Things fall apart, can the centre still hold? – Afenifere: The Nunc Dimitis …..The Nation

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THE NATION

Things fall apart, can the centre still hold?

30/11/2008

Afenifere the pan-Yoruba group is facing a major crisis with the emergence of factional leaders in the past few years. The feud in the group took a new dimension penultimate week with the emergence of the Afenifere Renewal Group. Deputy Editor, Adewale Adeoye examines the crisis in one of Nigeria’s oldest socio-political formations

Like a split egg meant for Omelet, bottled up grievances in Afenifere, the Pan-Yoruba socio political group, has burst open, this time in a messier manner. Some observers fear the possibility of remolding the pieces into a single whole may be difficult.

Afenifere

is arguably the oldest socio-political formation in Nigeria, having been established close to half a decade. Penultimate week, a faction of the group held a meeting at Ijebu Igbo, hometown of Pa Abraham Adesanya, the immediate past leader of the group who died not too long ago. The gathering later chose Chief Rueben Fasoranti, an Ondo state native and key actor in Afenifere’s long standing history, as the new leader. He says his group will remake Afenifere.

Almost with the speed of lightening, a new group which is another formidable chip off the block chose a revered pro-democracy figure, Mr. Wale Osun who emerged as one of the champions of a new force. Mr Osun is an outstanding advocate of liberty, freedom and an egalitarian society. He was an outstanding figure in the bitter struggle against the military, having risked his life on many occassions. Osun is also a nectar that draws a large section of the younger Yoruba elements. In a well publicised advert in dailies, the group, tagged Afenifere Renewal Group, ARG noted: “We of the Afenifere Renewal Group, ARG a group of the younger elements within the progressive camp in Yorubaland who have been meeting and organizing for change in the direction of politics in Yorubaland and ultimately in Nigeria do hereby announce our resolve to seize the mantle of an heritage that has served us so well as a people but one that is unfortunately currently tottering.’

The election of Fasoranti was trailed with congratulatory messages from some Peoples Democratic Party, PDP stalwarts, a clear indication that the recent cleavages are not without political undertones. The Fasonranti group claim that his group will bring hope to the Yoruba nation. The ARG says it is better placed to realise the Yoruba dream. Some have also pointed to the problem of ‘ego’ among some of the leaders who found it difficult to halt a feud that started as a minor hitch, but has assumed a monstruous proportion.

‘The division in Afenefere is unfortunate. We thought we would have been able to manage the crisis before it went out of hand,’ an octogenarian and one of the first generation of Afenifere pioneers told The Nation. He said part of the challenges facing the group was the desire of a section to ensure that an older person is at the helms of affairs ‘Some people want someone in his 70s/80s to lead Afenifere,’ he said. But emergent scenes show that the issues seem beyond the age issue. There appear to be critical issues of vision, perception of political reality and the differences between pro-hegemonic forces and those that support an autonomous Yoruba people that can assert their self-actualisation in the Nigerian federation. This seems to be responsible for the deep inner contradictions that is tearing the group into shreds. In recent pasts, there have been clear and fundamental issues bordering on lack of perception, inability to understand and appreciate the mood of the majority of Yoruba people and their desires, follwed by greed and the incursion of reactionary forces that seem bent on dominating the group. The octogenarian admit of the share ‘lack of vision’ and the ‘penetration of unitarist forces’ that find it difficult to dignify an organisation established several decades ago and expected to lead a new generation of people with progressive attitude, sense of justice and real democratic and humane culture in an increasingly dehamanising and filthy Nigerian economic and socio-political world.

‘One of the major problems of Afenifere is the inability of a section of the group to respond to modern demands of leadership which requires imbibing democratic principles and democratizing the structures of the organisation to make it more transparent, people-driven, efficient and effective,’ Evangelist Kunle Adesokan of the Federation for Yoruba Consciousness and Culture, FYCC told The Nation.

