“A boy becomes an adult three years before his parents think he does and about two years after he thinks he does” – General Lewis B. Hershey (1893 – 1977).
Obafemi Awolowo officially launched the Action Group, AG, with his associates on the 29th April, 1951 at Owo.
The party had, as its motto, ‘Freedom for All, Life More Abundant’.
For the imperative of effective communication with the people so they could identify properly with the AG, Awo sought a Yoruba equivalent of this sobriquet.
The answer came in the form of a suggestion by a sharply-dressed, dashing young lawyer from Ibadan by the name of Augustus Meredith AdisaAkinloye. They all agreed to the name: AFENIFERE.
This was the alternate Yoruba name of the AG. I say alternate because the AG was also known as ‘EgbeOlope’ (Ope or Palm Tree being the symbol of the AG).
This was the situation until the demise of the First Republic via the military coup of January 15th, 1966.
Thereafter, the military regimes of Nigeria between 1966 and 1979 proscribed every form of partisan politics and so nothing of Afenifere existed between that period.
However, Awo was politically-active, at least covertly. He formed a group called ‘Committee of Friends’ which was a conglomerate of his associates, friends and the rump of the old Action Group. When the Gen OlusegunObasanjo regime lifted the ban on partisan politics in September 1978 (preparatory to the transition of October 1979), the Committee of Friends transformed into the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, the political party with which Awo prosecuted the elections of 1979 and 1983, his last. The UPN was known as ‘EgbeImole’ (party of the light) and not Afenifere.
When Awo passed on, May 9th, 1987 Nigeria was in the thick of the military regime of Gen Ibrahim Babangida.
However, since the onset of the Civil War in 1967, Awolowo had been conferred with the title of Leader of Yorubas at a meeting of Yoruba Leaders of Thought which was called at the instance of the then Col. Robert Adeyinka Adebayo, Military Governor of the West. Awo was regarded as such throughout his life till his demise in 1987.
In 1988, late Chief AdekunleAjasin (1908 – 1997) came to succeed Awo as Leader. He was acting in this capacity when an All Politicians’ Summit was called at Lagos in 1995 during the military regime of Gen SaniAbacha. It was the response of the political class to the stubborn refusal of Abacha to release Chief M.K.O. Abiola and actualize June 12 1993 election won by Abiola, as well as the criminal repression of all dissenting voices by that regime. As expected, Abacha scuttled that meeting.
A coalition of pro-democracy forces bunched together to form the National democratic Coalition which took on the Abacha government and fought it to a standstill till democracy was restored in 1999.
By the time we had the first of the elections that ushered in the 4th Republic on December 5th, 1998, Afenifere, then under Chief Abraham Adesanya (Pa Ajasin passed on in 1997) had transformed into the Alliance for Democracy, AD, which swept the votes of the SouthWest States of Oyo, Osun, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti and Lagos.
Thus, after Awo from 1952 – 1966, we only had Afenifere effectively back under Pa Ajasin in 1988.
The organization has had only two other leaders since then: Chief Abraham Adesanya (1922 – 2008) and Chief Reuben Fasoranti who is still alive and who resigned two days ago (first time in history).
In all these years, there was and is always a ‘significant others’ who did not join Afenifere but who also were political heavyweights.
When the AD was formed, it used the Afenifere structure in all of Yorubaland. Thus Afenifere was AD and AD was Afenifere.
However, a school of thought emerged towards 2003 that Afenifere should disentangle itself from active politics to serve purely as a socio-cultural organization so it could accommodate all Yorubas of every political persuasion. This did not sit well with the leaders.
This, together with the bad blood generated by the conduct of some top Afenifere leaders in the Presidential Primaries of the AD in 1999, caused the division of the organization as well as the pitiful demise of the AD as a party.
The Afenifere had a new rival in the form of the Yoruba Council of Elders, YCE, promoted and sustained by leading Afenifere luminaries like Chief Bola Ige, Pa Canon Emmanuel Alayande, Hon Justice Adewale Thompson and Dr KunleOlajide.
History should be the accurate record of the past as lessons for today and the sustenance of the future
The journey to this Fourth Republic began on the 5th December, 1998. That day we had the Local Government elections on political party basis. The Alliance for Democracy, AD, given the ‘lateness’ of its formation in comparison to the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP and the All People’s Party, APP, performed brilliantly in the SouthWest of Nigeria. In my native Oyo State, the party won in 18 local governments while the APP had 9 and the PDP, 6.
