TINUBU: Inside the Afenifere meeting that moved against Peter Obi

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•The firestorm: How crack in Yoruba group widened into a crater

• Adebanjo, Fasoranti groups trade blames

By Dayo Johnson, Akure

No doubt, the pan-Yoruba socio political group, Afenifere, is in disarray over the choice between the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and his Labour Party (LP), counterpart, Mr Peter Obi, ahead of the 2023 general elections.

The disagreement in the group’s preferred choice for the coveted seat, come 2023, came into light when Afenifere’s two topmost leaders, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and Chief Reuben Fasoranti, openly clashed last week.

But, a deeper look at the development showed that the disagreement was not really between the two elders but between two tendencies within the organisation.

Adebanjo is Afenifere Acting National Leader while Fasoranti, his predecessor, is Emeritus Leader.

Fasoranti had announced Adebanjo as Acting Leader last year on account of old age. Before then, Adebanjo was Deputy Leader.

Counter  coup

A reliable source hinted Sunday Vanguard at the weekend that the last Sunday visit to Fasoranti by Tinubu was designed to rubbish the earlier endorsement of Peter Obi believed to have been solely done by Adebanjo.

According to the source, the visit was well hatched and successfully executed by Tinubu’s loyalists who are members of the APC within Afenifere.

“It (visit) was designed to rubbish the decision of Chief Adebanjo to single handedly endorse Peter Obi without recourse to other leaders of the group including Pa Fasoranti”, he said.

“Do you know that the Akure meeting was actually a counter coup? The meeting was not convened at the instance of the Afenifere leadership, but by another Yoruba group known as Conscience of the Yoruba Nation (COYN) which comprises politicians with sympathy for the ruling All Progressives Congress and prominent Yoruba leaders”.

The essence of the meeting, according to the invite sighted by Sunday Vanguard, was “to discuss the historic 2023 general elections and guide the Yoruba people of Nigeria to take a definite and wise decision in the overall interest of posterity and also an interaction with one of the leading candidates, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.”

The invite was signed by the Director General of COYN, Abagun Kole Omololu, and Mr Dare Babarinsa. Omololu is the National Organising Secretary of Afenifere while Babarinsa is also a top member of the group.

The meeting was attended by Yoruba leaders from Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Lagos, Kogi and Kwara states.

Twist

But in a twist, the aspiration of Tinubu to contest for the presidency topped the meeting agenda.

Tinubu’s media handler also played a fast one by churning out a statement that he was visiting the Afenifere leader to present his ‘Action Plan’ on how he intended to tackle the economic and other problems the country is grappling with.

The endorsement, however, took the better part of the meeting as the presentation of the ‘Action Plan’ was merely a formality performed at the end of the parley.

A source privy to the entire plan to hit back at Adebanjo’s endorsement of Peter Obi, said that many leaders of Afenifere were not consulted by the Acting National Leader and blamed him for running the group as his personal estate.

“Baba Adebanjo started showing that he was power drunk after Pa Fasoranti stepped aside and appointed him as the group’s Acting Leader because of old age”, the infuriated source said.

“He single-handed appointed the General Secretary of the group and others without recourse to the larger house.

“While majority of the leaders preferred a former Education Commissioner in Ondo State, Chief Korede Duyile, as the new General Secretary after Basorun Arogbofa resigned, Chief Adebanjo, picked another Ondo former Commissioner, Chief Olusola Ebiseni.

“Many of us decided to stay aloof and were even not happy that the group’s meeting was shifted from Akure, the country home of Pa Fasoranti, to Ogbo- ljebu, Ogun State.

“While this internal squabble was going on, the endorsement of Peter Obi, without recourse to other leaders, blew open the crisis within the group.

“The mistake made by Pa Adebanjo in endorsing Mr Peter Obi on behalf of Afenifere is that he didn’t take cognizance of the fact that most leaders of the organization are pro-APC.

“The ACN that joined others to form APC came from AC, AD, SDP, UPN and ultimately the Action Group floated by Afenifere.

“These parties are the political arms of Afenifere. That’s why it’s an aberration for him to go all out to endorse a candidate outside this historic tendency that became known as ‘the Progressives’. The issue is a historical one and has nothing to do with playing ethnic politics.

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“Both Pa Fasoranti and Pa Adebanjo were foundation members of Afenifere and the defunct Action Group. Since those days, neither of them has departed from that path, the path of ‘the Progressives’.

“Nothing says that old people cannot disagree. The disagreement is not really between the two elders but between two tendencies within the organisation. Of course, they would soon resolve it. To disagree is normal and natural”.

Akure

meeting

Some leaders interviewed, however, described the use of Afenifere’s name for a meeting not convened by it as fraudulent.

They argued that “since the conveners of the meeting were not executive members of the group, the whole exercise was fraudulent”.

One of those in this school of thought said: “Why did they exclude notable leaders of the group? Even if they had left out Chief Adebanjo, others were intentionally not informed because they knew that what they were doing was not right.

“It was a hatchet job done in conjunction with APC loyalists within and outside Afenifere to rubbish Adebanjo”.

