Mr. Yinka Odumakin is the Publicity Secretary of Afenifere. He spoke on the crisis of Afenifere, how Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) was established and why he left. He also discussed the need to restructure Nigeria. SEYE OLUMIDE reports.
Q• Is there any hope that the crisis in Afenifere would be resolved, at least in the interest of Yoruba nation?
A• In retrospect, the crisis in Afenifere started from 1998, when the ban on politics was lifted and its leaders, who fought gallantly in the struggle against the late Gen Sani Abacha’s military government and the restoration of democratic rule in Nigeria were hurled into the transition they never prepared for.
Having come from the trenches, it was a transition for the principled commitment to the fight to liberate Nigeria from the clutches of late Gen. Abacha and handing over of the fruit of the fight to a bunch of opportunists that did not share the founders’ vision, but simply wanted to use Afenifere and NADECO platforms to advance their selfish course.
The opportunists were very smart to have realised then that for anybody to do anything in Yoruba land, especially politics wise, there was the need to go through Afenifere, because the group leaders had proven themselves, and people believed them as leaders who could lead them at the most difficult period in the country.
Those were the days when you visited Pa Abraham Adesanya’s residence in Apapa Lagos, and you would see credible personalities sitting inside the drainage just to have papa’s attention. But I think the mistake the organisation’s leadership made then was to have thought most of the people around them shared similar vision.
I remember when the 1999 election was on, majority of those that secured governorship tickets and other political offices were not those raised in the proper Afenifere tradition. They simply took the caps and put them on.
Unfortunately, Afenifere leaders also allowed the so-called democracy to prevent them from seeing through those surrounding them, because if they had insisted on the type of people they wanted in each state, I don’t think anybody could have done anything about it. After all, the late Bola Ige did it in Oyo and Osun States.
Chief Bisi Akande, former governor of Osun was not in the race at all. We were in Ijebu Igbo when they asked all those wanting to be governor to step out, and Chief Akande didn’t indicate interest.
He was just siting down before Chief Ige shouted at him, “Bisi won’t you go out?”
There were frontliners with resources who were aspiring to be governors during Abacha’s time. I don’t think Chief Akande could have spent N100,000 of his money to contest for the governorship of Osun State in 1999.
The same thing happened in Oyo State when Chief Ige stepped in and Chief Lam Adesina became governor of the state. I think Afenifere leaders simply allowed democracy to operate.
While Afenifere leaders thought in 1999 that they were being altruistic, wanting to bring everybody together around their agenda, with the aim to usher in democracy and push for restructuring, they went round the states to pass resolution on restructuring, but they never knew there was a small group under them, which had a plan to supplant Afenifere and come up with its own agenda.
When the leaders were busy planning for the transition and thinking about restructuring and Yoruba interest, the small group was behind the stoppage of Bola Ige from becoming AD presidential candidate. So, this small group innocuously planned Ige’s defeat and loss to Chief Olu Falae.
The same people who facilitated Ige’s defeat moved to his side to fight Afenifere leaders. The group’s aim was to destroy what the old men stood for. We had all kinds of crises in AD, which led to the split of the party, and we had to spend almost four years settling the crises. I was secretary of many committees.
I remember that the last effort was the committee set up under Chief C.O Adebayo from Kwara State. Jimi Agbaje, Bayo Adenekan, Gen Alani Akinrinade and myself met Chief Ige in his house at Ibadan few days before he was killed. We went round and it was crisis upon crisis, whereas this small group had a plan and was working towards realisation of its agenda.
I remember when Ige was killed, it became so bad that even during his funeral, these people would not allow a proper funeral. An empty casket was brought to Lagos.
Ige’s body was not in the casket and they never allowed the casket to be brought to Afenifere’s secretariat at Jibowu, where the leaders were waiting to pay him the last respect.
Members of the tiny group felt relieved that since Ige had gone, they could then battle the rest of the elders to a standstill. That was how the crisis continued, to the extent that we now had factions of AD with one under Chief Bisi Akande and Chief Akinfenwa as National Vice Chairman.
There was another error. In the process of resolving the crisis, Pa Adesanya became ill and I could say it was the crisis that killed him. It was in the course of reconciliations that he developed stroke and he never recovered till his death.
On January 4, 2004, we had a stormy session after which the crisis became fierce between Akinfenwa and Akande. I think the mistake Afenifere leadership made was not to see through what was going on. They didn’t see it as a winnable battle and some of us following them said we couldn’t continue this way.
Afenifere leaders said they would recognise Akinfenwa, but we that belonged to the younger generation warned them that they were not the electoral commission that would recognise anybody in the first instance. But they went ahead to recognise Akinfenwa, which made some us to pull back. But that error was an innocent one, because we later learnt that there was a gentleman in Lagos, Alhaji Rafiu Jafojo who was selling a dummy that once every leader takes a side, that side would be recognised by the electoral umpire.
When the crisis continued unabated, it was in the process that some of us that had been scattered in different directions, due to the crisis now decided on what to do.
