Afenifere: A white Cloth, a million dots of red oil

By Francis Ojo

The word ‘wish’ intruded into my thoughts yesterday after reading the most recent communique of the Chief Ayo Adebanjo branch of Afenifere. Militant in tone, combative in language and adversarial and insensitive to the feelings of the Yoruba they pretend to lead, the elderly Chief and the cohort of followers he leads maintain a posture more bonded to the Obidient movement and a language even more insultive than that adopted by Chief Emmanuel Iwunanyanwu describing the Yoruba as rascals.. The summary claims that Peter Obi won the Presidency and remains their ‘President’ in contrast to the legally elected President Ashiwaju Tinubu. They went further to sack two of their officers who appear to hold a different view.

That word ‘wish’ is an expression of regret for a desire unmet. For, how I wish Obafemi Awolowo was alive and looking at the tarnish on his legacy in the Isoyin home of Chief Ayo Adebanjo. But Awo is not alive and will never come back. How I wish Chief Ayo Adebanjo, a Yoruba revered elder is an Igbo respected leader. He would be a hero no doubt among them and would not suffer the silent abuse the average Yoruba throws at him nowadays. For all his service to Ndigbo and disdain for Yoruba and their interest and sentiments, he is not and can never be Igbo. How I wish all these are not happening amidst the current tension pulling the Yoruba and Igbo away from the fulcrum of their equilibrium. For it takes a trusted elder to talk sense to both camps. But Chief Adebanjo is no longer trusted by one of the parties, the Yoruba. But all these are wishes. Wishful thinking.

I had asked myself at the time of his hospitalization, what the fate of Afenifere would be if Yinka should transit. And when he finally left to fly with angels in heaven, I pondered and fretted at the thought of the vacuum that would make comfortable breathing difficult for Afenifere. Who would be trusted enough like Yinka by these very old men to share company, advice and communion among their new recruits? I worried.

Let us be kind to Chief Ayo Adebanjo. He is a very old man and at that age, biologically, not everything is in preferred place and few organic resources are in good shape. At 96, God has been unusually kind to him, and I believe because his purpose is still ongoing, not fully finished, we need to be careful how we handle his matter. We should be sympathetic because those trying to use him, opportunists like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and politicians feeling left out of the banquet do not carry the kind of burden of expectation as he does.

Baba is entitled to hold an opinion of a personal nature. He is, after all, like every one of us, entitled to his sentiments, sympathetic to his favorite politicians and perhaps can see what many of us are not exposed to. But that stands only if he would be kind and bold enough to speak for himself and not for a respected brand like Afenifere. I wish Baba’s sentiment was manageable enough for him to remain true to his avowed loyalty to causes of the Yoruba.

One would wish he pursued his personal interests in the dark hours of the night long before daybreak and out of sight of his admirers. For he should not be seen displaying his arthritic pains on a campaign rostrum, carried helplessly around by excited young Igbo men gladly parading him around like an effigy. Baba is far too respected for that comedy sketch.

Having said all these, let me tell you what makes me feel very disappointed, sad and angry with the young men who have since enveloped Baba since the departure of Yinka Odumakin. These people have a lifetime of political future ahead of them in this land. Should they not be guided, careful and circumspect in their dealing and association with sentiments of a nauseous nature to their political constituency?

That brand, Afenifere, belongs to the Yoruba to be kept safe, cherished and polished carefully to be brought out only on two occasions. One, when the Yoruba is once again in trouble and needs some object of unification. Second, when the Yoruba wants to celebrate success and appreciate the Almighty. Coincidentally, these two conditions converge today. The race is in a face-off with the Ndigbo, so need a united front and they have won the Nigerian Presidency and as such, the time for celebration is nigh.

For, like we all agree, Afenifere was a powerful, successful and trusted brand created by Awolowo, a deity in the pantheon of Yoruba Orishas, and upheld with dignity and class by previous successors like Michael Ajasin, Abraham Adesanya and Reuben Fashoranti. Awolowo’s image is the logo on that brand. And all those who have been privileged to handle it have carefully cleaned, polished and preserved the crest without stain. The tragedy today is that Afenifere is stained and the blemish may be too deep to wash away by future successors. Afenifere is so blemished that the mention of that product elicits sniggering glances and embarrassing frowns from the average Yoruba. Chief Adebanjo has driven Afenifere into a deep canyon. But I am angry with Akure and those who surround Chief Reuben Fashoranti for being too docile, cowardly, and weak to take this steering wheel from Baba Adebanjo. The old man has served his time, should be quietly and carefully guided home and pacified to watch politics from flat screen television in his palour.

