A chieftain of the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, in this interview by BOLA BADMUS, speaks on the State of the Nation at 56. Excerpts:
Nigeria is 56 today. As an elder statesman, what is your view concerning the nation’s journey so far?
For people like me, it is not too joyous an occasion other than the fact that God saved our lives. We have not made the progress we should have made and the crisis that should have existed are those that can be avoided. We are in avoidable crisis because the rulers of the day don’t appreciate the problems of the country, so they cannot find the solution to them. But due to lack of the knowledge of the problems of the country, the present leaders need to have got solutions to the problem. What do I mean?
The problem of the country right now, since the 1966 military coup, is the lopsidedness of the constitution. It is the lopsidedness of the constitution that caused the political instability; it is the political instability that caused economic instability.
If the leaders know the problem of the country, they would be able to apply solution. But not knowing the problem, they couldn’t apply the solution and those problems arise because of the lopsidedness of the constitution. And those of us who have been championing since General Sani Abacha days, since the NADECO days, since the military era that the country must be restructured because after the military coup, we are saying it was not the structure that was handed to us at independence; that the military continued after the coup. We were federal in name but military in practice.
In what way do you think the average Nigerian is part of this problem you are talking about?
An average Nigerian didn’t contribute, it is the leadership. Those of us who knew about the problem of the problem, we do tell them, but they refused to listen. To the average Nigerians, what I can tell them is that the constitution that the founding fathers, including Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Sardauna of Sokoto and Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, gave to us have been changed after military took over government in the country. That is why we are in problem. That we had Western, Eastern and Northern regions, but after the military came, they abandoned that and we adopted unitary government where the power now lies in the centre.
Before independence, our founding fathers had fought for a balanced federation since 1954 Constitution after the crisis of self-government in Nigeria and they went to England. They came back with the Macpherson Constitution;they gave us a constitution that created the position of premiership, and military took over. Before then, until when the Macpherson Constitution came in, there was no premiership. Awolowo was just the Leader of Government Business in the West, Sardauna was, just the leader of Government Business in the North and the same thing in the East.
When the crisis came in 1953 after self-government, they went to another constitutional conference. After that conference, the call for federation started. It was only on the return from that conference that Azikwe announced at the airport that federalism is imperative. Before then, Awolowo had been a lone-ranger, saying that a country of this nature, with a multi-lingua composition, must not be ruled under a unitary government and that the suitable constitution is federalism and that was the basis of the crisis.
They got together and just agreed on that; the functions of the Federal Government and those of state were defined; those of the local government were also defined. So, all those regional governments knew where the limitations were. You have heard of free education in the Western Region, but you didn’t hear that time that Awolowo ever went to the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to seek something (financial assistance) from the Federal Government. Every government knew how much was coming to it. Distribution was based on derivation; it is that derivation that people are calling resource control. It was through that, that Awolowo was able to do a lot of development projects in the Western Region and he ruled that region for seven years without any strike, without any borrowing. He was able to give free education, free health services, among others. But when the military came, they changed everything.
But can we still blame the military for the problem the country is facing now?
Of course yes, it is the military; there is no doubt about that. It is the military that gave us the constitution we are now using. It was General Abdulsalami Abubakar that gave us the constitution that we are now using. I have been persistently saying that go and look into the records; that this is not our constitution. It is the military constitution and that is why we are shouting for a sovereign national conference to create a constitution that is federal and that will be for the people.
And that is why the late Rotimi Williams said our constitution is a fraudulent document. When I asked him why?, he said the constitution, has “we people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria” as the intro and then he asked, ‘are we the ones that wrote the constitution?’ The constitution said Federal, he asked are we Federal? That was why Rotimi Williams said it was fraudulent. And we have been saying let us legitimise our constitution and make it our own constitution.
It was that agitation that led to the question of a national conference by which we should be sovereign. But they were arguing on the issue of sovereign and we said they should forget it. Eventually, (former President) Goodluck Jonathan was persuaded to convene the national conference in 2014. We were there again to define the problem of the country, be it revenue allocation, be it local government, police, anything that causes conflicts in the federation and we solved it there. So when people like me are saying President Muhammadu Buhari should implement the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference which restructured the country under a federal system, people don’t know because we were just the messengers. But instead of doing that, Buhari said he was not going to look into it.
