Says Asiwaju fighting battle of his life
• ’Jakande, not Tinubu, is the maker of Lagos’
• Believes AD governors performed as bad as Abacha
• ON 2023: Adebanjo told me he discouraged Tinubu not to run
• ’Afenifere people are politicians. They negotiate the negotiable’
By CHARLES KUMOLU, DEPUTY EDITOR
If the rumbles among Yoruba leaders over whether to back All Progressives Congress,
APC, presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, or Labour Party, LP’s, Peter Obi, are
anything to go by, identity politics may be one of the major deciders of who wins next year’s presidential election. Speaking on this exclusive re-alliance away from party politics being witnessed in the South-West, former Chairman of Yoruba Council of Elders, YCE, Col Samuel Agbede, rtd, says the Yoruba know where they are going. He says Afenifere leader, Chief Rueben Fasoranti, is concerned about Yoruba interests while Pa Ayo Adebanjo is driven by political considerations. He also weighs Afenifere’s endorsement in the context of Yoruba politics and what it signifies.
The leadership of Yoruba nation seems polarised over the presidential ambition of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Is the dilemma over a Yoruba presidential candidate enough to pit elders against one another?
What we are seeing are people with different ambitions displaying their discomfort. It doesn’t augur well for the coherence of the leadership of Yoruba nation. All Yoruba agree that Yoruba nation exists and we have existed for many centuries before the advent of Nigeria. At the time, we were lucky that our leaders were more patriotic. They were defending the people. They were for the people. They were not as corrupt as today’s leaders. They were not angels but they gathered Yoruba the way a mother hen gathers its chicks. They were taking every step from all nooks of Yoruba land to protect everyone. That kind of leadership was exhibited by the leadership of the Western Region under Awolowo. Bola Tinubu is fighting the battle of his life. We, the senior elders, feel it is probably his last chance. And everything humanly possible is being employed to ensure he succeeds. Not all Yoruba agree with Bola Tinubu because of his antecedents. But we, the Yoruba Council of Elders Senior Elders Forum, see beyond our noses and we would try to follow the principle of partisan politics. In politics, there are no permanent foes but permanent interests. Asiwaju is facing the same problem. He has time to make up with people who seemingly appear not to be his friends. He is now reaching out to all of them. But not all of them are amenable to listen to his epistle.However, Yoruba elders see things differently.
Could you explain how the elders see things differently in this context?
We only sympathise and pray for him because he was part of the defunct National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, of the old days. They escaped the country by the whiskers. They ran away because they thought Abacha was a murderer. He was merciless in dealing with anyone that challenged him. When Abacha was called to the other side of the world, they all started coming back. When they came back and started their politics, they had nothing. I am saying this because I was there. These people had nothing in their first political outings. They had no money to even print posters. This Asiwaju people are talking about and others had nothing when they came back and joined politics after Abacha died. And the Yoruba were suffering at the time because of the maltreatment meted out to them by Abacha. The Yoruba decided that they were the people we were going to choose whether they had resources or not. That was how the powers that be saw that Yoruba were serious. We asked our people to go to the field so that we would back them. Whenever Yoruba speak with one voice, you know that Nigeria would witness a big result. That is why they are doing everything possible to ensure Yoruba do not speak with one voice. At the time, Yoruba spoke with one voice. In the first election, the Alliance for Democracy, AD, swept the polls. It continued in other elections until the presidential election. The powers that be felt that if the Yoruba continued with the winning streak, the issue they were afraid of might happen in the presidential election. The North now gathered and adopted Obasanjo to pacify the Yoruba.
But the Yoruba didn’t accept Obasanjo…
It wasn’t all Yoruba that rejected Obasanjo. The non-acceptance was particularly from his area, Egba, in Ogun State. Politics is a game of numbers. That is why we are having a similar problem of rejection up till today in Yoruba land. The Yoruba Council of Elders ,YCE, accepted Obasanjo. It was Afenifere that didn’t accept him. The YCE said having had leadership eluding us for a long time, we should give him a trial. There is a Yoruba adage that says whether a child will live or not, let us first rejoice with the parents. That was the wisdom YCE employed in adopting Obasanjo when Afenifere and half of the Yoruba nation rejected him in 1999. The North supported him and the eastern part also voted for him. So, we had a conglomeration of different ethnic groups ignoring the Yoruba unfriendly attitude towards Obasanjo. That was how he won the presidential election. The issue is still resonating.
