A chapter has closed in the annals of the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, following the decision of its leader, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, to step down on account of old age.
Simultaneously, a new chapter opened with the decision of the organisation to select Chief Ayo Adebanjo as the acting leader.
Akure-born Fasoranti, great educationist and reticent Awoist politician, had stepped down at 95. His successor, Adebanjo, a 93-year old lawyer and combative politician from Remoland, is within the same age bracket.
For the group, this is another era of gerontocratic monitoring. But, will the pompous and over-ambitious Yoruba youths, who are desperately looking for power and money, come under the guidance of experienced elders? The youths are in a hurry. That impatience could also be theiir undoing.
Elders in Yorubaland know that Afenifere exists. The youths have a faint idea about its existence and relevance. They now erroneously think that only the political class has jurisdiction over regional interest articulation. Even, to politically conscious youths, the influence of Afenifere is fading as a polarised body. It is being dwarfed by the influence of the more fragmented class of elected political actors, many of who have no link with the organisation.
Adebanjo is assuming the reins as the group is warming up for its 70th anniversary. Afenifere had a beautiful beginning. In the time of peace and war, it has done great exploits. The relative advantageous position of the Southwest in the pre-independence and immediate independence era was due to the wonders of Afenifere government. That administration was second to none in Africa. It has remained a reference point for many decades.
On the front burner in 1951 was the Action Group (AG), led by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. But, in the Southwest, its cradle, were Yoruba who turned the party into a movement, following its christening as Egbe Afenifere by the first Ibadan lawyer, parliamentarian and regional Minister of Agriculture, the late Chief Adisa Akinloye.
Afenifere was the only label and cultural identity that was not banned by the military interlopers who displaced legitimate authorities in 1966. Along with the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), it is on record that the group fought the military to a standstill, while protesting the criminal annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election by General Ibrahim Babangida and the plot to perpetuate military rule in disguise by Gen. Sani Abacha.
Lamentably, crisis hit the regional mouthpiece as civil rule was being restored. Today, it is still nursing self-inflicted wounds of division. Can Adebanjo reconcile the two dominant groups in Afenifere? Efforts by the Afenifere Renewal Group(ARG) to unite the fold collapsed in the past. Can the new leader implement the required reforms and bring all Yoruba progressives under one umbrella? Can the crisis resolution mechanism be revived? Is there anything like forgiving spirit in Afenifere?
Like the Arewa Consultative Forum(ACF) and Ohanaeze Ndigbo, has Afenifere not become another bulldog that can only bark, but cannot bite? Are the children of Oduduwa across the eight Yoruba states (Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Lagos, Ekiti, and parts of Kwara and Kogi) relating with Afenifere as the Northerners relate to ACF and Igbos in Southeast and Southsouth relate to Ohaeneze? Does Afenifere fill the consciousness of the Southwest people? How did the ethnic umbrella organisation become a shadow of it’s old glory?
Fasoranti, Second Republic Ondo State Finance Commissioner, was nominated as acting leader by the ailing leader, Senator Abraham Adesanya, based on the advice of younger chieftains, who pointed out that the appointment of either Sir Olaniwun Ajayi or Adebanjo would make it appear that Afenifere was being monopolised by Lagos based Ijebu Mafia that had dominated the Controliing Leadership.
However, in the saddle, the influence of Ajayi and Adebanjo continued to rub off on the decisions taken by Adesanya’s successor.
Fasoranti became leader at a time of grave crisis that ultimately polarised the group into the Fasoranti/Ajayi/Adebanjo/Kofo Bucknor/Okunrounmu/Arogbofo faction and the Fasanmi/Durojaye/Akande/Tinubu/Adesina/Osoba/Koseoso/Hamzat/Olusi faction.
The first phase of crisis that shook the family was during the 1999 presidential primary of the Alliance for Democracy (AD). The conflict was never resolved. The D’Rovian rift between Chief Bola Ige and Chief Olu Falae never ended. The result, in part, may have been the coming on board of the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), led by two Afenifere chieftains-Ven. Emmanuel Alayande and Justice Adewale Thompson.
Similarly, the protracted feud between Chief Ganiyu Dawodu, an old Action Grouper, and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Third Republic senator, former governor of Lagos State and All Progressives(APC) national leader, also escalated. Olaniwun Ajayi’s 60:40 formula for crisis resolution was not mutually acceptable. What followed was the parting of ways by ideologues.
From 2002, Afenifere could not also resolve the personality clashes between governors and their deputies in the Southwest. Later, intellectuals like Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, whose illustrious father, Canon Akinyemi, was also an early Afenifere chieftain, and Dr. Dapo Fafowora, a retired diplomat, started to withdraw from the group as the atmosphere was not conducive to thorough debate of ideas and problem solving.
