(BACKPAGE) President Tinubu must get it right

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LEKAN SOTE

Nigerians love to play ethnic politics, mixed with religion. If you check the pattern of votes, even from the First Republic, you will observe that every presidential (or First Republic Prime Ministerial) candidate always had his highest votes amongst his ethnic nationality, even if he lost the election.

Since 1922 when Lord Frederick Lugard, Nigeria’s first Governor General, suggested in his book, “The Dual Mandate,” that when departing Nigeria, Britain should hand the reins of power to the Fulani, whom he described as aliens who were more intelligent than the natives, ethnic politics has never left Nigeria.

At Independence, the British colonialists ensured that Northern Nigeria’s Northern People’s Congress, with 1,929,179 voters, won 134 seats in the House of Representatives; Western Region’s Action Group, with 1,992,364 voters, had 73, and Eastern Region’s National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroon, with 2,594,477 voters, won 81 seats.

This led to a manifest superiority complex for many in Northern Nigeria, to the extent that some of them came up with the idea that they were born to rule Nigeria, even if they were not competently doing so.

The privileges of the nearly imperial Northern Nigeria must have obviously fired the interest of other ethnic nationalities of Nigeria, especially the majors, the Yoruba, the Igbo and the Ijaw, to, one day, get one of their own as President (or Prime Minister).

The Yoruba are fond of pushing the bargaining chip of their famed administrative competence in the face of Nigerians from other geopolitical zones.

You may recall that returnee slaves of the 19th Century, who came with competencies in writing and other skills, encouraged the Yoruba of Lagos, Egba and the Ijebu to be interested in Western education.

The early exposure to Western education, the Free Education scheme of Western Nigeria and the huge success in governance recorded by Obafemi Awolowo as the first Premier of Western Nigeria got the average Yoruba to think they could do it better than anyone else.

They got even more inspired by the prudence that Awolowo displayed as Minister of Finance and Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council, the War Cabinet, of General Yakubu Gowon during the unfortunate civil war years.

The Yoruba point to the superlatives: Western Nigeria Television Service, the first in Africa; Liberty Stadium, the first of its kind in Africa; Cocoa House, at one time the tallest building in Nigeria; and the University of Ife (renamed Obafemi Awolowo University), a model university.

Also, they point to the Farm Settlements; the Ikeja Industrial estates, WEMABOD residential estates; operational water works; and a slew of companies that have now become the not-so-well-run Oodua Investments conglomerate.

Most of these policies, programmes and projects were copied by other regions of Nigeria’s First Republic, and successive sub-national governments created by the fiat of sundry military regimes that succeeded the civilian politicians.

This evidence or proofs of the Yoruba can-do spirit are some of the bonafides that the partisans of presidential candidate Bola Tinubu presented while making their “Emilokan” pitch for a Yoruba President in 2023.

While describing President Tinubu as the most important political figure in Africa, the Yoruba Afenifere added, “Mr. President… We expect you, in view of your legacy and pedigree, to lead our country with knowledge, courage, and integrity.” The Yoruba must indeed be proud of their heritage.

“President Tinubu should not behave like President Buhari, who loaded the top brass of Nigeria’s security agencies with Nigerians of Northern Nigerian extraction. If he did so, he would be validating iniquity, which is not in agreement with the credo of the Yoruba.”

This may have informed the affirmation of Yoruba Afenifere who spoke through Olu Falae, former Secretary to the Federal Government and Minister of Finance, that, “We have no doubt that your tenure will mark a turning point in the history of our country. Under your leadership, Nigeria will be repositioned.”

The Yoruba Afenifere puts a load, which physicists describe as the weight lifted by a machine, or the force exerted on a surface, on the President. To continue with the logic of the physicists, the effort that President Tinubu must display is the applied force needed to bring a desired change to the position of Nigeria’s political load.

He must significantly up the governance game for the greatest good of the greatest number of Nigerians. Just as expressed by the Yoruba Afenifere, even the principles of physics require President Tinubu to give a good account of the Yoruba in him. He cannot, must not, fall the hands of his kinsmen.

Of course, other Nigerians from other ethnic nationalities or geopolitical zones expect good governance from the “City Boy,” whom the “Emilokan” lobby has presented as its poster boy, who can wave the magic wand that will make positive changes to the fortune of Nigeria.

The Igbo, who feel more marginalised and persecuted than any group in Nigeria, and have concluded that they are excluded from participating in the governance of Nigeria, are also justifiably convinced that they have the capacity to run Nigeria as a successful enterprise.

They actually also think that, in this Fourth Republic, it should have been their turn, after Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba; Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Muhammadu Buhari, Fulani; and Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw, have ruled Nigeria. And they have a point.

They have shown their disgust with the Nigerian system in so many ways, including the Declaration of Biafra in the 1970s, and the continued separatist agitation for Biafra through pressure groups, like (probably now rested) Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, Indigenous People of Biafra and the vicious, but faceless, “Unknown Gunmen.”

By the way, President Tinubu must be even-handed in the way he handles the Yoruba Nation agitators and other such groups from other geopolitical zones of Nigeria. Equity is supposed to be in the “Omoluabi” character of the Yoruba.

If President Tinubu fails, he will disappoint his kinsmen; he will destroy their credibility as “intellectual descendants” of Awolowo. And the entire Yoruba of Nigeria and other parts of the world will be thoroughly embarrassed that one of their own is a disappointment.

Worse, is that the Yoruba will no longer have the grounds to pontificate and criticize Presidents from any other Nigerian ethnic nationality who messes up with the governance of the nation. As you probably know, a significant number of Nigerian journalists and civil society activists are Yoruba.

And many of them would cite Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution as a justifiable ground to hold governments accountable to the people. As they have applied the rule to assess the performance of Presidents from other ethnic nations, they must do the same for one of their own.

President Tinubu should not behave like President Buhari, who loaded the top brass of Nigeria’s security agencies with Nigerians of Northern Nigerian extraction. If he did so, he would be validating iniquity, which is not in agreement with the credo of the Yoruba.

Those Yoruba who are already occupying any of the top and visible positions in his government should do everything to acquit themselves. Like the President, they too carry the burden of the integrity of the Yoruba.

Ditto for their Yoruba compatriots in the media. They too bear the burden of holding the feet of the President to the fire. Otherwise, they should not be entitled to criticize Presidents of extractions other than Yoruba.

If the Yoruba ensure that their “Emilokan” President is a huge success, maybe tribalism would have had a positive ring to it.