The leader of the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, assesses Nigeria at 62, the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and discusses the group’s support for the presidential candidate of the Labour Party in this interview with DANIEL AYANTOYE
Some people are of the view that there is nothing to celebrate after 62 years of independence, given the current state of the country. What’s your view on this?
There’s nothing to celebrate and for me, I am very sad. This is not the Nigeria that I fought for. This is not the Nigeria that we were enjoying before and immediately after independence before the military took over. I took part and demonstrated in London for independence and we achieved self-government our founding fathers fought the Macpherson Constitution, which was military, and changed it to the federalism in 1954 at the London Constitutional Conference, where all the founding fathers of Nigeria agreed that it should be a federation and it was under that system that we had our independence and we were enjoying that independence under the federal system.
Under that autonomy, (Obafemi) Awolowo was able to perform all the wonders in the Western Region – free education, free healthcare services, there was autonomy, there was security, state police, everything. Under it, we had competition among the autonomous regions; Awolowo was performing in the Western Region and built the University of Ife; Ahmadu Bello built the Ahmadu Bello University; Awolowo built the Liberty Stadium, while Ahmadu Bello built theirs and there was a competition until the military came in 1966, and all the problems started. So, when the military came in, that was the beginning of the trouble. We have never had it so bad, particularly under Buhari; it has been going from bad to worse. Our naira is worth nothing, there is no security, you can’t travel from here to Ekiti State safely, and the cost of living has risen. Unemployment has risen and everything has gone worse all because of this constitution imposed on us by the military. All our woes are because it’s not the constitution we agreed to at independence. All these problems we are having now should be attributed to the imposition of the constitution by the military. Until that constitution is changed, we cannot have peace.
Some are even of the view that it would have been better if Nigeria remained under the colonial rule because she doesn’t seem to have the capacity to successfully administer her own affairs. What do you make of such thoughts?
No, there was an advantage of self-government at the initial stage of independence; that was the achievement that our forefathers got. The military coup of 1966 changed all the good we had in that independence constitution. That’s why I said the passion I have cannot be shared by all these agitations from those who corrupted the system. They are enjoying what we fought for and instead of improving on it, they make it worse. So, it’s not a question of if colonialism was better; no, it is because of the people who took over by force, changed everything and favoured a particular ethnic group. That’s why I’m saying it is particularly painful to me because later on when I begin to state why I am sad, some people will begin to say I have started. They can’t know why I am sad because they don’t know what I have lost, because what they haven’t got, they can’t miss. I know what we have got and what we are missing. And that’s the source of my sadness.
How was life pre- and post-independence in comparison to the situation today?
There is nothing to compare. Ask those who were in the university at that period, they were paying 50 kobo for launch at the University of Ife, and when they wanted to suspend it, the children went on strike. There is nothing to compare; there was security, and you could travel from Lagos State to Ekiti State at midnight without anybody guarding you. Can you do that now? How much do you pay for petrol and diesel now? Even as recently as 2015 before this wretched administration took over, what I’m saying is that you don’t need a signboard to know, even those who are in the All Progressives Congress that are in the government and bribing people to vote for them, ask them; how much were they buying rice in 2015? How much are they buying now? How is the naira now? The naira now is more than 700 to a dollar; there is just nothing to compare.
Where did Nigeria miss it?
I told you, it’s the moment the military took over and when they now decided to go back to the barracks and Afenifere and others said, ‘If you are going back to the barracks, go back with your constitution and return to us the constitution you met us with, which is the restructuring we are talking about now. Until they do that, we can’t get peace because now, the power is concentrated in the centre; it’s all there in that constitution; that is what gives the dictatorial power to Buhari to concentrate security and everything in his village. That cannot be done in that constitution in spite of the federal character that is there. That’s why we are in trouble now. They put the federal character to get everybody to participate in the presidency. Now, you are excluding one region and you say you want peace, you want development. Where there is no equity, there will be no peace; and when there is no peace, there can be no development. So, all the problems we are having are embedded in the imposed constitution.
With the current happenings, do you think Nigeria was ready for the challenges of independence when she got it?
