Yoruba leader, Fasanmi, goes home today
• How his death will inspire Yoruba unity
When Pa Ayorinde Fasanmi, the leader of one of the factions of Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, took his last breath at the ripe age of 94 last Thursday, July 30 2020, one of the questions it raised was, whether the nonagenarian, and some of his contemporaries that are still alive, succeeded in reconciling all the splinter groups in the Southwest region before his departure. It was not clear if Pa Fasanmi was able to forge a common front with the Pa Reuben Fasoranti-led faction of Afenifere. It is also not certain whether he consulted with the chairman of Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Mr. Wale Oshun, to discuss the issue of Yoruba interest and progress.
It would be recalled that Afenifere, a once united family and umbrella body of all Yoruba socio-cultural groups, founded by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo remained united until the Fourth Republic, and specifically 2003, when it eventually cracked into three factions because of political differences among its leaders.
Fasoranti emerged as the leader of what many consider as the main body of Afenifere, while Pa Fasanmi emerged as leader of the faction loyal to the national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu. Oshun has been the leader of ARG, a group that emerged from crisis as supposedly neutral branch.
The three groups have been operating since 2003 with separate leadership, but with a common goal that is focused on restructuring Nigeria’s governance and operating system. Several stories have been told around Afenifere crisis. One of the consequences of the irresolvable friction among the Yoruba elders gave birth to Yoruba Unity Forum (YUF), headed by the wife Awolowo, Chief (Mrs.) Hannah Dideolu Awolowo. Yet, YUF has been unable to bring the Yoruba socio-cultural and political leaders to a unity table.
One of the crucial moments that defined Fasanmi and his relationship with the Yoruba nation, until last week, was his decision to pitch his tent with the camp of Tinubu, former Governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande, erstwhile Senator for Ogun East Senatorial District of Ogun State, Otunba Olabiyi Durojaiye, former governor of Ogun State, Chief Segun Osoba and others. They supported the presidential aspiration of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari during the 2015 general elections as against the position of Fasoranti, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Senator Femi Okurounmu and others, who stood by former President Goodluck Jonathan. ARG was neither here nor there, but it maintained its position on restructuring.
The Fasoranti faction stuck to Jonathan because the former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate organised a National Conference in 2014 upon which he based his campaign to restructure the country if reelected. But Fasanmi’s group vehemently supported Buhari on the premise that corruption epitomised the Jonathan administration, which they considered detrimental to Nigeria’s future and development. The Oshun group somehow maintained its neutrality and insisted on the need to restructure.
Another defining moment came in 2019 when Buhari sought reelection on APC’s platform in a contest against a former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, another candidate of PDP. It was expected that with feuture of the Buhari administration, to restructure the country as it is contained in APC manifesto and other shortcomings that infuriated many Yoruba personalities, the Fasanmi group to distance itself from Buhari. Yet Fasanmi sided with Tinubu and others and still supported Buhari, while Fasoranti and others tilted towards Atiku, who also promised restructuring.
On June 25 2019, barely a month after Buhari was reelected, Fasanmi led his faction of Afenifere to present five demands to President Buhari at the Villa in Abuja. During the meeting, Fasanmi told the President that the five demands would assist in addressing the challenges facing the country. However, the President was not moved to adopt the counsel of the elders.
Until his death last week, the nonagenarian remained committed to the demand to restructure and to have true federalism in the country. He was also a committed progressive, who maintained peace and close relationships with other leaders and elders irrespective of their socio-political leanings.
As Fasanmi begins his final journey home today, Durojaiye, in a tribute on behalf of Afenifere, described the late Ekiti State-born progressive as a committed leader.
According to Durojaiye, “We cannot forget his multiple achievements as a successful pharmacist, honourable member for Ekiti North in the Federal House of Representatives and a distinguished senator during the first and second republics of Nigeria respectively. He consistently remained in the ‘progressive’ divide of political thoughts throughout his life. He was a loyal supporter of Chief Obafemi Awolowo – foremost political leader of Yoruba. He was also a colleague and political associate of Senator Abraham Adesanya – the third and immediate past political leader of Yoruba.
