Yinka Odumakin is the spokesman of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group.
In this interview with GOKE AWOYEMI, he explains why former Osun governor, Chief Bisi Akande does not belong to the mainstream fold of the group.
At the formative stage, the Yoruba see Afenifere as a platform with one voice, why is the house now divided?
From the beginning, Afenifere has always been a platform for Yoruba progressives. Don’t forget that at a point, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was winning between 94 and 96% of Yoruba votes, which indicate that nearly every Yoruba man is an Afenifere. There have always been those who are not Afenifere in Yorubaland but these are few people, because the ideology of progressivism resonates with Yoruba. It remains the political default for the Yoruba, it is the founding board and every idea you bring to Yorubaland is completely the Afenifere idea and ideal. But then, we cannot all sleep and put our heads in the same direction. Even those who have never read a line about Awolowo go about with the cap and glasses synonymous with the late sage. They go about saying their party is that of Awolowo. I understand that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who has made a career repudiating Awolowo, went around saying he is a member of APC which is Awolowo’s party, of course we told him that Awolowo will turn in his grave to say APC as constituted is his party. But that shows you the acceptance of Awolowo ideals in Yorubaland that even those who did not believe in him still subscribe to him.
You are talking of progressivism now, people like Chief Bisi Akande was deputy to late Bola Ige in old Oyo State, and they are founding members of Afenifere–
No, Chief Bisi Akande was not a founding member of Afenifere. The name Afenifere came into existence in 1951, when they were looking for the Yoruba translation of Action Group. It was the late A.M.A. Akinloye who suggested the name Afenifere; the good you seek for yourself, seek for others, life more abundant for everybody. That was how Afenifere came about. In the politics of First Republic, Chief Akande was in NCNC, it was Bola Ige that invited him to Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), after he (Bisi Akande) had parted way with late Chief S.M. Afolabi, that was how he was brought into Awolowo fold, before then he was not with Awolowo’s political party.
You mean Chief Bisi Akande had no link with Awolowo’s politics?
No, no, until Bola Ige brought him to UPN. Although he had shown that he understands Awoism, because as governor he wrote a book on federalism, and late Chief Abraham Adesanya wrote a foreword to that book. When he was governor of Osun State, he was an eloquent defender of the Awo ideas. He did well in government in terms of political programme and politics, but the record must be put straight.
Chief Bisi Akande said he has distanced himself from Afenifere tendencies and has imbibed Afenifere Renewal Group’s ideals. What is the difference between the two?
I don’t know what that means; he is the one that should be asked. It could be that he owes Chief Awolowo nothing, and maybe he has a different idea of what Obafemi Awolowo preached.
It appears that Afenifere has been polarized, with one group loyal to APC and the other tending towards PDP. Is this true?
That is not correct. Afenifere is Afenifere, and it’s one. If you go to Christendom, you will find all kinds of denominations, like Redeemed Christian Church of God, Deeper Life, and Mountain of Fire etc etc. But, I believe they serve the same God. There are those who are in APC, they have the right to be, but the Afenifere is not in PDP at all. Yes, we adopted the presidential candidate of PDP in the last election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar based on his commitment to restructure Nigeria. He also said he will implement the report of the 2014 National Conference. And we have said this, until we go in that direction, Nigeria is going nowhere. About four years ago, Nigerians were going about shouting Change! Change! Where is the change today? In the last four years, Nigeria is in the global stand of poverty. We are the poorest country on earth. A report released recently indicates that there are 60 million Nigerians who are unbanked. Among those who are banked, 98% of them don’t have (N5, 000) Five Thousand naira. Around the country today, 60% of Nigerians are spending between 80 and 90% of their income on food. In the Northeast, they are spending 121% of their income on food. All around you, it is grinding poverty that is in vogue. In the midst of all these, look at the budget just delivered, the government is going to spend 25% of the budget to service debt, and all that the government can do is taxing the poverty of our people, they want to erect toll gates in order to collect money, they want to impoverish Nigerians for using the GSM networks through tax, on DSTV, increase in value-added tax etc. The so-called change agents are imposing tax on impoverished Nigerians by taxing poverty all over the place, very soon they will start to tax people who are in their graves, because for you to stay in the grave, you have to pay tax. So, until we go back to a restructured federalism, when we stop all these sharing of our money and monthly gambling in Abuja called FAAC, that is when we can spread prosperity, but as it is today, it is poverty all over the place.
From what you are saying now, and the opinion of most Nigerians, they are not so enthusiastic in paying tax, because they feel that the tax they pay is to service the flamboyant life of our politicians. Is this the true assessment of the situation?
You can’t even say that people don’t want to pay tax. It is when people are prosperous that they can pay tax, but people are living in abject poverty, like animals; go into the bush, some come out from there to beg. In a city like Mumbai in India, there are fifty thousand (50,000) millionaires in dollars. Just a state in India! In the whole of Nigeria today, there are only two thousand and three Hundred (2,300) millionaires in dollars. Out of these 2,300, by the time you take out Senators, the House of Representatives members, the governors, their aides, ministers, and their hangers-on which constitute the greatest percentage in the figure, nobody is left. Whereas in Mumbai, a city in India, most of their millionaires in dollars are business people, and they are creating business opportunities for others. Their Nigerian counterparts are just taking advantage of the system. The richest man in Nigeria today, Aliko Dangote whose company has been declared the best by the Nigeria Stock Exchange. What are they producing? Sugar, salt, pasta. In the United States of America, the best companies there are rated on the basis of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ICT. The richest man in that country is a poor investor. The media has been so awash that next year, Dangote will start refining petroleum. He is going to be doing ordinary petrol that Rockefeller people were doing 100 years ago. You can see we are a poor country, and everything is based on this unitary arrangement. When we had federalism, Western Region established a Television Station, two years after Britain; when we were practicing federalism, the Saudi Arabia royal family was coming to University College Hospital, Ibadan for medicare, and foreigners were also coming to Nigeria as students. Today, Nigerians cannot afford to send their wards/children to school, not to talk of foreigners sending their children to Nigerian universities. The whole thing has collapsed, and we are going nowhere.
How do you react to Professor Banji Akitoye’s emergence as Yoruba leader?
I listened to Professor Banji Akitoye this morning (Wednesday) on radio in Ibadan, and he did say that he is a member of Afenifere. That he is the Chairman of its Special Committee, and by extension leader of Afenifere and Yoruba, the leader of world organization of the Yoruba. I take him on that, and won’t disagree on that at all.