The Organising Secretary of the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Kole Omololu, speaks to PETER DADA about the differences between the group’s leaders, Pa Reuben Fasoranti and Chief Ayo Adebanjo, on the endorsement of the presidential candidates of the All Progressives Congress and Labour Party, Bola Tinubu and Peter Obi, respectively
You were in attendance when the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, visited Baba Reuben Fasoranti in Akure. How did the meeting go?
I was present at the meeting; not only that, I was the soul behind the gathering. It was a successful meeting, a historical meeting; the best of the people of Oduduwa nation were there on the invitation of Baba Fasoranti, the leader of Afenifere, to come and speak with one voice and tell the world that Yoruba is one and we have decided to speak the truth and speak with one voice. You can see the array of Yoruba sons and daughters that were present there — General Olu Bajowa (retd.), Lt. Gen. Alani Akinriande (retd.), Archbishop Ayo Ladigbolu, Dr Kunle Olajide , Prof. Isaac Adewole, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, the Governor of Ekiti State, Deputy Governor of Ondo State, the Deputy Governor of Oyo State, Senator Iyiola Omisore, former governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande, Bashorun Arogbofa, Chief Olu Falae, and many others distinguished Yoruba sons and daughters. It was a gathering of the best of Oduduwa; it went well.
Some prominent members of Afenifere were observed to be absent from the meeting; were they not invited?
I couldn’t note any significant absence from our members that were there . The gathering was strictly by invitation. (It was) only by invitation; if you were not invited, then you couldn’t be there.
You said you couldn’t note any significant absence; what about Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Sola Ebiseni, and others that were absent?
Baba Adebanjo was duly invited and informed but he did not make the meeting. And also, most other people were invited. The General Secretary (Sola Ebiseni) lives in Akure and he was duly invited. Maybe due to one reason or the other, he could not make it. All the other officers, the deputy leader also called baba to confirm.
At the meeting, Baba Fasoranti, on behalf of Afenifere, endorsed Tinubu’s presidential ambition; is this not a U-turn from the initial position of the group, earlier endorsing the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi?
The coming together is to speak with one voice, is to sell a president of Yoruba extraction to the world, and to Nigeria in particular. He (Tinubu) came and presented his programme to Afenifere and to the Yoruba leadership. It was perused and we all agreed that if he can successfully implement those plans, it will save Nigeria. It will give Nigeria the hope of the black world. So, it is something that we did not take lightly. We asked him several questions when we were inside baba’s living room before we came out. On that note, people agreed that because of his track record as a successful governor of Lagos State, he is a builder of men and someone who can connect with any part of Nigeria. We just believe that he is the man who can become the president. Before this, the leaders of Afenifere made due consultations across the spectrum of Yorubaland to bring about this meeting. In Afenifere, once we have consulted and agreed on a position, that is final; that is the tradition of Afenifere. It is not a one-man show.
You said Afenifere had earlier endorsed Obi. Our acting leader, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, we adore and revere him very well. Up till this age, he is still agile, we thank God for his life. Because he was convinced by principle and morality that the North, South-West and South-South have tasted power, why don’t we allow the Igbos to have a taste? This is morally perfect, and it is on principle. But we should have agreed together. Like I told you, consultation is the hallmark of Afenifere and the norm of Afenifere is justice, equity and fairness. No doubt about that . Baba was never wrong by standing on that principle. But again, let us agree. May be pragmatism will dictate some other areas of strategy but pragmatism was not allowed to take effect. That is why the whole of Yoruba nation that assembled in Akure on Sunday decided otherwise and that is the voice of the people. This thing is not about where you come from, it is about who can do the job best for now. We want Nigeria to be taken out of the mess it is now. That is why the whole of Yoruba nation and the Afenifere reasoned that Asiwaju Tinubu is the symbol we can use for now.
Nigeria is still a very young country democratically, so we need a leader who can lift us out of the woods. We need a bold and strategic leader, the Lee Kuan Yew of our time. A leader who will make Nigeria another Singapore and what the economist call practical experience. He (Tinubu) started very well in Lagos State; look at it now, Lagos is not competing with Nigeria, it is competing with international communities. That is the reason we’re backing Tinubu. We are still one but this is the decision of the majority. Yoruba people are highly sophisticated and you can’t push them anywhere without giving them a reason. This was what you saw at play last Sunday.
As the Organising Secretary of Afenifere, are you saying you were not at the meeting where Obi was endorsed?
Definitely, I was not there; I have not been in the country for a while now but I follow the trend of what goes on in the meeting both at the National Executive Council, of which I’m the organising secretary, and the general meeting. There was nowhere in our record, when Afenifere wants to speak to the world, it is always through a communiqué . But in this case, there has never being a communiqué to the effect that this is the person we want to support to be the president of Nigeria until the Sunday, October 30, when we issued our communique.
With this development, can one say Afenifere is divided along political lines?
No; Afenifere is still Afenifere; we are still one. We still have our leader as Pa Fasoranti and our acting leader as Pa Adebanjo and we have our national executive council. I am the only Organising Secretary; Sola Ebiseni is still the Secretary General. Though disagreement can come as human beings, I can assure you it will be resolved. Many may want Asiwaju, many may want Aitku or Obi but the leader has spoken now and that is the beauty of the Yoruba race. Once the leader has spoken, that is the end of the story and it will be very rebellious challenging the position of the leader. That is the leader, Baba Fasoranti; he is still alive and kicking. He has appointed an acting leader in the person of Pa Adebanjo. Those are the two giants we have.
You say Afenifere is not divided but shortly after Tinubu’s visit and endorsement by Baba Fasoranti, Baba Adebanjo issued a statement, insisting on the endorsement of Obi. How do you explain that?
