The trial of Afenifere

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*Afenifere leader, Ayo Adebanjo

Akin Osuntokun

It is now a platitude to argue that Nigeria is lurching and gyrating in a debilitating state of anomie, of systemic crisis. The significance of this identification is that the numerous challenges we grapple with on a daily basis have increasingly become unamenable to an item by item resolution. Once validly identified as one, a systemic crisis renders any isolated response to isolated manifestations of the crisis of little or no consequence in governance delivery.

Think of how the prevailing Nigerian power crisis challenge cannot be solved without ensuring that the component aspects of generation, transmission and distribution are held in sync and wholistically addressed. Once formulated as a systemic crisis, the prescriptive policy response has to be commenturately of system-wide dimension, scope and magnitude of (for instance) the order of entire constitutional overhaul. This system-wide imperative and model is presently represented in Nigeria as restoration of federalism ie restructuring; and adequately captured in the words of Wole Olanipekun “the news is everywhere and the propaganda has gone haywire that the National Assembly is amending the constitution as if what the constitution requires is an amendment rather than a total overhaul starting from the preamble to the definition schedule..all arms of government and government structures have to be redefined, resituated and restrategised for a new Nigeria which we bring about unity and faith, peace and progress.”

Left unattended, the systemic crisis soon degenerate into a state of of anomie.

It subverts the sociopolitical order and fosters political dysfunction and social disharmony. In the ensuing distortion and disequilibrium, institutional role players tend to get denatured; and absurdities get to constitute the new normal. This is the operative context within which the breach rather than the observance of the constitutional groundwork becomes normalised and predictable. It is the reason you are liable to the charge of lack of patriotism for suggesting that the serial and regular violation of the federal character principle does violence to the Nigerian constitution. It is the reason for political identity instability and discontinuities. It is the reason for the pervasive failure of leadership recruitment and succession.

Alongside the compelling news of the shocking departure of Yinka Odumakin on one hand and the appointment of Chief Ayo Adebanjo as leader of Afenifere at another, it is the reason why Afenifere is my subject matter today. To the immortality and apotheosis that Yinka has deservedly garnered, there is little for me to add other than anger and grief. Though in grief, I’m quite angry with him. Even when all conventional medical indication required him to do so, Yinka would not just slow down. Notwithstanding the noble and higher cause that consume our attention and commit ourselves, we are equally required never to lose sight of our human frailty. In the presumed certainty of inevitable return from the abyss of Covid-19 (into which we both stumbled), I had threatened to tie him down on his bed with a restraining belt for at least a month for a most needed recuperation and regeneration (apologies to Joe). The need for him to be so restrained was uniquely obvious to me on account of a 24/7 working relationship we shared in the past one year whose demands kept escalating in direct proportion to the unrelieved political sword of damocles dangling over Nigeria.

In almost any arena of human endeavour, attaining to a position of active and consequential leadership at the age of 93 years is guaranteed to raise eyebrows yet within the constraints of a warped political environment and his own track record, the appointment of Chief Ayo Adebanjo as Afenifere leader was logically anticipated. It is symbolic of the failure of political leadership recruitment and succession attendant on systemic breakdown.The wherewithal of this peculiarity hacks back to the collapse of the First Republic and the ensuing regime of political absurdities that followed.The collateral damage was the failure in the performance of the role of leadership recruitment which was rendered awol in the gap between 1966 and 1979.

Rather than renewal with successor generations, the political actors of 1966 were recycled to fill the vacuum created by the failure of the political system to fulfil the role of continuous and regular leadership reproduction and recruitment into the civilian political. Conventionally, the role of leadership recruitment into the political system is that of the political parties and pressure groups. The poverty of the performance of this role is self-explanatory in the non-existence of political parties for the better part of the period spanning 1960 to 1999.The political party system and the legislative institution are the most conspicuous and consequential casualties of military intervention in the governance of Nigeria-as elsewhere. And the more protracted the rule of military dictatorship, the more impoverished the political system and the attendant roles of the party system including leadership recruitment and reproduction.

