Bola Ige and the war of the fathers
Today is the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Chief Bola Ige, first elected Governor of old Oyo State (now Oyo and Osun) and deputy leader of Afenifere.
He was then the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, serving in the government of his friend, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
It is interesting that close to this 20th anniversary, Chief Bisi Akande, one of Ige’s closest collaborators released his robust autobiography, My Participations, to tell Ige’s side of the story, especially as it pertains to Afenifere, the mainstream Yoruba political and cultural movement which is now under Chief Reuben Famuyide Fasoranti, its leader and that of Chief Ayo Adebanjo, its acting leader.
Anyone who has read Akande’s great book would know he has no kind words for those he perceived as opponents of Ige, principal of which were the duo of Adebanjo and his late friend, Sir Olanihun Ajayi. He was also heavy on Chief Olu Falae, a celebrated former Federal Permanent Secretary, banker, minister and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, who was preferred by Afenifere chieftains to fly the presidential flag of the movement in 1999. The conclave that nominated Falae for that race took place at the De Rovan Hotel, Ibadan.
Falae is an accidental combatant in the war over the political estate of Obafemi Awolowo, the titan who became the first Yoruba person since Oduduwa to preside over most of the Yoruba country. Before the rise of Awolowo, there had been three important eras: The Oduduwa Era, the Revolutionary Era and the Colonial Era.
The Oduduwa Era was dominated by Ife princes who derived their right to rule over various Yoruba kingdoms because they can trace their origin to Oduduwa reputed to be the founder of the Yoruba Obaship system, which originated in Ife. The protocol of the Oduduwa Era sets limits that were observed by the princes. They were not expected to covet the territories of their fellow brothers. Therefore, the Alaafin, as powerful as he was, could not take over the territory of the Orangun (Lord of the Igbomina) or that of the Owa (the Lord of the Ijesha).
The Oduduwa Era ended with the seizure of Ilorin from the Alaafin of Oyo in the 19th Century by elements, though mostly Yoruba also, who pledge allegiance to a foreign power and tried to seize the rest of Yorubaland for the newly created Sokoto Caliphate. This led to the Revolutionary Era when the Oduduwa princes found themselves fighting for the very existence of their kingdoms and their crowns. It led to the rise of the military class and of military cities like Ibadan, Abeokuta and Ijaye. The Revolutionary Era was only to end with the establishment of colonial rule by the British Imperial Power at the dawn of the 20th Century.
Since the end of the Colonial Era, we have moved to the Awolowo Era which effectively started in 1948 with the founding of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa and later the Action Group (AG), party. Even now as we are about to enter the new year of 2022, the Yoruba political elite class still defines its action through the prism of Awoism. Though he has been dead since 1987, Awolowo is much alive today as he has ever been.
In late 1998, when it was apparent that Chief Bola Ige was interested in running for the presidency, we urged him to open a Bola Ige for President campaign office. He declined. His reason: “Our leader would not like it.” The leader he was referring to was Awolowo.
In our interaction with the rump of the Awoist vanguard, there was something almost ecclesiastical in their devotion to the ideas and ideals of Awoism. For them, Awolowo was not just their leader; he was their teacher, the ultimate measuring-rod of their political action or inaction. Papa Olaniwun Ajayi use to say: “When I get to heaven what would I tell Awolowo?”
Many of us, including Engineer Bayo Adenekan, Right Honourable Funminiyi Afuye, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, Prince Adedokun Abolarin (now our father, the Orangun of Oke-Ila) met many times with Papa Alfred Rewane. Whenever he called Awo’s name, he would raise up his cap in respect. Papa Rewane was a good man.
Not everyone believes that the Awoists have been good to themselves especially since 1999 when power eluded them and their presidential candidate, Chief Olu Falae. He lost to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The Awoists, led by the redoubtable Senator Abraham Adesanya, the leader of Afenifere, were the nucleus of a new party, the Alliance for Democracy (AD), which then went into alliance with the Northern dominated All Peoples Congress (APP). Since Falae lost that election, the Awoist vanguard has been at war with itself. Another chapter in that war is now opened by My Participations.
Akande’s book is the third by Afenifere chieftains to tell their stories and wage war by other means. For them, history is an instrument of war. The first to publish was Chief Ayo Adebanjo whose autobiography, Telling It As It Is, spares no one in his gunsight. He had no kind words to one of the old comrades, Chief Bola Ige, who by 2018 when Adebanjo published his book, had been dead for 17 years.
Adebanjo believes it was the group of governors elected under the aegis of the AD who undermined Afenifere; Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Lagos, Chief Osoba of Ogun, Alhaji Lam Adesina of Oyo, Chief Adebayo Adefarati of Ondo, Chief Akande of Osun and Otunba Niyi Adebayo of Ekiti. As far as Adebanjo was concerned, the governors were traitors.
Chief Osoba was the first to fire back in his own autobiography, Battlelines: Adventure in Journalism and Politics. Osoba too had no kind words for Adebanjo and the other gerontocrats, who dominated the era of Senator Adesanya as leader of Afenifere. He believes they were the ones who sold Afenifere to Chief Obasanjo and led the governors to the slaughter of 2003 when the APC governors were swept out of power. Now Akande’s My Participations has delivered another missile in the war of the fathers.
Chief Adebanjo gave me the privilege of reading the manuscript of his book before it was published. Our company, Gaskia Media Ltd, also published Chief Akande’s book. After the publication of Battlelines, Adebanjo and Osoba engaged themselves in a press war until a truce was found somehow.
Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Akande’s successor as the Governor of Osun State, has also promised to release his autobiography in the nearest future. Oyinlola, lawyer, soldier, philosopher, politician and orator, is an accidental victim in the war of the fathers. So is Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Abeokuta most famous resident, Nigeria’s longest-serving ruler and Africa foremost elder statesman. No one should expect any response from Obasanjo. As the President of Nigeria, he operated on a larger theater on which Afenifere and its bush wars were only episodic happenstances.
At stake are the ultimate denouement of the Awolowo Era and the future of Afenifere. I believe a resurgent Afenifere is needed to redefine the position of the Yoruba people within the Nigerian federation. As of now, the movement is held captive by those who believe in bristling rhetoric mostly directed against other stakeholders instead of the real enemy camp. These people have little understanding and scant respect for the contributions and sacrifice of other leaders who have served the movement since the great days of Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, the first leader of the resurgent Afenifere and one of the founding fathers of the old Action Group.
For 14 years, we asked the PDP government to solve the assassination of Bola Ige. They did not. For seven years, we have been asking the APC government of President Muhammadu Buhari who killed Bola Ige? There is no answer yet. There is no apparent willingness by the present government to re-open investigations into the assassination. Yet he was the deputy leader of Afenifere who died in harness. Ige is not going to write any new book and cannot defend himself against those who continue to make him the object of their bristling campaign of calumny. He deserves justice. At least that is one battle the warring saints and sinners of Afenifere should be willing to fight together. They can actually do this before they gather together with Awolowo at the Judgement Throne.