That is why I said our government don’t understand our problems. If they understand our problems, the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference are not Jonathan’s problems. They were the problems of those who were in that conference, who were representatives of the people all over the country. We had those from Labour, professional religious bodies, political parties and everything. And I stand to be challenged, this country can never get that caliber of people that gathered for that 2014 National Conference. I challenge Buhari if he can get a conference composed of the integrity, the caliber and experience of the people in 2014 National Conference. I challenge him and if these people who matter, the Yoruba and other Nigerians from various field of endeavours; solders were there, youths were there, mention it. They all went into the conference and they unanimously passed 600 resolutions and then you said you are sending them into the archive. Are you a listening president?
And is why I said those who are in leadership don’t understand the problems of Nigeria. It is much about undisclosed agenda. If the agenda of the president is to keep this country in peace, without all these disparity, he should look at the recommendations of the last national conference. What he believes is the problem there, he should remove it and implement the rest. And what do you want to replace it with? You want to replace it with the constitution that you are complaining of? That is why you can never get peace; that is why the crisis will never get solved. No amount of the economic committee you set up, without giving us the right constitution, can solve the national question which is about solving the problems of the various nationalities and solving the problem of how they will live together in peace.
Mind my word, the National Question, which is the recommendation of the 2014 National Conference, is the sum total of the various nationalities in Nigeria who want to live together in peace. The conditions under which they are going to live together were settled in the 2014 National Confab and anybody not implementing them or opposing or not replacing them with something identical is the enemy of the country. And I want to say that if Buhari continues to oppose that constitution, he is paying a lip-service to the unity of the country. I challenge him again that if he is honest about keeping this country together, he should implement the report of the 2014 National Conference and I challenge him that he is reluctant to give us a balanced constitution because his people are the beneficiaries of the lopsidedness of the constitution. I want him to prove me wrong.
What are the specific recommendations you made at the conference to address the alleged lopsidedness in the constitution?
The constitution under which we had been living together was made lopsided by the military in 1966. I have been saying it and nobody has disputed it. I have been saying that it was the military that restructured Nigeria. The issues of the Niger Delta Avengers and MASSOB, they are components of the awkwardness of the constitution. These are the problems we have solved; even the question of corruption, we solved them at the conference because we reduced the powers of the Federal Government. It is because of the huge amount of money in the hands of the Federal Government that gave room for crisis. At the 2014 conference, the powers of the Federal Government were reduced and given to the state; so there was devolution of powers. This is something people don’t understand and people were saying I am a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But I said no, I am not a PDP member. I was only supporting President Jonathan then because he promised to implement the new constitution in which I know we had solved our problems. That was the beginning and the end of my cooperation with Jonathan. I didn’t say the government was not corrupt. I know that if the 2014 National Conference report is implemented, all our problems would be solved.
If a new constitution could not be implemented, what do you think can be an immediate solution to the renewed militancy and other problems across the country?
Then you don’t understand the problem.
The call for an immediate solution is because people are talking about dialogue…
Then, they don’t understand. What is the cause of Avengers? What are they fighting for? Do you know? They said the government is taking their money to other places to develop. They want autonomy; they want to control their money. That is why they say they want to get out of Nigeria. And we have solved the problem (through the national conference) by saying there should be distribution of money on basis of derivation; that would keep them quite. Go and ask what is their demand that the Federal Government is not responding to. The moment you give them that, they would be contended.
They want employments in their area. All the resources of their area is spent in Abuja. Nobody from the South South, from the Niger-Delta area would look at the government in their area. Nobody can go to Abuja and see what is being spent there and would not want to go to war. The Niger Delta people are just indifferent to people’s feeling because they see that all the money in their area is being spent in Abuja. So they are not breaking the pipelines for fun.
Is there anything to celebrate as Nigeria turns 56 as a sovereign country?
