Afenifere: Ideology or Organization?


 “Freedom for all, life more abundant”, is the ideological foundation of the Action Group party that laid the foundation and gave direction to the economic, cultural, and political development of the Western Region. As a People’s party, dominant in a Yoruba-Language speaking Region, the ideology had to be translated into the Region’s language—Yoruba, thus ensuring the People’s ownership of the ideology.

Augustus Meredith Adisa Akinloye suggested “Afenifere” as the Yoruba equivalent of ‘Freedom for all; Life more Abundant,’ a vision which became the defining characteristic of not only the Party but also of the Region. The Action Group fought all of its political battles without negating or neutralizing this ideological premise. From the defining 1951 Western Regional Parliamentary Elections to the fractures within the Action Group at the Jos Convention, and even to the 1979/1983 national elections, Yoruba voters were mobilized by an ideological mantra they had believed inseparable from the Region’s desire for social democracy. Even moments of rupture in the politics of the Region starting with the Emergency Declaration under the Tafawa Balewa Government; imprisonment of Obafemi Awolowo, the seasons of military rulers, and the election that marked the transition to democracy under Abdusalaam Abubakar became opportunities for Unity Party of Nigeria, Social Democratic Party, and the Alliance for Democracy to revive ideology of social democracy in the region. What seems to have been lost over the years is the nexus between the ideology of social democracy in the Yoruba Region and the organization that had functioned as its embodiment, particularly in the seasons of moratorium over political activities under military dictators—Afenifere; otherwise popularly referred to as Yoruba Socio-cultural Association.

And the conflation between the ideology of Freedom for All, Life more Abundant and Afenifere, the organization has been a major problem in the political evolution of the Region and the country at large. Simply put, the substitution of the ideology with the organization has been a problem that calls for review, particularly that Nigeria’s politics has grown more uncertain than it has always been.

Yes, the then anti-military movement must have an identifying marker, that is, a name, but casting it with its ideology must mean the pursuit of the ideology as an end in itself and not simply its formal existence in its ideological description with all its political strategies directed towards ensuring the dominance of the organization, even as such dominance is at variance with its stated ideological constructs.

Thus, the  distractive 2000-2001 debate as to whether “AD-is-Afenifere” or not, resulting from a confused ideological atmosphere, engendered  the notion of anyone  in  Afenifere  being in any political party, specifically, the PDP and which accounted for some to be recognized and accepted for their continued membership of both Afenifere and the PDP, thereby reinforcing the substitution of the ideology with the organization; to the extent of its 2003 endorsement of Obasanjo simply on his promise to “Restructure” all the way to its absorption into the Jonathan “Conference” scam, where one of its leaders, Chief Olaniwun Ajayi even admitted that they went to the Conference “to play” and most recently to adopting Atiku Abubakar, again, ostensibly, because of his promise to “Restructure”.

In all these instances, “Afenifere-as-ideology” was not a factor as the PDP and all the promises made by its candidates and to which “Afenifere-as-organization” subscribed, is not only as distant from welfarism as the sun is from the earth, but also its direct opposite.

Yet, “Freedom for All, life more Abundant” (Afenifere) was a combination of political and economic power necessary for development, hence the major task of the AG at inception was in ensuring Western Regional/Ethno-National economic development through Federalism.

In 1999, all over the West/Yorubaland, the deeply held popular opinion was that the Alliance for Democracy (AD), as the successor party to the AG, was the vehicle for Yoruba Regional Autonomy and therefore Economic Development. But while there was an army (the people), there were no commanders. The Peoples’ perception of what was expected did not compel any political initiative, even if it meant taking on the Region’s political establishment on ideological grounds; for, the issue became reduced to one of organizational dominance.

But at this juncture, confusing Afenifere-as-ideology with Afenifere-as-organization seems to necessitate the search of the organization for a new alliance–political and cultural, short of reviewing the history of how a group became synonymous with a set of ideas or ideals. Without this confusion, Afenifere-as-ideology would have been a political and economic tendency, not only in the land but also within whichever Party subscribes to whatever the Yoruba subscribes to, even if minimally, and the mess being currently experienced would have been minimized or avoided. This ideological tendency, if it is not dominant in the equation, would be forced out, thus  leaving Afenifere-as-organization to always “shop around” for political relevance and at the risk of offending the sensibilities of the people who had grown up on the diet of social democratic principles. Does Atiku’s promise to restructure Nigeria automatically confer progressive ideology on the PDP, which after governing badly for 16 years pushed the country into “Any candidate but Jonathan” in 2015?

Yet, Nigeria is operating a Form of State in consonance with colonial political economy as the driver of underdevelopment, notwithstanding pretensions to “fighting corruption”, more so when all illegal and Unconstitutional changes to governments since 1966 were predicated upon “fighting corruption”. That no improvements occurred under the post-1966 Form of State implies seeking a different Form, which is the premise for the demand for True Federalism(Restructuring).

Underscoring this point was Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s speech to Nigerians in London on September 3, 1961, where he stated that “bribery and corruption, especially in high places, are alarmingly on the increase. A large percentage of monies which are voted for expenditure on public projects find their way into the pockets of certain individuals.” He might as well have been talking about the Nigeria between 1966(Nzeogwu) and 2018. Everything he said at the time was, and still is, the order of the day in Nigeria. Yet all military regimes since the January 15, 1966 military coup predicated their actions on, among others, combating or fighting corruption with the attendant result of entrenching it more and more.

Afenifere (freedom for all, life more abundant) therefore is, by definition, an anti-colonial ideology and any organization seeking to conform with this ideology must be able to design its own political trajectory and strategy in arriving at such rather than what we have witnessed in the Afenifere-as-organization shopping around for political platforms to achieve whatever aims being pursued.

This has resulted in a steady reversal of the fundamentals of the “Freedom for All, Life more Abundant(Afenifere) in the experiences of the people where political activity, including electoralism, is no longer driven by the ideology but by sustenance of the organization, hence the organization’s relevance is found in its political formulas and not in the people, when it should have been the ideology that provides relevance.

Afenifere-as-organization has become a route towards Restructuring/True Federalism (hence, the shopping around for alliances) rather than the other way around, that is, Restructuring/True Federalism as the route towards the manifestation of the ideology.  Any attempt to ossify the ideology of “freedom for all, life more abundant” (Afenifere) in the few human faces that see themselves of the social democratic polity and society the ideology envisions is bound to lead to further political confusion in the Region and to dissipation of energy by individuals who view themselves as personification of the ideals.

The moment requires migration to a new organizational paradigm able to project its preferred Form of State under the ownership of the people, for it is still possible for an organization to identify itself by its ideology. Under Nigeria’s current electoralism, Afenifere may not become an electoralist platform combining both the organization as well as the ideology. The best that can come from Afenifere as organization is not to be beholden to any politician who promises Restructuring or True Federalism, but for the organization to establish its own parameters to which the politician must reconcile him/herself.

And this is possible only when the people “own” the ideology and by extension, the organization itself, thus defining the parameters for any form of engagement between the people immersed in the ideology and any political formation.











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