March 31, 2017

Afenifere: The Yoruba voice fighting a regional battle

From left; Mr. Sehinde Arogbofa, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, Afenifere Leader and Host, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and Chief Olu Falae during an emergency meeting of Afenifere the Yoruba socio-political group on the Ife Crisis held at the house of their Leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, in Akure, Ondo State.

By Dapo Akinrefon
IT is no longer news that the pan-Yoruba socio-political  organisation, Afenifere is in the vanguard of championing the cause of the South West. Majority of Yoruba people of the South-West see the Afenifere as a legitimate force to serve the region’s best interests and also maintain the waning influence of Yorubaland in Federalism.

•From left; Mr. Sehinde Arogbofa, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, Afenifere Leader and Host, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and Chief Olu Falae during an emergency meeting of Afenifere the Yoruba socio-political group on the Ife Crisis held at the house of their Leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, in Akure, Ondo State.

Asides this, it is posited that the group is considered as a necessary body to preserve identities, norms and culture of the Yoruba. Nevertheless, some critics within the zone are opposed to the modus operandi of the group and have therefore distanced themselves from it.

The beginning: Afenifere was formed as a socio-cultural organization for the Yoruba people. Afenifere first started as the Egbé Omo Odùduwà, a political organisation established in 1945, when the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, with Dr. Oni Akerele, Chief Akintola Williams, Professor Saburi Biobaku, Chief Abiodun Akinrele, Chief D.O. A Oguntoye, Chief Ayo Rosiji and others, met in London.

On March 21, 1951 the Egbé Omo Odùduwà set up a political party called the Action Group. Primarily, the AG was to serve as the vehicle for realizing its primary objective of mobilizing the Yorùbá into one political umbrella. The Action Group, was therefore formed to implement the ideals and objectives of the Egbé Omo Odùduwà. It was led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

After the demise of Chief Awolowo in May, 1987, the mantle fell on late Chief Adekunle Ajasin, who steered the affairs of the organisation. When Ajasin left the scene, Pa Abraham Adesanya took over the leadership and steered the ship during the turbulent military era. During the June 12 crisis, the Adesanya leadership of Afenifere rose up to the task of championing the Yoruba cause.

Aside Adesanya, other staunch members of the organisation included late Chief Bola Ige who was deputy leader, Pa Onasanya, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, Adegbonmire, Okurounmu Femi, Ganiyu Dawodu, Olanihun Ajayi, Olu Falae, Adebayo Adefarati,Alhaji Adeyemo and Ayo Adebanjo. Incidentally, the Yoruba pressure group has not shied away  from defending the cause of the South West as far as issues relating to the region are concerned.

The recent communal clash between the Yoruba and Hausa communities in Ile-Ife, Osun State remains an eye opener. The clash, which occurred on March 8, 2017, was an altercation between a female indigene and a Hausa man in the Sabo area of the town, which is largely occupied by Northerners.

One-sided arrest  and parade

The altercation, however, degenerated into a bloody communal fight between the indigenes and the Hausa community. The aftermath of this, saw scores of people losing their lives and properties worth millions of naira destroyed. Perhaps, what stirred Afenifere to rise up to the task of being a lone voice, was the one-sided arrest and parade of 20 Ife indigenes, who were taken to the Force Headquarters in Abuja.

Though the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Ibrahim Idris justified the one-sided arrest and parade, it drew the ire of Yoruba groups and leaders across board. Aside Afenifere, groups such as the Oodua Peoples Congress, Afenifere Renewal Group and Yoruba leaders have come out to condemn the treatment meted out to indigenes.

One-sided arrest, parade: Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Yinka Odumakin, said  it was concerned that lives were lost in the clash but faulted security operatives for carrying out a one-sided arrest of some innocent residents. In a statement entitled: ‘Ife Crisis: The Hounding After and Yoruba Stand’, Afenifere said: “We are miffed that security operatives sectionally mobilized have moved to Ife after the incident to carry out one-sided mass arrests of Yoruba people who are mostly notables and could never have participated in any riot. As at the time of making this statement,all of those so indiscriminately arrested have either been taken to either the state police command in Osogbo or Force Headquarters in Abuja.”

