Elder statesman, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and chieftain of Afenifere, in this interview by BOLA BADMUS, speaks on the bane of the country, the dreams of the founding fathers and need to go back to pre-independence Nigeria in 1960.
The Federal Government has rolled its plan to celebrate the 60 years of Nigeria’s independence for a whole year. How necessary is such programme against the background of the level of development in the country?
It’s worth celebrating in the sense that God keeps us alive, but it is not worth celebrating because it (Nigeria) has not achieved what we set out to achieve. It has not risen to the occasion that the founding fathers of the nation thought it should achieve. We have been unfortunate to have unprincipled leaders since independence particularly after the military took over; we have not got our way through. And the fundamental reason is the change of the constitution, which we had, by the military and unless that is restored we shall be beating about the bush. Until we go back to Federalism, which was the agreement by the founding fathers, that the federating units should have their autonomy to develop at their own pace because of the multi ethnic nature of the country, we cannot make any progress under a one- man rule imposed on us by the military regime.
Looking at Nigeria before independence and by the time Nigeria wanted to attain independence, so what do think were the dreams of the founding fathers that have not been realised up till now?
Many. For instance, the economic development could have been better. The country has been going apart since the military era in government. We are more divided now than we were at independence. That’s the unfortunate thing that the military had done. The enforcement of the unitary form of government on us has impeded the progress we could have made, economically, socially, culturally because of the military rule and thereby truncating the dreams of the founding fathers.
The intervention of the military, in your own view now as an elder statesman?
There was no reason for it, it was an aberration and we are still suffering for it now; there was no reason for it at all. There was no reason for it at all, we were making progress under the constitutional conference of 1954 which established federalism, all the regions had their premiers and we got independence in 1960 under the same constitution and each region had its constitution separately. We were moving on, there was competition. Awolowo built then Liberty Stadium, Ahmadu Bello built Ahmadu Bello Stadium. He (Awolowo) started free education, Azikiwe started to compete. So it had been a competitive thing until the military came. We would have made tremendous progress if the military had not intervened.
If the military had not intervened, do you believe that the political leaders would have been able to resolve the problem that confronted the country as of that time?
There was no political problem until the military came; we had already solved it. The political problem that arose after the motion for independence, moved by Peter Enahoro in 1953 led to the regions having self-government individually; the Northern Region having self government in 1959 and the whole country having independence in 1960 and that was all. All the issues were already resolved.
You said that nothing called for the 1966 military intervention, but you know that the West was boiling then. Do you think the political leaders had any solution to it then?
If there was no military intervention, we would have solved that problem easily. We would have jaw-jawed and everything would have been resolved. The military intervention was an aberration. We would argue, abuse ourselves and come to a roundtable; we wouldn’t have killed ourselves. It (intervention) has caused a lot of enmity.
How would you assess the current situation in the country?
The country is going to a precipice and will break unless Buhari takes immediate step to reversing the country back to federalism.
What is your view on the ongoing constitutional review by the Senate?
It’s a waste of time, unnecessary and deceitful. The Senate that has decided to review the constitution is part of the problem. This Senate is a creation of the constitution we are criticising and blaming for the problems in the country. How can we amend the constitution we have, the same constitution we are criticising? It is illogical. And they are not sincere. You can only review a constitution that we make, but this is the constitution that we had no contribution and it is one-sided and made by the military against the South by the Muslim North. So, it’s a surgical operation that the constitution wants. The people must gather together and agree on the type of constitution they want and subject it to a referendum. What they are doing now is just to keep talking. Buhari is not honest with it and the All Progressive Congress (APC) is also not honest with it.
So, the kind of constitution you are talking about is one that the people themselves would gather together to make.
Yes, like the 2014 National Constitutional Conference.
Who is going to lead or initiate it, is it President Muhammadu Buhari?
