Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, former Commissioner for Education in the defunct Western Region, a foremost lawyer and chieftain of the Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, died in the early hours of Friday. In this interview conducted on Wednesday (2 November, 2016) by Saturday Tribune’s KEHINDE OYETIMI and RITA OKONOBOH, which turned out to be his last, the elder statesman spoke on the state of the nation, the judiciary and the anti-corruption war, among other issues. Excerpts:
As a foremost lawyer, how would you react to the accusation of judges involved in money laundering and corruption?
It’s most disappointing. Again, it is part of the corruption going on in the country, but one least expected that the judiciary should have been involved in this very very ugly enterprise. It is most disappointing. I was devastated to hear that so much. The judiciary is our hope; the hope of everyone in the country. But to think and realise that the people on whom we will rely for hope and salvation would be involved in such a very dirty practice is most terrible. On whether they should be arraigned and tried, the DSS applied Gestapo practice, there is no doubt about that. But the thing is why should our judges be found in that practice? Although the way they have been dealt with, such as going to their houses in the dead of night, that could be described as high-handed. But then, why should the circumstance arise for such to happen? It is very bad.
One of the arrested judges indicted one or two serving ministers in the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, particularly noting that the All Progressives Congress (APC) interests be taken care of. Do you think that these indicted ministers should step aside?
They should certainly step aside and that allegation should be investigated. They shouldn’t resume office until they are exonerated. In fact, without anyone forcing them to do so, they should voluntarily step aside and declare that they are ready for probe. Buhari shouldn’t harbour such people because he is out to clean the Aegean’s Stable in this country. It shouldn’t be half and half; he should go the whole hog.
There have also been various allegations against the presidency that the fight against corruption is lopsided. How would you react to such claims and what do you think can be done?
What does the law require? What does the law provide? If we cannot meet the requirements of the law, it should be out. It doesn’t matter who you are. Not too long ago, the former president of Egypt was sent to prison for having behaved improperly. So why not we? We are talking of leaders. What sort of example are they giving our young people? It is very bad. Anybody and everybody involved in this dirty practice should be dealt with according to the law.
Do you believe that the fight against corruption is holistic?
I’m not too sure about that because if it was holistic, the name of the Minister of Transport wouldn’t have been mentioned, as well as one or two others. However, once their names are mentioned, the president should say, ‘brother please go home and get yourself clean before you are considered whether to come back here or not.’ It should be holistic and there should be no sacred cows. If it is done half and half, then it is not clean.
That brings us to the issue of one of the APC national leaders, Senator Bola Tinubu. Some time ago, the president’s wife did say certain interests had hijacked the presidency, insinuating that the likes of Tinubu were not accorded their place in the presidency. Also, recently, foremost Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, said they wouldn’t sit back and watch as Tinubu is rubbished. What is your take on that?
Really and truly, Tinubu should not be rubbished because he, Buhari and others worked for the success of APC. So, for him to be sidelined and ignored in the affairs of government and administration is unfair. What ought to be done is that Tinubu should be treated decently because he was more or less the champion of the politicians who brought Buhari to power. He shouldn’t be ignored or maltreated or rubbished. That is not to say Tinubu is a holy man. He has his own weaknesses, no doubt about that. At the same time, he has worked for the party and should benefit from what goes on in the party. But for him to be neglected or relegated to the background, I think it is improper.
Do you see Tinubu as the face of the Yoruba nation?
I don’t see him as such. It’s a bit intricate, in the sense that if Tinubu had behaved in the way expected by Yoruba people, the politics of Nigeria wouldn’t be as it is now. What I mean is this. Alliance for Democracy (AD) came in and through the party, Tinubu became governor. However, when he was well seated comfortably as governor, he rubbished the leaders of the party and in any case, brought the AD into problem, until the party more or less, collapsed. Then, he was looking for alliances from various parties until they formed the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). From that, they jumped to APC. Tinubu was, more or less, promoting self interest as opposed to the interest of the Yoruba people. If he had been consistent in promoting the interest of the Yoruba people, what is happening to him today would not happen because AD would have become a very formidable, strong political party. Of course, he was not alone. With the other governors elected in 1999, they all connived and brought AD to an end. So, that is it.
