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ELECTION BUREAUCRACIES AND THE FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY
Seventy Years of Yoruba Socio-Political Engineering
Segun James traces the formation of, Afenifere, the most enduring political group in the country from inception in 1951 till date
Teaching an eclectic mix of politicians a new form of playing politics was never going to be easy. The Afenifere, the socio-political organisation of Yoruba people knows this, yet, this has been what it has been doing in the last 70 years, setting the political agenda for the people and letting the Yoruba political elites know that the people come first at all times.
But has the Afenifere lived up to what it preaches? Has it been successful? What has been the gains and losses within this period?These are the questions as Afenifere celebrates 70 years of guiding the Yoruba political consciousness through the political system of Nigeria.
On the website of the organisation, the Afenifere was formed in 1998 as a socio-cultural organization for the Yoruba people of Nigeria, with Chief Abraham Adesanya as its leader and Chief Bola Ige as deputy leader. Other founding members were Pa Onasanya, Chief Reuben Fasoranti,, Okurounmu Femi, Ganiyu Dawodu, Olanihun Ajayi, Olu Falae, Adebayo Adefarati, Alhaji Adeyemo and Ayo Adebanjo.
It gained prominence when the Alliance for Democracy (AD) political party was formed in 1998, it took the Afenifere agenda as its official manifesto. Following a poor performance in the April 2003 elections, in late 2003 rival factions of the AD held separate conventions. In the Lagos convention, Adebisi Akande was elected as AD chairman. The devastating loss by the AD during the 2003 election which left Senator Bola Tinubu as the remaining governor on the platform of the AD led to the a factional leadership within the Afenifere.
In 2008, a new faction, the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) was formed with the stated intent of reuniting the feuding factions, but perhaps as an alternative to the faction headed by the older generation of leaders. In November 2008, a faction of Afenifere in Ijebu Igbo, Ogun State, led by Chief Ayo Adebanjo, installed Chief Reuben Fasoranti as the new chairman of the group. ARG Leaders including Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye, Chief Bisi Akande, Wale Oshun and Yinka Odumakin stated that they did not accept the move. Today, the Afenifere is headed by Chief Ayo Adebanjo
But contrary to what was on the website, the Afenifere actually came into being in 1951 following the decision of then Yoruba sociocultural organisation, the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, a brainchild of Chief Obafemi Awolowo not to participate in politics as many of its members held divergent political leanings. This led to the formation of the Action Group.
The Action Group as a national political party was the political machine of Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo and his untiring determination to prepare and get the Western Nigeria ready for productive responses to the then on-coming constitutional exigencies which the Richard Constitution would demand on Nigerians.
After Egbe Omo Oduduwa had decided not to take part in politics and approved of Chief Awolowo’s pioneering efforts to form a virile political organization, Awolowo invited about 60 persons for a meeting. Of all these invitees the following seven persons Mr. S. O. Shonibare, Chief Abiodun Akerele, Chief S. T. Oredein, Mr. Olatunji Dosumu, Mr. J. Ola Adigun, Mr. Adeyiga Akinsanya and Mr. Ayo Akinsanya attended the first meeting.
The meeting was held at the Oke Ado residence of Chief Awolowo in Ibadan. The Action Group was publicly inaugurated in Owo Town in Ondo Province on the 28th of April 1951 and had representatives from 22 out of the 24 Administrative Divisions of the Western Region. After the inauguration of the Action Group in Owo, the leaders returned to Ibadan to campaign and for a public inauguration and presentation. There and then people were asking what was going to be the interpretation of the meaning of Action Group in Yoruba language.
According to Chief Ayo Opadokun, a former Secretary General of the Afenifere, “At a party campaign rally, the party leaders led by Chief Adisa Akinloye were informing the public that the Action Group policy was summed up in Egalitarianism, Free Education, and Medicare, affordable Housing, and affordable Food, Minimum Wage to guarantee life more abundant that party loyalists and faithfuls started to describe the Action Group as a Movement of the People who want the best for ordinary citizens and who were committed to providing better quality of lives for all persons.
