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Osoba: Afenifere crisis is due to failure of leadership to cultivate young minds


Chief Olusegun Osoba, Former governor of Ogun State

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• Afenifere Leaders Demonised Ige And AD Governors

A founding member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba reacted to Chief Ayo Adebanjo’s allegation in an interview The Guardian published last week. He also said Afenifere’s crisis started as result of the distrust and lack of confidence exhibited by the group’s leaders towards late Chief Bola Ige during the contest for the presidential ticket of Alliance for Democracy (AD) in 1999. SEYE OLUMIDE reports. 

It is assumed that the present leaders of Afenifere have failed to sustain or replicate the kind of legacies late Chief Obafemi Awolowo bequeathed to them, regarding the development and progress of Yoruba land, of which your are one…
YOUR question makes me very uncomfortable and also terribly sad. I cannot believe that I would be alive to see the situation in which Afenifere is today looking back at what the organisation had achieved in the Southwest those days. The major cause of the group’s predicament today is distrust, lack of confidence and lack of accommodating leadership. These are some of the factors that led Afenifere to where it is today.

I am sad because those of us who had direct tutelage under Chief Awolowo are gradually passing on. I am sure that Chief Ayo Adebanjo in his quiet moment and on serious reflection will admit that those of us, particularly him and me, with the few others that were very regular with Papa Awolowo can be counted on our fingers now.

I said this because Papa Awolowo was a philosopher, who at every moment, imparted knowledge and his teachings to us. Chief Adebanjo will admit that a dinner with Papa was like going into a PhD lecture room, especially between the hours of 6 to 9pm. Papa will give you deep thoughts, serious discussions, just like they say, he talked deep.

Unfortunately the likes of Adebanjo, former governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande and myself that drank from the old man’s fountain are no longer many. I put these blame on our ageing leadership. 
There are different versions of the story of Afenifere crisis, but the striking one is that the governors of Alliance for Democracy (AD) were negatively influenced by Chief Bola Ige to disobey Afenifere leadership after he (Ige) lost the 1999 presidential ticket to Chief Olu Falae…
 Maybe we should hit the nail on the head and put the records straight. In the first instance, those of us who were AD governors then were not empty-headed characters. And I take it as a big insult for anybody to claim or say the former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, the late Chief Ige misguided us (governors). Would Ige have misguided men and calibre of erstwhile Governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande, former Governor of Oyo, Lam Adeshina, former Governor of Ondo, Chief Adebayo Adefarati, and myself and then also misdirected the younger ones like former governors of Lagos and Ekiti States, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Otunba Niyi Adebayo? I disagree totally with that notion.
The real problems with Afenirefe are the leaders. Rather than expanding our coast, winning over younger people like Papa Awolowo did to our own generation during his lifetime, we failed woefully to carry the younger ones along. For instance, Chief Odunaike, Peter Ajayi and I were very young, when Papa Awolowo decided that the three of us must attend meetings of all organs of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). Papa Awolowo attracted younger people to himself.
Lets return to Ige, of course, who suffered as part of the distrust I spoke about earlier. When our leaders knew that they did not want him as the presidential candidate, I expected that they should have been honest enough to sit him down as old people and explain in details the reasons they felt he we was not qualified to be given the presidential ticket; or in the alternative, they should have allowed us to debate the issue extensively, rather than put 16 of us together and asked us to go and decide who should be the party’s candidate. Can you understand my argument?

The whole issue was shrouded in secrecy and lack of transparency, which is part of the distrust I mentioned. The leaders did not trust Ige for any justifiable reason, and I think the only reason was because Ige had wider contacts all over the country than everyone of them.

Like myself with the media contacts across the country, the former Justice Minister also had contacts as a journalist. But some of our leaders think we must be held into that deep inner thinking and never encourage others or consider the counter views of others, which was not part of Ige’s character.

