- Tinubu was naive to go into merger with Buhari •Restructure Nigeria to stem recession •Buhari promoting Northern interest…
Chief Ayo Adebanjo is a chieftain of the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere and a close associate of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo with whom he fought many memorable battles. He is one of the founding fathers of the defunct Action Group, AG. He also belonged to the Awolowo-led Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, in the Second Republic. At the inception of the latest democratic experiment in 1999, he joined the late Pa Abraham Adesanya and Chief Bola Ige, among others, to form the Alliance for Democracy, AD, which ruled in the South-West. Extremely passionate about the Nigerian Project, Pa Adebanjo, who clocked 88 in April 2016, speaks his mind no matter whose ox is gored. A staunch apostle of restructuring, he had cautioned Nigerians, especially the South-West against voting Buhari as President, alleging a domination agenda by the North. The New Diplomat Team of the Editor, YEMI OGUNSOLA, Associate Editor, LAOLU ADEYEMI and Business Editor; LEKAN OKEOWO sought him out to share his views on burning national issues and in his usual candour, he speaks on the Buhari-led administration, his displeasure with Bola Tinubu, the menace of Fulani herdsmen, why Buhari may fail, the rot in the National Assembly and why recession may linger, among others. Excerpts.
|How would you react to the situation in the country?|
The whole country is in a mess and I am an embittered old man. Few days ago, I was thinking about the situation in the country and I almost wept. Why? I had a discussion with one of Tinubu’s loyalists concerning the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the way they were treating Tinubu. And people were surprised and didn’t like it that I should have left him to be dealt with. They didn’t like it that I came to his aid. “After all, this man has done this and that to you,” they wondered. If anyone should act by what Tinubu has done to him, I am the last person that should come to his aid.
When Tinubu and the other governors refer to us as “these old people”, sidelined us and went their way, I always tell people to ask them what was the bone of contention. Is it because we asked for contracts? Did we ask for positions? Or did we ask that he should give our children appointments? Or that he did what was right and we said he shouldn’t do it? Is it because he was pursuing some policies of Afenifere and we objected to it? Or it is the other way round?
He accords me my due respect whenever we meet; but my disagreement with him is purely political, I don’t like his politics. It wasn’t the policies and politics that made him governor that he is practising. Unfortunately, those who are complaining now about him were his supporters; they believed at that time that having become governor, they wanted to take over the party, which was the bottom line of the crisis in the Alliance for Democracy, AD and Afenifere; nothing more. What is our quarrel with him? It was simply because we said, “we don’t do things like this in the Action Group (AG), UPN does not do this, and this is not Afenifere tradition”. That was all.
You claimed to have warned Tinubu over his alliance with the North; that it will lead to northern domination, what was his defence then?
Don’t forget that we have a tradition in the AD, we are a product of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, and UPN was the product of Action Group, AG. Unfortunately, Tinubu aligned with the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, for his own selfish interest, not for the interest of Nigeria or Yoruba land. We saw all these coming and we warned him about this northern domination which is happening now. This is a northern government, not a Nigerian government.
Why do you say this?
Look at the composition of the government. And this is my grouse with the media; you are supposed to be the watch-dog of the society. We criticized the appointments from the word go, the appointments to key positions in the cabinet are purely pro-North. The only exceptions are the ones backed by the constitution that ministers must be appointed from all the states of the federation. All the key positions in the country are occupied by northerners; there are no Yoruba people there. And when we criticized Buhari for that, we were told it is people he trusts. And I laugh. So, all those people who campaigned for him in the South, he no longer trusts them? This will make me to say that this country will not work until we have restructuring. Until he does that, there will be no Nigeria. There will be no stability, and when there is no stability, the economy won’t grow. This is why different groups are taking up arms; these are manifestations of the minority being dominated.
All we are clamouring for is equality among all states of the federation. This federation is an awkward federation. Before independence, we had three regions; the North, East and West. At that time, the population of the North was bigger than the East and West put together. So in the Senate, House of Representative, they dominated us, that was the beginning of our agitations that this was too big a country to run a unitary system of government.
Before independence, the Macpherson Constitution was Unitary government, though it divided the government into three; the central government at the top.
If you go way back in history, the Macpherson Constitution came into effect in 1952 and Awolowo won in the West, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello in the North, and Nnamdi Azikiwe in the East. There was no premier. What we had was only a leader of government business at that time.
