Demand for restructuring has been on the topmost agenda of the Yoruba. This is being largely championed by pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organization Afenifere.
This year’s election, unlike the previous ones, holds a great promise for the peaceful future co-existence of this country. It’s going to redefine the basis of new relationship among the various ethnic nationalities. All along, since electioneering began, each region has been quite eager to use the auspicious moment to negotiate with the two leading presidential candidates what is generally considered to be the best interest of its people in exchange for support for victory.
In the Southwest, demand for restructuring has been on the topmost agenda of the Yoruba people. This is being largely championed by the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organization, Afenifere. The strategy of the group is to use the coming election to secure commitment from any candidate who has demonstrable and well-articulated idea about restructuring. At one time, Atiku Abubakar had met with the leadership of the Afenifere to test the waters, and he got a good listening ear. But then, the final decision has been kept under wraps.
However, while the people were waiting with bated breath for official declaration of its position on the two leading presidential candidates, a faction of the group led by Senator Ayo Fasanmi recently met in Ibadan and announced its resolve to support President Muhammadu Buhari for his second term. Over time, Buhari has overtly and covertly demonstrated his disdain for theword, restructuring.
This has consequently led to a serious verbal dueling between the Adebanjo-led faction of the Afenifere and the Fasanmi group. The first to throw the salvo was Fasanmi, who called the Adebanjo-led group opportunists, saying that genuine progressives, who were true disciples of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, would not support Atiku to rule Nigeria. “No genuine Afenifere person who is an Awolowo disciple will support Atiku at all. It is a gross betrayal of Awolowo legacy,” he said.
The spokesperson of Afenifere, Chief Biodun Akinfasae, addressing the press at the end of Ibadan meeting also declared: “We are telling the whole world that Afenifere as enunciated by Awolowo is still intact and we will support President Muhammadu Buhari and Prof Yemi Osinbajo come the presidential election in 2019.
“The other Afenifere led by Chief Ayo Adebanjo supporting Atiku Abubakar is not part of us and are usurpers in the group. Yoruba is a nation and even during the time of Awolowo, there were dissenting voices. This Afenifere is led by the longest living Senator in Nigeria, Pa Ayo Fasanmi. We also have Senator Biyi Durojaye, Dr Omololu Olunloyo, Chief Tajudeen Olusi, and many other persons in Yorubaland who are not renegades, but with us.
“The owner of the mandate of the Yoruba people is the All Progressives Congress (APC), the six governors of Yorubaland are APC, all Houses of Assembly in Yorubaland are APC.
“None of those in another group of Afenifere has ever contested election and have no mandate. This Afenifere has the mandate of the Yoruba people. The VP will be here to declare for the presidency of President Muhammadu Buhari. Yoruba will have a political interest.”
In a sharp reaction, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, described the group as disgruntled elements, who had lost relevance in the new political equations in Yorubaland, adding that they were only using Awolowo’s name to launder their already battered image as betrayal of Yoruba aspiration.
His words: “Don’t mind them; they are confusionists, who have betrayed the Yoruba people. They are Yoruba elements in APC who have betrayed the course of Yoruba people by following Buhari and Tinubu. These are the people who have broken away, they are no longer Afenifere. They always want to confuse the Yoruba people when we want to do an election. They are the people who have become disgruntled since Adesanya days saying they were no longer with us because we did not join their party. All the times I have been opposing Buhari and Afenifere has been issuing statements about the happenings in the country, have you heard anything about them? They know that they are already waning in Yorubaland, they know that people are no longer listening to them.
“When was the last time they won election in the West? We don’t want to attend to them because they want to confuse the issue. They are renegades who have departed from Awolowo’s legacies. They don’t represent the Yoruba, they are confusionists, they are the people who have betrayed the Yorubaland in APC.
“They want to give relevance to themselves, which is why they are referring to us. People have forgotten about them and that is why they are referring to themselves as Awolowo supporters. If they are original supporters, do they have to refer to themselves as Awolowo supporters? It shows that they have lost relevance. And that is why they have been losing elections in Yorubaland. The election they held in Ekiti and Osun states were all rigged elections.
“I don’t have to tell you I am an Afenifere or Awolowo supporter. It is because they have lost relevance. Now that they know they are waning in Yorubaland, they want to recall that they are Afenifere and followers of Awolowo. Afenifere never made a statement by telling you that we are the followers of Awolowo. When last did you hear of Fasanmi’s connection with Afenifere? They are the people who have betrayed Yoruba and the people have fallen out with them,” Adebanjo fumed.
Senator Femi Okurounmu, also speaking in the same vein, dismissed Fasanmi-led group as impostors, who are ignorant of what Awolowo stood for. He said: “Afenifere is not divided. There is a group masquerading as Afenifere which is talking rubbish. That group is not an Afenifere; it is a group of dissidents who have lost relevance since 2003. For more than 15 years, they have alienated themselves from Afenifere. They are impostors. There are trying to create an impression that Afenifere is divided. In fact, they represent a group led by Tinubu. They are a group of rebellious people from Afenifere led by Tinubu who had rebelled right from the time of Abraham Adesanya.”