The former minister attracted very many brilliant younger people to himself, and of course, Ige was super intellectual in his approach. There is no doubt he had his faults, but the leaders for no just cause, distrusted him and I believe that that informed the venue of the presidential primary, which was to shun Ige. I agree that that development created upheavals within the Afenifere fold.

Is that what led to the formation of ARG, because some leaders said the formation of the group was the continuation of the seed of discord Chief Ige planted before his death, which Tinubu inherited to supplant them?
If I was a leader and I discovered that my younger people were rebelling, the first instinct would be to find out why they are rebelling. My second instinct would be to call the whole house together and hold a debate. Papa Awolowo was perfectly misunderstood, as he was regarded a dictator and a non-compromising leader, but that is contrary to what he was. Recently while discussing with a senator, I said papa would throw up issues for debate and would allow everybody to express their opinions and at the end, he would arrive at a consensus and then summarise. And whatever he summarised, he would go ahead to implement.

Let our present leaders tell me how many younger people of less than 40 or 50 years are now seriously active within Afenifere. I wonder if they can answer this, because it reveals part of the group’s problems. Afenifere’s crisis is as a result of leadership failure to attract younger people, and to be able to persuade the younger ones to reason along their path, instead of their old philosophy of spare the rod and spoil the child.

Did the six governors at any point deviate from the legacy of Action Group (AG) and philosophy of Afenifere for the Yoruba nation while in government, to the extent that a panel was instituted of which Gen. Alani Akinrinade (rtd) was a member to look into their performance?
That is not true. Chief Ayo Adebanjo is from Ogun State and he can attest to the fact that the legacy I left behind in that state as a governor was part of Awolowo’s Philosophy of rural development, rural electrification that I implemented to the letter.

The proofs of my achievements are still visible in Ogun State till today. I tarred the roads in Sanya Ogbo, Ode Remo and Ijebu Igbo to give you examples. I did rural electrification throughout the state and till today, no governor has spread development as widely as I did. Some of the roads I constructed are still standing till today. The Idi-Iroko to Ipokia Road, which I did in 1992, is still standing.

Adebanjo is a living witness, and he even said with my kind of performance, anybody couldn’t say I lost the 2003 governorship election in Ogun State. I addressed the water shortage in Ijebu Ode and kicked on tanker drivers that held Ijebu Ode to ransom. There was no major town in Ijebu Ode that didn’t have water during my time.

I was the first to introduce payment for West African Examination Council (WAEC) forms and also paying for the Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) fees for students in Ogun State, because some parents of some brilliant students could not pay examination fees then. By the time I became governor, teachers were not paid for nine months and I addressed that immediately. So, tell me, what is Awolowo’s philosophy that I deviated from?
Would you say Akande failed in Osun State or that Bola Tinubu failed in Lagos? Which report indicted us? Let them bring it out. It was Professor Bolaji Akinyemi that led the team to Ogun State, and they were amazed that with little or nothing, I did all major inter-state roads in the state. They were the ones that demonised Ige and we (the AD governors) are not the first the leaders would be at loggerheads with. They also had a face-off with all Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) governors between 1979 to1983.

Even when Awolowo was alive, they were at loggerheads with the governors. At every UPN meeting, it was these leaders and the governors. I will give you an example with an incident. The UPN governors started with nine progressive governors meeting before it became 12. It was particularly UPN and NPP governors before they brought in Balarabe Musa and Alhaji Rimi, the PRP governors.

At the first UPN National Executive Committee (NEC), these old men frontally attacked all the governors; lambasted and accused them of ganging up with other governors to supplant Awolowo’s philosophy, to destroy Awolowo and his aspiration to contest in 1983. The meeting held at Eko Hotel.

At that meeting, all the governors kept quiet because they just couldn’t understand what the old men were up to, until former Governor of Ogun State, the late Chief Bisi Onabanjo got up and said, ‘Papa, all these characters, who are pretending to love you more than yourself do not love you more than we (the governors) do.’ Onabanjo said the idea of reaching out to fellow governors in other parties was to broaden Awolowo’s philosophy base. He also told Awolowo that all over the country, they had branded UPN as a party with rigid leadership.