It was Chief Enahoro’s motion in 1953 for self-government that caused the crisis in the federal house. The North said “no” and walked out. The cabinet at that time was made up of representatives of the North, East and West, the country then was on a tripod. Ministers from the West came from the Western House of Assembly, whoever controlled the Western House of Assembly would nominate ministers for the cabinet. That was the system. So when this motion was to be moved, our ministers who were Bode Thomas, Arthur Prest, SL Akintola and the late Ooni of Ife, Sir Adesoji Aderemi were sent from the West. So when Anthony Enahoro moved this motion as members of the Opposition at the center, the government then said, “Well, those of you in my cabinet cannot take part”.
Our ministers from the West kicked, saying this is why our people voted for us, so we must be allowed to vote. The governor then said if that was the case they would have to resign that he was only sorry for Sir Aderemi Adesoji who was a Knight of the British Empire.
Our people replied him saying, if that was the case, they preferred resigning than not taking part in the vote and they resigned. And Sir Adesoji Aderemi said, “I won’t give you the problem of sacking me,” he too resigned. That was the root cause of the crisis of 1953.
That is why I tell my people now that even as minority we can influence a change; it was the AG that influenced the change of forcing the country back to true federalism before independence. So, after the resignations, there was crisis. Macpherson therefore said we should send him names from the West to replace those who resigned; we forwarded the same names of those who resigned, there was crisis. The colonial office had to send for us and that was what birthed the Constitutional Conference of 1953 that took place in London.
It was there that Awolowo propounded his theory of federalism. Before then, Nnamdi Azikwe was preaching unitary system of government, but when they got to the conference in London and Awolowo expatiated that a country of this nature with different languages, cultures and everything, the only system that can keep us together is true federalism. They agreed with Awolowo.
On their arrival from London, it was at the airport that Azikwe declared that federalism was imperative.
It was as a result of that conference that we had the constitution changed, we now had autonomy and a post of the Premier was created. You will recall that there was no premier in the regions until 1954. Before then, Awolowo, Azikwe and Sardauna were all Leaders of Government business. But, after the 1953 constitutional conference, the constitution became federal and each region had a separate constitution. Awolowo, Azikwe and Sardauna thereby became premiers of their regions.
That was why in my recent reply to Tanko Yakassai and Maitama Sule who were claiming that restructuring was a Yoruba agenda, I asked them that under what constitution did Awolowo, Azikwe and Sardauna become premiers before independence? And that at independence, what kind of constitution did we have? And also that under which constitution did Tafawa Balewa become Prime Minister?
Awolowo also mooted the idea that there must be more states so as to balance the federation as it is awkward to have a region which is bigger than the two other regions put together. That was what led to the creation of mid-west states, middle-belt states and other core areas; we were the agitators of the creation of more states.
People used to accuse AG of being a sectional party, and I will say that it is insincere and uncharitable for anyone to say that. If there was any party that was national, it was the AG. Why did I say this? AG is the only party that had representatives in all the regions of the country. We were the government in the Western Region, the Opposition in the East led by SG Ikoku and Northern Region of the country led by Alhaji Maitama Maro. No other party at that time could boast of such.
So, how did we get into this current situation?
The situation we have now was created by the military after the coup, which is comprised mainly of northerners. It was the military that de-structured Nigeria and during the NADECO days Afenifere insisted that we could not continue a civilian government under this kind of constitution and we asked for a Sovereign National Conference. We insisted on having that conference before having any election after the military era. Abdulsalami said no, he did not have enough time and that after the election we could go ahead with the conference and we warned that “it won’t be easy, let us have this thing now”.
This issue again is one of my disagreements with Tinubu. When we were to go into that election, we made the question of the Sovereign National Conference a major issue. Having won the election, (in the South-west) Afenifere leaders now compelled our members in each House of Assembly to pass a resolution calling for Sovereign National Conference. Tinubu was then the governor of Lagos State. We toured each state to ensure that every member complied.
We didn’t stop there, at a conference after the election, we told them that having won this election, we had only won the battle and not the war. We warned our members not to attend any meeting in Abuja because they had gotten the mandate of the people now. In fact, we wanted to boycott the elections if the national conference was not converged. They disobeyed us saying that they were in the minority. I told them that we were the minority when we truncated the unitary constitution in 1953.
