The “Baba Sope” Political Ideology and Myth of Yoruba Omoluabi Ethos
It is faulty to equate the deep loyalty Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu attracts in Lagos as exemplary of ‘Omoluabi loyalty’ or being reflective of the ethos of the entire Yoruba or South-West populace. The Ondo State electorate will argue, for example, that they “liberated” themselves from this without compromising the ‘Omoluabi’ ethos.
In the 2012 Ondo State governorship election, the current governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, as candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), was perceived as a “Tinubu imposed” candidate. He ran against the then incumbent Governor Olusegun Mimiko of the Labour Party, and the people of Ondo State rejected Akeredolu.
I recall stomping across Ondo during that election, as excited crowds in the State could not but approve, with songs and folk songs, as Mimiko invoked the tradition of the people not to take any imposition from “outsiders’.
Then throughout most of the nooks and crannies in Ondo State, the campaign was more about resisting Tinubu than being a verdict on Mimiko’s performance. Mimiko did not have to say much about his performance during his first term in office, it was almost above those of his peers, particularly in terms of education and health care. His Abiye healthcare project was celebrated even by his opponents.
In 2016 when Akeredolu was to run again, ironically against a candidate handpicked by Olusegun Mimiko, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), he presented himself as an independent candidate, his own man, and not only did he defeat Tinubu’s anointed candidate in the All Progressives Congress (APC) primaries, he also canvassed for votes while reminding the people of Ondo State of how they should not let outsiders chose for them. Akeredolu won against the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and today the rest is history. A number of other factors contributed to the victories in the 2012 and 2016 elections of Mimiko and Akeredolu.
Ambode As Ambode’s Achilles Heel
A lot has been written about current governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, yet the irony is that Ambode’s problem wasn’t his godfather, former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, but he (Akinwunmi Ambode) was his own problem.
Power overwhelmed the governor, and he completely detached himself from the strong political party structure. A party that has been in power in Lagos since 1999 is not the kind that you ride on and ignore. You may ignore the man who brought you in from obscurity, but to survive, you need to be an exceptional performer and keep your party structure happy. Ambode did not read the handover notes of Governor Babatunde Fashola. If he had, he would not be facing the political battle of his life. The people stood with his predecessor, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, even when the body language of his godfather was hostile, and then the mighty Tinubu knew moving against Fashola would have been political suicide for him.
The Mafioso Nature of the APC In Lagos
The Lagos APC power structure is filled with contradictions. It is sometimes progressive, at other times self-serving, but mostly it operates like the mafia in its highly close knit nature. Those who control the party at every level expect absolute loyalty, with no questions asked. It reflects most political parties in Nigeria; and even the newly formed ones are mirroring the model, which they have improved on. Six of the new Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) registered political parties have founders, who are also the party chairmen/women and also the sole presidential candidates.
For every progress Ambode made with road construction in inner city Lagos and futuristic projects such as the Murtala Muhammed Airport road and bus terminals, he undid with unpopular policies that targeted the very poor. It was as if he was in a race to undo some of Tinubu and Fashola’s projects.
The Lagos civil service is an extension of the party structure. If you come in as a governor, you are not expected to rock the boat or ‘change the template’ (apologies to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu), and it is a structure mostly servicing a few against the majority. Hardly would you find a Lagos State civil servant who is not a card-carrying member of the APC. Particularly for the Alausa based civil servants, what happens in Alausa always remain in Alausa.
The Lagos APC has political leaders who depend on state resources, as they have no other means of livelihood than politics. They know Lagos like the back of their hands and have foot soldiers beholding to them – from National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) members, to genuine party members who desire progressive change, to just about anyone who can be a yes man or woman. They are mostly reliant on a rent-seeking and collection system, and cannot just be cut off and be neglected by any governor, no matter how powerful or resourceful.
Ambode broke the first commandment: “thou shall not be unreachable”.
