Chief Sehinde Arogbofa is the Secretary-General of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere. He speaks with PETER DADA on the state of the nation and the forthcoming general elections, among other issues
Why has Afenifere come under severe attacks from different groups in recent time?
The Yoruba race is highly sophisticated and we expect people to have different opinions about issues. But in Afenifere, we are not bothered because we see it as a form of civilisation among our people. If you look at the name Afenifere, it will certainly provoke some jealousy or even anger. Many people don’t remember how the name came about. Afenifere means somebody who loves their neighbour. Others may feel angry; we don’t have any problem with that. But the group did not start with the name Afenifere. It was a way of popularising the Action Group among the Yoruba-speaking people so that they would properly understand the mission of the Action Group – a welfarist party. Afenifere is a welfarist group. We did not start with the name Afenifere; it was a popular man, who later turned against Afenifere that called it Afenifere. I have to give this background so that you will know what is really happening.
Attacking Afenifere did not start today. It has been a victim of attacks within its fold. If you remember what happened during the Action Group crisis, especially after the demise of the late sage, Obafemi Awolowo, more problems started coming up – some personal, some out of prejudice, even amongst members struggling for leadership positions. It was still better during the time of Papa Adekunle Ajasin. We had a situation where even among the leaders, splinter groups started coming up such as the Yoruba Council of Elders, when it became apparent that some people, under Afenifere, could not work with others. Not too long ago, we had the Yoruba Unity Forum, with some Afenifere members attending their meetings. It was formed to advance the Yoruba cause. They are still functioning; but how far have they gone?
Don’t you see this development as fractionalising your group?
Our group has not been fractionalised per se.
What about the Pa Ayo Fasanmi’s group?
Pa Ayo Fasanmi is one of our highly respected Yoruba leaders. We have respect for his age and experience in life. We have no issue with him. If he says he is a leader, he has to defend his leadership; where he got his own leadership, and how his own leadership emerged. Nowadays, we have leaders but Afenifere has its history of leaders. It has its succession plans for its leaders. We have just one leader at a time. It is like a monarchy; we don’t have a deputy monarch and we don’t have two monarchs on a throne. There is even a process through which a monarch emerges. In the case of Afenifere, it is being led by Chief Reuben Fasoranti. The late Chief Awolowo was our first leader. After his death, the mantle of leadership fell on Papa Ajasin, who held the baton well, except a few dissenting voices, which is normal in any case. But when he died, the mantle of leadership fell on another great Afenifere chieftain, Senator Abraham Adesanya. He held the forth very well in his own style. Every one of them had their style of leadership. When Papa Adesanya was sick, and going to functions was becoming a problem for him, the chieftains had to put their heads together and advised him to proclaim Chief Fasoranti as his successor. Senator Fasanmi was alive. Why did he not challenge the leadership then? Why now, after almost two decades? That is why some of us have strong feelings that there is something fishy? It appears that as good as the man is, he is allowing himself to be used. Afenifere is one; but we do not pretend not to see those that are moving away. We can’t stop them; they have the right to move away. We have those that had moved away and have come back.
Some groups have also accused you of maginalising the Muslims in the group. What is your reaction to this?
That is not true. We have many Muslims among us. If you come to our meeting in Akure, we pray both in the Christian and Muslim ways. Our doors are open to anybody irrespective of their religious or political affiliations. In as much as you are a Yoruba person, you are welcome. We don’t have business with the religion you practise.
Some have said your adoption of Atiku as presidential candidate does not represent the position of the South-West. What is your view on this?
That is their own view. Let me take you back a little. Sometime last year, those who matter among the Yoruba met in Ibadan at the Liberty Stadium. I think we have as many as 50 vibrant groups of the Yoruba extraction. What Afenifere did was to bring them together. The OPC members were there; traditional rulers were represented. People who have some voice in this country like Femi Fani-Kayode were there. They decided that they wanted the country restructured. They passed a resolution. If you failed to attend such meeting, who is to blame? Just of recent, as a follow up to what we did in Ibadan then, we came up with a kind of memorandum on Yoruba expectations for the 2019 presidency. Many groups, though not as large as that of Ibadan, such as Afenifere, YCE and Yoruba Koya, met and came out with the 2019 presidency expectations. Some of which are that there must be an immediate legislative action on restructuring from whoever becomes the president. We also agreed that the Yoruba would like to have visible presence in government, not ‘errand’ appointments. We said we would like a two-tier form of government to reduce waste and make government more functional. We talked about administrative devolution of power. We demand fiscal federalism and of course infrastructure – the roads are bad; our higher institutions are down and others. We talked about security. In this country today, life has become cheap. There must be security for lives and property. If there are Yoruba people who don’t want all these, then they are the people attacking us.
The presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, is not contesting the first time. Why the support for him now?
In the past when he came to pay homage to the leaders of the group, he was an aspirant then. We said you could only adopt a candidate of a party, not an aspirant. It is only the APC (All Progressives Congress) that had one aspirant who later became the candidate. But in the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party), we had many aspirants until a candidate emerged. I did say then that if Atiku succeeded in becoming the candidate, we would give him a serious look; that we would compare him with others that are available. If President Muhammadu Buhari had come, we would welcome him as a Nigerian. Before he became president, Afenifere had met him twice or more. We met him in Lagos around 2011. We also met him in Ibadan. In our meeting with him in Lagos, he did tell us that he would be a democratic leader, not a dictator, judging by his background. We said we would give him our support but unfortunately, he could not make it then. If he had come, we would have talked to him and asked him questions based on his plans. We want to talk to our president not by proxy. Atiku came and we asked him questions. For instance, we would have asked him (Buhari) about the issue of state police. We did not see him to tell him all these and you want us to just support him like that?
On the issue of security, we have suggested many things that will solve the problem in the short term. We have not seen him. Some people are standing between him and us. He has not even invited us for any dialogue.
Atiku came. He said he would restructure this country. We asked him how he would do it. He mentioned the issue of state police and a lot of things. He said he would look at the 2014 Confab report. I was a member of that conference and we had 600 resolutions. But our President said he had no business with it (report).
Do you fear Atiku could deviate from his promises if he eventually becomes the president?
I heard some people say Buhari and Atiku are 3×4 equals to 6×2. Those who argue that way sometime don’t remember the background of each of them. They may have come from the same tribe. Both of them are Fulani. But each of them has their background – one has a military background. Like I said earlier, you can easily reach Atiku, but you can’t easily reach Buhari. The issue of accessibility is very important. If you have any problem at any time, you must be able to reach your leader, not by a proxy. When people talk of corruption, they say Buhari is not corrupt, but Atiku is corrupt. Where are the corrupt people in the last government? Who is harbouring them now? Is it not the APC? And who is the leader of the APC? Buhari is the leader.
This present government promised us many things such as security. Where is the security now? Only a few days ago, we heard that Katsina State, the home state of the President, was under siege. A governor is crying out saying ‘save my state from destruction; attacks everyday’. In a civilised country, that is enough for such a president to throw in the towel. President Buhari must have been doing his best, but his best is not solving the problem. We need to have a new hand. We need a new approach. If Atiku had been corrupt, he might have seen things to make him change his mind. Why don’t you test such a person?
Why did you settle for Atiku when many other candidates promised restructuring?
In Nigeria, there are certain things you must have before you take an elective position. You must have the money; it’s important. You must have the following. The younger people don’t have the financial muscle.
Some people have urged the Yoruba to support Buhari so that power would come to the region in 2023. What is your view on this?
That is too simplistic. I hope Yoruba people would look back to what happened recently when the PDP was trying to zone some offices. The Yoruba were best positioned to produce the chairman of the party. But what happened over night, it changed. I have my doubts that a Yoruba man will become president in 2023. Many issues will come to play between the Igbo and the Yoruba. The voting power is important. The Yoruba should look back at what happened between Awolowo and Azikwe in the First Republic. Balewa and Azikwe easily came together and Awolowo was edged out despite the understanding formed between Awolowo and Azikwe. In the Second Republic, there was an alliance; the Yoruba man lost out. We are talking about 2023. How are we sure the same scenario will not play out? The 2023 presidency will not depend on the results of the 2019 presidential election alone. Igbo people are already positioned. Yoruba people are trying to position themselves. Has it ever worked out if these people are positioned like this? I don’t know how that will work. What we should be thinking now is how we will get this country restructured; how states will have their police; how resources in the states will be used; how certain percentage of whatever every state has will be sent to the centre and the rest for the development of the state. It will make everybody to work harder.
Do you think the President’s directive that nobody should use the state’s resources to finance elections is achievable?
Elections are here. Let’s credit Buhari for saying it. But achieving it is another thing. Those who are more corrupt are those close to the government machinery; don’t let us deceive ourselves. It is a good thing to say that but I hope it is not a ploy for his people to do other things.