2023: We’re yet to decide on candidates, parties, says Afenifere Renewal Group

That is curious, Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) as we speak, has members that are not necessarily in APC. I am the chairman, I belong to APC and I have always been in the progressive fold.
Olawale Oshun

Olawale Oshun

Chairman, Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) Hon. Olawale Oshun spoke with MUYIWA ADEYEMI on why the group has not endorsed a presidential
candidate for 2023 election and how politics has divided Yoruba leaders.

Some analysts said you have pitched tent with All Progressives Congress (APC) and you are going to endorse its presidential candidate, how will react to this?
That is curious, Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) as we speak, has members that are not necessarily in APC. I am the chairman, I belong to APC and I have always been in the progressive fold. I have been in AD, AC, SDP and I am in APC. But that is not to say that all the members of ARG are members of APC.
There are some members who do not belong to any party, some belong to variety of other parties, so, it will not be right to say categorically that this is a group that is affiliated to APC. In fact, what we are affiliated to is the Yoruba interest. We are determined to protect the interest of Yoruba people at home and in the diaspora because, as you would know, Yoruba people are spread practically across the whole world and our interest is the same, our civilization is the same and our values are the same. So, that is the common and binding factor not necessarily political party.
That means you are yet to endorse any presidential candidate?
We are using this week and next week to consult across Yoruba land, among ourselves and we are talking to our members in the diaspora as well. We will certainly come out with a statement in due course. Here now, I am speaking in my personal capacity on what would have been my own preference. I am a member of a party and my own interest is to protect the interest of that party. ARG is centrically Yoruba oriented and it will take a public stance.

Afenifere has endorsed Mr Peter Obi of the Labour Party, we know that ARG and Afenifere do not have history of working together politically, so what should we be expecting from you?
The interesting thing is that, you may not even be right when you say Afenifere has taken sides with Obi because you would recall that after the declaration of Papa Ayo Adebanjo, that Baba Ayo Fasonranti also took a position in the name of Afenifere and that is why ARG is making widespread consultation. What is important is that the interest of Yoruba people is paramount and we will be coming out with our own position very soon because the consultations are nearly coming to an end. But the thing to note is that even Afenifere as we speak, nobody would say that there is that unanimity or consensus in what has taken place but by the time we come out Yorubas will agree with us because our consultations are widespread and we are looking into the future of the young citizens or elements who are Yoruba, whose interest and livelihood still span decades. I am in my 70s, if I am lucky, another 10 to 20years, you cannot be comparing my own interest with a Yoruba child of 10 years because he still has maybe ten decades ahead of him. We must put all that into consideration and that is what we are doing at the moment.
As a group that is advancing Yoruba interest, would you have endorsed another candidate apart from Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, being the only Yoruba presidential candidate from one of the major political parties?
The important thing is, as a member of APC, as I sit before you, the candidate of my party is Tinubu, who certainly, I as an individual have the responsibility to support and I will support him. But then the group would in his wisdom take its own decision and I cannot speak for the group as I sit before you. In fact, I would have loved a situation in which this interview takes place after all the consultations would have ended.
Some Yoruba groups have endorsed presidential candidates without seeing their manifestoes or negotiating any interest with them? 
Antecedent of the candidate is very important but that does not undermine the significance of their manifestoes. If you look at experience, take Tinubu, he can sell himself on the basis of having been a legislator, a senator. He is coming from the private sector, he has been an executive head of government he has that experience. If you look at the issue of the Constitution, more than any other person, his government was in the Supreme Court challenging issues of violations by the Federal Government vis-à-vis the federating unit. They did lay down a lot of rulings that defined many lacunas in terms of the interpretation of the Constitution of Nigeria. When you look at the economy of Lagos State in terms of revenue generation and the application of such revenue, you look at educational institutions, health institutions, housing and estate that have sprung up in many areas in the state, the thing is, you will need to ask yourself, who among the contestants has had a combination of legislative and executive leadership and that has shown and defined leadership in terms of economic activities. So, these are the combination you have to put together.

