Alaafin warns govt: Intimidation, tough talk can’t cow today’s youths
•Says ‘Let each region determine its destiny as it was in the First Republic’
The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi was in Lagos recently where South-west governors, ministers and select Yoruba traditional rulers rubbed minds with the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, on the way out of security issues in the geo-political zone. In this interview by SATURDAY TRIBUNE, Oba Adeyemi raised the alarm on the issues behind the EndSARS protest and declares that government has no better time than now to listen to the youths with a view to preventing a reoccurrence. Excerpts:
You have always expressed worries on the state of the nation. The recent EndSARS crisis readily comes to mind. Do you think your worry is shared by the government?
My worry and my fear should be worry and fear of the government; don’t forget that government is supposed to be the largest employer of labour. Unfortunately, government does not have statistics of the employed and unemployed youths. Do they have statistics of graduates leaving higher institutions every session? Yet they approve licenses for private universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. They do this obviously at the expense of brilliant students whose parents are struggling to survive. There are a lot of questions which government must address to get the country on a right track. That is why I said they should look beyond these panels of enquiry and address youths and employment problems in the country. Is it not a misnomer to have a central body controlling university matriculation as we have in the National Universities Commission (NUC)? That is not fair? The Federal government should restrict itself to exclusive list like defence and currency while education, agriculture should be left for the federating states. Before independence, the whole North had 126 schools when we had 5000 in the western region. The first secondary school was founded here by the father of Herbert Macaulay in 1859. That was CMS Grammar School, Lagos. It simply means we did not start the same time with the North, so we cannot arrive at the same time. The current system causes retardation because below average students over there are offered admission at the expense of better candidates here. This has brought me back to the question of a true federalism which is practiced in the US, after which we patterned ours. Let each federating state determine its destiny as we had it during the first republic. This unitary system can only promote what we are witnessing today.
Are you suggesting to government to see the EndSARS as an opportunity rather than a rebellious act by Nigerian youths?
That is the point of the matter. The government needs to come to terms with reality that Nigeria of today is different from Nigeria of about 30 years ago. Parents now appreciate value of education and do all they can to send their children to higher institutions of learning with hope of securing better future for themselves. Unfortunately, these children complete their education but have no job after their mandatory national youth service scheme. Isn’t that a frustration? That is what we just witnessed. These youths are more enlightened now, especially with this new internet technology. They are better exposed. They watch movies; they see how protesters organize themselves and handle security agencies. They know a lot of things. That is why the federal government must handle this matter with care. It is too sensitive. They should not assume intimidation or tough talk would cow these very volatile youths. When President Donald Trump accused Nigerians in the US wrongly, American citizen rose and came up with statistics which revealed that Nigerians were doing very well in American colleges; scoring first class grade ahead of their American class mates.
Did you read that report?
I listened to the visual in which the American citizens told their president that his judgment on Nigerians in the US was wrong. In the American recent elections, Nigerians were elected into high offices. What does that suggest? We are blessed with cerebral and competitive youths who can reach the peak of their careers if given opportunity to express themselves. I am saying it with every sense of authority that these youths we have here can move mountains if they are productively engaged because they know that education is the most potent force to order and change society. But in a situation where they need to struggle and sweat for employment after struggling and sweating to graduate, they naturally become angry and volatile.
You were in Lagos on during the week for a peace meeting in Lagos State. What did you take away from that gathering?
It is unfortunate that we have found ourselves at this level in the 21st Century. It is unfortunate that a 60-year-old country is still struggling to survive in the true sense of it. It is unfortunate that we would need to travel to Lagos State on such subject when we have all it takes to prevent what took us there. But in a country where almost everything is lopsided, this is what you see. I went there and made my point even though there was no time to fully exhaust what one wanted to say to help the conveners of the meeting. That is why I am making efforts to put the whole issue in right perspective, after which I will forward my papers to all appropriate quarters. Yes, there was a communiqué issued after the meeting. There is nothing wrong there because the public was expecting it. However, the issue is beyond that. It needs to be fully exhausted; we need to dig deeper into the root of the matter to know how to find right solutions to it. For instance, I find it difficult to believe that the pattern of attacks and destructions on some properties in Lagos was not systematically coordinated. I cannot be convinced. With my age and experience of life, I should be able to distinguish between spontaneous action and premeditated action. The reports from Lagos show a script, and that script must be subjected to a comprehensive investigation with a view to establishing the truth of the matter. That is my position which I am ready to defend anytime. I want to tell you to just wait till my paper is out. Then you can come and ask me to expatiate on it. Then the governors would have received and read it.
Do you see the incident as another threat to the unity of Nigeria?
What other name should anyone call this when certain properties were selected for attack and destruction? While I would not want to bring ethnic issue to the matter, it is, however, evident that ethnic and politics played a role in that incident, and President Muhammadu Buhari needs to be vigilant. It is in Lagos we have 90 percent of Nigerian newspaper houses. How many of these newspaper houses were attacked apart from The Nation? We also have many television houses in Lagos. How many television houses were attacked apart from TVC? Let me tell you, one may decide to keep quiet over some issues. But keeping quiet does not mean one does not know what is happening. Why would the attack be concentrated on private concerns of one man? Then you should know the attacks were not a happenstance but a well scripted thing to achieve certain goal.