Explaining the genesis of the age-long disagreement, he added: “Propped by the late Bola Ige, who was then having disagreement with Afenifere leadership, Tinubu, who became the governor of Lagos State in 1999, led a rebellion against Afenifere leadership. Since that time, this group has ceased to be Afenifere. They have since that time distanced themselves from Afenifere. They claimed that Fasanmi is their leader, but their real leader is Tinubu. They are merely using Fasanmi, who is a puppet. They found it convenient to use Fasanmi because he used to be a credible Afenifere leader, but easy to manipulate. The man is now very old and not too healthy. All of them, including Fasanmi and Tinubu have alienated themselves from Afenifere since 1999. It is because they know that Afenifere is credible and is supporting a candidate who is going to support restructuring and against Buhari who is not supporting restructuring, that they want to deceive Yoruba people by claiming they are Afenifere. They are not. So, Afenifere is not divided, we are unanimous in opposing Buhari because he is against restructuring”
Okurounmu further lamented what he described as a betrayal of Awo’s philosophy: “Anybody with a link with Awolowo knows that one of the greatest legacies of Awolowo is federalism. Awolowo was the greatest champion of federalism. In all the constitutional conferences we had before we got our independence in 1960, Awolowo insisted on federalism. It was Awolowo’s influence that compelled Nnamdi Azikwe, Ahmadu Bello, to append their signatures to the constitution by which we got our independence. Awolowo is number one federalist in Nigeria. For them to say that they are going to support Buhari who is against restructuring that will return Nigeria to true federalism, Awolowo will be turning in his grave. That is tantamount to committing blasphemy against Awolowo. Secondly, Awolowo will not support any candidate who has battered the economy the way Buhari has battered the Nigerian economy. Awolowo was a man who was very much concerned about proper management of the economy. It will be unthinkable and scandalous to say that Awolowo will support a man who has battered the Nigerian economy. So, the people are completely alien to Awolowo’s ideals.”
The spokesperson of the Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, didn’t mince words either in condemning the Fasanmi-led faction for throwing its weight behind President Buhari. “Those who met in Ibadan are mainly Tinubu’s fans in APC. There was no single member of Afenifere at that meeting. Have you seen Fasanmi in Afenifere in the last eight years? Let them call themselves APC fans club. They can also call themselves Tinubu’s front. Whatever name they call themselves is not our business. But they should not call themselves Afenifere. They are not Afenifere. When Fulani were killing our people, did you hear them talk? Awolowo will be turning in the grave the way these people are abusing his memory for their self-serving agenda. If Awolowo were alive today, he would support any candidate that says he wants to return Nigeria to proper federalism,” he posited.
While reiterating the position of Afenifere to support any candidate with restructuring agenda, he said the final declaration of the candidate to support for the 2019 presidential election would soon be made public.
His words: “The position of Afenifere is very clear. We want the restructuring of Nigeria. Nigeria has become a stalemate project. Nothing can happen here anymore on this basis of the present structure. It has exhausted all the possibilities. All it years of existence, it has not delivered anything to the country. This year, they are going to sell our assets to fund the budget. We must restructure to proper federalism and allow all sections of Nigeria to begin to extract their mineral resources and develop at their own pace. On this, we are committed to support a candidate that will restructure Nigeria.
“Since this president came to power, he has made it very clear that he is neither interested in restructuring nor cares about the 2014 national conference. In the past two and half years, several killings by the Fulani herdsmen have taken place and the president has refused to stop them. Today, human blood in Nigeria is cheaper than pure water. We cannot continue to shed the blood of innocent Nigerians.”
Further recounting Nigeria’s woes, he added: “The economy is in shambles; most people have become beggars. National Bureau of Statistics says that 39 million Nigerians are either unemployed or underemployed.
That is an implosion in the waiting. We are more divided today than we were when Buhari took over in 2015. We need a change of leadership. That is where Afenifere is. And very soon, Afenifere and its partners in Ohanaeze, Middle Belt Forum and PANDEF will announce to the world who our candidate is. But definitely not what is going on at the moment.”
A renowned Yoruba leader of thought who was present at the Ibadan meeting, Senator Biyi Durojaiye, speaking with Sunday Sun, said that history and reasonable people would judge which of the rival groups betrayed Awo’s philosophy. “Reasonable people and history will adjudge who really represents Awo’s philosophy. What are the basic tenets of Awo’s philosophy?
It is about welfare of the people. The man understood the aspiration and inclination of the Yoruba people. Knowledge and wisdom; these are things Yoruba people value more than any other thing. And he knew it and pursued education. He pursued policies like public enlightenment; he established the first television station in the whole of West Africa, the television service that went to all villages even when there was no electricity. People were able to know what was going on in government. Making life easy for the masses, cheap public health, scholarship for brilliant Yoruba sons and daughters and agrarian development – these are things Papa Awolowo stood for and pursued. Look at today, the present government indentifies more with those welfarist tendencies: development of agriculture, development of infrastructure, curbing corruption and saving more money for investment,” he said with enthusiasm.
But when asked about the position of Awolowo on true federalism vis-a-vis the agitation for restructuring, he quipped with a bemused voice: “What did the PDP do in 16 years of ruling this country about restructuring that endears some of our brothers to them? As I said, history and the reasonable people will be able to sit down and assess the political party that tends towards what Papa Awolowo stood for.”
Traditionally, Southwest has always been an enclave of the progressives. But the political dynamics in the present dispensation has continued to raise questions about the real identity of genuine progressives. This controversy partly accounts for the seeming irreconcilable differences between the old Afenifere and the Renewal group that aligned with Tinubu to form the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), which ultimately fused with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The 2019 general elections will determine the winner of the supremacy contest between the old and the new groups, masquerading as genuine followers of Awo’s ideals.
While Atiku, the presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), represents the interest of the former, President Buhari symbolizes the aspiration of the latter with the unflinching support of Tinubu’s political machine. So, what is going on now may just be the tip of an ice berg. February 16 will decide the winner of the epic battle for the soul of Yorubaland.