Afenifere @ 70: Flourish, populism and relevance
Probably no socio-political plank in Nigeria has impinged on our consciousness or has excited our admiration for the values of dedication to cherished ideals and goals more than Afenifere – the pan-Yoruba socio-political platform. In a society where shifting compromises and mutually-conflicting philosophies are lumped together just to score some cheap debating or political point, Afenifere has stood out as a genuine re-creation of a sincere search for solution to the myriad of problems besetting Nigeria. Founded in 1951 as an open window for brandishing the proud bearing and venting the considered expression of the people of its constituency, its enduring nature contrasts starkly with a general foreground of aborted, still-born or short-lived organisations.
For 70 years on, Afenifere has adhered firmly to its foundational belief in precise observation, discipline and clarity of vision. It has thereby positioned itself as the ruling socio-political ethic in Yorubaland – its primary constituency. Other groups espousing similar or identical values like it are dimly outlined against the towering stature of Afenifere. Stripped bare even of all the trappings of political brinkmanship, it stands out like a statue in an attitude that is brimming with hope and foreboding or foretelling of harm, danger or difficulty as things are not done right. One is left wondering if its founding fathers are not the descendants of those glorious beings whom our imagination cannot figure out as belonging to our kind or clime.
Afenifere, as a name, is the Yoruba rendition in crisp and memorable catch-call phrase of the social welfare policy programmes of the defunct Action Group. “Afenifere” loosely translated as those who seek goodness and welfare for all is the other name for people who are in the vanguard of progressive development in all its social welfare dimensions. In the early days, Afenifere was the propelling movement of the people behind the Action Group. The philosophy of the Action Group has been the fundamental objective and the directive principles of Afenifere policy. Afenifere draws deeply from the sublime character traits of its founders – accountability, work and efforts, merit, faith, human sympathy, etc. A product of the required apt responses by the people of the Western Region to the contentious provisions of the Richards Constitution, Afenifere was an effective, efficient vehicle. Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s effort in this regard is notable. He had envisioned a virile political platform as an all-purpose vehicle for confronting the challenges of agriculture, health, education, the economy, employment, social insecurity, etc. He encapsulated the envisaged achievement of all these goals in what he insightfully referred to as progressive democracy and responsible leadership. Awo characteristically did a critical analysis of the issues and resolved that the conditions for peace are a sine qua non for progress. He intoned: “No progress of any kind can be made in an atmosphere of strife, disorder or violence. And as nature does not favour standing-still, it follows that in a period of turmoil, society must retrogress”
The motto of Afenifere expressed as “Life More Abundant” beamed the light into the dark recesses of a future made complicated by inconsistent and discriminatory colonial policies. Peace that Awo identified as a necessary condition for progress, he ideologically located in four cardinal programmes of free and compulsory education for children, free health, gainful employment and rural integration. With the faithful prosecution of these programmes by his government, the Western Region of Nigeria achieved enviable peace and unparalleled progress.
The Afenifere ideology has become household in South-West Nigeria such that every political party, no matter its colouration, has laid claim to and promised the pursuit and performance of the Afenifere programmes if voted into power. This has expectedly occasioned, for most times, the unfortunate emergence of all manner of political merchandising masquerading as belonging to the Awo creed or school of thought. They have, in many cases, taken over the stage manifesting revisionism, charlatanism, turncoat-ism, nihilism, etc. The people are however not deceived for long. They soon identify the con-men for who they are. Having lived through a glorious period in history, the people are apt to recognise signs, symptoms and symbols that are inconsistent with what they know or had experienced.
It is to be noted that one grave tragedy of the progressive movement in Nigeria’s political practice is the palpable short-supply of young entrants into its fold. It may be that its dialectical offerings are not digestible or are unattractive to our young people or that enough education as to the relative practical advantage of its philosophy over competing rival claims is not vigorously marketed as wares in the marketplace. For instance, young entrants are not seen queuing excitedly for enlistment into Afenifere as a matter of course or as a matter of the recognition of or commitment to the pedigree of some not-too-distant glorious past. It is a sad commentary regarding our succession trajectory that the same set of people that have been representing the Afenifere cause since the beginning of time has remained Baba Kekere, ever since, refusing to be shot further up to become Baba E kuagba (or Grand Patron) or be infused with new, vigorous or effervescent blood for transmitting the gospel of Afenifere to a new or digital age. It must be noted however, that its founding fathers and those who took over directly from them have done a marvelous work respecting their charge. They may not be denied acclamation.
They are truly deserving of our reverent admiration. There is a requirement today of an in-built institutional mechanism for acculturation, pupillage or apprenticeship for young entrants regarding the mores, values and philosophy of Afenifere outside of textbook knowledge. A distinctly-friendly approach to an open recruitment process is as good as keeping away persons who may be reasonably suspected to be deleterious or harmful in a subtle or unexpected way to the ideals or aspiration of the body from scorching the coattails of the group.
Afenifere, as an unyielding advocate of a truly federal constitution for Nigeria, has been a very active and constructive participant in all the patriotic efforts, gestures, conferences, etc. which have taken place since 1953 and which efforts along with those of others with identical clarity of mind and single-minded purpose, have culminated not only in the attainment of independence but in the production of the 1960/63 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That self-same constitution has been self-gratifyingly violated and replaced with a fraudulent copy thereof by the military. Afenifere has valiantly been in the patriotic vanguard for a return to the provisions of a truly federal constitution. Her calls for restructuring must be noted as co-terminously linked to the body’s ceaseless battles for the emergence of a constitution in the mould of the 1960/63 constitution with all the incidents of classical federalism.
The relevance of Afenifere can be acutely located in its relentless fight against injustice wherever or whoever it is meted to, in its vigorious constructive participation in the search for purposeful direction for Nigeria, and in its sustained belief in the requirement to further Nigeria’s democracy within a truly federal structure.
Historically, it is noteworthy that in a sweeping abrogation of all political parties and socio-political formations, etc. by the military when it seized power in 1966 and was bent on legitimising its stranglehold on the polity, that Afenifere was providentially spared. It was not mentioned in the long list of banned bodies in spite of its visibility and immanent in-dwelling. This seeming omission is not ordinary and must be understood only in the context of a spiritual acknowledgment and approval of the centrality of its being and offerings. Afenifere’s ordained place in the intellectual theorising and in the jigsaw mechanics of making Nigeria a peaceful, prosperous and self-reliant community is yet unfolding.
Regarding the truthful thrust of Afenifere, we conclude with the immortal words of Winston Churchill: “The truth is incontrovertible; panic may resent it, ignorance may deride it,
malice may distort it, but there it is.”
Thus far has Afenifere fared at 70 – flourishing in its object, bristling with vigour, and brandishing hope.
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and commentator on public affairs wrote vide email@example.com