Lingering crises among Yoruba leaders threaten development in Southwest

About 60 years ago, January 1964, the late popular actor/musician, Hubert Ogunde, in one of his records titled: Yoruba Ronu, Otitokoro, urged Yoruba people to think, and that the truth is bitter.

The late musician advised political and socio-cultural leaders and elders of the region to reflect deeply on what Southwest stands for in Nigeria.

Ogunde made the call during the political crisis of the First Republic, when the founder of defunct Action Group (AG), the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his political foe, the late Chief Ladoke Akintola, were at parallel ends.

The lyric, however, generated controversy and earned Ogunde the wrath of Akintola, who was the premier of the Western Region. The Ogunde theatre company was subsequently banned in the region for two years. The ban was later revoked on February 4 1966 by the late Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, who took over power in January 1966, after the military coup.

The lingering leadership crisis of the apex Yoruba socio-cultural, political group, Afenifere, between the two nonagenarian elders, Pa Reuben Fasoranti and Pa Ayo Adebanjo.

Elders of the factionalised Afenifere are at loggerheads over leadership when their region produces the incumbent president, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The development is bringing to the fore, what Pa Ogunde warned Yoruba people against, 60 years ago.

Those that knew the depth of the face-off between Awolowo and Akintola and its implications to the Yoruba race are well aware of the psychological setback that the ongoing ‘hatred’ between Pa Fasoranti and Adebanjo and their followers, will bring to the Yoruba nation.

While Fasoranti and his loyalists in Afenifere believed that Tinubu should by all means get the support of Yoruba people being a Yoruba man, Adebanjo and his followers in the same, but now factionalised organisation, insisted that justice, equity and fairness deserved that the Southeast should have produced the President.

The Adebanjo faction from day one pitted its tent with the candidate of Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, who lost to Tinubu in the February 25 2023 presidential poll.

Some of the people who had made frantic efforts to broker peace between the two elders confided in The Guardian, saying, “it was a mission impossible. The parties are not only down to earth about what they stand for, they are also ready to place a curse on whoever they perceive to be against what they believe.”

One of the peacemakers, who chose not to mention his name but also in his late 80s, said, “I don’t want to be seen as taking sides but it’s not an easy task. The bitterness is so much and unhealthy to the course of Yoruba nation. Our traditional and religious leaders and elders must be willing to wade in.”

While the two elephants continue fighting the Tinubu administration is unable to put its policies right and the country is reeling in hardship, Yoruba Nation in particular.

One of the remote factors that encouraged the military to terminate the First Republic was the South West crisis. Although there are no seeming crises today, the ruling style and policies of Tinubu in the past eight months has brought more social and economic hardships to the country, which are even more prevalent in Yoruba land.

Tinubu (2nd left); Pa Reuben Fasoranti (middle) and other Afenifere leaders (including Chief Olu Falae) at Pa Fasoranti Residence in Akure, Ondo State.

While it is expected of Afenifere to close ranks and find a means of interfacing with other stakeholders to speak the truth to power, the nation and their region, the tussle for leadership position and ideology is setting them apart. As they continue to take a parallel position, insecurity and other manner of insurgencies are ravaging Yoruba land, such as the legacy of Awolowo, whose period of rule in the Western Region is always described as the golden era of Yoruba land.

Fasoranti and Adebajo kind of mudslinging is not strange to Afenifere, and its implications are not going to be new but the consequences of May have and for how long such consequences would last on the region is what no-one says if they continued.

During the Second Republic in 1979, a considerable number of Yoruba leaders turned their back against Chief Awolowo, while they pitched their tents with the defense National Party of Nigeria (NPN), which was dominated by core Hausa/Fulani.

It would be recalled that former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was then the military leader of the country was not favourably disposed to Awolowo, his fellow Yoruba ma becoming the president.

Ironically, Awolowo lost the election to the late President Shehu Shagari of NPN and by 1984 the Hausa/Fulani controlled military hegemony was back in power with former President Muhammadu Buhari as the Head of State.

Some scholars thereafter said the military dominated northerners deliberately initiated policies that later destroyed the legacies of Awolowo and the golden era of Western Region, which consequently set the region back.

Afenifere, a once united family and umbrella body of all Yoruba socio-cultural groups, founded by the late Chief Awolowo remained united until the Fourth Republic, and specifically 2003, when it eventually cracked into three factions because of political differences among its leaders.

