It started out as a great idea for Seyi Makinde; the grand design that would see him clinching the top position in Oyo State’s politics. He put together a team of brilliant policy advisers. They, in turn, spread their experienced tentacles through the civil, public and private sectors of the State collecting data and putting together a scientific, problem-solution matrix. This, candidate Makinde, took around the State, traversing its nooks and crannies, meeting with children, parents, men, women, the rich and the poor and explaining to them how he planned to transform the State. He reasoned that since the people of Oyo State were reasonable, they would reason with him and kick out the incumbent Governor, Abiola Ajimobi, whose government the opposition was succeeding in labeling as insensitive and draconian for demolishing illegal structures and getting stricter with squatters and the like.
To convince people that he meant business, Makinde, who was already a serious philanthropist, turned up his generosity by several notches. He sought out the needy and met their needs. He donated blocks of classrooms here and there – one for Bishop Philip’s Academy, Ibadan, his secondary school alma mater. He donated a science laboratory to the University of Lagos. He sunk several boreholes for many communities and donated power generators to many others. He, in fact, donated transformers, hospital buildings, medical equipment and medication dispensing units to various communities in the State. He once donated a gas-powered turbine to a community which had suffered electricity blackout for years! Makinde awarded full academic scholarships to several students and sponsored many sporting activities, including football and golf. And he funded pilgrimages for scores of people on an annual basis. He once threatened to re-build a bridge in Ibadan if the State government was not going to do it quickly enough! There was hardly a natural or man-made disaster that occurred in Oyo State without him empathizing with its victims. He would give large sums of money and materials for reconstruction and succor. Often, he would beat the Governor to scenes of such disasters. You would think he ran a parallel government.
Only those who knew the late Dr. Olusola Saraki of Kwara State, father of APC stalwart – Bukola Saraki – recognized the strategy: make a lot of money and give away a lot of it to your people in the hope that they would return the favor by giving you power over them. Saraki (a.k.a. Oloye) in the early 70s, started to do exactly what Makinde was doing in the philanthropy realm. Oloye donated generators (my secondary school was a beneficiary), built blocks of classrooms (also, my secondary school was a beneficiary), sponsored pilgrimages to Mecca, opened up some rural areas by either building the roads himself or using his influence to get roads built (he was not even a public official yet!), took care of the Muslim clerics in Ilorin and took care of then traditional ruler – Shehu Sulu Gambari. Little wonder that when the ban on political activities was lifted by the military in 1978, Saraki called the shots in Ilorin and by extension, in Kwara. His family, as we all know, still enjoys the goodwill and adoration accorded Olusola Saraki.
But brilliant as Makinde is (he is an accomplished electrical/electronics engineer), he was a total political neophyte when you consider how politics is practiced in Nigeria and especially in the PDP – the party through which he originally sought gubernatorial ticket. Makinde naively thought that as happens in western countries, he would overwhelm his PDP opponents with charm offensive and they would just fold. And he would be on his way to confronting Ajimobi in the general election. Little did he reckon with the dexterity with which one Senator Teslim Folarin would employ crude tactics in beating him for the party’s ticket. While Makinde was busy listening to fancy Powerpoint briefing slides put together by his highly tech-savvy team, Folarin was busy buying party officials – state and national! By the time the primaries would hold, it was no primary at all in Oyo State. It was akin to the Lagos primary that saw Musiliu Obanikoro crying foul and Jimi Agbaje smiling to Aso Rock to collect his campaign fund billions. Folarin too, of course, collected his and shared generously with party officials. Makinde was left carrying the can of dissipated physical, material and financial energies. A beaten man, Makinde ill-advisedly defected to the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
SDP in Oyo State? Even in Ogun State where its leader, Segun Osoba resided, SDP was going nowhere in 2015. The party didn’t even have a Presidential candidate. It was unfortunate watching Makinde and his advisers explain how they themselves, let alone their supporters, would vote in the Presidential. This decision of Makinde’s to decamp to the SDP would demonstrate his “political illiteracy.” It also made mockery of the intellectual rigour he must have expended in building his formidable and profitable MAKON Group of Companies. Makinde, who cut his teeth in oil exploration engineering when he took his electrical/electronics engineering degree from the University of Lagos to Shell as an National Youth Service Corps member, brilliantly and doggedly carved a niche for himself in the oil industry culminating in his founding of Makon Engineering and Technical Services Company. This company later grew into Makon Group of Companies with offices in Nigeria and the United States. How could someone that smart commit such a blunder? From the moment he announced his SDP membership up till the very last minute…the very last gubernatorial vote…everybody saw that he would lose and lose badly. Everybody, except those in his camp who continued to revel in impracticable, unbelievable Fani-Kayode-like “we-are-winning-23 states” phantom prognostication saw it coming. How come Seyi Makinde did not see or hear this glaring message?
