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After Adesanya, Who Next? by Sola Lawal



 The ever robust political discourse terrain in Yorubaland and beyond came, once again, alive with the demise of the erstwhile Yoruba leader, Pa Abraham Aderibigbe Adesanya. Various pundits have placed their bet on one or the other among the jostlers for the now vacant seat of Yoruba leader. This is novel. I mean these speculations, the interest, the informal contest. Elsewhere some Yoruba-based organisations have come out to say the next leader would emerge at their scheduled conventions.

 For real, this debate is in the air. Chief Richard Akinjide, elder statesman, not eager to be left out, added his own voice, although for a different reason. Chief Akinjide was aghast that the mortality of a group’s (Afenifere) leader could be equated to the loss of Yoruba leader. He simply contended that Yoruba leader is not dead.  There are many leaders in Yoruba land, he posited. With due regard to the respected Chief Akinjide, he is outstandingly wrong.

 Although late Adesanya started out at the Yoruba apex leadership scene as deputy to late Chief Adekunle Ajasin who was then Afenifere leader, the events and circumstances of the Abacha dark days threw up a nagging quest for the brave and gallant to lead the Yorubas through the minefield of Abacha dictatorship. Then the circumstance was akin to Israelites quest for a Moses in their hour of need. At that point, the ever vibrant pool of prospective Yoruba leaders suddenly dried up. Then it was a sin worse than murder to be tagged NADECO or MKO Abiola’s sympathiser. Chief Ajasin led the battle till he breathed his last.


 It was to the credit of Adesanya who took over from Ajasin that modern Afenifere became a household name across Yorubaland and the nation. Afenifere underwent rapid transformation particularly in the area of militancy under Adesanya. The group also witnessed influx of dynamic and committed young progressives in Yorubaland into the group. These ones constitute the band of die-in-the-wood non-compromising young Yoruba nationalists. Adesanya needed them apart from the old torch-bearers whose rank was fast getting depleted by age and mortality. By extention and for the purpose of the struggle for Yoruba dignity and emancipation within the Nigerian lopsided structure, the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) assumed its well-known combative militant posture during Adesanya

 Having taken on the mantle of leadership of Afenifere at the very hour of need when the Yorubas faced their biggest, most leather persecution ever in Nigeria, following the annulment of and agitation for the revalidation of the June 12 presidential election won by a Yorubaman, Adesanya realised that, indeed, Afenifere could go beyond being a congregation of Awolowo political followers. That Afenifere, because of its intimidating presence and popularity in Yorubaland, could effectively aggregate the collective interest of majority of Yoruba people.

 I am sure Chief Akinjide can vividly recall the event of Tuesday January 14, 1997. I refer to the frightening rain of 37 bullets pumped into the car of late Adesanya in central Lagos in the morbid fear of the Abacha dictatorship for Adesanya’s defence of Yoruba interest. That was the occasion when Yoruba leader was born in the person of Adesanya. It took this ugly occasion for the generality of the Yoruba people to realise that here was a warrior, much in the mode of the late Amical Cabra of Guinea Bisau, who could be trusted to lead the people to the promised land with abiding selflessness. Pray would Chief Akinjide point to other
Yoruba leader(s) who could confront these torrent of bullets and still fight on. Chief Akinjide would also recall those politicians in
Yorubaland who ran away, abandoning the Yoruba people when the military came calling on December 31, 1983. Sentiments apart, let us give honour to whom it is due.

 Now back to the quest and jostling for the position of Yoruba leader after Adesanya. I have stated that the issue is new. In fact, until now Yoruba leadership has never been an issue; not even when Chief Obafemi Awolowo died. Although the late sage was the first Yoruba leader having been installed thorough popular acclamation in Ibadan in 1967, he was more popular as a politician of national significance. Chief Awolowo defended and promoted Yoruba interest while striving to maintain his national political appeal and followership unlike Adesanya who was contended with fighting Yoruba cause within the Nigerian skewed arrangement.

 It never bothered Adesanya that - as the case was with his leader, Awolowo - he was branded a tribalist. Adesanya saw himself in the mode of Moses, a phenomenon thrown up when Israelites faced a daunting task of survival. In his words and actions Adesanya left no one in doubt about his mission. Neither was he bothered about what the rest of Nigeria thought about his mission.

 Now take these profound - if you like, pugnacious statements or Adesanya as examples. On the occasion of the famous coup allegation against General Oladipo Diya (rtd) and the quest of the Yorubas in Kwara state for an Oba in Ilorin. Adesanya said “This (the coup allegation) is an effrontery and calculated design to consign the Yoruba people to extinction. This regime (Abacha’s) is arrogantly contemptuous of the Yoruba people. We are shocked that out of twelve top-ranking military officers arrested for this phantom coup, nine are Yorubas. Yoruba people will resist this! The gods of the Yorubas will resist this! This is an unprecedented assault that started since June 12, 1993!!!”. This statement was reported in Nigerian newspapers on December 23, 1997.

 And this also: “If there is a Seriki Hausawa in Agege and we have Oba Yoruba in Sokoto. Even in Ile-Ife, the Hausas have their own Chief, then why wont Ilorin have their own Oba”.


 These certainly are not the type of statements politicians in the country would like to make. They do not fall into the stereotype constructed by politicians and aimed at promoting their ambition for office. Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo made a succinct distinction between leadership in Yorubaland and elsewhere. According to the sage, in some other parts of the country leaders are born; not made. It is therefore the responsibility of the followers to justify their followership of the born leader. In Yorubaland, the sage argued, the contrary is the case. Leaders are made, not born. It behooves on the leader therefore to justify his leadership by being up and alert to the yearnings of the people. Otherwise, such leader loses his moral authority to lead.

 Chief Adekunle Ajasin of blessed memory lived and served the nation and his Yoruba people. He was an upright doyen of the nationalist struggle. Chief Ajasin was committed to the restoration of June 12 election. He led NADECO and Afenifere. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to be conferred with the title of Yoruba leader although he eminently deserved it.

 Adesanya emengence as authentic Yoruba leader preceded the formal event of Premier Hotel of mid 1998 where he was proclaimed Yoruba leader. The stage was set for the Ibadan declaration on the streets of Lagos, Ibadan, Akure, Oyo, Ife and other trenches where the battle for restoration of Yoruba avowed dignity was decisively waged in the aftermath of the annulled June 12 election.

 The benchmark for Yoruba leadership has been laid by the phenomenal exploits of Adesanya in Yoruba affair. Therefore whosoever aspires to the vacant position must meet these minimum standard of probity, selflessness, commitment to the Yoruba cause and shun materialism. The leader Yoruba would support, it seems, is one ready to deploy all he has in the defence and promotion of the interest of the people. Such a person should be prepared to take the sting of the arrow on the torso; not at the back like a true “omo akin”.Adesanya was not just a leader. He engendered selflessness and personal denial for the sake of the common good in others. The final test of a leader, according to Walter Lippmann, is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry one.

 Yoruba leadership is not something you grasp from the hallowed chamber of pretentious palaces. It is not a good purchased on the shelf of stalls. It is not available in the fine cocoon of boardrooms where truthful selflessness is sacrificed at the altar of profiteering. It is not in the theoretical classrooms. Neither does it from part of monthly allocation shared out in government houses. It is there in the trenches created by the Nigerians unfair system. And that is where it can be acquired.

By Sola Lawal

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