Dr Olusegun Mimiko
The presence of the leadership of Afenifere at the declaration for a second term in office of Ondo State governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, ahead of the October 20 governorship election in the state has rekindled the unhealthy rivalry among Yoruba leaders, write Ademola Adeyemo, Omololu Ogunmade and Anayo Okolie
Their presence was bound to raise controversy given the high stake of the October 20 governorship election in Ondo State. More than the race for the Government House in Akure, the forthcoming election is a war between champions of Yoruba hegemony and those who believe that the race can achieve unity in diversity. Like a sore thumb, Ondo State stands out in the political configuration of the South-west, being the only state in the geopolitical zone that is not in control by the newfound dominant political party in the zone, the Action Congress of Nigeria. And to the leaders of the party who see this as a threat to their threat for regional integration, that rankles.
So, when leaders of Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-political group, showed up at the declaration by Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko of the Labour Party(LP), for renewal of his mandate in the October 20 governorship election, they were little prepared for the wrath of ACN leaders who saw their presence as an attempt to endorse Mimiko’s quest.
The party National Chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, fired the first salvo when he excoriated the Afenifere leaders, including former presidential candidate of the All Peoples Party(APP) under the alliance between the party and the Alliance for Democracy(AD) in 1999 general election, Chief Olu Falae, Chief Reuben Fasoranti and Chief Ayo Adebanjo. Akande described them as political beggars “looking for what to eat.” The ACN in the last one year, especially since it dawned on the party leaders that Mimiko would not heed their entreaties to abandon LP for the ACN, has spared no efforts in ensuring that it unseats the governor in the next election.
The attack on the leaders by Akande is in furtherance of the protracted crisis among Afenifere leaders for almost a decade.
Genesis of the crisis
Until October 22, 2005, when Afenifere, the acclaimed pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, descended into a crisis that factionalised it, the body was noted for its revolutionary and progressive campaigns since its inception in 1954. It played prominent role in the rebirth of extant democratic dispensation as its leaders were in the forefront of the struggle to oust the military from the political scene.
In the glorious days of the group, newspapers usually reserved their front pages for the outcome of Afenifere meetings because of the importance attached to its decisions. Its late leader, Senator Abraham Adesanya, was revered and considered an authority of sort as his comments were usually given prominence in view of people’s perception of him as a man of integrity and a patriotic Nigerian.
However, it soon slid into crisis shortly after the return of democracy. Two major factors were responsible for the unending crisis rocking Afenifere till date. One was the assassination of Chief Bola Ige, Adesanya’s deputy, on December 23, 2001. The other factor was the illness of Adesanya in 2004, which compelled the respected Yoruba leader to hand over leadership to the incumbent, Fasoranti, in acting capacity. Adesanya, until his death on April 25, 2008, never recovered from the illness.
It is commonly believed that if Ige had been alive when Adesanya took ill, the leadership crisis which rocked the group would have been largely averted as Ige would have promptly taken over the baton of leadership from his boss without any contest.
However, crisis began to brew in the group when a group within Afenifere, which comprised former governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Tinubu, a leader of the group, Senator Ayo Fasanmi and Akande, refused to accept the leadership of Fasoranti. The crisis heightened on November 22, 2005, when the leaders threw caution to the winds and frontally attacked one another. They engaged in recriminations and threw brickbats at one another. The series of exchanges between leaders of the faction hastened the collapse of the 51-year-old group then.
On that day, while Afenifere had expected all members to attend the group’s leadership meeting at the secretariat of the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD) at Herbert Macaulay in Yaba, Lagos, Tinubu, Fasanmi and Akande organised another meeting in Ikeja, where they disowned the Yaba meeting. They accused Fasoranti, Adebanjo and Falae of being advocates of the truncated third term agenda of the then President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Fasoranti and his group received the allegation with rude shock. They countered that Tinubu and Akande had plotted the ‘coup’ after they had failed to drag the Afenifere into the campaign for the then Vice-President Atiku Abubakar’s presidential ambition at the time. It was learnt that Tinubu had assured Atiku that he would bring Afenifere on board to support his ambition but the group leaders allegedly refused to cooperate.
Failed Peace Bid
The face-off between the Tinubu camp, led by Fasanmi and Fasoranti camp continued until October 2007 when a group of younger elements within the group, led by Hon. Olawale Oshun, organised a reconciliation meeting at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Moniya in Ibadan , the Oyo State capital. The three-day meeting was tagged Yoruba retreat.
It was acknowledged at the meeting that since the outbreak of the crisis, the entire race had not been better for it as the crisis had stunted development of the Yoruba nation. It was said the crisis had made it possible for renegades in the race hitherto said to be in the minority to hijack the political space.