“Then Chief Meredith Augustus Adisa Akinloye helped them to sum up their descriptions as “Afenifere.” The name was popularized through diverse ways, songs and lyrics, poetic renditions and banters until it became an household watchword. In fact, a textile factory was commissioned to manufacture bales of cloth materials with the picture of Chief Obafemi Awolowo on it and was worn as apparels by all and sundry even as caps and head gears for women.”
From that moment on, Afenifere became a Movement of people committed to the greatest welfare of the people as enunciated by Chief Obafemi Awolowo under the philosophical caption of Egalitarianism, Life More Abundant. Afenifere was never a registered political party but it was the propelling Movement of the people behind the Action Group that was registered.
Opadokun said again: “There had been no time when Afenifere was a cultural organization. Egbe Omo Oduduwa which was a cultural organization decided not to transform into a political party after exhaustive discussion because they believed that such a transformation into partisan politics could compromise the organization and divide the Yoruba nation, which was the very people it set itself up to protect and defend. Interested readers can Google the internet to be familiar with the names of the Yoruba distinguished leaders who collaborated with Chief Awolowo to establish the Egbe first in London and later in Nigeria in order to provide a credible voice for the Yoruba people in the immediate nationalist struggle for self-determination.”
With the formation of the non-partisan organisation, the Afenifere effectively become a pressure group with the sole intent of seeking the political and economic interest, first of the old Western Region but later of the Yoruba people no matter where they may be located within Nigeria.
After the first military coup of January 15, 1966, the government under General Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi issued series of decrees that suspended and abrogated the 1960 and the 1963 Republican Federal Constitutions to give itself some semblance of legitimacy. Aguiyi Ironsi later issued a supplement to Official Gazette Extraordinary No. 51, Vol. 53, 1966 part A in a The Public Order Decree 1966 where in section 1 he announced the Dissolution of Political Parties, Tribal Unions and Cultural Organizations. A move which effectively dissolved the Afenifere along with similar groups.
Although all tribal groupings had been officially disbanded by the military government, Afenifere was still operating in the background. So when the Murtala Mohammed and Olusegun Obasanjo military decided to vacate power with a return to civilian rule, Afenifere became the engine room for the formation of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in 1978. After the collapse of the Second Republic and the subsequent return of the military to power in December 1983, the Afenifere became mute again.
However, as Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s unending political transition agenda was evolving after the transition to glory of Awolowo, former governors of the UPN commenced meetings under the Chairmanship of Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin in Owo and it was called Owo Group for sometimes before the group became People’s Consultative Forum, PCF. At the first meeting of the governors, Opadokun was invited to be its General Secretary and Spokesman. That was how Opadokun served the organization for 15years.
Opadokun recalled that at a meeting held in Chief Bola Ige’s, Ibadan residence sometime in 1992, “we examined the prospect of adopting a name for our organization. A committee was constituted to verify whether or not Afenifere was among the organizations dissolved. The report of the committee was received at a meeting held in the Lagos, Ilupeju residence of Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande. The report findings indicated that Afenifere was not listed in the Military Decree of May 1966. Members were happy to rename the group with its original appellation, Afenifere.”
In 1998 following some political intrigues regarding the status of the Alliance for Democracy, it was the names contained in the Register of Afenifere in all Yoruba States including Kwara and Kogi that were used to register the party. Afenifere therefore, was the platform upon which the AD was constructed and upon which the six candidates in the Yoruba States contested and won. AD was the national name, but songs/lyrics were waxed on Afenifere whose leadership had been the frontliners of the NADECO struggle. So when for reasons best known but certainly not for the group interest some elected and Afenifere leaders started to insist on separation of AD from Afenifere, they knew they were playing dirty politics.
