April 28, 2021

Afenifere: Surviving military onslaught and the metamorphosis

Ayo Opadokun, former General Secretary of Action Group

Ayo Opadokun, former General Secretary of Action Group

One of the living political movements in Nigeria that has survived over time despite, external treats, assaults and self-inflicted injury of fractionalizations is AFENIFERE.

The name AFENIFERE was coined by Chief Meredith Augustus Adisa Akinloye CFR, after the official inauguration of Action Group on April, 28, 1951.

Mr. Ayo Opadokun, Afenifere’s former General Secretary in a press statement issued today to mark the 70th anniversary of the movement opined that Afenifere was never a registered political party but a propelling movement of people behind the Action Group, committed to the greatest welfare of the people.

Succinctly put, Afenifere was established by people who were committed to providing better quality of lives for all persons.

How did Afenifere survived the military onslaught?

Nigeria’s first military junta began following the 1966 coup d’état which overthrew the First Nigerian Republic.

History had it that Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi became the Head of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria, serving for six months before being overthrown and assassinated in the 1966.

Aguiyi-Ironsi was succeeded by General Yakubu Gowon who ruled the country from 1966 to 1975. In 1976, Murtala Mohammed succeeded Gowon. His reign was short-lived as he was assassinated by Buka Suka Dimka and later succeeded by Olusẹgun Ọbasanjọ as the head of state.

Ọbasanjọ handed power to the elected Shehu Shagari, ending the military regime and establishing a Nigerian Second Republic.

In 1983, Shagari was overthrown and succeeded by Muhammadu Buhari, who was later overthrown after two years in 1985 by General Ibrahim Babangida.

In 1993, Babangida temporarily handed power to the interim head of state Ernest Shonekan who later was overthrown by General Sani Abacha.

In 1998, after the death of Abacha, General Abdulsalami Abubakar took over until Olusẹgun Ọbasanjọ came back as a democratically elected president through the 1999 presidential election.

During these military regimes, many decrees were made to suite the leadership system of the time. Some of these decrees nonetheless were too rigid and hard for the masses.

The head of states controls the affairs of the country, dictating what he feels was perfect for the country.

Some of their decrees and policies affected many political parties, cultural organizations, political movement’s etcetera in the country. Many organizations died a natural death but the likes of Afenifere survived the onslaught.

In his statement titled EXISTENTIAL TRANSFORMATION/METAMORPHOSIS OF AFENIFERE, Mr Ayo Opadokun gave reasons Afenifre survived the military onslaught. According to him:

After the first military insurrection of January 15, 1966, the Military Junta under General Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi issued series of decrees that suspended and abrogated the 1960 & the 1963 Republican Federal Constitutions to give itself some semblance of legitimacy.

Let it therefore be stated again and for posterity that the negotiated 1960 Independence Constitution which was amended to produce the 1963 Republican Federal Constitution remained the only legitimately produced constitution that was democratically subscribed to by Nigerians. Nigerians have not been given the democratic rights to produce an Autochthonous Constitution but rather, the Military Junta have severally imposed decrees called “Constitutions ” that have unitarised and centralized Nigeria for the undue advantage of a section of Nigeria till date.

Major General Johnson Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi, the new Military Head of State and Commander In-Chief on the 24th of May 1966 issued supplement to Official Gazette Extraordinary No. 51, Vol. 53, 1966 part A in a THE PUBLIC ORDER DECREE 1966 where in section 1 he announced the Dissolution of Political Parties, Tribal Unions and Cultural Organizations.

In schedule, Part 1, Section 1 and 12, the gazette listed the Political Societies or Associations. 84 Political Parties and Organizations that were dissolved. Along with that, the decree also dissolved 26 Tribal and Cultural Associations. The names were contained in the decree that is hereby annexed as Annexure 2 with explanatory remarks.

As soon as Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the sage left and resigned from General Gowon’s Government, on July 1, 1971, (General Gowon’s response to Chief Awolowo’s resignation is hereby attached as Annexure 3), he and his closest allies started to brainstorm on the prospect for Nigerian political future ie the Second Republic. The group eventually crystalized into what was known as “The Committee of Friends”.