In 1999, we had some of the most promising, talented and organised Yoruba people. We had a vibrant committee headed by Chief C.O Adebayo and Agbaje was the secretary, but in the course of the crises, they all scattered in different directions.
In the process, discussions started among the younger generation. We started talking, and people like Agbaje, Wale Oshun, Ayo Afolabi and myself and the rest of us that what do we do. We couldn’t continue any longer. We had to invite other people of like minds to come on board, and that was how the idea of the Ibadan IITA Retreat came up. It was a three-day event. We had different sessions, and the event was graced by (now) Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Kola Awodehin, among others.
On the last day of the conference, we concluded that we should invite our leaders and use the opportunity to bring them together to resolve the crisis, so that we could all come together and start afresh. We never realised that the forces we were contending with are very strong and already had plans.
The meeting went well, but something happened: While Pa Olaniwun Ajayi was talking, he said, ‘you younger people, I want you to know that no amount of clothes a young person has, he cannot has the number of rags an elder has.’ This means younger people can never have as much experience like the elders.
After he finished speaking, Baba Akande came forward and said, ‘young boys and girls, I wouldn’t want to wear rags. Please, get me some of the new clothes that you have.’ Thereafter, an altercation ensued among Chief Ajayi, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Akande and others, to the extent that the meeting ended on a sad note.
We returned to Lagos and we started meeting at Bisi Adegbuyi’s Event Centre at Magodo, where we reasoned we would use that retreat to reconcile all the warring factions.
It was Mr. Babafemi Ojudu who asked how long we would continue to try to reconcile elders who are not ready to embrace peace. He also asked how old were the likes of Chief Awolowo who became premier of Southwest region? He then said we should do something different. He said when the elders see that we are moving on, they would have a rethink.
It was there we decided to work together. I remembered that Jimi Agbaje asked us if we were really ready for the task and Ojudu asked him what he meant by that.
Indeed, we were to take a different name, but some of us insisted we should take Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), so that when the elders see that we are moving on they would align. It was an agreement among us to renew the whole Afenifere project, and that was how we launched ARG.
We started and were moving on, but after some months, we had a meeting at Magodo and a decision came up that we should have a political agenda in order to have a sense of direction. I still remember that it was Honorable Oshun, who asked why we were addressing the issue; he said we belonged to ACN. But I said no, some of us do not belong to ACN. That was the first signal that things may not be what we thought.
The final straw that made me walk away from ARG was when we went to Ekiti State to support Governor Kayode Fayemi, who was contesting for the state governorship.
The event coincided with the time Bola Tinubu rebuilt Adekunle Fajuyi House. On that very morning we were in Ekiti, I opened the Nation Newspaper and saw a full-page advert that said, ‘we thank our leader Bola Ahmed Tinubu for rebuilding Fajuyi’s House.’ It was signed by ARG. As the publicity secretary, I turned to Oshun and asked who placed the advert because I was seeing it for the first time.
What brought about my action was that when we came out as ARG, people felt we were an offshoot of Tinubu and I had to do a lot of talking to convince people against such belief.
At that point, I decided to leave. But some of our colleagues pleaded with me to stay and I decided to wait till we returned to Lagos. At our next meeting, I was expecting that the issue would come up but it didn’t. It was there and then that I left ARG.
We started with an altruism agenda to rebuild and renew, but along the line, some interests took over what we were doing. This was after assuring the public that ARG is independent.
At that point, I made up my mind to reconcile with the elders because I couldn’t continue to live with ARG’s deception. All that has happened in Yoruba land from 1999 to date is to supplant that idea of collegiate leadership in Yoruba land where leaders can take decision.
For instance, in those days, Yoruba leaders used to travel to Ijebu Igbo where serious decisions were taken in the interest of Yoruba people. Governors and other public officers used to travel to Ijebu Igbo and I think it is this some people planned to supplant in the Southwest.
In the last 10 years or there about, can you say the Yoruba leaders have held the kind of meeting they used to hold in Ijebu Igbo or in Pa Abraham Adesanya’s house? There has never been a meeting held in the last one decade or more, where issues of Yoruba agenda was discussed at length or put on the table. They introduced alien politics into the Yoruba nation, where the few men in charge are doling out money and the rest follow them like paupers.
Q• At what point did the Afenifere crisis become Tinubu’s war?
A• I wouldn’t like to mention anybody’s name, but that is one of the misconceptions that were deliberately created to mislead people.
Some of the people that were touted as Ige’s supporters were not actually his faithful. They had a clear agenda to divide the old men, rubbish Afenifere and set up their own political hegemony.
Ige and Falae were merely used as tools in the hands of the cabal to scatter the old men, supplant Afenifere and raise an alien politics in Yoruba land. Now we have few rich individuals in control.
Q• But the old men were regarded as being too rigid to be reconciled, which is considered a serious setback for Afenifere…
A• That is another lie they are selling to the public. Like I said, I don’t want to mention names, but I will have to by asking a question.
