Former Nigerian Ambassador to The Philippines and a member of the Peoples Democratic Party, Yemi Farounbi, tells OLUFEMI ATOYEBI that with the way a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, is being treated in the All Progressives Congress now, the Yoruba must learn how to play national politics
Many people have expressed the fear that Nigeria’s democracy will be under serious threat with the absence of a strong opposition party. There are currently two factions in the Peoples Democratic Party, which you belong to. What is the future of politics in Nigeria?
You cannot run a stable Nigeria if we do not have two strong and viable political parties. Given the divisiveness of the PDP, resulting in factions led by Ali Modu Sheriff and Mohammed Makarfi, and the inability to even organise a national convention because of a succession of judicial interventions, the party has become weakened. The party is weakened because the sheer failure in the last general election has led to the migration of many members to the other party. Whichever faction you consider in the party today, it has no strength and the capacity of the former PDP. However, when you look at the APC, you would see glaringly that cleavages are already emerging. If the PDP could have the problem it has after 16 years, you would understand why the APC is having problems after just three or four years of creation. It is a very serious problem. The party came to life after the Bola Tinubu-led Action Congress of Nigeria got into partnership with the Congress for Progressive Change and the All Nigeria Peoples Party, whose strength was already dwindling. The migration of the PDP governors and members to the APC was after its formation. This is part of the problems of the APC because after the party got into power, it had no provision to satisfy those who came from the PDP in terms of sharing positions. But for the sheer dexterity and perhaps the stubbornness of [Senate President] Bukola Saraki, the whole ex-PDP faction would have got nothing in the government. In trying to get something for the faction, problems were created for the party. Those who led the PDP actually did not create problem for the APC. What created problem was that those who formed the APC did not reckon with the efforts and the resources that those who defected to the party from the PDP contributed to its success at the poll. The problem started from the beginning.
There is talk about the creation of a group called Yoruba Patriots Movement which you were involved in. Could this be the platform that would rival the APC?
YPM is designed to be a platform that will be available to a rainbow coalition that will be led by men of integrity. It cannot be the platform we are seeking. Such a platform must be national in outlook. The YPM is looking at the peculiar problem of the South-West. When former President Goodluck Jonathan was there, the South-West felt neglected. You would remember that in many publications, there was the allegation that in the first 68 positions, there was no Yoruba person there. What the PDP under Jonathan did then amounted to ignoring the South-West in spite of the contribution of someone like former President Olusegun Obasanjo to his emergence as president and in spite of the contribution of the Save Nigeria Group, led by Prof. Wole Soyinka and Pastor Bakare, to Jonathan’s emergence even as an acting president. Despite the fact that the doctrine of necessity was ignited from the South-West, the region was ignored by Jonathan. It was easy, therefore, for the region to embrace the APC. That move was driven by Tinubu. If our readings are right, it would appear now that Tinubu’s faction’s contribution to the formation of the party and his contribution during the election may not have been adequately recognised or rewarded. The South-West is back to where it was like in the days of Jonathan.
Is it that something is wrong with the whole of Nigeria or is it that there are certain things that the South-West is not doing right which makes it easy for the region to be marginalised?
These are what we thought we should look at. When you talk to an average Yoruba man, he would tell you that the best of the Yoruba in politics are in the past. This should not be so. We talk about the glorious days of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The best of the Yoruba nation should still be ahead. There must be something wrong if we are unable to sustain a level of performance, effectiveness and political leadership. Can’t the Yoruba try to understand themselves? Even if all of them cannot speak with one voice because they are too educated, they should at least form a formidable force that can be respected. A situation whereby non-Yoruba think that all Yoruba people have a price is not good enough. Thinking that once they do something, they will break the Yoruba ranks is not good for us. If Nigeria must move forward, it is better for the various zones to be united.
Is the YPM coming up to fight for Tinubu and his men?
