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Afenifere senior chiefs to settle Fasoranti-Adebanjo row

Fasoranti and Adebanjo
Fasoranti and Adebanjo

Leaders of the apex Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, have agreed to resolve the crisis in the organisation  following the contentious endorsement of the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi and his All Progressives Congress counterpart, Bola Tinubu, by the two leaders of the association.

The PUNCH gathered on Thursday a four-man committee comprising  a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae; Senator Femi Okurounmu; an  ex-Minister of Communications, Chief Cornelius Adebayo and the Afenifere Secretary-General, Bashorun Sehinde Arogbofa would meet with the Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti and the acting leader of the group, Pa Ayo Adebanjo to resolve the rift.

The National Organising Secretary of Afenifere, Kole Omololu confirmed the peace move to one of our correspondents in a telephone interview in Lagos.

But while Omololu asserted that a reconciliation meeting would be held at Fasoranti’s residence in Akure, an Afenifere chieftain and former Lagos State Deputy Governor, Senator Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele, said she was not aware  of any meeting scheduled for Akure.

 The schism in the socio-cultural association emerged when Adebanjo, one of the leaders of Afenifere, endorsed the LP presidential candidate, saying it was the turn of the South-East to rule the country.

He said, “It is only Peter Obi that can rule independently without the influence of these criminals in the government. Tinubu will only give continuity to Buhari’s incompetence. We know Peter Obi very well, that’s why we endorsed him. He will not disappoint Nigerians, let’s put tribal differences apart and vote the right leader in.’’

But last Sunday, the APC presidential candidate visited Fasoranti’s home in Akure, the Ondo State capital, where he presented his manifesto to the Afenifere leader and also secured the endorsement of the elder statesman.

After praying for the former Lagos State governor, the nonagenarian  declared that Tinubu would win the 2023 election.

He said, “It is only Peter Obi that can rule independently without the influence of these criminals in the government. Tinubu will only give continuity to Buhari’s incompetence. We know Peter Obi very well, that’s why we endorsed him. He will not disappoint Nigerians, let’s put tribal differences apart and vote the right leader in.’’

But last Sunday, the APC presidential candidate visited Fasoranti’s home in Akure, the Ondo State capital, where he presented his manifesto to the Afenifere leader and also secured the endorsement of the elder statesman.

After praying for the former Lagos State governor, the nonagenarian reportedly declared that Tinubu would win the 2023 election.

Fasoranti said he remained the leader of Afenifere while dismissing the claim that the group had endorsed Peter Obi but Adebanjo, who took over from the Afenifere leader in March 2021 criticised the visit.

Shedding light on the moves to address the differences between the two Yoruba elders, Omololu assured that the issues would soon be thrashed out, insisting that there was no crisis in the association.

He stated, “Baba never sacked the acting leader, Pa Adebanjo. The acting leader will still be the one calling the meeting and the meeting will still be held at the leader’s place.

Consultations ongoing

“Consultation is the hallmark of Afenifere; all the leaders will still consult with each other. We have six leaders who make Afenifere, we call them the national leaders. They are at the peak; they are above the exco, they are above the caucus and the general meeting.

“If these six sit down and decide, that is the end. Anybody saying any other thing does not know Afenifere. These six will sit very soon and iron things out. Four of them were present in Akure, only two were absent.”

According to him, the report that Fasoranti had sacked Adebanjo was untrue, declaring that he remained the acting leader of the association.

Fasoranti, in a statement issued by his Personal Assistant, Mr Adedapo Abiola,   earlier on Thursday, said he never stopped Adebanjo from being the acting leader of the group and also faulted the media report on the matter.

Speaking further on the situation, the Afenifere organizing secretary stated that Adebanjo would call a meeting of the group at his convenience as the  leader of the association.

“There is no crisis to resolve in the first instance. The acting leader is the acting leader, he would call a meeting at his discretion. What the leader (Fasoranti) is saying is that the meeting will be held in Akure and he is not just saying it, that is just our tradition and also that is what every member wants.

“There is no crisis that one leader is holding onto one candidate or another leader endorsing another candidate. I think we should leave that to when people get to the polling booth, they know what to do. It is just for these leaders to give a moral direction.”

Omololu explained that the Yoruba group had always held its meetings at the residence of its leaders.

Explaining how Akure became Afenifere’s secretariat, he said, “When you look at it, right from Papa Ajasin’s days, meetings were held at his place in Owo; while we had an acting leader in place, everybody travelled to Owo for meetings. After the death of Baba Ajasin, the meeting moved to Ijebu Igbo at the residence of Baba Adesanya and it  is now in Akure at the residence of Baba Fasoranti. That is what baba is saying.

“I think there is gross misinterpretation in  what the leader said. The acting leader is  still the acting leader. He is still in charge. Only that meeting will be held in Akure. He never said the acting leader was sacked. He never used that word and he would never use that word. In the tradition of Afenifere, meetings are always held at the residence of the leader, I think that is what he said, he never said the acting leader is sacked.”

Similarly, a former Afenifere secretary,  Okurounmu, assured that the crisis would soon be resolved.