He said precisely: “Papa, for once, let us stop being predictable. For once, let us be unpredictable in politics. What we are doing is reaching out to other people, selling your philosophy and convincing them to let us join hands together.” And that day, Papa Awolowo said, “Yes go ahead; just report whatever you are doing.”

These old men never wanted Awolowo to expand his coast, and if anybody goes outside their thinking, they go after that person. Why did they go after UPN governors? It is their way of life. I repeat; I have the minutes of that meeting where Onabanjo challenged all of us. My book will come out soon. I have the minutes of UPN meetings. They should tell me, which governor were they comfortable with?
They said Jakande was not good. They said he was calling himself Baba kekere (small father) and by implication trying to supplant Awolowo. They said Bola Ige was not good. They left Papa Adekunle Ajasin and of course, Chief Onabanjo was not just ready for any intrigues. He would go directly to Awolowo at his own convenient time and tell him, ‘I only come to see you if I have important things to discuss with you.’ He would not go through any of those who went to Papa Awolowo’s house every night, instead of staying with their families. Onabanjo used to make fun of them. They always had problems with UPN governors, which they later transferred to AD governors.

Does this mean all the parties involved in the crisis would be comfortable departing this world without any effort at reaching a resolution and chart a better path for Yoruba land like Awolowo did?
That is why I said am sad. The current Afenifere leaders are not just attracting younger people, who they should be tutoring to emulate Papa Awolowo. For instance, the founder of AG did not force me to follow him. He was so free that you could argue with him, and if you had superior point, he would agree with you and said okay you are right. But I ask you, in the Afenifere of today, how many people of less than 40 years have you seen in their midst? I was not up to 40 years, when I was relating with Papa Awolowo, but who are the young people they are selling the Awolowo philosophy to?

What can the Yoruba nation do now to return to those glorious days of Old Western region?
I believe the Yoruba nation will survive. We shall survive. I am already 80, but I agree that I am part of the problem. The truth is that my generation has not bequeathed the Awolowo philosophy to the younger ones. I am as guilty as the leaders because at my age, I am also an elder. But the Yoruba nation will survive because I see that the younger ones are vibrant and determined, based on what I read on different platforms I belong.

Are you the one that suggested Afenifere should meet and support former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003, when he was aspiring for second term in office?    
I regretted attending Chief Ayo Adebanjo’s book launch when he turned 90. If I knew he was going to abuse and insult me the way he did that day, I would not have gone there. Not only that, I also donated N500, 000 to the launching, only to discover that Adebanjo made a lot of allegations against me in his book. I had to stop my book from being printed to enable me respond appropriately to his accusations. I want to know those allegations. My book will soon be published.
The truth is that Afenifere held a meeting with Obasanjo, and Adebanjo was present. Chief Cornelius Adebayo and Senator Femi Okunrohunmu spoke on behalf of the group at the meeting, and when I led them to Gate way Hotel in Ota to review the meeting, he was the first to say Obasanjo was now a changed person, having promised to conduct a clean census, and true fiscal responsibility, over which we had gone to court then. We asked Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was Lagos State Attorney General under Tinubu, they were in court then, seeking to rewrite the constitution and get to the Supreme Court to pronounce on the 1999 Constitution. He would get my own backlash. I will give it back to him (Adebanjo). The remaining Afenifere members that are still alive can testify that Adebanjo was the one that said Obasanjo was thoroughly converted and had become a changed person.

What are the positive things you think those of you that were Awolowo followers and Afenifere members, who are currently in the All Progressives Congress (APC) and hobnobbing with President Muhammadu Buhari, who has refused to entertain talks on restructuring, could attract to the Yoruba nation?
Why did you ask me that question? Did you ask them why the so-called progressives were hobnobbing with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)? Tell me the difference. They went with PDP that is conservative. Papa Awolowo told me that the day he went to Aba in Abia State to campaign, the people threw big stones at him that nearly landed on his head, and that was the day he decided to give up campaigning in that part of the country.

