The struggle for domination is inconsistent with Yoruba’s federalist instincts and ‘omoluabi’ ethos/Olu Fasan

BOLA Ahmed Tinubu, presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress, APC, always has the extraordinary capacity to split Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-politicalgroup. He has the uncanny ability to wrap Afenifere and some of its leaders around his finger and twist them as he wishes to serve his purpose.

Tinubu rode on Afenifere’s coattails to become governor of Lagos State in 1999, but once he acquired political invincibility, fuelled by state resources, he turned ruthlessly on the group. To further his political interests,Tinubu divided Afenifere, pocketed some of its leaders and sponsored a renegade faction called “Afenifere Renewal Group.” 

But the mainstream Afenifere regrouped and acquired national respectability under the energetic and principled leadership of Chief Ayo Adebanjo. Now, however, in pursuit of his “lifelong ambition” to become Nigeria’s president, Tinubu has again ruptured Afenifere. He has set Chief Reuben Fasoranti, the group’s supposedly retired and hitherto reclusive leader, against Chief Adebanjo, Afenifere’s public face, as well as its intellectual and moral force.

Last week, Tinubu led APC chieftains in the South-West to Chief Fasoranti’s house in Akure, Ondo State. Front pages of major Nigerian newspapers published a picture of Chief Fasoranti laying his hands on Tinubu’s head and blessing his presidential ambition. Later, Chief Fasoranti declared: “I am still the leader of Afenifere,” adding that “Afenifereis endorsing Tinubu for the presidency.”

Really? But that contradicts Chief Adebanjo’s earlier statement at a widely publicised press conference when, flanked by Afenifere’s Deputy Leader, Secretary-General and other key leaders, he declared the organisation’s support for Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party. In a subsequent statement, Chief Sola Ebiseni, Secretary-General of Afenifere, said the group’s decision to support Obi was well-thought-out and principled. The decision may, indeed, have been well-thought-out and principled, but Chief Adebanjo and his leadership team underestimated the skulduggery of the Tinubu high command and its ability to prey on Afenifere’s soft underbelly: pliable and biddable elders.

I mean, why is Chief Fasoranti even a dramatis personae in this saga? In March 2021, he resigned as the Afenifere leader due to old age, saying: “At 95, I am hardly able to provide active leadership.” He then handed over the group’s leadership to his then deputy, Chief Adebanjo, who he described as “a politician of the Awolowo school of thought.” So, why would Pa Fasoranti undermine Pa Adebanjo, 94, on a decision that aligns with Chief Awolowo’s philosophy or school of thought? And why would he suddenly emerge from virtual recluse to claim the mantle of “the leader of Afenifere”?

This is not a perfect analogy but consider its morals. In February 2013, Pope Benedict XVI resigned due to old age. Pope Francis succeeded him. Some feared tension because of Benedict’s strong traditional and conservative views and Francis’ liberal stances. But, since 2013, Benedict has said or done absolutely nothing to undermine Pope Francis, and Catholic Bishops who disagree with Pope Francis’ liberal positions do not collude with Benedict to sabotage Pope Francis’ leadership. That’s what happens in moral organisations; when a leader resigns, he doesn’t undermine his successor or destroy the organisation. 

But Chief Fasoranti came out of the woodwork to undermine Chief Adebanjo and split Afenifere. He said: “I didn’t retire from the leadership of Afenifere. I was misinterpreted”, despite the resignation-cum-appointment letter he wrote to Chief Adebanjo. “All future Afenifere meetings,” he said, ”would henceforth be held at his residence at Akure.” Of course, he later did a U-turn, affirming Chief Adebanjo as Afenifere leader and saying the group’s meetings would continue to take place in his residence. But the damage is done!

Given that this is all about Tinubu’s ambition, one must ask: Why did Pa Fasoranti allow Tinubu to use him to destabilise Afenifere? This question is interesting for two reasons. First, for many years, Tinubu did not recognise Chief Fasoranti as the leader of Afenifere. It was Chief Ayo Fasanmi that Tinubu and South-West APC governors feted as the Afenifere leader. Second, under Chief Fasoranti’s leadership, Afenifere never supported Tinubu’s party, APC. In 2015, Afenifere supported President Goodluck Jonathan over General Muhammadu Buhari; and, in 2019, it endorsed Atiku Abubakar over Buhari.

So, whatchanged? Well, it’s greed, selfishness and opportunism, which are alien and anathema to the ‘omoluabi’ ethos that the Yoruba claim defines them. Truth is, Tinubu opportunistically frames his presidential ambition as being in the best interests of Yoruba, and Chief Fasoranti and the Akure gang agreed with him. But they are wrong! First, it’s utterly misguided to equate Tinubu’s self-interested ”lifelong ambition” to be president with Yoruba’s existential interest.

Second, it’s downright selfish to say that it’s Yoruba’s turn to produce president in 2023, despite having produced president for eight years and vice-president for eight years since 1999, while, in the South, the Igbo have produced none; that undermines the ‘omoluabi’ principles of fairness, equity and justice, as well as federalism, which Chief Awolowo espoused. 

Third, the Yoruba saying that ‘omoeni ki sedibebere, ka fi ilekesiidiomoelomiran’ is very unfortunate.In this context, it translates into saying that Yoruba must support Tinubu, despite his deep flaws, and not a non-Yoruba, which betrays the ‘omoluabi’ principles of character and integrity and undermines Nigeria’s unity. Unfortunately, by endorsingTinubu for president just because he’s a Yoruba, Pa Fasoranti will be remembered as a Yoruba tribalist. So will Chief Olu Falae. In a recent statement, he said: “How can a national leader go against candidates that hail from his part of the country?” 

Really? Here’s a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, a former Finance Minister and a former presidential candidate, who garnered over 11m votes across the country. Yet, he’s reverting to tribal cocoons! Truth is, the struggle for domination is inconsistent with Yoruba’s federalist instincts and ‘omoluabi’ ethos. Insisting that it’s Yoruba’s turn in 2023 erodes these values. Yoruba elders must embrace equitable power rotation and shun politics of greed.

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