The statement by Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the 94-year-old acting leader of the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, that it is the turn of the South East to produce the next president of Nigeria, has triggered a cold war within the organisation, amidst the intense lobby for power to shift from North to South.
Chief Adebanjo had said, “We want peace and equity. It is the turn of the South East. It is the South East that the thing must go; there is no doubt about that.”
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At the moment, southern leaders are yet to reach a consensus on which part of the region would produce the president in 2023 – South South, South East or South West?
Those agitating for Igbo presidency have also argued that the South East geopolitical zone has not occupied that position since Nigeria returned to democracy.
The South West had produced Chief Olusegun Obasanjo for eight years, the South South had Dr Goodluck Jonathan for five years, and the North is about to complete an uninterrupted eight-year tenure.
It was on this basis that Adebanjo argued that the South East should be considered for the position.
As an elder statesman and leader of an influential regional group, his position has stirred national conversation and raised apprehension about the stance of the man vis-à-vis the group he leads. This is against the backdrop of the fact that there are several aspirants that have emerged from the same geopolitical zone as him. The question has been: What is the wisdom in shunning your kinsmen for another region?
Leading the pack of presidential aspirants from the South West is a former governor of Lagos State and the All Progressives Congress (APC) national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Others are Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State; a former governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; Senator Ajayi Boroffice, the Deputy Senate Leader, who hails from Ondo State, and Pastor Tunde Bakare, the presiding overseer of the Citadel Global Community Church (CGCC), formerly Latter Rain Assembly).
In the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a former governor of Ekiti State, Mr Ayodele Fayose, has also indicated interest in the race.
Daily Trust on Sunday had reported the decision of the Afenifere leader to ditch South West aspirants for the South East geopolitical zone.
This has fueled speculations in the South West that the decision might be part of the ongoing cold war between Adebanjo and Tinubu, seeing the former Lagos governor as the leading aspirant in the region.
The cold war between him and Asiwaju is not new. This is what has degenerated over time into an open confrontation directly and indirectly since Tinubu’s aspiration came to the fore in 2020.
It would be recalled that Bakare, in December 2020, had delivered a homily in his church, where he hit at some Yoruba leaders he described as “rancorous elements” who are in the habit of querying Tinubu’s ancestry.
In the 11-minute video, Bakare said, “I have a word for those Yoruba rancorous elements, noisemakers who had not achieved as much as Asiwaju Bola Tinubu had achieved, but they are always querying and worrying themselves about his ancestry.”
According to Bakare, a running mate to President Muhammadu Buhari when he ran under the defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) in 2011, the victory of the APC in 2015 and 2019 would have been impossible if not for the “cooperation and political dexterity” of Asiwaju.
“He delivered Lagos State and nearly all the South West states from the onslaught of the PDP from 1999 to 2007,” he stressed, adding, “I am not sure many of his traducers would have survived if they had gone through the vicissitudes of life that Asiwaju Tinubu went through.”
The Afenifere leader, at the time, was said to have been exasperated with the remarks attributed to Pastor Bakare.
It would be recalled that the late spokesman of Afenifere, the Yinka Odumakin, wrote at that time condemning Bakare’s statement.
He stated that the group’s leader, Pa Ayo Adebanjo was heartbroken over Bakare’s ‘political address.’
Writing on his Nigerian Tribune column at the time, he stated, “It is the very height of the abuse of the rostrum for a pastor to say to us, no matter how God-forsaken the country has become, that if somebody is accused of being a thief, the rest of us should go and become thieves as well.
“That is some weird Sunday school of demonic dimension bordering on arrogance and total disdain for your congregation, whom you no longer see as children of God but political instruments that can be abused for any purpose and desire.”
The next confrontation between Adebanjo and Tinubu occurred in recent times when a former governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande, released his book, “My Participations” which, among other things,, aimed to sell Tinubu’s candidature.
