It is indeed a great honour to be asked to address this august gathering on this special day, on the topic: Nigerian Democracy and Popular Mandate: The June 12 Example and Implications for Ondo State; I am humbled by the kindness of the conveners and it is my intention to strive to live up to their high estimation of my humble self.

I felt even more humbled, honoured and privileged when I learnt that the identity of the lead speaker. A sense of awe descended on me when I was told that I would be sharing the podium with no other personality than the indomitable and irrepressible Bishop Gbonigi.

Bishop Gbonigi is my-father-in-the Lord, he is our father. Beyond being our father in Ondo State, he has been the Conscience of the nation. In the dark days of military repression- the days of khakis, boots, guns and whips, he was a shining light in the darkness; an Avatar of justice, human rights, freedom, and human dignity- a veritable Desmond Tutu of our time and clime.

On a personal note, the sight of this Nigerian hero and even the sound of his name evokes fond memories, and meeting him here on this grounds awakens nostalgic feelings in me. It would interest you all to learn that here on these hallowed grounds of the St. David’s Cathedral Church, Ijomu, Akure, I was confirmed as a bonafide communicant of the Anglican Communion by no other person than the very same Bishop Gbonigi over decades ago!

I remember with joy, the passion, the joy, with which the Bishop delivered his sermons which were always tailored to the total emancipation of mankind through the liberating message of Jesus Christ. The congregation always trooped to the church with excitement to feast on the words of life from the Bishop’s tongue. This was during Pa Ajasin’s administration.

Fast forward to the nineties, the Bishop never relented, never recanted; he never turned aside from the Commission, and it was inevitable that he would clash with the khaki boys of that era- the Abacha years. Everyone who is seated here would agree with me that Bishop Gbonigi fought the good fight for the liberation of Nigeria from oppressors in that season. 

He fought the good fight- spiritually, physically, intellectually, morally and emotionally and I am sure at the expense of his family budget.Without valiant men like him, we never would have the democracy we have in our nation today. I honour you, sir. May I ask the entire house to rise from their seats in honour and appreciation of this champion of human dignity, integrity and liberty.

On this day- twenty-two years ago, Nigerians from all walks of life spoke with one voice and the echoes of the statement Nigeria made on that epochal day reverberates across the nation, and in the hearts of all true democrats and statesmen till this day.

What exactly did Nigerians say on the 12th of June, 1993? To interrogate this question exhaustively, one would have to consider the zeitgeist of the times of which we speak.
1993 was a significant year; it marked a ten-year anniversary of the thralldom under which Nigerians languished under the oppression of successive military juntas after the rude truncation of the Shehu Shagari-led administration.

Things had come to a head, or like our friends, the Americans would say, “push had come to shove”, and the head of the ruling junta at the time, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida- fondly nicknamed IBB by some, and not-so-fondly called “Maradona” or “evil genius” by others- had seen the handwriting on the wall that the Nigerian people had had enough, and would no longer be denied their right to a democratically elected government.

One could say the time was ripe for Change, and the Head of State, sensing the tide, lifted the ban on politicking and approved an electoral timetable for what turned out to be the freest and fairest election yet in our nation’s history. Without considerations for tribe, tongue, or faith, Nigerians voted overwhelmingly for their preferred candidate and the Late Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, MKO, emerged winner.

Most poignant amongst the memories we have of that unique moment is the manner in which a nation of about two hundred and fifty tribes arose for a singular purpose and united to see the achievement of that purpose. This was an election that was determined by the will of the common people and not a secluded but powerful few who had set themselves up as “puppet-master”.

Alas, the celebrations were too soon and time revealed that the emancipation for which Nigerians united was not yet to be. General Babangida, in an ignominious manner, annulled the elections and reinstated the ban on politicking, plunging the nation into a season of darkness, depression and yes, valiant, vibrant struggle for freedom. The story has been told over and over about who did what during this season, and the custodians of our history as a nation, have placed both heroes and traitors in their rightful places in the annals of our nation.

