By Emmanuel Aziken, Ola Ajayi, Dapo Akinrefon and Charles Kumolu
Having acted as the game changer in the last presidential election, it should have been a feeling of euphoria for the Southwest progressives when they gathered at the Premier Hotel in Ibadan last Thursday. Not only had the Southwest progressives contributed to the enthroning of a central government, but it had also positioned one of its shining lights, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, as the country’s number two man. That his grandson-in-law was the country’s vice-president would not have seriously disturbed the sage himself, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
The gathering of the APC Southwest leaders had the central theme, “The South West and Challenges of Change in Nigeria”.
Three of the four APC governors were present, the exception being Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos at the meeting.
The theme of the conference would have rubbed on Osinbajo, the highest elected Yoruba man in the present dispensation. It would have raised the flag to the fact that his people are still not happy with the present arrangement.
Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State and several other speakers that day echoed the need for restructuring. Aregbesola said: “Anybody who tells you Nigeria is rich is ignorant. Our common wealth is in the pockets of some people. We all share poverty together and just because a few monopolise this wealth, we think we are rich, we are very poor.”
Chief Ayo Afolabi, the South West Publicity Secretary of the party, speaking to Sunday Vanguard following the conference, disagreed that the zone is being marginalised but agreed with the conference’s call for restructuring.
“There is nothing like marginalization, marginalisation is a Nigerian problem in the sense that anybody who comes from any of the zones in Nigeria, naturally tends to favour his own people. This is just natural,”Afolabi said.
“When Jonathan was there, it was essentially the South-South and the South-East, who were in charge of virtually everything. To a large extent, the Southwest was marginalised, and when you look at it in relation to the past government, it has always been like that. So, it is a structural problem that has to be addressed. How do you address it? It is when we are able to sit down with ourselves to look at the constitution of Nigeria as it is presently being used and work on it with the view to restructuring the country.
“So, let us go back to what we had in the First Republic, when Awolowo, Sardauna, and Azikiwe were in charge, every section of this country was able to determine what it gets. If you out anybody there, he will take care of his own people. So, we have to sit down and agree to change the constitution because the constitution we are using is an inherited constitution. Let us sit down and agree on how to amend the constitution in a way that will be a true federal system”.
Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State at the conference fittingly responded to such assertions of marginalisation in another way saying that the Southwest, even after bringing the APC to power, has distanced itself from power. Affirming that the zone would not be right to claim being marginalised by President Muhammadu Buhari, Ajimobi said: “We have won election for a very long time. Before, majority of Yoruba people were not in the progressives. Now that we are at the Federal, I have not seen any difference. My prayer is that our party will continue to be in government. We should know that it is not the best if you succeed and others don’t benefit from you. We have been in government for almost two years, how long shall we continue to prepare?
“We are here today not only to felicitate but also to reposition ourselves for unity, participation, and cooperation for better service delivery to our people. Some people feel sidelined and neglected. Why should you feel so? When I wanted to become the governor of this state, I was going to people. Now, I have become the governor; they still expect me to be looking for them. It is not possible. I was looking for something then; I went to them, and if they are looking for something, it is normal that they should be looking for me too.
“Some of us feel marginalised. We say the Buhari led administration favours some people more than others. Do we go to him? It is the people he sees that he will relate with. At party level, how often do we meet the governors, president? President Buhari is the most honest, disciplined, corruption free president I have ever seen. Let us all support him in his anti-corruption fight. He, alone, cannot fight corruption.”
Still talking to the zonal leadership of the party, he added, “We are your governors and you as a party need to meet with us from time to time. Most governors in the South West are faced with workers’ salary challenges, what has the party at the national and the zone done to help us. We are all left to face our own challenges. This is not fair again.”
Osinbajo, who was represented by Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Senator Babafemi Ojudu and the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, in separate remarks, encouraged the people to keep hope alive as the change they championed was still on the way.
Whatever, the gathering was also an opportunity for the zone to address the immediate challenges facing the zone, albeit, politically and that is the forthcoming governorship election in Ondo State.
Given that the state is in the hands of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, gathering was an opportunity for the party leaders to address issues that have recently cropped up to affect the cohesion of the party in the state.
One of those at the conference, Vice Chairman of the party in Lagos West, Chief Funsho Ologunde, speaking on the meeting, said: “The meeting was to discuss how to ensure that democratic practices continue to thrive regarding the Ondo State governorship election where we had so many aspirants. We discussed about how to ensure that large number of aspirants work with our brother to ensure that the party emerges victorious. The political fortunes of the party in the South West were also discussed with particular emphasis on Ondo election which is the immediate concern now. It was an exercise held in the interest of the party.’’