The same pattern played itself out in the Gubernatorial and Houses of Assembly elections of 9th January, 1999. The party won all the 6 governorships of the Yoruba States.
On January 28th, leaders of the Afenifere, Executive members of the AD and the governors-elect were constituted into an electoral college to select a Presidential Candidate for the party. They were equally charged to select Senatorial and House of Representative candidates for the party. Two aspirants jostled for the AD Presidential ticket:
- Chief Bola Ige, lawyer, politician, former National Publicity Secretary of the Action Group, Deputy Leader of Afenifere and former governor of the Old Oyo State.
- Chief OluyemisiFalae, technocrat, retired Civil Servant, former Secretary to the military government of Gen Ibrahim Babangida and former Minister of Finance to IBB.
Bola Ige, for reasons that now bother on naivety, was very confident of winning the ticket. The public expected so. Here was a very close associate of Obafemi Awolowo, a former governor, an ex-Prisoner-of- War of Abacha (Falae too was incarcerated by Abacha, tbh) and Deputy Leader of Afenifere. In fact, Ige was so over-confident that he jetted out of the country and headed towards the UK during the Primaries.
At the end of the conclave, Falae won. Ige lost.
As a Member-elect of the Oyo State House of Assembly, we were ‘Ige boys’ and so our disappointment was palpable. But the fallout from the selection process showed clearly that all was not well with the political household of Awolowo. Allegations flew about monetary inducements, of naked betrayal of the Deputy Leader by those with whom he fired the Abacha junta from the trenches, of monetary ‘participation’ of powerful figures from outside the AD. Fingers were pointed at certain retired generals who, it was alleged, wanted a weaker candidate than Ige, a candidate Obasanjo of PDP could easily beat (as at 1999, all the power loci of Nigeria had agreed to give the Presidency to the Yoruba West in compensation for the inability of Abiola to exercise his mandate before he died in detention). So, all hopes of a demonstration of spirit de corps with Ige were dashed.
That set the stage for the factionalization of Afenifere which led to the birth of the Yoruba Council of Elders, YCE, led by notable Ige supporters in the Afenifere, late Archdeacon Emmanuel Alayande and late retired Justice Adewale Thompson (I spent quality time with Justice Thompson, so my information was first-hand).
It also set the stage for the internal haemorrhage that stymied, if not killed the AD.
I recollect that preparatory to the 20th February, 1999 NASS elections, we had problem with the issue of candidate for Oyo South Senatorial District. Late Lam Adesina, who by now had become Governor-elect, went toe-to-toe with a certain Afenifere leader (names witheld) who wanted to impose a particular woman, who just joined the AD then as candidate. Lam had correctly reasoned then that this woman was of Oke Ogun extraction and that the senatorial zone consisted of Ibadan and Ibarapa Divisions, so with Ibadan having clinched the governorship, it was only fair to give Ibarapa the senate seat. Moreover, he asked this old man, how would he feel if he (Lam) were to be throwing his weight around trying to choose a candidate for him at his Ijebu base? The man relented in shame and Dr Peter Adeyemo, an architect, became the Senator for Oyo South in 1999.
I want to leave this part of the narrative in the mouth of Chief BisiAkande, former Governor of Osun and the Osun State Chairman of the Afenifere before the 1999 elections. BisiAkande is a frank person, incorruptible and our own version of MuhammaduBuhari, I mean ‘BuhariThe Mai Gaskia’. I have maximum and profound respect for him.
When we lost our national chairman, in the person of Ambassador Jolly Tanko Yusuf in 1999, we asked Ayo Adebanjo to act, but we felt that by the time the presidency was conceded to Chief OluFalae, we said it would not be right for a Falae to be the presidential candidate and then Adebanjo should also at the same time be the chairman.
So, we said Adebanjo should step aside so that Mamman Yusuf would take over the party as chairman so that the subsequent election into the national executive of the AD, we would properly sort things out. It was that convention that brought about the emergence of Abdulkadir, who happened to be an agent of the PDP because that zoning arrangement specified the national chairmanship should come from the north. Abdulkadir was able to get all the leadership of AD from the north. When we then asked them to present their choice, the northern leaders of AD insisted that it must be Abdulkadir and because this was democracy, it was zoned to their region; we couldn’t do anything about it because they said he was the one they wanted. That was how that happened, how PDP sponsored Abdulkadir to come and head the AD.