Fasoranti emerged as the leader of what many consider as the main body of Afenifere, while late Pa Ayo Fasanmi, who died in January 2020, emerged as leader of the faction loyal to President Tinubu, who was the leader of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) then.

Mr. Wale Oshun has been the leader of Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), a group that emerged from the crisis as a supposedly neutral branch.

The three groups have operated alongside since 2003 with separate leaders, but with a common goal that is focused on restructuring Nigeria’s governance and operating system, until last year when Pa Fasoranti and Adebanjo, also parted ways because of Tinubu.

Where two elephants fight the grass suffers, their persistent face off among Yoruba leaders over ephemera and or ego matters has never helped the course of development of the region or Nigeria at large.

While the Yoruba nation believes Nigeria needs to be restructured to true federalism and returned to the 1963 Constitution, it has achieved less or nothing close to this just because its voice has never been one.

Even in 1999, when Obasanjo, an indigene of Ogun State became president under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the leadership of Yoruba nation are never together, not to talk of speaking with one voice to support or encourage Obasanjo or have a common agenda to present to their own for implementation or consideration.

Unfortunately, the eight years of Obasanjo ended without the region gaining much from it. The region eventually lost one of its best and the then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Chief Bola Ige, who was murdered.

Recall that Ige, who feel betrayed by the leadership of Afenifere during the Alliance for Democracy (AD) presidential primary held at D’ Rovans Hotel when Chief Olu Falae was elected as the flag bearer of the party for the 1999 presidential poll retaliated by serving under the Obasanjo’s government without approval of Afenifere.

One of the consequences of the irresolvable frictions among the Yoruba elders gave birth to Yoruba Unity Forum (YUF), headed by the wife Awolowo, the late Chief (Mrs.) Hannah Dideolu Awolowo, a few years back.

Yet, YUF could not bring the Yoruba socio-cultural and political leaders to a unity table.

The Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) also came up hoping to take on the course of the region but less could achieve it even till date.

Although later subsumed itself under YUF, it is now on its own.

Recently, YCE made frantic efforts to intervene in the fracas between the two nonagenarians but said it was perceived as an intruder.
The council lamented the imbroglio within Afenifere, saying it had tried five times to broker peace among the leaders but one of the factions was unyielding.

In a statement signed by its Secretary-General, Oladipo Oyewole, YCE said it had held four meetings in Ogun State and one in Ondo to resolve the matter but all to no avail.

Oyewole said that a side of the parties looked at YCE as intruders and the side tactfully kept the Yoruba elders at bay until the leadership was sacked last week.

He said the body needed to be stabilised, adding that the step was a diplomatic in-house restructuring. It, however, passed a vote of confidence on Adebanjo and Oladipupo Olaitan as leader and deputy leader respectively of Afenifere.

In a communique jointly signed by Pa Ayo Adebanjo and the publicity secretary of the organisation, Majaji Gboyega Adejumo, it said that the membership of the organization is clear and determined adding that it is not a socio-cultural of the Yoruba but reiterated that Afenifere is a socio-political organization base on the Awolowo’s school of thought.

“It ceases to be Egbe Omo Oduduwa since 1951 and has since assumed the status of a political party; Action Group and notwithstanding the shenanigans of the military in purporting ban of the organization as a political party.”

The communique further states that the highest organ of the organisation appreciated the untiring leadership of Adebanjo as the leader and Olaitan as Deputy Leader of Afenifere.

Perhaps, the position of YCE may have pitted it against other Yoruba groups of which about 120 of them endorsed Tinubu before the 2023 presidential poll.

The groups, which operate under the Alliance for Yoruba Democratic Movement (AYDM), shortly before February 25 2023, called on the Yoruba Nation to be united to move the country forward as the 2023 general election beckons.

The movement comprising over 120 Pan Yoruba groups, community based and civil society associations took a position to support APC and Tinubu, who they consider as the best for the people of the South-West.

The group has since ceased to speak especially over what Yoruba nation is currently passing through under the Tinubu led administration.

Another Yoruba group currently working at parallel line is the Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC).

The Yoruba militia body was founded by Dr Fredrick Fasehun to defend the cause of Yoruba people during the military regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida annulled the June 12 1993 presidential poll that was assumed to have been won by the late Chief MKO Abiola.

