Seventy years ago, Afenifere was formed by Yoruba leaders under the leadership of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
KUNLE ODEREMI profiles the major strides of the pan-Yoruba group, its trying moments and tasks in the coming years.
Sometime in 1951, a set of visionary Yoruba set out to create a new vista in the history of the ethnic nationality. They decided to plant a seed. It germinated and grew from being a little fig tree to a massive oak tree christened Afenifere. Those wise men included famous names that also formed the cornerstones of the Action Group (AG), the political party founded by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The AG was more than just a party with the aim to aggregate the opinions of people, acquire power for the purpose of proper, efficient and prudent resources management on behalf of the citizens. It broke records, pioneering many astounding feats, setting the template for good governance, purposeful leadership and model for party organisation, visionary thinking and an enduring philosophy.
The programme of the AG bolstered human capacity, functional education, agriculture, rural development and integration, as well as steady provision of public utilities and infrastructure across the defunct Western Region. Under the leadership of Chief Awolowo, those great thinkers, pragmatic politicians and statesmen created vast opportunities that fast-tracked the emergence of the region as the bastion of progressive politics evident in concrete structures, institutions and monuments that are phenomenal in the history of mankind. Those legacies include the first television station in Africa, Liberty Stadium, free healthcare and education; network of roads; rural transformation and access to public utilities and amenities in the region.
While those major strides attracted global recognition, admiration and acknowledgment, the visionary leaders behind the pioneering efforts soon became preoccupied with thinking on how to further ingrain the values and essence in the subconscious of the citizenry; how to make the people claim ownership of the process, the good work of their leaders; what they deserve and desire as human beings. The result of that serious, deep thinking and consideration by the leadership of the modern Yoruba Nation gave birth to Afenifere 70 years ago. And since then, the organisation has blossomed like the rose flower, shone brightly like a star in the sky, roared like a lion when necessary and waxed strong admirably universally, including in countries like Cuba, West Indies, Brazil, Togo, Republic of Benin, Haiti and the southern part of Ghana with considerable Yoruba roots.
Renowned educationist and nationalist, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, who recently stepped aside as Afenifere leader, recalled, with relish, those behind the vision seven decades ago. He said: “I joined Afenifere from inception with the following leaders of our race: Pa Solanke Onasanya, Alhaji Ganiyu Dawodu, Pa Abraham Adesanya, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Sir Olanihun Ajayi, Chief Sam Shonibare, Chief Bola Ige, Chief Wunmi Adegbonmire, and so on. The mantle of leadership fell on the late Pa Adekunle Ajasin and subsequently Pa Adesanya and then my humble self.”
Another foremost nationalist and political titan, who is the current leader of the organisation, Chief Adebanjo also gave a vivid account of the circumstances that gave birth to Afenifere 70 years ago. He emphatically said: “Afenifere is Action Group. When we started the AG in 1951, it was known all over. The West, being the catchment area of theAG, the Yoruba had difficulty interpreting what the AG was. So, we interpreted the welfare programmes of the AG of free education, employment creation, free medical care, integrated governance for the people to know and understand that the goodness we want for ourselves is what we want for them; that’s the meaning of Afenifere.
“The slogan of the AG was ‘Life more abundant’ and it is life more abundant that is translated to Afenifere. Even at that time, when people said the AG was a sectional party, it wasn’t so. On the basis of our philosophy for federalism, we were the only national party in the whole of the federation during the First Republic. The AG wasn’t a tribal political organisation. We were the only party that had representation in all the parliament of the country. We were the government in the Western Region. We were the opposition in the East led by S.G. Ikoku. We were the opposition in the North led by Alhaji Maito and these are areas of the minorities and we were the opposition at the centre led by Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola. No other party can claim that representation in that context, so how can a party be more national?”
The elder statesman said there was no controversy over the status of Afenifere on whether it is a socio-political or socio-cultural group. He declared: “Afenifere is a political party. By the time we won the majority of votes in the Western Region, and the opposition started saying we were a Yoruba party, that’s where they had the impression that the AG was a Yoruba party. It was never a Yoruba party. Egbe Omo Oduduwa was formed before the Action Group to unite the entire Yoruba. I was the secretary of Egbe Omo Oduduwa in Lagos in the 1950s before the formation of the AG, where I became the organising secretary. These are all I know. I didn’t read it in the papers. It was when Nnamdi Azikwe wanted to confuse our people that he said the AG was a sectional organisation; in what context? Our programmes of free education, free medical services and all that, which of these can you say is only for the Yoruba people? These are all propaganda. There is never a time we are cultural. We added culture for tactical reasons when Buhari took over and banned political parties. We clinched to Afenifere and said we are a socio-political and cultural group to avoid being banned because they didn’t ban Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF).”
Indeed, the precursor to Afenifere was the Egbe Omo Oduduwa founded by Chief Awolowo, the irrepressible sage and politician. He founded the body to fast track a sort of renaissance in the Yoruba nation, further inspired by nationalism and dynamism anchored on clear vision, exceptional character and enterprise. So, the birth of Afenifere was catalytic to the cause as it became the rallying point for the Yoruba. After the glorious transition of Awo in 1987, the Second Republic governor of Ondo State, the late Adekunke Ajasin, stepped in and piloted the affairs of Afenifere through turbulent times occasioned by a tyrannical military regime. Following his death, Senator Adesanya took over with the late Chief Bola Ige as deputy.
