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Pan-Yoruba groups tackle Pa Adebanjo-led Afenifere over Obi’s endorsement

By Seye Olumide (Southwest Bureau Chief) and Lawrence Njoku (Southeast Bureau Chief)
02 October 2022   |   4:35 am
Not less than 120 representatives of Pan Yoruba groups, community-based and civil society associations have finalised arrangements to meet in Lagos this week in order to agree on choice of presidential candidate..

Obi with Afenifere chieftains in Ijebu, Ogun State

• Yoruba Not Morally Obliged To Vote Igbo Candidate – Falae
• Ndigbo Disposed To Restoring Political Justice In Nigeria – Ogbonnia

Not less than 120 representatives of Pan Yoruba groups, community-based and civil society associations have finalised arrangements to meet in Lagos this week in order to agree on choice of presidential candidate that would best serve Southwest interest, among other issues.

This is coming on the heels of last week’s purported endorsement of the presidential candidate of Labour Party, Peter Obi, by the leadership of two socio-cultural groups, Afenifere and Ohanaeze.

While the alliance between Afenifere and Ohanaeze, which led to the OhaNifere pact, has since been trailed by discordant tunes, it aims to drive the 2023 ambition of Obi.

The groups, scheduled to meet on Thursday, consists of 120 groups under the aegis of All Yoruba Democratic Movements (AYDM). They include the Network for Yoruba Alliance, (NEYA), Oodua People’s Congress (OPC New Era), Oodua Nationalist Coalition (ONAC), South West Professional Forum (SOWROF), Agbekoya Solidarity, Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC Reformed), South West Progressive Women Coalition and Ibile.

Others are the South West Hunters Union, ANACOWA representing Okada rider unions in the South West, Itsekiri Progressive Youth Forum, Covenant Group (CG), Nigerian Automobile Technicians Association, (NATA) representing mechanics in the South West, Oodua Association of Bricklayers, Oodua Nationalist Congress (ONAC), Egbe Majemu Titun, Association of the Physically Challenged in the South West, Traders and several artisan associations spread across the old Western Region, including Edo and Delta States, among others.

General Secretary, AYDM, Popoola Ajayi, disclosed that the meeting would be the largest gathering of Pan Yoruba groups in recent times.

Titled, ‘2023 Elections: Invitation To Dialogue On The Future Of Yoruba Nation,’ leaders of Yoruba associations in the Southeast and Northern Nigeria, Ivory Coast and the West Coast are also expected at the occasion.

“The meeting will be held for two days, the first day being for leaders of coalition members where the 2023 election will be thoroughly debated while the second day is for the General Congress, expected to draw close to 2000 delegates.
“The meeting is for social, cultural and community-based groups in the Old Western Region, including professional and artisan groups that matter. The people will debate their future and chart a new pathway,” AYDM stated.

MEANWHILE, interactions by The Guardian with other stakeholders and leaders of thought in Yoruba land, suggest that Afenifere leaders’ endorsement of Obi’s presidential ambition and alliance with Ohanaeze might be a solo show devoid of support of other groups and well-meaning individuals in the region. The interactions also point to Afenifere as a divided house.

Recall that Obi met with Afenifere leaders at the country home of Pa Ayo Adebanjo in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State last Tuesday, promising not to let the leaders and entire members of Yoruba socio-political group down if he wins next year’s presidential elections.

He assured the Yoruba leaders that their aspirations for Nigeria would top his administration’s agenda and policies, just as he would not let the youths, who currently form the bulk of his loyalists across the country, down.

But more Yoruba groups have expressed displeasure over the position of the leaders of the Yoruba socio-cultural organization.
A faction of the Afenifere, led by Pa Tajudeen Olusi, has completely distanced the Yoruba from the Pa Adebanjo-led faction’s position, saying the older order of Afenifere is only trying to be clever by half.
Speaking with The Guardian yesterday, National Publicity Secretary of the faction, Bayo Aina, said, “Tinubu is the most qualified in terms of academics, performance and credentials of having worked with many reputable organisations of global standards before he joined politics to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari.
Aina said Tinubu brought all of these bearings and experience into Lagos when he was governor and also successfully faced some of the challenges and overcame them. “He fought the Federal Government on the issue of council creation up to the Supreme Court and won; we are talking of someone we know. He won’t find it difficult to achieve power devolution that a lot of people are clamouring for. In addition, you cannot fault Tinubu’s vision, considering some far reaching infrastructural projects he facilitated in Lagos.”

