Politics

Fasanmi: Demise of ‘revolutionary chemist’

In the First Republic, he was a member of the House of Representatives on the platform of the Action Group (AG), led by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. In the Second Republic, he was a Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) senator. In 1999, he became the National Vice Chairman of Alliance for Democracy (AD). Yesterday, Chief Ayo Fasanmi, a leader of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, bade the progressive family farewell. Deputy Editor writes on the life and times of the eminent politician and elder statesman who passed on at 94.

 

He never dreamt of living long. Assailed by a curious illness as a youth, a doctor warned him of an imminent death. But, contrary to the medical prediction, Senator Ayo Fasanmi enjoyed long life and robust health, living to the age of 94.

He will be remembered as a consistent and principled politician who never jumped ship. Those who abandoned the progressive vehicle during challenging moments had money and material resources in abundance. But, these cannot compare with integrity, credibility and honour, which made the Iye Ekiti-born a colossus and a role model.

Fasanmi’s demise yesterday rekindled the memory of earlier saner dispensations when ideological activism was in vogue; when politics was a vocation and not an avenue for primitive accumulation.

His thick white beard was not a mere symbol. The colourful politician was an ideologue of democratic ‘socialist’ bent; a tested and trusted activist on the platform of the Nigerian Youth Congress (NYC) during the nationalist agitations, who later became a dependable follower of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

Fasanmi had developed strong political inclinations as a boarding student at the famous Government College, Ibadan, where as an avid newspaper reader,  he and his friend, Chief Kola Balogun, were influenced by Dr. Nnamidi Azikiwe’s expositions in the West African Pilot.

After leaving the college in 1947, he had wanted to become a lawyer. But, there was no faculty of law at the University College, Ibadan. He headed for the School of Pharmacy, Yaba, Lagos for a professional training. After graduation, he worked at the Jericho Hospital, Ibadan, and later, Osogbo. He resigned in 1955 to establish his pharmacy at Fagbesa Street, Osogbo. Veteran journalist and politician Chief Olusegun Osoba first met Fasanmi in the ancient town and they struck a cordial relationship.

A public speaker, he was nicknamed the ‘revolutionary chemist’ by admirers. His activism caught the attention of Awo, who invited him to join the AG. Since he joined the platform in 1951, around the same time his colleague, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, joined the fold, he never looked back.

In the late fifties, he was selected as a councillor in the old Ijero/Ero Council. It was not a full time engagement, but a part-time service by a local patriot. Around the same time, Prof. Samuel Aluko was chairman of old Ekiti Central Council in Ado. It is a wide departure from today when elected councillors swim in opulence.

But, more importantly, Fasanmi was in reckoning in the sixties when he became the President of AG Youth Association after Chief Remi Fani-Kayode left the group. Some of his compatriots in the youth wing were Sikiru Shitta-Bey, who was secretary, Ayo Adebanjo, Olu Awotesu, Adamo Yesufu, Michael Omisade, Busari Adelakun, Sunday Afolabi, and Bola Ige. During the split in the AG, following the rancorous Jos congress, they pitched tent with Awolowo and never deserted him during his tribulation at the Coker Commission of Inquiry, trial by Justice George Sowemimo, whose hands were tied, and imprisonment in Ikoyi and Calabar. All entreaties to them by Premier Ladoke Akintola to team up with the Nigeria National Democratic Party (NNDP) failed.

Fasanmi became a link between Awo and many committed party youths. One of them, Olorunfunmi Basorun, said he was mentored by the AG youth leader who taught him how to write articles and public speaking.

In 1964, Fasanmi threw his hat into the ring. He was elected into the House of Representatives. He won despite the rigging that characterised the poll under the supervision of Deputy Premier Fani-Power. At that same time, Bisi Onabanjo, Olawumi Falodun and Ebun Ogunyimika became members of the Federal Parliament.

Before the curtains were drawn on the parliament by the military coup of January 15, 1966, Fasanmi had been detained. Following the military intervention, he went back to his profession.

In 1978, Fasanmi became a member of the Committee of Friends, which metamorphosed into the UPN. The Constitution Drafting Committee and the Constituent Assembly were working on the 1979 Constitution. Although Awo declined membership of the CDC, he kept a tab on other members and their political leanings. It was during the transition to civil rule moderated by former Military Head of State Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo that Awo requested Fasanmi to invite Chief Bisi Akande, who had defeated Kola Balogun during the election to the Constituent Assembly, to a chat at his Apapa, Lagos residence.