The YPM is an opportunity to address several problems confronting our politics. It is an opportunity to see if the Yoruba can truly work together and be part of a broad big platform. We noticed that the problem in the PDP in the South-West was because certain members in the region were opposed to Obasanjo. In an attempt to dwindle his relevance, these people aligned with the dominant forces within the PDP, which was in the hands of Jonathan. Those who sympathised with Obasanjo lost their ministerial and other positions. Unfortunately, these people were not good enough to serve as an effective replacement for an Obasanjo. When he teamed up with Tinubu’s ACN in the South-West, they became more formidable. A similar scenario is being played out again in the APC. This time, it is against Tinubu. The questions are: Why is it so easy to splinter the Yoruba people? Why is it easy for the Yoruba people to display traits that are not loyal to leadership? Why is it easy for those who are not in the region to poke their noses into the politicking of the South-West, splinter the people and in the process, render the emerging factions irrelevant? We are satisfied that there can be no stability in Nigeria, irrespective of what people think, if there is no political stability in the South-West. We were privileged to have a good government under Awolowo; what we should try to do is to be better than that and be a pacesetter within the Nigerian context. The Yoruba race must work together and be the solution to Nigeria’s problems rather than be the cause of the problems. That is the whole essence of the YPM. If we don’t work together, it will be difficult to work with a national platform.
Tinubu convinced the South-West people to vote for APC in 2015. Will he still be able to command the same respect in 2019?
Life is full of changes. Some of his aides, supporters and men are no longer with him. Even within his political family, there have been factions. He may not be able to play the kind of role he played then, but working along with others, including those who have disagreed with him, the Yoruba will have a bigger influence. We are pursuing a corporate goal, not an individual goal. The Yoruba have made mistakes and others have exploited the mistakes. We don’t get what belongs to us because we only understand regional politics but not national politics. This has affected us greatly. It is not about lack of aggression, but lack of comprehensive understanding. When Saraki’s problems started, I said he would survive it because he has a wider view of Nigerian politics at the national level. He talks little but acts fast. I hate to say this, but Yoruba talk too much and act too little. This is how we create problems for ourselves.
Who are the members of the YPM?
We come from across different political parties. We have Chief Segun Osoba; Prof. Tunde Adeniran; a former deputy governor in Ogun State, Segun Adesegun from the APC; Dr. Doyin Okupe; Ayo Adeseun; Oladosu Oladapo, who is the national coordinator; and Soji Akanbi. Others include Femi Lanlein; a former Oyo State House of Assembly Speaker, Monsurat Sunmonu, who is now a senator; Gen. Raji Rasaki (retd.); Elder Wole Oyelese; Prof. Soji Adejumo; and Mrs. Bose Adedibu. We also ensured that the pioneer members were chosen from all the South-West states. They all belong to one party or the other until we are able to establish a platform.
Will YPM transform into a political party?
YPM cannot become a political party. It is designed to create a political integration within the Yoruba.
How acceptable is this group among the Yoruba politicians and elders?
We have been able to hold consultations with Obasanjo; Tinubu; Chief Bisi Akande; the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi; the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi; Soun of Ogbomoso, Oba Oyewumi Ajagungbade; Chief Olu Falae; Reuben Fasoranti; and Pa Ayo Adebanjo. We were about to see the late Laniun Ajayi when he died. The Alaafin spoke for three hours when we visited him. He said it was a good idea, but advised that we should think of indoctrination of the idea so that it would be a permanent thing beyond the political class. He said those who are younger must be taught that Yoruba must have a voice if we must remain in the federation. Nigeria is like a polygamous family where those involved must know how to relate. Yoruba must not behave as if we are in a monogamous setting. The Ooni also gave his blessing. We are still in the process and more people will be consulted. Nobody will be left out. In terms of acceptance, we have received positive response from the people. Obasanjo said the idea was worthwhile and advised us to continue with the grassroots. He said 2017 would be the critical time to launch this kind of platform.
Currently at the federal level, Yoruba has Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as the Vice President and a former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, as a minister over three ministries. Can we still be talking of marginalisation of the Yoruba race with these positions?
When you study governance, you have to look at the execution level of it. Go and do a research on who are the chief executives of these ministries and where they come from. Do an X-ray of who takes the decisions and who executes them at the ministries, departments and agencies. Then you would know that the Vice President cannot be relevant in the scheme of things.
We have seen it in this country where the Vice Presidents were rendered irrelevant. For a whole year, no meaningful file was passed to his table. You have to look at where the core of decision-making is done. The Yoruba say under Obasanjo, they did not get as much as they deserved even when their son was the president. That was because Obasanjo was totally committed to the concept called Nigerian nationhood. But, is it so with other presidents? By right, every state is entitled to a minister, but that does not mean that the person takes the decisions.