ANAYO EZUGWU reports on the division among some Yoruba leaders over support for the presidential candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Labour Party (LP), Bola Tinubu and Peter Obi, respectively
As Nigerians prepare for the 2023 presidential election, opinions are divided over who will win the poll among the four leading candidates – Atiku Abubakar of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Peter Obi of Labour Party (LP), Bola Tinubu of All Progressives Congress (APC) and Rabiu Kwankwaso of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP). However, the centre of attraction going into the presidential race seems to be the South-West geopolitical zone as Yoruba elders are already at loggerheads over support for Tinubu and Obi.
While the Pan-Yoruba Socio-Political Organisation, Afenifere, led by Pa Ayo Adebanjo, has thrown its weight behind Obi, who hails from the South-East against a Yoruba son, Tinubu, some political watchers are of the opinion that the supposed endorsement by Afenifere will have little or no relevance in the outcome of the presidential election going by the voting pattern of the South-West, which normally go in one direction.
In 2011 and 2015 for instance, the zone voted in one direction, which led to the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari respectively although in 2019, the pattern changed with the PDP making serious inroads into the zone, winning Oyo and Ondo states in the presidential election. Going into the 2023 presidential election and the growing popularity of Obi mostly among the youths, it is expected that the pattern might change again despite South-West having their son as one of the frontrunners in the exercise.
Obi and Labour Party also are making inroads in the zone with his growing support base among key actors in South-West politics. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is rumoured to be one of the key supporters of Obi. New Telegraph also learnt that he is among those marketing Obi’s presidency in the North. Just recently, Labour Party appointed a former aide to Obasanjo, Chief Akin Osuntokun, as one of its leaders in South-West.
The party described Osuntokun as a political scientist and researcher with experience in media advocacy and policy research. Osuntokun, who is from Ekiti State, is a former Managing Director of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). Apart from this, some of the opinion polls conducted so far concerning the presidential election are pointing to the fact that Obi will win majority of votes in the South-West.
The conclusions of these polls were derived from the fact that the majority of people in Southern Nigeria believe that it is the turn of the South to produce the next president of the country and the fact that Tinubu and APC preferred to settle for a Muslim-Muslim ticket not minding the growing number of Christians in the region and Nouthern Nigeria in general. For instance, the recent opinion poll conducted by We2Geda Foundation indicated that if Nigeria’s presidential election was held today, Obi would win.
The result of the poll showed a clear lead for the Labour Party with 51 per cent of respondents, saying they will vote for the former governor of Anambra State, while 25 per cent opted for Atiku Abubakar. Tinubu ranked third in the voter preference poll with 19 per cent. Further analysis of the poll result shows that Obi remained a consistent favourite in four geopolitical zones – North-Central, South-South, South-West and South-East, while Atiku was the poll leader in the North- East and North-West zones.
Despite the odds favouring Obi, there is no doubt that Tinubu is a master strategist and one of the most consistent politicians in Nigeria since 1999. Ordinarily, he is expected to win all APC-controlled states in the South-West – Lagos, Ondo, Ogun and Ekiti. Also, the former governor of Lagos State may perform well in Osun State where the incumbent governor, Gboyega Oyetola, lost in the July 16 election to Senator Ademola Adeleke of PDP.
Even in Oyo State, where the PDP is in charge under Governor Seyi Makinde, the majority of Yoruba voters in the state may support their kinsman than vote for a northerner or an Igbo man.
But in Lagos State, ethnic sentiment may play a critical role in determining who will win the state despite APC controlling the state. However, it is expected that Tinubu will win Lagos because it is his major political base although there is a growing fear of a backlash of the 2020 #EndSARS protests.
A majority of youths in the state are said to be preparing to vote support Obi against Tinubu. But whether the Labour Party has the solid and well-oiled political structure to dislodge APC in metropolitan Lagos remains to be seen. This is a question many may not be able to answer in the affirmative. The much orchestrated massive youth registration to vote is not convincing enough to justify the possibility of either PDP or LP dislocating the Tinubu political grip in Lagos.
The same scenario is currently playing out in Ogun where APC seems not to be as popular as before. But that does not indicate that the Ogun people will abandon Tinubu to vote for either Atiku or Obi. However, Ondo and Ekiti states appear to be strong for Tinubu since the two governors are of the APC.
