The Yoruba have excellent wise sayings for every situation. The race puts you on the lane of circumspection and precautions with their apothegmatic remarks to help you take informed decisions in different circumstances. With their axioms at the back of your mind, you are never lost in taking rational decisions to guide your steps.
One of such axioms says: “Omo eni kii se’di bebere ki a fi ileke si idi omo elomiran.” (You don’t give to another man’s daughter the waist beads meant for your own daughter on account of her big waist).
The moral: do not cut off your face to spite your nose. It is not wise to give to someone else what your own deserves because you find a fault with your own.
Another adage says: “Omo eni kii buru titi, k’a fi f’ekun pa je.” (However obstinate your child may be, you do not cast him to the leopard to devour).
Again, the Yoruba teach self-restraint in times of anger. “Inu kii bi ‘ni ka gbe omo eni sinu eerun. Bi inu ba ro, inu eerun ko ni ro.” (You do not, in a moment of anger, dump your child into the colony of soldier ants. When your anger subsides, the soldier ants’ sting will not go).
For the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, this is the time to apply the race’s axioms for the welfare of the people. It appears that the organisation has so far violated these dicta in this electioneering period. It is doing so in utter insensitivity, and without sparing a thought for the future.
The puzzle is: should Afenifere reject a Yoruba presidential candidate and embrace an Igbo flag bearer?
Without mincing word, the ethnic mouthpiece, posing as a national platform, has unleashed a curious contradiction by deviating from the vision and practices of its illustrious founding fathers.
In a dimension, it smacks of ideological confusion that a regional progressive platform is protecting the interest of another region while jeopardising its own.
The highly decimated organisation has breached its own code. It has also forgotten its glorious past: its cherished history, antecedents, struggles, travails, exploits, vision, mission and its place in the Southwest and beyond, including Kwara, Kogi and Republic of Benin, where the Yoruba have kith and kin.
Afenifere cannot be insulated from politics. It is a regional socio-political group. All the chieftains of the group are politicians. They are expected to operate under the progressive umbrella, in accordance with the teaching of its indomitable progenitor, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
But, in this political season, Afenifere, unlike in the past when it floated the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and later the Democratic Peoples Alliance (DPA) in the Southwest, is now “partyless.”
It is currently pursuing a divisive agenda in the region and setting an unusual precedent by identifying with a political tendency without first building a consensus at home.
Although Afenifere was formed principally to defend the interest of the Yoruba, and by extension, its sons and daughters, the group is trying to illogically tamper with the political interest of many of its members by assisting outsiders to attack their aspiration.
The position of Afenifere Leader, Pa Rueben Fasoranti, on the 2023 elections is never at variance with the opinion of the vast majority of Yoruba people. A role model and mentor, the elder statesman is not a leader who can deviate from the pursuit of the best for the race.
Fasoranti came as a unifier. He was given the mandate to deputise for the former leader, Senator Abraham Adesanya, when complaints about domination by the “Ijebu Mafia” filled the air. In post-Adesanya era, it was reasoned that the leadership of the group should “rotate” or be “zoned” to “Ekiti/Ondo axis”.
It is noteworthy that the old man of Akure and one of the finest Yoruba breed, an accomplished education statesman, incorruptible and selfless politician, and highly esteemed, reticent community leader, once resigned as leader of the group over what he called indiscipline.
Although members prevailed on him to continue his leadership role, he finally decided to step aside last year. But, he is still acknowledged as the undisputed leader.
If Sir Olaniwun Ajayi were alive, he would have succeeded Fasoranti. But, having passed on, the lot to deputise for Fasoranti fell on Adebanjo, lawyer and fearless activist, pioneer Action Group (AG) Organising Secretary, a loyal disciple of the late sage, Awolowo, and a hero of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) onslaught against the brutish military.
The group he inherited had split during the controversial ‘Akure Declaration’ that Senator Mojisoluwa Akinfenwa, and not Chief Bisi Akande, was the authentic AD National Chairman because the convention that produced him in Abuja, and not the convention that produced Akande in Lagos, appeared to Afenifere to have followed the laid down guidelines.
While Fasoranti continued to lead a section of the group, made up of leaders like Chief Olu Falae, Senator Kofo Bucknor-Akerele, Senator Femi Okunrounmu, Basorun Seinde Arogbofa, Chief Korede Duyile and Chief Segun Adegoke, his compatriot from AG days, the late Senator Ayo Fasanmi, continued to lead the second group, which had the late Senator Biyi Durojaye, Aremo Olusegun Osoba, Alhaji Olatunji Hamzat, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Chief Bisi Akande, Chief Michael Koleoso, the late Senator Sikiru Shitta-Bey and Chief Busura Alebiosu.
