BY FESTUS ADEBAYO
In 1996, his car riddled with bullet holes inflicted by General Sani Abacha’s goons aimed at assassinating him, Yoruba Afenifere Leader, Senator Abraham Adesanya, had made a bullseye statement. That statement appeared to explain the raging furore among the leadership of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group today. Adesanya’s father had twenty children. He was the only one initiated into the awo secret cult by the older Adesanya. As such, Senator Adesanya was known to be highly fortified with the powers of his ancestors. It was a time when the demonic Nigerian state under Abacha sought to wipe out any dissent to its infernal rule. The then Lagos police commissioner had inspected the spatter of bullet holes on Adesanya’s car and concluded that no human being could have survived that assassination attempt. Alarmed and apprehensive of further associating with Adesanya, his driver, who survived the assassination attempt with him, had immediately eloped, sacked himself from Adesanya’s employ, fearful for his life. When told of his driver’s abscondment, Adesanya was said to have retorted in Yoruba that Omode lo’n se e. O ye ko mo wipe bi agbe o ba fo, omi inu re ko le danu – he is being childish; otherwise, he would have realized that if the gourd does not break, the water inside it cannot be spilled.
Last week, the gourd of Yoruba leadership broke – or was broken – and the water has since spilled like a burst cistern. The forceful break of the gourd however has a consistent tragic trajectory. The destruction of the gourd has a consistency in the recent hitorico-political tale of the Yoruba. The gourd was forcefully broken by the same evil dramattis personae, political merchants and vultures, who have consistently sought an option reminiscent of biblical Samson’s – to crumble a house that has proved impenetrable to their attempt to make it a house of Mephistopheles.
Since the founding in London in 1945 of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, the progenitor of Afenifere, by Yoruba leaders – Adeyemo Alakija, president; Yekini Ojikutu, vice president; Obafemi Awolowo, General Secretary and others like Akinola Maja, Oni Akerele, Akintola Willliams, Saburi Biobaku, Abiodun Akerele, D.O.A. Oguntoye, Ayo Rosiji and others – five persons have made futile attempts to destroy this Yoruba foremost leadership organization and its Afenifere mutation.
The first anvil of its destruction was Nnamdi Azikiwe. Though his attack on the leaders of the Egbe preceded its founding, the tribal tension in the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) was Zik’s – as he was fondly known – opportunity to sound a death knell on Egbe Omo Oduduwa, the first major attempt at unity by the Yoruba. The Egbe had huge prospects to unite these people who had, for centuries, splintered in discord like the seeds in a walnut pod.
In the February 1941 split in the NYM over the contest for the Legislative Council seat between Samuel Akisanya (who later became the Odemo of Isara) and Ernest Ikoli, erstwhile Daily Service editor, Zik and his West African Pilot newspaper pitched their tents with Akisanya. Yoruba leaders queued behind and voted for Ikoli. This generated further tension between 1946 and 1948 in the NYM, eventually and effectively leading to the death of this anti-colonial government movement.
Azikiwe didn’t hide his disdain for the Egbe and its leaders. Indeed, Egbe Omo Oduduwa had not been formally inaugurated by the time Azikiwe’s NCNC, in December 1947, sponsored protest demonstrations against it, using the editor of the Pilot, F. O. Coker, as the peg of the protest. Zik and his party, the NCNC, went on to form the Yoruba Federal Union (YFU) as a counterpoise to and as such, weaken the Egbe. This was at a time of growing solidarity among the Yoruba. Zik and his crew launched the YFU on June 12, 1948, at Glover Hall, Lagos but were so tactless as to make the speakers at the inauguration be Azikiwe himself, Mbonu Ojike, a known Zik apostle and columnist in the Pilot, as well as Oged Macaulay, a known Zik ally. The YFU however suffered the fate of all politically concocted contrivances – it faded out.
Zik would however not relent. Deploying a weekly newspaper called Ijebu Weekly Echo to achieve their aim, Zik and his group pilloried the Egbe headed by Sir Adeyemo Alakija. Bitter, crude and vulgar personal insults were splashed on them by Igbo, mainly residents of Lagos, using such words as “bane of our age,” “a nihilist, totalitarian, fascist organization,” as well as “dirty exhibition of egocentric stupidity, ethnocentric arrogance and capitalized idiocy” on the Egbe Omo Oduduwa. This was followed by an incendiary editorial comment in the Pilot of September 8, 1948, which said, “Henceforth, the cry must be one of the battle against Egbe Omo Oduduwa, its leaders at home and abroad, uphill and down dale, in the streets of Nigeria and in the residences of its advocates… There is no going back until the Fascist Organization of Sir Adeyemo has been dismembered.” Osita Agwuna, a leading Zikist, after his conviction for sedition, had written an open letter he entitled “To all the people of Nigeria and all Zikists” where he advocated attacks on the Egbe.
