Crisis Of Yoruba Leadership, By Akin Osuntokun


It is not raining, it is pouring. There appears no let or reprieve to the cloud of uncertainties and confusion swirling over the notion of contemporary Yoruba leadership. The latest manifestation of the opacity is the totally unbecoming outburst from perhaps the most taciturn leader of Afenifere, Chief Reuben Fashoranti.
Lamented the leader: “Over the years, Yoruba have tried to focus on a common goal, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo tried to ensure the oneness of our people with a lot of efforts, notwithstanding he faced a lot of challenges in the process. Unfortunately, he passed on without actualising this dream… The mantle of leadership fell on the late Pa Adekunle Ajasin and subsequently on Pa Adesanya and then my humble self. As events have been unfolding in the past few years, the focus and goals of the founding fathers of our great organisation Afenifere have been gradually eroded…This, therefore, made it a Herculean task for our members to work in unity. Several efforts were made to ensure the actualisation of the Afenifere’s goals, but it appeared that we have not succeeded in achieving this. This is basically due to reasons best known to our members individually… Considering my age, efforts and selfless dedication to my country, my state (Ondo), my political parties, my past leaders and my members in Afenifere both in Nigeria and in the Diaspora, I hereby wish to inform you all that I have decided to step aside as the leader of our great organisation, Afenifere.”
They do not come more pleasant, urbane and personable than the grand old man. Far from being ambitious and with a tendency towards public reticence, he was nonetheless an admirable patriarch on whom the successor cap to the late Senator Abraham Adesanya sits rather well. But there is tragic irony in the revelation that it has to be Chief Fashoranti who would end up bearing witness to the fullness of what can now be properly designated as the Bola Ige curse. If anyone should give up on Afenifere, it certainly shouldn’t be Chief Fashoranti, much less in this manner.
Yoruba national interest is a journey not a destination and nobody ever harboured the illusion that the journey would be hazard free without the inevitable cyclical motion of falling and rising again. Was it not the late Yoruba archetype leader, Obafemi Awolowo, who philosophised that a victorious life lies not in never failing but in the ability to rise over and over again upon the unavoidable experience of falling?
Afenifere has suffered no graver political test than the dilemma of having to choose between Ige and Chief Olu Falae as the preferred presidential candidate of the (Afenifere protégé) Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the 1999 presidential election. No parent should ever have to bear the cross of been obligated to publicly choose one child over another. It was the choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, between the rock and the hard place. It was worse.
The main intellectual argument against Ige was that he was a Yoruba irredentist whose trenchant championship of Yoruba interest would be a put off to Nigeria wide national acceptance of his potential candidacy. And there is now no denying the fact that this was a logic that resonated with many of us. The question then arises, why should a compatriot be disfavoured on account of being a preeminent and dedicated protagonist of a shared Yoruba national cause? And in retrospect it has all proved a futility-as it transpired that Falae lost the election anyway.
There is no significant virtue in being wise after the event but given the privilege of hindsight, if there is any lesson learnt in post mortem reflections on what might have been, it is that Afenifere would have fared a lot better were the choice between Ige and Falae had gone the other way. By organisational convention and tradition, it was legitimate for the former to have a sense of entitlement. After all, was he not the deputy leader and the most eloquent evangelist of the pan Yoruba creed? The same cannot be said of his rival who would have had no compunction taking any such disappointment in his stride. But the genie had already popped out of the bottle.
The aggrieved Ige then made it clear that he could see no good faith in (at best) the indifference of his colleagues to his presidential aspiration and thenceforth assumed a disposition that advertises the organisation as a body at war with itself.
And so that the message was heard loud and clear he accepted and took up appointment with the Olusegun Obasanjo-led Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government as a cabinet minister. From this junction, providence took over his alienation from the Afenifere and made it permanent with his assassination on December 23rd 2001.
The assassination was also the death and extinction of the most effective and charismatic political organiser and mobilisation of the South-west political establishment. The indication was that it would have been most unlikely for the PDP to have had a field day and rout the AD in the South-west, the way it did, in the 2003 general election were he alive. It was equally improbable that the governors elected on the platform of the party would have found the need and occasion to cut loose from the Afenifere leaders were Ige alive and of one accord with the organisation. Were he alive, the logic of his rank as deputy leader would have meant that he and not Fashoranti would have emerged the leader following Adesanya’s exit.