The congress was founded along with the incumbent Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland, Iba Gani Adams to defend the course of Yoruba people in the face of attack by Hausa/Fulani.

In 1999, it split into two after an irreconcilable misunderstanding between Fasehun and Adams and to bring peace, Adams was later named as national coordinator while Fasehun maintained the founder.

Unfortunately, the OPC of both factions has not been able to live up to the expectations of protecting Yoruba land and farmlands in the face of attacks by armed Fulani herders. Both factions agreed to restructuring of the country but it has not forged a common front to speak for the region in the last 24 years.

The closest time when Yoruba leaders tried to join forces was when former President Goodluck Jonathan convened the 2014 national conference. Almost all Yoruba leaders endorsed the idea except Tinubu and few of his followers, who argued that the former President simply used the conference as a bait to get a second term in 2015.

The union of Yoruba leaders, who had their first meeting in Ishara Ogun State at the late Pa Olajiwun Ajayi’s House was short-lived.

The Fasanmi led faction went with Tinubu, former Governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande, erstwhile Senator for Ogun East Senatorial District of Ogun State, late Otunba Olabiyi Durojaiye, former governor of Ogun State, Chief Segun Osoba and others. They supported the presidential aspiration of former President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 general elections as against the position of Fasoranti, Adebanjo, Senator Femi Okurounmu and others, who supported Jonathan. ARG was neither here nor there, but it maintained its position on restructuring.

The Fasoranti faction stuck to Jonathan because the former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate organised a National Conference in 2014 upon which he based his campaign to restructure the country if re-elected. But Fasanmi’s group vehemently supported Buhari on the premise that corruption epitomized the Jonathan administration, which they considered detrimental to Nigeria’s future and development. The Oshun group somehow maintained its neutrality and insisted on the need to restructure.

Another defining moment came in 2019 when Buhari sought re-election on APC’s platform in a contest against a former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, another candidate of PDP. It was expected that with failure of the Buhari administration, to restructure the country as it is contained in APC manifesto and other shortcomings that infuriated many Yoruba personalities, the Fasanmi group distanced itself from Buhari. Yet Fasanmi sided with Tinubu and others and still supported Buhari, while Fasoranti and others tilted towards Atiku, who also promised restructuring.

On June 25 2019, barely a month after Buhari was re-elected, Fasanmi led his faction of Afenifere went to present five demands to President Buhari at the Villa in Abuja. During the meeting, Fasanmi told the President that the five demands would assist in addressing the challenges facing the country. However, the President was not moved to adopt the counsel of the elders.

When the 2023 elections came, Fasoranti had already resigned and handed over leadership positions to Adebanjo as far back as 2021. The last general election was to change the narrative when Adebanjo as acting leader insisted that APC and or Tinubu could not be trusted to restructure Nigeria just as he said, Southeast cannot be treated as if it is not part of Nigeria. The Fasoranti faction kicked and wanted to remove Adebanjo.
Implications For Yoruba People

One of the major implications of the many leadership crises of Yoruba groups is the debased integrity it is creating for the region before other geopolitical zones.

It is not helping Tinubu just as it didn’t help Obasanjo between 1999 and 2007. The legacies of Awolowo have almost been eroded while the leaders are busy with ego fighting.

Nobody is checking the performances of representatives of the region at the national level both in the Senate and House of Representatives unlike in 1999 when an average lawmaker from the region sees Afenifere as a body to reckon with. Even today the governors of Yoruba nations hardly look at these leaders with modicum of respect.

When contacted, elder statesman, Bishop Ayo Ladigbolu said there is need to pray for Yoruba land for divine intervention. He particularly expressed worry over the rising spate of insecurity in Southwest, a region where other regions considered as safe haven in the past.

Moshood Salvador, a Yoruba stakeholder said the solution to the crisis among Yoruba leaders and the implications is not what could be discussed on the pages of newspapers but he lamented its implications on the region.

The Director General Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, Seye Oyeleye, said what is painful about the calamities befalling Yoruba land is the persistent pauperization of Yoruba people right in their lands by people of other regions.

He cited an example that in major markets today mist Yoruba traders have been side-lined in almost everything because most of them do not have capitals to trade with.

Another concerned Yoruba leader who didn’t not want his name mentioned said, “The annoying part is that many Yoruba leaders think about themselves and their children only to make noise on pages of newspapers. This is one of the reasons our governors hardly regard them.”

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