He regretted that the Yoruba people that used to place themselves as the ‘first in everything has fallen into a state of political stupor’ and have been pushed into the back bench of development in the country adding that the division in Afenifere will further compound the problem.

Though the division in Afenifere was further compounded only few weeks ago, the grievances have been inherent for quite a long time. The first in recent times came up after the meeting of the group’s caucus at D Rovan Hotel in Ibadan in 1998 when Chief Bola Ige, the then Deputy leader of Afenifere protested the decision of the leadership to dump him as the presidential candidate of the Alliance for Democracy, AD. The AD at the time was controlled by the Afenifere.

To the amazement of Ige, who had been one of the oldies, he was voted out in favour of Chief Olu Falae. But the disagreement at the meeting only brought into sharp focus the veiled differenes between the old men which had been cleverly subdued since the days of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Chief Ige seemed to have subsequently began a massive mobilization against some of the leadership which he felt betrayed him among whom was Chief Ayo Adebanjo.

It appeared that the crack was later exploited by reactionary forces at the centre, led by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. He did not only offer Ige the position of the Minister of Justice, he lured Pa Adesanya’s daughter, Mrs.Dupe Adelaja to take the post of the Minister of State for Defence thereby putting Pa Adesanya in a serious moral dilemma. The loud condemnation of his daughter’s action was roundly overwhelmed by the chorus of forces bent on demystifying the old man and putting Afenifere into ridicule. . In the year 2003 when Ige seemed to have realized the futility of his flirtation with a political trend he had fought for more that 50 percent of his life, it was too late. He was believed to have been lured and murdered obviously by suspected forces bent on putting Afenifere on the hot line.

‘Few days before he was murdered, Afenifere had wanted to suspend him. But Pa Adesanya prevailed that he should not be suspended. If Afenifere had suspended him, it would have looked as if the murder was masterminded by the group. Thank God he was not suspended.’ Adesokan said. The decision to target Ige by those who hate the Afenifere principles may not be unconnected with his political status. ‘He was the brain box of Afenifere, the intellectual power house, the most cerebral, witty and ideologically clear cadre among his peers. He had far-reaching network across the entire Southwest and was dreaded by the North not only because of his mastery of the political game but also because he understood very fluently Hausa, the language of power politics in Nigeria.’ .

Some analysts think the battle for the revival of Afenifere was actually lost on May 29 1999, when its candidate Olu Falae, lost the election to a man widely considered to be one of Yoruba’s most reactionary politicians, Gen Obasanjo.He had openly condemned tribal politics but rose to become Nigerian leader on two occasions based on his ethnic origin yet would later do everything humanly possible to destroy any regional grouping.

On assumption in office, one reliable source hinted that the first thing his government did was to commission a top politician to produce a document on how to destroy regionally based political formations, Afenifere being the main target. The source claimed that the document gave the regime far reaching insight into the modus operandi of Afenifere. This was said to have been the weapon that the regime used to weaken the organisation.Though it is believed in certain quarters that Ige’s lost during the primaries deepened the festering internal feud. But Ige’s exit seemed not to have doused the smoke, fuelling the thinking that other factors were at play.

‘Other sharp differences have since emerged within the Afenifere fold that are not linked with D’ Roven, one source claimed. The source list the decision of some of the Afenifere stalwarts to join the centre government by pushing for a delink from agelong ideological tenets of self-determination and regionalism which are some of the core philosophies of Afenifere.

‘Some of these people have dumped the agelong position simply because of the juicy offers that many of them stand to benefit from the central government’, Mr Akeem Jamiu of Afenifere ARG in Ekiti State told The Nation. He regretted that in Ekiti some of them who had written scathing criticisms on the concept of mainstream politics represented by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the state began to slogan it as the party that the Yoruba should support. Hear him: ‘Mainstream politics cannot help the Yoruba. This is evident in the woeful years of Gen Obasanjo’s eight years. His mainstream politics impoverished the Yoruba people and demystified the race. He was so wicked to a race that was so geneous to him.’ He said after eight years as the President, Obasanjo ‘could not even tar the road that leads to his hometown. The battle that Afenifere has fought since 1948 to protect the Southwest as a bastion of resistance to tyranny was whittled away in 2003 and 2007. By the share use of force, the federal authority imposed candidates in almost all the states in the Southwest area,’ Jamiu stated.