Aina said what Pa Adebanjo and his “Afenifere” are doing is mischief and not based on any high moral values, adding that they are trying to hide behind equity and justice. He said, “Let the Southeast demand for assistance first. If you look at the people that contested the presidential primaries on the platforms of APC and PDP of South-eastern origin, you will see that they scored less than 15 per cent of the total votes cast for their various aspirants in the primaries.
“The votes that came from Southeast for APC aspirants that performed best were less than 15 per cent of the total votes from that region and that was how it was in PDP. So, why is Afenifere championing the cause of the Southeast?

“When the Southeast is willing and ready to produce the president of Nigeria, it will know what to do. The kind of reaching out Tinubu did and his long-term strategic planning, the Igbo must do all that. Don’t forget that when Buhari started aspiring to be president, the first two vice presidential candidates he chose were from the Southeast but he didn’t get the ticket. When Tinubu decided to support him, he was able to convince the Southwest and Mr. President won. Pa Adebanjo and a thousand of him will not sabotage Southwest’s vision of producing the next president.”
Aina said the Olusi-led Afenifere prides itself as ‘Egbe Ilosiwaju Yoruba.’ Pa Olusi succeeded its pioneer leader, the late Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye. Other members include son of late Pa Abraham Adesanya, Bayo from Ogun State, former Deputy Governor of Ogun State, Segun Adesegun; former Deputy Governor of Oyo State, Barrister Iyiola Oladokun; and former Deputy Governor of Osun State, Chief Soko Adewoyin. Others are former Deputy Governor to Tinubu, Baba Ogunleye and Dr Finih (from Lagos), a retired permanent secretary, Elder Yemi Alade from Ekiti; and incumbent deputy governor to Kayode Fayemi, Chief Bisi Egbeyemi.

Director General, Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN), Mr. Seye Oyeleye, said the decision of Afenifere to back Obi was personal and not that of the entire Yoruba people or socio-political or socio-cultural groups.
He said there are numerous groups in Yoruba land and none of them has said it will go in the direction of Afenifere. “It is therefore wrong to say Yoruba are supporting Obi. We would rather support the candidate that has demonstrated the willingness, capacity and example to transform Nigeria and of course we all know the person.”

According to him, “My reaction to Pa Adebanjo’s support of Obi is that one would need to understand that we are operating a democracy and Papa has his freedom to support whoever he wants to support. What he shouldn’t say is that he is speaking for Yoruba. People have tried to say that Afenifere is the umbrella organisation of all the Yoruba, but you will agree with me that in 2022, we have different Yoruba groups with very notable Yoruba citizens. For instance, we have the Yoruba Koya, YCE, and Yoruba Maje O Baje, among others. All these are not under Afenifere. Chief Olu Falae, for example, is a member of Afenifere, but he has said he is not supporting Obi. One thing you should know is that in our culture, we usually don’t antagonise our elders in public. So, when Papa speaks to those who are in Afenifere, even if they are not in support, they will keep quiet and will sort it out in their privacy.
“But let me make it clear that the Yoruba in 2023 will be supporting the candidate that they believe is most competent among the front runners. They will support a candidate who has supported and fought for restructuring in the last 22 years of this democracy; they will be looking at that candidate who has believed over the years that the sub national of the state needs to have a modicum of authority and I am talking of economic authority and autonomy in order for them to thrive; they will be supporting a candidate who saw tomorrow yesterday, a candidate who as early as 2001 had the foresight to bring independent power to Nigeria. The Yoruba will be looking, not at sentiment, but fairly who can deliver and turn around the fortunes of Nigeria.

“That some people are saying it’s a region’s turn to produce the president is neither here nor there; power is never served on a platter of gold. Any region that wants to produce the president would reach out and try to convince the other parts of the country.”

In the same vein, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae and Secretary General, Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr. Kunle Olajide, disagreed with Pa Adebanjo and Afenifere, saying a group of people cannot just endorse Obi for the entire Yoruba people.
While Falae said he had repeatedly said that the Social Democratic Party (SDP) has the best manifesto of all the political parties in Nigeria and its presidential candidate, Prince Adewole Adebayo is the best choice on merit, Olajide said Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, flag bearer of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), has the best political track record and national spread to be backed for presidency.
Falae denied the report, which claimed that he threw his weight behind calls for a Southeast presidency or a Peter Obi-presidency.