In my eulogy to Yinka Odumakin written before his burial in April 2021, I had some warning for Afenifere. I have lifted a section from that eulogy below to demonstrate that what is happening today had been accurately foreseen and roughly foretold. May God Almighty spare the elders and give them sufficient time to do the right thing and make the proper corrections for the recovery of that brand.

Excerpts from my eulogy to Yinka Odumakin written April 2021:


With Afenifere as a convenient platform, and the big voice of the nonagenarians as wind behind his sail, Yinka was always there to observe, question and criticize power under the canopy of this surviving Obafemi Awolowo legacy group. When he raised his voice on Radio, or marshalled his points for Television, Afenifere and its image was always beautiful and bold. This tragedy will complicate the life cycle of Afenifere, trust me. Already a skinny, starving, tired and old group, Afenifere will collapse without quick, rapid and comprehensive reform. I cannot find it in me to understand this group which has thoroughly abused the goodwill of the Yoruba people who have patiently chosen to tolerate it in all its ridiculous imperfection. The Yoruba have looked on in disgust, the way these Great Grandpas have been swinging provocatively like women of easy virtue, migrating from one political party to another, swinging from Buhari to Jonathan and yet to Atiku without shame.

Imagine just recently, without a meeting, election or vote, the erstwhile Leader, 95-year-old Chief Reuben Fashoranti announced ‘generously,’ that he had awarded the leadership of the group to 93-year-old Chief Ayo Adebanjo because he was now too old. What is the difference between the two nonagenarians? The difference between 95 and 93 is like that between six and half a dozen. And Chief Adebanjo is excited. It is lost on them, the due process that precedes success in a structured and properly constituted administrative arrangement. Ohanaeze would not appoint a leader. They would vote a new, vibrant, agile and brilliant leader in an open and transparent manner. Look at Arewa Consultative Forum, their leadership rotates between various States and interest groups. Audu Ogbe, a Middle belt man is the President at this time. And behind him are erudite, brilliant and articulate young men in various positions all arranged in order of succession. Their elders are behind the scene in advisory positions as Patrons. They do not make themselves seen or heard, they do not hug the klieg lights like our own Babas, they just silently inject their knowledge and experience into the system to make decisions robust and strong. That is why we are always playing catch up to the North.

The implication of Yinka’s death may translate to disastrous complications in the fortune of Afenifere and its relevance in the Yoruba socio-cultural firmament. Afenifere, that pre-independence organ of the Awolowo political construction has operated like ‘Ogboni’ Secret society, dark, opaque, with no discernible structure, no known organigram, no genuine strategic program and sadly no succession policy.

A friend revealed to me that Ohanaeze, the Ndigbo equivalent then under Chief Nwodo had not less than 2 billion naira in its account and that Chief Nwodo, as elected President could single-handedly sign a check of 5 million without a second signatory to further the cause of their people. The audit committee was always ready to check through their accounts at the end of the year. Contrast that with AFENIFERE. Where is their account domiciled? If they have an account, who is their Treasurer?

Essentially, today, a nonagenarian group with no agenda to pass the touch, little tolerance for criticism and zero stomach for change, may be arriving at its final bus stop. For, Yinka was the chloroplast that captured the photons requisite for the respiration of the tissues of Afenifere. And he has now translated.

If today, you ask the leadership to express their mission, provide their strategy and show the programs, I bet they have none. And so, is it then not a waste of time to ask for their budget? Yinka’s death may be the unraveling that Afenifere needs if it would hope to continue to exist. I bring this up in the hope that the Chief Ayo Adebanjo leadership can bring back many of the old and young men who have since left them. People like Professor Banji Akintoye, Dr. Amos Akingba and the dynamic young and brilliant men who left in protest to form the ARG (Afenifere Renewal Group) undern Hon. Wale Oshun.

The reform of Afenifere must happen like as at yesterday. The leaders must be humble, less selfish and more tuned to the times. They are not Awolowo, and surely, the time is far spent for a 93-year-old to operate a group qualified to lead the Yoruba of this century.

Voila! That was written in 2021, did they listen? You judge for yourself. The banner with Obafemi Awolowo’s logo may be stained beyond the best efforts of any laundromat.

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