But there are others who see the Wahala in Afenifere as partly connected with a conscious effort to emasculate the group and completely destroy it. But what will be the gain of such heinous plot? Yet, one source argue that the ban on politics and the emergence of a rabidly reactionary military force since August 27, 1985 when Gen Ibrahim Babangida came to power further contribute to the emasculation of Afenifere. ‘The years of military rule created a generation gap among the Yoruba people. Many of the younger people were born during the military era. These set of people are ignorant of Afenifere’s glamorous past and the grandeur associated with the past when the trend brought glory to the southwest under Chief Obafemi Awolowo’ said Alhaji Lawal Adewumi, member of Afenifere in Ijebu-Ode. He said unfortunately many of these younger but ignorant people have come of age to vote by the time the military lifted the ban on politics in 1998. ‘The problem ofAfenifere is partly linked with the challenges imposed by the military. The military destroyed regional heritages, fueled corruption, greed and poverty of ideas’ says Chief Akin Falae of the Action Congress, AC in Ekiti State.

He said the concept of Afenifere which means ‘humanity for good’ was destroyed by the military. He said the Fasoranti’s group has successfully been lured by the PDP. ‘This is a conscious attempt to draw the Yoruba into the mess that Obasanjo imposed on the people of the SouthWest.’ He said the ‘plot smacks of military culture strange to the people of the region’ He further regreted that not only were cultural and indigenous books contained in the school curriculum which nurtured the Yoruba essence and being banned and supplanted by the military but that a conscious effort was made to create a generation gap among the Yoruba people. Adewumi said the problem was compounded by the fact that a section of the Afenifere leadership ‘apart from press releases’ fail to create a vital forum for debate or ideological school that should have nursed a larger layer of younger people to strengthen the group’s ideological influence in the sub-region. This was confirmed by this writer’s recent visit to the Primary School attended by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Afenifere pioneer. Non of the students of the school knew who Awo was with one describing him as a former minister. One said he was a former Oba of Ikenne.

Apart from military incursion,Afenifere also seems to have been bedeviled by a recent leadership that has failed to reorganize the group to meet agelong aspirations of the Yoruba people in terms of true federalism, justice and humam liberty. Some observers think this leadership naivete has drastically reduced the group’s influence in places like Delta, Kwara and Edo states. Adewumi said the demise of Afenifere or its seizure by reactionary forces will undermine the spirit of freedom and egalitarian society expecially among the oppressed peoples in Nigeria.

The ARG says it is now ready to reclaim lost grounds by spreading the tentacles of Afenifere , broaden its vision and reenergise it. The crisis in Afenifere seems to concern most people in the South West including the lowly. Abayomi Sotimirin a half-literate vulcanizer who ekes out a living under the bridge in Anthony area of Lagos said in his Ijebu dialect: ‘The Yoruba people have a long history. The idea of taking Yoruba to the centre can never benefit the people’. He said the Yoruba people know what is good for them and are ready to reject what is against the common good. ‘They have a sense of justice. Those who want to use Afenifere to promote centrist policies and to destroy the regional principle of self-determination, freedom and good governance are like fishes out of water. They will not get any body to support them’, he added. He says in the fullness of time, the fake group and the genuine group will be exposed by their actions.Time may prove if the poor fellow is right.

