Fasanmi and the opportunity for re-invention
Both Fasanmi and Akande were members of the Constituent Assembly of 1978 that produced the presidential Constitution that Nigeria is still using till today. Akande said it was Fasanmi who introduced him to Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1977. That meeting was to change the contour of his life. Since then both Fasanmi and Akande had remained close.
What was remarkable about Papa Fasanmi in even in his advance years when his eyes have become dim, was the clarity of his thoughts and his sound mind. Few years ago, I had visited him in the company of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the immediate past Governor of Osun State. Papa still remembered many of our past encounters. My first meeting with him was when the National Union of Ondo State, NUOSS, appointed him our patron. He was then a Senator representing Ondo State at the National Assembly in Lagos. We also appointed two other lawmakers, Senator Banji Akintoye and Chief Olushola Omonira of the House of Representatives.
As the National President, I had led a delegation of my colleagues, including Nick Tunde Eniola, our National Secretary, Ajetunmobi and Janet Omoniyi to meet Fasanmi and his colleagues. It was a pleasant surprise that Papa still remember the meeting of those days at his apartment at the1004 flats in Victoria Island. His capacity to cultivate the friendship of younger ones made him relevant throughout the winter years of his political life. Though he was domiciled in Osogbo, the capital of Osun State, he remained fully involved in the political events of his native Ekiti State. He, along with Dr Falaiye Aina, former Deputy-Governor of old Ondo State, were pivotal to the emergence of Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo as first elected Governor of Ekiti State in 1999.
In truth, Fasanmi had grit and staying power. His twin brother in politics was the radical trade unionist, Dr Tunji Otegbeye. Both of them grew beard as revolutionary young men in the closing years of British rule in Nigeria. Otegbeye formed a radical socialist party and was openly identified with the Communist Russia in the era of the Cold War. Fasanmi remained with the Action Group of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. It was on the platform of the AG that he was elected a member of the House of Representatives, representing Ekiti North Constituency in the old Western Region during the First Republic.
Therefore, it was not surprising that during the military era, he was one of the select groups that formed the Committee of Friends, the precursors of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, in 1978. He was a big player within the group and soon some of his colleagues of the old Ondo State thought he should vie for the post of Governor. He accepted the challenge. He was a member of the Contact Committee set up by the nascent group and was always travelling across Nigeria on behalf of Chief Awolowo. It was a great time and they were optimistic that their leader would become the President of Nigeria comes 1979. It was to prove a pipe dream.
But his people believed in Fasanmi’s dream. Three aspirants contested for the governorship ticket of the nascent UPN: Chief Adekunle Ajasin, a retired school principal and Fasanmi’s colleague in the old House of Representatives, Reverend Abiodun Iluyomade, a respected clergyman and former principal and Fasanmi. Iluyomade and Fasanmi lost to Ajasin who later emerged as the first elected Governor of old Ondo State. Fasanmi ended up in the Senate and Iluyomade apparently retired from politics.
When Ajasin appointed Chief Akin Omoboriowo as his running mate, he introduced a new element into Ondo State politics. Omoboriowo, a former staff of the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), was a well-known admirer of Chief Awolowo. By the year 1980, barely one year into the administration, Omoboriowo, who just 45, had made it known that he would prefer to be governor. Fasanmi supported him and became chairman of Omoboriowo Campaign Committee. It was a difficult era and was to have devastating consequences.
Omoboriowo challenged his principal for the governorship ticket of the UPN for the 1983 governorship election and lost. He was embittered by his loss for he had been assured by his supporters that the parsimonious patriarch, Chief Ajasin had no chance. Moreover, Omoboriowo’s spiritual consultant, Prophet Theophillous Olabayo had assured him that he would win the nomination and later the general election. When he lost the nomination, Omoboriowo abandoned his team in Akure and headed for Olabayo’s den in Ilorin. Fasanmi, who read a tepid speech rejecting the outcome of the nomination contest, was left to carry the can.
Fasanmi’s greatest attribute was his capacity to re-invent himself. When it was apparent that Omoboriowo was intent on joining the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, Fasanmi beat a retreat. At the National Executive Council meeting of the UPN in December 1982, Fasanmi was the only member of the Omoboriowo group that attended. He later made up with Chief Ajasin and became one of his strongest supporters during the struggle against military rule. In the Ajasin innermost cell, he shared the same pedestal with the likes of Chief Jonathan Odebiyi, Chief Bola Ige and Senator Abraham Adesanya. After the passage of Ajasin, he became one of the strongest lieutenants of Adesanya.
Since the passage of Adesanya, Fasanmi has led a faction of Afenifere which disagreed with the choice of Chief Reuben Fasoranti as the new leader of Afenifere. It is interesting that two old men in the winter of their years are leading an organization that once drove terror into the heart of the military. Neither faction holds any real power now but they still have a lot of influence. Gone were the days when Afenifere invokes the allure of real authority and the ecclesiastical pre-eminence of Yoruba patriarchy. In 2015, the Fasoranti group supported President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. The Fasanmi group supported Jonathan’s challenger, General Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari won.
With the exit of the illustrious Fasanmi, may be this would provide an opportunity for Afenifere to re-invent itself. Paying tribute to Fasanmi, Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye, one of the top leaders of Fasanmi’s Afenifere (christened Egbe Ilosiwaju Yoruba) said the greatest wish of Fasanmi was that Yoruba leadership should speak with one voice. But how can Yoruba speak with one voice when Afenifere has two heads?
Fasanmi’s glorious exit provides an opportunity and a challenge. It is time that the Afenifere leadership holds a reconciliatory meeting and chart a new way forward. In the year 2000, the Alajobi Committee of the Yoruba Nation which I was privileged to lead, had presented a draft Constitution of Afenifere to our leader, Senator Adesanya. The Constitution was drafted at his prompting. One of the provisions of the Constitution was that the leadership should be elected for a specific tenure and that state delegates should be identifiable and credible. We also recommended that most members of the old leadership should retire from executive functions and constitute the Board of Trustees.
Baba thanked us for our efforts and then set up another committee to review the draft Constitution. The new committee was headed by Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora, the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly. I don’t know whether the Mamora Committee ever submitted any report. Mamora is now the Honourable Minister of State for Health.
It is time to nurture Afenifere back to health. It is a duty that must be done for there is no other group in Yorubaland that could claim to speak for the whole of Yoruba people. The organization has credibility, history and record of its illustrious past leaders to back it. It should stop dissipating it energy in needless internecine struggle and bring itself back to health. If not, its epitaph may read: Born of Hope, Died of Friendly Fire!
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