Frontline political activist, Yinka Odumakin in this no-holds-barred interview with SENIOR CORRESPONDENT,DAILY INDEPENDENT, TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, speaks on his encounter with Afenifere, formation of Afenifere Renewal Group and how a former Secretary- General of Afenifere almost landed National Leader of All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu in trouble through his memoirs. Excerpts:
What is happening to Afenifere, as there are now two bodies carrying the identity of what used to be a major political institution, there is Afenifere and there is Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) .
There are no two bodies carrying the identity of Afenifere. Afenifere is Afenifere. Any other thing that has it as a qualifier is not Afenifere and so we will not dignify such contraption as either a rival to Afenifere or anything. It is just what it is. Some of us have said let us move forward, but at times, some of these forces want to make you to look backward. What is called ARG today is nothing more than the Asiwaju Renewal Group, because we know the history from the beginning to the end. Put them together, we cannot count up to five people there who were part of Afenifere. In fact, the leader of that group, without being immodest, only tried to ride on the back of some of us back into Afenifere, because he was expelled from Afenifere under the late Afenifere leader, Papa Abraham Adesanya.
Wale Oshun, the ARG National Chairman, said those of you in Afenifere who endorsed president Goodluck Jonathan didn’t represent the Yoruba people. What is your take on that?
He should tell us who represents the real Yoruba, maybe it is himself and Tinubu who have desecrated all our institutions, who said Yoruba Obas are useless, who has a columnist in his newspaper that is not of Yoruba extraction, called Sam Omatseye who has been busy abusing all elders in Yorubaland, desecrating them like a person who has no culture and respect for his own parents. How can Omatseye, an African be calling elders like Ayo Adebanjo, Fasoranti, Olanihun Ajayi renegades and all kinds of names? If it is Tinubu and his band that Oshun thinks are the real Yoruba, it is up to him. But I know that where Afenifere stands today, that is where all the authentic Yoruba organization stands, that is where the Yoruba Unity Forum is, that is where both leaders of OPC is, that is where we have Yoruba Council of elders. So, I don’t know who else is left in Yorubaland than those who are called the modern day Afonjas of Yorubaland who want to sell us cheap to colonialism.
He also said if you have any personal scores to settle with Tinubu, you should face it squarely and stip bringing ARG into it. Is it true you have an axe to grind with Tinubu and over what?
He should say what it is. I have no personal scores with Tinubu. The only thing I have with Tinubu is that Tinubu came as a virus into the Yoruba project. He came as a cancer into our agenda and Wale Oshun aided him in that agenda because it was the contrivance of both Oshun and Tinubu that led to the split in Afenifere and the split in Yorubaland. I have nothing personal against Tinubu, all I have against him is because he does not represent what Yoruba cherishes. He violates our norms, our ethos, cultures and values. His ways are strange to our ways. Our morality frowns at what he is doing and so it is only those who did not understand what the Yoruba nation is all about, what our core values are that will line up behind Tinubu for what he is doing today. Look at the documentaries being aired about him? How can such a person now say that he represents our race. Someone that at every critical juncture, he has always denied the Yoruba nation. During the 2005 national conference by former president Obasanjo, he said Lagos is not part of Yorubaland and that he has Lagos agenda which opposed everything Yoruba wants.
In 2014, we are to go to national conference, he was the first person to oppose it until the Yoruba rose up and attended the conference. When they zoned Speaker to Yorubaland, he zoned it to Sokoto and gave it to Tambuwal. They gave minority leader in Senate to his party, he gave it to Akume from Benue because he never wanted a Yorubaman to be there. And he prides himself as the Jagaban of Borgu. He has been making silly comments about our institutions, about our leaders. So, I have nothing personal against him, rather it is someone like Wale Oshun that owe the Yoruba people an explanation for using Tinubu to bring us to where we are today. Truth is, it was when he aligned with him in year 2000 to rig the Alliance for Democracy primaries in favour of Tinubu, that was the beginning of
the whole problem we have today. That was when Afenifere had an open split. That is the simple truth.