Part of their resolutions had to do with the name to be adopted for whatever political organization they formed. The Committee was composed of star studied people in several respect, quite a number of old faithful and respectable guards of the Action Group were the initial frontliners.

They were mindful of the Military Decree No. 33, A. 149 of 24th May, 1966 which had dissolved Political Parties Societies and tribal organizations and the transition decree of Muritala/Obasanjo government which prohibited any linkage with the First Republic Political Parties. Arising from the variously adopted policy options, the group adopted the name UNITY PARTY OF NIGERIA, UPN which was a National Political Party but was equally known as EGBE IMOLE in Yoruba land. So, AG/AFENIFERE became muted.

However, as Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s unending political transition agenda was evolving after the transition to glory of the AVARTAR, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, SAN, the former Governors of the UPN commenced meetings under the Chairmanship of Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, CFR, in Owo and was called Owo Group for sometimes before the group became People’s Consultative Forum, PCF. At the first meeting of the Governors, the meeting decided to invite me to join their next meeting and to be its General Secretary and Spokesman. That was how I served the organization for 15years honourarily.

At a meeting held in Chief Bola Ige’s, Ibadan residence sometimes in 1992 we examined the prospect of adopting a name for our organization. A committee was constituted to verify whether or not Afenifere was among the organizations dissolved. The report of the committee was received at a meeting held in the Lagos, Ilupeju residence of Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande (now late). The report findings indicated that Afenifere was not listed in the Military Decree of May 1966. Members were happy to rename the group with its original appellation, AFENIFERE. The Gazette is already attached to this piece for ease of reference as Annexure 2.

After the death of the most brutal dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha and the emergence of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, GCFR, we eventually reverted to our familiar MOVEMENT name. How did it happen?

There was a Southern Leadership Forum which was holding in Chief Olu Falae’s house many times in 1998. Hitherto, in the absence of Senator Abraham Adesanya who was abroad, Chief Ige who presided at an Afenifere meeting in Ijebu-Igbo read out dates for meetings he had fixed with other political organizations. And about four of us from Afenifere met with the Umaru Shinkafi Group for about one hour at Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja in a business manner like but which revealed that he had met severally with the group and perhaps reached some agreement to which we were not privileged to know until later from outside sources.

Meanwhile, the MOVEMENT had asked me sometimes in September 1998 to attend a meeting with groups which later established the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and was hosted by Prof. Jerry Gana. The Movement nominated Chief Bola Ige and Ayo Adebanjo to also attend the second meeting. When Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu and Dr. Sola Saraki were sighted by the duo, who were my own seniors, the duo asked us to withdraw our participation because we should not be found associating with such people. After a lot of exchange of views, with many colleagues, we rejoined the meeting. Chief Bola Ige was appointed to chair the Constitutional Drafting Committee and I was appointed as the Secretary. The meetings were to be held at MUSON CENTRE, Onikan, Lagos.

On the date that we returned to Chief Falae’s house for a continuation of the Southern Leadership Forum meeting, Chief Falae was abroad. The meeting was dispirited when Chief Bola Ige informed members that we should not attend the Constitution Drafting Committee meeting because, he had it on good authority that the group had made up its mind as to who will be its presidential candidate. I opposed this position by restating that we were in a vantage position to marshal out superior arguments that could enable us win the coveted ticket. But I was alone because Senator Adesanya himself was absent.

Later on, the meeting decided that we should go to Abuja to hold a crucial meeting with the Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi group, a day before the National Convention to agree as to whether or not we could jointly form a political party together. Chief Olu Lulu Briggs (now late) was elected to be our Team Leader. And the meeting was fixed for 7. 0clock pm at NICON HILTON HOTEL, ABUJA.

However, for reasons that should not be discussed here, it happened that Chief Ige had gone ahead to hold a meeting with the Shinkafi group around 7pm, and at about 10pm he came out to invite Chief Adebanjo.

