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Fasoranti Vs Adebanjo: Who is right?

By Ray Ekpu
08 November 2022   |   4:30 am
Two Sundays ago the presidential candidate of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu did what politicians are accustomed to doing during campaign periods. He went to Akure to attend a meeting hosted by the 90-something leader of Afenifere, Pa Reuben Fasoranti...

Fasoranti Vs Adebanjo

Two Sundays ago the presidential candidate of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu did what politicians are accustomed to doing during campaign periods. He went to Akure to attend a meeting hosted by the 90-something leader of Afenifere, Pa Reuben Fasoranti. At that meeting which was packed to the rafters including APC governors or their representatives Tinubu presented his 80-page manifesto, Renewed Hope 2023: Action plan for a Better Nigeria. The crowd, we learn, also included Yoruba leaders from Kogi and Kwara States, two of the States that inhabit a large number of Yorubas in the North Central region.

The mood at the meeting, we learn, was joyful like the home coming of a truly beloved son of Yoruba. Kind words, we learn, were said about the visiting APC flag bearer. At the end of it Pa Fasoranti put his ninetysomething hands on Tinubu’s seventysomething head and blessed him. That was not an empty show of love, it was an act of endorsement by a foremost leader of the pan Yoruba socio-cultural organisation called Afenifere. Socio-cultural organisations in Nigeria do not restrict themselves strictly to socio-cultural issues. Those issues are never as attractive as political issues. Politics is sweet. It offers a unique opportunity for people to express themselves freely; to abuse and insult opponents and to give their opinions on any subject under the sun. Above all it is also an opportunity for chopping whose other name is stomach infrastructure. So for Afenifere politics is never below the surface particularly when elections stop by. And this political season is no exception.

Before Pa Fasoranti returned from self hibernation, there was an Acting Afenifere leader, also a ninetysomething year old man of immense guts. His name: Pa Ayo Adebanjo. In Yorubaland, I am told, that if you reach the age of 80 and are successful and prominent, the prefix Pa is often pinned on you to distinguish you from strapling young men holding walking sticks and asking to be respected as Otunbas. I disgress. As I was saying Pa Adebanjo was named Acting Afenifere leader when Pa Fasoranti lost his daughter in cruel circumstances. After recovering from the trauma of that loss he is back to business as the substantive leader of Afenifere.

But while he was away from the scene Pa Adebanjo had announced the endorsement by Afenifere of Mr Peter Obi, presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP). Peter Obi is an Igbo man from South East Nigeria so Adebanjo had to find an appropriate reason for preferring him to Tinubu, a Yoruba man. Adebanjo says that his decision was based largely on fairness, justice and equity, qualities for which Afenifere has established its reputation. Let me break it down. Since 1999 no Igbo man or woman has been President of Nigeria but the South West had Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as Nigeria’s Chief Executive for eight years (1999-2007).

The South South has had its turn with Dr Goodluck Jonathan who did six years as President. So if by rotation of the presidency between north and south it is now the turn of the south then it should logically, fairly, go to the South East that has not yet had a taste of the pie. But this grand and patriotic philosophy has not yet sunk into the heads of most Nigerians. Nigeria is still run on a winner takes all philosophy otherwise the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar would not be running now. Atiku is a Fulani man contesting to take over from another Fulani man, President Muhammadu Buhari. What that proves is that politics is not a fair game and the fairness doctrine is often sidetracked when the chips are down. Adebanjo can be seen as a patriotic and fair-minded person, qualities that are very admirable in societies where patriotism and fair-mindedness are regarded as national ethos. But in Yorubaland Adebanjo is on a lonely path.

Fasoranti says that Adebanjo’s decision “can never stand because it does not truly reflect the thinking of the Yoruba people across the board.” The Yoruba Governors say that Adebanjo did not consult widely so as to gauge correctly the feeling of the Yoruba. In fact one prominent Yoruba politician I spoke to last week said to me that Afenifere is a Yoruba organisation. That means that Afenifere should support a Yoruba person at all times when it comes to sharing of the national cake. He asked rhetorically if I thought Ohaneze Ndigbo would support a Yoruba man if he is contesting against an Igbo man. I did not want to speculate on the answer to that question.