If they had listened to us when we told them not to have anything to do with the federal government until they convened the national conference, we wouldn’t have been in this mess. But they were enjoying the glamour of office and they forgot the assignment, which was where the sidelining began. They carried on until we are where we found ourselves. In the course of that, Tinubu refused to appoint Dawodu’s supporters into the cabinet, it led to division and in the course of wooing supporters for himself Tinubu decided to recruit members, gave them money to register into the party to overwhelm the opposition in anticipation of the second term. I told him, “why are you doing this? If you perform well and we support you nobody can say no,” But he didn’t believe that, he dedicated all his efforts to destroying Dawodu, the center could no longer hold.
They pitted us against each other and that was the beginning of the split. Eventually, Tinubu and his supporters said they were forming the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), it was the same ACN that went into alliance with CPC.
You said something about the northern domination agenda, can you expatiate on this?
Oh Yes. The issue of Fulani herdsmen is part of the agenda. Are they just existing in the country, they have been there all along, were they carrying guns? When did herdsmen begin to rear cattle with AK-47 rifles and what has Buhari said concerning it?
They commit all sorts of atrocities, yet Buhari has kept mute and all he has to say about it is that they will create grazing areas by taking people’s properties from them.
Before the last election, I granted an interview warning the people of the East and West that they should not commit the greatest mistake by voting for Buhari and I gave reasons then.
(Cuts in) But, people were fed up with the then administration of Goodluck Jonathan
People were only looking at the messenger, not the message. In my support of Jonathan, I didn’t say he was clean. But, I had two choices before me, one is Jonathan who can be controlled irrespective of the corrupt tendencies and a northerner whose agenda is to dominate. And I gave instances of what Ango Abdulahhi said that “it was the turn of the North to rule and when we have it, we have it for keeps”. That is their agenda. What is happening now in the APC is not new, he told Tinubu that he was ready to share government with him, but not power.
So, when we are talking about northern domination, they won’t come out to admit it, but it is there for all to see. People were carried away by Jonathan’s corruption, and I say, wiping out corruption will not put food on your table and after Jonathan, what next? If you go back in history to my past interviews, tell me what is happening now that I have not predicted? We were all carried away by Jonathan’s corruption.
I predicted that the alliance of APC was not going to give us good government but just to send Jonathan away to enable the North take over power. Has anything happened to the contrary now? Even the fight between Tinubu and the APC, is it for the benefit of the people? No! It is about his survival, partisan politics. Their disagreement is not on the basis of the benefit of democracy to the people. And this is a lesson for young people; people are just struggling to get power, power to do what? To use it for themselves or for the people? Is it the kind of power that allows them to choose their cousins or nephews into political office? Or is it the kind of power that allows el-Rufai to choose his girlfriend to go and head the ports and you say you are wiping out corruption. Dr Junaid is from the North, he is a supporter of Buhari, but even he admitted that he has never seen this kind of nepotism before in his life.
I am in support of Buhari wiping out corruption; if you see anyone who is corrupt, deal with him. But, is fighting corruption compatible with restructuring? No, it is not. If you are sincere in keeping the country together, then restructure the country to a position where every federating unit will be at peace.
At the 2014 conference, we found solution for all the things causing dissention in the country. I normally tell those who are against that conference to point out what we did wrong at that conference. We all agreed that the constitution was wrong, but what have we done to make it right. If there were things that were unacceptable in the recommendations, remove them and replace them with what is acceptable and let us move on.
But there was the argument that it was not backed by law
That is just camouflage. If it is true that there is no law backing it up, and this thing is to make Nigeria good, why don’t we pass a law to make it legal? Why do we have to be legalistic about anything that can give us peace? The country has become more disunited since Buhari came in. Anybody opposed to restructuring is an enemy of Nigeria.
Don’t you think that to make the recommendations legal, it has to go through the National Assembly?
No. Even at that conference, the issue of the National Assembly was one of the problems that we solved. What we recommended was that the recommendations of that conference would be sent to a referendum. We anticipated all these problems, whenever they are talking about legality, it is just mere pretence. Do you know how much a senator earns today? Those were the things we solved at that conference. We removed power concentration at the center and gave it to the regions. That was why I said we have attacked corruption from the source at that conference, because the center has too much money that’s why they can distribute it the way they like.