In the first place, who made Tinubu to become Lagos State Governor? It was Chief Adebanjo’s signature that the electoral umpire recognised. If Chief Adebanjo did not sign that paper in 1999, which was taken to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Tinubu wouldn’t have become the governor.
If Afenifere had insisted that Ganiyu Dawodu be used as the AD’s candidate, who would have stopped them? Even when APC wanted to finish Tinubu, it was this same old people that cried out for him.
Q• So, what is the hope of Yoruba nation if Afenifere that is supposed to be its hope is currently in disarray?
A• Afenifere is not in disarray. It is the Afenifere ideas that the Yoruba are talking about, and you could see it in the last presidential election, despite all the billions the ruling party invested in the Southwest to win election, you could see what the result is. You saw what happened in Oyo, Ondo, and Lagos States. As we talk, there are yet un-collated results in Lagos.
Clearly, the Yoruba have not jettisoned what Afenifere stands for. The demand for restructuring is still very strong despite manipulations to sweep it under the carpet. There are forces that want to destroy the Yoruba legacies and they are working against what Yoruba want and they have been working against agitation for restructuring because of their political ambition, but the race is too much more advance for their agenda.
Q• But the forces your are talking about have been in control of Southwest politics in the last 20 years…
A• What have they achieved? What development have they brought to the region? In the area of education, rather than the Southwest progressing, it is retrogressing. In the past, a Yoruba man or woman hardly begged, but today, you see a Yoruba man or woman begging on the street. Under the same people, Oyo and Osun States couldn’t run Ladoke Akintola University.
The region has retrogressed. What they are doing is to put money in the hands of their cronies. What is the essence of a Vice President from the region when the occupant of the position is now a glorified Baba Oloja, who is going all about to distribute Trader Money to campaign?
Q• Is it not possible for ARG and Afenifere to come to a meeting point on the restructuring subject if the need is in Yoruba people’s interest?
A• The issue is, anybody that talks about restructuring and welcomes the idea is accepted, but as long as this present system continues, there can be no future for this country and genuine forces that can see beyond this nonsense would come together very soon.
Q• What are the chances of such forces coming together in the present situation?
A• The process is already on ground. Nigerians cannot continue to live like this. We have to agree on some fundamental issues and on the terms we want to live together.
Q• What are the likely consequences if Nigeria is not restructured in the next decade?
A• I don’t see this country lasting for another decade if it fails to restructure. We cannot continue this way. There is frustration and misery. Presently, we are spending a substantial part of our wealth to service debt. We are talking about next level of diseases, hunger and others.
For instance what represented Yoruba interest in the Atiku/Obi presidential ticket was the promise to return Nigeria to true federalism. What is the essence of the vice president and super minister compared to the Yoruba autonomy we are talking about?
Q• Do you think an average Northerner could be trusted with restructuring?
A• Atiku is not just mouthing restructuring the way APC is doing. At the 1994 Abacha Conference, Atiku was the Chairman of the Committee on Devolution of Powers. I urge you to go and read the report. Atiku has been talking about restructuring over the years.
On whether we can trust the north to implement restructuring, I will say that the North is part of Nigeria and the North benefitted immensely when we had federalism, when every region were developing at their own pace. The North of Nigeria was then producing 675,000 metric tonnes of groundnut annually. The money was then going into the pocket of the average northerner and that is why the kind of poverty you find in the North today was not that common at that time. Today that we practice sharing of oil money, it is only the rich that are benefitting. The North needs restructuring more than the South. If you look at the mineral map of Nigeria, you will see that the kind of resources down the soil of the North is amazing so the restructuring that we are talking about is for the benefit of the whole country not for the benefit of a particular section. Restructuring is to free the country from the stranglehold of misrule pervading the country now. There is no other person better suited to preach restructuring to the North than a northerner.
Q• Restructuring requires more of the legislature amending the constitution than executive fiat and it is on record that it is the senate that rejected the devolution of powers during the clause by clause debate at the last attempt at constitution amendment in June 2017?
A• What happened was that, at that time there was so much misunderstanding and misinformation on what restructuring would do to the country. I think the South-West and South-East Forum met immediately after the constitution amendment exercise and we had meetings with representatives from the North. In fact, Senator Adamu Aliero from Kebbi State was the one that explained that the North would benefit from restructuring because most of the rice that came under the LAKE rice project between Lagos State and Kebbi State came from his own farm. He explained that there were misconceptions on what restructuring was all about. However, today there is awareness that restructuring is for the benefit of every section of the country and that we will do better as a country if we restructure. It is also when every section of the country is allowed to develop at their own pace that we will no longer be the world’s headquarters of poverty.
It is because of lack of development in the country that there are agitations that the candidate must come from this or that area.
In the First Republic when we had a federal system, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sarduana of Sokoto chose to be Premier of the Northern Region and asked his lieutenant, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Belewa to be Prime Minister of Nigeria because powers and responsibilities were vested in the regions. I think the focus of the South-South, South-East, South-West and indeed every part of Nigeria should be to have a paradigm shift and understand that it is not because the president or vice president come from my area that development will come to the area.