Latest Headlines

Afenifere’s Politics of Endorsement

Afenifere’s Politics of Endorsement


If the disagreement in Afenifere over the decision of its emeritus leader, Chief Rueben Fasoranti to bless the presidential candidacy of Senator Bola Tinubu against the group’s earlier declaration of support for the presidential candidate of Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi, is not well handled, it could lead to a repeat of what happened in 1998, writes Gboyega Akinsanmi

Afenifere, the apex socio-cultural organisation of the Yoruba, is avoidably embroiled in crisis again. Unlike in 1998 when it split over the presidential aspiration of its two sons –  Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae, it is crisis-ridden this time on whether to support its own son, Senator Bola Tinubu or its South-east compatriot, Mr. Peter Obi for the next presidential election.

The crisis did not precisely start with the resolve of its foremost leader, Chief Rueben Fasoranti to bless the presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Tinubu last Sunday. The seed of discord was first sowed when its acting leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo proclaimed Afenifere’s decision to support Obi, without allegedly securing unanimous approval of the critical stakeholders.

Since the first announcement, a good number of Yoruba leaders, not just Afenifere, have been on edge. While some wondered why such a sensitive consensus could be made without wider regional consultation, others felt it could be Adebanjo’s unilateral decision. But the fissure disturbingly went deeper last Sunday when Tinubu presented his 80-page manifesto, “Renewed Hope 2023: Action Plan for a Better Nigeria,” to Fasoranti in his country home, Akure, Ondo State. Surprisingly, the presentation was witnessed by the prominent leaders of the Yoruba across all strata.

Apart from the leaders of the socio-cultural groups that attended the meeting, all the governors of the South-west states were either present or represented by their deputies or top government functionaries. Also, the Yoruba  leaders from Kogi and Kwara states were not left out from the meeting. The roll call obviously suggested nothing, but an express approval of Tinubu’s candidacy contrary to Adebanjo’s public declaration for Obi in the name of Afenifere. 

After receiving the action plan that promises a new society founded on shared prosperity and unwavering commitment to treat all citizens with equal respect, Fasoranti placed his hands on Tinubu’s head and emotionally blessed him in the presence of other leaders that were in attendance. Almost endlessly, the patriarch prayed: “Tinubu will win the election” while others repeatedly chorused: “It is done.”

However, Fasoranti’s proclamation of blessings upon the APC candidate immediately stoked stern consternation in the camp of Adebanjo. As a result, Adebanjo went on air in defence of Afenifere’s earlier support for Obi, which some disputed, did not truly represent the aspiration of the Yoruba people.

Since last Sunday, Adebanjo has been on the defensive, explaining how and why Afenifere arrived at its decision to support Obi. First, he claimed that Fasoranti only received Tinubu as an elder statesman and never endorsed his presidential candidacy. In further clarification last Tuesday, however, Fasoranti disputed Adebanjo’s claims in a viral video. As far as the 2023 presidential poll is concerned, he said Obi “has no standing in the mind of the Yoruba people at all as shown in the acceptability and approval of Tinubu across Yorubaland.”

Second, Adebajo alleged an attempt by some regressive forces to divide Afenifere. This claim has elicited diverse questions among the South-west leaders. Is the claim of division by some forces true? Could Pa Fasoranti have separately pronounced blessings upon the APC candidate if Afenifere under Adebanjo widely consulted before endorsing Obi? But responses of the governors of the South-west suggested otherwise. In the first instance, the governors claimed that Adebanjo did not consult them before declaring the support of the Yoruba people for Obi. 

Also, Adebanjo himself confirmed that he did not consult widely before approving Obi’s candidacy. As an acting leader of the socio-cultural organisation, he observed that he did not need “to consult Fasoranti before declaring Afenifere’s support for Obi.” The National Treasurer of Afenifere, Chief Olasupo Shonibare further clarified that the Afenifere Cabinet ratified its support for Obi.