In response to the the stimulus of the disabling muddle of Nigeria’s political disorder, Afenifere has had to adopt the survivalist mode of bending with the winds of adversity and in the process become captive to identity instability. The terms sociopolitical, sociocultural, political party are loosely and interchangeably employed to suit the moment by promoters and critics alike. The more dubious allegation is that as an instrument of Yoruba power politics projection it has underperformed and rendered the Yoruba to the status of ‘playing catch up with the North’. On account of the uniquely tragic failure of Nigerian politics, championed by the North, I couldn’t have imagined that playing catch up with the North as a worthy aspiration until a recent celebration of this failure as somehow commendable “their elders are behind the scene in advisory positions as Patrons. They do not make themselves seen or heard, they do not hug the klieglights like our own Babas, they just silently inject their knowledge and experience into the system to make decisions robust and strong. That is why we are always playing catch up to the North”.

In the first place, I can see no evidence of superior political acumen in the hegemony of the North other than the brazen enabling of British colonialism, holding the upper hand in the balance of terror equation of Nigerian politics and a questionable attribution of higher population- politics being the game of numbers. It is ironical that what is being touted as worthy of emulation has been achieved at the expense of what the leading Northern scholar, Dr Mahmud Tukur has condemned as “British economic and soical policies, such as blocking access to western education for the masses in most parts of northern Nigeria, which did not bring about development but its antithesis of retrogression and stagnation.” A contemporary manifestation of Tukur’s scholarly observation and critique is provided in the testimony of Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar: “No north is not secure at all. In fact, it is the worst place to be in this country because bandits go about in the villages with their AK47 and nobody talks to them. They stop at the markets and buy things and even collect change with their weapons.”

And Gimba Kakanda sums it up perfectly

“When, on November 2, the political and religious leaders of Northern Nigeria assembled in Kaduna to deliberate on the state of affairs in the region, so much was expected. Hosted by the Northern Governors’ Forum, it was intended to reassure the people of a pathway out of the cycle of killings and insecurity that had doomed the region. The first response expected at the Kaduna meeting was acknowledging the role of the participants in the production of this economically and educationally disadvantaged society. The dependency of the talakawa must’ve been an eyesore, but it was poverty serially weaponised to assert northern domination in Nigeria’s political power equation. The Kaduna meeting was of the members of the highest hierarchy of this pseudo-feudal society built on “ranka ya dade” culture, where the victims of entrenched corruption and political negligence serve as the foot-soldiers of Pan-Arewa agenda that doesn’t benefit the lower classes”.

“In their midyear report, Amnesty International tracked some killings across the North and reported about 1,126 deaths, with at least 380 kidnapped, in just 8 of the 19 states in the region between January and July.The state with the lowest poverty rate in Nigeria, according to the 2019 Poverty and Inequality in Nigeria document of the National Bureau of Statistics, was Lagos. It recorded an impressive 4.50 per cent, even though 40.1 per cent of the nation’s population lived in poverty. The highest was Sokoto state with a frightening 87.73 per cent of its population considered poor, followed by Taraba with 87.72 per cent, Jigawa 87.02 per cent, Ebonyi 79.76 per cent, Adamawa 75.41 per cent, Zamfara 73.98 per cent, Yobe 72.34 per cent, Niger 66.11 per cent, Gombe 62.31 per cent, and Bauchi 61.53 per cent. In fact, of the 20 poorest states ranked, which excluded Borno State, 17 were all in the North. No Northern state made it to the top 5 least poor, and only one, Kwara State with 20.4 per cent, made it to the top 10”.

“Nigeria holds the record for the most number of out-of-school kids in the world. With 13.7 million kids, most of whom are in the North, roaming the streets, redemption isn’t in sight. The kids are victims of the elite’s failure to sustain education policies suitable for their people. The consequent Almajiri system wasn’t designed to provide manpower for white-collar jobs, and the backwashes include rippling poverty, unemployment and insecurity that should dominate discussions at the Kaduna meeting. The resolutions of the Kaduna meeting were an attempt to preserve the extant social hierarchy. The elite present weren’t sympathetic to the people who had buried their loved ones and restricted from travelling for fear of certain gunmen abducting them for money. Just because the feudal lords and compliant vassals seated in Sir Kashim Ibrahim House, had failed to prioritise the interests of the serfs. The region’s major threats, which ought to have been the reason for the meeting, was addressed in the ninth resolution, and presented as “Calls for collective effort in addressing the lingering challenges of the North e.g. Almajiri system, insecurity, illiteracy, poverty, etc. (sic).” It’s the shortest paragraph in the communiqué: the biggest threats to the region, which have killed lives and wrecked the local economy, stated in a throwaway sentence and reduced to etceteras”.

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