he first Secretary to the Alhaji Lateef Jakande-led Lagos State Government, Chief Olorunfunmi Basorun, speaks to ENIOLA AKINKUOTU about the debate over Yoruba leadership and other political issues
You were a top member of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s party, the Unity Party of Nigeria. Do you agree with former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s argument that there can never be a Yoruba leader?
The Yoruba leader now, without doubt, is Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and there are many reasons for this. The leadership of the Yoruba, whether political or otherwise, is based on who has advanced the interest of the Yoruba the most in recent times and Tinubu has done this. Firstly, he has fought for the interest of the Yoruba people. He helped Kayode Fayemi to get his governorship bid back in Ekiti in 2010. In the same year, he helped Rauf Aregbesola to get his governorship mandate back in Osun State.
He helped Olusegun Mimiko get his governorship mandate back in Ondo State in 2009. He even helped Adams Oshiomhole in Edo as well. That shows that his interest transcends personal preferences. In the political arena, he graduated and moved to ensure that Nigeria became virtually a two-party state. Because of Tinubu’s effort coupled with others’, the APC was born.
He led various others to ensure that the party did not die. Before the merger of the party, there was a quarrel between President Muhammadu Buhari and Rabiu Kwankwaso, who was then the Kano State Governor. Tinubu brought both of them to the table of reconciliation and settled it and the party emerged. That party, the APC, is in power today. The party now rules 22 states out of 36 in Nigeria and also produced the President. This shows Tinubu’s achievements in politics.
Even look at the South-West. Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State and Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State were in different parties before 2011. Tinubu brought them into his party and they are now running a second term in their respective states.
During the last elections, Yoruba contributed 2.433m votes to Buhari’s presidency where Buhari got 15m. That constitutes about 16 per cent of Buhari’s votes and this kind of thing had never happened before. Even when Obasanjo was made President, he didn’t get more than one million votes in the South-West and in terms of percentage, it was insignificant. And in the process of negotiations, Tinubu got the position of the vice-president for the South-West. I cannot point to any other Yoruba leader today that has struggled for the Yoruba like Tinubu and succeeded.
But When Chief Obafemi Awolowo was named as the Yoruba leader, it was an unanimous decision by all notable Yoruba leaders at the time. Why is Tinubu’s own controversial?
By our age, one should assume that we knew what happened then. There was a lot of confusion after the second coup and there was a meeting. Awolowo gave two conditions. He said the army’s occupation of Lagos must end and that if the Igbo were compelled to secede, the South-West would go. These two statements, in the face of guns, encouraged those present at the meeting to proclaim Awolowo as the leader of the Yoruba that time. The environment then was different from the one that Tinubu is living in now. I am not saying that Tinubu is the same as Awolowo but they lived at different times. Chief Awolowo did many things based on the needs at that time. He built the first stadium in Nigeria, the first television station, the first to introduce free health and free education. These were the needs at that time and many people loved him but those who didn’t love him were many. Apart from Adisa Akinloye, after the second coup in 1966, could anybody from Ogbomoso pronounce Awolowo as the leader of the Yoruba people? No. Because they were still bitter about the way Ladoke Akintola died. So, those who are generalising and looking at the view of Awolowo’s supporters as the general mind of Yoruba people, forget that the Yoruba people never went in one direction. As we are talking about Tinubu now, there are some who hate him and do not hide it. But when you talk of Yoruba leadership, there will be the first among equals, and what I am saying is that Tinubu is the first among those who are carrying the Yoruba banner very high.
But Awolowo said there cannot be a Yoruba leader during the period of partisan politics but there can be a cultural leader. Are you saying that we can have a Yoruba leader now?
There are cultural leaders such as traditional rulers but on the issue of politics, there must always be a leader who can stick out his neck and fight for his people. Awolowo once said that a day will come when the masses in the North and South, Christians, Muslims will come together as a force for progress and unity and kick against rigging, corruption and that is what we are facing now. And we are happy that one of our own in the South-West is carrying out this prediction of Chief Awolowo. Why should he not be the leader of the Yoruba for now? Whether it is political leader or anything we want to call it, who has achieved what Tinubu has achieved?
Wouldn’t it be appropriate to call Obasanjo the Yoruba leader since he is the only Yoruba man to ever emerge as President?
He was President and he had greatness thrust upon him but he did not work for greatness. I took part in electing him because I was the founding chairman of the Lagos State Peoples Democratic Party. We went to him in Abeokuta and spoke to him when he just returned from prison but his first response was that he had become a born again Christian and had no interest in politics. So, he did not work to be President. Most of the Yoruba did not even want him. In the 1999 election, he was defeated at his polling unit. I took the pain to compile all the votes he got. He received about 1.1million votes in the South-West but most of the votes in the South-West came from Lagos. He got about 209,000 votes from Lagos. He got a few votes from other South-West states. As President, he performed to the best of his ability. But Obasanjo cannot match the intellectual capacity of Awolowo and Tinubu. So, Obasanjo is a chief and he is respected in Yoruba land but in the contemporary Nigeria today, Tinubu is the Yoruba leader. Even as President, Obasanjo was not called Yoruba leader at that time because he did not achieve anything on his own. It was a question of people helping him. Awolowo said this in the House of Representatives many years ago that some are born great, some achieve greatness while some have greatness thrust upon them. Tinubu achieved greatness while Obasanjo had greatness thrust upon him.