 

THE NATION

 Afenifere: The Nunc Dimitis

30/11/2008

Femi Orebe

The  Nunc Dimittis Servum tuum, is a latin canticle taken from Luke 2: 29-32, meaning: ‘Lord, now you are dismissing  your servant in peace’. How I wish whatever remains of Afenifere was  being dismissed in peace. The mere fact that the Afenifere Renewal Group could go public with its latest move, after its innumerable efforts at reconciling the warring grand  oldies  that populate the organization certainly means there is nothing peaceful about the latest spat within the Afenifere family; a thoroughly rancorous and dysfunctional one for that matter. Just in case these elders do not know it, a critical segment of the Yoruba intelligentsia, as well as its larger public that once venerated the organization to high heavens  and would have done anything in, and for its cause, have long given up on it.  And this  should be no news.

In one of my reviews of the Yoruba Retreat which held in Ibadan 26-28 October,2007  under the auspices of the Renewal Group,  (The Need For A Paradigm Shift In The South-West -The Nation-  20 April, 2008), I have observed as follows: ‘General Akinrinade was right after all. He said it then, and has never tired of saying that had he known that  the Ibadan Yoruba Retreat had anything to do with reconciliation within Afenifere, he would have given it a wide berth. He did not say this ‘in.vacuo’, rather, it was the result of the cumulative frustrations he had personally experienced within Afenifere’. But by any means that was in fact a mild dismissal of the organization.

More was to come.

In the days immediately preceding the final obsequies of Pa Adesanya, apprehensive of a likely backlash within the Afenifere, if not in the larger progressive community in  the geo-political zone, I addressed an urgent message to about  fifty of my friends. I wrote:  Dear Compatriot. This is urgent. There is an urgent reason for a Third Force in Yorubaland: one that is not beholden to the warring groups in Afenifere.  This stems  from my fear that  directly from Pa Adesanya’s burial .the progressives, and one could say the Yoruba nation, will be split down the middle. There has to be a group to moderate  the crisis that is bound to ensue. Although I pray that I am proved wrong, I will appreciate your sending this message to one or two like-minds. Thank you’.

As at the last count, the  message got to at least two hundred Yoruba academics, professionals and opinion moulders who are known to be passionate about the race both at home and in the Diaspora. The reactions I got were totally beyond belief. Today, there is a fledgling ensemble of these friends who keep interrogating events as they pertain to the Yoruba and already  two members had volunteered to single-handedly fund its inaugural public meeting. But it is pertinent to quote here, the initial reaction of  one of the recipients of that message, a university professor. He wrote: ‘ My dear Femi, thank you  for your thoughts and concern for the welfare of our fatherland but I share  a different view of the situation and I thank you for mobilizing my thoughts. My view is this: those our fathers and uncles who started Afenifere did so at age 30,40, 50. They did their best for us thank God . Of recent their politics has been counterproductive. Imagine the debacle that attended the party formation of 1999, and after all the confusion we ended up with a patched up AD with no national muscle  after having helped to form the two other major parties. Femi, there is nothing to moderate after Pa Adesanya’s burial. Rather, we should use the occasion to mobilize youth and middle aged compatriots to form a succeeding group to Afenifere. The remnants  of the octogenarians will become our patrons  and advisers. I just looked at those running the affairs of the South- West now and have a feeling we have missed the road. We have to check again where we coming from, chart a new, modern progressive course and move forward. Thank you and hoping we can expand and consolidate this dialogue’.

That should sum up the current estimation of Afenifere under the leadership of the ‘ancient regime’.

The happy news, however, is that the group my friend  longed after  is already  here, and it is the Afenifere Renewal Group which by its currently running advertorial has served notice of its determination to refuse to be shackled any longer by some filial considerations or culture. Culture, after all, is progressive and where an ossified leadership stands the risk of leading a whole race in the wrong direction, some surgery is an utmost desideratum.

Make no mistake about it: These elders have more than earned their place in the sun. They have served us meritoriously in the past. But for their  wisdom and sagacity then, the goggled one would have made slaves of us. They have, indeed, won themselves a state burial whenever the Lord calls them home irrespective of whether or not their individual state is then being  ruled or ruined by the worst conservative governor. Please note that death is not a chronological thing;  it is not age-bound as day olds die whilst 100 year olds are still basking in the sun. I should therefore not be understood by mischief makers as saying anybody will die. It can be anybody’s turn at anytime, young or old.