They (Afenifere) went and hobnobbed with the ultra-conservative. Where is the meeting point between fire and water in their case? So, is the PDP the answer? Chief Adebanjo was the first to hobnob with my successor in office, Otunba Gbenga Daniel after 2003 and kept on romancing Daniel till tomorrow, even after Daniel supplanted me as governor. What is their reason to have gone in alliance with PDP? What is in PDP philosophy that agrees with Awolowo’s philosophy that make them so comfortable to the point where some elements said they were going to take over Lagos by force? 

At over 90 years, I have always advised uncle Adebanjo to take it easy. (Yoruba ni ta ba ndagba a ma nye ogun ja ni’) meaning, when you become a field marshal you cease being infantryman. In his old age, he should be a peace preacher among Yoruba people first, before trying to preach across Nigeria. No matter what may be his ego, he should be the one to accommodate all, because Awolowo was supremely accommodating and he accommodated all kinds of characters.

The extreme in Adebanjo and co on one side, governors on the other side, and some elements either with them or not. But all this notwithstanding, Awolowo managed everybody successfully, by allowing everybody to have a say. Before Adebanjo gets to 100 years, he should use his remaining days to reach out to others.

Are you saying if Chief Adebanjo extends a hand of fellowship to you…?
If he does so genuinely and not with all these insults, abuses and harshness. He has never changed. Any interview he grants is pugilistic. His language is still the same as when he was 30. He is now over 90 going to 100. Let him temper his approach. 

If Nigeria is not restructured in the next 10 years, what do you think could happen?
Will I still be alive in the next 10 years? I will be 80 in July. The way they are going about the restructuring demand is a tactical error. I have always said not President Buhari or anybody can single-handedly change the Nigerian Constitution. I have always said we should start from the National Assembly and the legislators in the State Assemblies. Preach what you want changed.

They went late to see the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and his mate. By the time they got to the National Assembly, they discovered that the senators had gone far in far-ranging amendment to the Constitution, in which if they had collaborated with them (Senators) we would have been talking differently now.

Secondly, lack of accommodation for other people’s views made them go late to see the lawmakers. Let him tell you the impression they came out with after meeting the senators and they saw all that had been done. And these last elections, how many elders went home to influence the election of those that contested for the National Assembly and State Assemblies?

If we don’t get involved in the elections of those going to the National and State Assemblies, because they are the ones that will engineer the amendment and change of the constitution, we are wasting our time. Buhari can never do anything by decree. So, if we want anything out of the President, we would have to fight for it. We must be ready to persuade as many members of the federal and state legislators across the country to see merit in restructuring.

Without that, we wont go anywhere. I meet many people on the platforms where they make powerful statement, powerful analysis and pungent arguments, but how many of them have written books, to really analyse restructuring and simplify it?
I was reading one of the platforms and somebody was explaining what he called core federalist. He did a good job by trying to explain restructuring in Pidgin English. Until we realise that other than the military coming back, we cannot change the constitution, we won’t make any progress in this regard. If you don’t go through the process entrenched in the so-called useless 1999 Constitution, you can get anywhere. 

Does the Southwest have any justification to clamour for the presidency in 2023, considering that the Southeast is the only zone yet to enjoy the position?
What is wrong with that? The presidency goes to the North and returns to the South and Yoruba nation is part of the South. Why should we shy away from it? The North had it; the South had it during Obasanjo. So, what is wrong with it? It went to the North, when the late Umaru Yar’ Adua had it and it returned to the South, then President Goodluck Jonathan had it and it went back to the North to return to the South in 2023. Let us all come and slug it out.

I thought you would be a bit more considerate to the Southeast…
It is not about the Yoruba. The Presidency is coming back to the south in 2023, and we are part of the Southern region of the country.   


In this article:
Olusegun Osoba
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