Politics is described as: The process by which leaders are selected and policy decisions are made and executed. ”It involves people and groups, both inside and outside of government, engaged in deliberation and debate, disagreement and conflict, cooperation and consensus, and power struggles. David Paletz (et al) (2011) There is apparently no Nigerian who is not profoundly concerned about how he or she is governed, and the delivery of what has come to be known as democracy dividends to the citizenry. Chief Ebenezer Abayomi Babatopes revelation of how candidates emerged in the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria founded by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1978, in an interview published in the Sunday Punch edition of March 28, 2018 was remarkable. Aside other living close associates of Chief Awolowo like Chief Ayo Fasanmi and Chief Ayo Adebanjo, not too many people are more qualified than Egbon Ebino Topsy, to speak authoritatively on this subject matter given the strategic appointment he held as Director of Organization of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria.
TERRIFIC HEADLINES was encouraged to zero in on what it describes as The Obafemi Awolowo Leadership Agenda to put across this discourse that critically examines how political leaders could promote peaceful succession or political transition by proper democratic conducts. Globally, democracy is viewed as a system of government that allows every citizen to have equal access to power through legitimate means, and in which all citizens enjoy universally recognized freedoms and liberties. Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations proclaims that: Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country and Everyone has the right of equal access to the public service in his country. It adds: The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; and this will, shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections, which shall be by universal and equal suffrage, and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures. But the question remains: Does this reflect the true position of conducts in the Third World ravaged by poverty, hunger and inordinate lust for political power?
Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was a genius in many respects. Such personalities with sterling leadership qualities are rarely produced in sufficient quantities. Perceptive political leaders usually stand committed to building a society that upholds and defends the principles and practice of democracy, respect for fundamental human rights and the rule of law. Leaders also embrace virtues that promote true democracy. Awolowos leadership style was unique in many respects. Ebenezer Babatopes disclosure in the interview under reference was indeed another important revelation that is an eye opener that could assist in shaping the present and future conducts of democrats and practice of democracy, particularly with regard to succession problems.
THE SUCCESSION AGENDA
This issue is perhaps one of the most problematic on the nations political scene, apparently because of allegations that the will of the people does not usually produce the desired materials. Techniques for assuring succession vary. Indeed, succession agenda is one of the key issues that have continued to provoke disturbances in attempts to elect preferences by the electorate in political parties and at various tiers of government. Succession practices of modern political systems appear to be of four main types: (1) heredity, (2) constitutional prescription, (3) election, and (4) force. (Encyclopedia Britannica) Over time, it appears that our political succession system has been by force or selection by a privileged few, rather than by election or democratic methods. In some instances, observers allege that leaders utilize the Machiavellian scheming to get to power through deceit.
Yet, the major strength of democracy lies in its recognizing the fact that the people are the key components of governance and their wishes, feelings, and aspirations must form the basis of actions taken, as well as inactions recorded. Political parties evolve strategies that are designed to win elections. For our nation to properly chart an enviable course of development, we must thoroughly educate our people on their rights and obligations. I am definitely sure that no constitutional provision gives anybody any right to choose his or her successor. The best anybody could do is to express his or her preference, possibly get people to create interest in that particular candidate that must be sold to the electorate through democratic means.
Vested interests have made political leaders introduce the sad dimension of political intolerance and lack of decorum, resorting to violence as a means of pursuing their political agenda. How did Obafemi Awolowo & co manage this contentious issue? This is one question I have made up my mind to ask Egbon Ebino Topsy when next we meet, in public interest. A few examples of intriguing developments make my mission an important one. The question is: How did Obafemi Awolowo successfully manage the following aspirations of very close friends and members of his political party; to wit:
(i)The governorship ambition of Ven. Emmanuel Alayande versus Chief Bola Ige in 1979. Archdeacon Alayande was one of the closest associates of Obafemi Awolowo and the Chaplain of the defunct Action Group in the First Republic. Alayande lost the primary election to Bola Ige, his student at Ibadan Grammar School. Awolowo never interfered with the processes. If he had ordered Bola Ige to step down, that one would most probably have answered in the affirmative. Baba Alayande would have been governor because people voted for Awolowo and not for the candidates presented. That is the stark truth.
(ii) The UPN primary election in Ogun State was fought by Chief Bisi Onabanjo, Chief Soji Odunjo and Chief Tunji Otegbeye. When they held the primary election in Ogun State, Onabanjo triumphed. Awolowo never interfered in spite of his very close relationship with Chief J.F. Odunjo, father of one of the contestants.
(iii) In (the then) Bendel State, Prof. Ambrose Folorunsho Alli reportedly had about three opponents who vied for the Unity Party of Nigerias ticket at the primaries. Awolowo kept a respectable distance and watched the winner emerge
(iv) In Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande was very popular. But there was primary election and he triumphed.
