At 94 years of age, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, lawyer, nationalist and justice activist, is at the departure lounge of life, to adopt President Olusegun Obasanjo’s inimitable classification. Of course, God alone has the final say on life and how long every living being walks the earth. Being at the departure lounge does not, therefore, conclusively say how long a passenger tarries at the airport. Extended flight delays are not uncommon in the aviation industry, to stay with the aviation metaphor. To call in Obasanjo again, Chief Ayo Adebanjo ‘dey kampe’. May God grant him many more active years and clarity of mind, even as his outbound flight repeatedly gets delayed.
There are ample reasons to pray for longer life for men of Ayo Adebanjo’s substance. He represents a breed that is steadily heading towards extinction. In a world that is increasingly getting more destructively Machiavellian, men of principle like him are becoming increasingly endangered.
Nigeria marked its 62nd independence anniversary barely three days ago. The anniversary coincided with the formal commencement of campaigns by candidates and political parties for the 2023 presidential election. Both the independence anniversary and the political campaigns came against the backdrop of a Nigerian society that has become acutely atrophied. On virtually all critical fronts; governance, economy, value system, name it, Nigeria is wobbling badly.
The prevailing dominant value system sets no stock on principles and sincerity of purpose. Double standard reigns and purveyors of falsehood and chicanery thrive. Anyone who either questions the way things are being done or dares to stand firm against perceived inequity finds himself at the receiving end of hirelings, who have no qualms about destroying reputations built over decades.
Early last week, just before the commencement of political campaigns, Adebanjo, the grand old leader of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba association, had cause to issue a public clarification, for the untempt time, reaffirming the reason behind the endorsement by Afenifere of Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate, Peter Obi, for the 2023 presidential election. He had given the reasons for the choice over and over.
Interestingly, Adebanjo’s latest clarification on the endorsement of Obi did not attract riposte from any Yoruba leader of substance. Of course, there are still a number of individuals from the South West zone even whose position is circumscribed by ethnic considerations. For this, Obi is not their own, so endorsing him goes against the grain of their essence. Remarkably, among the Yoruba too, many identify with Adebanjo and the Afenifere stance.
Within the context of Nigeria’s fractured ethnic politics, more so with the crass exacerbation of its fault lines in recent years, it is not very difficult to situate the argument by those in Yorubaland who contend that Afenifere ought,essentially, to support a Yoruba presidential candidate, irrespective of reason or logic. That, arguably, is where Nigeria presently is, tethered to primordial sentiment.
The inability or refusal by some to appreciate the noble spirit and principled ground on which Chief Ayo Adebanjo and his colleagues in Afenifere are standing, on the endorsement of Peter Obi, is the issue. Chief Adebanjo obviously felt a need for reaffirmation of the position of Afenifere, thus his latest press statement. He made it clear in characteristic doggedness, that in reiterating the basis for the Afenifere position, he was imploring his Yoruba sub-nationality to take a profound look at the larger picture.
Even as there is nothing complicated in Chief Adebanjo’s thesis, it may be pertinent to re-emphasize the points he made, anchored purely on principle and sensitivity to the demands of equity. His types are increasingly becoming rare in the society. The easier road for him to take would have been that of political correctness, more so in the face of pressure from close quarters. Without doubt, jettisoning principle and hugging sentiment, couched in some jargon of democracy is an open field game, would have yielded Chief Adebanjo and his association more material benefit from the generous Bola Tinubu. Remaining resolute on the side of principle speaks of Adebanjo’s strength of character, beside his nobility of spirit.
It is quite dumbfounding that Tinubu is running for president at this point in time simply because, in his now legendary, albeit disputable stance, it is “his turn”. How he arrived at that conclusion and who he worked out the arrangement with, remain unknown. Closely connected to the self-serving claim, or indeed, substantially contributing to it, must be Tinubu’s conclusion that time is not on his side. If he is 70 years old, according to his current official profile, or over 80 years old according to alternative sources, the desperation to ignore every argument against his contesting and having it in his profile that he ran for president, must be strong for him.
The critical question that arises from such self-serving insistence on running for president in 2023 after Buhari’s tenure is; should a sensitive understanding on power sharing among sub-national zones, initiated to manage sensibilities and thereby maintain fragile peace in the country by ethnic groups, be whimsically thrown over board to satisfy the ambition of one man?
Adebanjo has been in the fore front of building some form of viable ‘rapproachmore’ between the east and the west’, especially and among the entire southern part of the country and the middle belt. The absence of such viable understanding has been the bane of political stability in Nigeria.
The principle of power rotation, although not yet entrenched in the Constitution, has offered encouraging possibilities in fostering inclusiveness and stability in the creaking Nigerian foundation. Suddenly, someone unilaterally over ruled the rotation template and declared it his turn. Of course, he could not have said it is the turn of the South West, because it is not.
It is not enough to make uncharted noises about restructuring. That is the point Chief Ayo Adebanjo has made. That is the point he calls on the Yoruba to note. Atiku Abubakar can always justify his contesting for president in 2023 as long as Bola Tinubu is running. How is difficult for people to see that? When this season has passed by, one way or another, any noise about restructuring from all those who queue behind Tinubu in his rather bizarre claim that it is his turn, will become too shallow and dishonest for anyone to pay attention.
Afenifere’s endorsement of Peter Obi is unimpeachable for anyone whose eyes are on the future. History will record Adebanjo as a man of principle, a true nationalist.
He may not have directly quoted former British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, but Adebanjo’s belief in his current stance on Nigeria’s power equation that led to the endorsement of Peter Obi by Afenifere, is that Nigeria (in place of Europe) “will never prosper as a narrow-minded, inward-looking club”. That, unfortunately, is the point many are yet to come to terms with.