If you look at that, you may not wait for the manifesto even, though for us as Afenifere Renewal Group, the manifesto would have to define further incursions into constitutional issues like the relationship between the federating unit and the Federal Government. One can only hope that the bravery that went into seeking amendment to portions of the Constitution, which he did as the executive head of a federating unit, he can now take such interest and vision to the Federal Level. The manifestoes are out now, people can look at them but the interesting thing is that Nigerians themselves would have to define their areas of interest.
You must admit that even as we speak, that the Yoruba agenda is in the public domain. I do not intend to blame anybody but I think the initial endorsement of Obi was rather premature in the sense that it put on the run the whole process of where is Yoruba in all of this. That should have taken quite a lot of time in interpreting, in seeking, but then we cannot continue the blame game of our leaders.
What is Yoruba agenda?
When you speak of derivation, we want a situation in which the federating unit can take hold of earnings from their area and pay an agreed sum to the Federal Government. So, those in the oil producing areas could explore the oil and pay a percentage agreed on to the Federal Government. Then the Northern states that are essentially agricultural and their main areas of production are millet, wheat, animal husbandry, they would also have a means of paying taxes to the Federal Government. It is not as if everybody will pay the same rate and we look at that in terms of derivation.
Looking at security for instance, there is absolutely nowhere in the world where you speak of a federation with one police system. Even monarchical UK has various levels of policing. Of course, Nigeria practices unitary system government and we have one single level of policing. So, all that would have to go and be replaced by multiple security system and that is a Yoruba agenda.

Restructuring is already overbeaten, that is why we define the concept of multiple policing. See what is happening to Apapa port, all the roads leading to Apapa are not being maintained. And yet you have charges and customs duties collected there. There are federal roads connecting federating units, but once they are constructed, they should be handed over to respective federating unit to maintain.

Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) invited all the major presidential candidates to address them and present their agenda for the north. Is that not better than endorsing candidates?
Well, every group can define their own interest, our own interest is clear and we have been agitating for it and nobody seeking office will say he is not aware of the position of the Yoruba regarding restructure and constitutional issues, unless we are deceiving ourselves. It has been on the template since 1992.
Is it possible for Yorubas to speak with one voice ahead of 2023 elections?
 Yes. What I would say is that our interests are the same. There is no Yoruba person that doesn’t want development and education. So, our interests are the same. What we look for is good governance in the area of social welfare, such as education, health, security and agriculture. We are also intent on having skilled manpower at all levels, medium, low and the high. These are common interests. Defining it is clear and Yoruba is bound by those lofty objectives. Where we may differ is the mode of attaining these lofty objectives. But then, that is why we speak of Afenifere, meaning somebody who desires good for himself and others.

Who is the Yoruba leader now?
 Well, I cannot say that we have a Yoruba leader now. The last one we all agreed on was Pa Abraham Adesanya. Papa Adekunle Ajasin took over the mantle from Baba Obafemi Awolowo while Adesanya took it over from Papa Ajasin. I don’t think ever since that we have another, because we have Baba Fasoranti somewhere and Baba Fasanmi at another time. And they themselves could not resolve the contending issues until one of them passed away. So, the issue is, the Yoruba do not have a leader in the way we took Awolowo as our leader mythically and physically. We have not invested in another person as a leader.
What of Pa Ayo Adebanjo?
Papa Adebanjo is my father and leader, but I don’t think he himself will say he is the leader of the Yoruba because he knows that the Yoruba people do invest leadership in their leaders. I mean if Yoruba turn around and say this is our leader, you will know, the aura will be there, that is the honest truth. And the last time that took place was with Adesanya, the vacuum has been there since. When Adesanya became the Yoruba leader after the passing of Papa Ajasin in 1997, Adesanya was probably in his mid 70 at that time, but I don’t think anybody would say he was not a leader of the Yoruba. In fact, Olaniwu Ajayi said this vacuum would be difficult to fill in his eulogy of the passing of Adesanya.
Are you saying that Afenifere is not speaking for all Yoruba?
Afenifere Renewal Group would say it is speaking for Yoruba people because we are galvanising our thoughts and consulting all Yoruba in Nigeria and in the diaspora. 

So, we can say that politics has divided the ranks of Yoruba elders?
Of course, the elders have been divided. We cannot run away from that but hopefully, there would be unity in our lifetime. Well, 2023 election is almost here, hopefully, it will go peacefully, and we will be able to push for the kind of reforms we want. So, we would love to see how we could marry all the differences between those who will wish Yoruba not to be part of Nigeria and those who will want Yoruba to be part of Nigeria, including those who want the Yoruba to remain part of Nigeria but not subjugated. In fact, that is the task before the Yoruba. If that is unattainable, then ultimately, Yoruba may have no alternative than pushing to leave the country because unless you have the kind of reforms, which we are talking about we cannot have a peaceful Nigeria. Because we speak of Boko Haram and if the North chooses to have theocracy as their form of government why should we stop them? And we also deserve to make religion personal and run a secular government. It is that kind of constitutional reform that benefits the federating units and does not superimpose on others what you want.

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