Adebanjo flays Police: Also condemning the one-sided arrest, a staunch leader of the group, Pa Ayo Adebanjo accused the Police of bias, saying that it was wrong to arrest a majority of Ile-Ife indigenes. He condemned the Nigeria Police for what he described as premeditated and one -sided arrests carried out against the Yoruba residents of Ife-Ife after the clash.

He said: “We are not happy with the crisis. The reason for the clash is still surprising because for over forty years that Yoruba and Hausa have been co-habiting, there have not been any record of violence between the two tribes. Even during Ife/Modakeke crisis, nobody attacked the Hausas in Ife. The Police are to be blamed for this crisis. They caused the crisis. They arrested only Yoruba people after the crisis. It points to the fact that the arrest was pre-planned. The Police appears to be against the Yoruba and the Inspector General of Police has said he doesn’t have any apology.”

“What Afenifere is saying again is that the arrest is one-sided. Some of the people that died in the clash are Yoruba and their houses have been torched. Nonetheless, we are here to sympathise with both the Yoruba and Hausa residents of Ife.”

Legal team: Rising in defence of the arrested 20 Ife indigenes, Afenifere went a step further to assemble a legal team to defend the suspects. Eight Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) and several legal practitioners bombarded Abuja to stand in defence of the suspects.

Afenifere berates ACF’s warning: Only recently, the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, warned the Yoruba body desist from giving the clash an ethnic coloration. The leadership of ACF had warned that such could lead to reprisal attacks. But picking holes in the warning, Afenifere hit back at the Northern group saying it is driven by a sense of command and control.

Its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin said: “We don’t feel anyhow because we know it is a clash of civilisations. There is unequal sense of justice between the two groups. There is nowhere in the world where people have sound jurisprudence where two groups would fight and the Police would arrest only a side in the dispute. Afenifere has never supported criminality but we are saying that nothing can be more of a criminal assault on the rule of law than using the instruments of state to pursue ethnic agenda.”

The Afenifere spokesperson noted that “ACF cannot appreciate this fine point because they are driven by a sense of command and control and not a sense of justice. That is why they think we should keep quiet when they are now using ‘our power’ to denigrate the essence of justice against us. We insist that anyone who has been proven to have offended the law should be punished but we can never accept this ethnic partiality.”

Ooni calls for calm: In a bid to calm  frayed nerves, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi Ojaja 11, admonished Afenifere and other cultural groups within the Yoruba and Hausa tribes to desist from making further inflammatory statements on the aftermath of the ethnic clash warning such could trigger reprisal attacks. The advise came following cross fire of words between the Afenifere, OPC and the ACF over the manner of arrest of the suspects by the Police in the March 8, 2017 Ife mayhem which was alleged to be one sided.

Oba Ogunwusi said: “We only know the beginning of a war, nobody knows the end. I plead with with all groups to let peace reign so that the crisis will not degenerate.” He also warned against reprisals by the warring groups, saying it would affect negatively the unity of the country.

Productive  activities

Afenifere had paid the Ooni a condolence visit as a result of the crisis which occurred in his domain, with some of the victims of the crisis in attendance at his palace. During the visit, Afenifere met with the leaders of Yoruba and Hausa communities in Ife and also distributed relief materials to victims. The monarch used the opportunity to caution the Yoruba against violent reactions, saying such would only worsen the already fragile situation.

He explained that persevering and admitting any alleged wrongdoing against Yorubas did not translate to being weak. While he urged the youths in Ife to use their strength for productive activities rather than violence, he said: “The unity of this nation is very important and we must all defend it.

“We must all ensure peaceful co-existence. Painfully, the misfortune has happened but we just have to allow peace to reign. We cannot settle violence with violence. We all should persevere and realise that people of different tribes live in other parts of the country. It is patience that we need to get this case resolved. I have communicated with necessary authorities in the police force over the matter. There is a unique co-existence among people of different tribes and religions here and we must maintain that model.”

Lamenting that youths were mostly affected in the crisis, he said: “Youths should not allow this issue be turned to a political one. They should be careful and not allow this issue to be politicised. We should remember that most of these politicians don’t come to Sabo to render assistance, not  until the misfortune that happened.”