With the massive support Tinubu is looking up to get from the North and the few he would receive from South- South, it could be said as of now that he stands a good chance to win the zone depending on how he carefully navigates through the challenges of the Muslim-Muslim ticket, which is posing some kind of threat.
Afenifere endorses Obi
Despite some of these obvious facts, the leadership of Afenifere insists that the body will not compromise its principle of equity, justice and inclusiveness because Tinubu is in the race. Adebanjo, declared that the group and the South-West will support Obi because he is the man they trust to restructure the country back to federalism on the assumption of office in 2023.
He added that Afenifere’s decision to support Obi is because power is yet to shift to the South-East.
His words: “Before the political parties conducted their primaries, a journalist asked what my views about the 2023 general election are. “I answered and said the country should be restructured before the general election, and he followed up by asking if there should be an election, which zone should the Presidency come from?
And I unhesitatingly said, of course, the South East. “After the primaries and the candidates emerged, with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu from the South-West, APC, Atiku Abubakar on the platform of PDP and Peter Obi on the platform of Labour Party and I announced Afenifere’s support for Peter Obi, not a few Yoruba leaders questioned why I should be supporting Peter Obi, a candidate of Igbo extraction against Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, a Yoruba.
“I took my time to explain that the presidency is not a contest between the Yoruba and the Igbo and to a large extent, I was able to convince many. But ever since, the social media has been filled with comments that tend to ethnicize the campaign instead of making it issue-based.
“We cannot continue to demand that the Igbo people remain in Nigeria, while we at the same time continue to brutally marginalize and exclude them from the power dynamic. Peter Obi is the person of Igbo extraction that Afenifere has decided to support, he is the man we trust to restructure the country back to federalism on the assumption of office.
“We will not compromise this principle of justice, equity and inclusiveness because one of our own, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is a frontline candidate. It is on this same principle we condemn the PDP for sponsoring Atiku Abubakar, a Northern Fulani Muslim to succeed General Muhammadu Buhari, another Fulani Muslim, who will soon complete eight years of uneventful and disastrous rule. One can imagine such a high degree of political insensitivity.
“On our part, we are certainly not alien to sacrificing personal interests in the quest for a National coalition to put Nigeria on the proper pedestal. In this regard, the starting point is Southern solidarity for which we first enacted a handshake across the Niger, which had dovetailed to the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum.
“We enjoin the labour movement, students, youth organisations, women associations, and every institution whose foundation is built on fairness and justice to join hands in this task of enthroning a democratic government by supporting Peter Obi.
If we are sincere and honest about keeping Nigeria together in peace, the slogan henceforth should be to keep Nigeria one, everyone should be Obi/Datti compliant. “In the final analysis, let it be said that we have no apologies but due courage of our conviction that Nigeria can only prosper in righteousness.
For me, in the twilight of my sojourn on earth at 94, it is too late to derail me on the track of true federalism and national inclusiveness on which I have travelled for over 70 years of my life as one of the few surviving initial prophets. I prefer to ascend on a chariot of fire, fueled by justice and equity.”
ARG backs Tinubu
The Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), on its part, said it will rather support the presidential candidate of APC in the general election in 2023 on the ground that Tinubu will protect the interest of the Yoruba people. The chairman of ARG, Mr. Wale Oshun, who justified his position, said: “Let me put it this way, ARG has held its firm position on national issues.
As we speak, the position of ARG is that the parties have had their conventions and candidates have emerged. “Our position, as the voice of the Yoruba people is that we will rather work for a Yoruba presidential candidate.
The issue is that we have been talking about restructuring for a long time and it is like everybody gets to the office of the president and gets deaf when it comes to restructuring. “So, who is best to protect the interest of Yoruba people and the interest of other Nigerians? The ARG is of the view that the Yoruba candidate is better suited.
We have had experience in the past where the Yoruba people were sidelined during the administration of Goodluck Jonathan. “So, we cannot go ahead and put the faith of our people in the hands of people who cannot guarantee our future.
That is the way it is across the country. We have only one Yoruba candidate as we speak and that is Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. For our interest as Yoruba people, we can only be protected by a Yoruba presidential candidate.”
YCE yet to decide
While Afenifere and ARG have declared their respective stands on the 2023 presidential election, another South-West group, Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), said it will meet and make its position known on which of the candidates to support. Secretary-General of the group, Dr Kunle Olajide, said: “We have not been informed or briefed.
