Monday, 11th December 2023

Saving Afenifere from descent into irrelevance

By From Seye Olumide, Southwest Bureau Chief
24 September 2023   |   4:03 am
The likelihood of the ongoing face-off between the two leaders of the apex Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Pa Reuben Fasoranti and Pa Ayo Adebanjo, ending soon is in doubt.


The likelihood of the ongoing face-off between the two leaders of the apex Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Pa Reuben Fasoranti and Pa Ayo Adebanjo, ending soon is in doubt.

They seem to have taken extreme positions on whether Afenifere is a socio-political or socio-cultural organisation. While the 97-year-old Pa Fasoranti and his adherents in the group insist that Afenifere is a socio-cultural body, 94-year-old Pa Adebanjo and his faction contend that Afenifere is political in nature and is therefore a socio-political group.

Both leaders are also standing on parallel lines over whether Afenifere should support a particular political party and or candidate. Pa Fasoranti believes that in the last general elections, incumbent President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) deserved the support of every Yoruba person whereas Adebanjo and those in his camp were of the view that, in the spirit of fairness, justice, equity and unity in Nigeria, the Southeast deserved to have produced the occupant of the presidency and therefore pitted tent with the Presidential candidate of Labour Party (LP), Mr. Peter Obi, who eventually lost to Tinubu.

Perhaps, Pa Fasoranti did not put these factors into consideration when he relinquished the leadership of Afenifere to Pa Adebanjo in 2021, two years before the 2023 general elections. While it appears that those surrounding Fasoranti are desperately looking for a means to reverse what papa did three years ago, Adebanjo is insisting that he (Fasoranti) cannot approbate and reprobate at the same time.

Three years after the decision, the once respected Afenifere is gradually becoming a shadow of itself, with hardly any respected Yoruba sons and daughters wanting to associate with it. Afenifere seems to have become more polarised than it ever has since it was founded in the 50s.

Although when Pa Fasoranti relinquished authority  to Adebanjo, he must have done that on the basis that it was appropriate for him to yield ground for a more youthful and energetic person after 13 years in the saddle. How genuine that intention was as at then could as well be questioned because there are younger and more energetic people within the circle apart from Pa Adebanjo, who also was in his 90s then.

But ever since 2021 the organisation  has been polarised along Fasoranti and Adebanjo’s factions with differences based on socio-political and socio-cultural ideologies.

The Adebanjo faction has continued to maintain that since Pa Fasoranti has handed over authority, integrity and the ethos of Yoruba Omoluabi behoves on him to allow the new leader function uninterrupted while the other faction loyal to Pa Fasoranti insisted that the authority was delegated to Adebanjo in acting capacity and that the principle behind the leadership in Afenifere is until death.

Justifying his position that Afenifere remain a socio-political group, Pa Adebanjo insisted that the principle behind the establishment of Afenifere was political during the First Republic when the defunct  Action Group (AG) was the major party across the region. But after the military coup of January 1966, all political parties were proscribed, which compelled AG to transform to socio-cultural organisation, the Fasoranti’s faction however posited that Afenifere continued to function as a socio-cultural body, which warehouses all Yoruba person in all political parties but with the sole agenda to seek the good, advancement and progress of Yoruba land and by large, Nigeria.

It said since Yoruba are members of all political parties, it would not be appropriate to say that the organisation is affiliated solely to one party.

Another sharp division among adherents of the two nonagenarians is that Adebanjo sympathisers continue to accuse the other faction of been insincere and somehow dishonest, saying, when the late Pa Abraham Adesanya, who was a predecessor to Pa Fasoranti, abdicated power, “Pa Adesanya never came out again to make public statement like Fasoranti is currently doing. Pa Adesanya left Pa Fasoranti to direct the affairs of Afenifere as he wanted.”

They also pointed out that when the former governor of Ondo State, Pa Adekunle Ajasin, one time leader of Afenifere abdicated power to Pa Adesanya, due to old age, the Second Republic governor never interfered in the leadership directives of Adesanya until he passed on.

They contended that Pa Fasoranti, who in his own wisdom and volition conceded leadership to Pa Adebanjo, cannot act otherwise to what his two predecessors did when they handed over the mantle of leadership.

It was also argued that for Pa Fasoranti and his loyalists to be saying Afenifere is not political “what would they say when the same Afenifere supported former President Goodluck Jonathan, a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate in 2015, were they also not part of Afenifere when the organisation backed former President Muhammadu Buhari during the 2007 presidential election against the late President Umaru Yar’Adua? In 2019, the same Afenifere supported former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who was the candidate of PDP against Buhari.

But for those sympathetic with Pa Fasoranti, their argument is that neither Ajasin, Adesanya or Fasoranti  attempted to lead Afenifere astray like Pa Adebanjo is currently trying to do.

Their grouse is that Adebanjo cannot place the interest of other zones above that of Yoruba people.

How Tinubu’s Presidential Ambition Tore Afenifere Apart
SOME observers said that if Pa Fasoranti has had the premonition that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu would win the last presidential poll, perhaps he wouldn’t have handed over the leadership power to Adebanjo in acting capacity.

Pa Reuben Fasoranti of Afenifere.<br />Photo: UGOBESTIKY

According to an inside source, “When the late Pa Adesanya was ill and couldn’t continue in leadership capacity, he wanted to hand over power to the late Pa Olaniwun Ajayi, but it was Pa Adebanjo and co, who prevailed on Adesanya to handover the leadership to Fasoranti to correct the negative perception of Ijebu mafia ruling the organisation.”

