In this two-part series, we are reviewing for the record the roles that Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark, and Yoruba leader, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, are playing in defence of equity and justice through the faithful implementation of the rotation and zoning mechanism on the South’s behalf.
LAST week, I outlined how Clark transited from a foe to friend of the Igbo nation. I recounted the role the Igbo played to make an Ijaw, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, President. Since then, Clark has become a strong advocate for the South-East to produce the next president, being the only zone in the South yet to be so favoured under the rotational system.
Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu claimed it was the turn of the Yoruba. How can that be? The South-West produced the president between 1999 and 2007. The Igbo supported Chief Olusegun Obasanjo with their votes in 1999 and 2003, even when the likes of Tinubu were opposed to him.
Tinubu has the right to vie for the presidency, but he cannot predicate it on the zoning. That is a fraudulent claim.
And this is where Pa Adebanjo enters this story. This ebullient nonagenarian was part of the old Chief Obafemi Awolowo political group which held sway in the old Western Region. The Afenifere which he now leads, is the socio-political and cultural school of thought which upholds the ideological thrust of Awoism.
Its main purpose is to act as a guide to ensure that Yoruba’s Awoism values remain the definers of politics and development in the South-West. The idea is that when the discussion of the Nigerian Question is finally held, Yoruba interests and values as already defined by Awoism are taken by Afenifere to the conference table.
When General Ibrahim Babangida was working out his transition to civil rule programme in the early 1990s, Afenifere was revived under the leadership of the oldest Awoist, Pa Adekunle Ajasin. It became part of the Council for Unity and Understanding, CUU, which was founded by former Chief of General Staff, retired Commodore Okoh Ebitu Ukiwe.
The CUU was an alliance of the South-East, South-South, South-West and Middle Belt leaders. Its main mission was to ensure power shift from the North which, since 1967, had been in power except for the Obasanjo military regime. Its leading lights included Ukiwe, Chief Bola Ige, Alabo Graham Douglas, General T. Y. Danjuma, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu and others.
When Chief MKO Abiola’s presidential victory was annulled in June 1993, the CUU, which had brought in the like of Chief Anthony Enahoro, transformed into the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO. The Coalition saw Abiola’s mandate as the achievement of power shift through the freest and fairest election ever.
So, they decided to join the fight for the reversal of the annulment and the swearing-in of Abiola. Tinubu, who was then a senator, joined NADECO, went into exile and returned a June 12 hero. It was based on his roles during the NADECO struggle that the Afenifere-controlled Alliance for Democracy, AD, gave Tinubu the ticket for the governorship seat of Lagos which he won in 1999.
Afenifere committed political hara-kiri in 2003 when they threw their weight behind Obasanjo to give him a “home base”.
Refusing to support Obasanjo, Tinubu pulled out of Afenifere and formed his own party, the Action Congress, AC. Obasanjo “captured” five of the six states of the South-West, except Lagos in the 2003 elections and proceeded to emasculate Afenifere politically.
Tinubu, who had become a political whiz kid of sorts, took over control of the South-West political mainstream as from 2007. Afenifere, having lost its political clout to Tinubu, has become a nonpartisan regional advocate.
Pa Adebanjo emerged as Afenifere leader in March 2021 following the abdication of Pa Reuben Fasoranti on grounds of old age. Adebanjo has deployed the group to foster unity, solidarity and friendship among the original constituents of the CUU/NADECO coalition which is now the South and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, SMBLF. It consists of Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, and the Middle Belt Leaders Forum, MBLF.
This coalition agitates for power shift from the North to the South after eight years of Northern rule through Muhammadu Buhari. It specifically calls for the presidency to be zoned to the South-East since South-South and South-West have been favoured. I call Pa Adebanjo and Chief Clark “last Southern elders standing” because they have remained unflinching on the principle of “justice to whom it is due”.
They know that if the North snatches the presidency after taking its eight years turn, the South may never again produce an elected president in our life time. They also know that once the South-East loses its turn, it may never produce a Nigerian president. The case for Biafra will be made beyond reasonable doubt.
For Ndi-Igbo, Pa Adebanjo is a true friend, as opposed to Tinubu and his followers who are hostile to them, especially in Lagos. After the EndSARS protest of October 2020 which led to the Lekki Tollgate Massacre, hoodlums attacked and burnt down Lagos government property, went after some politicians, looted private businesses and ransacked the palace of the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu.
Without proof, some Tinubu supporters tried to shift the blame on Lagos Igbo residents, obviously hoping for an ethnic crisis to recover their lost support base.
But Pa Adebanjo, leading the Afenifere along with other well-meaning Yoruba groups at home and abroad, successfully poured cold water on the fire.
Pa Adebanjo and Chief Clark have established a legacy of justice and friendship which is worthy of being sustained long after they have gone. Without this alliance, the North will enslave the South and eventually Islamise it. They are the South’s last elders standing.