Between 2015 and National Conference By Segun Ayobolu

You must give it to them. They are grand masters of the political chess game even if you dislike their style. I refer to the veteran old guard of the Afenifere Yoruba socio-political organization, which has suddenly bounced back once again into the political limelight. When you think they are written off, they have ways of resurfacing in the most surprising and unpredictable of ways – even if only temporarily.

They may be advanced in years. Yet, the leading lights of the old guard Afenifere – Chief Reuben Fasoranti, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Olu Falae, among others – are still sprightly in political spirit and clearly not ready to leave the political stage anytime soon. There are at least two major beneficiaries, in the short run, of President Goodluck Jonathan’s latest gambit of planning a National Conference – Sovereign or otherwise.

The first is President Jonathan himself, the perennially lucky man. In what the ordinarily perceptive Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah rather exuberantly describes as a political and ideological masterstroke, the President’s proposed national ‘conversation’ has largely deflected attention from the crisis tearing his party apart.

Beyond that, the move has the potential of creating a schism along geo-regional lines within the new All Progressives Congress (APC) if its leaders do not steer their party gingerly and most dexterously through the mine strewn terrain.

The other major beneficiaries of Jonathan’s surprise ‘joker’ are the Afenifere old guard politicians. Jonathan’s proposed conference amounts to a kiss of life, a veritable resurrection from political death, for a group whose glory and grandeur belongs to the past. It is certainly not for nothing that the National Secretary of Afenifere, Senator Femi Okurounmu, has emerged Chairman of the National Conference Advisory Committee.

He would most certainly not have accepted such a sensitive assignment without the full support and blessing of the group. What we thus have on our hands is a collaborative venture principally between the Jonathan presidency and Afenifere.

It was not thus surprising that in his interview published on page 45 of the October 14, 2013, edition of the Vanguard, the redoubtable Chief Ayo Adebanjo had nothing but fulsome praise for President Goodluck Jonathan. In his characteristically down to earth manner, he enthused, “In fact, there is no complain (sic) except that I congratulate the President for being a listening leader…Here is a man who originally opposed the system but who is now yielding to the pressure of responsible citizens.”

Given his vast political experience, wily intelligence and much vaunted political tutelage under the unceasingly questioning and meticulous Chief Obafemi Awolowo, shouldn’t one expect a lit bit more of circumspection, healthy scepticism and restraint on the part of Chief Adebanjo on this matter? Should the veteran Awoist not be at least a little bit bothered about the nature, timing and possible motive of Jonathan’s curious Pauline conversion? No sir. The venerableAfenifere Chief obviously has sufficient faith to follow Jonathan into battle blindfolded.

Perhaps Chief Adebanjo has just cause for his unrepentantly pro-Jonathan posture.In his words, “I don’t see any reason for the scepticism. Those of us in NADECO and Afenifere had insisted that there was not going to be election in 1999 unless we had a Sovereign National Conference…We had made a national conference a condition precedent for whatever we were going to do in this country.”

Presumably believing that President Jonathan is the much awaited Messiah that has come to deliver the desired Sovereign National Conference, Chief Adebanjo affirmed emphatically: “To me, if the 2015 election is to be postponed for us to settle how we are going to live together, it is worth it. What is the point of having an election only for us to start quarrelling immediately after?”

So, will there ever be a magical national conference at the end of which political quarrels and disagreements would have vanished forever from Nigeria? Well, let us leave that to the undoubted political wizardry of the Chief Adebanjos of this world while we more usefully try to locate Afenifere within the politics of this dispensation before looking more closely at the implications of the chief’s position on the 2015 election.

In 1999, Afenifere was at the height of its political glory. The group supported the Alliance for Democracy (AD) to win all the six states in the South West. By 2003, the fortunes of the group had plummeted badly largely due to internal fissures and dissensions. Just as it is doing now with Jonathan, Afenifere went into a deal with Obasanjo in 2003, which backfired disastrously when the wily farmer played a fast one on them.

Led by the late Chief Abraham Adesanya, Afenifere supported the AD governors in Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo and Osun states for the 2003 election but distanced itself from Governor Bola Tinubu in Lagos. The latter’s crime was his adamant refusal to share elective positions in Lagos state on a 60/40 ratio with the top Afenifere chieftain, the late Alhaji Ganiyu Dawodu.

As we all know, the 2003 elections held. All Afenifere favourite sons in the South West were routed by the PDP. It was only Bola Tinubu who remained standing – without the support of Afenifere. What would the Afenifere chieftains do given their much vaunted Awoist credentials? Would they work to recover the region from the grip of the mainstream reactionary PDP ideologues? To our consternation, these highly respected Awoist veterans began an inexplicable political romance with the PDP state governors of the South West.

Chief Adebanjo and his Afenifere fellow travellers had no compunction whatsoever in giving a PDP South West governor the privilege of delivering the lecture to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the formation of Afenifere. Not once during that inglorious reign of the PDP locusts in the South West did we hear the slightest whimper for true federalism or Sovereign National Conference from Afenifere.

It took the tenacity, courage, steadfastness and determination of the likes of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Aremo Segun Osoba, Alhaji Lam Adesina, Chief Bisi Akande, Otunba Niyi Adebayo and Chief Adebayo Adefarati among others to wrest the South West back into the progressive fold.

In the run up to the 2007 elections, the Afenifere chieftains floated the Democratic Parties Alliance (DPA) and fielded candidates for elections. I doubt if the DPA won a single House of Assembly seat anywhere in the South West including Chief Ayo Adebanjo’s ward. With the abysmal electoral outing of the DPA, the group tried working with others to form what it called a mega Social Democratic Party for the 2011 elections with Chief Olu Falae as its arrow head.

As this column predicted at the time, the venture was a mega non-starter. Yet, the ebullient Dr Doyin Okupe claims that these are the ‘authentic’ leaders of the South West. The presidential aide may probably be right. After all, everyone is entitled to his or her delusions.

When he contends that the proposed National Conference, whose status, composition and operational procedure are yet unknown is more important than the 2015 elections, Chief Ayo Adebanjo has given the game away. The astute politician is not too artful a dodger after all. It is obvious that the highly respected chief is simply calling for the extension of President Jonathan’s tenure beyond 2015.

Let’s face it. Nature and indeed law abhor a vacuum. There can be no void even as the constitutional conference holds. President Jonathan is firmly in power. He continues avidly to plot towards the realization of his second term in office. He has had a change of heart as regards the necessity for a national conference. But he remains the same old Dr. Jonathan as far as he desire for a second term is concerned. His party gives no indication that it has repented of its determination to hold onto power for the next 60 years as one of its former National Chairmen openly boasted.

The postponement of the 2015 election in the name of a national conference will thus suit President Jonathan and the PDP quite well. It will also obviously please the Afenifere chieftains. For, the ideological difference between the two has become blurred. Surprisingly, Professor Itse Sagay, the legal icon, also supports this position. Can the good professor please educate us on where President Jonathan and other elected officials will derive their authority from a minute after midnight on May 29, 2015 if elections do not hold? Or is somebody working towards a coup?

About the author


In the beginning...Let there be Light http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japheth_J._Omojuwa

Leave a Comment