Yoruba and especially Lagosians do not like governors or political appointees who are perceived as ‘arrogant’ or cannot be reached, and if a governor likes, he could tar the whole of Lagos roads with gold, but the people want to be able to ‘visit’ him, and they expect to be given ‘transport fares’ on their way home. Party leaders and members expect governors to attend meetings at intervals; they don’t want to be forgotten during ‘Ileya’, ‘Christmas’ or any festive period. The street talk is that Ambode was not only unreachable to party members and leaders but he lived in his own world, while his appointees were also detached. Party members can’t even remember the name of commissioners in Ambode’s cabinet. Gone are the days when Rauf Aregbesola, Musiliu Obanikoro, Muiz Banire, Tokunbo Afikuyomi and co were commissioners, and you need not see the governor to have a say in the government. Ambode ran a one man show.
For every progress Ambode made with road construction in inner city Lagos and futuristic projects such as the Murtala Muhammed Airport road and bus terminals, he undid with unpopular policies that targeted the very poor. It was as if he was in a race to undo some of Tinubu and Fashola’s projects. They say if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Ambode was busy fixing projects that didn’t need fixing – from bus stops, to the remodelling of roads, which were a waste of time and resources. BRT buses were disappearing one after the other due to neglect, and even Ambode’s newly constructed roads started developing potholes. The solutions became a problem. He did so well looking into inner city roads and improving the Lagos security architecture, with Lagos under him becoming one of the safest cities by Nigerian standards.
Ambode’s greatest sin was taking away the garbage clearing project, and thousands of poor people in Lagos – mostly party members employed as street cleaners and operators – lost their means of livelihood. Ambode handed the task of cleaning Lagos over to a relatively unknown company called the Visionscape Group, which did a terrible job of it, and the only clean effort from the company was its creation of a clean looking website, while the new face of Lagos became the dirty face of Lagos.
Ambode unleashed one punitive tax system after the other on the people of Lagos, with the most controversial one being the land use tax. When he was advised to review the State’s tax policy, he was stubborn, indifferent and ruthless, until the protest grew louder. He did not even stop at that, and he legislated his godfathers alleged tax collection firm company, Alpha Beta, as the sole collector, but when citizens screamed ‘scam’, the state’s law makers claimed that legislating Alpha Beta into a State tax collection system was an “administrative mistake.”
Of all his attempts to fix inner city roads, Ambode waged war on poor people in waterfront areas; the people of Otodo Gbame paid dearly for Ambode’s land grab schemes, with over 200 structures belonging to poor people getting razed down in 2016. The Egun and settler communities around Lekki were seen by the government and its elitist friends as constituting eyesores; and to make matters worse, the government disobeyed court orders, even when they got an injunction from the courts not to demolish these communities. Like his predecessors, Ambode mocked the Freedom of Information Act. Lagos is one of the few states where budgets are released without a breakdown.
The collegiate “baba sope” method is plagued with contradictions and abuse, and thus repeated conflicts. It is only a matter of time before it caves to the anger and discontent of followers and the electorate. For all his contributions to Nigeria’s democratic process, the legacy of Governor Tinubu will be better served if he stops getting involved in every selection process, and allows contests and processes to be free and fair.
Ambode is a product of the ‘baba sope’ collegiate contradiction and a victim of this also. Hopefully the Yoruba “progressives” will learn from the resistance mounted in Ondo, Ekiti, Kogi and the disaster of losing a senatorial seat to a dancing clown and almost losing the Osun governorship to him as a warning shot. The warning being that democracy is not a gift but a right; that leaders are servants entrusted with superintending the fair distribution of the commonwealth; that they can’t keep distributing resources to their lackeys, friends, cousins, wives, concubines, brothers at the expense of qualified members of the public.
The Tinubu Clampdown On Ambode
The assertion that Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu is behind Ambode’s travails are false. Tinubu would have been swept by the revolt from within his own political base, but he was smart enough to be led by the mass, rather than leading them. The revolt also exposes Tinubu’s vulnerability; if he had not moved against Ambode, the mass in his party structure would have moved against him. Tinubu barely yields power and influence, but he was forced to stand with the party and base, rather than stand against them. Even overtures from Abuja could not have changed that. The crises within the Lagos APC against the governor had been allowed to fester for too long. The chicken had come home to roost.