Predicated on their common Akure origins and strong family ties, there was a patriarchal bond between Fashoranti and Falae with the probable benefit of being a predisposing factor to the latter’s preferment in 1999 and of Afenifere remaining a pro Falae entity ever since. It is against this backdrop that the new schism and much less its public advertisement by the leader become untenable. Beyond the ken of being the leader, the explicit Falae bias of the group imposes the obligation on Chief Fashoranti to forestall the damaging and negative controversy the style he deliberately chose to express his dissension has fostered.
It is awkward, unwarranted and totally out of sync for an Afenifere leader of the traditional mould to choose a Tony Blair or Gordon Brown polemical fashion of relinquishing the Labour party leadership.
No matter the depth of antipathy it is difficult to see any useful purpose the recourse to public display of such disagreement and blame game could possibly serve. “We were shocked by the action, because Baba Fasor anti never discussed with me before he took his decision, despite the level of our closeness…I don’t know what he meant by disloyalty of members because he didn’t discuss with me before he took his decision, but I know the issue will be resolved soon,” regretted the secretary general of the group, Seinde Arogbofa.
At a time the Yoruba people are grappling with the anxieties and uncertainties unleashed by the deaths of Ooni Okunade Sijuade and matriarch HID Awolowo; the uniquely provocative kidnap of Falae; and a politically disarticulate and vulnerable exposure of the South-west to the vagaries of the new tsar at Abuja; how does the perplexing SOS from a supposed traditional political rampart sit with this simmering cauldron?
If this public self-diminution is totally uncalled for, so is the tone deaf, unfounded triumphalism and ill-suited response from the breakaway Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) to wit  “The statement by our elder, Chief Reuben Fasoranti that the Afenifere he led has derailed has confirmed our worst fears of what we had always known since the IITA reconciliation summit of 2006. Afenifere has now clearly exhibited itself as an out of touch institution whose lack of rudder has led to a total derailment from the fundamental values upon which it was built. Chief Fasoranti’s exit as the leader at this very critical period in the history of Nigeria and our people, we in the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) will continue the pursuit of the lofty ideals enunciated by the founders of Afenifere at its inception in Owo in 1951.
“We call on all well-intentioned YORUBA people to steer away from the unhealthy recriminations of the past, inhered in unwholesome ego, dividing our people and enabling the continuing slide from the heights hitherto attained through the vision of that great leader of all times, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and the hard-work and forbearance of Chief Adekunle Ajasin and Senator Abraham Adesanya, all of blessed memories.”
In the present dilemma that the Yoruba people have found themselves, this belligerent response cannot qualify as a contender for who best serves their corporate interest. It is derisive, divisive and malicious at a time we all need one another. Truth is, whatever may be their imperfections, these elders deserve our permanent respect on account of the imperishable services they have rendered to the Yoruba people at critical moments of great stress and political turmoil.
There is indeed nothing on ground that has vindicated the contemporary political position taken by either wing of the South-west political establishment-more so those who went to great length to ensure the emergence of the new political order. And from the submissions and historical allusions of the two Afenifere divisions, it is difficult, really, to understand what, in concrete terms, are the areas of conflict in their definition of what constitutes Yoruba strategic interest.
Last time I checked — The Fashoranti-led Afenifere categorically stated that its support for former President Goodluck Jonathan was contingent on his acceptance of the imperative of federalism begotten restructuring of Nigeria-and the ARG? According to the group’s leader, Olawale Oshun, “Yoruba’s demand at the national conference is mainly regional autonomy by re-structuring Nigeria and we will not mind being pushed out of the union if a true federalism is impossible…all the Yoruba delegates should know and be fully aware that whichever platform that throws them up, the consequences of betraying the Yoruba course is very dire…Restructuring of Nigeria is the main Yoruba demand at the national conference. It is the irreducible minimum accepted by Yoruba people.” So what exactly is the contention between the two?