Even at 97, Fasoranti still needs a birthday present
Chief Reuben Famuyide Fasoranti, the leader of Afenifere, is celebrating his 97th birthday today. He is indeed a long distance runner who has seen the ups and downs of life including personal tragedies and public triumphs. Though he is leading Afenifere, the organisation is no longer providing the needed leadership for the Yoruba people.
It has suffered from self-inflicted dissipations and internal ideological conflicts. Baba Fasoranti is lucky that though the day is far gone, but there is still enough sunshine to dry the cloth of reformation. The way forward is not clear, but there must be a way forward. That is the challenge before the leadership of Afenifere.
Baba Fasoranti was one of the leaders who attended the 1995 Yoruba Summit at the Premier Hotel, Ibadan. Chief Bola Ige, first elected governor of Oyo State (including the present Osun State) secured for us a suite in the hotel, which served as the secretariat of the Summit.
It was in that suite that the communiqué was prepared. It was that communiqué that described Afenifere as “Mainstream Yoruba political and cultural organisation.” It was the same communiqué that proclaimed that: “The leader of Afenifere shall be the leader of the Yoruba.”
That summit was attended by leaders across Yorubaland, including the present Kogi and Kwara states. The then Bishop of Akure Diocese of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion, Rt. Reverend Bolanle Gbonigi, made all present to swear to an oath that they would defend the cause of democracy. That oath was later adopted by Idile Oodua as the membership admission oath.
It was a giddy period and Nigeria was on edge. General Sani Abacha was firmly in the saddle and the opposition National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), had been proclaimed in the home of Major-General Adeyinka Adebayo, the first military Governor of the defunct Western State.
The President-presumptive, Chief Moshood Abiola, had been arrested and was in detention. General Olusegun Obasanjo, former Military Head of State, was also in detention, accused of allegedly plotting a coup to topple the Abacha regime. He was accused along with many prominent Nigerians, including Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, his former deputy, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, chairman of the Campaign for Democracy, Chris Anyanwu, publisher of The Sunday Magazine (TSM), George Mba of Tell and Kunle Ajibade of The News.
In this period of crisis, the central position of Afenifere in the affairs of the Yoruba people was accepted by all and sundry. Chief Anthony Enahoro, leader of NADECO, met with Afenifere leaders in Owo, the country home of Chief Adekunle Ajasin. General Obasanjo, pleading his innocence, also wrote a letter to Papa Ajasin. It was expected that the group would provide direction and lead the struggle against military rule.
Many leaders emerged from the furnace of that struggle including the likes of Chief Frank Kokori, the General Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), and Chief Ayo Opadokun, the General Secretary of Afenifere and Dr. Frederick Fasehun, the leader of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC). By 1998 when Abacha died suddenly, Afenifere was trusted by the people to provide direction in the new dispensation charted by General Abdulsalami Abubakar who succeeded Abacha.
It was not surprising that all the governors in the Yoruba states of the South-west rode to power on the back of Afenifere. Most of the politicians who had participated in the discredited Abacha transition programme and were members of the military created and sponsored parties, repented their ways and quickly joined the Afenifere vanguard. Almost all elected members into the National and state assemblies in the South-west were also paying allegiance to Afenifere.
Today, Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State is the only governor who is with Afenifere. We need to ask why the rain has beaten Afenifere so badly.
Tomorrow, Chief Bisi Akande who was the chairman of Afenifere in Osun State during the Abacha era would be the chairman of Public Service Lecture organised by the University of Ibadan Alumni Association in honour Chief Fasoranti, one of the students that were admitted to UI in 1948. The Keynote speaker is Governor Kayode Fayemi, the immediate past Chief Executive of Ekiti State, who was part of the Afenifere vanguard during his stay abroad when he was a broadcaster on Radio Kudirat, the eternal voice of NADECO.
Today at the centre of national events is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who would be sworn-in as Nigeria’s 7th democratically elected leader on May 29, 1999. Many leaders of the old Afenifere remain relevant and influential in the new dispensation: Governor Cornelius Adebayo, Chief Olu Falae, Chief Seinde Arogbofa, Governor Olusegun Osoba, Governor Adeniyi Adebayo, Governor Gbenga Daniel, Governor Olusegun Mimiko, Senator Nimbe Mamora, Senator Kofoworola Buknor Akerele, Lt. General Alani Akinrinade, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, Engineer Bayo Adenekan, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, Abagun Kole Omololu and many others.
So, who stole the ball from Afenifere court? I think Afenifere is mired in a needless but self-destructive debate on its identity and provenance. In 1999, Afenifere had supported the formation of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), which was the political vehicle used by the group for its involvements in national politics. It was Afenifere that nominated Chief Olu Falae (now our father, Kabiyesi, the Oluabo of Ilu-Abo, Ondo State) to become the presidential candidate of the AD-APP alliance. The All Peoples Party (APP) was then the largest party in the North.
Therefore, there were those in the Afenifere leadership who insisted that Afenifere was also AD and the two were interchangeable. Not so, say some of our other leaders. Afenifere is a socio-political and cultural organisation and a linear successor to Egbe Omo Oduduwa the organisation that was outlawed in 1966 by the regime of General J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi.
The debate was soon put to test in Lagos State. The struggle for the governorship ticket in Lagos in 1998 was between two eminent citizens: Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, one of Afenifere and NADECO leaders who returned from exile and Funsho Williams, an engineer, who had served as a commissioner in the military regime of Brigadier Olagunsoye Oyinlola in Lagos State.
It was apparent that Afenifere in Lagos under the leadership of the legendary Chief Ganiyu Olawale Dawodu (G.O.D) was backing Williams. Most of the younger elements however, including our colleagues in Idile Oodua, were opposed to the emergence of any Abacha politician as the governor of Lagos State. The issue was resolved by the AD and not Afenifere. The acting chairman of the AD then, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, ruled in favour of Tinubu. Baba Adebanjo, now 95, is now the acting leader of Afenifere. Afenifere accepted the decision of the AD and Tinubu emerged as the Governor of Lagos.
Tinubu will become the President and Commander in Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 18 days time. He is a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) just like Chief Akande and Dr. Fayemi. All these people were once active members of Afenifere. It would be a great honour to Baba Fasoranti to use the auspicious occasion of his birthday to also address the lingering debate about the future of Afenifere, which remain central to the sense of identity of the Yoruba people.
Addressing the Afenifere debacle would be a fitting birthday present to Baba Fasoranti, a long distance runner, who has served humanity with devotion, courage, honour, dignity, competence and patriotism.