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Yoruba Unity: Afenifere and its perpetual enemies

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Decades on, the Yoruba are yet to prize open the discomforting dichotomies and mixed messages hobbling the Family and provide a sustaining unity against the plague of our disunity that is yearly morphing into a Yoruba pandemic.

By Taju Tijani

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Jagaban’s visit to Pa Reuben Fasoranti has reopened the old wound of disunity among the Yoruba clan. Unity among the Yoruba is their only vexatious burden. It is a generational curse and becoming far more volatile as we sail close to the 2023 election. Bola Tinubu’s ‘assassination’ of Pa Fasoranti is more than a death blow to Pa Ayo Adebanjo. The silver bullet has ricocheted across Yoruba land and Afenifere is faced with yet another perpetual war with its enemies. One of such wars was documented below in 2010 by this writer. Some of the actors in the narrative below have died while many are alive.

Sociologist Robert Bellah once said that healthy nations must be communities of memory. In his book: “Restless Faith,” theologian Richard Mouw talks about the importance of remembering the lessons of the past. Twelve years ago, a protracted civil war broke out among the Afenifere trench dwellers.

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By the time the combatants emerged from their trenches, casualties have filled the morgue. Chief HID Awolowo, of blessed memory, was the political maverick and a sure totem of awe, adulation, wisdom, tradition and the old Yorubanised ethics of Omoluabi who brokered a peace deal to bring together the warring factions.

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In March 2010 when the rumble of disunity among the Yoruba Family was in high ferment, mama felt decidedly queasy about the dramatic disarray, gratuitous attacks, and the antagonizing temper of the race. To reconnect the radical with the neoconservative elements in Afenifere family, she floated a bridging group called Yoruba Legacy Forum. Personalities who guarded and guided the groves of Yoruba Legacy Forum then were Bishop Bolanle Oluyide Gbonigi, Archbishop Ayo Ladigbolu, Bishop Mo Fape, Femi Okunrounmu, Chief Tony Adefuye, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, Prince Segun Adesegun and Senator Suleiman Salawu.

Before the floatation of the new group, there were fiery denunciations, ideological quarrel, shaming innuendoes, and a grim suspicion that mama was delivering an expedient coup de grace on the original legacies of her husband – Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The injection of a new Christo-intellectual tradition grounded in a new radical vision of a practical reformist democratic platform of unity, offers a challenge to the radicals in the trenches. That capacious sense of unity being offered by mama in 2010 was meant to offer a common bond, encourage new conversation and new language of inclusion to accommodate all warring factions and create enlarged circles of elevated understanding that may eventually create mutual solidarity and trust which had been grossly lacking among the tribe.

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Solidarity, trust, and unity were the elusive values that even Papa Awolowo was unable to achieve. The question is this: are we ordained to remain disconnected as a family? What befuddles and sustains the ancient lie of disunity lies in the engine room of Afenifere. Afenifere to some is a misnomer as an umbrella of cohesion and unity for the Yoruba people.

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Before its elevated renaissance as a Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural behemoth, Afenifere was in earlier incarnation a political organization in Yoruba land. Through the arc of time, the fluidity of change and its relative advantage as a freethinking political platform for mainly Yoruba, Afenifere was forced to emigrate from its political status into an inclusive and racialised body for all Yoruba. Supporters then were mainly the Action Group but beyond the fabled omnipotence of Awo’s political authority, were rebels like Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya, Chief TOS Benson and Chief Richard Osuolale Akinjide who inhabited outer political fringe.

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For all its yawning defects, aberrations, and solidarity problem, the mainstream Afenifere remains an Awoist enclave with its own preserved mores, concepts, beliefs, and values. Also, mainstream Afenifere is aware of the collective passion of the rebels who are fond of lobbing grenades on its diluted tenets of pure Awoism which, today, is facing the new reality of Nigerian politics of consensus and corruption. Today, for instance, Chief Ebenezer Babatope and Alhaji Lateef Jakande, pillars of the clan, are honeymooning in ‘other’ political parties even though they are still temperamentally Awoist to the very core.

One of the political catastrophes of forces of modernity and the old Awoist was the cannibalisation of Alliance for Democracy at its very inception. Beyond any disputatious logic, Alliance for Democracy was a God-inspired progressive universe for fresh liberal ideology to take root. Its initial fault lines were so pervasive that it had to shipwreck through many trials and forged alliance with other parties until it ended up in the firm lap of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who, as a political talisman, resurrected and renamed it as All Progressives Congress.

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Till date, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and other fringe dwelling inhabitants of Afenifere are still nursing justified and commendable fury against runaway members of the Family who have desecrated true Awoism for political expediency, personal ambition, greed and short-term selfish interest. So, outside the insularity and phobia of the enemies of Yoruba unity is still a gaping feral culture that is relentlessly extending its leprous hands on the social and democratic renewal of the Yoruba race. Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the courageous NADECO warhorse, could not accommodate a radical hothead like Yinka Odumakin and thus, there was a mutual parting of ways that then led to Odumakin’s Afenifere Renewal Group.

Twelve years ago, Chief Adebanjo was embattled and disappointed that all rapprochement to align with Odumakin’s Afenifere Renewal Group for genuine cross-fertilisation of ideas were rebuffed. That gulf between the forces of progressivism and conservatism are still with us till date. What this writer witnessed 12 years ago was an indicting rendering of the micro politics of the internal divisiveness of the Yoruba and the wider macro politics of marginalisation of the race in Nigerian political life. Professor Banji Akintoye has orated and calibrated this thesis of marginalisation in many of his impassioned speeches for Yoruba nationhood.

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As said elsewhere, Yoruba unity should be a very urgent task if the new struggle of Prof. Banji Akintoye and the history-making benefits of our membership of Unrepresented Nations and People Organisation are to be realised. Twelve years on, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Olu Falae, Yinka Odumakin, Chief Bisi Akande, Chief Lateef Jakande, Chief Tola Adeniyi, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Bola Tinubu, Pa Reuben Fasoranti are all stubbornly watching the Yoruba being treated as second class citizen because they all refused to fuse and forge, through the furnace of compromises. There is no quest to reinvent the destroyed legacies and Omoluabi values of Chief Obafemi Awolowo both in political, social, educational, cultural and developmental terms.

We must rescue, reclaim, repackage, remodel, retool and reload the towering integrity, moral certitude, and the cohesive dream of an Awo unto a new narrative for a resurgent, proud, progressive, and independent Oduduwa nation of the future and of our dream. The race should be on for an Awo clone who will bring closure to our toxic disunity. Decades on, the Yoruba are yet to prize open the discomforting dichotomies and mixed messages hobbling the Family and provide a sustaining unity against the plague of our disunity that is yearly morphing into a Yoruba pandemic. The stakes for unity have never been higher. The race has begun!!! Let us not waste another moment!

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