Are you saying the same rejection is what is happening to Tinubu in Yoruba land?
There are similarities. A lot of people in Yoruba land do not like Tinubu that much. But I have said that whether a child will live or die, you have to rejoice with the parents first. When you study the political landscape and go back to history, you will understand what is playing out in Yoruba land. I am sorry for the present generation that doesn’t study history. Unfortunately, they do not study history and do not know about Yoruba history to understand what is going on now. Yoruba had long existed before the jihad of Usmanu dan fodyo and amalgamation. We keep on talking about interest because that is what various actors used in our history. The British were driven by their interest when they ruled Nigeria.
That was why they concluded that it was better to use the wealth of the South to service the North. It was done so that the British economy wouldn’t fund the North and South. Back to the NADECO people, when they took over government in the South-West states in 1999, they performed terribly on the platform of AD. They were doing virtually as bad as Abacha except that they didn’t kill the masses. It was unfortunate that they betrayed the confidence the Yoruba people reposed in them. Today, you could see how some of them amassed wealth. They did exactly the things they were opposed to during the period of Abacha. They had nothing when the Yoruba voted for them after Abacha. How come they amassed so much wealth?
You said they, AD governors, didn’t do well. Could that have been the reason all of them, except Tinubu lost re-election in 2003?
It was part of it because people were shocked that they didn’t really come to serve. They came to serve themselves and not Yoruba that voted for them when they had nothing. Yes, they accused Obasanjo of working against them, but political games are complicated. You have to reach out to the masses with whatever instrument at your disposal. And if leaders are not doing well, you can capitalise on it and get your result. People will embrace those they feel will now serve them better.
The Yoruba got disappointed at the performance of AD governors. That was the major reason Obasanjo was able to wield some influence towards the loss of elections. It was their making. Tinubu was an exception because he was able to apply ingenuity in doing something, which made people admire him in Lagos. Today, he is boasting that he made Lagos. He is not the maker of Lagos. He is not. Jakande is the maker of Lagos. Jakande was the one who truly developed Lagos. Go to the nooks and crannies of Lagos, you would see Jakande estates. Right from the Ogun State boundary to Lekki, there are Jakande estates. He even built in areas where people never dreamt of residing. Apart from Awolowo, Jakande was the second developer of schools in Lagos. I saw all Jakande did in the education sector. It was not Tinubu that did them. He never built Lagos.
Tinubu was administratively good at getting things done. He was prudent in the management of resources, which he exhibited when Obasanjo seized his allocations. Unfortunately, people are still not happy with him owing to his interests. I don’t want to deal with those things in detail. But they are the things his opponents are now using against him today. At the same time, if you understand the political trend, you would see that the Yoruba need to carefully put on their thinking cap and know where their interest lies. Politics is a game of interests and not sentiments.
But people like Pa Ayo Adebanjo, who want an Igbo President are citing equity and fairness, which the Yoruba nation subscribe to…
I heard some people saying they want equity and fairness. Are they living in a different atmosphere? Is Nigeria living in another world in the 21st century? Where is justice in Nigeria? Where is equity in Nigeria? Where is fairness in Nigeria? These things they are talking about, I don’t think they realise that Nigeria hasn’t developed to that point. They are not seeing beyond their nose to know the complexities of the Nigerian federation.
Yoruba leaders are divided. And as things stand their followers do not really know where the Yoruba stand on the 2023 polls. Should they follow Adebanjo or Pa Fasoranti?