However, the performances of most of the six governors of AD/Afenifere were relatively commendable and pace setting as that of their forebares in the Action Group and the UPN of the 1st and 2nd Republics.
For example, each of them continued with the Free Education Programme with some modifications and that enabled many poor people’s children to enroll into public schools. Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the Governor of Lagos State succeeded in expanding the revenue base of Lagos State beyond expectation. The consequence of that was that he was able to deliver some appreciable infrastructures and services that were relatively novel at that time.
Chief Bisi Akande, the Osun State Governor with his very low receipt from the Federation Account delivered impactful services including the construction of an enviable State Secretariat that remains his everlasting legacy and many rural roads without borrowing a dime throughout his tenure. There was no area of Ogun State that did not experience the development programme of Aremo Segun Osoba as the Governor (helmsman) of Ogun State.
Chief Lam Adesina and Otunba Niyi Adebayo were spectacularly commendable as Governors of Oyo and Ekiti State respectively particularly because they struggled to continue with the free education programme that the Action Group/Afenifere’s government led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo introduced in 1955.
The Afenifere leaders who along with other like minds and elder statesmen, retired senior citizens, professionals, civil society groups, students, women, religious and traditional rulers established the National Democratic Coalition, (NADECO).
Since we have historically and factually established that Action Group was the registered political party but Afenifere had always been a Movement in Yorubaland of those who subscribe to Chief Awolowo’s political philosophy of life more abundant and that it was the registers of Afenifere membership in Yoruba states including Kogi and Kwara that were used to register AD in 1998, it stands to reason that those who may still desire to pursue their political ambition outside whatever the “progressive” political camp adopted as close to the Action Group tendency should be bold and honest enough to leave Afenifere. The platform should no more be used for political expediency. The unfortunate inconsistencies of some of those who are associating themselves with Afenifere when it suited them only to railroad themselves into Afenifere again after their political misadventures and or miscalculations have negatively impacted on the credibility and acceptability of the movement. After all, Yoruba tradition and culture support plurality of views and opinions but that the best of such should lead our nationality.
The most important pre-occupation of any serious minded political group in Yoruba nation today is to make room for reconciliation so as to unite their ranks. The past political misadventures and or miscalculations, unprincipled politics leading to inconsistencies of colleagues and their sister organizations should be forgiven in the overall interest of the Yoruba nation if those inconsistent members resolve to discipline themselves and stop playing politics at all costs and or without any moral value. The situation is dire and we must fend off in one accord those who have contempt for our nationality values. It has been done before; it can still be done.
On the website of the organisation, the Afenifere was formed in 1998 as a socio-cultural organization for the Yoruba people of Nigeria, with Chief Abraham Adesanya as its leader and Chief Bola Ige as deputy leader….Contrary to what was on the website, the Afenifere actually came into being in 1951 following the decision of then Yoruba sociocultural organisation, the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, a brainchild of Chief Obafemi Awolowo not to participate in politics as many of its members held divergent political leanings. This led to the formation of the Action Group. The Action Group as a national political party was the political machine of Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo and his untiring determination to prepare and get the Western Nigeria ready for productive responses to the then on-coming constitutional exigencies which the Richard Constitution would demand on Nigerians
Although all tribal groupings had been officially disbanded by the military government, Afenifere was still operating in the background. So when the Murtala Mohammed and Olusegun Obasanjo military decided to vacate power with a return to civilian rule, Afenifere became the engine room for the formation of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in 1978. After the collapse of the Second Republic and the subsequent return of the military to power in December 1983, the Afenifere became mute again. However, as Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s unending political transition agenda was evolving after the transition to glory of Awolowo, former governors of the UPN commenced meetings under the Chairmanship of Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin in Owo and it was called Owo Group for sometimes before the group became People’s Consultative Forum, PCF. At the first meeting of the governors, Opadokun was invited to be its General Secretary and Spokesman. That was how Opadokun served the organization for 15years