Many us have been saying it for years, both privately and in public, that the Asiwaju Tinubu political structure would have to adapt to modern democratic ethos. The collegiate “baba sope” method is plagued with contradictions and abuse, and thus repeated conflicts. It is only a matter of time before it caves to the anger and discontent of followers and the electorate. For all his contributions to Nigeria’s democratic process, the legacy of Governor Tinubu will be better served if he stops getting involved in every selection process, and allows contests and processes to be free and fair. Nigeria’s democratic process can only improve if the internal party democratic process is free, transparent and fair, with party membership open and attractive to the best who may disagree with the leaders of the party. It will be a shame for all his contributions, for Governor Tinubu to leave the public with the image of the Lord of a Mafia group.
Who Are the Yoruba Progressives?
Many are sympathetic to the ideological left in Yoruba land, but really if you derobe the masquerade, it is becoming very difficult to spot the differences between the Yoruba PDP or APC.
Land and resource ownership and control in Yoruba land, particularly in Lagos, is now for the benefit of the few, and economy of YORUBA revolves within the same elite. Thus, a Governor Ayo Fayose could challenge the traditional Yoruba left and “win” in Ekiti and it took the traditional left in Yoruba land, adapting the play book of Ayo Fayose, to “win’ Ekiti back. Usually it takes invoking the spirit of Obafemi Awolowo to win elections in the South West, yet this is fast changing; the people can’t spot the deference any more, and they will rather take their chances with so called ‘akotiletas’ than stay with the so called ‘disciples of Awolowo.’
The class structure of modern day Yoruba politicians is modelled after the so-called Hausa-Fulani hegemony style that we have all been brought up to detest. Check the beneficiaries of government appointments both at the federal, state and local levels in Yorubaland, and many are family members of the Yoruba ruling elite. A very ‘progressive’ Yoruba senator who mouths JUSTICE was already a pensioner in America, when the opportunity came for the ‘progressive’ to present a name to President Buhari for the NAFDAC Chairperson, our senator did not need to search far and wide in Yorubaland for a younger qualified Yoruba. He recalled his wife, who by the way was already a pensioner also, to take the position. The office of the vice president is littered with sons and daughters of the ‘who is who’ in Yoruba land. The Lagos House of Assembly, like most Houses of Assembly in Yoruba land, is an extension of family meetings. ‘Familitocracy’ is replacing fairness, and the new generation Yoruba leaders is winning the battle of who is more nepotistic in the Nigerian federation. The politics of ‘godfatherism’ is replacing the ‘omoluabi’ ethos. ‘Omoluabi’ is just a theme to cunningly use the load of bread to wipe the soup from the plate of the commonwealth.
Yoruba Omoluabi ethos should not be the subjugation of the will of the people to the few. It is about justice for all, equality for all who live and reside in Yoruba land, irrespective of who they are, where they come from, what language they speak. We are meant to be the beacon of hope, the welcoming people who rejoice at the arrival of new settlers, the ones who vacate the most beautiful part of the household to make the guest comfortable, the tolerant ones, the ones whose strength is not in the ability to spill blood but the diplomatic prowess of stopping a war, the people who agree, but mostly agree to disagree. The ‘omo Karo o ji ire bi?’
Fairness in the distribution and allocation of Yoruba resources for all who contribute to Yoruba land should now be the priority of Yoruba leaders, it should cross party and ideological lines. Not all Yoruba progressives or conservatives have done badly, even with their faults, but a lot of bad has been done. Yes, we can still point to some progress, but that is due to the determination and can-do attitude of the Yoruba and all those who have chosen Yoruba land as home. It is never too late to stop the house from falling.
Kayode Ogundamisi is a commentator on Nigeria and producer/presenter of the political TV show #PolitricksWithKO on BEN-TV UK.