Yes, we support restructuring and we stand for restructuring but as far as we are concerned, restructuring should be fundamental to any incoming government.
“So, Afenifere is not wrong in taking that decision but we were not informed, my president was not informed. We will make our stand known soon but we are not aligned to Afenifere supporting the presidential candidate of Labour Party.”
Falae insists on important parameters
Falae, who also threw his weight behind calls for a president of South- East extraction in 2023, however said that he was not aware of Afenifere’s position on Obi. He said, “I am an Afenifere but as far as I am aware, Afenifere has not taken a position as an organization on a presidential candidate. That is the position.
“I did say sometimes ago that the Yoruba, as a people, are not morally obliged to vote for an Igbo presidential candidate because in 1999, when the rest of Nigeria conceded the presidency to Yoruba because of MKO Abiola’s issue, it was only the Igbo, who did not. I had to defeat Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife in the Alliance for Democracy to become the candidate for the AD/APP. Olusegun Obasanjo had to defeat Dr. Alex Ekwueme in the PDP to become a candidate.
“The Igbo were the only ones that opposed both of us in our respective parties; they did not concede to us along with other Nigerians. However, if you are a fair-minded Yoruba person, you will realise that there are three legs to the political tripod in Nigeria, the Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo.
The first two have been presidents and so, equity requires that the Igbo should be president. So, if you are a fair-minded Yoruba person like I am, then you will vote for the Igbo based on equity.”
Falae later retracted his support for Obi and Labour Party, saying that he did not endorse any presidential candidate for the 2023 general election. The former minister of Finance in a statement by his media aide, Moshood Raji, said it is too early to endorse any candidate without going through the programmes he has for the masses.
The former SGF said he has to consider all important parameters, including capacity, experience and proven track record before endorsing a candidate.
Admitted that the South-East has not had the opportunity of producing Nigeria’s president, Falae stressed that it is not an automatic slot that can be filled without other important considerations. The statement by Raji read in part: “As a responsible leader, Chief Falae will consider all important parameters, including capacity, experience and proven track record before endorsing a candidate.
This correction is necessary in order not to mislead the public that Chief Falae is supporting any of the candidates yet. It is necessary to await the programmes and manifestos of the political parties and their candidates before arriving at a particular candidate to support.
“Although Chief Falae admitted that it was true that the South East had not had the opportunity of being Nigeria’s President, it’s for them to persuade other Nigerians that they can offer something better than candidates from other geopolitical zones.
It’s not an automatic slot that can be filled without other important considerations, Chief Falae never canvassed or claimed to be supporting Mr Peter Obi of the Labour Party for the 2023 race.”
Tinubu’s camp reacts
As expected, Tinubu’s camp through the APC Presidential Campaign Council dismissed Adebanjo’s support for Obi, saying that the elder statesman cannot impose his personal preference and opinion on Afenifere.
The Director of Media and Publicity of the council, Bayo Onanuga, in a statement, said Adebanjo is free as an individual to support whosoever he wishes in a democratic dispensation but such a position cannot be foisted on the people. Onanuga alleged that Adebanjo had of late turned Afenifere into a pop personal estate, stressing however that Afenifere had not taken any decision to adopt any candidate.
His words: “Papa Ayo Adebanjo does not speak for Afenifere. He is free as an individual to support anyone he likes, in furtherance of his democratic right. “We know for a fact that Baba has turned Afenifere into his personal estate as Acting Leader. We are also certain that there was nowhere Afenifere, as we know it, met and took a decision to adopt Mr. Peter Obi as a candidate for the 2023 presidential election.
We respect the age of Baba Adebanjo but he cannot turn Afenifere into his personal franchise for any political alliance. “We are very much aware that Baba Reuben Fasoranti, the real leader of Afenifere had stated clearly that Pa Adebanjo has always been speaking for himself on many national issues using the name of the group.
It is our well-considered position that Pa Adebanjo cannot appropriate Afenifere. Baba is just an individual who is free to support any politician of his choice. As an individual, he cannot equate himself with the socio-cultural and sociopolitical organisation.”
With the campaigns commencing and the presidential candidates reaching out to the people across the country, more drama is expected in the South-West over Tinubu and Obi’s bids to lead the country in 2023