There is no reason whatever why any of these highly regarded  leaders should  therefore  wish to sit tight in office.  The newly elected,  in-coming U.S President Obama,  should, after all, be a perfect eye-opener and  response to those of them who think they must die in harness, especially, given their record  of performance since Ajantala, a total stranger,  caused ‘katakata’ within  their ranks.

Of the old leadership, I am closest to Pa Fasoranti. I had met Chief Bola Ige while assisting the late Chief S.J. Okudu on the council of the University of Ibadan on which he was a member, representing the UI Alumni. He knew I was such an avid fan of his so much so  that when I subsequently invited him to give the first ever public lecture at the  now University of Ilorin, he readily obliged. But Pa Fasoranti is, in deed, like a father to me. Deep, philosophical, and forever dependable, he was a tower of support to Pa Adekunle Ajasin as governor of Ondo state. Papa I had met and interacted with as a young Turk of the Unity Party of Nigeria and had come to know him to be so disciplined he would steer a meeting for hours  on end without as much as going to the gents, nor would you see him drink anything beside his glass of water. A leader  among leaders.

It  is only unfortunate then  that it is a man of this outstanding  pedigree that some persons are thrusting forward to pull their chestnuts out of the fire for them. I have n’t the slightest doubt, and here I mean no disrespect to Chief Fasoranti, some mischief, about which he is probably totally unaware, is afoot by some of those who claimed they  installed him Leader of  what  they know  is at  best a faction of Afenifere.

Chief Olu Falae, the urbane political strategist and tactician, together with my Oga, the irrepressible OMO-EKUN,  Chief Wunmi Adegbonmire whose current ‘sit down look’ preferences is totally bewildering and unexplainable, must, for our sake, please rise up, sink whatever differences, and ensure that no group of persons succeed in using ‘Lagos sense’ to mess up our sparkling  Pa Fasonranti who more than deserves his rest in the quietude of his sprawling Akure home.  They should understand that some messy politics,  not unconnected   with  ambitions for Yoruba leadership, is at the root of this latest recrudescence  of intra-Afenifere crises particularly after the Renewal Group has exerted such massive efforts at reconciling them. I suspect it is pay back time for all those   seemingly innocuous funding of events, personal and communal.

 What, after all, would be  better  than to have  an Afenifere leader raise the hands of a ‘supposed’ Yoruba leader?

This is the scheme, and it must be killed before it consumes us all.

Papa must not permit himself to be used, unknowingly,  in this thoroughly insidious  way. The Yoruba race is not short of leaders. Had the North, or better put, the rump of the military, not chosen to inflict a candidate on us in ’99, the likes of the late Uncle Bola Ige, Chiefs Bisi Akande, Bola Tinubu or Segun Osoba,  to mention  just a few, could have given Nigeria a sparkling leadership in the mould of an Awolowo. If that is the case, there must be so many young Yoruba individuals, who can give very effective leadership to Afenifere.

When I look back at the Ibadan Retreat and recall the ‘Ogun titan, Ote titan’ songs mouthed by many of these unlikely protagonists, I marvel. The impression was given that all was well and that all that needed be done was to  dot the i’s and cross the t’s. But no sooner did we leave Ibadan than they started throwing up fresh issues of disharmony.

 I am therefore personally not surprised that we are back to square one.

The latest move by the Renewal Group is a move in the right direction. Regular readers of this column would know that I am no stranger to the group. It was almost natural, therefore, that many members of the group that emerged from my little effort have since called to say we should move en-mass to the ARG. They will be meeting me there.

The least that every concerned Yoruba can do now  is to join hands with this assemblage of the best and the brightest of our race under the leadership of Hon.  Wale Oshun, former member, House of Representatives,  former  NADECO Secretary,  former exile and author of many books, in this new effort to ‘check again where we are coming from, chart a new, modern progressive course and move forward’.

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