Chief Ayo Adebanjo, an elder statesman, is a prominent leader of Afenifere, a Yoruba sociopolitical group. He has been in the forefront of the agitation for the restructuring of Nigeria. In this interview with SULAIMON OLANREWAJU, he posits that restructuring the country will calm frayed nerves and position the country for perpetual prosperity. Excerpts.
President Muhammadu Buhari in his October 1 address talked about how he would want the restructuring issue handled. How do you see this?
The president is just paying lip service and using delay tactics. The road is clear for restructuring; all parts of the country including the spokesman of the North, in person of Ango Abdulahi, said we should go back to the structure Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello gave us. It is on record, the South-West has stated it, the South-East has supported it, the South-South has supported, the Middle Belt has supported. So, what is President Buhari waiting for if not that he is using delay tactics?
One of the spokesmen for the president, Garba Sheu, mentioned the fact that the government is not willing to implement 2014 Confab recommendations because it (the confab) was not inclusive. What an irony! If the 2014 Confab was not inclusive, was the making of the present constitution inclusive? It was the military that set up the constitution conference.
You are now saying that that is more inclusive than where we had more than 500 distinguished Nigerians cutting across all spheres of life? You are now saying that is not inclusive. If that is the problem, what is wrong with going back to the constitution the founding fathers gave us or was the making of that also not inclusive? My belief is that Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) do not believe in having a united Nigeria in peace, they believe in uniting Nigeria by force and that will not happen.
The president seems to be concerned that restructuring the country can lead to its balkanisation. What is your thought on this?
It is just a way of bamboozling the people. So the constitution the founding fathers agreed to is a fake? Or is President Buhari wiser than the Sardauna of Sokoto (Sir Ahmadu Bello) who agreed to those conditions? He should answer that question because the constitution we asked him to return to is the constitution agreed to by the founding fathers of this nation in 1960. Is he saying they were not wise enough, particularly the Sardauna of Sokoto? Or is President Buhari more Northerner than the Sardauna? He is just deceiving the people. He wants to rule and dominate by force, Nigeria will not accept that. If that is his own conception of Nigeria’s unity, it will not work.
There seems to be a misconception of what restructuring means. What actually is restructuring?
There is no misunderstanding; it is just a case of some people trying to confuse the people, that is Buhari and the APC. They are the ones confusing the people, confusing restructuring as if it is a call for separation. They regard restructuring as separation. How can anyone talk like that? All those who are clamouring for restructuring are saying we want to stay together in the country on an agreeable condition as stated by our founding fathers. He should reply to that, He should say that the conditions under which we accepted our independence constitution are no longer acceptable. He should say that, that the Sardauna and Awolowo are stupid. Buhari is not sincere; it is a dishonest statement from him.
You have been in the forefront of this agitation for restructuring, what exactly does restructuring mean?
If I have to repeat myself for as many times as possible, I will do it. There is nothing in restructuring other than federalism. What that means is not different from what the country’s founding fathers said and what was stated by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1947 that you cannot run a multi-national, multi-religious and multi-cultural country under a unitary form of government. If you do that, it will fail. The only thing that can keep a multi-national country together is federalism. And the moment you choose federalism, there is devolution of power, there is resource control, there is state police and all other components of federalism. It is deceit, mischief and insincerity that people begin to say that you do not know what they want.
There is nothing like true federalism, it is because of Nigeria’s concept of calling unitary government federalism that people say, ‘No we want true federalism’. There is nowhere in the world that they talk of true federalism. There is no fake federalism except you call Nigerian constitution a fake one. Chief Rotimi Williams, before he died, said our constitution is a fraudulent one. He said whereas the constitution states ‘we the people of Nigeria’ the reality is that the constitution was not made by the people of Nigeria, it was imposed on the people by the military. He also said whereas we call ourselves Federal Republic of Nigeria, are we really a federal state? These are the issues. The government is now saying the 2014 Confab report produced by the people was not inclusive, the one imposed on us is what they want us to agree to. It shows lack of sincerity.
The president has said that those who want to champion this restructuring thing should channel their agitation through the National Assembly. What do you see to this?
Does he think we are fools? The National Assembly is part of the problem we are having under the constitution. Many of us are saying that the National Assembly is a product of this fraudulent constitution or can the president deny that? We are asking the National Assembly to devolve the power through which they are cheating the nation, will they agree to that? Will they approve that? The president is just paying lip service.
In your own opinion, how can we achieve restructuring?
If the president has the will and the sincerity, I repeat, if Buhari has the will and the sincerity of purpose, nothing will stop restructuring. The whole country has spoken, he should only prepare a bill under those conditions and send it to the National Assembly for approval or for referendum. Make an arrangement for the people to vote on it.
The people who are part of the problems of the constitution cannot approve of a constitution that will deprive them of the power they are now exercising. And some of us are agitating to go back to parliamentary system because presidential system is very expensive and dictatorial. Parliamentary system is more democratic and less expensive to run. Those are the two issues they should focus on and they should stop trying to tell people that there are different shades of federalism. Federalism is federalism and we must keep to all the components of federalism instead of making them appear as if they are different. And if they do not understand what is restructuring, they should go back to the 1960 constitution.
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Do you see the president toeing this line?
He has to, if the president does not toe this line, he does not want the unity of Nigeria. I have said it several times, if Buhari does not toe the line of restructuring, he does not want a united Nigeria in peace. He will attempt to do it by force but he will fail. Quote me, if President Buhari does not accept restructuring, he does not support Nigerian’s unity in peace, he is depending on the instrument of force that is in his hands to force it on the people but he will fail.