Nigeria was ready for the challenges and that was why they came up with the independent constitution that was set aside by the military. All the challenges we had when Amadu Bello said he wanted to separate were settled because of the unitary form of government under the 1951 Macpherson Constitution until they went to the London Constitutional Conference of 1954. So, when that constitution was changed in 1954 and premiership was created in the region in the Macpherson Constitution, power was concentrated in the centre, but under the government in 1954, there was regional autonomy and a lot of devolution of power to the federating states. This is what we are agitating for now; state police, security, education and economic structure were all being handled by the federating states. Only a few things were allocated to the central government. But that was reversed by the military and that is why we are in this trouble.
Many of the countries that gained independence alongside Nigeria have become much more developed. Why is the Nigerian case different?
Even some of those nations were coming to Nigeria to learn from us then. Malaysia came here to get their palm oil seed to develop their oil. Today, they are exporting palm oil, while we are still at the back. I just encompassed all the evil that has been done to our country by saying everything was reversed under this frivolous military-dominated constitution imposed on us by the military. It’s not our constitution. It’s a fraudulent constitution because it’s federal. All the evils that our founding fathers noted that caused troubles in the early part of the amalgamation were resolved under that 1954 constitution, which ensured that every element of government that united us were shared equally and the ones that could not be divided were done in rotation.
When federal character came in, that was when federation came in, and we were having peace until the military came in. When the military wanted to go back to the barracks and Moshood Abiola won the election, they rejected it and the problem started. To pacify the Yoruba, they brought in Olusegun Obasanjo and when Obasanjo finished his tenure, the presidency went back to the North, and when Yar’Adua finished, Jonathan came in, then Buhari, but he is finishing now and another Fulani wants to come in, that’s the problem with the PDP, and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu came in from the South-West after Buhari succeeded Jonathan. Is the South-East not part of Nigeria? All the problems we are having are human-made because the Fulani want to dominate.
Owing to the distrust between the North and South, some people still blame Lord Lugard for the 1914 amalgamation of the two protectorates. Should Nigerians continue to blame Lugard 108 years after, or for poor leadership?
That’s a cheap argument and not relevant. All the evils of the amalgamation have been resolved by our forefathers in the 1954 constitution. That’s why I said if we don’t concede power to the South-East, let us agree that we want to break Nigeria because those are the terms that we agreed to come together. People leave the main argument and start talking that Adebanjo said this or that. Consider the message and leave out the messenger. What I am saying is how we came together; these are the conditions that keep us together in peace; the moment we deviate from that, we can’t get peace. They must get the country in the right direction first. This concern is what brought IPOB in; Sunday Igboho came in because you are not going through the provision of what we agreed to live together as a nation. And they are saying if you are not going to do that, let everyone go their way; that’s why Afenifere is saying if you are not going to return us back to our constitution, let us sit down again and make another constitution of which you are not agreeing.
Can you share your experience of independence in 1960?
I was born in 1928; if you do the calculation, I was 32 years old at independence. One of my children was born six days after independence. My first child was born in 1954. I was the foundation organising secretary of the Action Group led by Chief Awolowo. When they came to power, I was one of those propagating the philosophy of the Action Group such as free education, free medical service, and rural development and all these came into being; Dr Dosumu and his late sister were in the primary school that was organised by Awolowo for the poor people. They didn’t go to private schools. Awolowo’s children went to public schools; that is to show you the contradiction between then and now. So, when I say I am sad, you can understand why.
For how many months now that universities been closed and Nigerian children are out of school, but Buhari’s children are graduating abroad? That was not the case with Chief Awolowo and other founding fathers of Nigeria. Instead of improving the universities here and stopping the exodus of our trained people, they are busy flying out here and there. It’s a sad story for me; why should a man of my age still be talking about the development of Nigeria at 94? What do I want? It is because you people are not taking things up and that is why you see now that the Obi-Datti movement is growing for a change; that is why we are supporting Peter Obi.
Some have called for a law to make public office holders put their children in public schools, what’s your take on it?
We are talking of the solutions first; they should pay the university lecturers now and have them reopen the schools before raising any issue of policy. Let the lecturers and students go back to school, thereafter pass a law after that to address the issue. Don’t put the cart before the horse. There is damage that has been done, repair the damage first and put in the instrument that will stop the recurrence of strikes in the country. There has not been good funding for education. The United Nations said there must be 27 per cent of the budget for education. Okay, how much have they been spending? those are the issues.
Also, people like Chief Afe Babalola have called for the overhaul of the 1999 Constitution before going into the 2023 elections. How difficult is that and why do you think the people in power are afraid of taking that decision?