“Born in lye-Ekiti, he spent the longer part of his life in Osogbo as a successful pharmacist and community leader. His landmark achievements in the church and in the public service of the two states were so remarkable that today the governments of Ekiti and Osun States are playing major roles to honour our veritable leader, who up till last Wednesday, July 29, 2020, when he breathed his last, was the oldest senator in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. No wonder the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria/President Muhammadu Buhari and many other distinguished Nigerians from all over the country have testified and paid glowing tributes to our humble and amiable leader.
“Although his amiable wife, Mrs. Felicia Adejoke pre-deceased him, Papa Fasanmi was blessed with and succeeded by many good and successful children, one of whom has risen to be a judge in one of the High Courts of Nigeria.”
Durojaiye added that the unique departure of Fasanmi should be a ground for the leaders of Yoruba race to speak with one voice in the interest and well being of Southwest and Nigeria in general.
In his tribute, the ARG chairman, Oshun expressed shock why some sections of the media are deliberately out to denigrate the leadership of the various Yoruba groups as if the bodies are at war with one another “whereas that is not true,” he said.
While Oshun agreed that Fasanmi’s death should and must be used to cement the unity in the Southwest, he said Fasanmi, until his death, was a mediator among all the groups.
According to Oshun, “In his life, Fasanmi was in touch with all the Yoruba groups until his death and his position remained the same about the present structure of the country, which all believes must be redefined. He stood for restructuring till he died, just as he did not relent from faulting the current system of collecting and sharing formula in the country, saying it is detrimental to development and progress.”
Oshun also described Fasanmi as a great man, who collaborated with ARG for the interest of Yoruba nation.
“He never sees ARG as a faction and neither would you hear him criticise anybody in Afenifere,” he said. “His death reminds all of us to do what we ought to do, because nobody knows when death will come. His death should be a rallying point for all Yoruba people.”
Tinubu, in his tribute, said Fasanmi was not only a unifying bridge, but that with his passing, the Yoruba nation has lost someone special and excellent in every way.
According to him, “Papa’s long sojourn on earth was for the good of all. He walked at the vanguard of all democrats, freedom fighters and believers in true federalism. To have lived to the age of 94 was God’s gift, not only to him and his family, but also to this nation he loved so deeply. A colourful personality, Papa was principled, courageous and honest. He was a loyal and dependable ally of the indomitable Chief Obafemi Awolowo. For all his life, Pa Fasanmi practised and advanced the virtues he learned at the feet of his leader. He never betrayed those values.”
While explaining his personal relationship with Fasanmi, Tinubu said, “I had a close relationship with Papa Fasanmi dating back many years. He was a mentor and role model to me and many others, who believe in progressive politics, as a means to uplift our society and its people.”
The national leader noted how Fasanmi devoted himself towards progressive development and democratic advancement, saying, “This fine job has not been completed. The Nigeria of our dreams is still a work in progress. Papa Fasanmi struggled for that dream and supported those patriots like President Buhari, who also toiled for the same goal. Let us all learn from Papa Fasanmi’s example and join hands to move Nigeria towards the safe harbour of peace and prosperity.”
The Fasoranti faction of Afenifere also poured encomiums on Papa Fasanmi despite taking different ideological views on development issues. Fasoranti eulogised Fasanmi as a great Nigeria patriot.
Fasoranti, on behalf of all members of Afenifere, said Senator Fasanmi would be remembered ‘as a firebrand AG member who distinguished himself as a principled fighter for the ideals of Awolowo in the days of the siege.
“As a UPN senator in the Second Republic, he was also very distinguished. His life was meritorious and would always be remembered,” he said.
What younger Yoruba sons and daughters want to see is, can the remaining leaders of Yoruba race seize the opportunity of Fasanmi’s exit to close ranks and work for the interest of their people and the country in general?