15 years after, Tinubu seeks Afenifere in new direction for Southwest politics
Last week, after a long period of enmity between Afenifere, the mainstream Yoruba leadership and strongman of Lagos politics, Bola Tinubu, a truce that is likely to create a new path for Southwest politics was brokered at the instance of Tinubu in what many also saw as his way of seeking regional protection against the vagaries of national politics.
The visit, last week Wednesday, of the national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to the Akure residence of Chief Reuben Fasoranti, octogenarian leader of Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural and political organization, may have signaled a new direction for the politics of the Southwest geo-political zone.
On Tinubu’s entourage to Akure was the pioneer interim national chairman of the APC, Chief Bisi Akande, also a former Osun State governor and fellow player in Afenifere politics and on hand to welcome the duo at the airport, was the state governor, Rotimi Akeredolu and the leadership of the party in the state including Ade Adetimehin, the acting chairman and Dr. Tunji Abayomi.
Several chieftains of Afenifere like the group’s Secretary General, Sehinde Arogbofa as well as notable members like Chiefs Olu Falae and Femi Aluko, were also at Fasoranti’s residence to play host to the APC leader.
As it is common with Nigeria’s political engineering whenever a major electioneering is approaching, analysts believe the visit of former Lagos State governor to the Afenifere leadership, after fifteen years of parting ways, was to prepare the zone for the 2019 general elections.
Although described by Tinubu as a private visit, the publicity, the caliber of those present, the timing and the packaging of the trip, had all the trappings of a major political event that is meant to send signals of a new development in the political field to appropriate quarters.
The significance of the visit is also not lost on the internal politics of the Southwest and the desire to protect the region in the unfolding scheming that is expected to herald the next general elections so that the gains of 2015 would not be lost in the fresh power play at the national level.
Before 2015 elections, no Yoruba was on the A-list of Federal positions and appointments but Tinubu’s political dexterity in creating a North/Southwest alliance for the first time in the country’s political history, saw the emergence of Professor Yemi Osinbajo, his Attorney-General while in office as Lagos governor and in-law of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the late foremost Yoruba political leader and nationalist, as the Vice-President.
There are however threats to that position as the Northern bloc, which is known for its ability to remain on top of the game by carefully selecting allies across regional divides, may now be looking towards the Southeast to pacify the Igbo who have been shouting of marginalization in the last two years and create a new alliance that may push the Southwest out of the power cycle.
The last time the APC chieftain, who had severed relationship with the core Afenifere leadership just before the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) tsunami that swept all the governors of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), except Tinubu from office, visited Fasoranti’s residence, was just before that 2003 elections that proved the naiveté of Southwest political leaders in dealing with a war-tested general, President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Obasanjo, who got into office without the support of the mainstream Southwest which had Falae as its adopted candidate in the 1999 presidential elections that proved to be the first attempt at a Southwest/Northwest alliance, had somehow convinced the leadership of the AD not to have a presidential candidate but assist in securing for him a second term.
While the governors who agreed to the Obasanjo proposal could not secure a commensurate commitment from the general in the PDP not having governorship candidates for the six Southwest states, Tinubu’s was the lone dissent voice with a warning that the agreement would turn out to be a betrayal from the general.
During a meeting held at Fasoranti’s Ijapo Estate, Akure residence and attended by all the governors and leaders of the AD, Tinubu tried unsuccessfully to convince the gathering on why Obasanjo should not be trusted, stressing that the best way was for the AD to have its own presidential candidate and set up rigorous campaign machinery to secure second terms for the governors.
While the Lagos governor opted out of the arrangement and successfully contained the PDP onslaught, the other governors found it difficult divorcing Obasanjo’s endorsement from their own ambitions and at the end of the exercise, a somewhat confused electorate that was having the first election under a civilian administration in 20 years, voted them out, of course with allegations of massive deployment of federal power on the side of the PDP.
Being the last man standing and with renewed hostility from the Obasanjo presidency, Tinubu faced the fight alone and in the course of sustaining his grip on Lagos and expand his influence across the zone, founded the Action Congress (AC) and attempted to raise a parallel organization to Afenifere with the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) made up of young Turks that didn’t agree with the ways the old men in the pan-Yoruba group played their politics.
The disagreement between Tinubu and Afenifere grew along the fault lines already caused within the group four years earlier at D’Rovan Hotel, Ibadan when many of the leaders voted against the candidature of Chief Bola Ige, an old war horse, as the AD presidential candidate and picked Falae instead.
The old men at the meeting opted for Falae because of his national exposure as former Minister and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and as someone who had once ran a nationwide presidential campaign in the aborted Third Republic, but the decision, which Ige saw as a betrayal from his colleagues with whom he started politics in the First Republic, created loss of confidence among the group, which from then on, was divided into two.
On the side of Falae, who was a new entrant to the Afenifere, were the group’s leader, Chief Abraham Adesanya and governors Lam Adesina of Oyo and Adebayo Adefarati of Ondo, a close ally of Deputy Leader, Fasoranti whose steps the former SGF followed into the fold. Apart from being his townsman, Falae is also related to Fasoranti by marriage.
With Tinubu on the other side were younger elements that didn’t seem to have the kind of patience of the older politicians like Segun Osoba and Niyi Adebayo, governors of Ogun and Ekiti States as well as Akande of Osun who was Ige’s Deputy Governor in the old Oyo State. The faction was under the influence of Tinubu.
When the AD lost five of its six states, the influence of Afenifere over the region’s political power was considerably reduced but the old men did not lose their relevance in national politics as the conscience of the nation even though hardly can any of them win the polling units near their places of abode because of the new ways of politicking that are completely at variance with their old ways.