Although he contested for governor of Ondo State in 1979, he and the third aspirant, Rev. Iluyomade, former Principal of International College, University of Ibadan, were defeated by Chief Michael Ajasin at the primary. He then, contested for the Senate, serving between 1979 and 1983. His colleagues in the Senate of Joseph Wayas era were Senators Banji Akintoye, Jonathan Odebiyi, Abraham Adesanya, Shitta-Bey, Abiru, Durosinmi-Etti, Ajayi Ayantuga, and Ayo Ogunseye. He was re-elected to represent the old Ondo North in 1983, defeating Olu Adesina of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). It was distressing to him that a new breed on the platform of the UPN, Bamidele Olumilua, lost to Senator Clement Agunbiade, a former UPN state lawmaker, who had defected to NPN.

During the party primary in 1983, Fasanmi was the agent of Chief Akin Omoboriowo, who he had supported against Ajasin, in furtherance of the Ekiti Agenda sponsored by Olora Ehinafe Babatola, Michael Babatunde, Pa Okeya, Bode Babatola. However, when Omoboriowo defected to the NPN, Fasanmi said he could not leave the UPN because it would be tantamount to deserting Awo. Ajasin commended him for his principle, commitment and sense of realism.

But, reminiscent of the First Republic, the Second Republic also ended abruptly. Fasanmi went back to his chemist shop at Osogbo.

In the Third Republic, he was among the politicians that were banned and unbanned.

His sympathy was with the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He cried foul when the historic presidential election won by Chief Moshood Abiola was criminally annulled by former Military President Ibrahim Babangida. Like other political leaders in Afenifere and the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), he called for its de-annulment, but to no avail.

There was division in his political camp over his acceptance of an offer to serve on the 1994 National Constitutional Conference Commission. It was made of 19 members. Its secretary was Aliyu Babangida, who later became governor of Niger State. Fasanmi hurriedly resigned from the commission when the late military Head of State, Sani Abacha, wanted to bribe members to amend the constitution to suit his self-succession agenda. Indeed, Abacha’s dubious transition programme and the five fingers of lepros parties later collapsed like a park of cards.

Fasanmi bounced back in 1999 as the National Vice Chairman (Southwest) of the Alliance for Democracy (AD). Maybe, he would have shed more light on how Olu Falae defeated Bola Ige at the AD presidential primary where 22 stalwarts formed the electoral college, if he had written an autobiography. Many would have also expected an insight into why Niyi Adebayo defeated S. K Babalola during the Ekiti governorship primary while his colleagues-Lam Adesina and Adebayo Adefarati-won in Oyo and Ondo states.

Under Fasanmi’s leadership, AD produced the best six governors from the Southwest. Five of them failed to get a second term. But, they walked freely on the streets without being hounded by anti-graft bodies for corruption.

But, the primary crises were carried over. AD never survived the division. As Afenifere, led by Senator Adesanya, was polarised by the suspicion, and the Tinubu/Dawodu rift escalated in Lagos, things started falling apart and the centre could not hold.

At the 2003 party congress, AD became split along the camps of Ahmed Abdulkadir, backed by Ige, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Lam Adesina, Akande, Osoba, Senator Biyi Durojaye; and Ambassador Mamman Yusuf, supported by Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi and Senator Femi Okurounmu.

In post-Adesanya era, the unresolved conflicts deepened and the party became permanently weakened by the Akande/Akinfenwa feud over party leadership. The split also affected Afenifere. While Chief Fasoranti, acting Afenifere Leader recognised Akinfenwa as chairman, who in his view emerged from the Abuja convention that satisfied laid down guidelines, Fasanmi objected, saying that Akande, who emerged at the Lagos convention, was the authentic chairman.

Later, Tinubu, Akande, Adesina, Osoba, Durojaye, and Oluyole Olusi and their followers in Afenifere converged on the Jibowu office of Afenifere, proclaiming Fasanmi as the Deputy Leader. Efforts by Awo’s widow, Yeyeoba Hannah Awolowo, and the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), led by Olawale Oshun, to reconcile the two strong Afenifere factions were futile.

As leader of Afenifere, Fasanmi was an advocate of restructuring and an apostle of federalism, which Awo had enunciated in his 1947 book, ‘Path to Nigeria’s Freedom.’

In 2015 and 2019, he campaigned for President Muhammadu Buhari, based on his perceived incorruptibility, as candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Fasanmi left behind a polarised political family, Afenifere, a crisis-ridden ruling party, and a country trembling under the yoke of Covid-19 pandemic, malevolent economy, social upheavals and general insecurity.

He had two regrets: Awo did not fulfil his ambition to rule Nigeria, thereby robbing the country of a rational leadership. Also, the country has been positioned very far from true federalism.

 

 

Source: thenationonlineng.net