Afenifere Leadership: Pa Olaniwun Ajayi, Adebanjo, Falae, Adebayo In Race For

•Members seek generational shift

imageAfenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, will hold an emergency meeting in Akure, the Ondo State capital, today to discuss the resignation of its leader, Pa Rueben Fasoranti, and the appointment of his successor.

The organisation, which has no written constitution, will rely on convention to select another leader. Sources said the meeting will take place at Fasoranti’s residence at Ijapo Estate. Chieftains are expected from the six Southwest states of Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, and Oyo, and Kwara and Kogi states.

A member from Lagos State said the chieftains would deliberate on the resignation and other important matters. “A new leader may emerge after the meeting,” said the chieftain, who pleaded for anonymity.

Reporters were not allowed into Fasoranti’s residence yesterday. One of his aides said the octogenarian politician has been indisposed for weeks, adding that he was not willing to speak with anybody.
According to sources, opinion is still divided on the resignation because of its implications for the group. “We are going to meet in Akure today. People will make suggestions. Some members still want Fasoranti to continue. Although the job is rigorous, but there are people around him who can assist him in the discharge of the duties. But, if a new leader is to be picked eventually, we will discuss it together. That is the situation,” a chieftain told our correspondent on phone.

A source said those in the race to succeed Fasoranti include 91-year-old Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Olu Falae, Chief Cornelius Adebayo and Dr. Amos Akingba. All but Adebayo were delegates to the last National Conference in Abuja.

However, some members of the group are agitating for generational shift. In their view, a young, energetic leader should succeed Fasoranti while the elders should guide and support him.

A foremost Awoist, Ajayi is a prominent lawyer and founding member of the defunct Action Group (AG), led by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He served as Commissioner for Education in the defunct Western Region.

In the Second Republic, he was a chieftain of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). Following the annulment of the historic June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the late Chief Moshood Abiola, Ajayi fought for the reversal of the annulment along with compatriots in Afenifere and the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). In his books, the seasoned author has always defended the interest of Yoruba.

When Fasoranti’s predecessor, Senator Abraham Adesanya, was indisposed, many chieftains perceived Ajayi as the natural successor. But, younger elements, including Mr. Jimi Agbaje, Prince Dayo Adeyeye and Mr. Yinka Odumakin, advised the ailing leader to appoint Fasoranti as acting leader to erase the insinuation that Yoruba leaders of Ijebu and Remo origin were dominating the affairs of the organisation.

Adebanjo is a combative political warhorse. Although he is 87, he is energetic, bold, brave and unapologetic. He is a pioneer AG Organising Secretary and close associate of Awolowo. He was with Awo during the treason felony trial, following the allegation that he was among the boys being trained in Ghana to overthrow the Balewa Government. Although the lawyer has not won any elective position throughout his long political career spanning almost six decades, he was perceived as a consistent politician; principled and fearless.

His support for former President Goodluck Jonathan’s second term ambition took many by surprise. Many Afenifere chieftains in the Senator Ayo Fasanmi faction have criticised him for making inflammable statements that contributed to the split in the organisation and made reconciliation impossible.

Falae joined the political family when he entered politics in the aborted Third Republic. A brilliant economist, the Olu of Ilu-Aabo is a one-time Secretary to Federal Military Government and Minister of Finance. His presidential ambition crumbled twice when he sought for the ticket in the proscribed Social Democratic Party (SDP) and when he later ran on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy/All Peoples Party (AD/APP) in 1999. He was a prominent NADECO chieftain; vocal and analytical.

Adebayo is a former don. He was also a commissioner in the old Kwara State. In 1979, he became a senator on the platform of the UPN. Four years later, he became the governor. In 1999, he declined to join the AD, although he remained a credible member of Afenifere. Adebayo served as minister in Obasanjo administration. When Pa Adesanya took ill, some chieftains wanted him to act for the leader. But, he politely declined for personal reasons. Although the anti-graft body was after him after he left government, many Yoruba perceive him as a man of honour and integrity.

Fasoranti forwarded his resignation letter to Afenifere secretary Basorun Seinde Arogbofa last weekend, citing old age as reason for stepping aside. However, he took the decision without hinting his closest associates. Thus, the resignation took the group by surprise.

In the last two years, Afenifere has been passing through storm and stress. Its former secretary, Senator Femi Okunrounmu resigned. A source said the former university don had urged Afenifere to embrace the Unity Forum as the umbrella organisation for Yoruba. But, his suggestion generated controversy in the organisation.

Some chieftains, the source added, decided to distance themselves from the organisation when it admitted some PPD chieftains and endorsed their political aspirations. A prominent chieftain said the decision to support former President Jonathan was not the collective decision of the group.

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