If the president does not embark on the process that will result in restructuring the country, what can the people do?
The people have the last say. You can force a horse to the river but you cannot force it to drink. You can intend to do it but you cannot implement it if the people say no. I am positive about that. It is his refusal to implement restructuring that is encouraging people of Nnamdi Kanu’s school of thought to use force. Because the adage is ‘those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable.’
The president knows that. Kanu had to resort to force when he realised that those he was dealing with were not showing any sign of sincerity. And I have challenged Buhari and APC to adopt restructuring and see whether there will be anything like IPOB or Avengers or Oduduwa Republic any longer because giving autonomy to the federating units is as good as you are on your own. If Buhari is sincere about the unity of this country, let him implement restructuring and see whether the question of separation will come up again. He should stop emphasising to us that the unity of this country is not negotiable. The unity of the country had already been negotiated during the independence in 1960 on the conditions under which that constitution was made.
I like to repeat, if Buhari does not understand, the question of remaining united in the country had already been negotiated since 1954. And the agreements are contained in the constitution of that year. And the present problem we are having came as a result of the incursion of military in 1966. It was the military that brought the present constitution that contains all the ignoble things. The point of disagreement in the country today is caused by the military that came in 1966. They forced this constitution on us and after their departure, they want us to continue, that is the problem.
So, Buhari should answer these questions instead of beating about the bush. He should stop telling the people that our unity is not negotiable. We had already negotiated the unity of this country since 1954 and the terms of the condition of coming together are contained in the constitution of 1960. And this was done by the elected people of that time, Sardauna, Awolowo and Azikiwe. Let President Buhari refute that. He cannot tell me he is wiser than these founding fathers. So to talk of anything less or to refuse to go back to the constitution is to show that our founding fathers had no sense.
What do you see happening in 2019 in relation to this restructuring agitation?
I do not think 2019 will come if restructuring does not take place and that is my view, you may refer to it as hate speech. But anybody who loves Nigeria will implement restructuring and 2019 will be a reality. We will not accept an imposed constitution with all the forces of Buhari, he has all the forces but we have God on our side. God does not support oppression and Buhari should tell the whole world whether this constitution he wants to impose on us was made by the people. If he does not understand what restructuring means, he should go back to the 1960 constitution.
Are Southerners agitating for restructuring now because they lost out in the power game because when (Chief Olusegun) Obasanjo was president, there was no such agitation?
That is the campaign of Buhari and APC. We have been talking about restructuring as far back as the Abacha days. The country had been properly structured in 1960, it was the military that de-structured Nigeria, that is why we are talking of restructuring now. Restructuring came into our lexicon since the Abacha days. They are now making it look as if restructuring is a new political philosophy. No! Restructuring is a product of going back to federalism because the military de-structured the federal system they met on ground in 1966.
Let Buhari deny this. All we are saying now is that the country should be restructured back to what it used to be. This is what our founding fathers gave us. What is the problem with that if you are sincere? Right now, the whole country has spoken, they have not denied Ango Abdulahi saying he agreed with the position of the South-West on restructuring. He is the spokesman for Arewa. The South-West has spoken; so have the South-East, South-South and the Middle Belt. What is Buhari waiting for if he does not want to use force to impose a constitution by the military on the country? If he is sincere, let Buhari implement restructuring immediately.
If the country is restructured, what should we expect?
We go back to the 1960 constitution, every region will be autonomous. People will remember the type of government Awolowo had, he could not have done all he did if not for the federal system that we had. At that time, the East, West and North were competing among themselves in terms of giving infrastructure to the people. Chief Awolowo built the Liberty Stadium and founded the University of Ife; Sardauna built the Ahmadu Bello Stadium as well as the Ahmadu Bello University.
Okpara founded a university in the east and a farm settlement. Every area was autonomous on specific functions and that is the essence of federalism. The power the Federal Government will be using is already limited to foreign affairs, shipping, currency and all that. All other things that concerned you and me were in the regions and that was why we were living in peace then. That stability was there until the military’s incursion.
Will restructuring make Nigeria stronger and create more job opportunities for our teeming youths?
The thrust of 1960 constitution is devolution of power. So whichever federating units we agree to will have those powers. If the president is sincere, by the time we have all these, there will be peace. There will be no more Niger Delta Avengers, there will be no more IPOB, there will be no more Oduduwa Republic. Agitations in all parts of the country will cease. So, it is the president’s refusal to do the needful that is causing confusion and that is why I say he is the greatest enemy of Nigerian’s unity. I say that because he sees the path of peace and he has refused to follow it.
I have said it before, Buhari should disprove me that he is not the greatest enemy of Nigerian’s unity by doing what the people want. If you do not do what the people want, there will be chaos. How can you have a stable economy in the midst of political chaos? Who has ever had that? If there is no political stability, there can be no peace and there can be no progress, it is as simple as that. If I may go further, When I say there should be peace, today, if you give all these conditions to the people of South-South, the Niger Delta Avengers will not bomb anywhere, the amount of money you are spending to keep them at bay now will no longer be necessary; the amount of money you are losing as a result of their bombings will no longer be lost.
If that money is used for development, it will have a meaningful impact on the society. When there is no political stability, you send Army to the East to quell Kanu and his lieutenants, you send Army to the West to quell Oduduwa agitators. When are you going to plan for peace? Who are you going to plan the peace for when the people are at loggerheads? They are now telling you that these are the conditions under which we can live in peace, or have you got anything in contrary? That is why I say anyone opposing this favourable, peaceful terms and conditions is an enemy of the country and I am sure Buhari will not like Nigerians to see him as the enemy of the country.