When the rest of us waited till 1am, without being invited to attend the scheduled meeting, we all moved to Chief Lulu Briggs suite and we concluded there and then not to have anything to do with whatever may be the resolution from the ongoing meeting with the Shinkafi group from which we were alienated. Even though we never planned to form a Political Party when we left Lagos, the event recorded here led us to decide to form our own political party. Chief Bola Ige on return to his suite was dispirited when we met him and he returned to Lagos the following morning and played no part in the registration of AD/Afenifere.

Unfortunately, one of those with us in Chief Briggs suite was a plant of the Adedibu collective. We were shocked to find out in the morning when we got to INEC office to find that the name ACTION CONGRESS/ACTION ALLIANCE which were our first choices had been applied for just about an hour earlier by Alhaji Adedibu’s lieutenant.

Therefore, we had to utilize our industry and reach to adopt the name ALLIANCE FOR DEMOCRACY, AD. The process to get a befitting Constitutional Draft, Manifesto, Logo, Emblem, Slogan were arrived at. We amended a draft constitution which I took along just for exigencies and apportioned responsibilities. Mr. (now Dr. Jimmy Imo) handled manifesto, Senator Mrs. Kofo Akerele Bucknor handled logo and emblem. The duo are alive to confirm the authenticity of this information. And just before the 5pm deadline we were able to submit our application along with the necessary requirement at the INEC National Headquarters Office.

It is critical to state for all to hear this, that it was the names contained in the Register of AFENIFERE in all Yoruba States including Kwara and Kogi that were used to register Alliance for Democracy. AFENIFERE therefore, was the platform upon which the AD was constructed and upon which the six candidates in Yoruba States contested and won.

AD was the National Name, but songs/lyrics were waxed on Afenifere whose leadership had been the FRONTLINERS of the NADECO struggle. So when for reasons best known but certainly not for the group interest some elected and Afenifere Leaders started to insist on separation of AD from Afenifere, they knew they were playing dirty politics.

The younger folks from New Generation and Idile Groups who in 1999 commended our steadfastness and resilience and courage to provide leadership for the Yoruba Nation against the onslaught of violent repression and humiliation by Gen. Sanni Abacha also appealed to us that they were ready to assist Afenifere to consolidate its credible leadership. And after about 3 to 4 months they were permitted to send 5 representatives each to attend Afenifere meetings. This was there maiden encounter and involvement in Afenifere. AD/Afenifere had already installed 6 Governors before they came to join Afenifere.

It is always suicidal to demystify the platform on which you were elected into political office because the myth would have been deflated and could not be available again for your use. The then President Obasanjo who wanted to win power in the South West at all cost in order to be allowed to run for the second term on the PDP platform used a senior member of Afenifere to weaken the organization by influencing some governors to treat Afenifere’s advice with levity. Furthermore, the same external influence forced an impostor, named Alhaji Abdulkadir, unknown to most of those who formed the AD, as the Chairman of the party. The rest is history as they say.

However, the performances of most of the six governors of AD/Afenifere were relatively commendable and pace setting as that of their forebares in the Action Group and the UPN of the 1st and 2nd Republics.

For example, each of them continued with the Free Education Programme with some modifications and that enabled many poor people’s children to enroll into public schools. Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the Governor of Lagos State succeeded in expanding the revenue base of Lagos State beyond expectation.

The consequence of that was that he was able to deliver some appreciable infrastructures and services that were relatively novel at that time. Chief Bisi Akande, the Osun State Governor with his very low receipt from the Federation Account delivered impactful services including the construction of an enviable State Secretariat that remain his everlasting legacy and many rural roads without borrowing a dime throughout his tenure.

There was no area of Ogun State that did not experience the development programme of Aremo Segun Osoba as the Governor (helmsman) of Ogun State. Chief Lam Adesina and Otunba Niyi Adebayo were spectacularly commendable as Governors of Oyo and Ekiti State respectively particularly because they struggled to continue with the free education programme that the Action Group/Afenifere’s Government led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo introduced in 1955.

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