It was against this backdrop that these younger elements led by Oshun found it imperative to assemble the feuding Yoruba elders on the need to chart a new way forward in resolving the crisis.
At the meeting, Oshun set the tone for the retreat when he revealed that the event was organised with a view to ensuring that respected leaders of Yoruba race who had worked with the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo reunited not just in relationship, but also in thinking, orientation and pursuit of common goals.
Oshun said: “The organising committee of the Yoruba Retreat desires that all those who served with or served Chief Obafemi Awolowo and all those who directly benefitted from his welfare policies, need to work together to clearly sharpen and refocus those objectives which served us greatly in the past. Even the first beneficiaries of the free primary education policy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo are, if not 60 years of age now, closer to that age and may therefore, only be expressing concern for the lives of their children and grandchildren. We are all on our way out. Hence, we couldn’t spread a hand of fellowship across the divide for the benefit of our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.”
After Oshun left the podium, Dr. Wale Adebanwi, a political scientist who lectured at the University of Ibadan at the time, provoked participants in his lecture entitled: “The Yoruba Vision.” Adebanwi, who reviewed the commitment of the Yoruba race to nation building since inception, regretted that the nation, instead of experiencing an upward vertical mobility, had continued to slide. He, therefore, admonished the elders to put behind them their differences and forthwith revive their progressive ideals in the interest of the Yoruba race.
Adebanwi traced the crisis in the South-west at the time to what he described as undesirable romance of some Yoruba leaders with Obasanjo while in power. He lamented with deep feelings that Afenifere, which he said hitherto paraded a group of resolute and resilient individuals, had been weakened by this alleged romance with Obasanjo.
“The tragic romance with Olusegun Obasanjo by some in the leadership of Afenifere partly led us to where we are today. Even after the crisis that engulfed the group in the post-D’Rovans’ era, if the terrible error of alliance with Obasanjo had not been committed, perhaps the group’s solidity would not have been so sorely sacrificed. But the leaders were not without voices that warned them,” the university don noted.
He noted that the Yoruba vision, also known as Yoruba agenda, “is at the fundamental level, about shareable social and political vision and goals that are humanistic,” adding: “It is about how the Yoruba are located and locate themselves in the global and national dialogue of human possibilities.”
Before he ended his lecture that evening, he did not fail to charge the leaders of Afenifere to revive the group so that it would remain a vibrant platform for the realisation of the Yoruba vision.
Adebanwi’s lecture stirred emotions among participants at the conference and earned him a standing ovation from the crowd. The Yoruba elders recounted how much they were touched by the lecture to the extent that they demanded for copies of the paper for their study.
The lecture, which participants said opened their eyes to see how much the Yoruba race had traded its values, was the highpoint of the agenda that propelled reconciliation. Thus, renowned professor of Yoruba language, Professor Akinwumi Isola, seemed compelled by the lecture to carry out the task of reconciliation which hitherto was not stated in the programme. It was during this time that the warriors promised to bury the hatchet and forge ahead in the spirit of oneness for the progress of Yoruba race.
First to be given the floor was Fasoranti. He described the crisis in Afenifere as the fallout of ego clash between him and Fasanmi.
“The two of us (Fasoranti and Fasanmi) saw each other today. We greeted and embraced. But I think something is missing. When Papa Awolowo was alive, he towered. He was thoughtful and he set the pace for others to follow. But as soon as he left the stage, everybody thought he knew best. Finance has also become one of the factors causing disunity. Some people have allowed the ego to disorientate us. Two meetings had been held to settle the rift. More will still be held and I believe if we put in more efforts, all will be well,” Fasoranti remarked.
In his response, Fasanmi said: “If all I have come here to do is to hear the lecture of Adebanwi and go back, I am satisfied. When I got here and saw my friends – Chief Fasoranti, Ayo Adebanjo, Olu Falae– I was happy. The quarrel is already being settled. If we can’t settle our quarrel, it will be a shame on all of us. What has started today is the beginning of good things for our country and by the grace of God, we will settle our differences.”
Also speaking, Falae who chaired one of the occasions said if the quarrel must be settled, the first thing that must happen was that quarrel itself must be tired. He advocated the need to put malice behind them, noting that the strength of the Yoruba resided only in their unity.
“If quarrel must be settled, quarrel must be tired. Now quarrel is tired. I, Olu Falae, do not know what I have contributed to this crisis. But I believe it is possible for us to resolve our differences. We have a serious business before Yoruba people. Our unity is perceived as a threat by people who see us as the most united nation. They are fearful and they now feel as long as we are in crisis, they feel safe and secured. Obasanjo is among those who brought us to this level. Let us take note that there are enemies within us. That is why we must settle our differences,” he said.