Morally Adebanjo’s position is strong but politically it is weak. Of the six states in the South west only Oyo State is PDP. All the other five are APC states. So even if Afenifere is not a political organisation it is still bound to be influenced by its members most of whom are probably APC members. That is where politics triumphs over all other considerations and that is where Adebanjo’s problem lies.

In 1998 Afenifere was split down the middle over the presidential ambition of its two sons, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae. But it was a pleasant kind of split because if any of the two persons won it means that the Yorubas had won irrespective of which candidate Afenifere supported.

Today’s problem is different because one candidate is Yoruba while the other is Igbo. For most Yorubas the choice is clear. Eventhough the Labour Party seems to be making a strong impression on the youths of Nigeria it is still a young party that is yet to make a roaring impact nationwide. For example, the party has no candidates for the Senate in Borno, Ekiti, Katsina, Kebbi and Lagos. It has only one out of three senatorial candidates in Bayelsa, Delta, Jigawa, Ondo and Yobe. It has two senatorial candidates out of three in Bauchi, Kogi, Niger and Sokoto States.

For the House of Representatives the Labour Party has no candidate at all in Borno (9 seats), Ekiti (7 seats), Katsina (13 seats), Kebbi (8 seats), Lagos (24 seats) and Ondo (9 seats). It also has less than 50% representation in Bauchi, Jigawa, Kogi, Niger nad Plateau. Besides, there does not appear to be any hugely recognisable Yoruba in LP’s leadership cadre so its attraction for Yorubas is minimal. But perhaps the most cogent point raised by Adebanjo’s critics is that he did not subject his choice of Obi to the consideration of most Afenifere members in the region and beyond. Other critics raise the view that as an Acting Afenifere leader he was acting on delegated power which required the concurrence of or consultation with Fasoranti and other critical stakeholders in the South West and beyond before taking such a huge decision on their behalf. Adebanjo’s critics are quick to point out that there had been a similar situation in Afenifere before now. They recall that when Pa Adekunle Ajasin was no longer able to play the role of Afenifere’s leader, Senator Jonathan Odebiyi of the UPN was appointed as Acting Leader of the Association. For the period that Odebiyi was acting as the leader all the meetings of Afenifere were still held at Ajasin’s residence in Owo, Ondo State. Also, no decision was ever taken without proper briefing of and consultation with Ajasin before transmission of the decision to the public.

Adebanjo’s view that he is supporting Obi in the interest of national unity is attractive as a national philosophy but his critics respond that Afenifere is a regional organisation established to take care of the interests of Yorubas worldwide. They fail to understand why a Pan-Yoruba organisation should support an Igbo or any other candidate when there is a Yoruba running for the same office. They contend that there are existential problems of survival in Yorubaland which ought to receive the sympathetic hearing of Yorubas. That is why there is a group that talks of an Oduduwa Republic, an attempt at self-determination of a sort. That is an indication that the Yorubas need the attention of an indigene at the highest decision making level in Nigeria. As in many parts of Nigeria there are inexplicable threats to life and livelihood in Yorubaland. There have been conflicts between farmers and herders and bandits and the poor security situation has led to the establishment of Amotekun security outfit in the six states of the region.

This security outfit has not received from the Federal Government the enablement to be as effective as it could possibly be. That is an issue that can possibly receive a more sympathetic attention from a President of South West extraction. To avoid confusion and conflicts the zoning policy of the presidential office ought to be more specific than the generalised one between north and south. Since Nigerian politics is largely anchored on greed the lack of specificity adds something sinister to the confusion. When the Governors of the southern states decreed in Asaba, Delta State that the 2023 presidency should go to the south, they did not specify the zone. When the Governors of northern Nigeria also announced that the presidency should go to the south they were not specific about the zone. This lack of exactitude should be corrected so as to reduce the level of conflicts within the polity.

Afenifere will have to live with its burden, the burden of a socio-cultural organisation dabbling into politics because politics is the ultimate decider of how, even, socio-cultural activities are done. The modus operandi of Afenifere seems foggy. It appears to be an organisation that does not subject its decisions to a vote. It seems to depend largely on the wisdom of its elder-leaders and if these leaders have conflicting philosophies then Afenifere is left in a quandry. In this matter Adebanjo is occupying a moral high ground. That is idealism. Fasoranti is staking his name on the fact that as a pan Yoruba organisation the interest of Yorubas must prevail. That is realism. In this conflict it is apparent that realism will put the back of idealism on the floor. Any day.