The words of elders are words of wisdom. Pa Adebanjo is heavily politically inclined. He has his alliance. During the trying periods, he had those who supported him. And in our way of looking at things, he owes them something. He is trying to pay back. That is the reason he is taking the position he is taking. I think Pa Fasoranti is looking more at the interest of Yoruba. I don’t know whether he has declared support for Tinubu because Tinubu had been wooing him. During his 90th birthday, Tinubu provided some form of support. So, Tinubu has been getting close to him. But Tinubu and Papa Adebanjo are not the best of friends, which I know. Adebanjo is not supporting Tinubu. In fact, he had discouraged Tinubu several times not to even run. I have had meetings with Papa Adebanjo and he told me he had called Tinubu to drop his ambition. It is not that they are enemies. Tinubu still reaches out to him during festive periods, but for reasons best known to him, he doesn’t seem to embrace Tinubu’s ambition. Papa Fasoranti embraces his ambition. We, the Senior Elders Forum of Yoruba Council of Elders, are not politicians. But we embrace the interest of Yoruba people. We are saying the Yoruba should ‘’shine their eyes’’ and identify where their interests lie. Maybe Fasoranti didn’t mince words in his case. And what we are thinking is in the same direction.
Are you saying the Senior Elders Forum of Yoruba Council of Elders considers Pa Fasoranti’s position as being in the interest of Yoruba nation?
Yes, his position covers the interest of Yoruba people all over the country. We admire what he said. He is a Yoruba elder who has seen everything. He was there for a long time and understands what Yoruba interest means. He knows what he is talking about. It is not that Pa Adebanjo hasn’t seen everything and doesn’t know what he is saying, but as I said, he is trying to pay back the favour some people did to him at some difficult moments. Adebanjo is a learned lawyer. He knows history, but he is trying to turn to the other side. He can’t say he doesn’t understand there is no equity in Nigeria.
He would not say there is justice in Nigeria. He can’t deny knowing there is nepotism in Nigeria. Nobody can tell him all this. He is putting them aside because he has his sentiments. Yoruba people are wise. They know where they are going. Let Afenifere and Adebanjo go to their side, Yoruba know where they are going. It is not today that they, Afenifere people, have been doing so. They did it in the second coming of Obasanjo. It was only YCE that endorsed Obasanjo’s second coming. Afenifere people refused bluntly that for whatever reason, they were not supporting Obasanjo. Did Obasanjo not win? He won because Yoruba people knew where they were going and they still know where they are going this time. That is why Yoruba people are not taking one or two of them seriously. Yoruba unity and destiny are not negotiable. Yoruba nation knows where it is going.
You have cited many instances when YCE differed from Afenifere. One of them was during Obasanjo’s first and second tenures. Is it correct to say that there are some ideological differences between Afenifere and YCE?
There is. YCE is an offshoot of Afenifere. And it emanated during the traumatic process of choosing thepresidential candidate in 1999. It was a time when some of them, Afenifere leaders, were supporting Bola Ige while others were supporting other candidates. That was when they started blackballing each other. That was why some topnotchers had to pull out of Afenifere. They felt they wouldn’t be part of what was going on.
That was how YCE came into existence in 2000. I am a foundation member of the body. It was led by Pa Alayande and the late Justice Adewale Thompson. I joined them because Afenifere is a socio-political group while YCE is socio-cultural and traditional. That is why we take different positions on issues. We protect our culture, we protect our traditions and our interests. Afenifere people are politicians. They negotiate the negotiable and non-negotiable. They tend to mix unity and disunity. We don’t touch those things. We respect Afenifere people. They were the same people who called Obasanjo the white sepulcher. And they were the same people who went to him during the Goodluck Jonathan era to seek support for Jonathan’s re-election. When they felt it was in their interest to seek Obasanjo’s support, they went to him and forgot they had used unprintable words to describe him. YCE doesn’t do all that. We pursue the interest of the Yoruba nation. We are interested in moving the Yoruba nation forward.
When people consider the noise about Afenifere , Arewa Consultative Forum and Ohanaeze’s position on candidates, they are forced to ask if these regional groups really wield political influence over voters. Do they influence the direction of the pendulum?
When it comes to the reality on the ground, the Yoruba know where they are going. I told you that during Obasanjo’s second term, AD governors in the South-West did not win. It shows the Yoruba knew where they were going. Anybody can talk. You can’t stop people from talking and making noise. The Yoruba people know where they are going. Did Afenifere not endorse Jonathan, did he win? Afenifere rejected Obasanjo but he won.