Obasanjo approached us. He called us for a meeting. He wanted us to work together but we told him instantly that we could not give him any answer but that we had to go back and inform our fathers in Afenifere, under the leadership of Papa Abraham Adesanya and we went to our leaders and informed them. Papa said we should go back and meet with Obasanjo and discuss it, that is, the leadership of Afenifere and the state governors were to go back and have a meeting with Obasanjo.
But our leaders warned us and insisted that when we get there, no state governor should contribute to the discussions with Obasanjo; that we should just sit at the meeting and listen to the discussion but that we should not make any input; that we would be allowed to sit in but we shouldn’t make any input.
I, SegunOsoba, Niyi Adebayo and Adebayo Adefarati were called to be on the team.
Bola Tinubu and Lam Adeshina were not involved in that meeting. Then we had Papa Abraham Adesanya, Chief Cornelius Adebayo and Senator Femi Okurounmu., Ayo Adebanjo and OlanihunAjayi. We were warned that only Okurounmu should present the position of Afenifere and that, may be, if there was need for any back up, Cornelius Adebayo should back it up but that none of us the state governors should talk.
But why would they say the governors should not talk? At least, it was the governors Obasanjo invited for talks first?
The reason was that we were being suspected. They thought that we, the state governors of the AD had had a deal with Obasanjo before coming to inform the Afenifere and that probably we could say things to guide the discussions or set the tone. But we were there and we discussed.
At the meeting, Obasanjo first tried to promote the ego of the Afenifere leaders. When he wanted to talk to us, he got up but as he was about addressing us we said he should sit down that he was the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian nation.
But do you know what Obasanjo did? Obasanjo refused to sit down. He greased their ego. Obasanjo said ‘I cannot sit and talk to Papa Abraham Adesanya; I must stand up; I must respect him’. That was how Obasanjo started playing up the ego of our leaders.
We demanded four things:
- National Conference;
- Proper handling of the Census;
- Restructuring of the country; and,
- Electoral Reforms.
Obasanjo agreed in toto. He started using Senator Femi Okurounmu as witness.
He said: ‘Oh! Don’t you know I have been working on this? Don’t you know that that is also what I want for this country?’
He said all the things we were asking for were very simple things; he said those things were his own ideas, too; he said they were simple things to be done. But deep down in my mind, I knew Obasanjo was deceiving us.
And as soon as I left the place, I just wanted to go to my house and pray to my God and beg him on how this deceit would not work on our leaders. But before we linked the Ogun Gateway Hotel in Otta, the convoy of cars was signalled to stop that we should all head for Gateway Hotel.
How did I know Obasanjo was deceiving the Afenifere elders?
I have been in politics longer than Obasanjo. I believe in developmental politics, Obasanjo does not.
am more experienced in politics than Obasanjo. When Obasanjo was still a soldier he didn’t play it clean, he played it rough. The highest election I ever contested, was the governorship of Osun State and I never spent up to N50,000.00 of my money to contest that election. But Obasanjo came with the syndrome of buying of power, paying money to buy position. So we do not play the same type of politics. But as he was talking that day, I knew he was deceiving us because they said we should not talk I just sat there.
The meeting was held in his Otta Farm. So, when we were signalled by Adebanjo to stop and head for Gateway Hotel, I wondered whether there was going to be another meeting. But because we did not want to deceive our leaders we obeyed them. Once we got inside Gateway Hotel, Adebanjo started rejoicing. He started dancing, saying, Obasanjo has become a born again man, he is going to be the saviour of the Yoruba race. But honestly, I did not like what was going on and I wasn’t happy. They wanted to feast us for lunch but I don’t eat lunch. So I left them there. Before we knew what was happening, our leaders had reached an agreement with Obasanjo that we of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, should not go ahead and conduct the local government elections which were already scheduled for August 2002. Mind you, I had paid to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC to buy the Voters’Register, as some of my other colleagues had done. I had bought ballot boxes, I had printed ballot papers, I was ready for the elections but our leaders in the parent body, Afenifere, said we should not go ahead and conduct the elections.
