By Sola Ebiseni
OVER the weekend, Afenifere released what many called a damning verdict on how the oil subsidy removal policy is being handled and the effects on the Nigerian people. For the avoidance of any doubt, Afenifere has, as usual, taken a well-informed position to, as much as possible, tarry on comments on the governance of the federation until the final determination of the true holder of the people’s mandate through on-going judicial processes. However, this position is inadvertently being taken for abandonment of our historic role as the people’s ombudsman in the political space, acquiescence in the face of the rudderless ship of the state, or being mistaken to have joined league with those befuddled by chauvinism in laundering incompetence and nepotism or celebration of inanities.
As the rallying platform for social welfarist progressive ideals inexorably committed to the greatest good of the greatest number of Nigerians, Afenifere cannot afford to fold its arms or be seen to maintain silence, neutrality, or ambivalence in a situation where the Nigerian people are currently caught in a labyrinth of inclement weather of a convoluted election process and its unwieldy outcomes, intractable security problems, and the nightmarish aftermath of a sudden and harsh removal of the petrol subsidy. The message is clear as to its cause, target, and effect.
Nonetheless, several calls suggest to me the need for yet more clarification of what Afenifere stands for in the nation’s social and political arena. Many of the calls are well-meaning, even if misconceived. There are some Yoruba elites who, understandably, see Afenifere as a Yoruba organisation that, ipso-facto, should be committed to its cause nilly-willy. They reason that the Nigerian federation is not worth the equity Afenifere is preaching in its governance modules. To them, Nigeria is up for grabs, and any person or group would do well to take maximum advantage of it.
There are others who see Afenifere as no more than a Yoruba sociocultural organisation, which compares no more with those of other ethnic nationalities in the country. They are simply implacable by any suggestion that Afenifere may have considerations for persons of any other ethnic nationality in the mutually destructive competition for the head of the Nigerian state. It is like the proverbial effect of rain on the cocoyam tree. Who cares even if Nigeria is torn asunder in the process? It is simply bó lè ya kó ya.
An aburo of mine, who has reason to disagree with me on the traditional rulership of our community, told me as a matter of fact in church that the “Yoruba people who Afenifere represents do not agree with the view being currently canvassed by the group”. He was shocked when I told him that Afenifere has never claimed to represent the Yoruba people. My joy is that even in our village, he said he was the champion of the Obaship being zoned to the deserving quarter, outside his own lineage, and that he had no apology for such an equitable stand, though he had his disagreement with the methodology of the enthronement processes of the incumbent Kabiyesi, whom I represent in court and for which I am probably culpable.
Nonetheless, we both agreed that the crown is equitably where it ought to be. Afenifere is an ideological group whose philosophy was practically demonstrated in the good governance of the Western part of Nigeria, and for this reason, the Yoruba people have seen themselves as beneficial owners of the group, with the Yoruba political world view being thereby defined in the context of Nigeria. They thus trust that they are safer in the hands of Afenifere than any other group.
While Afenifere has lived up to these historical expectations of the Yoruba people, it has remained uncompromising that its overriding objectives as a political group are to be the rallying platform for socially welfarist progressive ideals inexorably committed to the greatest good of the greatest number of Nigerians. Of course, to achieve this, Nigeria must be governed by a module that guarantees peace, taking into consideration the fair and equitable sense of belonging among its diverse nationalities and tribes. It is this deep intellectual endeavour that distinguished the founding leader of Afenifere, Chief Jeremiah Oyeniyi Obafemi Awolowo, among his peers.
He was indisputably the author of the federal structure for Nigeria. Thus, in humility but with unwavering commitment to the greatness of Nigeria and her people, Obafemi Awolowo said: “I have never regarded myself as having a monopoly of wisdom. The trouble is that when most people in public life and in positions of leadership and rulership are spending whole days and nights carousing in clubs or in the company of men of shady character and women of easy virtue, I, like a few others, am always busy at my post, working hard at the country’s problems and trying to find solutions to them.
Only the deep can call to the deep.” In realisation of the above and after a stint of eight years as Premier of Western Nigeria, Awolowo, either as the Leader of Opposition in the House of Representatives in the First Republic, Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council during the Yakubu Gowon military administration, or the several times he sought the mandate of the Nigerian people as either the Prime Minister or President, had the desire to put at the disposal of Nigeria the depth of his intellectual prodigy, perhaps more than he achieved for Western Nigeria.
The alliances he sought in realisation of his electoral objectives were certainly not the apparently easy ones involving the West and those who preferred to present the most diverse North as monolithic. His was a broad alliance that would first ensure freedom for the various groups based on the creation of more states on linguistic considerations and invariably ensure that the rulership of Nigeria is not monopolised by any tribe or made taboo for some other groups. While the easy path was tread by many other leaders, Awolowo sternly asserted that while he loathed being oppressed, he vehemently abhorred being a party to oppressing others.
These ideals are conceived, hatched, and sometimes incubated in the Afenifere. Each mentee thereby may not live up to it or lack the perseverance of Elisha in his determination for the double portion of his master Elijah’s spirit. They may outrightly, like Gehazi, a servant of Elisha, allow themselves to be distracted by materiality for eternal consequences. For us, Nigeria must exist only on the basis of equity and fairness. Of course, it may taste poisonous to those befuddled and bedeviled by ethnic chauvinism to give thoughts or expressions to these ideals. We have neither sympathy nor apologies. Nigeria, we hail you!
Ebiseni is the Secretary General, Afenifere and South West Coordinator OBIDATTI Campaigns.