Journalism in the service of society

Of Afenifere and Yoruba interests

“A presidential candidate – any one – whose political base is Yoruba land, will fight that battle like the deaf and dumb! No one stirs the hornets’ nest or steps on a cobra’s tail and walks away free!”

THE squabble between two illustrious Yoruba sons over the leadership of the socio-political group called Afenifere and the consequent endorsement of this or that presidential candidate is as worrisome as it is unfortunate and embarrassing. Worrisome because if gold rusts, what will silver do? Unfortunate because it could have been avoided with a little bit of tact on both sides; and embarrassing because Yoruba elders are not allowed to tug at each other in the open, no matter the circumstance and whatever the level of provocation. If elders dance “langba-langba” in public, how do we excoriate younger elements who misbehave? But only a nincompoop or political neophyte will say he did not see it coming! The moment one of the elders not only openly endorsed a presidential candidate but kept rubbing it in, we needed no soothsayer to tell us that the target of that provocation will fight back.

For sure, everyone has a right to adopt a candidate of his choice, declare so openly, canvass support for the candidate, and, on the day of election, file out to vote for the candidate if he so desires. These are constitutional as well as fundamental human rights which no one may abridge, especially in a supposed democratic setting such as ours. So, the elder statesman who declared his support for the Labour Party presidential candidate is eminently qualified to do so. It is his constitutional and fundamental rights which no one may deny him. However, I have issues with the way he went about it.

Firstly, he was vociferous and truculent, making his choice of presidential candidate a counterpoise to the aspiration of a specific candidate out of many, and rubbing it in at every opportunity, thereby giving the impression he was determinedly doing more than exercising his fundamental and constitutional rights. He engaged in scantily-concealed opposition and adversarial politics, ceaselessly digging at a clearly identifiable presidential candidate to the consternation of many. Can this, then, be personal, far above the exercise of rights? And should we excuse, even applaud or hail, such venomous, strident tongue-lashing of a once-upon-a-time political associate by an elder whose speech, in the Yoruba time-honoured culture, must necessarily be seasoned, measured and tempered even under provocation?

Secondly, the elder made it clear that he acted not only in his personal capacity but also – or, better still, more so – as the leader of Afenifere. The importance of this is that Afenifere in times past was the generally recognised mouthpiece and political compass of the Yoruba as a people. Afenifere led the way and the Yoruba followed; the earlier leaders of the organisation, most especially the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, having carved a niche for Afenifere by virtue of the life of sacrifice and service they lived and which the vast majority of the Yoruba people recognised, appreciated, and reciprocated with unqualified and undiluted loyalty. Thus, whoever led Afenifere was the undisputed political torch bearer of the Yoruba. With politics in the air, there is no way an implacable foe can adorn himself in the Afenifere toga without his opponents finding all means possible to de-robe him. Any Afenifere leader seeking to cede Yoruba to a non-Yoruba person need not be told to get ready for a helluva of a battle. A presidential candidate – any one – whose political base is Yoruba land, will fight that battle like the deaf and dumb! No one stirs the hornets’ nest or steps on a cobra’s tail and walks away free!

Thirdly, the elder statesman did not stop at saying he leads the Afenifere but went two steps further to say that the Afenifere represents Yoruba and their interests and that those interests as far as the 2023 presidential elections are concerned, are for them to support an Igbo presidency! The Yoruba, he said, should vote for an Igbo presidential candidate as against their own son. He gave his reasons: That it is the turn of the Igbo to rule Nigeria. Since, in his view, the other major ethnic groups in the country (including the Yoruba, in his opinion) have been opportune to bear rule with the exception of the Igbo (again, in his view), then, it is the turn of the Igbo to rule the country in 2023. Fair, he said, is fair. Igbo lo kan, to borrow from Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu! The moment the elder statesman embarked on that journey, I knew something will give. Had he spoken in his personal capacity, there possibly would have been no reaction but to speak as Afenifere and Yoruba leader and to point the Yoruba electorate in the direction of an Igbo presidential candidate – he failed to heed the warning issued by Aare Dele Momodu to the Group of Five PDP governors doing battle with their presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar! He crossed the line!