Yes, that’s what we are saying. We had already had one in 2014, the recommendations of which Jonathan handed over to Buhari and Buhari said he was not going to touch them. And we have told him to take out whatever he doesn’t like in the recommendations, let us have another one. If you are not going to touch it because Jonathan made it, you set up your own constitutional conference body and let everybody move on. But, they are making it look as if they are working; they are not honest about it.
From 1960 to date, what are the achievements Nigeria has recorded that are worthy of celebration?
Whatever the country attained in the First Republic, we all can see it. The other achievement is that we have been resilient to still be together as a country. That resilience could expire almost immediately if Buhari does not restructure the country and return it to federalism. We must go back to federalism before even talking about next elections.
It appears that there is no real understanding of what restructuring is all about?
No, the people in government are not sincere. Now listen to me, what they have been doing is that they are not honest about it because Buhari doesn’t want it. And even people around him haven’t had the courage to tell him; that’s our misfortune. It is Tinubu and co who are products of Afenifere. Under this restructuring was the mandate he (Buhari) came he came to power. It was on this same restructuring that the current vice president (Osinbajo) took Obasanjo to court on the funding of local government, on the principle of federalism, and now he is saying he doesn’t want it, they are not honest. The Yoruba people, lp particularly in government, they have sold out. That’s our problem. Because if the country today is restructured to federalism, agitations by IPOB will cease, agitations by Egbesu will cease; the agitation for Oduduwa Republic will cease; we will have our self-autonomy to make us develop at our pace. That is why Obasanjo and others are telling him that if he doesn’t do it now, Nigeria is at the precipice. If today, God speaks to Buhari to set up a committee to look into the First Republic Constitution, take what he doesn’t like out, put what he wants in and move on, we will have peace in the country, we will see progress. The question on revenue allocation would have been solved; the local government issue would have been solved; the police issue would have been solved.
To show you how dishonest and insincere they are by saying they don’t understand what restructuring is about, they believe in devolution of powers; that means they are being deceitful. And restructuring is in the manifesto of this government. They set up the el- Rufai Committee on Restructuring. Where is the report today? Restructuring is what Buhari mentioned in 2007 and Afenifere supported him. I have been saying it and he has not denied it. Restructuring was one of the things he promised Pastor Tunde Bakare; restructuring is in the manifesto of the party that brought his government to power. Restructuring was the issue when they were under pressure to set up el- Rufai committee. What is it again if they are sincere?
If you ask me, the unfortunate thing that people have to believe now is that Buhari is not sincere about keeping this country together. He has a private agenda of Fulanising this country and each time we have been accusing him of Fulanisation, what has he done to refute our statement? The Fulani herdsmen are harassing us, he turned a blind eye. They are harassing South-South, he turned a blind eye; they are doing same thing in South-East, he tuned a blind eye, they are harassing Southern Kaduna, the same thing. They harassed them in Benue State, the state governor, Ortom went to him and said ‘look, the people who are perpetrating this thing I know them; they are Fulani herdsmen’, what did he say? He said ‘go and make peace with them’ after they had killed hundreds. So why are we deceiving ourselves? Until the whole country realises this and impresses on Buhari that he should stop deceiving the people of this country, things would continue this way. He has a private agenda which is not in tandem with that of the people of this country and that is to Fulanise the people and allow Fulani from neighbouring countries to come and populate this place so that they can take over our country. If that is not so, how is it that the Fulani, who claim they are from neighbouring countries, enter this country? It is their people they put in immigration, customs, and all key posts in this country are in the hands of the Fulani of this government. And when we talk about it, he doesn’t appear he is serious to address it.
In what ways did past leaders contribute to the rot that the country is seeing today?
