an
From the foregoing
it could be inferred that Chief Obasanjo and Chief Obafemi Awolowo are in
disagreement as to the end of making the Yoruba nation an integral part of or a
dominant force in Nigeria. But owing their training and political
socialization they might have differed as to the tactic of achieving that end.
If Papa Awo were alive he would not have allowed his supporters to form the AD
in opposition to Chief Obasanjo in 1999. If the AD were formed, he would have
not allowed the party to hold out for too long to face the present debacle.
He appreciates what
the Yoruba leader did in making education the cornerstone of his political and
economic development. This still remains one of the pillars of Chief Obasanjo
as soon as he became President in 1999.
He appreciates what the Yoruba people had been longing for, for years through Chief Awolowo.
He knows how Chief Awolowo struggled and failed to get to the top as the Prime Minister or President of Nigeria.
He knows how he died a disillusioned politician and remained a Yoruba leader.
He knows how the Yoruba finally thought that they realized their long yearning and aspiration in 1993 when Chief MKO Abiola was elected.
He knows what befell the Yoruba people when MKO Abiola was denied his mandate.
Chief Obasanjo must
have vowed when he had the opportunity in 1999 that he would achieve two ends:
That he would set out to construct a Nigerian Political Mainstream and
2. That he would take the Yoruba to the Political Mainstream of Nigeria for good.
How and when he would do it was not known and he never made it known to his people in a public forum.
TWO VIEWS OF OBASANJO” A
LACKEY OF THE NORTH/ENEMY OF THE YORUBA?
Chief Obasanjo was afflicted with two contrasting images when he came to power in 1999 and he knew this fact. He knew how the known and visible political leaders and people in Yoruba land felt when he decided to accede to the invitation of the northern leaders to succeed the military in 1999. To these people, they thought that he was joining those who frustrated Chief Awolowo’s ambition in the distant past. They were bitter that he was joining those who denied MKO Abiola his mandate in the immediate past. They wondered why he would want to become the President of Nigeria in the image of the north when the same northern leaders frustrated the goal attainment of Yoruba people since 1960. Two questions are critical. One was whether he was a lackey of the north? The other was whether he was an enemy of the Yoruba people?
He knew what most Nigerians in the south knew that he emerged the presidential nominee of the PDP on the invitation of the northern leaders in the military. Most Yoruba leaders hated him in 1999 for being the candidate of the north that denied their son what rightly belonged to him.
He also knew that
the northern leaders who went for him did so because they believed that the
Yoruba leaders did not like him. What bothered him most during the period
after 1999 was the feeling in the north that he was a political orphan that they
made their son. Some of the northern leaders made noise about how they made him
the President in 1999 in preference to other southerners such Dr. Alex Ekwueme.
He knew he could not continue with the feeling that his basis of legitimacy was
the north. Consequently, he felt he must do something about his basis of
legitimacy as soon as he became President in 1999. Nigerians would recall my
essay in 2000 advising President Obasanjo on what he could do to change his
basis of legitimacy by moving from dependence on the north to dependence on
Nigerians from all parts of Nigeria. See my essay “How Obasanjo Could Tackle
the Arewa Consultative Forum” in Vanguard, October 6, 2000 and in <www.AllAfrica.com>
Maybe this Is what
the 2003 election has now demonstrated.? We are still to see how post election
events play themselves out.
What also bothered him was the feeling in the north that he was made the President to be used by all lazy northerners who had been living on government since 1960 to meet their need. What further bothered him was that he must do something for the north at the expense of the south especially his people of the southwest. He did not like how the northern media would castigate him for anything he did for the south in general and southwest in particular as if that violated his understanding with the northern leaders.
He knows of these
images and he is dead set to changing them. This is a turning point in his
career as a politician. He is determined to change these conflicting views of
himself first within the Yoruba land, second within the north and third within
the south. He is bent on creating a new relationship between the north and the
south in general and between the north and the Yoruba in particular.
I ONCE QUESTIONED
What he wanted to do
to deal with his image in the north and his image in the southwest was kept to
himself. I still recall that even me had reason in the past to question his
judgment on this matter. I strongly questioned his rationale for wanting to be
president in the image of the annullist. I was bitter and I expressed my
bitterness in many essays that after what he said in the Baptist Church,
Abeokuta in June 1998 as soon as he was released from Abacha’s Gulag, he should
not have acceded to the request of those who invited him in 1999. Readers
would recall my two part essay titled “Obasanjo should Go Back to His Sermon on
Olumo Rock” This essay is still available on the
What one later
learnt were two issues. One, it would appear that Chief Obasanjo took
advantage of the opportunity of becoming the Head of State/President a second
time on the platform of the north to show to the Yoruba people that he was not a
lackey of the north and that there was another way of getting the Yoruba into
the Nigerian Political Mainstream.
Two, he also needed an opportunity to teach the north that they were wrong about him that he was an enemy of his people or that his people hated him or that he could be used against his people.
Once he was clear in his mind on these two questions, he prayed hard about them and worked at these two ends. That seems to be paying off with the recent election.
1. He now has his home base from where to soar to loftier heights politically.
2. He is now less dependent on the north and no one in the north would chastise him again that they made him as they used to say in 1999.
It was obvious to the late Chief Bola Ige who Chief Obasanjo took into confidence as to what he wanted to bring about in the Yoruba land. He wanted to get the Yoruba people into the Nigerian Political Mainstream that I choose to call the “incorporationist vision”. The idea of incorporating Yoruba into the Nigerian Political Mainstream became attractive to him because he realized that this is the position the Hausa-Fulani have been enjoying since independence.
The next essay
will focus on his differences between Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and the AD/Afenifere
leaders on restructuring through the Sovereign National Conference.
© 1999 - 2006 Segun Toyin Dawodu. All rights reserved. All unauthorized copying or adaptation of any content of this site will be liable to legal recourse.
Segun Toyin Dawodu, P. O. BOX 710080, HERNDON, VA 20171-0080, USA.
This page was last updated on 10/27/07.