The roles played by personalities such as Pa Alfred Rewane, Frank Kokori, Beko Ransome-Kuti, Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye, Chief Olusegun Osoba, Alex Ibru, Aka Bashorun, Anthony Enahoro, Abraham Adesanya, Dan Suleiman, Commodore Ndubuisi Kanu, Professor Wole Soyinka, Atiku Abubakar and Dr Kayode Fayemi remain indelible in our national psyche. Others who strived for the democratic cause include Chief Bola Ige, General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Olisa Agbakoba, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Chuma Ubani, Ms Ayo Obe, and Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar.

Courageous icons from our dear state were not found wanting during this epochal struggle for the liberation of Nigeria from the clutches of the “khaki boys”. Indeed, Chief Gani Fawehinmi was an arrowhead of the struggle while others such as Pa Adekunle Ajasin, Bishop Gbonigi, Pa Omojola and Dr. Frederick Isiotan Fasheun and Gani Adams played a huge role in agitation for the actualization of MKO’s mandate and the restoration of democracy to our shores. 

As a matter of fact, Ondo State is historically renowned for progressivism, activism, dynamism, and even when need be, agitation.  On this momentous and nostalgia-evoking day, I salute all these rare patriotic souls for their valour and heroic struggles. Their conduct, in that hour, revealed them for what they were: men of conviction, principles and rectitude. No, these were not the capriciously unscrupulous men- who renege on agreements without regard for the societal implications, as seen in huge numbers across our nation today.

I want to celebrate the real heroes of democracy, my fellow citizens, some of whom paid the supreme price, along with MKO Abiola and his Amazon wife, Kudirat, to ensure that we who are alive, can enjoy the fruits of their sacrifice. We should never take this lightly; I implore us all to always cherish the memory of these brave ones even as I remind you all of the words of Lord Jesus Christ, “Greater love hath no man than this; that he lay down his life for his friends”.

I also bring to your attention, the words of that celebrated champion of human liberty and founding father of America, Thomas Jefferson who stated: “The tree of liberty is often refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants” 

My dear brothers and sisters, we must, as a duty, continue to honour this sacrifice. The lessons of June 12 must remain with us- if indeed, we, as a people and as a nation, are to reap the fruits of the labours of our heroes, those fallen and those who are still with us.

I hereby submit to you that beyond the courage and the steadfastness shown by the principal actors of that time- Bashorun Abiola, Kudirat Abiola, and the entire cast of heroes whom time will not allow to me to recite, beyond the awakening of the Nigerian electorate to the reality that there is indeed strength in unity, the seminal lesson in that era is the significance of what is described as a Popular Mandate.

By “Popular Mandate”, I refer to that marked departure from the usual merchandising of votes, godfatherismand naira-based politicking to the true essence of democracy.

I refer to the emergence, by means of common votes, a leader truly desired by the electorate, and not one imposed on all by a few.

It was the Abolitionist preacher, Theodore Parker, who in a moment of inspiration during a sermon titled “The Effect of Slavery on the American People” delivered at the Music Hall in Boston, Massachusetts on July 4, 1858, defined democracy as “direct self-government over all the people, for all the people, by all the people”.

This definition of democracy reveals the central position that popular mandate holds in this most esteemed system of government; the refrain “the people” connotes common will, and is at its core, antithetical to the practice of “anointing” of an individual for governance, by the ‘powers that be’.
The phrase “by the people” naturally thrusts society into a conundrum for everybody cannot, by any stretch of imagination, occupy the government house together, at once; only one individual may take the seat.

Questions however automatically emerge: “Who takes the seat?” “Who speaks for us?”, leading us to the concept of elections.
The electoral process has for long been hijacked by godfatherism and naira-based politicking; this error has also for long robbed the electorate of the much-touted dividends of democracy.

The fact that every government has a constituency to which it has sworn allegiance, is an oft-unspoken truth. It is true; government stays loyal to the ones that helped it attain its position.
This should guide the electorate in the choice of a leader: if the cabal anoints a candidate for you, then he is loyal, not to you, but to the powers that anointed him.

A cursory examination of the time and tides that have attended governance at the state level proves the accuracy of my statement. In several states in the nation, godfathers have installed governors- sometimes against popular mandate; the ‘anointed’ in these cases have had to maintain strict loyalty to the kingmakers, and when they dared to step out of line, the wrath of the godfathers was kindled against them through impeachment attempts etcetera.

Such is the life and political trajectory of “anointed” contestants and candidates. Anambra State under Governor, now Senator Chris Ngige is a case in point.

