Throughout history, it has been recorded that men and women of courage have, at vital times, always made the difference in the lives of a people, and thus steered the people’s destiny to greater outcomes. The lives of great individuals like Martin Luther King (Jnr); Nelson Mandela and several others readily come to mind.
Such leaders, through their actions, outspokenness and even inactions at the most auspicious times, have turned around the fortunes of generations (and even the entire humanity) for the better.
These are legends around whom larger than life tales are spun eulogizing their history. It is to such a category that this column reserves Chief Ayo Adebanjo, leader of Afenifere and the organization he leads. It is also to them that this week’s column is dedicated.
By his recent declaration and subsequent elaboration as to why he and his multitude of Anifere followers shall not support either of the two behemoths – Bola Tinubu of APC and Atiku Abubakar (PDP) in the upcoming 2023 Presidential elections, Pa Adebanjo, has inadvertently given hope to hundreds of millions of Nigerians across the world that all is not lost for this nation. Pa Adebanjo has proven a rare breed in this era of unprincipled political ideologies, where most people (even elders!) have sold their conscience for a mess of porridge.
Remarkably, and with amazing courage the old man (now in his eighties), recently declared his and his organization’s unalloyed support for Peter Obi, candidate of Labour Party in next year’s Presidential election! He based his position on the factors of “justice and fairness” as well as in the spirit of “true federalism and the Federal Character principle”.
Adebanjo disclosed that, “Not a few Yoruba leaders questioned why I should be supporting Peter Obi, a candidate of Igbo extraction, against Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, a Yoruba.” Not surprising, knowing Nigerians.
The grand PA however explained: “I took my time to explain that the Presidency is not a contest between the Yoruba and the Igbo, and to a large extent I was able to convince many.”
He however regretted that, ever since then, “the social media has been filled with comments tending to ethnicize the campaign instead of making it issue-based.” Not surprising either, grand Pa!
The elderly gentleman further disclosed that Afenifere “is the Yoruba interpretation of the social welfarist ideology of Action Group, a highly principled political party founded by late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his colleagues in 1951 with strong advocacy for federalism as the best form of government to give the federating units the requisite autonomy to thrive and peacefully compete among themselves for the ultimate development of Nigeria.”
He listed other founding fathers of Nigeria to include Sir Ahmadu Bello, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and others who had agreed to the system with the endorsement of colonial secretary Sir Oliver Littleton in 1954 “and embodied in the 1960 independence constitution. This is the modest contribution of Afenifere in shaping Nigeria into a federation where no person or ethnic nationality is to be oppressed.”
This, he, is why Afenifere has always advocated and insisted on restructuring of the country “long before the parties conducted their conventions to elect their National Executives and candidates,” and had proposed “a synthesis of the identical Resolutions of the 2014 National Conference and the APC El-Rufai 2018 True Federalism Committee.”
Furthermore, PA Adebanjo disclosed,vAfenifere and the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum “unanimously proposed that the minimum condition for a peaceful transition from the disastrous eight years of Buhari’s government headed by a President of northern extraction was to have the next President from the South,” a position which, he said, was supported by southern Governors, irrespective of their political parties.
He added, “In this quest for peace, based on equity and inclusiveness, the Yoruba took the first turn at the zoning arrangement in 1999, and that led to the emergence of Chief (Olusegun) Obasanjo; the current Vice President is a Yoruba man and equity forbids us for presuming to support another Yoruba person for the presidency in 2023.
“The current President is a Fulani from the North-West and by virtue of the zoning arrangement that has governed Nigeria since 1999, power is supposed to return to the south imminently.
“The South-West, as I have pointed out, has produced a president and currently sits as VP, the South-South (through Goodluck Jonathan) has spent a total of six years in the Presidency, but the Igbo people of the South-East have never tasted Presidency in Nigeria, and now that the power is due back in the South, equity demands that it be ceded to the Igbo.” How trenchant!