The second attack on the Egbe was led by the mercurial Adegoke Adelabu, an acolyte of Zik. Though his disdain for both Awolowo and the highly perceived Ijebu people-dominated Egbe was historical, the incendiary age-long intra-ethnic fissure and struggle for power between the Ijebu and the Ibadan was the peg. By the 19th century, Ibadan had become a very potent military force but its prowess was crippled by the embargo placed on the importation of guns and powder on their routes by the twin nations of Ijebu and Egba. Peeved, Ibadan, in the rainy seasons of 1877, matched out its military arsenal against the Ijebu and Egba, with the aim of forcing open their roads to the coast and conquer, as well as absorb, their territories into Ibadan. Unfortunately, this expedition failed and the Egba and Ijebu thereafter aligned with all enemies of Ibadan like the Ilorin, reflected in the treaty of 1886 signed to recognize the independence of the Ekitiparapo. Even after this, their mutual hostility continued. The Ijebu distrusted and feared the Ibadan. These pre-colonial polities and realities gestated into and found their way to the founding of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa.
Ibadan elites, preening themselves as warriors who would not play second fiddle to the Ijebu, rallied around to thwart the emergence of Awolowo as the modern-day dominant power. They created a counterpoise to the Egbe which they called Egbe Omo Ibile, Society for Native Sons, and appointed as leader, Adegoke Adelabu, The Ibadan Egbe later coalesced into the Ibadan Peoples Party (IPP) or the Mabolaje. The sub-ethnic threat from the IPP to Awolowo’s Egbe was so intense that, apart from the cross-carpeting of five IPP House of Assembly members to the side of the Action Group which ensured that Awolowo’s AG formed the cabinet in 1951, the IPP subsequently won the 1954, 1956 and 1959 elections. A death knell on the Ibadan advocacy however came in the commission of enquiry into the affairs of the Ibadan District Council which indicted Adelabu of financial malfeasance and eventually his death via car crash in 1958. This led to an intra-national uprising in Ibadan, with Mabolaje splintering into the Mojid Agbaje and Adisa Adeoye factions. Both groups however failed to muster enough opposition to the AG and Egbe Omo Oduduwa which eventually swallowed them.
Erstwhile editor of the Daily Service, a lawyer and polemicist who took up the newspaper’s editorship from Sese Ikoli, Chief S. L. Akintola, was the third architect of the plot to destroy Egbe Omo Oduduwa. Akintola had come into journalistic prominence by launching one of the most visceral attacks on Azikiwe’s claim of an attempted assassination on him. As editor of the Service, Akintola cut the ground from under the feet of Zik when he published the whole pamphlet alleging Zik’s assassination in one issue of the newspaper with the title, Assassination de luxe, price one penny. In the thick of the AG rump’s attempt to remove him as Premier, Akintola also formed a counterpoise to the Egbe Omo Oduduwa which he called Egbe Omo Olofin, Olofin being one of the cognomens of Oduduwa.
Named at first Egbe Omo Yoruba and later on, Egbe Omo Olofin, the major undisguised aim of the group was to finally destroy Awolowo who was by then serving a ten-year jail term in Calabar prisons. This Egbe was conceived by political arch-enemies of Awolowo and new converts who believed that his jailing had put a wedge on his relevance. Some of the coupists were the former Administrator of the Western Region in the Emergency year, Dr. M. A. Majekodunmi, who was personal physician to the Prime Minister; Chief H. O. Davies; some high court judges and traditional rulers. Some leaders of the Awolowo’s Egbe were also seen in the new Egbe, Members of the new Egbe then issued a press release where they castigated Awolowo after their maiden meeting held on January 3, 1964.
The fourth threat to the pan-Yoruba socio-political group came from a man known as the Arole AwolowoIo, Awolowo’s heir, Chief Bola Ige. His loss in the Wednesday, January 27, 1999, electoral college of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) held at the D’Rovans hotel in Ibadan threw up the messy tussle in the fold of the political children of Awolowo. At the end of the exercise, Ige got nine votes as against 14 for Chief Olu Falae. Since that election, Afenifere and the post-Awo leadership of Yorubaland have never been the same again. Though he disguised his roiling anger at the Ijebu Four – Olaniwun Ajayi, Ayo Adebanjo, Abraham Adesanya, and Pa Onasanya – with the claim that he was “gaudily joyful” at Falae’s emergence, Ige’s actions and utterances thereafter showed that he was poised for a fight with the mafia. One of the things he did was to get his long-time friend and fellow Ijesa Yoruba, Justice Adewale Thompson, to form the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) to rival and indeed factionalize Afenifere. Alajobi, a group headed by Bishop Emmanuel Gbonigi’s intervention couldn’t stop the derailment. After Ige’s assassination, the crisis metastasized, so much that Afenifere was broken into two factions, one headed by Fasoranti who had been handed the leadership of the group after Adesanya fell ill and Ayo Fasanmi, Ige’s friend. By the time of his assassination in 2001, Ige left a Yoruba land that was roiling in leadership crises.
