Afenifere is in the news again for its own sake. What has triggered the latest soul-searching for the pan-Yoruba political and cultural organisation was the public visit of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), to the Akure, Ondo State, country home of Chief Reuben Fasoranti, the leader of Afenifere. This visit has not gone down well with Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the acting leader of Afenifere, who had publicly endorsed Peter Obi, the former Governor of Anambra State and now the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), a party that is an apparent offshoot of the giant Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Tinubu’s pilgrimage to Akure has been in the work for many weeks by those who believe that Adebanjo has taken the organisation he is leading in acting capacity for granted. The visit, however, throws light on the old schism within the organisation, which time has not healed. Now two lions in the winter of their lives are finding themselves in opposite directions of this old divides. Both Fasoranti and Adebanjo are old apostles of the Awoist School. The issues that divide them predates the quest for presidency of Chief Tinubu, an old member of Afenifere.
When Fasoranti picked Adebanjo as the acting Chairman of Afenifere, last year, he was following tradition. In his declining years, Chief Adekunle Ajasin, the first leader of Afenifere, after the 1993 general elections, picked Senator Abraham Adesanya, to act on his behalf. Though he was acting for Ajasin, Adesanya was still presiding over the Afenifere meeting at the country home of Ajasin in Owo, Ondo State.
After Ajasin’s death in 1997, Afenifere met at the Owo home of Ajasin to elect a successor. It was at that meeting that Chief Bola Ige, then the Chairman of the Contact Committee of Afenifere, proposed that Adesanya should be elected as the leader. His motion was approved by acclamation. Ige was then elected as the deputy-leader.
Adesanya’s tenure as leader was productive and effective. It was under him that Afenifere produced all the governors of the Southwest states on the platform of Alliance for Democracy (AD). It was in his closing years that Afenifere also fell into crisis, especially after the unresolved assassination in 2001 of Chief Bola Ige, Adesanya’s deputy and the Attorney-General of the Federation. In the 2003 general elections, all Afenifere and AD governors were defeated in the governorship election except Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Lagos. The issue became more complicated after the passage of Adesanya in 2008. That was when the rain started beating Afenifere.
By the time Adesanya died, Afenifere was a weakened behemoth. Struck by illness, he appointed Fasoranti as the acting leader. When Adesanya died, Fasoranti was confirmed as the leader by the conclave. He was quickly challenged by another faction led by Senator Ayo Fasanmi. All attempts to reconcile the two factions failed. The death of Fasanmi in 2020 provided an opportunity for a new beginning. The Fasanmi group did not appoint a new leader and some of its members moved over to the Fasoranti group. In matter of months, Fasoranti became the undisputed leader of Afenifere.
But the Afenifere that Fasoranti inherited was substantially different from the one that Adesanya led in the final days of military rule after which the movement produced five elected governors. Now the movement had no governors under its tent. It attempted to play national politics put it into trouble. The movement was now in dissipation and its public standing was being challenged on many fronts. It was at this period that Fasoranti suffered a personal tragedy when his daughter, Mrs. Funke Olakunrin, was killed in 2019 by kidnappers in an attempt to seize her on the Shagamu-Ore Express Road. It was later revealed these killers were Fulani marauders who have found home in the Yoruba forests. It was at this period of challenge that Fasoranti appointed Adebanjo as acting leader.
Adebanjo took his assignment seriously. He jumped onto the national stage with his characteristic ebullience. He was not afraid of debates. He cherishes the smell of the battlefield. He is a feisty fighter whose combustible temperament was suited for the old struggle against military rule. But now, politics is the game. He accumulated new friends and seems eager to make new foes. He did not refer nor defer to the man who made him the acting leader.
On Sunday October 30, 2022, Fasoranti received Tinubu royally at his Akure home to prove that in Yorubaland, a king is not buried alive. Despite his public show of defiance, the Akure show may have put an end to the regime of Adebanjo as acting leader. There is no doubt that Adebanjo had been able to attract many people of competence and national standing to his brand of leadership, including the illustrious Oba Oladipo Olaitan, the Deputy Leader of Afenifere and several combative and not so young men and women. But what is the basis of his legitimacy when the man who made him acting leader says he is returning to take back the rein of leadership?
Fasoranti may have been encouraged to end his retirement for some reasons. Many leaders of Afenifere were unhappy that Adebanjo shifted the general meeting from Akure to his country home in Ogbo-Ijebu, Ogun State when the leader is still alive. Immediately Fasoranti, a meticulous former school principal, wrote to appoint Adebanjo as acting leader, Adebanjo took it as a notice of Fasoranti’s final retirement. Now Fasoranti is back.
As the leader of Afenifere, Fasoranti is actually wearing two caps. At the Yoruba Summit at the Premier Hotel, Ibadan in 1995, part of the communiqué of that meeting read to us by Chief Bola Ige states: “The Leader of Afenifere shall also be the Leader of the Yoruba.”
This proposal was accepted by acclamation. Leaders across the political spectrum and social standing including the likes of Chief Richard Osuolale Akinjide, Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi, General Alani Akinrinade, Dr Amos Akingba and Aare Arisekola Alao, were there. The meeting was presided over by Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, the leader of Afenifere. Since that meeting, every leader of Afenifere has been regarded as the Leader of the Yoruba. It was the Ibadan Summit that also declared Afenifere as the mainstream political and cultural organisation of the Yoruba people.
It is clear now that Adebanjo did not make enough consultations before he threw his lot with Peter Obi of the LP. Fasoranti said he too was not consulted on the matter. Up till now, Obi has not made any presentation before the general house of Afenifere. Adebanjo has also not revealed what agreement he reached with Obi for the benefit of Yorubaland.
The high-profile attendance in Akure on Sunday showed many people are happy to see Fasoranti back from retirement. All the Yoruba states, including Kogi and Kwara, were represented. Ekiti State Governor, Abiodun Oyebanji, was present and the deputy governors of Ondo, Orimisan Aiyedatiwa and Oyo, Bayo Lawal, represented their governors. Dr Charles Akinola, the Chief of Staff, represented the Governor of Osun State. Segun Adesegun, former deputy Governor of Ogun State, represented Chief Olusegun Osoba, the former Governor and old Afenifere chieftain.
In attendance were the likes of Archbishop Ayo Ladigbolu from Oyo, Lt General Ipoola Alani Akinrinade, Governor Cornelious Adebayo (former Governor of old Kwara State), former Governor Bisi Akande of Osun State, Chief Pius Akinyelure, Major-General Olu Bajowa, Oba Mafimisebi, the former Olugbo of Igbo, Ondo State, Chief Solomon Ayo Oladunni, former deputy managing director of Mobil Oil and Dr Kunle Olajide, former General Secretary of the Yoruba Council of Elders.
Fasoranti was ably assisted by men who are regarded as the pillars of Afenifere: Kabiyesi Olu Falae, Bashorun Deinde Arogbofa, Governor Gbenga Daniel, Abagun Kole Omololu, Chief Demola Folarin and many other younger colleagues. There were also the likes of Prince Dayo Adeyeye, Bayo Onanuga and Tunde Rahman, who are now in thick of the Tinubu campaign.
The days between now and the general elections next February would be very interesting. However, there is no doubt that Afenifere is back in its Akure base. This is one battle that Papa Adebanjo never looked for. Now he has to contend with the troubling reality that his regime as acting leader may be coming to a whispering end.