That’s my stand too; I don’t believe in this election until the constitution is changed. I am 100 per cent with Afe Babalola. And if you look at my interviews in the past, I had said there should be no election until the constitution is changed. And when I talk about the constitution, they will say let the National Assembly changed the constitution and I said how can they change it; the National Assembly is the product of a fraudulent constitution, how can you expect the beneficiary of a system to change it?
You recently mentioned that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), will not accept to change the constitution; this indicates that no President will want to carry out the changes. How can Nigeria ever get out of its current problems?
He is also a beneficiary of the fraud in the constitution as I said earlier. And it is the APC you will ask why it has been difficult despite the fact that they promised Nigerians a change of the constitution when they came in. I put it to you when the military said they were going back to the barracks and Afenifere and others said, alright go back with your constitution, but if you are not going to do that, let us sit down again and agree on a new constitution, that’s why I said Buhari had a private agenda.
Some have argued that you have personal issues with Buhari, how true is this? What are some of your reservations about his person and administration?
What kind of personal issues? I don’t hate him; I have campaigned for him before. And even Atiku, I campaigned for him before on the programme of restructuring. And that’s because I have been a consistent agitator for restructuring. And even for Jonathan, I campaigned for him on the basis of restructuring and when they say he is corrupt, I say well, he has said he will change the constitution and that’s where I am. I know the moment the constitution is changed, the entire avenue for corruption will be closed. It is because of the resources in the centre that people are corrupt. When power devolves to the regions, there will be no money to steal. Those of us who knew about the founding of the country, are going to the root. All the politicians are corrupt because there are provisions in the constitution that are helping them to be corrupt. We are now saying to change the constitution and see what will happen.
There is this belief that Nigeria has never been this divided. Do you agree that the President has mismanaged the diversity and polarised the country?
Of course! That is why I am sad. Why won’t I be when the constitution we are using is totally wrong? Well, I am saying this now, it is not my problem but your problem and until you fight for it, you will die in slavery. Why won’t the country be divided? Okay, look at Atiku, who said he is a unifier, you are denying a member of the federation the right to be President and you say you are a unifier. You made magomago to change the arrangement of the PDP on rotation for the PDP candidate because you wanted to come in. You decided to change things in the middle of the game to favour you. Something you have been enjoying before – North to South and South to North under which we campaigned for you and we campaigned for Jonathan, and when it comes for another man in the South to enjoy it, you now changed it. Many of you don’t know the implication of voting for Atiku; that will be the third time a Fulani will be ruling us, Yar’Adua, Buhari and him too. Maybe Nigerians are not seeing it, and then he says he is a unifier. After eight years of being a Fulani Muslim, and then we will now give them another eight years again. What magic is he going to perform? Is he better than other Nigerians? Is he better educated? You see, people don’t go to the root. His candidature is a divider. Do you think the Igbo will be happy for the Fulani to have a go at the presidency the third time when they have not had one?
What’s the way forward to have a united Nigeria?
The way forward is to change the constitution; the way forward now without violence is to be Obi-Datti compliant. And we are sure that Obi will not waste time changing the constitution to federalism and thereafter all the progress can take shape. Without changing the constitution, there will be no stability. The IPOB won’t stop; all the agitators won’t stop. How can you develop a nation without stability? It’s simple logic.
Are you certain that if Obi emerges as the President, he will change the constitution?
Certainly, that’s why we are working with him. I am not in the Labour Party, but I am urging all those who believe in social justice to queue behind him. The Labour Party now is not just a labour party; it’s a movement to change the country from dictatorship to democracy. Right now, the man who said rule of law is subject to the national interest.
Insecurity has been a challenge in the country with bandits and terrorists killing and kidnapping Nigerians. What should be done for the nation to be free from terrorism and other deadly vices she is currently facing?
I have said it, change the constitution and all these issues will be addressed. Look at the question of security, why is Buhari hesitant about arming the regions in the country? If each region is able to take care of its security, that will end Boko Haram and bandits, but he wants to use the police against those of us in the West and the South; that is why he doesn’t want us to be equally armed to defend ourselves. It’s like you are claiming to defend a house better than the owner of the house. You stayed in Abuja and you want to defend me in Ijebu here. That is why all the Fulani herdsmen terrorising the country have not been arrested and persecuted to date. When (Samuel) Ortom went to him and said he knew those disturbing him, that they wrote him a letter and that they were Fulani and they were not cattle herders, that they told him they were the owner of his land and that they were the ones killing people, what did Buhari say? Go and look at your record. Is that the right response that a Commander-in-Chief that swore to protect lives and property should give?
