Few years ago, mere pronouncements of Afenifere, a Yoruba socio-cultural group had serious effects on both the national polity and in global affairs. The name ‘Afenifere’ was an attraction to national dailies as many of them struggled to adorn its stories on segments of choice; as the front and back pages or even the centre spread.
The organisation could just not be ignored for any reason, both because of its principled stance and glowing values.
Then, whoever was the denizen of Aso Rock was always mindful of the take of the Afenifere before presenting a policy statement or taking a policy measure. Not even the iron-willed Olusegun Obasanjo could ignore the organisation.
For instance, in 2000, after AD had won the governorship election in the six states in Yorubaland, many actually believed Afenifere had succeeded in the battle to keep the honour and integrity of the Yoruba race intact.
But just within a span of a decade, some people in the Afenifere somehow made a mess of the enviable and referred position and eventually lost it irretrievably.
It is therefore not surprising that most Yorubas rejected the organisation and its stand when in 2015, the once influential Pan Yoruba socio-cultural group asked the highly politically sagacious kinsmen to support former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Having surveyed judiciously and reviewed the position of the so-called Elders, they decided to play their politics towards national relevance.
The other dependable Yoruba elders maintained that it had never been the way of the tribe to go cap in hand to demand for what appropriately belongs to them. And that was exactly what the Afeniferes subscribed to during the 2015 election.
The open endorsement of Jonathan was criticised by some section of the Yoruba who believe Afenifere must remain a non-political organisation that it had been. But Afenifere asserted it took the decision to endorse Jonathan in good faith and in the overall interest of the Yoruba nation.
They anchored their support principally on the high possibility of implementation of the resolutions of the National Conference. Of course, they largely benefited from the largesse of the National Conference which all but one of their governors never supported.
Time has, therefore, come for the Afenifere to retrace its step before the group becomes a pariah one losing all its respect and relevance. The members need not liken their fortune to Mokúṣeré who jokes and plays with death- when it dies in the morning, he resurrects at night; for the Afenifere may not have opportunity to rise again.
As a Yoruba saying goes, one cannot be decorated with the title of an eagle and still be incapable of snatching chickens. The Afenifere members have repeatedly shown that old rivalry rather than the interest of the Yorubas remain their focus.
While the money collected by the Afenifere from Jonathan during presidential campaign was deemed abominable, the recent mind boggling revelation of N100,000,000 involving Chief Olu Falae, one of the most revered leaders of the group in the 2.1 billion dollar DasukiGate is indeed reprehensible.
The Afenifere political artlessness was epitomised by their opposition to the political calculations of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
While the long history of the clash between the two is outside the purview of this piece, it is noteworthy to note that Afenifere’s opposition to APC alliance with other independent forces within and outside the Senate and House of Representatives was indeed suicidal.
One will recall that while Tinubu himself was convinced about the efficacy of his political tactics for the Yorubas and Nigeria at large, it took enormous courage of even his admirers to embrace Tambuwal choice on its face value as it seemed a disadvantage to the Southwest to which the PDP had zoned the position speaker after 2011 general election.
The recriminations that followed were fearsome and unrelenting for more than four years. Asiwaju was blamed for every problem in the western region, particularly regarding deliberate and orchestrated marginalisation of the Yorubas by former President Jonathan.
In their own tactics, Afenifere did not only bitterly oppose the CAN and denounce Tinubu’s formula, they also made a turn around to support the same architect of the acclaimed woes.
In their political naivety, even as they alleged that the Yorubas were being marginalised by a candidate from the South South Region with strong support from the Eastern part, they also accused the driving force (who worked untiringly and ingeniously to keep the new alliance between the North and South going), of helping the North to enslave the Yorubas of the West.
Notwithstanding the bizarre conclusions of the Afeniferes, who claimed frustrated by the Jonathan’s alienation, the predominant inhabitants of the Southwest were ready for a deal. Having secured an alliance with the North, rather than pander to the campaign of hatred and calumny of the Afeniferes, they managed to cobble a delicate but winning union and provided a recipe for resolving the debacle thrown up by the choice of choosing a presidential running mate.
A chieftain of Afenifere had posited that President Muhammadu Buhari would trick the leader of All Progressives Congress (APC) to secure power; alleging that he would soon abandon him and forget the pact for a northern hegemonic agenda.
