BY DAPO AKINREFON

The gathering of Southwest leaders at the Airport Hotel last Tuesday was that of a mixed multitude. Many of them were of different political persuasions but gathered together under the umbrella of the apex socio-cultural organization in the Southwest, Afenifere.

Indeed, on account of their different political persuasions Afenifere, it was assumed had faded away.

Senator Iyiola Omisore a leading chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP was one identified ‘stranger’ as Afenifere leader, Chief Rueben Fasaronti acknowledged the fresh sense of unity that day.

Among those present were general secretary of the body, Chief Sehinde Arogbofa, former secretary to the Federal Government, Chief Olu Falae, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, publicity secretary of Afenifere, erstwhile Lagos State gubernatorial candidate Mr. Jimi Agbaje, Leader of Afenifere in Europe, Kole Omololu, Mr. Sina Kinawonse a former commissioner in the Gbenga Daniel administration and Comrade Razaq Oladesu.

Also present were Chief Supo Sonibare, Chief Korede Duyile, Akogun Tunde Odanye and Hon. Segun Ojo among several others at the occasion during which Afenifere gave its state of the nation address.

As he commenced his state of the nation address, Fasoranti first made mention of the reunion of the group.

He said: “Let me start with the happy development in Afenifere household where the Almighty God in His own time has brought cohesion as cracks in our walls have been largely cemented, given what you can see around me. While appreciating these vibrant gentlemen for returning home to their kit and kin, I cannot but salute those who stayed with me steadfast through thick and thin, through stormy weathers and rough seas. It is my fervent prayer too, that the few members of the family who are still outside the fold will return as we strive to bring all to the table of brotherhood and rebuild our solidarity.”

From right Senator Iyiola Omisore, former Deputy Governor of Osun State; Mr Yinka Odumakin, Publicity Secretary, Afenifere; Chief Reuben Fasoranti, Leader of Afenifere; Chief Sehinde Arogbofa, General Secretary and Chief Olu Falae during the state of the nation address by the leaders of Afenifere in Lagos

The assertion towards unity was, however, faulted by some newsmen who noted the absence of some other strategic members of the group. Remarkably absent was the deputy leader of Afenifere, Senator Ayo Fasanmi and members of the Afenifere Renewal Group, ARG that is believed to be inclined towards the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN and its national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

Asked about Fasanmi who for some time has not associated with the group, Chief Falae quickly interjected saying that Fasanmi has “reached out to our leader for reconciliation.”

How Afenifere split more than ten years ago is easily traced to the struggle for political ascendancy at the onset of the Fourth Republic.

Indeed, from the onset, the Obafemi Awolowo political family which formed the nucleus of Afenifere always had enemies in the South-West but was always able to manage it.

The only hiatus was in 2003 when a political tsunami unfurled by the PDP threw overboard all the Alliance for Democracy, AD governors with the exception of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Lagos. The six AD governors then – Segun Osoba (Ogun), late Adebayo Adefarati (Ondo), Bisi Akande (Osun), Lam Adesina (Oyo), Niyi Adebayo (Ekiti) and Tinubu rode on the back of Pan-Yoruba socio-economic and political organisation, Afenifere, to get to power. Their re-election bid also had the nod of Afenifere, which was led by staunch and die-hard followers of the late sage, Awolowo.

Upon Pa Awolowo’s death in 1987, his followers, who came to be known as Awoists made discernible efforts to emulate Awolowo in words and action. Indeed, some of them still wear the Pa Awo fila (cap) till date.

To resolve any controversial issue, the leaders would always quote Awolowo or recall how the late sage resolved a similar issue or what he would have done if he were alive.

And so, the Awoists, who congregated in Afenifere remained a closely knitted and united political unit.

Afenifere was formed as a socio-cultural organization for the Yoruba, with Abraham Adesanya as its leader and Chief Bola Ige as deputy leader.

Other founding members were Pa Onasanya, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, Adegbonmire, Femi Okurounmu, Ganiyu Dawodu, Sir Olanihun Ajayi, Chief Olu Falae, Adebayo Adefarati, Alhaji Adeyemo and Ayo Adebanjo.

When the Alliance for Democracy (AD) political party was formed in 1998, it took the Afenifere agenda as its official manifesto.

Following its dismal performance in the April 2003 elections, rival factions of the AD held separate conventions. In the Lagos convention, Adebisi Akande was elected as AD chairman.

In January 2006, the convoy of AD leaders who supported Chief Mojisoluwa Akinfenwa as the party’s national chairman was attacked by thugs in Osogbo, the capital of Osun State.

ARG formation
In 2008 the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) was formed with the stated intent of reuniting the feuding factions, but perhaps as an alternative to the faction headed by the older generation of leaders.

A faction of Afenifere in Ijebu Igbo, Ogun State, led by Chief Ayo Adebanjo, installed Chief Reuben Fasoranti as the new leader of the group in November 2008.

ARG Leaders including Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye, Chief Bisi Akande, Wale Oshun and Yinka Odumakin stated that they did not accept move.

Throughout the dark period of military rule, especially under late General Sani Abacha, Afenifere chieftains, led by late Chief Adekunle Ajasin and later, Senator Abraham Adesanya, were thorns in the flesh of military rulers who held the country to ransom.

Prior the advent of the Fourth Republic, Afenifere was a force to reckon with. They spoke with one voice on burning national issues. Uncompromisingly, they led the crusade for return to civil rule following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential polls presumably won by late Chief MKO Abiola.

Banking on their honour, integrity and credibility, Afenifere leaders were flawless in the eyes of most south-westerners.

Thus, during the 1998/1999 transition elections, any candidate endorsed by Afenifere in the South-West had almost 70 per cent chance of winning. And so virtually all the candidates nominated by the Alliance for Democracy, AD won the transition polls in the South-West.

However, seeds of discord were sown during the selection of candidates. In Lagos, while most Afenifere leaders were in favour of Tinubu, some backed the late Engineer Funsho Williams, to emerge as AD governorship candidate in Lagos.

Tinubu was to have his way and went on to win the election but the crack created by the incident was hardly patched. The selection of the AD presidential candidate in 1999 also raised dusts.

Besides this, Chief Akande’s diatribe against the leaders of the group including Chiefs Reuben Fasoranti, Olu Falae, Ayo Adebanjo and Fredrick Faseun for publicly showing solidarity with Mimiko in 2012 during the governorship election in Ondo state also deepened the crisis.

Crisis may persist
But a chieftain of Afenifere, Chief Wumi Adegbomire maintained that the crisis may persist in the fold because some leaders have arrogated to themselves the power to act as puritanical guardian of Awo’s philosophy, despite the fact that their behaviour cannot support their ideological claims.

Adegbomire said while reconciliation is not foreclosed in the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, the agenda for peace may be stalled because leaders of the group have always acted without circumspection.

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.