In this analysis, OLAJIDE OMOJOLOMOJU examines the new rapprochement between former Lagos State governor and national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and the apex pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere and what this romance of strange bedfellows holds for the South-west geopolitical zone as 2019 beckons.
Fourteen years after he was estranged from the Yoruba socio-cultural apex body, Afenifere, former governor of Lagos and National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, made a dramatic move to return to the organisation that was instrumental to his becoming the governor of the Centre of Excellence in 1999.
On Tuesday, November 22, Tinubu paid a visit to the leader of Afenifere, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, in Akure, the Ondo State capital, in what many have described as the ‘dramatic home coming of the prodigal son’.
Tinubu fell out with Afenifere in 2003, when the pan-Yoruba apex body aligned with former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the run up to the 2003 election.
Tinubu vehemently opposed the decision by Afenifere to support Obasanjo for a second term and thus went against the group’s decision.
He subsequently pulled out of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), the platform on which he became governor of Lagos in 1999 and formed the defunct Action Congress (AC), which later metamorphosed into the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), one of the legacy parties that gave birth to the ruling APC.
Since the estrangement in 2003, which led to the formation of a rival Afenifere Renewal Group by known supporters and disciples of Tinubu, with his tacit support, the Yoruba nation has not been able to speak with one voice and has remained a pawn in the political chess game of Nigeria.
It is also instructive to note that the marriage of convenience between Obasanjo and Afenifere led to the loss of five of the six South West states to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It also led to the end of relevance of Afenifere, not only in the South West, but also across the country.
But this seems to be heading to history with Tinubus’ historic romance with Afenifere with his visit to Fasoranti; historic in the sense that it was coming at a time the Yoruba feel shortchanged in the scheme of things in the opposition PDP, which seemed to have relegated the Yoruba in its midst to second class members, following the failure of the party to elect a National Chairman of the Yoruba stock.
This was just as prominent members of the opposition in Oyo State, including a former governor, Adebayo Alao-Akala; a former Senate Leader, Teslim Folarin; a former deputy governor of the state and former Nigerian Ambassador to Jordan, Taofeek Arapaja; former Secretary to the State Government, Ayodele Adigun; and the only federal lawmaker elected on the platform of the PDP to the House of Representatives, Segun Odebunmi, among others, last weekend defected to the ruling party.
Dousing the palpable implosion in the APC that seemed apparent with the gale of defection from opposition party to the ruling APC ahead of the 2019 general elections, Tinubu declared that the APC has the capacity to accommodate all the bigwigs and successfully manage all the challenges that would come with it.
He declared: “We have a stainless kitchen and we can accommodate as many cooks as possible and because we will have a variety of menu in the political kitchen of planning this future.
“We love those big wigs and we can accommodate them all. It is in the same forest that you find a hippo that you find an elephant and you will find a rabbit.
“In political platforms, you must look for the addition, not the minus.”
Alao-Akala served as Oyo State governor from 2007 to 2011 on the platform of the PDP, and moved to the Labour Party shortly before the 2015 general elections.
Other defectors who were received into the APC last Saturday also include Rauf Olaniyan, Ayoola Makanjuola, and Rasaq Gbadegesin along with their supporters.
Meanwhile, Afenifere has said that it was ready to work with Tinubu to reposition the Yoruba nation in the scheme of things in the nation’s political space.
Afenifere said that its rapprochement with Asiwaju Tinubu, would be structured on “an irreducible minimum” that he would adopt the call for restructuring as adopted by the body.
Speaking on behalf of the body, its National Publicity Secretary, Mr Yinka Odumakin, said that Tinubu was not a stranger to Afenifere, adding that he only departed at a time.
Odumakin said: “It was a courtesy call, he (Tinubu) is not a stranger to Afenifere, Afenifere made him governor in 1999, so he is a member to the family.
“He left at a time, and we hope that the visit will bring a better understanding in terms of the irreducible minimums of areas of cooperation in the interest of the Yoruba outside of party politics.”
Many watchers of events in Nigeria’s political terrain have seen Tinubu’s rapprochement with Afenifere as the beginning of a political realignment in the South West geopolitical zone ahead of the 2019 general elections, and was perceived as a move to further protect the future of Yoruba race in Nigeria’s politics.
Perhaps, it is pertinent to note that many have predicted this homecoming of the APC National Leader, following the frosty relationship between him and President Muhammadu Buhari, shortly after the 2015 elections, leading to the emergence of many blocs within the APC.
This led to Tinubu and his foot soldiers being sidelined in the mainstream of the Buhari-led administration.
Tinubu’s alienation became more palpable during the 2016 gubernatorial election in Ondo State, where the ‘Buhari Boys’ openly worked against the interest of Tinubu’s camp.
