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Afenifere in perspective

By Alade Rotimi-John
07 September 2022   |   3:45 am
We need to remind ourselves that as Yorubaland is a whole (even in its progressive mutilation and disfigurement as exemplified in the creation of self-asserting sub-national States), so Yoruba people are a whole.

We need to remind ourselves that as Yorubaland is a whole (even in its progressive mutilation and disfigurement as exemplified in the creation of self-asserting sub-national States), so Yoruba people are a whole. The several sub-divisions of her population may not flourish, if the same blood-stream does not circulate through the whole body. The free-flowing blood-stream of the Yoruba people is in their infinitely rich language, their emulable fundamental values of fairness, accommodation and fellow feeling; and in their general good conduct all of which are wrapped up in the social or communal spirit-arousing interpersonal relations ethic popularly referred to as the Omoluabi ethos.

From the earliest writers of Yoruba literature regarding the social values of the people, have emerged a code of instantaneous recognition of the people’s being. Much literature have poured forth about most of the cultural and civilizational achievements of the Yoruba people. Central to the modern socio-political thrust of the Yoruba in Nigeria has been Afenifere – a socio-political plank founded in 1951 by inimitable Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his ardent colleagues for furthering the cause of the people. Etymologically, Afenifere is a rendition in Yoruba language of the foundational values and prognoses of the Action Group. Afenifere has proven its undoubted resilience and polemical ardour regarding an unbroken record of existence and of political activism in enlightened self-interest especially in matters concerning the social and political fortunes of the Yoruba people in Nigeria.

A noticeable insidious strand as critique of Afenifere processes is being promoted to the end of presenting her as unworthy of the pan-Yoruba adulation or relevance she enjoys. Such scurrilous criticism particularly in an election season is geared towards denying her clear-eyed direction or guiding light position. If Afenifere can be smeared to the effect that it loses its credibility as the bastion of Yorubaland’s moral high ground and her socio-political ruling ethic, then it will be easy to supplant her with a philosophy of opportunism, her virulent adversaries have projected.

The structure of Afenifere including its thrust, modus, programmes and policies is exemplified in its Leader. He, more than any member, typifies the physical manifestation and immanent spirit of the organisation. In matters concerning the policy position of Afenifere, the Leader does not espouse a personal view. Whatever he pronounces regarding the matter at hand is the official position of Afenifere. It has never been the case that the Leader becomes irresponsible or egotistic as to substitute his personal opinion for the will of Afenifere. In a rare case of a mis-statement regarding a policy enunciation, the Leader is entitled to correct himself or make the position clearer. The Publicity Secretary may be invited to make public the correct or mis-stated position.

Even as the Afenifere has not fashioned a written constitution, its mores and processes have derived from conventions or age-long practices and solid history. The meetings of the group are held as at when the occasion demands but fairly regularly monthly at the Leader’s pleasure.

The vexed issue of Afenifere support for a president of South-east extraction is predicated on the proverbial Afenifere sense of justice and equity. Under the arrangement for rotational or zoned presidency, the Yoruba of the South-west may be properly deemed to have had more than their fair share of the cake. A 2-term Obasanjo presidency followed by an 8-year Osinbajo Vice-Presidential residency at Aso Rock Villa will appear to have sealed the chances of aspirants from the zone. Afenifere has, through its alter-ego leadership, consistently drawn attention to the contrariness to the avowed sense of justice and fair play of the Yoruba people regarding the bid of persons of South-west extraction for the 2023 presidential race. Such a bid, Afenifere has clearly stated, is immoral, unfair and in oppositional relationship to Yoruba worldview in the light of a subsisting rotational arrangement. Afenifere has insisted that its position draws largely from the cherished values of the Yoruba regarding accommodation, fellow-feeling and a profound sense of justice which is understood not in an abstract sense but as being in accordance with the common sentiment of mankind.

Some harebrained commentators will however not see morality in “an institutional dis-enfranchisement” which, they fear, constricts the exercise of constitutional rights. To them, zoning is an aberration which, they observe, has inherent limited applicability or is of doubtful bindingness. They have vaingloriously cited a time in contemporary history when equity was in favour of atoning for the injustice of June 12 even as they noted that zoning was not binding. These commentators disavow the argument that it is the turn of Ndi-Igbo.

They are insisting that Ndi-Igbo do not suffer any systemic disability and so have no right or should not be conferred with any, to constrict other people’s rights. As the presidency is agreed to be zoned to the South, all southern candidates should be free to contest, the eggheads have self-gratifyingly concluded.

This academicist critique of Afenifere position clearly ignores the palpable existential threat to our common weal even as it vainly raises a dialectical query. It is impossible to overstate the complete danger with which the Nigerian nation state will be faced in the event of an indecorous repudiation of time-honoured values of propriety, fairness, civility, and good breeding. The complexities and contradictions in the abandonment of a policy that has steadied the Nigerian contraption have indubitably arisen from an attempt to deny the troubling spirits of the ghosts of the victims of wrong-headed official policies and programmes over time.

Some persons have misguidedly countered the reasonableness in fighting for Ndi-Igbo even as they have alleged that Ndi-Igbo have always run against the grain of Yoruba political ascendancy. The Afenifere position is that two wrongs no matter how well disguised will never make a right. It is important that Yoruba values of fairness and justice be made popular as to make them become infective among the peoples of Nigeria so we may be bequeath to generations unborn a solid nation-building ethic involving the values of accommodation, fairness and justice to all. A retaliatory framework for paying back a past misdeed or a forlorn mischievous injury is hardly a progressive stance. It is not in consonance with Yoruba worldview. The entrenchment of a vengeful panoply, attitude or practice will infinitely hurt everyone as progress may not be achieved in a situation of strife or of un-ending conflict.

The grim realities of Nigeria will seem to suggest that decorum, fair play and the disregard of mythic representation of history be the nation’s directing principles. The Afenifere principle will appear to properly found the projected fortunes of Nigeria under a truth and justice milieu. The Afenifere principles, policies and praxis may well be substituted for the nebulous or un-actionable Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy provisions contained in Chapter II of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

Rotimi-John, a lawyer and commentator on public affairs wrote vide