Nothing, nothing other than to thank God for our lives. The only thing we can celebrate is if this government would be persuaded to listen to the complaints of the people and autonomy, they want restructuring.
People are complaining of hunger, despite promises made by the present government. What is the way out?
Understanding the problem, without political stability, there cannot be economic stability. Settle political problems in the country, all other things would follow. For instance, the people are asking for restructuring of the country so they can have autonomy; so that they can have control of certain aspects of their lives. If that is done, they wouldn’t be breaking pipelines. If they don’t break the pipelines, there would be peace and money you are spending on securities to combat crisis will be available for development. That is the solution; the solution is clear. Stop the cause of the problems. Not solving the cause of affliction means you want it to continue. People who are under slavery want to get out of slavery. You can’t suppress them by killing them; if you kill them, others will rise up.
On the issue of restructuring, will you suggest that Nigeria should go back to the era of regionalism?
Before the military took over, we had four regions. If you look at the recommendations of the 2014 Confab, we created more states. It is the minorities in the North that were opposed to regionalism that called for such that the North would oppress them if you put them under their rule, they were oppressing them. They said we should give them their own states and then they can collaborate with those states they are comfortable with. That is why in the recommendation of creating those states that people were condemning, any area they believe they can go together with and convenient with, they are at liberty to do so. The minority are not with them in oppression, so we liberated them by recommending the creation of new states for them.
You were one of the national leaders of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) that threw up Senator Bola Tinubu as the party’s governorship candidate in Lagos State in 1999. Given the recent position of Tinubu on happenings in APC over its governorship primary in Ondo State, people are saying he should not complain in view of what played out in 1999. Is there any basis for comparison?
What I am going to say, get it very right. I am not going to be taken in by the superficial thing they are doing. On the issue of APC, what Buhari and co have done to Tinubu, Tinubu may be having his regrets now because we warned him. But it is not Tinubu they are fighting. I want you to understand that I don’t support that. It is the Yoruba they are fighting and we warned Tinubu and he can now see it. I won’t be taken in by the scheming; I won’ t join them by saying it is good for Tinubu; Tinubu would get his punishment at the right time. But right now, the war Buhari and co are waging against Tinubu is against the Yoruba.
In what way?
Listen, they want to decimate his power in Yorubaland because he is the one people are now saying he is leading the Yoruba. By the time they subjugate him, we are the only region the North has not been able to penetrate, Then they would be able to control the country. We can see it and we warned Tinubu. Tinubu knew when we raised the issue, but because of ambition, he thought he could be vice-president to Buhari and when he gets into power, he would be Second-In-Command and also control Lagos. We knew it.
You see this Fulanis would concede anything to you in order to put you in their pocket. Tinubu thought he was wiser. I am not mocking him for what he has got because I could see that the Yoruba interest is more involved. So I am warning any Yoruba man not to think that Tinubu has gotten what he deserves. Tinubu would get his reward as he is being disgraced but don’t let us close our eyes to where Buhari and co are going. We should be on our guard. All I am saying is that the Yoruba should be united. We are not going to leave Tinubu to be disgraced; I can tell Buhari that. It is not Tinubu that he is fighting, it is the Yoruba. I am not one of those who take solace in the way he is being disgraced; he deserves it but I am on my guard; the Yoruba must be on guard. It is policy of divide and rule that Buhari is adopting.
But some people would say there are Yoruba in Buhari’s government and therefore he is not after the race…
Who are the Yoruba in his government? They are the Yoruba raised by Tinubu. Buhari brought them in to destroy Tinubu and destroy Yorubaland.
Will it not surprise you if by tomorrow you read in the paper that Tinubu says there is no quarrel between him and Buhari?
That is his business. If he has not seen it, I have seen it.
Ahead of 2019, do you think APC would still remain intact?
If there is going to be APC, it wouldn’t be in this form. I guess there would be a new force or we restructure Nigeria. Those who are opposed to restructuring, they want the country to split, because without restructuring there would be no Nigeria. For me, those who are opposed to restructuring are opposed to a united Nigeria in peace and when there is no peace, there is no government, and if there is no restructuring, there is no Nigeria.