Responding to questions from one of our correspondents in Abeokuta on Thursday, the former chairman  of the 13–member Advisory Committee on National Conference explained that ‘’the elders are on the crisis and would soon resolve it.’’

He, however, declined to disclose the venue of the proposed reconciliation meeting.

Kaka dismisses reports

Also, a former  Senator representing Ogun East and Afenifere leader, Gbenga Kaka, dismissed reports that there was a crisis in the socio-cultural group, describing it as mere disagreement.

Kaka, who was also a  deputy governor of the state, said  the issue between Fasoranti and Adebanjo  was a matter of choices, adding that it would be resolved shortly.

He urged the public to disregard the information that there was a crisis in the Yoruba group.

He said, “There is no crisis in Afenifere; we should stop blowing or promoting unnecessary crises that are non-existent. People are bound to disagree and people are bound to have choices. So, I don’t know what you call a crisis; maybe you want to expatiate.

“Don’t we have beauty in plurality?  If we are from the same mother and same father and we decided that we want to eat Eba and Amala, that won’t create any crisis.

“So, we are like a family and we are one. Mere differences should not be termed as crisis and by the grace of God, whatever misunderstanding there is, would be resolved. We are looking into it and it will be resolved. So, it’s nothing to blow (out of proportion).”

When asked if there would be a meeting to resolve the issue, he said, “I am not supposed to be the one to tell you that; contact the secretary or contact the leaders or the executive members of the Afenifere. They will tell you if there is going to be any meeting.

“And we have been holding meetings every month. It’s statutory. So, it may not necessarily be a new one unless there is an emergency.”

He urged politicians to desist from tainting the reputation of the Yoruba leaders.

“Help us appeal to our people that if there are younger ones who want to climb the back of the elders to stardom or for pecuniary gains, they should not break the back of our elders.

“At 95 and 97, they have paid their dues; they have made their contribution that is outstanding and nobody should attempt to drag their good names and integrity into the mud.’’

The National Publicity Secretary of the Afenifere, Jare Ajayi affirmed that moves were ongoing to bring the two prominent leaders of the group together.

The Afenifere spokesman said what happened between the two leaders was a misinterpretation of issues which he said would be resolved very soon.

Ajayi stated, “When things of this nature occur, the elders usually find ways to make sure they don’t degenerate further. What happened is a question of misinterpretation; like I told you earlier, there is no crisis in Afenifere. All of them have the interest of Yorubaland at heart  and Nigeria as a whole. It will be resolved.”

Asked when next the Afenifere would hold a meeting and the venue, Ajayi said the group would meet soon but added that the notice that would be sent out would contain the venue, date and time.

“Yes, Afenifere will meet soon. When the meeting will be held, a notice will be sent out but that has not been done,’’ he clarified.

Similarly, the Secretary-General of the Yoruba Council of Elders, Dr Kunle Olajide, also said Yoruba leaders had swung into action to make sure the misunderstanding between the two leaders did not degenerate further.

The YCE secretary said, “Of course, efforts are being made behind the scenes to bring them together. That will not be done in public but we are all making efforts to make sure that we quickly bring our fathers together.

“Politics won’t divide them. Blood is thicker than water, political parties come and go but one’s relationship with your origin is cherished. Nothing can make one change their place of origin. You can’t change your birth place. I can tell you that efforts are being made to bring our fathers together.”

‘Adebanjo remains leader’

But  Bucknor-Akerele, said Adebanjo was still the leader of the group because Fasoranti had resigned.

Bucknor-Akerele in a phone interview with The PUNCH on Thursday, added that she did not know of any meeting would be held in Akure.

She said, “Baba Adebanjo is the leader of Afenifere because Baba Fasoranti resigned. I don’t know of any meeting that will be held in Akure. As far as I know, there is no meeting to be held as far as I am aware.

“I don’t think there is any quagmire on the ground because the two old men are very close to each other and I am sure eventually, the matter would be sorted out between them.”

Reacting to the reports that he was no longer the leader of the group, Adebanjo told The PUNCH that Fasoranti resigned from the position about two years ago, arguing that Afenifere was not a monarchy.

He stated, “Pa Fasoranti resigned on his own two years ago. I don’t want to go into that. He is no more the leader and I am saying that emphatically. Where does he derive the power to say I have resigned and I am coming back?

“Where is that in the constitution of Afenifere? Is Afenifere a monarchy? The pressmen should put that question to him particularly when you have seen the letter by which he resigned. You don’t continue to fan problems at this time, we want to move forward and I don’t want to engage in this argument of ‘you’re the leader and you’re not the leader.’ His time is past, that’s all.”

When asked if the meeting scheduled to come up in Akure will still hold, he said he was not aware of such a meeting.

Adebanjo added, “I don’t know about the meeting. You must also understand that the meeting you’re talking about was summoned under the auspices of another body. It was under a fraudulent thing that they turned into Afenifere. I don’t beg for leadership. I am a leader who knows his onions.”

Reacting to the conflicting signals in the Afenifere, the Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, said he doesn’t think there is a crisis in the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation.

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