The unfolding events thereafter showed that the so called Yoruba Elders have refused to be guided by one of their sayings that states that: ‘one do not jump into a river and still complain of cold’. What is then expected is for the Afeniferes to display the requisite courage and accept the success of the marriage they objected to between the North and the South.
The same chieftain had dubbed Asiwaju, a political naiveté, who did not understand the political shenanigans of the North, the same region, which in 1999 trusted a Yoruba son, Olusegun Obasanjo. He lambasted the national leader of APC for forging an inconceivable alliance, accusing him of returning the Yorubas to slavery; as if they were better off under Jonathan, a co-Southerner.
It is thus not surprising that a foremost fuji maestro, K1 The Ultimate, asked rhetorically ‘Awon wo l’Afenifere, Awon wo l’Afeni fere…’ meaning: ‘Who indeed are the Afeniferes’. The mere fact that K1 was forced to ask such question from the Elders is a reminder that, when an elder insults a youth, he makes it imperative for the youth to get him insulted too.
It is a verifiable fact that very few Yoruba compatriots were given national appointments in the early years of Jonathan’s administration until the approach of general election. Jonathan did trick Afenifere with ‘National Conference ‘, which he had hoped to use to ride to political relevance in the West.
Without the fear of sounding like an ethnic chauvinist or power thirsty, it is pertinent for the Afeniferes to note that despite all their miscalculations and misdemeanour, they can still mend their ways.
The sacrifice and steadfastness of the Yorubas in the face of Jonathan’s marginalisation and provocation coupled with the political dexterity of the other stakeholders in the region have earned the old Western Region a comfortable relevance in this present dispensation.
Despite Afenifere’s collective political suicide, the Yorubas have never had it so good- not even under Obasanjo regime. What is therefore left for the Afenifere members is that as fathers they should let go past qualms.
They probably intended to genuinely protect the Yoruba nation by supporting Jonathan, just as others claimed to be doing same for supporting GMB then, (now PMB). The outcome is now history.
They must realise that, many Ijaws are today, not happy with Jonathan because he misused the opportunity of occupying the most important position in the country to make a resounding historic statement for himself and the entire Ijaw nation.
Correspondingly, the Afenifere must realise that all eyes are on the Yorubas, as many want to know how best they will help manage the victory they assisted in bringing about through the election of PMB. All hands must truly be on deck.
It is important to note that the challenges confronting the Yoruba race today needs both the elders and the youths. If they must achieve their much cherished goals for the Yorubas and continually brainstorm on the policy options for the nation at large, Afeniferes must know that the tasks require, on the one hand, the energy and mastery of the technology-generation (the youths); and on the other hand, the rare experience and the wisdom of the elders.
Irrespective of party affiliation, the Afenifere and other Yoruba interested parties must ensure they support Fashola to give Nigerians steady power supply, good roads network and decent but reasonably priced housing.
They cannot afford to take delight in Kemi Adeosun’s failure as Minister of Finance. Fayemi must be assisted to bring to National prominence our solid minerals.
Dear Afenifere members, you are all aware of the state of our health sector, so your son, Dr Isaac Adewole must not fail. You must take solace in the fact that those, who were opposed to your stand, only prevented us from blindly putting all our fragile eggs in one basket.
My Dear Afenifere elders, be contented that you have been vindicated and your race has come to be respected. The fact that Jonathan recognised your region as the most important one, at the peak of electioneering campaign, has justified your concern.
It is equally a strong lesson with a big statement that whoever (government) occupies the Aso Rock, and ignores or alienates the Yoruba nation, does so at its own peril. The Yoruba nation, allows multiplicity of viewsin different perspectives, but will always insist on the pre-eminence of the best argument.
While Afenifere elders must make a complete u-turn to rediscover and re-invent the organisation, it is essential for all Yoruba leaders and major stakeholders, to join hands to ensure Afenifere becomes the ideal pressure group it used to be.
It must return to its golden era, as a legitimate force, to serve the best interests of its region and sustain the increasing influence of the Yorubas in the Nigerian federation.
The body must resist the urge, unlike some social-cultural groups, to be reduced to a mere bunch of tribalists and self-serving, over-ambitious and prejudiced individuals, who are rather propelled by the illusion of their so-called cultural commonalities.
With that, Afenifere can be great again.