Akande, who pounced on many prominent figures, did not spare Pa Adebanjo, describing him as a blank politically-minded leader who does not have what it takes to aspire for high political positions.
Adebanjo later addressed a press conference, where he accused Akande of playing to the gallery because of Tinubu, dismissing the claim that Tinubu built his house.
Insisting that the house was built from his resources, he said, “My house at Lekki was built with my resources through the sale of three developed properties, loan from GTBank and the sale of undeveloped landed property given to me by my late leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
He also challenged Akande and Tinubu to disclose their sources of wealth.
“I hereby challenge Chief Bisi Akande to clear the air by disclosing the source of financing these properties as I have done above. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the great philanthropist, should also disclose the source of his wealth, with which he bankrolled the elections of the APC in the South West and that of General Muhammadu Buhari, and his various properties in Lagos. He should also authorise the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to verify such details as I have done above,” he said.
It was further gathered that Adebanjo’s position on a southeasterner as the preferred president in 2023 was in line with the decision of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), which the leader of Pan Niger-Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark, had further espoused, saying that for equity, justice, fairness, and in the spirit of one Nigeria, the South East should be supported.
The chairman of the Middle Belt Forum, Dr Bitrus Pogu, in a chat with Daily Trust on Sunday, confirmed this position. He said this would ensure justice, equity and fair play. He noted that the South West had enjoyed eight years as president under Obasanjo and another eight years holding a vice presidential position.
He said, “It is only proper that there should be equity, justice and fair play. Now that President Buhari is on the throne, it is only proper that the thing goes to the South and to South East.
“South South has enjoyed over five years, so the only geopolitical zone in the South that has not had it is the South East. It is only proper that we support the South East in the race. Nigerians should be fair, think of justice and ensure that the South East has a shot at the presidency.”
But for stakeholders in the South West, there is more to the Afenifere leader’s ditching of his kinsmen than meets the eyes.
This has, however, divided the group as a significant proportion of its membership is not in support of Baba’s position. To many of them, Adebanjo’s endorsement is a personal decision and not reflective of the collective decision of the group.
Those who spoke with Daily Trust on Sunday largely on the condition of anonymity because they were mindful of openly opposing Adebanjo, their leader, made reference to the fact that the Afenifere had not met to take a decision on endorsing any aspirant from any zone for presidency.
“In any serious organisation, any position to be taken on a public issue would be discussed at their meeting and resolutions would be made. This matter has never come up at our meetings, let alone taking a position on it.
“Baba has only expressed his feelings and nobody can stop him. Everybody is entitled to his opinion. Nobody is disputing that he is the acting leader of the Afenifere, but he has expressed his feeling as a leader and not as a group,” he said.
Another Yoruba group, under the aegis of the Yoruba Welfare Group (YWG), said Adebanjo’s position was influenced by his grudge against Tinubu.
The national president of the YWG, Comrade Abdulhakeem Adegoke Alawuje, in a chat with our correspondent said, “Tinubu is his problem and he wants to use that to destroy the entire Yoruba land.”
He said the name, Afenifere, could not be tied to the Yoruba race, and accused Pa Adenabjo of having a mission against them.
The group said members of the Afenifere were afraid of Tinubu’s possible emergence as the presidential candidate of the APC; hence their recourse to the South East.
He said, “These self-appointed Yoruba leaders in Afenifere have not in any way betrayed our expectation because they did similar things in the past, pitching their tent with former President Goodluck Jonathan, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki when the vast majority of the Yoruba rejected them. We are not surprised. Their problem is Tinubu, no more, no less.”
But despite the disquiet generated by the position of Chief Adebanjo, many people still look forward to the collective position of the group as the parties hold their primaries. Will the group go for an opposition candidate again as it did in 2019 when it supported the PDP candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar? Only time will tell.
When contacted on the matter, the national publicity secretary of the party, Comrade Jare Ajayi, declined comments on the development.