The answer lies in the type of advisers he hired, or in the candidate himself, or somewhere in-between the two, or a combination of both. Politicians love people who tell them what they want to hear. They get ensconced in the bubble created by the sycophantic and delusional cacophonies of their praise-singers and their brains go to sleep. It was the same disease that made Goodluck Jonathan to believe he was the best thing since sliced bread and he would win reelection when nobody else thought so. Makinde should have stepped outside his office, gotten on some commercial buses anonymously and chatted freely with apolitical artisans to get an accurate gauge of the political temperature in the State. Had he done that, he would have learned that neither the SDP nor Labor, nor Accord, nor PDP stood any chance of beating Ajimobi and the APC by itself. It would require an “accord” by all four opposition parties to dislodge Ajimobi. And since that was not even a remote possibility, something in his head should have told him that if he took with equanimity his loss to Folarin and remained in the PDP, he would inherit the party’s machinery and infrastructure and become de-facto party leader in the State post-2015. This would have positioned him for a re-try in 2019. Or in the alternative, he should have seen the Buhari freight train coming to sweep PDP out of power and relevance and, if he must decamp, he should have decamped to the APC. Makinde should have known that the APC did not (and still does not) have a successor-in-waiting for Ajimobi post-2019. He would have had the goodwill of current APC leaders who would be grateful for his contribution to Ajimobi’s reelection and do the best they can to field him in 2019.
But Makinde did not do that. He defied simple logic so clearly apparent to non-professional politicians and defected to the SDP where he single-handedly funded a campaign that turned out to be no more than a glorified harlequinade and a complete flop at the polls.
And when politicians lose and lose badly, rather than their advisers admit their mistakes, they truculently double-down on their follies as a way of deflecting blame and masking the obvious miscalculations. How, for instance, could someone whose slogan is “Omi Tuntun” (Fresh Water) endorse Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti for governor? Did he commit that blunder by himself or was he advised to do it as a way of appeasing the Presidency so Jonathan and Patience could support him and help him win the party’s nomination?
I am sure Makinde did not contest elections just so he can go into the history book as an “also ran.” He genuinely wanted to achieve the power of the office so he could better improve the lives of his people. He cannot achieve that if he is hopping from one hobbled political party to another. He cannot achieve that if he is listening to bad advice given by people who have co-opted him into their own personal fights against politicians who can help him achieve his goals. His camp’s belief that he could achieve with SDP what Labor did in Ondo and what Accord managed to do in Oyo in the past is so un-2015 because APC is not ACN. He should only listen to such advice if the ones giving it are spending their own money or are working for free.
It may be too late for Makinde to cross over to APC now because his pride and that of some people around him would prevent him from “bowing” to Ajimobi. And he may still be too hurt by how the PDP and Folarin wrong-footed him out of contention in the primaries to return there. If either is the case, Makinde should then remain in SDP and, over the next couple of years, go out vigorously to poach members from the rest of the parties. He should consider bringing over the entire Alao-Akala’s Labor infrastructure and people, as well as those of Rasidi Ladoja’s Accord. Then he should infiltrate the PDP and pull over to his side many of its now-disillusioned members. It would cost him a lot of financial and political capital. But it is the only way he can be well-positioned to be close to a level-playing field with whomever APC or PDP presents in 2019. Anything short of that will see him consigned to political wilderness and oblivion just as fast as his meteoric rise.
One very good thing working for Makinde is that he is an extremely likable person. Everybody I know who has met him speaks glowingly of him, to include people in the leadership of some of the opposition parties. Many young and middle-aged Oyo State elites, cutting across the entire State, almost foam at the mouth when discussing the possibility of Makinde becoming Governor of Oyo State. They put him on the same pedestal with the likes of Fayemi and Fashola in terms of brilliance and potential. He is not like those politicians whose images are tainted either by thuggery or by financial malfeasances. He comes to the people of Oyo State squeaky-clean and for that, I think they will take another look at him provided he comes again to them via a realistic platform.