We solved the issue of state police, you cannot bring an Hausa man to come and police Oshogbo, or send a Yoruba man to Zungeru, he doesn’t understand the language, he doesn’t understand the terrain, which is one of the problems we had in the North fighting insurgency. It was when they started working with some local vigilante that they started making some headway which is the essence of state police. At the conference, I asked Ibrahim Coomassie, (former Inspector General of Police), “Have you ever heard of an Inspector General of Police in the United States of America or even in Great Britain?” What you have is Chief of Police, everything is localized. For security in the land, state police is the way out.
So, what is the way out of all this log-jam Nigeria is in currently?
It is because we are yet to solve the “National Question”. We all agreed that we want to live together, but on what condition? We must all agree on the condition of living together. That is the essence of national conference, there is no magic about it. Nobody is saying the sovereignty of the government would be affected. What we agreed on was that whatever we agreed on at that conference nobody will make a law to amend. We didn’t say we were going to send the government away, we only said whatever we agreed on can’t be amended unless through a referendum.
What do you make of the statement by Aisha Buhari that a cabal has hijacked Buhari’s government?
Was she saying anything new? What is significant there is that the woman would have been bottled up. Did you also see the reaction of members of the APC? They all know these things, just what I was saying about the composition of his cabinet, and her statement says a lot. She has become an international figure since she spoke, if Buhari touches her, he will see hell.
The economy is getting worse, what is the way out?
The economy cannot move forward. The root cause of the problem has not been addressed. How can the economy improve when one of our major sources of income is oil, how much were we selling Brent, how much is it now and why? Is it not because of the instability? To solve the instability, give everybody his own autonomy, if there is no stability, you can’t have progress. Imagine if all the pipelines that were being bombed are not bombed, won’t we have more money? Would we have gone borrowing? We are told money has been recovered from those who looted the treasury; do you know how much has been recovered? And has he told us from whom they collected that money? Which means it is not transparent. We want to go and borrow money, what have we done with the looted money you have recovered? All these are what make people think that the whole process is not transparent.
When they are talking about this economy, our own stand has always been that, Jonathan is corrupt; we have done away with him, since he has left about two years ago why are we still thinking about Jonathan? Is it Jonathan that brought the Fulani herdsmen? When too much noise was being made about the havoc caused by the Fulani herdsmen, they changed it saying it was foreigners. What does that imply? It means that in a country where you are the president, foreigners come into your country to cause havoc and you have no control over it. Nobody was arrested. And I said it before the election that he won’t say anything because he is a herdsman himself. After all, he declared ownership of about 700 cattle. Not only that, you will recall that he went to the late Chief Lam Adeshina in Ibadan to complain over alleged ill-treatment of his people. His people were the herdsmen. He was showing support to people that were causing havoc in the country and that is what has continued now that he is in power, they are encouraged to be more brazen.
With all you have said, how do we make the country work?
I made a statement that there are attempts to bring down Tinubu, which is just a mere cover, it is the Yoruba race that is the target, but we won’t allow it. Tinubu was naive to have formed an alliance with the North and we warned him, but no matter how bad a child is, you don’t push him to the lion to be devoured.
It is the tactics of the Fulani to divide and rule. It was this tactics they used when Akintola was there. They used him against Chief Awolowo. It won’t be fair to my generation if I don’t remind them that this people have come again with their tactics. The same thing happened to Chief MKO Abiola. Some people who came to me before the election asked me that this national conference you are talking about, Jonathan will not implement it and why didn’t he implement it before he left, and I said to them, I agree with you, I have two choices before me, Jonathan and Buhari. One who promised to implement it and the other who said he will have nothing to do with it. Those who are really against Jonathan were so because corruption under Jonathan was so overwhelming that it blinded them from seeing any other thing. All they were saying was “Let the man go, anything else but Jonathan”. But, what we call experience is not bought, it is acquired. I said at that time, PDP, APC they are two evils, but I chose a lesser one in the PDP. If Jonathan had won the election at that time on the condition we set, that corruption will not be possible with the constitution already amended. All the things that will make him corrupt have been removed. Go and study the recommendations, by the time it is implemented, nobody will care who the president of Nigeria is. The government would have been domiciled in the states. Everybody still marvels at what Awolowo did, that was in only seven years. And I ask that with all that Awolowo did, was there any time he went to Tafawa Balewa to ask for subsidy? The constitution has already made provisions on how the revenue of the country would be divided, that is what we are clamouring for when we are asking for the implementation of the recommendations of that conference that will solve all our problems.