A chieftain of NADECO, Ayo Opadokun in a recent interview claimed he brought you into Afenifere. He said you were reporting to his residence for six months and said he took you to Afenifere meetings to be taking minutes for him before you became a member. How true is that?
Well, I think Opadokun is not telling the truth. In Yorubaland it is not cultural to say an elderly man lied, so I will not say he lied. I think either out of malice about the circumstances of our parting or possibly because he hangs around Tinubu too much and he is getting influenced. What he said totally negated the true account of how we met. My joining Afenifere, myself and my colleagues were received at an open rally into the group by Chief Ayo Adebanjo, late Ganiyu Dawodu and other leaders at Oworonshoki at a rally. If we were nonentities coming from nowhere, they definitely will not receive us at a rally. Before coming to Afenifere, some of us are fully formed politically, we have led students movements, we were involved in various kinds of struggles and before then I was the Publicity Secretary of National Conscience Party (NCP) formed by the late Gani Fawehinmi. I had cut my teeth. I was part of a team that has been working with leaders like Chief Abraham Adesanya in Joint Action Committee of Nigeria (JACON), which was a conglomeration of pro-democracy forces, Afenifere, while he, Opadokun was in Abacha’s detention.
I enjoyed perfect working relationship with Afenifere leaders like Adesanya, Bola Ige and others. So, for him to now say he was watching me for six months and the rest is total fallacy. After receiving us into Afenifere, I remember that time Chief Adebanjo said myself and Omoseyinde should go and collect form to go the House of Representatives in 1999. But we humbly rejected the offer and respectfully told him that we didn’t join Afenifere to seek positions but that our aim is to build the organization.
The first assignment we were given was to go and conduct the AD primaries in Ondo state to pick the governorship candidate. Myself, Dr. Omoseyindemi and others led the team to go and conduct the primary that led to the emergence of late Adebayo Adefarati as AD candidate in 1998. In that process, Mr. Opadokun said I should go work with him. He may be right that I wrote minutes for him but I can remember vividly that the first minutes I wrote for him, after that day, Chief Adebanjo openly said ‘ I like the language of this minutes’. That was the minutes of Afenifere that I wrote but which he Opadokun read. Let him deny it. Most of the press briefings that he was signing, I was the one writing them, both minutes of meeting and press releases, but I don’t want to take the credits. But Mr. Opadokun was taking credits as if he wrote them. Taking credits for those things doesn’t matter to me. What is important to me is the collective interest of the group. One thing I saw in Opadokun was that he has a very large ego. He feels big when he cuts other people down. To him, everything is about ‘ I, me, myself’. I did this, I did that’. Everything about him is in the first person pronoun ‘I’. Let us even assume that his account was correct. How old is he today and how old am i? if myself and him were contemporaries, I can never assist him in doing anything, maybe he will assist me because he is not a man of better intellect than I am. I am not being immodest. But he is much older than I am. There is a clear gap between us. I repeat, if we were contemporaries, he can’t claim that he has better intellect than me. Even if that was the circumstance of our meeting, I will not be ashamed of it but his account is false.
But you claimed you once worked closely with Chief Opadokun, can you give us insight into how you parted ways?
On why we parted, at a point, when Tinubu came in as governor in 1999, he took Opadokun, one Engr Salami, Akinyelure and others into one committee where they are going to be deciding appointments, contracts. But within a short time, I think he wanted to be feeling too important and Tinubu cut him to size. So, they fell out. By the time they fell out now, he became so critical of Tinubu in Afenifere and Tinubu himself said it with his mouth that he was looking for ways to get Opadokun out of Afenifere which was his strength then. Some Tinubu’s associates who were journalists, who were publishing a newsmagazine started selling a story in Afenifere that Opadokun had gone to collect money from Babangida. That was the time Babangida was trying to run for elections in 2003. They claimed that Opadokun had received N40 million to give Babangida all the information about Yorubaland. Then I was working directly with him and people started accusing me that myself and Opadokun have both shared the money together. These are issues I don’t want to talk about. I am saying this because he has poked his fingers into my mouth. These are things I have kept within me and I have not shared with anybody.