A candidate elected under popular mandate suffers no such travails; chosen by the people based on their unshaken confidence in the motives, the manifesto and purpose of their preferred candidate, the people sometimes arise in unison to overwhelmingly vote in a candidate of their choice. The heavens alone can save those who scheme to truncate such a mandate through rigging, or to unscrupulously interrupt the candidate’s constitutionally approved term in office through cunningly contrived impeachments.

The nation witnessed such in 1993. Recently enough, in the neighbouring Ekiti State, we witnessed the triumph of a popular mandate on June 21 , 2014, re-enacted again last week when the populist governor of the state triumphed over a protracted battle with opposition lawmakers who sought to impeach him at all cost. In my humble opinion, these examples reveal the tremendous power wielded by a popular mandate.

Concerning the supremacy of a Popular Mandate here in our very own dear Sunshine State, we have also witnessed a government imposed on the many by a few under the guise of a democracy; the two administrations which preceded the present administration are perfect examples of “democracy by anointment” or godfatherism at play in politicking.

A new dawn arose with the emergence of the present governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko who rose to office on the wings of a popular mandate. Attempts were made, through authorized rigging, to truncate his rise but like the popular saying goes, “you can’t keep a good man down”.

Today, we acknowledge that we have a performer in office. His achievement and legacy which run the entire breadth of the state also reveal that his allegiance, as a leader elected on the platform of a popular mandate, lies with the good people of Ondo State. While some factions may have legitimate grouses with the governor, his performance as a statesman and leader is undisputable.

There are two non-negotiable conditions that the Ondo electorate must demand from those who would come forth as aspiring successors:
• They must be willing and able to sustain this legacy of Grassroot Development;
• They must have the grit and the desire to raise the bar concerning governance and service delivery.

The last gubernatorial elections in Ondo State has proven yet again that one who is aligned with God the father would forever triumph over those who rely on the strength of shadowy godfathers.
Two questions that I am regularly asked by friends and other stakeholders in this state are “What is my vision for Ondo State?” and “Where would I love to see Ondo State in the nation’s political equation?”

My constant answer has always been that given our history as a fiercely independent-minded and autonomy-seeking people, I see several similarities between my beloved state and the ancient city-state of Sparta.

The Spartans, like Ondo people, rejected every attempt at subjugation and oppression by neighboring empires, fiercely guarding their autonomy. Like Ondo, the government of Sparta placed much emphasis on its political independence, the education and welfare of its citizens. It is said that Spartan youths underwent the rigorous agoge training and education regimen, and Spartan phalanges were widely considered to be among the best in battle while their women enjoyed considerably more rights and equality to men than elsewhere in the classical world.

This is the Ondo State of my dreams; a state that guards its autonomy against political annexation, a state that continues in its rejection of godfatherism of any hue or tone, a state that prides itself in its uniqueness of looking neither East nor West- only forward!

I am sure that we are all aware that we have a party that is uniquely ours- beholden neither to a godfather nor to invaders nor occupiers, but to the Almighty God.

As it is often said, “the voice of the people is the voice of God”, we are also awre that the Labour Party remains the voice of the voiceless and the voice of the people. For the good people of Ondo State, what is the promise of a popular mandate, as election year draws nigh?What is the counsel to the Akin, Kola, Fayoke, and Iyabo on the street?

It is a note of “shine your eye”; the myth of anointed candidates have been busted across the land. The superiority of a popular mandate has come to the fore, and our dear state would do well to toe the line in this regard.

It is common knowledge that the first sparks of South-Western activism and progressivism were born in Ondo State when the Action Group held its first meeting in the palace of the Olowo of Owo, where Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Pa Adekunle Ajasin and several others set the agenda for the Western Region, and from that place built a region that was the pride of the nation from no other resource than Ondo State’s cocoa.

As a matter of fact, I make bold to say that the famed Cocoa House in Ibadan, Oyo State and institutions like Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile – Ife, Osun State were built with proceeds of the cocoa business in Idanre, Owo, Ondo, Akure, Akoko, etcetera- all in Ondo State. This underscores our riches in terms of resources even as far back as the pre-1960 era.