But Tinubu could not say that he was not warned about allying with the Fulani. He was warned. Those who were, at that time, sounding notes of warning about Fulani coming into power, it’s not that they were so convinced about the suitability of former President Goodluck Jonathan. Jonathan was preferred by some people because he was quite easy to talk to. Of course, when he arranged the 2014 National Conference, he promised to implement the decision of the conference, but he was not given the opportunity because he was defeated. Maybe he was properly defeated or he was rigged out of the election, I don’t know. However, as I said, Jonathan was not the fit and proper person to lead Nigeria. He has his own faults which are very serious. See all the mess about corruption during his administration, even extending to his wife. It is an unfortunate situation. However, if care had been taken about allying with Buhari, maybe Tinubu might have been in another situation.
You have repeatedly called on President Buhari to address Nigeria’s diversity, less we disintegrate. When you consider the accusations and counter-accusations about the president being lopsided in appointments, how would you assess that?
Well, I’m not surprised because when he was about to assume the presidency of this country, your colleagues in other newspapers came to me and I told them point-blank that Buhari would not be able to play the game as it ought to be played. What I realised is that, he is a highly disciplined person, being a soldier, but we saw what he did at PTF. Buhari is a Fulani man. The Fulanis are very conscious of power and they don’t joke with power. And of course, Buhari’s treatment of Tinubu has just started. It could be worse for Tinubu realising the political power Tinubu possesses and how he exercises such power. But then, the Fulani are more adroit and more clever about that. I’m sure Nigeria is not unlikely to regret Buhari becoming president because at the end his term, he will leave no stone unturned to ensure that he is succeeded by a Fulani man. I wouldn’t be surprised.
With the events leading up to the Ondo governorship election and the recent protests regarding the emergence of Jimoh Ibrahim as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), do you see federal might coming to play to influence INEC regarding the eventual outcome of the electoral exercise?
I don’t know. Anything can happen. In Nigeria, politics is not clean and that is unfortunate. You know what happened in Kogi and how the Yoruba man was prevented from becoming governor. It wasn’t by way of balloting or something. It’s a design to ensure that no Yoruba man would be governor of any state in the North. So, that’s the problem. The other day, all the Northern governors went to America. That’s not without a purpose. So, let’s wait till 2019. You’ll see what will happen. What makes a person like me very sad and disappointed is that there’s no true, proper politics and unless and until Nigeria is restructured, there will be no stability or peace or progress in this country.
You have been calling for Nigeria’s restructuring for many years. Why does this appear difficult to realise?
It is because the people of this country don’t get themselves together. I don’t know whether to say they are docile or that they are afraid to exercise their rights. My fear, however, is that whether we like it or not, Nigeria, if not properly restructured, will go the way of Yugoslavia because we are a heterogeneous country and we cannot be properly or safely treated as a homogenous country. There are so many nationalities, cultures, sense of values, culture and, of course, the attitude to religion.
In the light of the forthcoming Ondo election, how would you assess the Edo election, in view of the protests that greeted the announcement of the results?
Well, Edo election is already past and gone but there is very little we can do about that so the people will just accept their fate and move on. However, I’m not too sure about Ondo. Anything can happen.
So, do you think INEC is as independent as its name suggests?
I doubt it very much.
Why do you doubt INEC’s independence?
Except the election that was held in 1993, when they used Operation A4, that was the time rigging was exceedingly minimised. But since then, before and after then, there has been no occasion when our elections are not contested. There has been no occasion when our census figures are not disputed. The government of this country is being, I don’t know, whether guided or being tutored by the West – Britain and America. So, the North has a think-tank in England and America. One of the members of the think-tank in America is the man who recently wrote a book on Buhari, John Paden. So, that is it. What has John Kerry come to do in Nigeria? He came and first visited Kano, then the president, then he met with the northern governors. For what purpose? Why are we kept in the dark? We should know.
But the South-West governors did not seem to raise eyebrows regarding Kerry’s visit…
The governors of the South-West, South-East and South-South still feel themselves subservient to the presidency because from time to time, they visit Abuja on appointments. However, they forget that they are not under the president. The body of persons which can control the state governor is the state House of Assembly; no more, no less. The president has no power to dictate to a state governor. That is the truth of the matter. But then, that would be so if really and truly we are running a federal system. We call ours a system federal but it is unitary.
In the light of Nigeria’s current economic recession, would you also align with the calls that legislators be on part-time duties?