But one of the Yoruba leaders who support Adebanjo’s endorsement of Peter Obi, who spoke with Sunday Vanguard in confidence, said, “The EXCO, Caucus and General Meetings are held in Adebanjo’s residences at Ìjebú-Ode and Lekki, Lagos.

“No meeting of the Afenifere has been held at Fasoranti’s house since Adebanjo took over. Fasoranti, who was made the Leader of Afenifere in November 2008, stepped down for Adebanjo in 2021.

“No one should, therefore, talk of any other leadership, let alone that of a retired Leader.

“So there’s nothing new in this mere show of political antics and worthless shenanigan.

“Tinubu supporters were quick to broadcast Chief Ayo Adebanjo and other Afenifere leaders’ visit to Tinubu upon his return to the country after his medical procedures earlier this year.

“Chief Adebanjo was acknowledged as the Leader of Afenifere then by these same persons. They didn’t remember retired Leader Fasoranti at that time. Fasoranti is a former Leader of Afenifere.

“As a private elder citizen, he is at liberty to pray for candidates who go to his home. It is consistent with Yoruba culture.

“All the other participants at the gathering at Fasoranti’s home are either retired Yoruba Elders, APC stalwarts or mere visitors. No active Afenifere leaders were present.

“The Acting Leader of Afenifere,  Adebanjo, was not there; the Secretary General, Sola Ebiseni, was not also there, executive members of the group were not there.

“To the best of our knowledge, those who attended that meeting are estranged members of Afenifere.

“Yes, Fasoranti is a leader but he has since relinquished that leadership position to Adebanjo.

“What Tinubu did to Baba Fasoranti was a mere courtesy visit as a leader of the Yoruba race and other candidates will still visit him and he will still bless them”.

‘Adebanjo is on his own’

Leaders in Fasoranti’s camp fired back, saying “the nonagenarian remains the leader of Afenifere and he has a right to take any decision at anytime.

They blamed Adebanjo for not consulting Fasoranti and other Yoruba leaders before endorsing Obi, arguing that other leaders are not robots.

According to them, Fasoranti remains the leader of the Yoruba group and, by the tradition of Afenifere, Adebanjo, as Acting Leader, must consult with Fasoranti before taking critical decisions on behalf of the group.

“Going by the avowed principle of Afenifere, the Akure gathering did what it ought to do”, one of them said.

“In experience, preparedness and progressive profile, Tinubu remains the best of the pack jostling for the number one position in the country in 2023. “Added to his credential is the fact that his present struggle is a Yoruba project which all true Oodua descendants must embrace.

“For those who may not know, at every critical junction in the politics of Nigeria, when a Yoruba man is a major player in contention for leadership, the region has always stood by his own irrespective of past affiliations.

“The late Basorun Moshood Kasimawo Abiola enjoyed this privilege when he struggled against the Nigerian state after winning the 1993 presidential election.

“The Akure ceremony gave vent to the Yoruba dictum of ‘omo eni o se’di bebere k’afi ileke si’di omo elomiran’ (meaning however unsightly the buttocks of one’s child are, they do not excuse adorning another’s child with beads)”.

l warned Fasoranti – Adebanjo

Meanwhile, Pa Adebanjo has insisted that he stands by his pronouncement endorsing Peter Obi and that Tinubu’s visit to Pa Fasoranti wasn’t an Afenifere endorsement.

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He said that while he would not want to be drawn into a controversy with Fasoranti, his endorsement of Obi on behalf of Afenifere was based purely on the principle of equity, fairness and justice.

The Afenifere Acting National Leader said he needed not consult Fasoranti before endorsing Peter Obi as the preferred candidate of the group for 2023.

“I did not have to consult Fasoranti before Afenifere endorsed Peter Obi”, he said.

“The comments trailing the visit are an attempt to divide the group, all those who attended are APC members in Afenifere.

“It is a sort of conspiracy among those who want to see Afenifere divided.

“They had been on this plan for over a month and my members came to me to alert me about it and I said, ‘Don’t talk about. It would be a diversion’.

“I will tell you the story. Pa Fasoranti phoned me on Friday that Tinubu had phoned him to say he wanted to come and see him and he wanted to say no.

“But I said, ‘no, don’t do that; you are an elder statesman; if he wants to see you, why not’, and I went further to say it is a sort of conspiracy among those who want to divide Afenifere.”

On if he consulted Fasoranti before endorsing Obi, Adebanjo said, “I don’t have to consult him. He handed over Afenifere to me over a year ago. That is not the way we do it in Action Group and he knows it.

“I will like you to examine all of them who you called themselves Afenifere and ask them when did they last attend Afenifere meeting? And look at all the people there. They are the Yoruba leaders in APC.

“From what he (Fasoranti) told me and what I understood, it cannot be an endorsement because I told him to receive him as a citizen.

“The people in Afenifere — the executives and all that — we know where we are. Those who have left Afenifere, and who are jealous of the solidarity there now and who want to cause dissension, are the ones bringing in Tinubu.