Efforts by the intellectual wing, Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), to unite the two camps at a meeting in Ibadan, Oyo State capital, collapsed.
Due to the factionalisation, Afenifere became fragile and its media and public ratings as a formidable and united front for Yoruba diminished.
The crux of the matter now is the position of Chief Adebanjo, who is acting for Chief Fasoranti, on next year’s polls. The deputy leader’s preference is in public glare. He has declared support for the presidential candidate of Labour Party (LP) and former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi.
Observers say the elder statesman is entitled to his opinion. He has the inalienable right to mobilise for any candidate of his choice.
But, what is puzzling is whether the combative Acting Leader has the moral right to brand his personal wish and present it as the collective agenda of the Southwest.
Many children of Oduduwa are asking: Is it proper for Afenifere to declare support for Obi, an Igbo, at a time an eminent Yoruba son, one of the chieftains of the group and former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Tinubu, is the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Would Ohanaeze Ndigbo, led by Prof. George Obiozor, ask Afenifere to support Asiwaju Tinubu while castigating Obi, an Igbo son?
Is it not better under the present circumstance for Pa Adebanjo to maintain a dignified silence instead of villifying Tinubu and heaping praises on Obi, while leaning on the umbrella ethnic mouthpiece?
How will Afenifere resolve the contradiction? When was it resolved in Afenifere that the organisation should turn its back against a Yoruba man and support an outsider?
Many Yoruba leaders subverted Awo. He never realised his dream of ruling Nigeria. Some Yoruba also undermined the late Chief Moshood Abiola. He won the 1993 election but never assumed the reins. Why should Afenifere wage war against Tinubu, another Yoruba icon?
The old political warhorse, Action Grouper and warlike deputy leader is an experienced politician. He is aware of the organisation’s strengths, weaknesses or limitations. He is also aware of the fact that his stand on 2023 is not representative of the popular yearning in Yoruba land. The question is: why the gamble?
Pa Adebanjo has tried to justify his controversial position, although his arguments lacked persuasion. Neither is his remark conciliatory at a time the politically distressed organisation is yearning for unity and harmony, which have eluded it for almost two decades.
Pa Adebanjo has been attacking Tinubu for supporting Muhammadu Buhari since 2015. He has transferred his hostility to the APC candidate, saying that if elected in next year’s election, his administration will be a continuation of Buhari’s government.
The Acting Leader said he knows Obi very well. It is debatable. The claim has to be further interrogated. Pa Adebanjo insinuated that the LP candidate is better than Tinubu. But he never attempted a comparative analysis of the contributions of the two candidates to substantiate the doubtful claim. He said: “Ahmed Tinubu will only give continuity to Buhari’s incompetence. We know Peter Obi very well. That is why we endorse him. He will not disappoint Nigerians. Let’s put tribal sentiment apart and vote for right leaders.”
The outburst may have compounded the challenge of disunity in the fold and reduced the prospect of reconciliation, now and in the future.
Some issues may be deduced from Pa Adebanjo’s comment. A case of transferred aggression is clearly established. His Afenifere only reenacted the Awoist’s hostility towards Buhari, whose administration humiliated Awolowo by seizing his passport after the December 31, 1983 military coup. This may be justifiable.
The Yoruba elder never said Tinubu is incompetent. But he committed a fallacy of easy generalisation by insinuating that if elected as president, Tinubu will continue what he called “Buhari’s incompetence”.
What incompetence has Tinubu exhibited that made the chief to think that he will preside over an incompetent government in post-Buhari period? Was Tinubu an incompetent Mobil treasurer, senator, governor, NADECO activist, opposition arrowhead, or an incompetent National Leader of the ruling party?
Adebanjo claims that he knows Obi, probably as a former banker, former governor, member of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), defector to Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), former running mate to a PDP presidential candidate, and a serial defector by virtue of his defection to the LP.
One thing that Pa Adebanjo, a man of principle, dislikes – and this is public knowledge – is jumping ship. He prides himself as a consistent progressive from the days of Awo, who has shunned conservative platforms.
By supporting Obi, who could as well be assessed within the context of serial defections, the eminent Yoruba chief seemed to have reviewed his stand on the virtue of consistency, which has now been sacrificed by his preferred candidate on the altar of survival.