The reaction that followed was audacious and momentous as it made to strip the Igbo-supporting elder statesman of his Afenifere leadership. His legitimacy was called to question. The pedestal on which he stood was violently shaken under his feet. Pronto, a “new” Afenifere leader surfaced who gave the much-needed blessing and assurances that the aggrieved son-of-the-soil presidential candidate sorely needed. How they pulled off that stunt should enter into the Guinness Book of Records! Here was an Afenifere leader whose beloved daughter was gruesomely murdered by Fulani herdsmen a few years back. And here was a politician with scantily-concealed presidential ambition who went visiting the bereaved man ostensibly to condole with him but who, deliberately or otherwise, added insult to injury by asking, “Where are the cows?” Yes, the murderers have been brought to book! Yes, time heals all wounds! Yes, money answereth all things as the scripture says! Which of these is applicable here or shall we look in the direction of Shakespeare who says hell hath no fury as a woman scorned?

I dare to say that an ex-leader not consulted on an issue as crucial as drumming support for a presidential candidate can decide to throw spanners in the works. Did the Afenifere leader promoting the candidature of an Igbo presidential candidate consult widely before embarking on that adventure? Was his predecessor taken into confidence? An ex-leader left him in the dark – and possibly also out in the cold – needed to keep himself warm, if you understand what I mean! As it turned out, it was a costly oversight that set two old political associates on a collision course in a “do-me, I do-you” fashion. Remember “If you Tarka me, I Daboh you” of yore? Politics has a way of bastardising issues and politicians can waltz their way through saints. Therefore, rather than pillory anyone, we warn politicians to get their dirty hands off our venerated elders!

Now, is it true that the Igbo have never ruled Nigeria? Nnamdi Azikiwe was Governor-General at independence in 1960; in 1963 when the country became a republic, Zik was its first (ceremonial) President. Zik wanted it that way because he had the offer of Prime Ministership, which wielded effective power, laid on his table by Awo before he chose to kow-tow to the Fulani and accept the ceremonial presidency stuff. So, next time you come across the post: Who handed over Nigeria to the Fulani? The answer is not “the British”; Zik did! JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi, Nigeria’s first military ruler, was Igbo. This is not to say anything about the “lost” son the Igbo allegedly shares with the Yoruba! Zik stood resolutely against the position of Awo and Ahmadu Bello to have a secession clause inserted in the country’s 1960 Constitution. Unfortunately, the Igbo were the same people who turned around to insist on secession seven years down the road, fighting a three-and-half year civil war for it but losing in the end. The first military coup led by an Igbo officer, Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu, and dominated by Igbo officers with a solitary Yoruba officer (Major Adewale Ademoyega), gave birth to Aguiyi-Ironsi (Igbo) who destroyed the country’s federal system and introduced the unitary system of government that has been the bane of good governance, peace and security in Nigeria till date.

On several occasions Yoruba leaders had initiated the much-trumpeted handshake across the Niger but Igbo leaders spurned it. Awo did repeatedly. MKO Abiola also did. The Yoruba have done their bit! If the Igbo have not been fairly treated in Nigeria, which is debatable, the Yoruba cannot be held responsible for it. Times without numbers, Igbo leaders chose to go up North to align with Arewa. In 1993, MKO Abiola won all over the country except in Igbo land. So, it should be stated loud and clear that the campaign of “fair is fair” or “Igbo lo kan” should not be targeted at the Yoruba. Let the Igbo leaders themselves first atone for the “sins” of the past by stretching their hand of fellowship across the Niger to the West, not to grab but to give! Scripture says: “Give and it shall be given unto you…!

As we close: The Afenifere of today is significantly different from the Afenifere of yore. Any politician needing the votes of the Yoruba will have to approach them directly. Gone were the days when the Afenifere and its leaders warehoused the votes of the Yoruba nation. If anyone sells you that dummy these days and you buy it – Bad market!

  • Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of The Westerner newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in the New Telegraph newspaper. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.

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