Afenifere is a political group. Therefore, it is not expected to be politically neutral. Yet, when its party, AD, was engulfed with crisis, the elders could not resolve the logjam to the satisfaction of the contending forces.
The leadership tussle in the AD between two friends-Chief Bisi Akande and Senator Mojisoluwa Akinfenwa-further divided Afenifere. There were parallel congresses in Abuja and Lagos. As Fasoranti declared that the congress that threw up Akinfenwa in Abuja as national chairman appeared to him to have satisfied the guidelines, there was uproar. It was the last straw that broke the back of the camel. The second group rejected the Fasoranti leadership and stormed the Jibowu secretariat to proclaim Senator Ayo Fasanmi as deputy leader.
The split in Afenifere did not have ideological connotation. The factions continued to espouse the Awoist creek of ‘Freedom for All, Life More Abundant,’ federalism and unity in diversity, devolution of power and resource control based on derivation, respect for component federating units and state police.
But, the lack of cohesion affected public perception about the organisation. Besides, past mistakes continued to hunt the body. The romance and support for the second term ambition of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the defeat of its sponsored party in five of six Southwest states in 2003, the deep gulf between Afenifere and its lone governor, Tinubu, who was not supported for second term, and other internal contradictions aggravated the protracted crisis.
Afenifere was enveloped in manh controversies. The deputy leader, Ige, accepted a ministerial appointment from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) national leader, President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999. It was apparently to spite the group. Afenifere said he was on his own.
The secretary of the group, Ayo Opadokun, was accused of hobnobbing with the All Peoples Party (APP) governor of Kwara State. He was removed. The elders may have forgotten that in 1999, AD and APP floated a joint platform for presidential election.
Later, another chieftain, Senator Cornelius Adebayo, former governor of Kwara State, was also made minister by Obasanjo. No eyebrow was raised.
Much later, the organisation started supporting PDP candidates, unmindful of the perception of observers who retained the opinion that AC, ACN and even APC appeared to share the ideas of Afenifere than the PDP. The PDP elements may have cajoled the group by campaigning for the presidency on the borrowed platform of restructuring.
As Afenifere also could not restraint itself from canvassing support for its members on the platform of the conservative party, a dangerous message was being passed that it has diluted its ideological position. It meant that the door of the group was thrown open to Yoruba people harbouring contradictory ideological views. Therefore, the claim of political consistency was invalidated.
In November 2015, Fasoranti was fed up. He resigned his position as leader without consulting other elders, who had been his colleagues since they joined AG in 1951. He gave cogent reasons for his action, conscious of the judgement of history. The eminent politician said he was tired of indiscipline that had permeated the group.
He also complained about disloyalty to Afenifere’s fundamental cause, vision, mission, time-tested goals and priorities.
The old school teacher was prevailed upon to rescind his decision. A man of few words, h accepted the pleas with usual superlative calmness and dignity. But, since then, he had become a reluctant leader, who only agreed to lead based on the assurance that Afenifere will reclaim its moral status.
Although Fasoranti has passed the baton to Adebanjo, the organisation said it will continue to hold its meetings at his Akure residence.
For Adebanjo, becoming the leader of Afenifere may be an accomplishment of sorts; a fulfillment of rare dream. Much is expected of the old political warhorse and associate of Awo as he steers the affairs of the complex organisation.
There are some puzzles: should reform begins in Afenifere through an endorsement of constitution for the group? Since Afenifere is a political body that may not been able to jettison partisan politics, should all Afenifere members be in one progressive party or parties, or cohabit with reactionary elements on a conservative platform?
Yorubaland is facing threats by bandits, rapists, and kidnappers. Herders/farmers clashes are creating tension. Also, the battle for devolution has not been won. Afenifere, working in concert with oy ther groups within the race, has to mobilise Yoruba sons and daughters to meet these challenges.
Also, Afenifere must continue to work with other ethnic nationalities in resolving the national question. The crowd of chieftains that had shunned Afenifere gatherings must return to the fold. Unity is strength.
The pervading feeling among the somehow dormant and absentee chieftains of Afenifere is that the vibrant and vocal leader has often been credited with highly inflammatory utterances that had created tension between him and supposedly colleagues and rivals in the Awoist family who were electorally lucky and hence, perceived to be more successful in their chequered politicl careers.
Pa Adebanjo may need to be less combative, less inflexible and more condescending within the larger fold. Harsh statements should be avoided at this stage. As the father of all, he should assemble his scattered children and bring them under the same Afenifere roof. He should forgive those that may have offended him in the group and preside over genuine reconciliation in the larger interest of Afenifere and Yorubaland.
The new leader should also plan for succession after uniting the fold and repositioning the organisation for future challenges.