My dear, don’t buy into the campaign of Buhari and his APC passing the bulk. The issue now is that we are in trouble; how do we get out of it? Accusing past leaders like Obasanjo and others as they wont to do, that’s not the question now. It was because Obasanjo didn’t do it that they put Buhari there. It was because past regimes didn’t do it that they sent them away, and you said you would do better. And now after five years, what have you done? Even the corruption you are talking about is getting worse; the economy is getting worse. The question about the unity of the country is worse than before you came in. What has he achieved? And the leaders of the country are now pressing you to restructure the country back to federalism to save us from the precipice. Obasanjo said something about the way the country is drifting and they left the message and started attacking the messenger. He (Buhari) takes the people for fools, it appears. There is no doubt that he and APC are fooling this country; they think we are mumu and that we have cattle heads. That’s why they are talking all sorts of balderdash. We are talking of restructuring the country now because we are separated more than before. Look at the insult Buhari gave the country that he is keeping the country together when he is doing everything to separate the country.
Now, you are talking about restructuring, while some people are already talking about self determination. So how do you reconcile this?
It is because Buhari has delayed restructuring. In Yoruba land, they are now pressing for Oduduwa Republic, it is some of us who want constitutional change that are asking for restructuring. The IPOB people are asking for separation because they feel separated.They feel alienated, but if we restructure the country, all these people will be settled. That’s why I say the solution to our problem is to restructure the country to federalism. There will be no more agitations; agitations by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), agitation for Oduduwa Republic. All that is a result of frustration. The country is becoming more disunited. To show you how insincere Buhari is, tell me since people have been shouting they want to get out of Nigeria, when has he made a statement about it to say that all your fears are not justified and to then promise to address them? He pretends as if nothing is happening. Are you now saying that people are not talking loud and clear? All the respected people in this country, irrespective of political parties, including Afe Babalola, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Obasanjo, Alani Akinrinade and all the ethnic groups are talking; he has not uttered a word in response. Instead, they started to abuse people for saying what they saw as the problem facing the country. It is not a question of casting aspersions, saying why don’t you do it when you were there, is that the answer? And they gave you the chance of securing them, but what is happening now? There is no part of the country now that anybody can go to bed with his two eyes closed, whether in the North, East and South-West. That’s a statement of fact. And you keep the military chiefs there who are from your ethnic group; who have shown that they are most incompetent, even after they are due for retirement. There is no talking about any other thing other than the fact that we pray for him to have a good stay and give us an agreed constitution.
Some people are saying there should be no election in 2023 in the country without restructuring, in the first instance.
That’s what I am saying. That’s my stand. I was the first to champion it. To do any election under the present constitution is a waste of time, you are deceiving yourself. Buhari will come back easily. EFCC is under him, INEC is under him, if they rig election, they would say go to tribunal. Court is under him, the police is under him, Army is under him, Navy is under him, Air Force is under him, all the important posts in the country are under him, and even under his village, are we blind? Except everybody is blind, but those who are eating from the crumbs under his table pretend not to see; they pacify him. I am not like that, and I wouldn’t go to beg for contracts from him. What I am saying, am not the only one saying it; a lot of people agree with me too but they don’t have the courage.
Finally, what do you think is the way out for the country?
The way out without deceiving ourselves honestly is for the country to go back to federalism now before talking about any election in the absence of which I can’t foresee the future. If we restructure the country, it will not be difficult to bring it together and as people had said we can’t afford having a second civil war. It is not only IPOB that is threatening to go away, Southern Kaduna also wants to go away, because they are not satisfied under this constitution. If Buhari as president is serious, are all these different issues not worth to be considered? That’s not the attitude of a good head of government. I have no personal grudge against him. That’s what I am saying, the man is not sincere about keeping this country together. He will promise you when there is an election and after the election he will pretend as if nothing happens. He should restructure this country and see to the complaints of the people. It is not only we old people in the country that are demanding for restructuring, the youth are also demanding same, he should examine that. And Tinubu, who led and allied with him, let him come out and say he doesn’t want restructuring. Those are the people who have deceived Yoruba people, himself, Bisi Akande and Segun Osoba. Even on the issue of Amotekun, what has Tinubu said about it? All the infringements that people have been talking about, they have not said anything about it. We are saying this not because we don’t like them, no. We must say the truth, if they are honest with us, they know what to do.
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