All ingredients of a major conflict are here —Afenifere spokesman, Odumakin
•‘People now see restructuring as a waste of time, they say separation is the best way’
In this interview by SAHEED SALAWU, spokesman of the pan-Yoruba sociopolitical organisation, Afenifere, Mr Yinka Odumakin, speaks on the recent meeting of Northern leaders in Kaduna and other salient national issues.
Northern leaders recently met in Kaduna where they accused the EndSARS protesters of seeking to dismember the country. What is your opinion on this?
The Northern leaders are at their usual blackmail of ‘our power’ protection which has blinded them to the realities on the ground. Since most of them are in power or close to power and share resources, they are not ready to see what other Nigerians are going through which was the bakery for the protest. Nigeria is the poorest country in the world today and it has the most incompetent representatives in power. Provide all the cooking utensils with garri and water, this government will prepare only an excuse why it cannot make eba. You can use propaganda to take power but you can’t use it to guarantee the people happiness. They are busy putting the country into daily indebtedness but can’t explain what they are doing with the money except corruption that we see all over the place. After five years of anti-corruption seduction, it is their head of EFCC that is under the radar and they have no report of change in the way corruption controls the space. But under the delusion, they don’t have to govern but reign and the people should continue to ‘Sai Baba’ like Almajiris even when life has been made unbearable for them. It is never going to be that way.
EndSARS was the topping point of the frustrations with the rudderless management of the country that has put the vast majority on the edge. But those who are very dull at reading the tea leaves would ascribe these dynamics and that is why they read destabilisation plot to this the way a colonial authority that does not believe the people have a right to protest bad leadership would do. The open statement by the president that his promise to look at the demands of the protest was seen as a sign of weakness is a clear sign that we delude ourselves calling iron-fist rule a democratic government.
They also called for the censorship of the social media. What is your perspective on this?
Their call for the censorship of social media shows that we have 16th century ideas running Nigeria in 2020.They don’t know we have gone past the dark era when you could keep the society in darkness. The hypocrisy of this people is so galling. They rode to power using the social media to maximum effect but now that they can’t understand the expectations of the people, not to talk of meeting them, they think the solution is to take us back to the dark ages. Their not being ashamed to mention such is a testimony that we are cohabiting with those who are not part of this modern era and cannot move the country on the path of progress no matter how long they stay in power.
The Inspector General of Police also attended that regional meeting. What in your opinion are the implications of a security chief attending a regional meeting?
The IGP at that meeting only confirms our fears that they have turned the Federal Government of Nigeria to the Federal Government of the North. We have said it clearly that keeping all security chiefs in a section of the country was not an accident but a deliberate northernisation of power. How would such an IGP maintain the neutrality of his office when the issue becomes north and south. We saw all the arrests of only Yoruba people when there was a bloody clash between Ife indigenes and Northern settlers. It is clear in the way the police have turned the other eye as Fulani herdsmen have been terrorising non-Fulani communities, leaving sorrow, tears and blood. It is nothing but the loss of a country to clannish and base interests.
Are you not scared that the police are virtually on strike and the president is not ordering them back to work?
The police are virtually on strike because the failure of state has exposed them to great dangers. The whole essence of the state is to maintain balance between contending forces in the society in a way to avert anarchy but when you have the kind of state we have in Nigeria that is not alive to that responsibility, you will have the kind of EndSARS situation where the people will go to the extreme and soldiers would be begging the people to loot gently. I was shocked to see the videos of policemen being burnt like rams during the protest. A responsible state should be taking stock now and finding solutions that would not allow us get to that situation again. But all we have seen is exercise of power without responsibility. It is a loud statement on the withering of this state when the police go AWOL as we have seen. I just hope that those in government have sufficient gravitas to interpret the whole idea of policemen deserting.
The president leads the forces that see only power as the need for Nigeria and may not be seriously moved by such for as long as they maintain office with their cronies and they are having false ‘yes sir’ from those who, for economic reasons, are around them but are practically long gone psychologically.
Apart from issuing press releases, in what other practical areas does Afenifere think it can engage the North and defend Yoruba interest?
We have always believed in engagement and will continue to engage as Awo taught us relationship should be in a multi-ethnic state. It is not out of fear of anybody but that is the hallmark of civilisation. All steps necessary to guarantee the safety of our people in a settled society would never be too much for us. Above all shall be an unrelenting pursuit of Nigeria becoming a truly federal republic that guarantees the happiness and security of all its citizens.
There are fears that the country may be heading towards a major conflict. What in your opinion can be done to avert this calamity?
All the ingredients of a major conflict are here. Nigeria is today living like Yugoslavia in its last days filled with ethnic mistrust and deadly clashes until it collapsed. Any careful reader of history would see the last protests as signs of a major calamity on the way. A serious leadership should be taking measures to avert such now instead of going about like Shekau. A major principled Nigerian from the North whom I so much respect told me recently that he feared if we could ever build a nation out of Nigeria. I doubt it too but we can have a salad-bowl nation out of the country on the basis of federalism. Let’s reset and make Nigeria a productive country and use its resources to guarantee a happy environment for our people. We know where all these would end if we continued on this path. But we can avert a major calamity with a spirit of understanding that we can’t all become same but can live happily and peacefully with understanding of our differences and building measures to live with them. We once did under federalism.
The Buhari government closed the borders many months ago, particularly the border with Benin Republic. If you were to engage the government on this, what would be your opinion here?
There is no reason to keep the borders closed for this long. The president should be careful about the interpretation of his actions. The Benin border is with a part of the country that is not of his origin. Reports come in daily of activities around Niger Republic border and it is a rail line he is building to the place. He should treat all sections of the country equally with security forces empowered to enforce law evenly.
Some people feel that Nigeria has never been as divided as it is presently. What or who do you think is responsible for this and how do we pull back from the brink?
This is the most divisive stage in our history and unfortunately the government is promoting that division with the types of Kaduna’s Monday meeting that had all key players around the president at the summit of a section of the country at a time we should be racking brains across the board. The government that should be leading us to see ourselves as Nigerians without necessarily forfeiting our identities is at the head of widening the North and South while its orchestra amuses it with those funny and mocking songs of ‘indivisibility’ they don’t believe in.
Some people talk resource control, some talk restructuring, some talk separation while others feel the country is just fine as it is. Where does Afenifere stand here?
Afenifere is for a restructured Nigeria that practises federalism like we did in our best years. The refusal of Nigeria to toe this line is breeding frustration in our zone with people saying it is a waste of time asking for restructuring and that separation is the best way. But we will continue to push for restructuring as it is the cheapest option for a Nigeria in crisis. The only people who have anything to fear about federalism are those in whose DNA is cheating with the wrong belief that they can only prosper by riding on the backs of others. There is nothing all the nationalities in Nigeria need to prosper that is not here if we are well structured. Nigeria under federalism in a few years would be a wonder to behold but it would become a past tense if we continued on this destructive unitary lane. Awo warned us in his ‘Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution’.
What lessons do you think Nigeria can draw from the just concluded US election? How about Nigeria adopting the Electoral College system on the basis of equality of states?
We must pick useful lessons to strengthen our system. The Electoral College based on equality of states is worth looking at. The late Chief Anthony Enahoro made all useful arguments against one-man-one-vote solely in a plural society like ours.
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