(v) In Kwara State, Chief Cornelius Adebayo floored Chief Josiah Olawoyin, who was an ardent supporter of Awolowo and was in fact jailed with the sage on treasonable felony charges. Awolowo never influenced the primaries in favour of Olawoyin who went to jail because of him.
(vi) In Ondo State, Chief Adekunle Ajasin, in spite of his advanced age and friendship of almost four decades with Awolowo was made to face the UPN party primaries to emerge, while Awolowo looked on as an impartial arbiter
MODUS OPERANDI & THE LESSONS
Evidently, non-adherence to universally adopted ingredients of democracy constitutes perhaps our greatest headache in Nigeria today. Every four years, the sitting leader wants a renewal of another term in office as provided for in the constitution, or wishes to anoint his or her successor. Obafemi Awolowo, according to Ebenezer Babatope, never told anybody not to contest, and never hid the fact that some of the contestants like Ven. Emmanuel Alayande and Chief Adekunle Ajasin were his very close allies. Babatope, in the interview cited above stated that: Obafemi Awolowo knew that he could not have gone ahead telling the world that Alayande must not contest and that Bola Ige should contest. Even in the old Ondo State, Adekunle Ajasin had to face Senator Ayo Fasanmi in the primary election for the governorship ticket and Akin Omoboriowo, who later became the deputy governor, supported Ajasin against Fasanmi. Senator Ayo Fasanmi still remains an Awolowos man till today despite losing that primary election.
Awolowos UPN preached social democracy, democratic socialism and Awoism. Social democracy is about political, social and economic ideas that support economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the context of a generous democratic polity and consumerist economy. From this point of view, it is imperative for the general citizenry, indeed all of us, to imbibe positive values and attitudes that are required for attaining the desirable goals that are set out in both the Nigerian constitution and the constitutions of the various political parties. And of course, we must recognize the fact that the people themselves, form the strongest point that would make democracy endure, by their conducts and ability to organize themselves, with the assistance of political parties. In addition, those who lead and govern must be transparent in their actions, while also demonstrating commitment and dedication to the growth and sustenance of our dear nation.
PUBLIC OFFICES ARE HELD IN TRUST
Former President Bill Clinton of the United States has described the role of government as giving people the tools and create the conditions to make the most of our lives. Government should empower us to do things we need or want to do, that we can only do together by pooling our resources and spending them in large, enough amounts to achieve the desired objectives. (Clinton, Bill:2011.) It is to be noted, therefore, that there is the need for the political class and the elites to ensure that the wishes of the majority are respected and enforced. We must realize that governments are held in trust for the citizenry. Thus, only men and women of proven integrity who are prepared to offer selfless service, and who are free from blemishes should raise their heads for leadership roles in this society. Loyalty of elected public officials must be to the electorate and their constituents. The ideal situation, accordingly, calls for honesty, dedication, probity and commitment on the part of political actors.
Furthermore, Public officer holders must be constantly established with the people and identify with their hopes and aspirations. Additionally, we must do away with the culture of imposition of candidates and impunity. In my reckoning, our society has gotten to the stage where imposition of candidates would attract protest votes as people are becoming increasingly conscious of their rights. I hold the view that we must put aside any feeling that seems to make political actors view politics as an investment, with huge amounts going into campaigns by politicians, who naturally nurse the ambition of recouping their investments after winning elections. This is sadly one of the causes of the feverish struggles to occupy political offices. A system that allows for electoral contests to be fiercely fought, not on the basis of issues, but with every conceivable dirty manner resulting into bad blood among the contestants must be actively discouraged.
INVESTING IN POLITICS
One former leader reportedly told some of his sponsors to regard their investments as bad investments if they sought undue favour or advantage. This, to me seems to be in order since investments in politics must be for the good of the citizenry. Therefore, individual and collective contributions must be in public or national interest. Whoever borrows money to fulfill a political ambition has no right to pass the burden to the masses in any manner whatsoever. However, anybody wishing to help Nigeria should be free to sponsor elective office seekers without any strings attached. Dispassionate actions that are in public and national interests would assist us. A leader, many years ago chose his ambassadorial nominees without inputs from State governors; who could only grumble; but couldnt confront the leader because that was his prerogative. The leader knew the best materials he wanted for certain strategic foreign Missions and that he would be held accountable if he failed.
I reasoned at that point that why must State governors donate Hon. Ministers for appointment at the federal level when State governors dont accept nominations from local government chairmen for consideration as State Commissioners? Loyalty has a price. Elected representatives must be loyal to their constituents, while those appointed at the three tiers must be loyal to their principals in the performance of their responsibilities. I think this democracy would only endure if we embrace the Awolowo example and allow democratic norms and practices to prevail. There is certainly no other civilized method of expressing preferences for politicians seeking elective offices than utilizing the democratic process; and allowing the people themselves to elect their favourites. May God help Nigeria.