Sir Olaniwun Ajayi and Afenifere
I use “Afenifere” in this tribute in multiple meanings. In its literal meaning, “Afenifere” may mean those who wish good things (blessings, good fortune, goodness or more broadly prosperity) on others as they wish themselves. In this sense, Afenifere virtually approximates the Biblical injunction of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ to do unto others as you would have them do to you (Matthew 7: 12). The opposite of “Afenifere” is “Kenimani” (those who may have prospered, but want no one else to experience prosperity!)
“Afenifere” also refers to a specific political movement rooted in Western Nigeria, founded by the great Chief Obafemi Awolowo in his lifetime which took formal manifestation as Action Group (AG) and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the first and second republics and the Yoruba socio-political organisation named “Afenifere” which sought to sustain the heritage of Awolowo’s politics and ideology in Nigeria, especially within Awolowo’s Western Nigeria base. There may also be a sense in which “Afenifere” refers to all true-born Yoruba persons in line with the traditions of community and honour, in which all proper sons of Oduduwa are “Omoluabi” who uphold the values and interests of their shared community. What however is clear is that whichever context or meaning we speak of, the great Yoruba and Nigerian Icon, Chief (Sir) Olaniwun Ajayi was troubled about the fate and direction of Afenifere as he departed this world.
There are multiple accounts and evidences of Baba Olaniwun’s concerns, especially as his exit from the worldly stage became imminent. The refrain that I have heard most commonly is “what will I tell Chief Awolowo?” Papa Awolowo, of course rests in the great beyond since his passage in 1986 exactly 30 years, before his loyal and committed disciple. Chief Ajayi’s concerns were well-founded.
Afenifere, the organisation is hobbled and divided, reduced to a rump of elders in their 70s and 80s, with a few itinerant younger men; Afenifere the ethnic group is seemingly rudderless and in disarray, disunited and receding even in terms of quality education, governance, prosperity and development, in which it led to the rest of Nigeria and Africa six decades ago; and “Afenifere” the value system is eroded. Yorubaland is fast losing its values of integrity, dignity, honour, community and diligence and being progressively (actually retrogressively!!!) replaced by “Nigerian” values of corruption, prebendal politics, dysfunctional education and an “alright Sir!” ethos!!! The biggest good that can and will come from Baba Olaniwun Ajayi’s passage is a new “Afenifere” awakening and the re-invigoration and renewal of our cherished values.
I’ve read three books written by Sir Olaniwun Ajayi: “Isara Afotamodi: My Jerusalem”, “This House of Oduduwa Must Not Fall” and “Nigeria: Political Power Imbalance-The Bane and Chain Down of Nigeria’s Progress and Development.” Together they give the reader a vivid sense of his passion and commitment to his beloved Isara in Remo, Ogun State; his family, the Methodist Church, Yoruba land, Afenifere and Nigeria.
Ajayi in “Isara Afotamodi” describes his home town as “a town fenced and fortified by rocks; a fortress impenetrable to enemies by invasion” and speaks of the pride of Isara indigenes and descendants in the cognomen “Afotamodi.” He compares Isara to Jerusalem (“just as mountains surround Jerusalem, all entry points into my town are hilly, and the points of ascendance are either rivers or streams”) and declares, “I am eternally grateful to my Maker that it is from this town that I take root.” Throughout the book his Christian and specifically Methodist education and heritage shines forth despite its location within a previously idolatrous context.
In “This House of Oduduwa Must Not Fall,” Sir Ajayi’s pre-occupation as the title suggests was with the “travails of the Yoruba in Nigerian politics” from British colonial administration, through the first republic (when the Mid-West was excised from Western Nigeria, a state of emergency declared, the AG split with external support and Awolowo jailed for treason), through to the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election of MKO Abiola to contemporary times.
In chapter six, “The political chaos in Yorubaland and the unlearned lessons,” Ajayi reflected on the AG crisis and the mis-steps of Chief S.L Akintola and spoke of contemporary developments: “In the recent past, young ones in Afenifere and the Alliance for Democracy took it upon themselves to insult, abuse, denigrate and degrade the elders.”Yet in the last days of his life, Ajayi reached out to and visited those who had offended him and his colleagues in a last, valiant effort to unite his people before he left.
Ajayi’s concern with the unresolved “national question” was also in focus in the same book as well as in his last publication, “Nigeria: Political Power Imbalance – The Bane and Chain Down of Nigeria’s Progress and Development.” Whatever imbalances he wrote about when the book was published just last year in 2015, things have gotten much worse perhaps prompting the urgency and near despair with which he urged his younger compatriots to act.
In a fourth book, his memoirs, “Lest We Forget,” Ajayi tells his entire life story – his birth in Isara to Benjamin Awoyemi Ajayi and Marian Efundolamu Ajayi; his love and marriage to his beloved late Adunola who Ajayi describes as “saint…rock-ribbed partner…affectionate friend;” his Wesleyan education and Methodist heritage; his career as a teacher, qualification as a corporate lawyer and then legal practice; the stormy days in the politics of the West and Nigeria; and the NADECO days under Abacha.
Ajayi was born on Wednesday April 8, 1925 in his father’s “parlour” in a small, thatched roof, wood house at Gbasemo Compound, Itun Abe, Isara, Remo. He died a giant, in far more auspicious circumstances, on November 4, 2016. He was a great leader of Isara, a proud son of Remo, a committed Methodist and Christian, an eternal Afenifere and staunch son of Oduduwa, and a distinguished Nigerian. He was a very successful lawyer and founded the leading law firm of Olaniwun Ajayi LLP.As a tribute to Baba Olaniwun Ajayi, Afenifere will rise again.Agbaje is CEO Resource and Trust Company Ltd.