Another respected leader in the group, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, in his own comment, thanked the younger generation who organised the retreat. He remarked that nobody benefitted from the crisis, disclosing that the avoidable feud had only done more harm than good to the Yoruba race. He therefore counselled that players in the saga should chart a new course for the progress of the Yoruba race. Ajayi also admonished the younger ones to accord due respect to their elders as exemplified by Yoruba culture.
Also speaking, Adebanjo advised all who were involved in the crisis to put aside malice, emphasising that nobody benefitted from the bitter experience but Yoruba enemies. A retired army chief, Lt.-General Alani Akinrinade, praised the organisers of the programme and urged that it was high time that “we gathered our people as we did in the past.”
It is on record however, that Akande made no significant comment depicting any sense of reconciliation at the retreat.
With all these comments, many had believed that the crisis was over and a new chapter about to be opened in the history of Afenifere. The Ibadan retreat and several efforts made by other respected leaders in the race, notably Bishops Bolanle Gbonigi and Ayo Ladigbolu, failed to resolve the crisis. Witnesses identified Akande as the main obstacle in the move to reconcile the leaders as he was said to have ignored several calls for reconciliation made to him. At several fora, Akande bluntly said he would not have anything to do with others he considered as renegade Yoruba leaders.
Behaving True to Type?
When he unleashed attack on Fasoranti, Falae and Adebanjo for their presence at the declaration of Mimiko for a second term in office on July 25, in Akure, many saw in his brickbat as a furtherance of the feud with the trio.
In an interview with a journalist, Akande described Fasoranti and others as “political jobbers.”
He said: “The Yoruba leaders you are apparently referring to are people like Chief Olu Falae, who brought bad luck to the Alliance for Democracy (AD) as the party’s presidential candidate; and from that moment the Alliance for Democracy got perished. And then we have Chief Reuben Fasoranti, who through bad leadership, destroyed Afenifere in his sitting room.”
On Adebanjo, he said: “I don’t bother about people like Ayo Adebanjo, because people like him had never contested, talkless of winning an election in his life. Ayo Adebanjo is no political asset to anybody. These people are all picking crumbs on governors’ tables. They have been picking crumbs on the table of Ogun State governor, during the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) days in that state. So, it will not surprise me if they are now picking crumbs on Governor Mimiko’s table in the Labour Party.”
Akande who also denounced them as members of the late Obafemi Awolowo’s political dynasty, said: “The only Awoist I know is the person who follows the principles of Awolowo in the discharge of his duties. Awolowo was above corruption. As such, anybody who is not corrupt is an Awoist. Awolowo was very hardworking. Whoever that is hardworking is an Awosist. Awolowo was contesting elections, winning and losing, taking the results with equal mind. Whoever that can contest an election and win is an Awoist. Not those who cannot win or contest election or those who are destroying structures because of corruption, claiming to be Awoists. It does not matter what kind of garment or colour they wear or the caps they put on their heads, the hood does not make the monk. They only parade themselves as Awoist by words of mouth; you can only lay claim to being Awoist by your deeds.”
Akande’s attacks shocked other Yoruba leaders who described it as unwarranted and in a bad state. First to react was Fasoranti who faulted Akande on the issue of who is a true Awoist. According to the octogenarian, ACN leaders could not claim to be Awoists because they had broken away. “They broke away from our fold. They were first AC, then ACD and later decided to call themselves ACN. I laugh when I hear them laying claim to Awoism. They have divested themselves of that identity the moment they left our fold. The people in ACN are those who broke away from the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and since then, we have not come together.”
Fasoranti further debunked the assertion by Akande that his members are not progressives, saying: “Akande is only saying that by words of mouth; I don’t think he can even convince himself not to talk of other people. They cannot be more progressive like the rest of us in Afenifere. Can they be more progressive than people like Falae, Supo Sonibare, Olaniwun Ajayi, Biyi Akinfela and a host of others and myself who live the ideals of progressive politics?
“They cannot say that because we are the people that have been with Chief Obafemi Awolowo from the beginning. We were fed directly from Awolowo’s table and we imbibed his principles and ideologies. People like me, Ayo Adebanjo, who had been with Chief Awolowo from the very beginning and many others, who had remained focused on the Awo’s ideals in spite of the turbulence, the persecution and the hardship that we went through, had remained steadfast. We still maintain that integrity and everything that our leader stood for.”