Purposeful leadership; Spartan lifestyle, vision and charisma are among the virtues that exalt its leaders from inception. The template was laid by Awo and sustained by subsequent leaders of the organisation. They do not only exhibit the capacity to provide true leadership but also display uncommon wisdom, tact, courage and doggedness in the face of aggression, intimidation and humiliation in the hands of state agents and the establishment. Thus, many of its leaders have had to pay the supreme price fighting against injustice; other compatriots maimed and their means of livelihood ruined by government through direct assaults or unfavourable policies and programmes. Yet, the leaders of Afenifere have remained tenacious in purpose, character of mind and courage in speaking the truth in the face of obvious threats to their lives. As Awoists, their creed is encapsulated in truth, rule of law, equity and democratic ethos.
Like every life endeavour, Afenifere has never been totally insulated from the vagaries of time. It has had its fair share of challenges arising from human foibles and idiosyncrasies. But, it has also been able to overcome them in order to forge ahead with greater vigour and gusto. On the daunting moments, a few instances will suffice. A schism among a few of its leaders manifested in a crack in 2008; a seeming splinter group. The Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) crept to the public space. The mainstream leaders of the body moved swift to fortify the union. So, in November 2008, they converged on Ijebu Igbo, Ogun State, ably led by Pa Adebanjo, to enthrone Chief Reuben Fasoranti as the group’s chairman. To stave off further acrimony, stabilise the ship, Chief Adebanjo announced that a meeting of Afenifere had been fixed for Ijebu-Igbo, in 2008, to ratify Chief Fasoranti as the new leader of the group. Another moment of trial was when Pa Fasoranti announced his resignation as the leader, due to a seeming cold war within. In a letter addressed to the secretary general, Chief Seinde Arogbofa, he recalled a brief history of the group from its formation in 1951 under the leadership of the late Awolowo.
Politics and Afenifere
Politics, which threw up Afenifere in 1951, seems the source of disputations in its fold. While the organisation remains the veritable rallying force for progressive politics, it is often a victim of the same business of politicking. Nonetheless, as an orgnaisation, it constitutes the face of opposition against tyranny, unpopular government policies and programmes, just as it articulates alternative measures capable of delivering quality leadership and good governance. Under the leadership of the late Chief Ajasin and the late Senator Adesanya, the group was in the frontline in the war against military tyranny. In the process, its leaders were molested, unjustly detained and exiled by the military. Yet, they stood their ground. The late Adesanya narrowly escaped, by a hair’s breath, assassination during the struggle.
Having been the arrowhead of the bitter and protracted struggle that led to the restoration of civil rule in 1999, Afenifere remained resolute in sustaining and adding value to the new era. Beyond acting as the staying power of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), the group championed the cause for restructuring and settling the National Question, the euphemism for those fundamental problems inhibiting national unity, stability and progress. It encouraged the elected politicians on the AD platform to initiate bills meant to serve the purpose in state Houses of Assembly in the South-West. Afenifere was also involved in endorsements during elections, eliciting ripples in a few circles. Despite the lofty gains, however, there were occasional clashes of ego and interests, resulting in cracks, especially due to intense politicking. Following the death of Adesanya in 2008, there was mutual suspicion within its ranks. The tide soon subsided; thanks to the political sagacity, native wisdom and brinkmanship of Chief Adebanjo, Chief Fasoranti, Chief Olu Falae, Chief Bisi Akande, Chief Michael Koleoso; Sir Olaniwun, Senator Femi Okunrounmu, Chief Seinde Arogbofa, among other chieftains of the organisation. In 2007, Afenifere floated a new party, the Democratic Peoples Alliance (DPA). The group also tried a number of alliances and collaborations in subsequent political arrangements, just as it moved briskly to remain a close-knit family. In a piece titled: Awolowo, Afenifere And The Yoruba People, an observer and stakeholder, Olufemi Tosin Aduwo, noted that the Yoruba acknowledge the structure of leadership and pay due allegiance to the constituted authorities. According to him, “Yoruba are intrinsically proud people who cherish their freedom and that long before the British King Charles literally lost his head in a revolt against intolerable oppression, the Yoruba had established a tradition for taming intolerable despots. Despotic kings were either forced to commit suicide or banished, the same is applicable to the modern day political opportunists.” That spirit lives on as it is concretised by pragmatic action by of Awo and his faithful in Afenifere.” Other main stakeholders similarly set a kind of agenda for the organisation as it journeys into the future. They are unanimous on the need for it to further galvanise the Yoruba ethnic nationality towards fully tapping into the abundant and diverse potentials of the people because, in the words of one of them, the “great feats of Awolowo were products of statesmanship, strength of character and discipline; he consulted widely with the intelligentsia, the academics and Obas before he took a position on any issue.”
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