Third, Adebanjo justified the approval of Obi’s candidacy based on Afenifere’s commitment to equity, fairness and justice, a tradition that distinguishes Yoruba from other ethnic nationalities across the federation. As a result, he claimed that Afenifere “is not only opposed to Tinubu’s aspiration, it is also opposed to the candidacy of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. At this time, we are supporting a presidential candidate from the South-east in the interest of national unity. This is more important to us as a people than supporting a presidential candidate from the Yoruba nation”

He specifically questioned Atiku’s candidacy, which according to him, was not in the national interest. He asked: “How can a Fulani man rule for eight years and another Fulani man is seeking to be the president going back there?” This claim is obviously valid, but most leaders across Yorubaland believe the decision to support Obi should have been subjected to wider regional consultation before Adebanjo went public about it.

Irrespective of what influenced Adebanjo to declare Afenifere’s support for Obi’s candidacy, Fasoranti still stands on his approval of Tinubu, which he said, was consistent with the resolve of other leaders. Beyond pronouncing blessing upon Tinubu, Fasoranti noted that Adebanjo’s decision “can never stand because it does not truly reflect the thinking of the Yoruba people across the board.”

Another question also arises on whether Afenifere under Adebanjo could make such a sensitive decision without wider regional consensus or consultation. On the one hand, anti-Tinubu members argued that Fasoranti had resigned as the leader of Afenifere and appointed Adebanjo as an acting leader. On this ground, they claimed, Adebanjo could make such a decision if he secured the approval of the Afenifere cabinet and possibly its General Assembly.

On the other hand, pro-Tinubu members disagreed that Adebanjo could grant such an approval of regional consequence in acting capacity. Rather, as an acting leader, they argued that Adebanjo was only exercising delegated power, which they claimed, always required him to consult with Fasoranti and other critical stakeholders in the South-west and beyond before taking any decision for or on behalf of the Yoruba people.

To buttress their claims, they cited how the leader of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the Senate, Senator Jonathan Odebiyi acted when Pa Adekunle Ajasin could no longer hold forth as the leader of Afenifere in the 1990s. During this period, they explained: “All meetings were held at Ajasin’s residence in Owo, Ondo State. No decision was made without proper consultation with Ajasin before making a public announcement.

“But Odebiyi died before Ajasin. After Odebiyi’s death, Senator Abraham Adesanya stepped in as the acting leader of Afenifere. The first three meetings were held in Owo. But Ajasin advised them to change the location of the meetings to Lagos on the grounds that most members of the socio-cultural organisation were then coming largely from Lagos State to Ondo State to attend Afenifere meetings.”

However, Fasoranti has debunked news reports making the rounds which claimed that he said Adebanjo is no longer the acting leader of Afenifere.

Fasoranti, in a statement dated November 3, 2022 and signed by his personal assistant, Mr. A. Abiola, also declared that he never said future meetings of the group would be held in his Akure home. He described the false report as designed to cause confusion and polarise Afenifere.

The statement reads: “It has come to Papa R.F. Fasoranti’s knowledge that some sections of the media, especially the social media, have been ascribing to him false statements designed to cause confusion and polarise Afenifere. 

“I have Papa’s permission to say that he has not said that Chief Ayo Adebanjo is no longer the acting leader of Afenifere or that all future Afenifere meetings should henceforth be held at his residence in Akure.

“Papa’s main concern is the interest of the Yoruba in the complex political situation in Nigeria. It is also his concern that Afenifere should survive in dignity and remain a purveyor of the interest of the Yoruba race. It is hoped that this information will be adequately circulated. Thank you.”

Many believe that if the present crisis is not carefully handled it would result in what happened in 1998 when a faction of Afenifere leaders endorsed Falae’s presidential aspiration, which edged former Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige out of the 1999 presidential contest. 

This singular decision also triggered deeper crises within Afenifere or rebellion in its hierarchy. As a result, pro-Ige members pulled out of the socio-cultural group. Till date, pro-Adebanjo members claimed, Afenifere has not fully overcome its 1998 crisis. This antecedent reinforces why a Yoruba leader said what happened in Akure last Sunday could have been handled differently in the interest of peace.

With the new crisis, however, Afenifere may finally return to the dark hole of oblivion if the leaders at both ends fail to rise above their differences. 

Related Articles