In probably the most controversial article in his career as a pundit, Sam Omatseye, the prize winning Monday columnist of The Nation and chair of its editorial board, wrote a piece in the June 6, 2011 edition of the newspaper which provoked the ire of the old Yoruba Establishment like no other since the death of Chief Obafemi Awolowo decades ago. The article, entitled “Awo family without an Awo,” went into the heart of Yoruba politics in all its implications for Nigeria’s politics.
“In the past decade, under this Republic,” Omatseye said in the article, “they (meaning members of the Awo family) have blended with the wrong crowd… They are Awolowos but not Awoists. They have stabbed their father in the back. They have committed ideological genocide.”
Omatseye’s “wrong crowd,” was, of course, members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party widely regarded as an off-shoot of the “conservative” National Party of Nigeria which ruled Nigeria during the short-lived Second Republic (October 1979 to December 1983), in much the same way as the now virtually moribund “progressive” Alliance for Democracy (AD) was regarded as an off-shoot of Awo’s Unity Party of Nigeria, which, in turn, was an off-shoot of his Action Group (AG) on whose platform he became the first premier of the old Western Region and Nigeria’s first opposition leader in the First Republic.
Under the current republic, whereas PDP, under General Olusegun Obasanjo, won the first presidential election in 1999 at the end of the 16-year second military rule, the AD retained the stranglehold, first AG, and then UPN, had on the politics of Yorubaland.
Then in the 2003 general elections President Obasanjo did what almost everyone thought was unthinkable; apparently using all the tricks he learnt in his career as a successful army general he lured the AD into a deal in which it would not only not field a presidential candidate of its own. It would even campaign for him. In return, he was to allow AD still rule the roost in the South-West states of Lagos, Ekiti, Ogun, Osun, Ondo and Oyo.
AD delivered on its promise in the presidential election. Then in the true hallmark of military deception, Obasanjo landed the AD with a haymaker that knocked it down and out for six in the governorship elections that followed; the party was left standing only in Lagos State under Asiwaju Bolatito Ahmed Tinubu, easily the most powerful opposition politician in the country today and the man whose 60th birthday tomorrow has received widespread media coverage – with notable, but predictable, exception of Tribune.
Not a few Nigerians believed Obasanjo’s routing of the “progressive” AD from the South-West under the banner of the “conservative” PDP would have been as easy as it seemed without the support of the Awo family. The Awolowos may be the first to deny it, but it is highly significant that since 1999, Tribune, the family’s long-running newspaper, has failed to live up to its old tradition of principled, even if sometimes reckless, opposition to the government at the centre.
Obviously it was this apparent shift in the politics of the Awolowos Omatseye was referring to when he talked about their stabbing their long departed patriarch in the back.
Perhaps it was his manner of saying it which was somewhat acerbic, as anyone who has read his controversial piece is likely to agree. Perhaps it was the sacredness in which the Yoruba held – and still hold – the Awolowo name. But Omatseye’s piece brought down virtually the Yoruba Who’s Who not only on the columnist’s head like tonnes of bricks. They also descended likewise on Tinubu, the proprietor of The Nation. The way they saw it – and some said it – the pen may have been Omatseye’s but the hand was definitely Tinubu’s.
“I am sure that Omatseye, like his sponsor” said Chief Alao-Akala, former governor of Oyo State and a beneficiary of Obasanjo’s route of AD in the South-West, “doesn’t know the virtues of good family background. Tinubu, if he is bold, should tell us the real names of his father and mother…” (Tribune June 9, 2011).
No less uncharitable than Alao-Akala was one Olaitan Ladipo. Under the title, “This is one rascality too many,” Ladipo called both columnist and his alleged sponsor all manner of names in his response published on June 12, 2011 in the Sahara Reporters. “All through the article,” he said, “one thing is clear – the pen is Omatseye but the hand is definitely Bolatito Ahmed Tinubu.”
So intense was the backlash that Omatseye’s piece provoked from the old Yoruba Establishment that Tinubu eventually felt obliged to apologize to the Awolowo family.
