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NIGERIA: pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere Comeback Bid

Afenifere’s Comeback BidAfter a period of lull, a foremost pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, is making a gradual return to reckoning following its recent intervention in the state of the nation.

At some point in the life of the country, a larger population of the Yoruba people considered Afenifere, as a unifying force to serve their best interests in the federation. The group successfully warmed itself into the hearts of many Yorubas during period of military interregnum in politics. While many were silent and scared, Afenifere was unrepentant in its quest for the exit of the military and the enthronement of democracy.

The group, which had the late Chief Adekunle Ajasin, and later, Senator Abraham Adesanya as leaders during the period easily annexed the support of the people because they were bold, unflinching and very articulate. Their leaders were molested, unjustly detained and exiled by the military and yet, they stood their grounds. In fact, Adesanya narrowly escaped assassination during the period of the struggle.

But the group was soon to go into oblivion as the longest democratic dispensation in Nigeria takes its footing. Founding Afenifere members were locked in an unending battle and their political differences further polarised the group and made reconciliation near-impossible. Attempts to reconcile the group failed at various intersections.

Over time, the root cause of the Afenifere crisis was traced to personality clash between the late Chief Bola Ige, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the late Ganiyu Dawodu and former Lagos State governor, Senator Bola Tinubu. Even when the late sage, Chief Awolowo was alive, Ige and Adebanjo were never best of friends. Thus, when Chief Olu Falae got the Alliance for Democracy (AD) presidential ticket with Ige losing out, the battle between him and Adebanjo was further escalated.

Likewise, Dawodu never pretended to like Tinubu. Backed by some elements within Afenifere, he fought tirelessly to hijack the AD structure from Tinubu. But Tinubu quickly protected himself by cleverly building his own political structure. The structure came handy for him in the 2003 elections after he rejected the 60:40 formula for the sharing of elective and appointive offices in Lagos state. Tinubu soon discovered a new avenue for the progressives to attain power without needing the Afenifere and that, he exploited.

Following these factors, Afenifere became bitterly factionalised. The division became prominent at the demise of Adesanya on August 27, 2008 when on November 20 of same year, a faction of the group installed Chief Reuben Fasoranti as the new chairman of the group in Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun State while another faction emerged and headed by Chief Ayo Fasanmi.

At this time, AD deputy governors- Kofoworola Akerele-Bucknor and Iyiola Omisore were at war with their bosses; governors Adebayo Adefarati and Adeniyi Adebayo were at war over Ondo/Ekiti joint property; leadership tussle broke out in AD between Akande and Senator Mojisoluwa Akinfenwa; aggrieved Afenifere/AD chieftains left for the PDP and the crisis became messier. And ever since, its voice thinned in the politics of the region, and faded at the national level.

Several attempts at resolving the protracted had failed on the twin altar of ego and political interest and which has continued to rub off the larger Yoruba nation within the national political space. Aside, the aspiration of some members of the group, who are not in the good books of ACN leaders have been stalled on political differences.

Piqued by this development, some younger generation-members of the Afenifere resolved to setup what was tagged Afenifere Renewal Group. Their intention was to stay away from the then seemingly intractable division among the older generation and carry on with the ideal of the group.

One of the brains behind the move was Mr. Jimi Agbaje, a former governorship candidate in Lagos State. “You will recall that some of us who were in Afenifere some years back were concerned about the issues between the elders of Afenifere on one hand and call it the past governors of the AD. And some of us, younger ones tried to make peace between the two parties.

“In the process, we found that it was becoming almost impossible to bring them together and we decided that if we cannot get the elders and the past governors to come together – Afenifere is an organisation that was founded 1951; it’s a heritage of the Yoruba and it is something that we must not allow to die and so, we decided that the best option forward was to come together and remove ourselves from the two feuding party and try to chart a course for Afenifere Renewal Group. So we setup the Afenifere Renewal Group not being on either side.”

Even in spite of the ARG, some members of the original Afenifere group pondered reconciliation. To this end, a meeting, aimed at bringing unity back into the group was first held in the Akure home of the leader of the group, Fasoranti, who also chaired the meeting. Others at the meeting were Segun Ojo, Jimi Agbaje, Yinka Odumakin, Akin Onigbinde, Dayo Adeyeye, Senator Iyiola Omisore and some other breakaway members.

They discussed the marginalisation of the Yoruba by the President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration and attributed it to the polarisation of the Afenifere group. Therefore, the urgent need to bring all the old members back to the fold so that the Yoruba could speak with one voice again.

The group had fruitful discussions on how to advance the cause of the Yoruba nation and protect its interests. Those in attendance also noted that a lot of knotty issues affecting unity in the group be resolved and that persons at loggerheads be genuinely reconciled.

The group recorded another progress in its reconciliatory move when last week, it held a press where some of the reconciled members were present.  It discussed critical issues that border on insecurity, corruption, unemployment, subsidy and the centenary celebrations. The body condemned violent attacks such as terrorism, kidnapping, assassination and armed robbery that have made Nigerians live in fear and stressed that they must be tackled.

Members of the group who were present also commended the spirit of reconciliation and urged the media to acknowledge that fact as well as encourage them.

While many were optimistic that the reconciliation initiative would set a stage for the comeback of the body, it is important to point out that the key political actors in the South-west, especially those of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN); leaders and the state governors were conspicuously absent at the reconciliatory meeting.

Wale Oshun of the ACN-led group which is part of the ARG was quick to distance his group from the Akure meeting, saying the ARG was not at the meeting and that “Whoever attended and or participated at that meeting did so entirely on their own volition.”
While the rebirth of Afenifere signposts positive development for the Yoruba race, pundits are however of the view that where such initiative is predicated primarily on political consideration, it may suffer yet a major and devastating setback.

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