A certain gloom was lifted off my mind this past weekend. Week by week throughout the 8 months of my adventure in Ogun State politics, Tunde Kelani, TK, my friend of almost 50 years, had been amused, entertained and horrified by my tales on the road, often expressing disbelief that life could sink to the depths Ayodeji and I described to him at those nocturnal debriefings. At the end of one such conversation, utterly flustered, he asked: ‘where do we start from in tackling the problems?’. Of course, there was no simple or single answer to that loaded question. The challenges are too many. Our conclusion was that there was an urgent and present danger to the South West within the present unfolding political situation in Nigeria that poses a serious existential threat to the people of the zone if not handled wisely and quickly. With other news added to my state of mind, I fell into a dark place in my mind from which there seemed to be no escape. Until this past weekend.
Afenifere Renewal Group, ARG, organized a retreat for its members in Ado Ekiti. I am the co-ordinator of the socio-cultural, economic and political pan-Yoruba organization in Ogun State. I listened attentively to the unscripted opening speeches by Prof. Bayo Ademodi (representing the governors of Ondo State), Mr. Charles Akinola (representing the governor of Osun State) and, finally, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the Governor of Ekiti State. Their frank words were melodious music to the ears. They provided a compass into the future of the South West, with new structures and institutions, and a road map of massive challenges and incredible opportunities that will tax the ingenuity, wisdom, patience, capacity, political dexterity and intellect of the Yoruba in driving the restructuring agenda in Nigeria. Personally, the retreat was the final piece in my jigsaw puzzle since my excursion into partisan politics. ARG is making some sense of the present political conundrum. In Ado Ekiti, I quickly shook off any remnant of ‘disappointment’ from my own election. I had embraced it as my essential baptism into the reality of Nigerian politics. The ‘failure’ in the election is not the end of my political journey, rather, it marks the start of the second half of the game, this time by a more refined political animal.
Politics is a high-stakes game for politicians. The ordinary people are the pawns in this game. It is also very big business. Interestingly, most politicians are not in it to win any elections. They know their party will not win, yet they go through all the motions of the game, trading places and positions and people, and making money every step of the way. Do you know that the person that funded Zenith Labour Party from its inception in Ogun State was also a major contender for the governorship of the State on the platform of another party? He actually was funding three political parties in the State. It was not in his original script that any serious contender like me would come from ZLP. It shocked him to the marrow when he found out too late I had won the primaries and could not be stopped any more by the time he knew what was going on with the party. ZLP was a fallback or back-up party for him should he fail in his primary party of interest. He was not alone in that kind of business. There were others that funded two or three parties but contested only in one. It was for this reason that even Akinlade could move easily from APC to APM when the quarrel with APC escalated to the point of no return. Politics is a big scam, a massive racket where to not tell the naked truth is the rule. In politics, everything is blown up and exaggerated to create an effect. In politics, nothing is ever the way it looks. I was warned by experienced politicians never to use the toilet during a meeting. One minute away from the meeting is too long a time to plan a coup. Critical decisions can be taken and altered during that short interval. It is a crazy and scary world. It has actually been three weeks since the elections ended.
Life has simply just settled back into the same old routine of the people hoping, suffering and smiling. The elections cannot be said to have met even the minimum standards of free and fair elections. Western Democracy has never been more poorly advertised. Nigerians are going through hard times. Rich politicians exploit and deploy poverty as a weapon to entrench their own hand-picked leaders, to enrich themselves even more, and to keep the poor people in check and enslaved to poverty forever. For 8 months, I saw and experienced it all. Everywhere I visited I met ordinary people who wanted an end to suffering and poverty. We talked, we planned and we agreed on what to do. The people even volunteered to serve the cause for little or no allowances during the elections. On the eve of the gubernatorial election my team and I retired home happy and confident that we shall make some impact in the elections to ‘announce’ our arrival as a new force in partisan politics. We knew deep down, of course, that to win the guber elections would be the greatest miracle since the parting of the red sea. We woke up in the morning of the elections and were immediately confronted with field reports of a new reality – that hunger can put any person to shame. Our 5000 ‘volunteers’ that had been meticulously selected to man the 5000 booths all over the State, and given stipends as allowances for transportation and feeding on the day, vamoosed into thin air. They were not your run-of-the mill, spoilt politicians, but ordinary folk determined to change their fate through the ballot box. All of that turned out to be cheap talk and unrealistic expectation in the face of hunger pangs on one side and loose cash on the other.
Concluding part tomorrow.