By Bolanle Bolawole
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Prof. Stephen Adebanji (Banji) Akintoye is the President-General of Ilana Omo Oodua. Two reasons accounted for the birth of Ilana. One was the crisis that crippled the Yoruba World Congress (YWC) that Akintoye was elected to lead in October 2019. The second was the pressure mounted by leading Yoruba figures that an organisation fighting the Yoruba cause should go by a Yoruba, not foreign, name; for example, Afenifere. So the crisis within the YWC provided a good opportunity for Akintoye and those supportive of his leadership to pull out of the YWC and form Ilana. Change, usually, is resisted and so many at first didn’t like the idea of Ilana and thought it would not fly but events have proven otherwise. Of all the YWC extant groups, Ilana has made the most remarkable progress – but not that it had arrived in the Promise Land.
Interestingly, Akintoye remains a very important member of the Afenifere; in fact, he was (and still is?) Afenifere’s Political Strategy committee chairman. I have it on good authority that he was chummy with the erstwhile Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti. Akintoye, in return, treasured his membership and influential position in Afenifere and made great efforts to avoid any clash of sort. Like the other Afenifere leaders, Akintoye was an apostle of restructuring but he reluctantly reviewed his position and sluggishly moved away until he got radicalized to the point of becoming the patron saint and moving spirit of Yoruba self-determination activism.
Two factors led Akintoye on that hard road to travel, to quote Jimmy Cliff: firstly, the reluctance of the powers-that-be to accept restructuring. Rather than accept, they dug in. Rather than give assurance or hope that a restructured Nigeria was possible, even in the distant future, they worked feverishly to destroy every such likelihood, seizing all the levers of power and striving assiduously to impose a fait accompli on anyone opposed to their Fulanization agenda, using the guise of religion and region to befuddle and pull the wool over the eyes of the people. Secondly, the sensitization and radicalization of the masses got to a level, home and abroad, that political leaders opposed to self-determination cannot but set themselves against the wish and will of the people. The impunity, audacity, arrogance, and naked show of power by the powers-that-be left only fools, grovelling, selfish, self-serving, and myopic elements in doubt that there is truly an agenda by one group to enslave the others. As we speak, only on group rules; the others have become second class citizens in their own country. With the PIB signed into law, the “good boy” South-south, as the president, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retired), recently described them, must have come to the painful realization that being the poster boy of the Fulani does not exonerate them from the same Fulanization agenda the IPOB, the Yoruba, and the Middle Belt are up in arms against.
Akintoye and Ilana’s position on restructuring and self-determination is clear but Afenifere’s is not. To the former, the struggle has moved from the demand for restructuring to a clarion call for the creation of an independent and sovereign Yoruba or Oodua nation. Afenifere still oscillates or vacillates between restructuring and self-determination but it would appear that, in their heart of hearts, they would settle for restructuring if it were available. But because restructuring appears a wild goose chase, rather than surrender, throw their hands in the air and accept to be hewers of wood and fetchers of water for the Fulani, Afenifere will reluctantly go with Akintoye’s position of a Yoruba nation. That is the import of an interview granted by the acting leader of the Afenifere, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, which I read some time ago. History records that there have always been cleavages and disagreements – ideological and mundane – within Afenifere, even in the pre-Independence era and under the very nose of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, whom they all recognised as leader, hence they are called Awoists.
I understand there were two broad groups of the intellectuals and the enforcers, both looking at, and treating each other with suspicion and or envy. That is also not to say that there was cohesion and lack of antagonism within each group. The hallmark of Awo’s leadership was the ability to wield and panel-beat these often antagonistic individuals and tendencies into a formidable political machine; first, the Action Group in the First Republic and later the Unity Party of Nigeria in the Second Republic. Awo’s political scions tried to replicate this model in the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the Fourth Republic but, after an initial success which, sadly, they mismanaged, they were unhinged with the emergence of Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The Awoists have, however, been much more successful in keeping the Afenifere afloat, even if not as potent and formidable as it once was.
Opinion is divided on whether the Afenifere is (or should) be a political party. Is it a socio-cultural organisation? Is it political? Is it – or should it – be a combination of both? The crux of the matter – and the reason(s) for Afenifere’s oscillating fortunes – will be found in the answer(s) provided. In that it has failed to review its modus operandi, Afenifere has shot itself in the leg. In the age of social media, Afenifere has largely remained a closed shop where a few elders, however illustrious, attempt to decide the fate of a people as sophisticated as the Yoruba. Such a system might have held in the past; not anymore! For failing to renew itself as fast and as far afield as possible, Afenifere developed a feet of clay! The tokenism of sprinkles of “fresh” blood it has injected, as if it was coerced into doing so, has come a little too late and too inconsequential to make any appreciable impact on its dwindling and declining fortunes. Afenifere needs a Gorbachev! Afenifere needs perestroika and glasnost!