However, not every Yoruba, of course, agreed with the Awolowos and the Awoists – or what is still left of them since the venerated old man passed away – that Omatseye’s article was a gratuitous piece of sacrilege. Tayo Odunlami, a columnist with The News magazine, was one such dissenting voice.
“Honour and the Awolowo name should go in one,” he said in The News (June 20, 2011). “That was Papa Awolowo’s mantra. Once honour is disengaged from the name, as in any name, the name is gone. Pray where is the long-venerated Awolowo honour?… It was time someone told them the truth about their treacherous flight from the lofty ideals that Chief Obafemi Awolowo set for the South-West.”
The crime of Asiwaju Tinubu in the eyes of the Awolowo family and those of the old Awoists seems obvious; as a Yoruba leader who virtually alone saw through Obasanjo’s subterfuge in 2003 and almost single-handedly returned the South-West to its tradition of “progressive” politics of opposition to conservatism at the centre beginning from 2007, he apparently believes he is the rightful heir to Awolowo as THE Yoruba leader.
In the eyes of the Awolowo family and the Awoists Tinubu does not have the personal discipline, the education and the vision of Awo to wear the sage’s cap.
Perhaps so. But it seems the rejection of Tinubu by the Awolowos and the Awoists is more out of envy than out of his personal inadequacies compared to Awo. Envy that through a combination of his grasp of grassroots politics and the goodwill he has cultivated with the media as a successful proprietor and with the judiciary in the way he turned that of Lagos State into one envied by others in the country, including the federal judiciary, he has been able to straddle Yoruba politics in a way that no Yoruba politician since Awo himself had.
Tinubu was, of course, not the first to attempt wearing Awo’s cap. Alhaji Lateef Jakande, aka Babakekere (an allusion to his image as Awo’s heir-apparent), the “Action Governor” of Lagos State in the Second Republic and an even more successful newspaper proprietor than Tinubu, tried but failed, brought down, by, among other things, an undeclared personal feud with the late Chief Bola Ige, the Oyo State governor at the time, over who should succeed Awo.
Chief Ige too tried, after Babakekere lost some of his credibility over his participation in the Abacha military regime that was much derided by the Awoists. But then Ige’s own participation in the PDP government of Obasanjo as a senior minister was, almost literally, like the kiss of death to his ambition.
Not least of all Obasanjo himself has tried to replace Awo as THE Yoruba leader. But in this he seems to have met his nemesis in Tinubu who was able not only to see through his subterfuge in 2003 but was also able to withstand the wily general’s attempt to cripple Lagos State financially and thus cripple Tinubu politically by withholding the federal allocations to the state’s local governments.
With his success as the most pre-eminent Yoruba politician since Awo, the prognosis of his politics beyond Yorubaland looks good at the not-so-old age of 60. Unlike the Awoists he has shown a willingness to give and take to forge a politics of consensus at the centre as he demonstrated in his willingness to concede so much to the weaker CPC in the failed attempt to forge an alliance of his party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), with that of General Muhammadu Buhari’s CPC, an alliance which many Nigerians believed would have given the ruling PDP a good fight if it had been successful.
The Awoists do not, of course, believe Tinubu is a commitment politician in the mould of Awo. “The problem with Tinubu and others,” said Chief Ayo Adebanjo, a leading Awoist and one of Tinubu’s most trenchant critics, “ is that they have a private agenda of their own that is not consistent with our own philosophy as taught us by Awolowo.” (Sunday Vanguard, December 12, 2010).
Adebanjo did not spell out those personal agenda but right now it seems the Yorubas have no better option than Tinubu in countering what many of them obviously regard as the PDP menace in the South-West.
There is no better testimony to this than Adebanjo’s declaration of support, presumably on behalf of other Awoists, for how Tinubu has been able to check Obasanjo’s politics in the region.
“We are all politicians,” he said in the Vanguard interview in question, “and all that he (Tinubu) is doing now I am in support – to get rid of Obasanjo.”No tags for this post.