An oldman in need of a birthday gift
It is a telling reminder of the state of the Yoruba nation today that when Chief Reuben Fasoranti, old Awoist, veteran teacher, pillar of Afenifere, was celebrating his 90th birthday anniversary, few of our leaders were present. Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, governor of Ondo State for the past eight years, led other leaders to Fasoranti’s house, to rejoice with the old man and wish him many more fruitful years. The leaders were so many that all of them could appear in a single group photograph with their host. Here was Fasoranti who has been the dominant figure in Akure politics for almost 50 years and such a milestone passed in his life and the leadership of Yorubaland and of Nigeria hardly noticed.
Fasoranti is the leader of Afenifere, once the dominant Yoruba cultural and political movement. There is another faction led by Senator Ayo Fasanmi, a pharmacist, who lives in Osogbo. He, in fact, is over 90, and like Fasoranti, he is a widower. Neither of the two factions has a known secretariat and I don’t know anyone who has ever seen the Constitution of either faction. The two old men are carrying different flags while their troops drifted away. The fate of Afenifere shows that the road to hell may, indeed, be paved with good intentions.
Fasoranti, like Fasanmi, is a noble man. He was the Commissioner for Finance during the Administration of Chief Adekunle Ajasin, the first elected governor of old Ondo State who won on the platform of Obafemi Awolowo Unity Party of Nigeria. Fasoranti was a deciding factor in the emergence of Ajasin as the first governor. There were three candidates for the governorship ticket of the UPN: Ajasin, Fasanmi and Reverend Abiodun Iluyomade, then the principal of International School, Ibadan. The nomination contest was joined at the Omolere Nursery and Primary School, owned by Fasoranti and run by his wife. Fasoranti, along with Chief C.A Tewe and Chief Phillip Akomolafe, presided over the primary.
It was not a surprise then that Fasoranti emerged a commissioner in Ajasin’s government. Both of them were veteran teachers. Ajasin was the founding principal of Imade College, Owo, before he founded Owo High School where he was also the principal. Since those days of the old Action Group, he and Fasoranti had been friends, being both teachers, though Ajasin was considerably older. Before retiring to Akure, Fasoranti was the principal of Olivet Baptist Boys’ High School, Oyo, fondly called Olivet Heights.
Both Ajasin and Fasoranti were active in the Ondo State Movement which eventually succeeded with the creation of the state in 1976 from the old Western Region. When followers of Chief Awolowo started meeting before the lifting of the ban on politics in 1978, it was usually hosted by Fasoranti in Akure with Ajasin presiding. As the Commissioner for Finance, he was the governor’s right hand man and the main leader of Akure. Fasoranti’s leadership was soon challenged by another faction in Akure led by Chief Olaiya Fagbamigbe, a high-profile publisher, who was then a member of the House of Representatives. When the Second Republic came to grief following the coup of December 31, 1983, Ajasin led his team into detention. Among those detained were the likes of Fasoranti, Chief Adebayo Adefarati, Chief Olusegun Adegoke and Chief (Mrs.) Mobolaji Osomo.
It is significant that in all these years of public service Fasoranti has remained a simple and accessible man. His house, where his 90th birthday was celebrated, was the same house he built as a school principal. He lived in that house as a commissioner, refusing to be allocated any official quarters. Though on the field of politics, he is regarded as a formidable fighter, but nobody has ever accused Fasoranti of corruption. There has never been any whiff of it.
After he returned from detention in 1985, he moved into the leadership of Afenifere, the political family he has always belonged to. Afenifere was formed by those who believe in the ideology and leadership of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. It was not surprising that it was led by Chief Ajasin, the man who hosted the first meeting of the Action Group when it was launched in Owo in 1951. Therefore during those turbulent days when General Sani Abacha was the terror of the land, Fasoranti stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Ajasin and other leaders of Afenifere and later National Democratic Coalition, NADECO. It was not surprising that he faced constant political and security harassment especially when Anthony Oyearugbulem, a bumptious naval officer, was the military administrator of Ondo State.
Since the return of democratic governance in 1999 Fasoranti has remained a father figure, treated with understandable respect by succeeding Ondo State governors. Adebayo Adefarati, who was elected governor in 1999, was Fasoranti’s old colleague in the cabinet of Governor Ajasin. Dr. Olusegun Agagu, who succeeded Adefarati, was also one of the young Turks who provided strategic assistance during the crisis of 1983 when Chief Akin Omoboriowo unsuccessfully challenged Ajasin for the governorship of Ondo State. Agagu was then in league with two other young intellectuals, Dr. Olu Agbi and Dr. Olu Agunloye in ensuring that results of the election were faithfully compiled from every polling booth. Mimiko, who succeeded Agagu, was a commissioner in the Administration of Evangelist Bamidele Olumilua during the Babangida ill-fated transition programme. Olumilua was Fasoranti’s colleague in the old UPN. Agagu was also Olumilua’s deputy governor.
Despite all these apparent laurels at the home front, Chief Fasoranti and his colleagues, have not succeeded in maintaining the influence and relevance of Afenifere within the Yoruba heartland of the South-West. The inner sanctum has been desecrated by desperate in-fighting and now there are two old men who are leading two different factions of Afenifere, Fasoranti and Fasanmi. Both of them are alive and in good spirit, but as the late Archdeacon Emmanuel Alayande used to say, when you are over 80, you already have a multiple visa to God’s headquarters.
It is convenient to trace the break in Afenifere to the failure of Chief Bola Ige, then the deputy leader of the group, to become the presidential candidate of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, in 1999. In that election, Afenifere backed Chief Olu Falae, the candidate of the AD and All Peoples Party, APP, alliance who contested against Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. But there was also an ideological divide within the group. A faction of the leadership, including Senator Abraham Adesanya, believed that Afenifere was synonymous with the AD. Another group believed it should be above partisan politics and open its doors to worthy Yorubas in other political parties. People like Senator Cornelius Adebayo, former governor of old Kwara State, belonged to the second group. Adebayo refused to join the AD.
Now, after many years in the field, Afenifere’s influence continues to decline. It has no known Constitution, no open succession plan and no identifiable address. Its officers take their appointments as chieftaincy titles to be embraced for life. The courageous men, who once led the war against military rule and won for us the current democracy, must now move quickly before the impending twilight, and get something done. Their first assignment would be to meet Senator Fasanmi in Osogbo and try a final throw at reconciliation. There cannot be two Afenifere factions and you expect the Yoruba people to take the group seriously. Besides, making a final throw at reconciliation would be a worthy 90th birthday present to Papa Fasoranti. Or what do you expect him to tell Awolowo when he is finally summoned to the Creator’s headquarters?