He continued: “We cannot continue to demand that the Igbo people remain in Nigeria, while we at the same time continue to brutally marginalise and exclude them from the power dynamics.”
Pa Adebanjo ended by saying, “We can neither support ceding of the PDP presidential ticket to “a Northern Fulani Muslim to succeed General Muhammadu Buhari, another Fulani Muslim, who will soon complete eight years of uneventful and disastrous rule. One can imagine such a high degree of political insensitivity!”
The Afenifere leader firmly concluded that his group would not jettison equity, inclusiveness and justice just because one of their own — Asiwaju Bola Tinubu — is in the contest.
“We will not compromise this principle of justice, equity and inclusiveness because one of our own Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is a frontline candidate,” he stated unequivocally.
Adebanjo said Afenifere had “no apologies but due courage of our conviction that Nigeria can only prosper in righteousness,” and reiterated that, “To keep Nigeria one, everyone should be Obi/Datti compliant.
The Pa Adebanjo example is already receiving wide commendation across the world, particularly in South-East Nigeria where a major pan Igbo socio-political organisation South East Revival Group, SERG, has commended him for the magnanimous venture. President and National Coordinator of the group Chief Willy Ezugwu, in a statement in Abuja, noted that, “The unequivocal support coming from this credible South West political bloc, which the Afenifere represents, is a support for equity and justice, which will boost Nigeria’s national unity.”
The South East group maintained that “the renewed declaration of support for the Peter Obi Presidential bid, alongside his running mate, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, by the Afenifere has demonstrated that there are still individuals and groups around who love the country and would sacrifice anything to keep Nigeria united and prosperous.
“The support by Afenifere is in line with the advocacy sustained by the former Executive Governor of Kaduna State and elder statesman, Alhaji Balarabe Musa ahead of the 2023 general elections before his death. Musa had urged Nigerians to give the South East the chance to produce the next President of Nigeria in 2023 to give the region a sense of belonging.
“We, therefore, totally agree with Pa Adebanjo that by Afenifere’s support, the group is contributing to shaping Nigeria into a truly Federal Republic where no person or ethnic nationality would be sidelined or oppressed.
“We recognize the fact that Afenifere as well as the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum have been consistent in their advocacy for restructuring and, by extension, the need for a Nigerian President of South East extraction as part of efforts towards national integration.
“With this reiterated endorsement from the Afenifere against all odds, it should now sink into the minds of all Nigerians, especially South East political leaders, that the Peter Obi Presidential bid is devoid of ethnic colouration and must be embraced by all and sundry in Igboland.
“We therefore call on all Igbo sons and daughters to join the support train, not because Peter Obi is an Igbo but because he has proven to be competent with reasonable understanding of Nigeria’s problems and how they can be fixed.
“Nigeria is greatly troubled on every sector, with complications from security challenges as evident in all parts of the country and we need urgent rescue from total collapse.
“Peter Obi has a track record of integrity, competence, proven performance and has expressed his readiness to work with Nigerians of all tribes and religion to make the country work again by focusing on production, which will boost the country’s economy and return the country to the path of recovery and prosperity”, SERG said.
Night Pen Chant commends the enthusiasm of SERG and views Pa Adebanjo’s courageous example with hope that it may yet be the saving grace of the Nigerian nation as well as of the battered image of the Yoruba people, most of whom have decided to jettison decency, equity and (arguably) the last opportunity Nigerians may have at rebuilding their battered nation for greed and tribal considerations.
It is now up to Nd’Igbo of all callings to up their game, consolidate on the solid support of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) and (now) Afenifere, genuinely reach out to the rest of Nigeria and its teeming youth clamouring for Peter Obi and claim their rightful prize of Nigeria’s Presidency come 2023.
Ohanaeze Nd’Igbo, the Igbo business community home and abroad, all Igbo socio-cultural associations and every Ony’Igbo irrespective of political affiliation, must key in and seize this golden opportunity. It may never come again.