“I warned Pa Fasoranti not to allow himself to be put in this mess. I can deal with all of them who were there. They were not there when we were doing all these things. But I don’t want any diversion at this time. Afenifere is for Obi pure and simple”

Adebanjo took a stand, I also took a stand – Fasoranti

Also, Pa Fasoranti insisted that he remained the Leader of Afenifere and there was no going back on the group’s endorsement of Tinubu.

The Yoruba leader said the group never endorsed Obi.

He declared: “I am still the leader of Afenifere. Afenifere has not endorsed Obi; we are endorsing Jagaban (Tinubu) for the presidency.

“You can see the trend, approval and acceptability; you could see what happened when Tinubu came to meet me in Akure. The media carried the whole thing. Adebanjo does not have the capacity to warn me not to welcome Tinubu. Can he do that successfully?

“What happened was that Adebanjo took a stand and I took a stand. I didn’t call him and he didn’t call me. We never spoke about the visit. As you can see, Jagaban is accepted and we approve of him. Obi has no stand in our mind at all.”

Interest, unity of Yoruba should come first

— Yoruba Ronu

Yoruba group, Yoruba Ronu, joined the fray when it hailed Pa Fasoranti for endorsing Tinubu.

Its Chairman and Director of Communications, Prince Diran Iyantan and Steve Otaloro, respectively, in a statement, said: “Pa Fasoranti has proven beyond doubt that the interest and the unity of purpose of the Yoruba come first before any other thing.

“Accordingly, Baba believes we are Yoruba before we are Nigerians. Therefore, the aspirations and wishes of the people of the Yoruba race should take pre-eminence at all times”.

You can’t endorse candidates from your living rooms, Sowore tells  Adebanjo, Fasoranti

The African Action Congress (AAC) presidential candidate, Omoyele Sowore, on his part, criticised the two Yoruba leaders for the endorsements of Obi and Tinubu on behalf of the South-West region.

Sowore said, “Afenifere Team ‘A’ & Afenifere ‘B’ ought to know they goofed, they can’t sit in their living rooms and endorse candidates on behalf of South-West.

“South-West people are too fiercely independent to fall for these crooked endorsements. They’ll always vote their conscience!”

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Afenifere statement

Sunday Vanguard was privy to a statement issued after the visit which was never read but was signed by the National Organising Secretary of the group, Abagun Kole Omololu.

The statement was distributed outside Akure, venue of the meeting.

It was entitled ‘Statement of Afenifere on the visit of Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu to Pa Reuben Fasoranti’.

The statement indicated that Tinubu asked for the visit and that “Fasoranti invited leaders from all parts of Yorubaland to be with him as he receives the astute politician”.

It went on, “The meeting was fully briefed about the aspiration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to contest for the presidency of Nigeria in the forthcoming elections in February 2023. He even presented his manifesto to Baba, the Asiwaju of Yorubaland.

“He shared with us his vision of a greater and more prosperous Nigeria where democratic rights, rule of law, justice and fairness will reign supreme. He also gave assurance on steps to be taken to ensure safety and security of Nigerians and their properties.

“Following exhaustive deliberations informed by presentations by various stakeholders, the Afenifere states as follows: We affirm that Nigeria as a country must be established on the basis of democracy, true federalism and social justice.

“We affirm that democracy is the most civilised method of governance because it is based on the fundamental human rights of every citizen to determine how he or she wants to be governed.

“We support the decision of all qualified citizens to exercise their fundamental rights of seeking offices provided by the federal Constitution.

“Having taken cognisance of his commendable antecedents as Lagos State governor and his demonstrated ability in building physical and human capital, the Yoruba leaders at today’s meeting are in no doubt that Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria offers the best opportunity to produce a government that will usher in a new era of hope, peace, security, harmony, gainful employment for the multitude, economic development, social and political stability.

“We were also assured of his commitment to the promotion of true federalism that will give states more control over their affairs.

“Afenifere wishes him success in the pursuit of his vision and urged other presidential candidates to utilize similar opportunities to articulate their vision.

‘Adebanjo remains Afenifere Leader’

Reacting to media reports that he had sacked Adebanjo as Acting National Leader and relocated the group’s meeting back to Akure from Ogbo-ljebu, the country home of Adebanjo , Fasoranti said the claims were false.

He declared that the statements were designed to cause confusion and polarize Afenifere.

According to him, his “main concern is the interest of the Yoruba in the complex political situation in Nigeria”.

Schism to be resolved soon – Source

Amid the tensions the Afenifere rift had caused in the South-West, sources said at the weekend that leaders of the group may have intervened in a bid to resolve the crisis between the two leaders.

A four-man committee was said to have been put in place to first meet with the leaders separately before another joint meeting would be held in Akure, the country home of Fasoranti, to resolve the rift.

But preponderance of opinions sampled by Sunday Vanguard queried the effect of the endorsement of the two candidates by the two leaders.

They argued that in 2015, Afenifere endorsed former President Goodluck Jonathan but he failed in his re-election bid, and in 2019, they endorsed the candidacy of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who also failed.

To them, the group lost political relevance many years ago.

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