At a stage, I remember that Papa Abraham Adesanya called one of the editors of that newsmagazine and I was there, three of us and papa said ‘ I want hard evidence on this stories you have published so I can deal with this matter. But when they failed to bring any hard evidence, Papa left it until sometimes in 2002, the Afenifere in Kwara came to officially report him to Afenifere that he was doing anti- party activities, that while Afenifere was supporting AD, Opadokun was working hand-in-hand with late Kwara governor, Mohammed Lawal in ANPP. I remember that a committee was set up under Ganiyu Dawodu. I think Olu Falae was in that committee and Prince Dayo Adeyeye. He was invited but he refused to attend that panel and eventually he was removed as the General Secretary of the group. So, maybe he had expected me to go with him as a sign of solidarity in things I do not know anything about. Since after that time, our relationship got strained and so I it was not surprising to me that he is granting interviews now to bring me down and belittle me. But deep in his hearts of heart, he will know that my relationship with him added values to him. Let me also add that I am not the only person he is doing that to. I remember one day I was talking to the late Tunde Adebiyi and he was crying owing to the negative things Opadokun was saying about him. Opadokun believes that when he cuts people down, that is when he can feel big.
So, you didn’t join Afenifere through Opadokun?
I didn’t join through him. You can verify from Chief Adebanjo and Dr. Omoseyindemi. They are both alive. We were received at an open rally and you can also go to media houses because we were shown on television. For Opadokun to be writing that history, it is unfortunate. His account is totally false and an attempt to rewrite history.
Chief Opadokun also said It is ungentlemanly for you in Afenifere not to acknowledge Tinubu’s superiority over you politically. What is your take on that ?
With all sense of modesty, I will not fault Chief Opadokun if he says that Tinubu is superior to every other person in Yorubaland because that is where his bread is being buttered. So, there can’t be any superior man to the man that pays your bills. I recalled that about three months ago, a friend was telling me that since I had relationship with Opadokun, I should talk to him to go and find something to do rather than hanging around Tinubu and regaling young boys with stories of Awolowo, Action Group in Tinubu’s parlour. It is an irony of history and I pray that God should not let me end up like that in my twilight. For a man with such a rich past to now be celebrating a man of questionable character in his twilight is most unfortunate. But I am also not surprised because I remember that in the year 2000, Opadokun was to release his memoirs of NADECO days titled Freedom Jail. He had finished the book, it had been printed and he took a copy toTinubu to see.
After visiting Tinubu, he came back and was so fidgety and panicking. He later gathered some boys and all-night they were busy removing a page from that book. What was on the page? It was a page where he narrated how Tinubu sent some boys to go and set Ejigbo NNPC on fire during Abacha regime. And that it when those boys were arrested and they were going to mention Tinubu’s name, that he fled the country. He thought he was telling that story to boost Tinubu’s image as one of those pro-democracy forces who gave Abacha hell, but when Tinubu saw the implication, he asked him to go and remove it. So, overnight he had to get blades to tear that page off in all the books. So, Tinubu has always been superior to the truth as far as Opadokun is concerned. I am not surprised. When you psychoanalyze him, you come to certain conclusions. I remember there is this activist who was part of Afenifere and is a Minister now.
He knew Opadokun when he went back to UNILAG to do law. He told me that there was a day they were having inter-hall match at UNILAG and the hall that Opadokun belonged was playing against another hall. Because he was older than every other person, they asked him to be the referee. It now happened that towards the end of the game, the opposing house was beating his own house leading by a goal. Just about two minutes to the end of the match, a player from the opposing team just tackled a player from Opadokun’s house somewhere around the middle of the field and not in the 18-yard box and Opadokun just pointed to the penalty spot and awarded a penalty to his team. I learnt it was so bad that even members of his own house that he was trying to favour, screamed ‘Haba!, this is pure ojoro! and they started chasing him all around the field.