What the present circumstances require is a mass movement; Movement of the People (MOP), as Fela called it. The fate and destiny of generations can no longer be decided or traded away in the bedrooms of a few old men. Come into the open! And this is where Akintoye’s Ilana is refreshingly different from Afenifere. At 86 years, Akintoye himself is an old man but is surrounded and supported by a plethora of young and middle-aged Yoruba activists, home and abroad. Most of Ilana’s activities are in the open and they seek to enlist the best brains available to the Yoruba nation. I have wined and dined with Akintoye. We have held meetings and brain-stormed together. We have agreed; and we have also disagreed. His wife, fondly referred to by us as Mama, is a pleasure to be with – sharp-witted, intellectually sound, homely and kind, a firebrand activist in her own university days and a pillar of support to her husband in these harrowing times.
Afenifere lost a golden opportunity to rebrand last March when Pa Reuben Fasoranti, 95, retired as its leader, citing old age. Although he expressed the wish that a younger person had taken over, Pa Adebanjo, 93, nevertheless assumed the Afenifere leadership, making many to suspect there was more to Pa Fasoranti’s stepping down than old age. Understandably, Pa Fasoranti must have been sapped by the dastardly and yet unresolved murder of his daughter, Funke, by suspected Fulani herdsmen. Tinubu’s “where are the herdsmen” provocative statement when he paid a supposed condolence visit to the grieving Fasoranti, was an unkinder cut (if there is any grammar like that) than Funke’s gruesome murder. Tinubu is a Yoruba leader (?) that many had expected would lead the way in the search for Funke’s murderers. Place Tinubu’s comments at the Fasorantis side-by-side the then Gov. Adams Oshiomhole’s “Widow my foot! Go and die!” ranting at that poor Edo widow and tell me who wins the contest! Leaders who display crass insensitivity and aggravate the suffering of others should watch it (1 Kings 2: 5 – 9). But I digress!
Ever before Fasoranti’s step aside, Pa Adebanjo and the late Yinka Odumakin were practically the face of Afenifere. So, Pa Adebanjo’s coronation did not come as a surprise to many. Is Afenifere, therefore, irrelevant to today’s needs and struggles of the Yoruba? Far from it! Afenifere is as relevant today as it had been in ages past – but it must reinvent itself. It must leave the periphery and move into the centre-stage of the Yoruba struggle for self-actualization. History, wisdom and experience are under the belt of the Afenifere but strength, vitality, vigour, and vision are with the younger generations. “Otun we osi, osi we otun l’owo fi n mo” No one claps with one hand, says MKO Abiola. A bird needs two wings to fly, concurs African-American political activist, Jesse Jackson. “Owo omode o to pepe, t’agbalagba o wo keregbe” “B’omode ba l’aso titi, ko le l’akisa bi agbalagba” Toto o se bi owe!
The Sunday Adeyemo aka Sunday Igboho phenomenon points us in certain directions. One: It proves conclusively that the powers-that-be are not interested to let go of their privileges; that they acquiesce in the invasion of lands and the orgies of killings, raping and maiming; that they are ready to “crush” anyone who dare stand in their way; that they are complicit and duplicitous in the invasion, destruction, desecration, vandalization, occupation, and annexation of Yoruba land and property by maurading Fulani herdsmen and sundry other terrorists; and that they will not let go unless they are forced to do so. Frederick Douglass, then, was right when he posits that power concedes nothing until it is overwhelmed by superior force. Two: The Igboho phenomenon revealed that a huge number of the people are fed up with the bestialities of the Fulani and would resist it. The street protests led by Igboho and other Yoruba self-determination activists brought this reality to the sitting-room of even those who did not partake in the peaceful protests. The protests’ acceptance grew from state to state, from city to city and from home to away. Undisputedly, the groundswell of Yoruba public opinion is for self-determination. Stand against that and swim against the tide or, like MKO Abiola said, stand in the path of a moving train.
I can say without equivocation that Akintoye was not at first enamoured of Igboho – and understandably so. Akintoye is a man of letters; he is a man of civility and culture, having lived in civilized communities, thereby imbibing civilized ethos and democratic norms; I cannot say if Igboho, whom I have never interacted with, operates at the same level. Akintoye favours non-violent struggle, perhaps, taking after his leader and mentor, Awo, who, himself, reportedly was greatly influenced by India’s Mahatma Ghandi. Akintoye has published a manual on non-violent methods to actualize the Yoruba struggle, which is like Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto or Muommar Ghaddafi’s The Green Book – but the reaction of the ruling caste to peaceful struggle was soon to influence that. True, then, are the words of the assassinated US President JF Kennedy that those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable. Those who drive discussions from the open drive them into the cellars where revolutions are made. (TO BE CONTINUED).
Bolawole is a respected columnist and former deputy editor in Chief of The Punch