Political campaigns began on Wednesday. What is your advice to the electorate who will listen to the candidates dish out promises, many of which may not be fulfilled?
My dear, you are asking the obvious; if anybody said they don’t know what to do with the current situation in the country, then that is their business, and then the people deserve the government they get. Is there any voter in Nigeria today, who is not mad, that will vote for any APC candidate? No answer for me, you don’t have to be ‘Obidient’ before you will have such understanding. You know how much you buy your rice before and now; you know how much the cost of transportation is now as well as the cost of kerosene and gas. That’s the question you should ask yourself whether you want to repeat that again for another eight years. And when we are talking about Fulani domination, somebody comes out again as the PDP candidate, a Fulani again, after eight years of consecutive rule by a Fulani, and tells you that he has the magic wand when we are no fools.
Your endorsement of Peter of Obi has made some people say Afenifere is deviating from its ideology, which is to protect the interest of the Yoruba race. What’s your take on this?
No, Afenifere is not a Yoruba group alone; that’s the mistake you are making; it is a Yoruba association of the Action Group. The Action Group was one of those who championed the cause of federalism in Nigeria before independence. I said the Western Region has had its share. How can we be talking about equity and we have the Igbo, who are part of the federation, deny them of their rights? This is not a Yoruba matter, but what will keep us together and give us progress. This message is what you should consider and forget Adebanjo.
Do you think the Labour Party presidential candidate has what it takes to bring the country out of its current state of despair and deliver on restructuring?
Certainly, he can. He was a former governor of Anambra; look at his record there; he is one of the governors that left office and he has not been chased around by the EFCC. Those are the records. Now, ask yourself, have the APC and the PDP done anything better in the country?
Recently, former President Olusegun Obasanjo stated that the 2023 elections would make or break Nigeria. What’s your take on the likely outcome of the elections and what are your fears if things turn in the favour of any other candidate apart from Obi?
I agree with Obasanjo; certainly, there will be crises if Obi wins the election and is not recognised. If he doesn’t win and you vote in the Fulani or those who have done woefully, there will be crises, because it is between Tinubu and Atiku, if not Obi. Tinubu represents the government that has failed and Atiku represents another failure. Am I wrong? Atiku is representing a region that is excluding one of the members of the federation and you want peace? Or do you want us to go back to somebody who has proved clueless about our problems and has worsened our situation for eight years? Except Obi wins and you allow him to rule, because I don’t rule out his winning and Buhari saying no, and that there is a problem in Katsina and the election is inconclusive. And I am sure he will not get away with it. If he tries to Babangida us, we shall Babangida him. The position is simple, you don’t need a signboard; with this revolution of the youth and they vote and you say you won’t recognise it, then you cause a revolution. If you make change impossible, you make violent change inevitable. I am repeating it for anybody to come and catch me. For the election to be free and fair and Obi wins, but you don’t want him to be sworn in, you are joking and calling for revolution.
More religious leaders are now actively participating in political activities. Even Obi has toured some major churches and it is being said that he is attempting to woo the members to his side. How will you react to this?
These are all part of the problem that this government is bringing up. And it’s a diversion. Is the ‘Obidient’ movement bringing up religious issues and coming up with the Muslim-Muslim ticket? As Bishop Oyedepo said, after the election, we will know how many people are mad. Except you are mad, you have been suffering for the past eight years and you will now vote for a party that will make you surfer again. Don’t forget, we said it is Tinubu and not Buhari, but Tinubu said he is going to follow what Buhari has been doing, what does that imply? Continue to deceive yourselves, but Adebanjo will not.
Nigeria’s leaders have been going to the United Kingdom to have political meetings. Do you think they are suffering from the mentality of still being under colonial rule?
Because they have a place to go to and I have no place to go to, that’s why I am shouting here. I am not speculating on anybody. Those who are not going abroad, their children are abroad. I have relatives who want to come home, but home is not safe. Some of them came and went back, but because I know Obama will not come here to fight the issue for me that’s why I am fighting here to make them come back. I know two or three families that sold their properties and packed away to settle in Canada. I was talking to another diplomat a few days ago and he said, ‘Baba, this country is lost’. Because I don’t believe it’s lost, that’s why I’m here. And for you young men, that’s why you must support Obi-Datti.
Source: The Punch