Yoruba Not Morally Obliged To Vote Igbo Presidency
Falae, who is the deputy national leader of Afenifere, also said he was not aware that Afenifere has taken any position to back or support Obi.

He said Yoruba are not morally obliged to vote for an Igbo presidential candidate or Peter Obi because in 1999, when the rest of Nigeria conceded the presidency to Yoruba because of MKO Abiola’s issue, it was only the Igbo who did not accept.

Falae recalled how he had to defeat Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife in the Alliance for Democracy (AD) to become the candidate for the AD/APP Alliance.
He added that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo had to defeat Dr Alex Ekuweme in the PDP to become a candidate. “The Igbo were the only ones that opposed both of us in our respective parties; they did not concede to us along with other Nigerians. However, the Yoruba are fair-minded people and some of them could vote for Peter Obi.”

Even within the Adebanjo-led Afenifere, some of the aggrieved younger elements, who didn’t want to join words with their leaders on pages of newspapers, said the elders who are in the minority cannot impose their wish on the majority. “If the Igbo are sticking to their interest, the Fulani are not joking with what concerns them just as every other ethnic group, why are the elders pretending to be more nationalistic than necessary? The support for Obi is not a general and popular decision among the entire Afenifere members.”

In another reaction, the Congress for Rights of Yoruba Nationalities (CROYN), has declared that the promoter of OhaNifere, Chief Adebanjo, was not driven by any nationalistic instinct, principle or altruism as he wants the Yoruba people and Nigerians to believe in his “vindictive and conspiratorial engagement with the Southeast’s Ohanaeze Ndigbo over the 2023 presidential election.”

CROSYN, in a statement by its National Chairman, Abiodun Fanoro and General Secretary, Tunde Aiyenumelo, urged Adebanjo to refrain from further taking undue advantage of Yoruba’s culture of respect for elders in the pursuit of his narrow and selfish political enterprise.

According to the group, Tinubu refused to be cajoled to sell the state to then President Olusegun Obasanjo who had successfully bought over the leadership of “Adebanjo faction of Afenifere.”
In another reaction, retired Archbishop of Methodist Church, Ayo Ladigbolu said there is more to the issue than what Pa Adebanjo and co were saying. He said, “Bishop Gbonigi, Late Justice Kayode Eso, Prof Kayode Oyediran, Profs Bolanle Awe, Toun Ogunseye, Sola Majekodunmi and myself were engaged in talks and meetings with the Awoists between 2006 to 2008, seeking to impress it upon them that they should embrace the philosophy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, whose love for Yoruba unity and one Nigeria was unparalleled. Our pleas obviously fell on deaf ears. The deep-rooted animosities are still very much alive and probably incurable.”

In its reaction, Yoruba Referendum Committee picked flaws in Afenifere’s support for Peter Obi. It noted that the campaign is tending to ethnicise the campaign instead of making it issue-based.  

“It is clear that Afenifere is at variance with Yoruba historical and contemporary reality. Therefore, it is incumbent on the Yoruba, especially those of the social democratic philosophical orientation, to distance themselves from Afenifere and pursue a course of action towards true Federalism, which will not be tainted by Afenifere’s a-historicism.”

Igbo Disposed To Restoring Political Justice In Nigeria
ON another hand, the leadership of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo has reiterated its commitment to the success of the newly formed platform, OhaNifere.

Over the years, Ohanaeze had canvassed power shifts to the southeast region, insisting that its people have not tasted power at the centre, despite her contributions to the development of the country.

On several occasions in the past, leaderships of the group had railroaded Ndigbo into the endorsement of the aspirations of certain presidential candidates that resulted to block votes from the region in elections in the belief that such would help the zone get power at the centre. Such leaders as Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan benefitted from the blanket endorsement by Ndigbo.

Ohanaeze leadership stated that it leveraged the efforts of past administrations to achieve the alliance and was making further inroads into other ethnic groups to buy into the Igbo project and several other challenges facing the country. Ohanaeze insisted that there was no better time to see the birth of the group than the present time, where a lot of issues have challenged the growth, unity and development of the country, explaining that it was in the overall interest of the people.

