Civil society groups on Tuesday gathered in Lagos and demanded an immediate end to the rift between former Governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu and former Governor of Osun, Rauf Aregbesola.
A coalition of various organisations from Yorubaland, which comprise artisanal groups, trade groups and pro-democracy organisations at a press conference, said both Tinubu and Aregbesola are prominent Yoruba political leaders whose disagreements could snowball into a bigger crisis within the race if not carefully handled.
There have been disagreements between the duo who are seen as closest political associates for more than three decades.
The group, under the umbrella of the League of South-West Civil Society and Community-Based Organisations, while addressing newsmen in Lagos on Tuesday said the group will brief the people on the outcome of the people driven peace initiative.
Taiwo Adeleye, who spoke on behalf of all the organisations at a well attended briefing,
Said, “We have called this important meeting for many good reasons. We are all conscious of the history of politics in the South West for time immemorial. In the South-West, post colonial history teaches us that the region had her own dose of intra-party wrangling with far reaching consequences on Yoruba people and their ancestral territories. The Western Regional crisis which dovetailed into the 1964 general elections could have been avoided. It started as ideological differences between the then Premier of Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his Deputy, Chief Ladoke Akintola. Eventually, this crisis snowballed into a major conflict within the Action Group, (AG) leading to the emergence of a faction of Chief Akintola presented as an alternative political front which clashed with the established dominion of the Action Group.”
The group traced other crises that had engulfed the South-West part of the country which pitted political gladiators against each other citing instances such as Adekunle Ajasin-Akin Omoboriowo saga.
Pleading against a repeat of history, the group said it has followed the debate on Aregbesola and Tinubu concerning recent political developments in Yorubaland.
It said, “The issues that have been raised consistently include but not limited to the following:
“That Comrade Aregbesola is dagger-drawn with the former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who the latter’s supporters claim made Aregbesola.
“That Comrade Aregbesola was abusive in his responses to well-known plot of BAT to destroy his political career and time-honoured reputation as a progressive.
“That Comrade Aregbesola should not have sponsored any candidate against the current Governor of Osun State, His Excellency, Gboyega Oyetola.”
The group said the issues have inflamed passion adding that “there are many vested interests attached to this dispute.”
It went further, “There are those who want the two main actors to drown politically. There are those who feast on the crisis and even benefit financially, and to this extent would not wish to see an end to the imbroglio.
“There are also those motivated with the passion to see the South-West erupt in a major crisis. There are those moved by envy and cruel hatred to the extent that anything that would bring down Comrade Rauf Aregbesola should be upheld and sustained.”
Stating its position, the coalition said Aregbesola is well known to the progressive forces in the South West.
It added, “His reputation, strength of character, honesty of purpose, transparency and credibility are not in doubt. His iconic political heritage could be traced back to the 1980s as a strong member of the National Association of Nigerian Students, (NANs). He was a stormy petrel in the labour movement and a striking personality in the anti-military campaign alongside prominent Nigerians including Dr. Beko Ransom-Kuti, Prof Wole Soyinka, Pa Anthony Enahoro, Oweh Lakenfa, Salisu Lukman, the late Chima Ubani, Joe Okei Odumakin among many more progressives.”
It said Tinubu cannot claim he made Aregbesola adding that those who make such claims are speaking out of historical contexts.
It explained, “The truth is that Aregbesola already made his name in the progressive fold as a decent man of truth and integrity driven by people’s aspiration for radical change. These are evident in his days in the students’ movement through his active participation in various social movements, the anti-SAP mass rallies, the Labour movement, the anti-military campaigns of the 1980s/90s through which his energetic network with artisans, students, workers, Pan-Yoruba groups were rooted.
“We must admit that Comrade Aregbesola and Asiwaju were major actors on the field of the June 12 election campaigns.
“Aregbesola was a fighting spirit, galvanising the masses in the fierce anti-military campaign at the risk of his life. He had the option of going into exile but bared his chest at the Homefront to confront evil at the risk of his life.
“Many attempts were made on the life of Aregbesola during the tough anti-fascist campaign
“It was this quality that Asiwaju, when he returned to Nigeria in 1998, saw in him in which made him to seek an alliance with him during the Lagos 1998/99 gubernatorial election not forgetting that they had both met when Aregbesola sought a ticket to go to the House of Representatives from Alimosho while Asiwaju Tinubu equally sought to contest for the Senate in the days of the Social Democratic Party.
“At this time, while Asiwaju provided the funds, Aregbesola provided the intellectual power, the revolutionary flavor and the rare blood-bound alliance with the Lagos masses was worked out by him which culminated in Asiwaju’s victory in 1999, a feat repeated in 2003, making Lagos State the only one retained in the South West. It should be known that Aregbesola was actually in charge of the campaign in Lagos in 1999.”
The group also insisted that Aregbesola’s achievements in Osun are legendary, adding that throughout the 8 years he was at the saddle, the performance was acknowledged by local and international development organisations.
“Comrade Aregbesola symbolises, championed and delivered a transformational model of governance that elevated Osun to one of the highest human development index and employment rates in the country attested to by local, national and international development bodies.
“Note that his interventions in education won several laurels including international commendations from UNICEF, UNESCO, World Bank and Partnership for Child Development (PCD) of Imperial College, London to name of few.
“His people-first infrastructure development programmes reduced unemployment rate from 17.2% in 2010 to 5.3% when he left in 2018. His Social Investment programme, for Youths, Home-Grown School Feeding and Care for the aged have now become models adopted by the Federal Government along-side multiple sub-nationals. The Federal Government which now delivered the largest social investment impact Nigeria has seen in recent times drawing inspirations from his innovations in Osun.
“As of 2018, just after 4 years of adopting these people-centric programs, the FG has fed 12m children through the home-grown school feeding program, empowered hundreds of thousands of local farmers and cooks. Through the Conditional Cash Transfers, over 1m households have benefitted from monthly living stipend, through the Government enterprise and empowerment program, 2.5m the petty traders and market women have been supported with soft loans and over 600,000 youths empowered to do community services through the N-power Programme.
“We must recall that while Comrade Aregbesola performed these feats in Osun, he was a source of pride to Asiwaju Tinubu.”
Saying Aregbesola’s fault may be extreme loyalty, the group said this should not be taken against him.
The group said the path chosen by Aregbesola’s successor, Gboyega Oyetola, is a reason for concern.
It said Tinubu ought to have cautioned Oyetola who appeared to be diminishing the achievements of his predecessor.
The group said, “It should be noted that there was no policy decision in the 8-years of Aregbesola that Oyetola was not a key stakeholder.
He did not only defend these positions, he signed some of the policy papers. To make the reversal of these policies his number one cardinal focus is nothing but a conscious attempt to destroy Comrade Aregbesola. We do not think this is right.”
On the recently held governorship primaries in Osun, the group said the exercise fell short of acceptable standards.
“Truth be told, the outcome of the primary has not proved anything different from the fact that Nigeria still has a long way to go in democratic development.
“Primary elections are still filled with manipulation with money and brigandage, to skew the aspirations of the people and twist their ambitions.”
Urging the two to come back together, the groups said there is no dispute that cannot be resolved.
“Our position is that the attacks on Aregbesola are unnecessary and must stop. We also realise the need for reconciliation between the key actors because continued face off is not in the interest of either of the two.
“We do not belong to the school that thinks the crisis must linger. It is an ill wind that blows no one any good. It is a dispute that can set the entire South West on the path to internal combustion.
We recognise the strength, the potentials, the opportunities and of course the weaknesses of both actors.
We strongly believe that as humans, none of them is perfect. The very reason they must close ranks in the interests of all.”