Fasoranti also spoke on why he and others decided to back Mimiko for his second term ambition, saying that Mimiko was once part of the AD. “Mimiko had always been there as a progressive fellow. Even now, he is one of the progressives because he embraces the same ideology that we all embrace. I will not say he is not a progressive. Those condemning our support for him, what makes them progressives? How do they brand themselves progressives?
“The populist programme that Mimiko is carrying out is akin to what we believe should be done by any progressive government. Welfare of the common man, free education, rural development and employment generation are the basic tenets of the ideals of a progressive politician and Mimiko had always been there as a progressive fellow.
“Even now, he is one of the progressives because he embraces the same ideology that we all embrace. I will not say he is not a progressive. Those condemning our support for him, what makes them progressives? How do they brand themselves progressives?”
He blamed Tinubu’s personal ambition to imposed himself as leader of Yoruba nation, which Fasoranti described as “ an unbridled one,” as the root cause of the crisis in Afenifere. According to him, “Although he is claiming to be a Yoruba leader, it is the people who will say so. He is not even the leader of the ACN; it’s Akande. I wonder why some people refer to him as the leader (of the ACN). If he is the leader, what then is Akande? Where was he chosen and who are the people that chose him as a Yoruba leader? It is the people who determine who their leader is, and not by personal pronouncement.”
Adebanjo and Falae also criticised Akande for insulting Yoruba elders.
Adebanjo lashed out at Akande for describing him as a fake Awoist, saying Akande was ignorant and ill-informed about Awoism.
In a statement given to THISDAY, Adebanjo contended that what irked him was not that Akande said he (Adebanjo) was not an electoral asset, but that he spoke about Awoism, the history of which he said Akande lacked.
“If Bisi Akande, the figurehead chairman of the ACN (which the Yoruba will call ologomugomu chairman), had confined his criticism of me to my not being an electoral asset because I have never contested any election in this country, I would have ignored him and would not have bothered to dignify his ignorant and ill-informed statement which has become his singsong with any response.
“The reason for this is simple. He is too junior to me politically for me to enter into political disputation with him. I believe Akande is, indeed, what the Yoruba will call Omo Atiro to lo da bata fun baba e, oro lofe gbo (literally meaning a son of a lame father who thoughtlessly bought a pair of shoes for his father needs to be reminded of his father’s disability).
“In the first place, where is Bisi Akande coming from to be qualified to define who is an Awoist? Because Awoists have existed in the 50s, long before the late Chief Bola Ige recruited him from the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun (NCNC) into the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in 1979 and made him an emergency deputy governor to replace the late Chief Sunday Afolabi who had defected from the party to NPN.”
On the question of who is an Awoist, Adebanjo explained that the populist political philosophy of the late Awolowo, which encompasses welfare programmes, among which are free education, free medical services, integrated rural development and full employment, with which he painstakingly implemented in the old Western Region from 1952 to 1959, was termed Awoism.
According to him Awolowo’s Action Group (AG), also known as Afenifere in the defunct Western Region, was acclaimed to be the best organised, democratic and disciplined party in the whole of West Africa. He said the late leader was acclaimed the leader of progressive politics in Nigeria and his members and believers in these combined attributes are known and called ‘Awoists,” adding: “I was a known leading member and mobiliser of the party during this period and I ask: where was Bisi Akande during this period and what role did he play to be in a position to pontificate on who is an Awoist?”
Adebanjo said Afenifere leaders had no regret supporting Mimiko because the governor’s achievements should be a pride to lovers of good governance because they were consistent with the ideals and philosophy of Awolowo.
“Those who have been regular visitors to Ondo State in the last three-and-half years would testify to the fact that the tenets of his administration have been to better the lot of the masses of Ondo State. Don’t forget that Mimiko was himself a member of the AD before he disagreed with some individuals in the party, a development that made him to leave for another party,” he added.
Falae, in his reaction, described Akande as “someone who have a penchant for rudeness.”
He said: “The point is, as a Nigerian, it is my prerogative and right to belong to a party of my choice and Akande is also free to belong to a party of his choice. He is in the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN); he is the national chairman, have you ever heard me criticise him for doing so? It is just out of bitterness; he has a penchant for rudeness and I don’t want to take him on. I am an elder statesman and all he has said are empty and meaningless.”
The exchange of brickbats among the Yoruba elders has further dimmed the hope of possible unity in the fold of Afenifere, which is gradually sliding into irrelevance in the Yoruba political landscape notwithstanding the efforts to reinvent the group that led to the formation of Afenifere Renewal Group(ARG), which maintains a cosy relationship with the ACN leadership.