WHILE all the adherents of the Awolowo were feuding, the dominant conservative coalition which had ruled Nigeria in one guise or the other since independence not only continued to dominate power, it also ensured the rolling back of most of the gains of the Awolowo era of leadership from the nature of the political organization of the country to the hitherto ascendant and popular social politics in the Yoruba states. Perhaps the greatest assault that the power phalanx visited on the country while Awolowo’s associates fought themselves was the sustained devastation of the federalist principles which constituted the strongest part of the ideas that Awolowo championed. Without federalism, Awolowo would have had no chance performing the feats in the Western Region for which he has come to be respected universally; without federalism, the ideas and practices of egalitarian rule that Awolowo exemplified would not have had any chance in late 1950s Nigeria or thereafter; without federalism, an equalized system of incompetent, unimaginative, and repressive rule and tunnel vision would have been nationalized and imposed on Nigeria from the late colonial era into the post-independence era – as it has now, tragically, with the help of some of those who claimed to be sustaining Awolowo’s legacy.
It was against the backdrop of the multipronged political brawl in the Awolowo political camp that H.I.D summoned all her husband’s old and young faithfuls to Ikenne in April of 2009. At the meeting, a reconciliation committee was set up “with a mandate to reconcile the three major groupings of Afenifere with all other progressive”. The “goals of the reconciliation was to facilitate the emergence of a unified voice for all political progressives, first in Yorubaland and subsequently throughout the nation”.
The coordinators of the meeting, including Bishop Gbonigi, Bishop M.O.Fape, Senator Femi Okurounmu, Senator Tony Adefuye, Chief Ebenezer Babatope and Prince Segun Adesegun, on behalf of H.I.D invited “all Awoists, progressives and Afenifere” to attend a meeting on Thursday, January 14, 2010 at Efunyela Hall, Ikenne. What emerged from the meeting was the formation of the Yoruba Legacy Forum which held its inaugural meeting at the Awolowos’ home in Ikenne on February 25, 2012 with H.I.D as the convener. In a manner that was designed to be reminiscent of the gathering of people of different political persuasions in Yorubaland where her husband was elected leader of the Yoruba in August 1966, H.I.D hosted leaders from across the various political parties, groups and religious organizations. She provided office space for the Forum’s secretariat in her Ikenne home.
According to OlagunsoyeOyinlola, the former PDP Governor of Osun State, who attended the meeting, those who attended saw the meeting “as a major step forward in the quest of the (Yoruba) race to speak with one voice….”
Continues Oyinlola, who has since crossed to the All Progressives Congress (APC), “We…. Went to the meeting with open minds, believing that Mama deserved our cooperation to cement the cracked wall of unity of the Yoruba…And we were not disappointed. From the onset, Mama Awolowo made it clear that what she wanted was a Yorubaland whose voice would be one respected in the context of the Nigerian nation….. We all agreed that it was time all bickering and recriminations that had held down the race were dome away with…. This was the spirit that gave birth to what was christened Yoruba Legacy Forum”.
However, this effort by H.I.D to ensure non-partisan unity was criticized by some, including a few who attended the meeting. One thread of the criticism was that some “reactionaries” responded to the fold. Some of those dismissed as “reactionaries” responded to the claim of legitimacy. Oyinlola, for instance, reaffirmed his bona fides by publishing a full page advertorial in Tribune which included the photograph of his late traditional ruler father who was a strong supporter of Awolowo’s Action Group. States Oyinlola: “I come from a family with a long tradition of progressive thinking. My father, Oba Moses OyewoleOyinlola had a very warm political relationship with the late sage, Awo. Indeed, Oba Oyinlola was Awo’s political pillar in OdoOtin District Council area through the 1950s”.
H.I.D also responded to insinuations that she was “hobnobbing” with non-progressive politicians through the YLG. When Senator Ibikunle Amosun visited her as the gubernatorial candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria in Ogun State, she said that she did not identify with any party and that “she would continue to maintain her neutrality as a mother of the nation”.She reminded Amosun that he came a few years earlier as the candidate of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) for the same position and she expressed a similar position. However, she emphasized that she only belonged to the Yoruba Unity Forum (EgbeIsokan Yoruba) – the new name of the Yoruba Legacy Forum.
Despite the attitude of the leadership of the newly-dominant party in Southwestern Nigeria, the ACN, which later merged with other parties to form the All Progressives Congress (APC), the Yoruba Unity Forum (YUF), AS THE “UMBRELLA BODY FOR ALL Yoruba socio-cultural organisations in Nigeria and the Diaspora” continued to work towards the projection and protection of the interests of the Yoruba under the leadership of H.I.D. The Forum reached out to other groups across Nigeria to establish agreements on “how to move Nigeria forward”.
For instance, in December 2012, YUF hosted the leaders of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) led by Alhaji Aliko Mohammed in Ikenne. In a joint communiqué issued by the two groups after the meeting, YUF and ACF called “for the convening of an urgent national dialogue to tackle the current frightening challenges facing the nation”. They noted that “such dialogue was a matter of utmost priority in order to address some fundamental issues that were impeding national unity and progress”.
In February 2013, H.I.D as leader of the YUF “Warned that the Yoruba must not play a second fiddle in the next political dispensation”, that is the government that will come to power after the 2015 elections.
When the APC won the presidential election in March 2015, the YUF congratulated Muhammadu Buhari and his running-mate, Yemi Osinbajo, H.I.D’s grandson-in-law. In a statement singed by her, her deputy, Bishop Gbonigi, and the secretary-general, Tony Adefuye, the YUF appealed to Buhari to “carry all Nigerians along in the new dispensation as the hopes and aspirations of our people are very high and we pray you will fulfill these expectations”.
“What will I tell Papa?” is a recurrent question that H.I.D asks when she was confronted with a challenge for which she thinks she will have to account to her husband when they meet. It is her fervent belief that she and ObafemiAwolowo will be united again when she dies. She intends to have a good account for her meticulous man for whom she has lived eight decades of her adult life.
Two years before ObafemiAwolowo died, in an interview marking her seventieth birthday, H.I.D said that “(a)bove all, long life is what I am praying for”. She got her wish……
TO BE CONTINUED
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