by Segun Ayobolu
The die is cast. The Rubicon is crossed. The line has been drawn and there seems to be no going back. Opeyemi Bamidele, former students’ union leader, pro-democracy activist, lawyer, commissioner in Lagos State and now member of the House of Representatives has obviously taken the decisive plunge to contest for the governorship of Ekiti State next year. Would he or would he not? That had been the question in many minds for some time now. Would Michael Opeyemi Bamidele defy the collective wisdom of his party, the promptings of his political mentors and the admonition of his ideological soul mates to contest against Dr John Kayode Fayemi in the next governorship election in Ekiti? Would he jettison the political tendency and platform he has identified with all his life in pursuit of his ambition? The answer to these questions no longer lies in the realm of conjecture. Opeyemi Bamidele spoke and acted decisively last week. He dumped the APC. He declared for the Labour Party. All things being equal, he will be a major contender against Fayemi next year.
Until he took his apparently irreversible decision last week, I was firmly of the view that Bamidele would in the final analysis subordinate his personal ambition to the strategic collective interest of the progressive movement. For one, he had consistently stressed over the years that he is a product not necessarily of individual brilliance but of collective struggle. When he clocked 45, Bamidele launched a book titled ‘Errands of Progress’. In it he reiterated the position that he was a product of collective struggle. Reading through the book once again, Opeyemi came across as one individual whose personal interests and ambitions matter far less to him than his commitment to the struggle by progressive forces to liberate Nigeria from the stranglehold of underdevelopment.
Again, I am of the view that there is really not much of a difference between Michael Opeyemi Bamidele (MOB) and Dr. John Kayode Fayemi (JKF), the incumbent Governor of Ekiti State. Both men are cerebral. They are accomplished professionals. They have both devoted their lives and paid their dues in the struggle for progressive change in Nigeria. Either man would make outstanding governors of Ekiti or any other state in Nigeria. Yes, Bamidele is more of a populist in the likeness of an Engineer Rauf Aregbesola. Fayemi is more reticent and reflective in the mould of a Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN). But both men are invaluable assets to the progressive movement. Much more importantly either man has achieved success in their respective spheres of endeavour irrespective of whether or not they govern any state. I thus did not believe that governing Ekiti State should be a matter of life and death particularly for Bamidele since it has pleased God that Fayemi should occupy the coveted position at least for now.
Of course there are those who have insisted all along that MOB is an active participant in a script not just to oust Fayemi from power but to undermine the progressive forces in Yoruba land and Nigeria as a whole. They contend that he is nothing but a traitorous quisling bent on collaborating with the same nefarious and venal forces he has fought all his life all because of an inordinate ambition for power. I believe strongly that MOB remains essentially progressive and humane at heart. However, he has embarked on a political trajectory that may force him to collaborate with the same forces of retrogressionthat he has opposed all his life. That would be extremely tragic. For, there are too many examples of those who have chosen this path only to become no better than the living dead- veritable living corpses.
There are at least three issues raised by MOB in his defection to the Labour Party which are worth commenting on. First, he claimed that his move was informed by the lack of internal democracy in his former party. This perception is no doubt informed by the decision of the APC leadership to endorse Fayemi for a second term based on his record of performance. It would appear to me that by his defection, Bamidele has made it impossible to prove whether or not the APC adheres to internal democracy at least in Ekiti State. Yes, the leadership has endorsed Fayemi but they have not precluded any interested member from participating in primaries.
We will recall, for instance, that in the second republic, the Chief Obafemi Awolowo-led leadership of the UPN endorsed all the five governors of the party for an automatic second term. Yet, the incumbent governors faced stiff challenges in the primaries particularly in the old Ondo and Oyo states. Of course, the question is: with the endorsement of Fayemi for a second term by the party leadership, could Bamidele have a chance of triumphing in the primaries? It is highly unlikely. The Ekitis are very proud, principled and stubborn people. They worship no human being and their conscience is never for sale. If they are truly supporting Bamidele’s ambition, no force on earth would stop them from voicing their opinion.
Despite Awolowo’s personal charisma and influence, for instance, the Ekitis even within the UPN staunchly stood by Omoboriowo until his politically fatal decision to defect to the NPN. Members of the UPN at all levels including members of Chief Michael Ajasin’s cabinet openly supported Omoboriowo despite Awolowo’s preference for Ajasin. In the case of MOB, I am unaware of any declaration of support from his ambition right from the ward through the local governments to the state level of the party. Not even a single member of the Ekiti caucus of the House of Representatives which he led has expressed support for his aspiration. Bamidele’s winning the party primaries will certainly be easier than a Camel passing through the eye of a needle. But then, will we have internal democracy only if Bamidele is guaranteed to emerge as governorship candidate?
Again, MOB claims that his ambition is driven by a desire to extricate Ekiti from the clutches of poverty. This is an indirect insinuation that Fayemi has not performed. But is that an intellectually honest position to take? I think not. From easily verifiable indications, Fayemi has fundamentally elevated the paradigm of governance in Ekiti State. Just as Aregbesola has done in Osun, no more is the horizon of aspiration in Ekiti limited by the state’s paltry allocation from the Federation Account. Fayemi has blazed a trail in social security by paying a monthly allowance to aged citizens above 65. The efforts of his administration in the provision of infrastructure are there for all to see. For me, the most eloquent evidence of his performance is the open identification of the highly respected Chief Afe Babalola with the Fayemi administration. Ideologically and politically, Chief Babalola is conservative. Despite his personal closeness to Chief Obasanjo, Afe Babalola never appeared on a political platform with the Owu chief. He has openly supported Fayemi’s second term. It is unlikely he would do that for a non-performing governor particularly of the APC.
Lastly and most sadly, MOB claims that the Labour Party is a genuine progressive platform for national emancipation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nigeria still awaits a truly ideologically driven Labour Party; one that will rigorously articulate the case for a new social order that will be beneficial to the working class and peasantry. The truth is that there is absolutely no difference today between the so called Labour Party and the PDP. Yes, both the PDP and the APC are essentially bourgeois parties but, with all its faults, a genuine Labour Party should be more in tune with the opposition than a self- styled largest party in Africa that has plunged Nigeria deeper into underdevelopment in the last 14 years.
This column takes serious exception to MOB’s latest antics. But equally objectionable is the harsh language with which the Ekiti APC has denounced him. Nothing must be done to make it impossible at the end of the day for Bamidele to return to his true political family lending his considerable talents to the struggle for the liberation of Nigeria.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Segun Ayobolu/The Nation