Disagreement within the Yoruba social-cultural organisation over the 2023 presidential race shows a decline in its consensual approach to politics, writes Bolaji Adebiyi
Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, has been embroiled in a political controversy since Sunday. It arose from the visit of Bola Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, to the Akure, Ondo State home of Reuben Fasoranti, the well-respected leader of the group. The event drew a virulent objection from Ayo Adebanjo, its acting leader, who had months ago announced his support for Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party.
The media has since been agog with some fireworks from both elders, Adebanjo being the more combative. His position is that the group had on the basis of equity adopted Obi as its preferred choice for the presidential duel slated for 25 February 2023. Afenifere, he argued had been at the forefront of the struggle for equity and social justice in the country, contending that the presidency should be zoned to the South-east region, which is the only zone of the South that has not produced a president in the Fourth Republic. A sound argument you may say.
Fasoranti has not bothered to dispute Adebanjo’s equity argument. Rather he has shown more interest in the group’s cohesion and the need for wider consultations before a political decision on the instant issue could be made. “He, Adebanjo, has made his decision, and I have made mine,” he told a news reporter, explaining, “In a matter like this we need to consult before we make a decision, which is what we have just done.”
Those who are familiar with Afenifere would appreciate the position of Fasoranti. Although the group set out from its inception as a socio-cultural organization, it has always played critical political roles to protect the Yoruba interest. An offshoot of Egbe Omo Oduduwa formed in 1945 and led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, which metamorphosed into the Action Group in 1951 and formed the government of the Western Region in the First Republic, it went into hibernation at the death of that first attempt at democratic governance in the country. In 1978 it regrouped under the Unity Party of Nigeria, winning the four states in the South-west and Kwara State in the North-central during the 1979 general election. Again, it went latent when the military took over power in 1983. It would resurface during the struggle for the actualization of annulled 12 June 1993 election of Moshood Abiola, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party, who was widely believed to have won the electoral contest.
In 1998 when the military began the process of returning power to civilians, Afenifere chieftains formed the Alliance for Democracy, winning the six states of the South-west before it lost control of five of them in 2003. In all of these political transitions, the group acted in concert to protect the Yoruba interest and was cohesive largely due to the deep consultations and great efforts at consensual politics by its leaders, including Abraham Adesanya, Bola Ige, Ganiyu Dawodu, Agbonmire, Adebayo Adefarati, Pa Onasanya, Adenihun Ajayi, Femi Okurounmu, Fasoranti, and Adebanjo.
For as long as the group restricted itself to regional politics, consultations were deeper and the consensus was easier to achieve. However, its consensual politics began to break down in 1998 when a schism erupted over the AD presidential candidacy. Many of the older members of the group supported the aspiration of Ige, its deputy leader. But Adebanjo broke ranks with them and teamed up with the younger and newer elements to prop up Olu Falae, a former minister and secretary to the military government, who had just joined the group.
Although disappointed at what he felt was a betrayal, Ige never complained openly. He would later take steps that would see the beginning of the decline of the group as a cohesive organization. Against the group’s position, he took the offer of ministerial appointment from President Olusegun Obasanjo, a decision that split the organization down the middle. Not a few people held Adebanjo responsible for the schism that made consensus over Ige impossible.
It was not until Ige died in 2001 that Adesanya was able to begin to rein in the leading members of the group. Though not an easy task, particularly after its political wings had been clipped by Obasanjo who exploited a serious error of judgment by the group to deplete its control of the South-west states from six to one in 2003. With the loss of substantial political power and grip on its region of influence consensus building as a strategy for organizational survival became more imperative. And in the years after the demise of Adesanya and the ascension of Fasoranti, there has been no known serious internal disagreement among the group until the development last Sunday.
Insiders trace the misunderstanding to Adebanjo’s misconception of his role as the acting leader of the group and his innate disregard for consultation, which had been the bedrock of the organization, particularly since the demise of Adesanya. According to them, he erroneously thought that as the acting leader, he could make decisions without consulting the leader who had merely stepped aside from the day-to-day administration of the group. Besides, Adebanjo is thought to habitually substitute the group position with his personal view, a tendency they say cannot but lead to the current conflict.
For instance, even if Afenifere is to adopt Obi over Tinubu, such a decision would have to be made in consultation with the general assembly of the group, and certainly not behind the leader, Fasoranti. Had this been done, it was unlikely that the prevailing altercation would have occurred. In any case, the group makes decisions on the basis of programmes of action. It is unclear the basis of Adebanjo’s choice of Obi when none of the group’s basic demands has ever been canvassed by him even in his longest of speeches since the outbreak of electioneering.
Not a few leading lights of Afenifere think Tinubu’s visit and subsequent endorsement by Fasoranti is more in keeping with the group’s convention. Not only were the leading members at the event, but the formal political authorities represented by the governors of the region were also present to review the plans of their adopted candidate.
Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from email@example.com