Certainly! What are they doing there to make them entitle to huge amount of remuneration? They are all self-serving; they are not serving the interest of Nigeria. Even the very composition of the Senate is most unfortunate. Yes, they should be paid sitting allowance and nothing more. You have a senator having two, three, four vehicles, then allowance. How many voters in their constituencies have such accumulation of vehicles? You find a senator who had no bicycle before he became senator having houses and cars all over the place. It is a pity, but I want to assure you of something; all those who are making Nigeria difficult to govern, making Nigeria unstable, making Nigeria economically weak, in their self-interests, are going to suffer. They are going to suffer so much for what they have done because what you sow, you reap. If something is wrong and you’re doing it for your own interest, you will be punished for it. We will be deceiving ourselves if we think that the wrong we do will go unpunished. Nobody can escape that. The other time, the children of Israel were in Egypt for many years suffering because they were reaping what they sowed. That was the order of God. But when God was satisfied that they had suffered enough, he raised a leader who rescued them. Moses, with all his weaknesses, was a very courageous leader. God made sure he was brought up for such position and all the obstacles were cleared in the presence of Pharaoh, up till the point of leaving Egypt, even with the crossing of the Red Sea.
How do you think Nigeria got into recession and what do you think is the way out?
Well, you know that so much money has been recovered from those who stole our money both here and overseas. Secondly, we relied on one-land industry – oil. I am very happy that something is happening to that oil. What I would pray to God for is that the oil dries up, then we will learn our lessons. Why should we have one-land industry? Agriculture is there, from which we can have so many businesses. We are principally an agricultural country. Why should we suffer? Why should we hunger? Why should we be unemployed? Few days ago, I was talking to someone and he told me his would-be wife studied communication in the university and now, the wife is doing tailoring because there was no job for her and she is making money from that. There are university graduates in shoe making and furniture. I was reading in the papers today of a Nigerian who performed a medical miracle outside Nigeria. We are missing such people. When they train abroad, they stay away. But then, which country would develop without the use of its intellectuals? That’s the problem. This place is not conducive for work for our sons and daughters. But, that’s the doing of our government. And of course, if we ask the powers-that-be, they would say this is democracy. It is only by word of mouth; we are not practising democracy. All the legs of democracy are crippled – the judiciary, executive, national assembly, even the press and the police. We have a constitution in which we have what we call Code of Conduct. Are we following that?
Days ago, the Senate decided to tinker with the provisions of the act guiding the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Are you satisfied with such, considering the trial of the Senate President and his deputy?
How could I be satisfied? The two you mentioned – the Senate President and his deputy – how did they get to those positions in the first place? Did they get there as one would expect a Senate to be constituted? Certainly not. The presidency is watching the Senate and the Senate is watching the presidency. Everyone is being careful. That is where we are. These people sometimes forget that there is God and that Jesus is operating just as Mohammed is operating. My question now is that if Mohammed were to come now and ask the Senate President if he is running affairs righteously and in the interest of the masses and the country, I’m sure he will be dumbfounded. Same question for all of them.
As a former Commissioner for Education in the defunct Western Region, do you think the proposed 5-year jail term for lecturers caught sexually harassing their students is adequate?
The very fact that such person is going to jail is enough, even for one day. Then, he has scored a very black mark for himself and his family.
We are approaching 2019. What mood do you foresee for the major political parties?
Anything can happen. It is possible for some conflict and unrest to arise. I know this is a country which God Almighty loves so much, but we are behaving like children who have no home training. We just do things as we like. It is a great pity. Then of course, it won’t be a problem to God Almighty to get rid of those who are here completely and put some other people here. I used to read about the Lost Continent. See also the example of Sodom and Gomorrah. It can happen anywhere. Of course, I want to assure you that the role which the West is playing in the affairs of their former colonies, they are going to pay for it. See the example of Egypt, where everything in ancient times began. How about the Roman and Greek Empires today? Empires rise and they fall. I don’t think there’s any country so blessed like America but they will go down. When, I don’t know. But they have to pay as a consequence of what they’re doing. To all of us, it was a great surprise for a black man to become the president of America. However, there was a lesson which President Barack Obama should have learnt which he unfortunately didn’t. It was to show the world that God was in charge. Obama made some important achievements. However, when preparing for second term, he gave some support to homosexual relations, which is against what God wanted. They won’t go unpunished for that. The punishment will be upon the black people. It will take a very long time for another black man to become president of the USA because we abused the opportunity God gave us.
What is your take on the two major USA presidential candidates, Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump?
Well, I prayerfully hope that Hilary would win. She is more cultured in the way she conducted her campaign. If Trump wins, then maybe you and I would be in very serious trouble. The way he talks, behaves, is unlike a president. Unfortunately, the contest is very close. However, I hope and pray that Hilary wins.