National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr Alex Ogbonnia, told The Guardian: “We have been meeting with our brothers in Yoruba, Middle Belt and PANDEF before now. What we are saying is that there should be justice, fairness and equity. We have been able to arrive at the position that it is the turn of Ndigbo to produce the next president in the spirit of equity and fairness. This socio-cultural arm is what we are using to drive that project in the overall interest of the country.”

But National Coordinator of Southeast for Presidency Movement 2023 (SEFORP2023), Rev Okechukwu Obioha, insisted that Ohanaeze Ndigbo had become complacent and has not done enough to present the Igbo case for presidency.

Obioha disclosed that the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo has failed to carry the people along in the formation of OhaNifere, stressing that, “irrespective of their shortcomings, we are happy that Obi’s project is gaining the right momentum.”

National Leader of Nzuko Ndigbo, Chief Chuks Ibegbu, who noted that OhaNifere had come to stay as an alliance between the Yoruba and Igbo, said they have similar objectives to ensure that there is political justice and equity in the country.

He said that the leadership of the two groups felt the need for the alliance to use it to reach out to the progressives of the North, Middle Belt and Niger Delta for political justice in Nigeria.

On how serious the alliance could be, he said: “The Afenifere leadership has stated clearly where they want Nigerians to go if there should be political justice. What we need in Nigeria today is political justice, without which we are not going anywhere. Nigerians are looking for protection; they are looking for leadership that will restore hope. So OhaNifere has taken a just cause and it is a welcome development.”

He stated that the Nzuko Ndigbo are disposed to any alliance that will restore political justice in Nigeria, adding that he would further suggest the setting up of “Ohaniarewa, OhaniPANDEF and OhaniMiddlebelt.”

Emeritus President of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike noted that the formation of the group was apt, stressing that it would serve additional support to the efforts of Ndigbo in realising their aspirations in the country.

“What they are saying by the formation of the group is that they should work closer with each other than they are doing now. The south-south group has many ethnic groups. Ohanaeze has one and Afenifere has one. So the two should speak with one voice.

“We have been having regular meetings, either Ohanaeze and Afenifere or Ohanaeze and South-south groups and the Middle belt groups. But this time, Pa Adebanjo is saying that the two dominant groups should be meeting more frequently,” he said.

On how it will impact 2023 general elections, especially the quest by Peter Obi, he stated that the group headed by Chief Edwin Clark, with Adebanjo as deputy, had always had the preference for a president of Nigeria from the southeast.

Uwazuruike insisted that the Ohanaeze has done well in her outreach, stressing that OhaNifere has come to stay. “In this country, it is good to have a voice. What is democracy if not voice, voice, voice. Right now, we need that voice to be made formal for the interest of our people. We are happy with the organisation and I believe that Ohanaeze as a body is committed to it,” he added.

Supporting Obi Hasn’t Divided Us – Afenifere
Leader of Ogun State chapter of Afenifere, Senator Femi Okunroumu has dismissed the insinuation that the Afenifere leaders’ position to support Obi is already dividing the organisation. He said the decision to support Obi, as presented by Pa Adebanjo, was unanimous and not unilateral as some people, even elements within the group, are saying.

Okunrounmu acknowledged the fact that there are dissenting voices among the Afenifere over the position, especially within, but he said, “Those among us who are not in support and have also turned to the media and social media to vilify Pa Adebanjo are agents of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) planted among us. They speak for APC and themselves and not for Afenifere.”
Okunrounmu said it is not true that some state chapters of Afenifere had severed relationship with the organisation because of the Obi’s project. “That is not true because all the leaders of our state chapters were present at the meeting with Obi on Tuesday.”
Pa Adebanjo, on his part, appealed to the media not to blow the issue out of proportion. He said, “There is nothing new in supporting whoever we felt could unite and restructure Nigeria. We as a group once supported President Muhammadu Buhari when he contested but lost to former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2007. As at then, Buhari promised us he would restructure but now that he and his party failed when they have the opportunity, there is no reason to continue to support them. Obi has continued to promise us he will restructure if elected. Let’s give him the chance as we gave Buhari before.”
One of the Afenifere members, who preferred anonymity, said the decision to back Obi was borne out of objectivism and not targeted at demystifying Tinubu as people tend to interpret.