Guest columnist By Dr. Bisi Olawunmi
Chief Ayo Adebanjo formally assumed the leadership of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural cum political organization, when he presided over its first meeting at his Isanya-Ogbo hometown, near Ijebu-Ode, Ogun state on Friday, May 14, 2021. The former leader of the organization, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, from Ondo state, had willingly stepped down, on account of old age – he is 95 years old- and announced Chief Adebanjo as successor to the leadership of the Yoruba. Although Chief Adebanjo, a lawyer, is 93 years old, there is a general acknowledgement of his relentless, vibrant and energetic engagement with the Nigerian state apparatus over the years, that his emergence got consensus endorsement. He is a combat veteran of political struggles in the old Western region under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and a tested loyalist who stood by Awo in the years of political tribulations when federal might was deployed to jail the legend in the early sixties. He had to go into exile to sustain the struggle. Chief Adebanjo is the last man standing among Awo’s disciples, and he exhibits the same intellectual discipline, rigour and consistency, which stood out Chief Awolowo among his contemporaries.
Since assumption of the Yoruba leadership position, he has remained consistent with Afenifere’s core demand for true federalism – anchored on restructuring the federation along the line of enhanced regional autonomy as contained in the constitution at Nigeria’s independence in 1960. Chief Adebanjo, while addressing the Afenifere meeting, also reiterated the organisation’s position against the agitation for secession of Yorubaland from the Nigerian federation. Chief Adebanjo had consistently stressed that many of them in the twilights of their lives have remained in the struggle for a better, but one Nigeria, simply because they did not want the edifice they labored to build come to ruin in their life time. On the issue of gerontocracy in the leadership of Afenifere, his position is that there is a process of ascension to Afenifere leadership which places emphasis on consistent loyalty and self-less service over the years, as against gate-crashing into leadership principally to parley the position for material acquisition. In spite of the current craze where money, however dubious its source, is celebrated above character which had been the core value of the Yoruba, Afenifere had remained a bulwark in the defence and propagation of the ‘Omoluabi’ culture in its leadership selection process. It is significant that over the decades, the organization has achieved a smooth leadership transition process, devoid of acrimony since Awo’s initial leadership, after which the mantle fell on Chief Adekunle Ajasin. From Chief Adekunle Ajasin, a former school Principal and governor of old Ondo state to Chief Abraham Adesanya, a lawyer and former Senator of the Federal Republic, to Chief Rueben Fasoranti, a former school Principal and now to Chief Ayo Adebanjo, a lawyer, Afenifere is one major organization that has not been hijacked by charlatans and hustlers. In fact, successive leaders of Afenifere come closest to actualization of Plato’s Doctrine of Philosopher Kings – the RULE OF EDUCATED WISE MEN – who can control “the impulses of their hearts and the greed of their stomach” , meaning people who are NOT skirt chasers (womanizers) and who are NOT materialistic. From Awo to Chief Adebanjo, Afenifere leaders belong to the educated elite, with stable families and have not been associated with obscene acquisition of wealth or moral scandals. They are a rare breed. Given these antecedents, it is therefore no surprise that Afenifere has acquired a moral authority, based on integrity, that has ensured its survival and relevance till date.
In the current heightened separatist agitation, even among the Yoruba, seeking a divorce from Nigeria, it is pertinent to consider the counsel of the elders in Afenifere before a blind rush into an inferno, in the name of Oduduwa Republic. Given the current inarticulate agitation and emerging discord even among the many disparate groups rooting for Oduduwa Republic, the agitation for a Yoruba nation is shaping out as more of EMOTIONAL ROMANTICISM, lacking in sober calculations of the cost. No doubt, Nigerians across board today face daunting challenges, most especially with insecurity, that is becoming a choke-hold on the nation. But what we need to apply is brain power, not brown or muscle power, with its tempting recourse to a strategy of violent agitation. This is still a democracy, despite its imperfections, that allows for contestation of ideas and mobilization of strategic groups for goal attainment, without hasty adoption of violence. The issue at stake is purely for a BETTER NIGERIA and the anger of the citizens should NOT be just against one target, as it were – President Muhammadu Buhari – but other targets, including governors and National Assembly legislators, who have conveniently chosen not to apply the leverage of their positions to put pressure on the president, thereby making them complicit, in varying degrees, in the nation’s rot. They artfully present themselves as helpless, like us ordinary folks !! On the contrary, they like projecting the president as the all powerful, SUPREME MONARCH , the only stumbling block, thereby setting him up to take the bullet for all that is wrong with Nigeria.
Thankfully, the rush of events is forcing the governors, particularly governors of southern states, to come together to confront the demon of insecurity, given that some of them now face existential threat from domestic violent agitators in their states. The Asaba declaration by the 17 southern governors banning open cattle grazing in their states is the first salvo. Apparently, the ‘North ‘ was caught off guard by that unanimous decision which must have informed the precipitate, inarticulate and laughable statement credited to Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice that banning open cattle grazing in the south is like banning motor spare parts selling by Igbos in the ‘ North ‘ !! Such illogic, and that from a SAN !!!
With the National Assembly now seemingly inclined to accelerate the process of constitutional review, going by the nationwide public hearings on the subject, even if this is seen as mere palliative in some quarters, a significant good may eventually emerge from the process. But Chief Ayo Adebanjo, doubts such a good outcome, insisting on Afenifere’s position of comprehensive restructuring of the governance structure of the country as the only viable option for a one Nigeria. In an interview published in the Daily Independent of Sunday, May 23, 2021, the Afenifere leader had stressed that the 2023 election may not be feasible under the current constitution and that any delay to restructure the country can only spur secessionist agitators like Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu. “ I don’t want violence or separation, nobody wants secession “, Chief Adebanjo had declared, but noted that by the continued intransigence of the Buhari administration to embrace restructuring, they seem bent “ to provoke people for the country to break up “ .
Afenifere has provided intellectual vanguard for agitation to restructure the country and Chief Adebanjo has been a most vocal advocate of restructuring. Perhaps, with the on-going push and shove about constitution review, the Buhari presidency, compelled to take cognizance of the emergent coalition of forces, may even if reluctantly, yield to the now strident people’s clamour for a new, restructured Nigeria where more power is granted to the federating states. If a broadly acceptable constitution from the current review exercise by the National Assembly is ratified at a Peoples Assembly before the 2023 general elections, Afenifere and its leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, should feel fulfilled that they fought a good battle. Democracy is about give and take – reaching a compromise. No constitution is perfect, which is why there are provisions for amendment.
Dr. Bisi Olawunmi, a Public Affairs Analyst and Mass Communication scholar, is former Washington Correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria. Phone, SMS only : 0803 364 7571. Email : email@example.com.