The fifth threat to the Afenifere and the quest of the Yoruba is Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Using his singular win in the 2003 governorship election and the loss of his AD colleagues in the west as the propelling force, Tinubu immediately began what ostensibly was the reunification of Yoruba politics under his roof. It was however a veneer for his presidential and prebendal ambition. Deploying a huge war chest of resources of his Lagos State, he funded virtually all political activities in the region, literally heaving all his ex-AD governor colleagues, except Adebayo Adefarati, inside his pocket. By then, it had become clear to him that the Afenifere mafia who collectively ensured his emergence against Funsho Williams in 1999 would fight him to a standstill, having fallen out with him.
With all he had, Tinubu battled this Yoruba leadership hegemony, infiltrating their ranks and creating a counterpoise, the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG). At Fasanmi’s death, his group appointed Senator Biyi Durojaiye as Afenifere leader to further delegitimize Fasoranti’s leadership. When Durojaye also died, the Tinubu group appointed another Afenifere leader. With the support of his governor colleague, Bisi Akande, who had become his bag carrier, Tinubu dismantled the AD which was the most impregnable political base of the Afenifere socio-political group, formed the Action Congress, later with Atiku, and which, in 2013/2014, went into alliance with the ultra-conservative north to form today’s All Progressives Congress (APC).
In the build-up to the 2023 presidential election, there has been a frenetic scavenging by candidates for ethnic legitimacy as affirmation of their bids. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Abubakar, began the forage when he asked his kin at an Arewa event in Kaduna to vote for him. Being a northerner, he told them, he was the most suited to know where the shoe pinched the region. Southeast is already agog with Peter Obi. His presidential bid is almost an obsession for a region which sees in his presidency the first opportunity for a “highly vilified” Igbo stock to come back to the mainstream.
Until the Akure fiasco, Tinubu wore the Olusegun Obasanjo visor of 1999. In that year’s presidential election, a high chunk of Yoruba leadership openly disclaimed Obasanjo who was seen as a Yoruba enemy. This antagonism led to Obasanjo’s election by “outsiders”. Frustrated by the prospect of a repeat of the route Obasanjo trod, Tinubu’s desperation to procure Yoruba leadership legitimacy, no matter how crooked or brimming with fraud, becomes understandable.
His recent visit to the Akure home of Pa Reuben Fasoranti has been generating a lot of seismic comments. Like Michael Adekunle Ajasin and Abraham Adesanya before him, Fasoranti had ceded his headship of Afenifere to Adebanjo almost two years ago when it became clear that age would impede his leadership. This same Fasoranti was fought to a standstill by the Tinubu group whose goal was to make his leadership inconsequential. Most of the pilgrims with Tinubu to Akure were conscripts of the coup that unsuccessfully delegitimized Fasoranti and serially appointed renegade leadership for Afenifere.
Tinubu, acting as if coerced to go pay this same man a condolence visit after his daughter was brutally killed by Fulani herdsmen, literally urinated on the balcony of the Yoruba leader. In an attempt to deflect arrows shot at Muhammadu Buhari’s marauding, bloodthirsty kin, Tinubu had asked “where are the cows?” He similarly exhibited such conceit to highly respected Chief Olu Falae during the invasion of his farm by Fulani herdsmen.
The Akure pilgrimage was an abduction of 96-year-old Fasoranti by elements who spent over a decade undermining his Yoruba leadership. They took advantage of Baba’s advanced age and the suspicious company of turncoats who enveloped him to get Tinubu to reap where he did not sow. The coup reeked of corruption, abduction, and coldblooded execution of a most clinically infernal hijack of ‘power’ in Yoruba history. It was originally convoked by a group of hungry lay-about who went by the name Conscience of Yoruba Nation, a name reminiscent of a Babangida era ragtag military apologia crusade which was masterminded by a man who claimed to be driven by conscience but whose spineless interventions brimmed of a ‘conscienceless conscience’ even as he sought to grease his esophagus from crumbs that fell off Babangida’s table. In Akure, that Conscience of Yoruba Nation gathering was then criminally labeled with the mis-biology of an Afenifere endorsement of Tinubu.
The fraudulence of the whole enterprise was to be revealed when the coupists issued a communiqué, not under the conscienceless banner with which they invited conferees to Akure but Afenifere. Respected Prof Akin Onigbinde said that not only was the assemblage “essentially a gathering of chieftains of APC in the South West,” many of them couldn’t claim linkage to Afenifere nor did they attend its meetings in the last ten years. They were just interested in the spoils of dollars allegedly left after the disastrous show. They then added a disgraceful icing on the cake of the infamy when they concocted a Fasoranti claim that he had taken over the headship of Afenifere which he vacated almost two years earlier. This lie thrived for a few hours, landed with a thud thereafter and scattered into smithereens.
Instead of going through the futile attempt to abduct Afenifere and its leadership, I wonder why the group behind this penkele mesi – the offerees and offerors of legitimacy – did not deploy ARG for the legitimacy-hunting game; or simply create a brand new organization. That would have been neater in this last-minute tan’na w’ebi – grope in the dark for kin – that they are engrossed with.