Yoruba Political Leadership and Its Socio-economic Future, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
It is sad that in a little over a generation, we have erased all the gains and edge Chief Awolowo gave us through free education… In the broken down public school systems, even in richer Lagos State, how does anyone get the preparation to become a doctor, robotics engineer etc? The South-West must develop a template away from a low skilled, low wage uncompetitive framework.
“Let Us Face the Future: A Presentation On Offer To the People of Britain” was the game-changing manifesto presented by the British Labour party in the pivotal post-war election of 1945. What is the social contract between the Yoruba leadership elite and the people? I cannot think of any. In facing the future, we must not only remember the past but be deeply conscious of the debilitating circumstances that we, the Yoruba, find ourselves in today. The Yoruba’s sophisticated liberalism has become a huge disadvantage because liberalism has enabled the exchange of optimistic meritocracy for opportunistic mediocrity. The brutal but honest assessment of our self-engineered predicament is that across all strata, our leadership is the most intellectually inadequate and ill-prepared the Yoruba have had since the conclusion of the treaty that ended the Kiriji War. Our leaders have perfected a system of patronage that is disdainful of merit, hostile to innovation and favourable to laziness. Thugs have state backing and are offered police protection. Our sad situation is poignantly reflected in the election results throughout the South-West, in the recently concluded presidential poll.
From the incursion of Western education in the 1850s, the Yoruba, until this republic, have always fielded its first eleven: From Nigeria’s first lawyer and founder of its initial political current, Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams, an Ijesaman, to Sir Adeyemo Alakija, the prodigiously clever Bode Thomas, Obafemi Awolowo, Ladoke Akintola, H.O Davies, Rotimi Williams et al. Warts and all, these men ranked among the best of a generation, anywhere. What obtains now? Do we have the best holding positions? No! Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his protégé projected into the future with very little resources at their disposal. Now, despite better tools, resources and benchmarks, our leaders do not have the faintest idea what the future will look like because of greed and selfishness.
Part of what ails the Yoruba and its leadership is reflected in the debate over the political future of Lagos State. We blame everyone but ourselves. We refuse to interrogate ourselves and why we are failing. It is worthy of note that the party machinery of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos State is so farcically inept that the party could only deliver five hundred and eighty thousand votes (580,000) to its presidential candidate after an unbroken run of twenty years in power. We have grown accustomed to apathy, laziness and lack of appreciation of civic responsibilities. Our problem is not only political, it is economic and ingrained social dislocation. The socio-economic currents fuelling the debate is an indictment of Yoruba leaders’ lack of ideological focus or real commitment to the political and economic advancement of the Yoruba. This loss of long range plan for the South-West is a negation of the gains of the renaissance which emerged from the 1850s, solidified by the treaty that ended the Kiriji Wars and was fundamentally consolidated by the consensus of the 1940s to the unfortunate schism of 1962.
Overarching Yoruba interest, instead of personal interest, is the key distinguishing factor between the leadership of Western Nigeria and today’s inept leadership. This singular difference lends itself to the Shakespearean quote of, “the fault does not lie in our stars but in ourselves.”
The consensus of 1940 to 1962 was a game changer. Formalised through the formation of Ẹgbẹ Afẹnifere in 1948 and the manifesto of the Action Group as “Life more abundant”, it rekindled a sense of identity throughout Yoruba land. The consensus was based on the quest for modernisation. Emphasis was squarely on human capital development as a way of breaking the shackles of poverty and defeating the awful debilitating effects of indigence, aptly captured by Karl Marx as “the idiocy of rural life”. Interwoven with this was a commitment to extend access to education, health, water, etc. In describing a similar thrust, India’s post – independence prime minister, Jawaharlal Pandit Nehru had cause to observe that: “A school here, water system and dispensary there, as well as a branch of the State Bank of India; come back in a few years and see the advance thrust made”. Where are the schools and knowledge hubs? Where are the equipped healthcare centres? Where is the electricity to drive innovation? Where are the roads to facilitate the movement of people, goods and services?
Capital For The Yoruba
The magnificent Red Book of West Africa published in 1920 is a superb chronology of the advances made by the Yoruba business class across the West African subregion in commerce, industry and government. By the time of the consensus, it was obvious that changing conditions and greater competition for scarce capital meant that direct intervention by the state apparatus had to be used to ensure that Yoruba entrepreneurship remained competitive and up to date. Overarching Yoruba interest, instead of personal interest, is the key distinguishing factor between the leadership of Western Nigeria and today’s inept leadership. This singular difference lends itself to the Shakespearean quote of, “the fault does not lie in our stars but in ourselves.”
The Awolowo government’s plan of financial inclusion gave the Yoruba a head-start and an edge over other regions. Plans and policies in favour of social mobility and financial inclusion are missing in governance today as a result of selfishness, greed and lack of foresight and planning. It was painfully obvious to Chief Obafemi Awolowo that the conventional Anglo-Saxon banking system could not deliver the needed financial boost to Western Nigeria, given its rural peculiarities and the subsistent nature of its agricultural base. For that reason, the regional government developed its own intervention mechanisms. An example can be found in the establishment of the Cooperative Bank in 1953. With it, a process began in which peasant farmers could transist into commercial farming through minimum farm pricing, provision of storage facilities and guaranteed markets. In addition, the provision of capital in the urban areas to those in the distributive trades led to the emergence of a lower middle class which in its heyday used to be described as a petite-bourgeoisie. Of course, these policies were diligently implemented, it led to growth, development and employment in geometric proportions.
Overall, we need a leadership that will reignite the original renaissance, as well as the consensus and bring it up to date. A “leadership” premised on the surbodination of the state to corporatist interests is out of sync with our traditions. To our political leaders, the critical question is: What lessons have you learnt from the governorship elections in the South-West?
On a higher level the Western Nigeria Finance Corporation and the Western Nigeria Development Corporation were crucial to the development of a mercentilist, as well as an industrial class. In the early 1960s, visiting Malaysians who came to copy the emerging success were astonished to see Yoruba business people as owners of light industries, breweries and so on. Had this blueprint been sustained and deepened, the debilitating effects of the paucity of capital will not be hobbling us today. Yorubaland is slipping behind because of the absence of capital and a development finance company that is our own. A regional capital powerhouse must arise from the ashes as a public/private partnership driven by the private sector and subscribed to by every Yoruba at home and in the diaspora, with the aim of a start up capital of at least $300 million.
It is sad that in a little over a generation, we have erased all the gains and edge Chief Awolowo gave us through free education. The reality today is that public schools just do not have the budget for preparing millions for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. To be competitive and become the powerhouse we once were, there should be at least one dedicated STEM school in each local government in the South-West to provide weekend courses to primary/secondary school pupils in public sector schools, with specially trained teachers on special pay and volunteers on honorarium. With what we have now, we are inadvertently creating an unfair system of class stratification and a growing pool of untapped manpower. In the broken down public school systems, even in richer Lagos State, how does anyone get the preparation to become a doctor, robotics engineer etc? The South-West must develop a template away from a low skilled, low wage uncompetitive framework. In agriculture, with 200,000 farmers organised in cooperatives, we can export $100 billion agro-industrial products a year. We must develop a skilled science propelled corp to make our agriculture internationally competitive and export-oriented.
Overall, we need a leadership that will reignite the original renaissance, as well as the consensus and bring it up to date. A “leadership” premised on the surbodination of the state to corporatist interests is out of sync with our traditions. To our political leaders, the critical question is: What lessons have you learnt from the governorship elections in the South-West? The undercurrents of change is afoot. If you are not careful, the tides will sweep you away. 2023 will be hotter. Watch out!