The Guardian also learnt that when President Tinubu, who had been nursing his presidential ambition long before now realised that the main body of Afenifere then led by Pa Fasoranti and Adebanjo would probably not support his ambition come 2023, the former governor of Lagos State broke the organisation and created another faction, which he instigated under the leadership of late Pa Ayo Fasanmi and his deputy, late Otunba Olabiyi Durojaiye, to meet former President Buhari in Aso Rock immediately after the 2019 presidential poll.

It was Pa Durojaiye who presented the position paper of that newly formed Afenifere to former President Buhari during the meeting.

The logic behind that was that the then Fasoranti-led Afenifere did not support the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015 and likewise 2019 and Tinubu realised there is no guarantee or will support his ambition in 2023 prepared himself with the now Pa Tajudeen Olusi-led Afenifere. Recall that when Otunba Durojaiye also passed on, Pa Olusi, a long time ally of Tinubu stepped in as leader.

The interesting thing about the development then was that when President Tinubu tried to use the newly found Afenifere to relegate the traditional Afenifere out of relevance, latching in on the physical weaknesses of Pa Fasoranti, especially when his daughter, Mrs Funke Olakunrin, was murdered, it was the Adebanjo and co, who took up the challenge to speak truth to the Federal Government about the menace of armed Fulani herdsmen, who allegedly killed Mrs. Olakunrin.

The active role of Adebanjo, especially when the Yoruba Nation stood up against the menace of armed Fulani herdsmen across the Southwest must have culminated into Fasoranti’s handing over of leadership to Adebanjo.

When Pa Fasoranti named Adebanjo, as the acting national leader, he also named former Financial Secretary, Oba Oladipo Olaitan, the Alaago of Kajola Ago, as the deputy leader.

Pa Fasoranti said then that the development became necessary because Afenifere needed an improved organisation with more effective approach to combat the challenges facing Yoruba people. And no sooner Pa Adebanjo accepted the offer, he made his stand known, saying, “I can tell you that there is no change at all. The principle upon which Afenifere stands remains and we will insist on restructuring and true federalism.”

But truth be told, it was not all the members of Afenifere that were comfortable with the choice of Pa Adebanjo. While some were of the views that the organisation needed a younger, vibrant and cerebral leader instead of the nonagenarian style of leadership, others were of the view that Pa Adebanjo’s rigid principle and disposition to politics may not really help the group.

Some of the youths in the organisation tactically withdrew and adopted sit-down look posture.

More importantly the disposition of those youth within the organisation then was informed by the political situation of Nigeria, when the Southwest was basically positioning itself to produce the successor to former President Buhari under the APC platform.

The crack became more pronounced when the 2023 electioneering period started. Tinubu now has his game to play in between three groups of Afenifere. The traditional Afenifere now led by Adebanjo, which doesn’t want to hear anything Tinubu or APC, there is also Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) led by Wale Oshun. The group appeared to be neutral and insisting on restructuring then the Pa Olusi-led Afenifere.

During the APC primaries and presidential aspirants consultations, when Tinubu could not penetrate Adebanjo, who had expressed willingness to support Obi on the premise of it was the turn of Southeast, he quickly started romance the Fasoranti’s side, a development that broke the cordiality between the two nonagenarians.

The situation further degenerated to media war between both leaders, forcing the Adebanjo leadership side to suspend its Publicity Secretary and its Organising Secretary, Mr Jare Ajayi and Abagun Kole Omololu respectively over alleged misconduct. The duo now find refuge under Pa Fasoranti.

Fasoranti’s Move For Reconciliation And Why It May Not Work Out
Having realised the tattered condition in which Afenifere currently found itself, Pa Fasoranti, during the group’s last meeting in Akure proposed  reconciliation committee to unite the various tendencies among the mainstream Yoruba organisation, which he said may lead to the collapse of the organisation.

At a meeting held at the house of Fasoranti, in Akure, the Ondo State capital, the group said the Committee would be saddled with the responsibility of reinvigorating the association to be stronger and be able to continue to fulfil its mandate of being the vanguard for the Yoruba Race.

The was sequel to the displeasure expressed by Pa Fasoranti on the condition the association has found itself since he stepped down three years ago.

Fasoranti had in his remark said there was the need to reposition the organisation considering the shenanigans that have characterised the organisation since he stepped down as the leader and the appointment of Chief Adebanjo and Oba Olaitan as the acting and deputy leader of the group.

He said since he stepped down, there has been a noticeable drift away from the core values of consultation, brotherliness, and camaraderie and the traditional process of conducting the business of the organization, upon which the collegial system of leadership was based, has been severely threatened.

The meeting was attended by Bashorun Seinde Arogbofa, Oba Olu Falae, Apagun Kole Omololu, Dr Segun Mimiko, Senator Iyiola Omisore, former Speaker, Dr Bakitta Bello, and Mr Dare Babarinsa among others said a committee is to be set up to achieve reconciliation and unity in the organisation.

But when asked if they were informed about the reconciliation agenda proposed by Pa Fasoranti,  Chief Adebanjo, Oshun and Bayo Aina, the spokesman  of the Olusi-led faction of Afenifere said no.

But findings revealed that the original purpose of the last Akure meeting was not to reconcile Afenifere or collapse it the intention was to announce that Pa Fasoranti is returning as full fledge leader of the organisation. However, when the expected calibre of those invited refused to show up the purpose was dropped.

Adebanjo insisted that he will not dignify the Akure gathering with any response while Oshun said

According to him, “Is the Tinubu presidency what the Southwest really desire to move forward economically and socially? What are the possible dangers ahead and how do we go about it?

Aina in his reaction said nobody contacted their own faction of Afenifere but the reconciliation agenda was a welcome idea.

He also appealed to Pa Adebanjo to retrace his step and join hands with President Tinubu to build Nigeria.

Ajayi noted that the meeting was actually meant to find a way forward for Afenifere and the Yoruba Nation.