As bearers of a proud, dignified, irrepressible, principled legacy, as the descendants of stoic, valiant,uncolonized progressives, the onus is on us to keep the banner flying high. It is worthy of note to state here that the 2014 National Conference which was convened to work out modalities for the implementation of true federalism in which federating units would gain relative autonomy and contribute a portion of their revenue to the centre (Abuja), was opposed for selfish reasons by the very ones who have sought, for some time now, to hijack the political apparatus of our darling state.
For their self-centred reasons, these persons rejected the submissions of the National Conference, boasting instead that they would soon assume command of the centre- Abuja. It is instructive to note that the recent developments at the National Assembly in the build-up to, during and with the conclusion of the election of principal officers has exposed them to much ridicule and opprobrium.

The results of the elections from which Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara emerged as leaders in the National Assembly have given a prophetic tinge to the words of renowned activist Yinka Odumakin who stated quite perceptively that an adherence to Pa Awo’s demand for a truly federal Nigeria is a better deal for the Yoruba’s than any paltry offerings of political positions that are more accurately described as “Esau’s Pottage”.

It is for this reason that persons such as our father here, the lead speaker, my humble self and other persons such as the erudite Yinka Odumakin have continued to champion the agitation for the implementation of the submissions of the 2014 National Conference as regards the push for a truly Federal Nigeria.

It is also for this reason that I continue to call on all noble, courageous and honourable sons of Ondo, the Sunshine State, abide by the Biblical injunction, “Stand fast, and be not en-yoked again with the yoke of slavery”.

As a resource-rich state, we have the wherewithal to stand as an autonomous entity politically, notwithstanding the shenanigans and political mathematics being bandied by mere political usurpers who would cart us off into bondage and slavery if we do not take heed. I say Ondo State must remain free of the overbearing influence of political Pharaohs who see the nation as their personal estate!
Ondo must beware of the chains of slavery being disguised as inter-party alliances!!

I stand this day to announce that the Ondo electorate should be wary of politicians who come to you with bags of naira, or in the shadow of a supposed godfather or kingmaker. The voters in Ondo State should be conscious of the fact that if a politician offers you cash incentives or related materials to work for him/her, you have received your just reward and cannot expect any dividends from such a person in the event that he//she succeeds in his bid for office.

As an individual, I am of the conviction that the ideas of forced leadership, coerced leadership, leadership by proxy and “anointment for office” are dated ideas, belonging not to this era, but to the dustbins of our checkered history as a state, and as a nation.
Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, has proved the superiority of popular mandate over anointed mandates. His unbeatable legacy across the state also proves that for the enlightened electorate, the man elected on the ticket of a popular mandate is the sure and safe bet any day.

In keeping with our history, the people of Ondo State will do well to demand, when election time comes, a leader who bears a popular mandate. Such a leader would exhibit personal traits of courage, decisiveness and an unrestrained love for his constituency- the common folk who, with love, elected him to office.

This may pit him constantly against entrenched interests aka the cabal and the aristocracy of the state aka the godfathers. He would however always emerge victorious because he has the unyielding support of his people. Such a leader never need to utter platitudes like “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”. Why? He belongs to his people- he knows his people and his people know him! The leader elected on popular mandate would see no need to shy away from issues such as asset declaration; he declares his asset because he knows for sure he can defend them all.

Amongst the multitudes who aspire to public office, the astute observer is sure to find varying personalities with varying motivations, interests, allegiances, alliances, and loyalties.

Many are not even their own man in the first place, enburdened as they are, with alliances entered into in the secret meetings of the night and obligations to the godfathers who handpicked them. It is foolhardy of an electorate to expect that such would deliver the much sought dividends of democracy to them.

Commonsense, on the other hand, surmises that the candidate who rises on a popular mandate is indeed his own man, and furthermore, he is “a man of the people”. As I said earlier, “the voice of the people is the voice of God”, and going forward, if the people elect their man, then the people, win, and what’s more Godwin.

As I close, let me say without any prevarication that I am full of great hope for the future of Ondo State as I have this conviction that our people will remain un-cowed in the face of godfathers and all external alliances that seek to occupy our state. This conviction has kindled another song in me, and I invite you to sing it with me if you know the words.

Thank you.

Olukayode Ajulo, a lawyer, is the Bamofinlewe of Akure Kingdom and the National Secretary of Labour Party.

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