An indication to this renewed romance between Tinubu and his roots, Afenifere, came to the fore in 2015, when in the heat of the cold war between Tinubu and Buhari loyalists in the APC, a chieftain of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, went public in defence of the APC chieftain, for the first time after Tinubu left the camp.
Adebanjo had viewed the attacks on Tinubu then as an attack on the Yoruba race, describing the gang up against Tinubu as an “orchestrated attempt by some forces within APC to ridicule him and also to divide the Yoruba race.”
Also, Afenifere, under Fasonrati has never stopped to recognise Tinubu as one of its own, with a promise to embrace him with open hands whenever he shows interest to return to the fold.
Our correspondent also gathered for along time, many top notchers of Afenifere, who were uncomfortable with the gulf between Tinubu and the group had been working tirelessly to broker an everlasting peace.
To many, this support for Tinubu by the octogenarian served as an indication that the group never seized to see Tinubu as one of their own.
However, it was reliably gathered that some members of the Afenifere who are not comfortable with the division between Tinubu and the leaders across the Yoruba states, felt the need to make peace with him to foster unity and development within the Yoruba nation.
The historic meeting in Akure, the Ondo State capital lasted for less than one hour, but our correspondent gathered that much of the ground work had already been concluded before then.
And while the issues discussed at the meeting were not made public, Tinubu said he was in Akure to pay homage to Fasonrati as Yoruba leader and to also acknowledge his leadership as the head of the foremost Yoruba socio-political group, which has provided the needed voice for the race.
Tinubu said, “I am in Akure to acknowledge the leadership of Pa Fasoranti in our own race, as a great leader of the Omoluabi, in his evening, we want him to be happy, he has been a great leader in his youth and we must also make him happy.
“His intellect is still very intact. We are here to seek his advice, seek his understandings and prayers, that is why I am here.”
When asked why it took him so long to visit the Afenifere leader, after some 14 years of parting with the group, Tinubu said, “Whatever is my decision is my decision and as an ordinary reporter, you cannot be asking me that.
“I decide on my time based on the charter of United Nations on Human Rights.
“I am a democrat and I believe in constitutional democracy.”
Fasoranti’s description of Tinubu’s visit as a “sign of good things to come to the Yoruba race,” was also another pointer that new dawn is emerging for the South West in the scheme of things in Nigeria’s political landscape.
Fasoranti noted that the meeting will further foster greater understanding among the Yoruba people, adding, “This meeting is an indication of great things to come, the coming together of Yoruba leaders, there will be an understanding on major issues affecting Yoruba race. We will consult and move ahead.”
The elder statesman added, “As it is now, there will be a great understanding among the leaders as Tinubu is a leader in his own right.
“This should lead to reconciliation of ARG and the mainstream as Tinubu has a leg there. They are his supporters. This signal shows we will come together.”
To the APC in Ondo State, the visit was a landmark, as it says the new romance “will further solidify the unity among Yoruba leaders.”
It said in a statement signed by its Publiciry Secretary, that by “Visiting the Afenifere leader and other leaders in Akure, Tinubu has prompted unity of purpose among Yoruba leaders and the people for them to work in unity for socio-economic development of the land.”
Political analysts believe that the rapprochement is a new dawn in South West politics, noting that Tinubu is unarguably one of the political lights in the country.
They opined that his return to Afenifere is a move to solidify his political base, which is the South West.
Recall that there has been a prediction of political realignment ahead of the 2019 general elections, and this is just the beginning of such paradigm shift.
A senator from one of the South West states who spoke to LEADERSHIP Sunday on condition of anonymity, said that it was a dream come true to reposition the South West and give it a single voice and unity of purpose.
He said, “Much work has gone into what manifested last month in Akure and I can tell you it is the beginning of the unity of the region.
“Those of us who are Tinubu disciples are happy with this development as it portends good things for the South West.
“It is the beginning of new developments for the South West, as this will give us the opportunity to speak with one voice on issues affecting the region and Nigeria as a whole.”
One Afenifere leader who was at the meeting told our correspondent in confidence that “we are getting back there gradually, Yoruba never had it so bad in the past years like this.
“We will all speak with one voice with no dissenting voice again.
“By next year, the jostle for political positions will begin, we need to come together to see how our collective interests will be projected and protected.
“Yoruba should stop pretending that all is well while our physical, structural and moral values continue to nose-dive while the political class continues to be on different page.”
A political analyst, Adebayo Adeoti, said Tinubu’s return to Afenifere enclave is an added advantage to the group, adding that Afenifere should, like it did in the past, provide a viable political platform for Tinubu.
It is also an added advantage to whatever this new development would bestow on the South West, the outcome of the just concluded PDP National Convention, where al the national chairmanship aspirants from the South-west were discarded and short changed.
As the march towards 2019 general elections continues to gather momentum, it apppears that South-west is gradually moving towards a new era.
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