Culture and Lifestyle

Afenifere At 70: Between the Pursuit of Ethnicity and Nation Building

No matter the guise, there is always a way to unearth the fact that deep ethnicity and cultural values have a great influence on most humans. People are inclined to identify and associate themselves with their ethnicity first before nationality. Human society is an embodiment of economic, social and political activities. The synergy of all these add that excitement that goes beyond having access to the basic necessities of life.

The above picture describes the place of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group. Not many Nigerians are quite familiar with the rationale behind the establishment of Afenifere that has not only served as the mouthpiece of the people of the Southwest in Nigeria, but has grown to attain a certain level of high political relevance in Nigeria’s political landscape.

Some visionary like-minds set up Afenifere, including the late Pa Adekunle Ajasin, Pa Abraham Adesanya, Rueben Fasoranti, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Bola Ige, Sir, Olanihun Ajayi, Pa Solanke Onasanya, Alhaji Ganiyu Dawodu, Chief Sam Shonibare, Chief Wunmi Adegbonmire, among others. Late Pa Ajasin was the leader at the inception.

Though there have been debates on whether Afenifere is a socio-cultural or socio-political organisation, it is evident that it is more of the latter than the former. Besides, most of its arrowheads were closes associates of the Action Group (AG) leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, his political protégées and advocates of his political ideologies. The group itself was a wing of the AG domiciled in the South-west before and after the October 1, 1960 independence.

The group was instrumental in setting the tone of development in line with the AG master plan across the six South-west states – from Lagos to Ondo, Ogun to Oyo through Osun to Ekiti. The level of political coordination and maturity in the region is also attributed to the interactive agenda established by the Afenifere factor.

From inception, the objective of the group was to rally the Yoruba people under a common course. After the country was split into regions, the leading party in each region designed its ideologies to suit the cause of the people within their territory. Hence, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) took control in the north to protect the interests of the Hausa-Fulani; the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC)) which later became the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), represented the political interests of Igbo in the Eastern region, while AG was in charge in the South-west, projecting the Yoruba agenda.

Although many Nigerians embraced the idea of regional or ethnic groups, others considered ethnicity as a potent contributor to most political conflict at the time the influence of ethnic politics was responsible for various conflicts in many regions on the African continent. Even in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the continent of America, ethnicity is still in existence although it might be quite minimal.

In Nigeria, one cannot really offer explanations for political conflict without considering the import or relevance of ethnicity or class. This simply surmises that ethnicity is a contributory factor in policy making process in Nigeria. While ethnicity denotes a group of people bound by blood ties, it has its etymological roots in the Greek word for ‘nation’ as a social phenomenon. Ethnicity has attracted enormous attention in social and political relations in Nigeria with special reference to relationships amongst the numerous ethnic groups that form the country called Nigeria.

It has been pointed out that, practically every major national issue in Nigeria is cast in the mould of ethnicity, and this leads to virulent ethnocentric vituperations becoming a common feature in every national discourse. Ethnic groups jealously retain their separate identities within the larger, more ethnically diverse nation.

Analysts believe that the boundaries of states in much of Africa, Asia, and Latin America were determined by divisions agreed upon by the former colonial or imperial powers for reasons having very little to do with national, tribal, ethnic, or other local identities.

This was particularly true in Africa, especially in Nigeria where the boundaries of its British colony include three separate tribal groups (Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa). The emergence and entrenchment of ethnicity in the country’s politics has its manifestation within the various democratic experiments.

Therefore, ethnic consciousness became entrenched as a particular ideology in all political processes in Nigeria till date.

Political conflict is an endemic feature of most of the world’s systems. This is particularly true of developing countries, including Nigeria, where political conflict, crises and even violence became essential characteristics of the political process, especially after independence.

In Nigeria, it is this ethnicity that is being exploited by chauvinists when politics is involved. It is however sad that owing to the fact that democracy has not been deeply rooted, development has remained a mirage. The wide theoretical analysis of ethnicity clearly shows that it is not a new phenomenon. It has developed from traditional societies to modern societies through various processes.

It is a composite of symbolic cultural markers used in the rationalisation of identities within the state. In modern states, ethnicity becomes the basis for the power contests in the larger society. The power contests between dominant and subordinate groups create conflict. The last decades of the twentieth century manifested much conscience-shattering ethnic violence in many states, just as millions died and became refugees as a result of that violence.

It might be important to note that Afenifere, though ethnic in colouration was not set up with any violent confrontation in the minds of its founders. From its inception, it remained a movement of a people who are committed to the greatest welfare of the Southwestern region as enunciated by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, under the philosophical caption of egalitarianism.

Read Also: Restructuring: Ohanaeze, PANDEF, Afenifere, Join Forces Ahead of 2023 Presidential Polls

However at various times, with most of its top echelon in partisan politics, the visibility of the association was undulating at various points of its existence. During the days of the Action Group and in the second republic when most members were in the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), the existence of Afenifere was subsumed in those political groups or parties.

It was Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s unending political transition agenda that really “resurrected” the latent Afenifere Group into one of its most vibrant period of existence when it had to change name regularly and was tagged a terrorist organisation by the Abacha government leading to most members escaping abroad on exile.

After the death of Gen. Sani Abacha and the emergence of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the group eventually reverted to its familiar movement name, Afenifere. The group formed a political party called Alliance for Democracy that swept the polls in the South-west during the first transitional elections organised by the then Head of State, General Abdulsalam Abubakar.

Interestingly, that was the last election swept by Afenifere and its supporters, until President Obasanjo engineered a total sweep of the Southwest, except in Lagos in the general elections that took place in 2003.