That was the only request Obasanjo put forward to them: that we should not conduct the local government elections in order for him to get delegates to conduct and win his primaries in the Peoples’ Democratic Party. In their constitution in PDP, local government chairmen were part of those to make the delegates’ list and that if we conducted the elections into local governments in the South West, there would be no delegates as local government chairmen to support him at the convention. That was why we were instructed not to go ahead. If I alone went ahead to conduct the elections, I would have been perceived as a bad Yoruba boy that I never listened to our leaders; and that could have led to the destabilization of the AD and I would have been blamed for it. Therefore, it is not true that the AD governors were the ones who sold out to Obasanjo; it is not true”.
Chief BisiAkande, former Governor of Osun, former Afenifere Chairman of Osun and former Acting National Chairman of the APC, continues:.
“The story out there and which many people have been made to believe is that the AD governors had a private and secret deal with Obasanjo and that the man simply outsmarted us. No, not at all.
It was the Afenifere leadership that destabilized the AD because they had a deal with Obasanjo and imposed that deal on us, the governors.
If we had been allowed to talk, what I would have told Obasanjo at that meeting?
What I would have said, I did say it. I said, ‘Papa, Obasanjo has said it now, we should ask him what we should do and how we can work together to help him.’ Obasanjo immediately cut in and said yourself, Bisi, Cornelius Adebayo and myself and SegunOsoba can always meet, the modalities are not difficult to work out; leave all these elderly people out of it; we can just sit down, one or two days to work that out and discuss it and get it sorted out.
The papas agreed to that.
When he never allowed us to see him again, I went to Papa Abraham Adesanya and asked papa to get another appointment with Obasanjo. We did have another meeting in the Presidential guest house in Abeokuta.We met there.
We asked him about working out the modalities for the agreement but again, Obasanjo put an obstacle. He said he was on his way to Austria or somewhere like that. He even asked one of his aides to remind him but he never allowed us to meet him anymore. He kept putting one road block or the other, one obstacle or the other.
I still went back to Papa Adesanya and told him that ‘Papa, come and see: this man has conned us. Elections are around the corner and this man has abandoned us, we have left the local government elections undone, what do we do?
That was not all. We went to invite the Awujale of Ijebuland, we went to invite Bishop Gbonigi, we went to invite Bishop Ladigbolu and asked some of us who were leaders to meet with Obasanjo and we met with Obasanjo again. We met him in Otta but that time, Obasanjo who said he would not sit down to talk to Papa Abraham Adesanya was unfazed this time around. He simply laid down there on his couch, sleeping, and he was no longer going to compromise.
This was just about three weeks to the 2003 general elections. So, all these our leaders knew. Adesanya knew, Adebanjo knew, Ajayi knew what went down. The Awujale is my witness, Bishop Ladigbolu was there, Gbonigi was there, and Obasanjo treated us in that manner and he knew that he was going to smash the AD and after smashing the AD, rather than call a meeting and review our loss, these leaders of Afenifere went on air to pronounce that the governors of AD had sold out in the elections. The moment I heard that ungodly statement, I never wanted to sit with them again and till today, I still do not want to sit with them; because they are very dishonest.”
Since that time Afenifere had been hob-nobbing with the PDP Federal Government. The group got generous slots in the National Confab conducted by the Jonathan Administration. They gave all their support to that government and at the 2015 elections. They did this despite the fact that the preference on Yoruba streets was decidedly anti-Jonathan. Who did they consult? Nobody. When the unfortunate Falae kidnap took place, these leaders went on air to say Fulani Herdsmen should leave the SouthWest or the Yorubas will reconsider their place in the Nigerian Federation. This was a euphemism for secession (Proper Translation: Civil War). Who did they consult before making this tendentious statement? Nobody.
Note that before this call, there is no record that Afenifere had previously intervened in the ceaseless clashes between our farmers and those herdsmen. (I have written elsewhere how deeply I have been involved in finding solutions to this Fulani/Farmers’ clashes)
I am not prepared to be used as fodder for feeding the irredentist proclivities of a group of elders who have missed the road.
I acknowledge that I do not know all the roads in this world; therefore I need a leader. However, though I know not all the roads, I know when someone is leading me into the bush!
May God bless Yorubaland and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
By Kehinde Ayoola,