The Acting Leader said it was time to downplay tribal sentiment. Those who disagree with him may be quick to point out that Nigeria, with its quota system, federal character, catchment area, rotation and zoning struggles, is not one. It is thirsty for unity in diversity. Adebanjo himself has often retorted that national unity is negotiable. It is because Nigeria is not one; it is an amalgam of incompatible social formations.
Cross-regional political collaboration is good. But, should the terms not be spelt out and mutually understood?
If people should forget ethnicity, as Pa Adebanjo has counselled, where do we now place Awo’s admonition that you must first of all be a good indigene of your town, your state and your region before you become a good citizen of Nigeria?
Afenifere’s position on 2023 means the organisation has never learnt from its past mistakes. Yet, the lessons are very instructive.
In the past, the organisation exhibited the tendency for forging a questionable alliance with strange bedfellows, thereby mocking its puritanical posturing.
It appears that Afenifere leaders, particularly members of the “Controlling Leadership,” are experiencing boredom outside power, having been left in the cold. That was the fallout of the mismanagement of its political achievements and opportunities in the Southwest between 1999 and 2003.
What has led Afenifere to serious deviation and turbulence was its weak crisis resolution mechanism and lack of forgiving spirit. Two unresolved crises – the Bola Ige/Olu Falae rift at D’Rovans in Ibadan during the historic AD presidential primary and the protracted feud in the Lagos AD/Afenifere chapter between Tinubu and Alhaji Ganiyu Dawodu – laid the foundation of an enduring friction, distrust and division among the Awoists of Yoruba land, who, in post-Awo era, legitimately craved greater political relevance.
After visiting former military President Ibrahim Babangida (IBB), the late Awo warned his disciplines to always learn to eat with the devil with a long spoon. When he died, they refused to heed his prophetic advice.
Many of them participated in the elusive search for a new order in the aborted Third Republic, which was packaged to fail by IBB. At the end, they were terribly disappointed.
Again, Southwest Awoists on the joint platform of Afenifere/AD erroneously struck a deal with former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003. The end was catastrophic.
Members of Awo political family forgot that Obasanjo’s meddlesomeness in the Ige/Afolabi rift aggravated the tension in Oyo State chapter of defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the Second Republic.
Twenty-one years after, they fell into another trap by sealing an inexplicable pact with trickish General Obasanjo, who they later accused of political betrayal. A political earthquake swept across the poll-confident Southwest. The five AD governors supported by Afenifere-Lam Adesina(Oyo), Akande (Osun), Osoba (Ogun), Adebayo Adefarati (Ondo) and Niyi Adebayo (Ekiti)-never survived it. Only Tinubu of Lagos, who was rejected by the organisation, survived.
Afenifere never recovered from the political tragedy. That loss of political control in its traditional stronghold marked the eclipse of regional relevance. By the time a section of the progressive bloc bounced back in Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo, Osun and Ogun, without the backing of Afenifere, it was evident that the group could only hold on to old glory.
Majority of Afenifere chieftains, who can really mobilise for election and win power, share a contrary opinion to Pa Adebanjo’s group. Can the Adebanjo camp mobilise for political action with success more than the Afenifere group, to which Olusi, Osoba and Akande belong?
Could it be said that in the last one decade Afenifere under Pa Adebanjo has contributed to the development of Yoruba land more than ARG, which has designed and mobilised for the implementation of sound educational, cultural, socio-economic and political programmes for the benefit of Yoruba land?
Observers believe that Afenifere has been battling with a fading influence and losing its potency, following its unresolved protracted crisis.
It got to a climax when the group started looking for new friends outside its ideological circle. Afenifere supported former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. In 2019, it gravitated towards Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Both contested on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
On both occasions, the two candidates lost, based on the results declared by the independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and verdict of the Supreme Court.
In its Southwest base, Afenifere could not spring any surprise.
In retrospection, the group’s support for Jonathan and Atiku amounted to an avoidable ideological summersault.
Afenifere was uncritically carried away by the carrot dangled by Atiku, who campaigned four years ago on the borrowed platform of restructuring, which is one of its priorities and proposed solutions to the defective and lopsided federal structure.
But those who disagreed with the organisation raised a question: what effort did Atiku make as Vice President along the line of restructuring to rekindle hope that he would push for true federalism, if he captures power in 2023?
It may also be asked: Why has Afenifere abandoned Atiku for Obi?
The former Vice President, at least, promised restructuring. What has Obi promised Afenifere?
In 2023, it is doubtful if Afenifere will be a factor in winning or losing the presidential election.