That’s Baba’s opinion. Baba Fasoranti did not resign his position here, he appointed an acting leader and a deputy leader to act. I mean, this is not the first time we are having internal crisis and it has always been duly managed. Take for example, the one between the late Chief Bola Ige and Baba (Abraham) Adesanya. Did you ever see Chief Bola Ige in the public speaking against his leader? He never said a word outside; that’s our tradition. Yes, we have our differences, no doubt about it; but the leader must be leader, and the subordinates must know their position; that is how we have been managing our affairs.
Are you honestly not worried about these discordant tunes coming from the two leaders of Afenifere?
The acting leader took a stand and the general house took a stand; so I don’t think there is anything to be bothered about. We think like educated people; we are educated, so we are allowed to take our stand but the majority will carry the vote. The whole house and the leader has spoken; so, once the leader of an organisation speaks, that is it.
What is the group doing to ensure this doesn’t degenerate or lead to the factionalisation of Afenifere?
We will know how to handle it; this isn’t the first time. As I said earlier, we remember Baba Bola Ige and Adesanya; Bola Ige never uttered a word against the position of the house and the leaders about his participation in Obasanjo’s government. That is respect, that is honour and that is what we do in Afenifere. So, it is not a new thing or something that hasn’t happened before and we are still standing. Nothing like faction and I don’t think that will happen. We have a leader, we have an acting leader, we have other officers. As I speak with you now, we have only one secretary general, one organising secretary, one publicity secretary and so on. So, nobody is factionalising anything. Nobody is going to let it happen. It is never going to happen. That is the way we handle our things in Afenifere.
Now that Tinubu has come to Pa Fasoranti and it was gathered that some other presidential candidates are also coming. What will Afenifere be telling them?
Yes, Asiwaju has come to see Baba and he prayed for him, all other candidates are welcome too. Let them come and present their programme too, maybe if their programme is proved to be superior for Nigeria, we shall communicate whatever we find out.
Does that mean that Afenifere can make a U-turn on Tinubu’s endorsement if another candidate comes and presents a programme adjudged to the superior?
If other candidates should come, we are expecting them to come and present their manifestos and programmes to us. We will look at the programmes and make an appropriate announcement when they come but just remember that only Asiwaju has come to us after his nomination as a presidential candidate. When he was consulting all round, he said symbolically that he must finish his tour at his ‘father’s’ house and he did and we too told him that when you get the mandate, please come back. That was what he did on the 30th of October and he received our blessings.
Like Tinubu, virtually all the presidential candidates have been talking about the issue of restructuring, true federalism and state police in their campaigns. Does Afenifere trust Tinubu better than the others?
We should not forget the fact that Asiwaju is a son of the house. So, the way you treat your son will be different from the way you treat others. There is no way you will treat others better than your son, in terms of welcoming, in terms of prayers and so on. Asiwaju is our son, we can’t deny that, we have to sell him to the world, if others come, we will pray for them too.
Many believe Afenifere endorsed Tinubu based on ethnic considerations and not necessary on the basis of competence or equity on power rotation. How do you respond to that?
That is not true! Afenifere did not endorse Asiwaju based on ethnic considerations; we are above that. Afenifere is a Nigerian organisation, though populated by Yoruba people, none of our manifestos is ethnic- based or sectional. Restructuring, true federalism is for Nigerians, talking of state police, it is a Nigerian thing, and these are the kind of things that we saw in Asiwaju’s manifesto.
But the criticism against Tinubu is that his party, the APC has failed woefully, and Nigerians are angry with the party. Did Afenifere not look at that before endorsing him?
Yes, talking about the woeful failure of the APC, nobody can ever question that, but looking at Nigeria today, what’s the different between APC and PDP or any other party? Nigeria is still looking for a strong man to help us,they are not looking at his association and looking at his person, a man with brains, with experience, with knowledge, understanding of the system; that is who we are looking for. We are looking for a leader, not a party. Until political parties start having ideology-based programmes, that is when we have got there. Whatever we are seeing now is a form of, call it a democracy, yes, let’s agree, our own kind of democracy. Nigeria is still an ongoing project, we have not got there at all, so we should please refrain from comparing ourselves with advanced nations; we want to build our world to be like the advanced nations, but we are just starting. We need people like Obafemi Awolowo. If the regional system had not been truncated by the military in 1966, we would not have any need for what we are experiencing now. Back then, the regions were allowed to organise themselves according to their thinking, values and programmes. They set up universities, built Cocoa House, established a television station; built connecting roads. That was pre-1966 because we had a visionary leader. This is what Nigeria needs now; we need a visionary leader. Not all things are true of democracy, we are not ripe for that yet, where most of the population is illiterate.
I can assure you, if we don’t allow full-fledged democracy to take place,it is the louts and miscreants that will be emerging as President of Nigeria. So our democracy has to be guarded and guided.
The Social Democratic Party has being the traditional party of the Afenifere and it has a presidential candidate too. Why is Afenifere abandoning its own traditional party this time?
The SDP has been the traditional party of Afenifere but unfortunately, it has been hijacked from us by those trading in politics, using it as business. There is nothing we can do. Afenifere doesn’t know what is going on in SDP now, absolutely nothing; so, what we know nothing about, what can we do about it? We are not consulted about anything. Their nomination, how someone became chairman and at the same time secretary, it is not to our knowledge. It is so unfortunate. That party is a beautiful party created by us, nurtured by us but political traders hijacked it. We can’t be associated with dirty things; we own it, we conceived it, we founded it but Nigeria didn’t allow us to own it.