Some say the attacks looked like an attempt to cripple Lagos. Do you share this point of argument?
Hasn’t that been achieved now? The centre of excellence has been taken back to where it was in more than 30 years ago, when we should be moving forward. The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo raised a sum of 2.5 million Pounds to construct the Lagos City Hall, a monument to last 100 years. That place was also set ablaze and nobody was able to stop the attack. Isn’t it disheartening? How can anyone explain that? The whole thing looks like ‘let’s destroy their Lagos, their economic hub, and see what happens to other parts of the zone.’ Yet, we sing labour of our heroes past should never go in vain. What do you call this destruction meted out to the Lagos City Hall constructed in the 1960s? What do you call the massive destruction of BRT buses which provide source of livelihood to hundreds of people and relieve Lagosians transportation problem? I don’t need to repeat it that, as a royal father, who should show concern about Yoruba matters, I am disturbed. I am really disturbed by the alarming erosion of our culture in those youths who were used to destroy such monumental properties. You are a journalist, go and do your findings on the workforce of the affected places? If those people are relieved of their jobs, where would they get another job? Where are the jobs? Who will feed their families? We have not even seen the effect of this incident yet; by the time those people are retrenched without alternative source of income and consequently thrown back to the streets, we will know that we are all sitting on a keg of gunpowder. That is my worry; that is my fear.
Perhaps you did not know that you are often accused of dwelling too much on history other than addressing contemporary issues. Do you agree with your critics on this?
Those who hold such opinion about me definitely don’t know me. I am a social scientist and historian, who is conversant with relationship between the past and present as both relate to future. There is no way to project into the future without adequate knowledge of past events. I think my fair understanding of the past is helping me to have a picture of what lies ahead. If we did not study History, how would we know that Sardauna Ahamdu Bello ruled the North and left a lasting legacy for the people? Ahmadu Bello was a great administrator who meant well for the people of his region. He looked for best brains to develop the North. He did not work with Fulani alone. He brought people like late Sunday Awoniyi, a Yoruba man, as his private secretary. If not for History how would you know the contributions of Dr Nnamdi Azikwe to the development of this country in his own capacity? He saw the federal system in the US where he studied and mastered use of English Language. He came back and said Nigeria should operate on one constitution, one destiny and one country. If not for History, how would we know how Awolowo used Israelis to clear Agala forest in Ibadan and constructed the first five-star hotel in Nigeria? That is what is known as Premier Hotel. Go and visit the place and see the quality of work done. The road there is still better than road constructed these days. How would we know that Awolowo brought Television to Africa ahead of Portugal, Italy and Egypt? In a nutshell, History is a guide to future. Do you think anything or anybody can catch the Alaafin unawares? Before that thing happens I must have processed some information to give a clue of that occurrence. Why did you think I was asking President Muhammadu Buhari to treat this matter with care? It is because of the fact that I know we may not have seen the end of it if not properly handled. Who would say that Agbowo Shopping Complex in Ibadan would be attacked despite the government’s clamp down on hoodlums? Who would say two policemen would be killed some metres to where Governor Seyi Makinde addressed them? Governor Makinde is only clever enough to have identified with them. Only God knows what would have happened. What I am saying is that government should not joke with the will of the people.
Don’t you think you sound as one encouraging uprising?
That is not a correct assessment of my position. Listen, a patriot is not one who says only what he thinks power likes to hear. A patriot is one who says it as it is in order for the power to see what it does not see. What do I stand to gain in encouraging youths to fight government? The point is that with my position in Yoruba history and the key role which Alaafin has played as an institution, I cannot deceive any government with sweet talk or silence. It is my duty to speak out, irrespective of how what I say is taken and interpreted. Go and check, I have been calling government attention to public issues through letters since 1986. I have the record of all my letters to successive administrations. So, what I am saying on this current issue follows same pattern of my royal intervention to governance in the country.
You earlier mentioned something about our value. How does it relate with the protest issue?
Burning of properties is a tragedy on our value system. We don’t encourage arsonists in Yorubaland because we know what it takes to build properties. Our extended family system is important to us. But what do we have today? Properties set ablaze in Lagos and other areas are evidence of tragedy on our system. Yet these people go to churches and mosques to listen to sermon. It means the sermon they listen to has no impact in them. Those arrested need to be interrogated individually to have detailed information on the real motive behind their actions.
During the riots, what role did you play specifically?
I went round the town and markets like Akesan, Ajegunle and other places. I sent able-bodied men to protect police stations from being burnt. Also, those who looted motorcycles at the road safety office, I gave them ultimatum to return their loot. They knew what I could do in that circumstance, so, they complied within the timeframe.
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