As Tinubu continued to soar in political relevance through his new platform and spreading his tentacles across the Southwest, many attempts were made by several leadership groups in the region to reconcile the two parties so that the region could speak with one voice.
A leader of the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi once recounted to The Guardian, how several reconciliatory meetings convened with widow of the revered Awolowo, Mrs. HID Awolowo as the arbiter, were thwarted by Tinubu’s insistence on not having anything to do with the old group again.
In the course of the prolonged enmity, other anti-Tinubu forces that got some levers of political powers like Ogun State governor Gbenga Daniel and his Ondo counterpart, Olusegun Mimiko, courted the leaders with the aim of getting at Tinubu by exploring his disagreements with the old men.
For Mimiko who parted ways with Tinubu after allegedly using him to get Ondo governorship seat, the Afenifere became instruments to create an inroad for the unsuccessful reelection bid of former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015.Since the parting of ways, Afenifere has been condemning Tinubu’s politics especially when it goes against some of the things that the group hold sacrosanct like convocation of National Conference which the group supported in 2014 and supports for true federalism and devolution of powers.
Although Tinubu, being a product of progressive politics that Afenifere stands for and who had paid his dues when the group, through the platform of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), took on the military in the wake of the June 12, 1993 election annulment, may share the same thoughts on some of these issues with the old men, the politics of power acquisition was believed to be responsible for taking a different stand with the old group.
For instance, while it was convenient for Tinubu to condemn Jonathan’s National Conference in 2014 for the APC to get power, the same Tinubu threw his weight behind the renewed call for restructuring some three months ago when the agitation got strident.But with the APC allegedly losing focus of the progressive ideals that secured federal power for it largely through Tinubu’s political machinery in the Southwest, the Lagos strongman may be looking for a new port to berth his ship especially with allegations that he may have been sidelined in the scheme of things.
After contributing to the killing of the game, Tinubu the Lion of Boudillon, who is believed in many quarters to have been denied his adequate share, may also be looking for ways of remaining relevant as a fresh round of elections is approaching.
There are also allegations that apart from a powerful cabal that was bent on containing Tinubu’s influence from spilling outside the Southwest and reducing his powers in his traditional stronghold, some of his former lieutenants have been recruited into the plan and the loss of his preferred candidates in the governorship tussles in Kogi and Ondo, are seen as part of the plot.
While the Akure trip signaled a new rapprochement between Tinubu and the Southwest leaders, analysts believe that it is a message to the Buhari presidency that the Lagos strongman is building a stronger platform by coming home to his estranged leaders who, in the course of his current “travails,” have come out to identify with him saying he erred by not seeking their advice before negotiating the deal that brought in the APC government.
It is also believed that Tinubu was seeking the protection of the old regional politics against any onslaught from Abuja and telling his estranged lieutenants who have found new bosses at the federal seat of power, that he is more grounded than them in the Southwest.
Unlike Atiku, a fellow traveler on the APC voyage who found his way out of the party barely 24 hours after Tinubu’s Akure trip, allegedly due to the same reasons of abandonment, the Lagos politician is believed to be fortifying himself for a more beneficial negotiation in the preparations for 2019 and to seek alternative ways to confrontations, which may at the end of the day, target his business interests as it is the case with the Turakin Adamawa.
This was confirmed by impeccable sources at the Akure meeting who disclosed that Tinubu sought a new understanding with the Afenifere leadership and explained why he had to leave their tutelage when he did, stressing that his concerns remain the protection of Yoruba interests in national politics which the old politicians were not adequately equipped in modern politicking to handle.
He was also said to have assured Fasoranti that he still stood by all the pillars of progressive politics that Afenifere stands on and that he is on the same page with the leaders on their pronouncements on true federalism, devolution of powers and convocation of national conference.
The trip climaxed with a closed door meeting inside the living room of the old man’s modest bungalow, the same place where the leadership of the group hosted Jonathan a few days to the 2015 presidential election during which they reportedly got a commitment from him to, without delay, implement the reports of the 2014 National Conference, the major reason Mimiko secured their support for the PDP candidate.
While responding to questions after the visit, Fasoranti confirmed the reconciliation request of Tinubu saying, the visit was an indication of great things to come particularly to the unity of Yoruba race.
He said, “With the coming together of Yoruba leaders, there will be an understanding on major issues affecting Yoruba race. We will consult and move ahead. As it is now, there will be a great understanding among the leaders as Tinubu is a leader in his own right.
“I think this visit should lead to reconciliation, ARG and the mainstream, as Tinubu has a leg there. They are his supporters. This signal shows we will come together.”Arogbofa also confirmed that Tinubu’s visit was private and has nothing to do with seeking Afenifere’s support for a 2019 presidential ambition as it was being insinuated in a section of the media.
According to him, “He (Tinubu) came on a private visit and sought to be reunited with his socio-political source, which is Afenifere. In the past 15 years, he has not been very close to us and if for this time, he felt it, as a real Yoruba man, to pay homage to the leader of Afenifere, I think it is commendable. So his visit has nothing to do with politics. It was purely private and nothing more.”
And summing up the trip, Tinubu said, “I am in Akure to acknowledge the leadership of Pa Fasoranti in our own race; he is a great leader of the Omoluwabi (the virtuous) and in his twilight, we want him to be happy. He has been a great leader to all of us. His intellect is still very intact. We are here to seek his advice, seek his understanding and prayers. That is why I am here.”
It is however expected that in the next few months as events unfold in the country’s political scene, the real reasons and results of the visit would gradually manifest in the public space.
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