THE region’s rich socio-economic heritage is the stuff of legend: First television station in Africa; first modern stadium in Africa; first skyscraper in tropical Africa; free universal primary health and education… and more, all recorded under the sage of the race, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
With the state of things in the area now, what the inheritors of these many “firsts in Africa” have made of their legacies unarguably falls short of the vision of their illustrious progenitors.
And perhaps realising that the region has lost its famed head-start over the rest of the country and indeed Africa as a continent, governors and other leaders of the South-West geo-political zone yesterday met in Lagos to consider and endorse a strategic blue-print they hoped could put the region back on its lost pace-setting track.
Titled Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) and crafted by the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), the document aims at a regional integration plan with a view to weaning the South-West off its current dependence on crude oil stipends from the Federation Account.
Speaking at the official presentation of the plan in its book form yesterday, Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos; Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo); Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun); Rauf Aregbesola (Osun); Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti) and Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo), who was represented at the event by his Commissioner for Environment, Sola Ebiseeni, all agreed that the region had frittered away its legacies and was in an advanced state of decline, posing serious risks to itself and the country as a whole.
In his speech, Fashola said Lagos was ready to support the DAWN roadmap and work towards its implementation.
Fashola submitted that the South-West would not make the developmental heights its founding fathers envisaged for it by depending on federal handouts, stressing that the region must make quality education, as before, the bedrock of its transformation bid.
He added: “We are ready to champion and work for the regional integration programme but the people themselves must be prepared. It is a cause every Yoruba must support irrespective of their political affiliation and differences. Nobody should betray the Yoruba race irrespective of the political party we found ourselves. Whatever it is, anywhere they make policies that are anti-Yoruba development, any member of the race must stand to oppose it.”
Fayemi said the time has come for the South-West people to ponder over the region’s future with a view to covering lost grounds.
He said: “Where are we going? Nobody knows where Nigeria is heading for. It is important for each region to have a roadmap for development.
Fayemi stated that the governors were looking beyond the six states in the South-West under the DAWN initiative, saying: “Our initiative covers all Yoruba scattered in every part of the country.”
Amosun said it was unfortunate that the South-West had neglected agriculture and education, which were the bedrocks of the achievements recoded during Awolowo era.
He said the development the Yoruba craved could only be achieved through industrialisation, agriculture and quality education.
To that effect, Amosun said the Ogun State government under him was making serious effort to improve on its education sector.
However, while Governor Mimiko’s representative, Mr. Sola Ebiseeni commended the DAWN initiative, he submitted that some areas in the roadmap must be reworked.
Sensing likely friction, former vice presidential candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Mr. Fola Adeola, who was also the chairman of the occasion, asked Ebiseeni to stick to Mimiko’s official message to the event.
Nevertheless, Ebiseeni went ahead with his review of the document, highlighting what he perceived as its shortcomings.
This evidently drew the ire of Osun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola and ACN National Leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Tinubu said the issue on ground was not “Yoruba affairs” as South-West’s development would not be to the advantage of the Yoruba race only but the nation at large.
To develop the region, the former governor of Lagos State canvassed a serious focus on the education and agriculture sectors.
He said these distinguished the late Chief Awolowo, adding: “We cannot claim to be progressive or pro-Awolowo if we do not follow his precepts.”
Tinubu accused the Ondo State representative of immaturity, saying: “Being on the high-table requires character and maturity. You must be able to accept whatever was thrown at you”.
Aregbesola, who did not take kindly to the perceived position of the Labour Party-led Ondo State government on the DAWN, said party affiliation would be a key factor to South-West’s transformation.
He also accused the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of fostering “eight years of waste and destruction on the South-West.”
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, also charged Ebiseeni to take reactions to his position calmly, saying: “power is transient.”
Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, stressed that ideology should be the major driving force for the development of the South-West and not party affiliation.
He berated the ARG for allegedly allowing certain people he identified as “those supporting those who killed our people”, to come and address the gathering.
Falana may have been referring to those Yoruba who supported Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, former Chief Security Officer to the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, who was recently sentenced to death for the murder of Mrs. Kudirat Abiola, the wife of acclaimed winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief MKO Abiola.
“Yoruba is suffering so much”, he added.
However, the altercation appeared to have little impact on the event, which coincided with the 103 post-humous birthday of Chief Awolowo.
The Lagos City Hall venue was full to the brim with Yoruba leaders cutting across all divides.
In a keynote address titled “On the March Again,” Dr. Doyin Salami wondered when the old achievements recorded in the South-West would be replicated, particularly in the education sector.
Salami noted that there is no successful Yoruba today who could boast that he or she did not benefit from Awolowo’s free education policy, but observed that “unemployment is now more rampant in the (South-West) region than the rest of the country.”
Salami stressed that the South-West should not wait for the Federal Government or the rest of Nigeria for its development, as this situation has turned all 36 state governors to “beggars who rush to Abuja at the end of every month to get federal allocations.
In his opening remarks, Chairman, ARG, Olawale Oshun, said the Yoruba needed a strategy plan now because of the retrogressing state the South-West had found itself.
Others present besides the governors were former Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Prof. Wale Omole, Awolowo’s daughter, Dr. Tokunboh Awolowo-Dosunmu, founder of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Dr. Fredrick Fasehun, former Governor of Osun State and National Chairman of ACN, Chief Bisi Akande, Gen. Alani Akinrinade (rtd), Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo (rtd), former Speaker of House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, traditional rulers and many others.