27 October 2018
Power minister Babatunde Fashola said at a townhall meeting on Thursday: “Do you know that power is rotating to the Southwest after the completion of Buhari’s tenure if you vote for him in 2019? A vote for Buhari in 2019, means a return of power to the Southwest in 2023. I am sure you will vote wisely.”
Fashola was speaking in Yoruba and appealing to the Yorubas, the dominant ethnic group in the southwest region, to vote for his boss President Muhammadu Buhari next year because this would open the route to power for a Yoruba person on the expiry of Buhari’s second term.
This is a shockingly ignorant statement from Fashola, a lawyer, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and two-term governor of Lagos State. History professor Yusufu Bala Usman once wrote: “Ignorance is not the same as illiteracy. Knowledge is not the same as literacy, or, even the same as the acquisition of educational certificates, or, academic ranks. Some of the most highly literate Nigerians, and the most highly educated, by virtue of their certificates and ranks, are some of the most ignorant over many crucial areas of natural and human existence and over our national life, like our geography, history, economy and politics”.
A highly literate Nigerian politician like Fashola, by stating that “power” will “return to the Southwest” just because of the possibility of a Yoruba president, clearly demonstrates an ignorance of what “power” really means and how politics works.
In December 1999 Usman was asked to deliver a lecture on “The Politics of Power Shift and Democracy in Nigeria”. He called “power shift”, for example between ethnic groups and regions, “a superficial political slogan” and added: “Even if one were to examine the real meaning of ‘power’ in the history of economic, societies and political systems and how it shifts, or does not shift, one is left with the misleading, and diversionary, assumptions behind the current usage of this slogan, in Nigeria, that, because a person, or persons, from a nation, nationality, or an ethnic group, holds power, it means that, that nationality, or ethnic group, exercises that power.
“Hence, when Generals Buhari, Babangida, Abacha and Abubakar, were the Heads of State of Nigeria, in the period, 1983-1999, the Hausas, the Fulanis and the Kanuris were in power; and now President Olusegun Obasanjo is the Head of state, the Yorubas are in power! The institutional machinery for the exercise of power and its basis in occupational groups, social strata and social classes and their concrete economic and political interests are not perceived with this shallow outlook. This perception of politics is, itself, derived from certain false assumptions about what constitutes nations, nationalities, ethnic groups and polities.”
Buhari is president today and ignorant Nigerians continue to peddle the fallacy that this means “the north is in power”. That region is the poorest and most deprived in the country, posting the worst results in infant mortality, malnutrition, illiteracy and other measures of human development. No one has apparently told the majority dirt poor people of northern Nigeria that they are in power! More discerning people know that the interests of the northern elite, of which Buhari belongs, are at odds with the interests of ordinary northerners. In Olusegun Obasanjo’s eight year as president from 1999 to 2007, there was no tangible improvement in the lives of ordinary Yoruba people, despite many ignorant Nigerians believing that the “southwest was in power”.
So Fashola’s fallacies about a “return to power” to the southwest are nothing but unadulterated ignorance. The best thing that could be said in his favour is that he knew that a Yoruba president didn’t really mean that Yorubas are in power. And he was just engaging in ethnocentric politics to deceive his audience into voting for his boss, divert their attention from the real issues such as the failures of this regime, and for Buhari to keep Fashola in his job after 2019. Neither explanation shows the minister for power failure in a good light.