THERE are three men from the same state but with different stories to tell for the highest political office in Nigeria. The three personalities; Olusegun Obasanjo, Obafemi Awolowo and Moshood Abiola are from Ogun State in Southwest Nigeria and had northern elites decide their political destinies. Their stories would sound make belief supposing they were mental figments than real life characters. They sacrificed much to rule Nigeria.
One of the men on three occasions pumped time and resources to lead the Nigerian entity but failed and one of them attempted two times but died in the process. The third person, on two occasions, without yearning for power, occupied the highest political office in the country; first, as head of state in a military dispensation and later, as executive president of Nigeria in a democratic system. He became the first Nigerian to enjoy such privilege. The three men rather than enjoy one another support, worked in the opposite direction.
Not only are these three political gladiators only from the same state but are of Yoruba nationality. Among them is the neutral odd, Ernest Shonekan, also from Ogun State. Shonekan was made Head of Interim National Government after Gen. Ibrahim Babangida stepped aside as military president, resulting from the chaos that followed his annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election. Shonekan was neither a military head of state nor democratically elected to govern the country. These eminent figures were the only Yoruba people to either have governed Nigeria or have pronounced shots at the country’s seat of power.
The Yoruba nation has been in the front seat of advancing the socio-economic agenda of the country. They were the first to embrace Western civilization to their advantage among other nationalities in Nigeria. They have produced Bishop Ajayi Crowther, the first African Anglican Bishop. Nigeria’s first Newspaper, Iwe Iroyin Fun Awon Ara Egba Ati Yoruba, published in Abeokuta, Ogun State in 1859. The first television station in Tropical Africa, WNTV, Western Nigeria Television, Ibadan, so were the first primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions.
Before Lagos, cities like Lokoja and Calabar maintained the status of capital of then British Southern and Northern Protectorates. Lagos ended up becoming the administrative capital until April 22, 1990, Gideon Orka’s abortive coup scared Gen. Ibrahim Babangida into hasty relocation to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, the next year. Officially, Lagos is the smallest state by landmass in Nigeria behind Anambra State but will soon displace Anambra with reclamation of land from the Atlantic Ocean. In spite of its landmass, Lagos, more than three times, has a population of that of Abuja and still growing at exponential rate. The city-state of Lagos is still the socio-economic capital of Nigeria and quasi-federal capital.
Before the Fourth Republic which had President Olusegun Obasanjo sworn-in as the 2nd executive president of Nigeria, no Yoruba person has been elected as a democratic president. Yoruba nation’s hero, Obafemi Awolowo’s dream of becoming the Nigerian leader actually started when he thwarted Nnamdi Azikiwe’s political ambition of becoming Premier of the Western Region of Nigeria. Azikiwe was stopped from going to the Central Legislature through Western Region.
Awolowo’s shot at the Nigerian Prime Ministership and later, president was thwarted on three occasions by northern elites and aided by internal forces. He resigned the premiership of the Western region to contest the I959 federal elections as Adegoke Akintola was chosen to succeed him as the Premier of Western region. Both men soon fell out over unresolved party ideology. Battle of supremacy ensued between Awo and Akintola with Akintola leaving the party in 1962. Northern backed Akintola was reinstated as the premier of the Western Region and the head of the government in 1965. Akintola’s Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) was declared the winner in 1965 Western Region general elections. The contentious elections led to breakdown of law and order in the region, leading to the central government charging Awolowo for treason.
Awolowo’s first political battle with the North ended a month before the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War. Released from the Calabar Prison, Awolowo joined the Nigerian government and was made Federal Commissioner for Finance. His office played key role in the defeat of defunct Biafra Republic. He hoped to succeed Gowon when the country returns to democracy. That dream perished with the overthrow of Gen Gowon when he was at Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting in Kampala, Uganda.
Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo succeeded Gen. Murtala Mohammed after the later was assassinated. The 3rd Marine Commando Division, under Obansanjo during the Nigerian Civil War played key role in the twilight of the war, leading to the surrender of the Biafran forces.
As a military head of state, Gen Obasanjo returned Nigeria to democratic rule on October 1, 1979. In the build up to the presidential election, it was a two horse race between Shehu Shagari’s National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and Obafemi Awolowo’s Unity Party Nigeria (UPN). The contentious result ended up in court with result declared in favour of Shehu Shagari’s NPN.
Moshood Abiola entered mainstream politics in the Second Republic with the hope of succeeding Shehu Shagari. Abiola established the Concord Group of Newspapers to aid his political career, as Awolowo established the Nigeria Tribune, the oldest private newspaper in Nigeria to boost his political ambition. Abiola joined the ruling northern dominated NPN and became the party’s major financier.
In no small measure as the northern oligarchy worked against Awolowo in the First Republic, even in the Second Republic, beside Obasanjo not supporting Awolowo’s hunger for the presidency, Northern elites in the NPN kicked against Abiola’s presidential ambition not minding his financial commitment to the party. Before the 1983 general elections, then Minister of Transport, late Umaru Dikko told Abiola that the Nigerian Presidency was not for sale. Abiola’s dream of becoming Nigerian president died with the military coup of December 31,1983.
Abiola gave another shot at the presidency in the aborted Third Republic. He established well-oiled political machinery and was cruising home to victory when Gen. Ibrahim Babangida annulled the June 12 presidential election. Abiola died in the struggle to reclaim his mandate. Nigeria returned to democratic rule six years later with Obasanjo becoming the president. The former military leader turned democrat ruled Nigeria for eight years and dashed the hope of recognizing June 12 as an iconic date that not only re-launched the democratic journey but was also instrumental to his own presidency as the north not only sought a Yoruba person but someone from Ogun State to appease the West,
Awolowo, viewed as hero of the Yoruba, was politically disliked by northern elites and looked upon with suspicion by an average Igbo person born before the 1980s. On Obasanjo’s side, until his recent attack on President Buhari, which is seen as veiled attack on the North, he had enjoyed their support. For instance, no Ogun State indigene nor Yoruba person was found worthy by the northern elites to anoint for president to pacify them for the annulment of June 12, 1993, presidential election than Obasanjo. Chief Obasanjo has never enjoyed the broad support of the Yoruba people and is neither in the good book of majority of Igbo people. The Yoruba nation are divided on the person of Abiola, but had more appeal in other parts of the country.
In the story of the three that ran for the country’s highest office, we have three men, two newspapers, two-time head of state. Two died trying to become president, while the two time president still live.