AKIN ADEWAKUN writes on the dialogue on restructuring which became the main topic among stakeholders during the 90th birthday of elder statesman, Chief Ayo Adebanjo.
The occasion was a formal launching of an autobiography, ‘Telling it as it is’, an autobiography of Chief Ayo Adebanjo. It was meant to serve as a commemoration of the 90th birthday anniversary of the former chieftain of the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD), and the setting: Harbour Point on Wilmot road, off Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Lagos.
But the event was almost turned into a political discourse, with the issue of restructuring, again, standing out like a sore thumb. It was an opportunity for the who-is-who, on the nation’s political terrain, attending the event to, again, bring to the fore the issue of restructuring and why Nigeria, as a country, might not experience the expected growth if it fails to amend her existing social, political and economic structures.
Congratulating the celebrant on the birthday celebration and the attempt at documenting some of the celebrant’s political struggles, which the book represents, the former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, described Chief Adebanjo as one of those responsible in creating the history of Nigeria.
While describing the celebrant as a symbol of passion for the success of the Nigerian Project, the former Commonwealth Secretary-General attributed the retardation in the nation’s social, political and economic lives to the reluctance of the leadership of the country to hold the call for restructuring from Chief Adebanjo and other prominent Nigerians.
“Adebanjo can be described as a symbol of success for the Nigerian project. He is indeed very passionate about our country. He is indeed very passionate that our country should do well. He often recalls the yester-years of our country, when the country was doing well,” Anyaoku stated.
The former Commonwealth Secretary-General described the country as’ doing extremely well’ when it had a federation of four regions since such structure availed each region the opportunity to develop at its own pace.
“It was a structure that gave each region to develop at its own pace. It was a structure that made citizens of those regions feel proud to belong to the bigger Nigeria. Unfortunately, we had lost that basic structure of governance.
“When we think of the progress we were making in those days, when you look at achievements that were truly first in nature in the South-West, when Chief Obafemi Awolowo was there; the universal primary education that he introduced, the first television services in Nigeria and indeed in Africa, and the sage’s management of resources of Western Region. We cannot but say that those were days of healthy competition.
“In the Eastern Region, Obafemi Awolowo ‘s counterpart, Michael Okpara was also focusing on the development of his region. The agricultural development in Eastern Nigeria was very significant.
“In Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello was also learning from the experiences of his colleagues in the Western Region, the Eastern Region and the Middle West. Those were days you could talk about the famous groundnut pyramid in northern Nigeria or talk about the vast plantations of cotton that Nigeria was producing. You could also talk about the high-quality hide and skin that was being marketed abroad, then,” Anyaoku stated.
He argued that if the military had not appeared on the nation’s political terrain, in January, 1966 and had not ‘disfigured’ the nation’s constitution, the country would not be in the mess it presently found itself.
“I used the word disfigured because I do not believe that there is any country in the world that has the kind of diversity that Nigeria has, diversity of peoples who have lived for centuries in their geographical areas, who have their distinct diverse culture and traditions, where such people can live under a unitary government,” he added.
While calling for a restructuring of the nation’s political terrain, that would ensure true federalism, Chief Anyaoku, however, argued that the culture and traditions of Nigerians are too diverse for them to survive under a unitary system of government.
He also counselled that such federalism must be in tune with the one advocated by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and which the celebrant, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, had been a constant advocate.
Describing Chief Adebanjo as an incorruptible democrat, former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, noted that, but for Adebanjo’s principled stand, he (Tinubu) would have been robbed of the gubernatorial ticket, at the primaries conducted by some powerful forces within the defunct Alliance of Democracy (AD).
Tinubu, who breezed into the venue, on his way to Abuja ‘to manage an urgent assignment,’ stated that it was Chief Adebanjo, who insisted that the party must do the right thing, when it was obvious that the leadership of the party in the state was on the verge of fraudulently giving the slot to another candidate, during the party primaries then.
“I regard Chief Adebanjo as a great leader. He is principled and highly committed to the cause of democracy in this country. No matter what you say, you can’t but praise him and honour him for his principled steps on issues, regarding the country,” he stated.
The former governor, who spoke extempore at the event, also used the opportunity to support the call for the restructuring of the country, adding that some of those disagreements he had had with Chief Adebanjo, whom he described as a ‘father’ were not personal, but rather, based on principle.
“If you don’t understand him, you might say he is divisive, by advocating restructuring. But what is the meaning of restructuring, if not true federalism? If not about freedom and opportunity for each federating unit, to come up with their blueprints, govern and promote the unity of the country? What is the meaning of restructuring, if it’s not about resources, management and opportunity for true federalism in any democratic setting? I agree with that.
“If not because of his honesty and integrity, I would not have become governor of Lagos State, then. He said no to electoral rigging. As the acting chairman of the AD, he insisted that direct primary was the answer. He insisted that every registered member must participate in our primaries, and when the result came, some people tried to manipulate it, altered the result, but Chief Adebanjo stood his ground, and said ‘As the acting national chairman of AD, the result of the free and fair primaries must be upheld, and that was in my favour.
“If he were to be a corrupt man, they were ready to pay him. If he were to be a corrupt national leader, he would have taken the money and compromised that result. He would have submitted another name. that is the only testimony I’ve come to give. That is the truth I have come to tell,” the former Lagos State governor stated.
Tinubu, however, urged Chief Adebanjo to be steadfast and unrelenting in his efforts at upholding the values of the Yoruba race and the Democrats and other allies of yours.
While describing Chief Adebanjo as a mentor and a father, the APC national leader explained that though he sometimes disagreed with Chief Adebanjo, such disagreements were not personal, but borne out of principle.
“You are a mentor and a father. We sometimes disagree, but that should not come as a surprise. You taught me rebellion. So if I go the other way, sometimes, it means I’m not a bastard. It is because I have a good father to emulate,” Tinubu stated.
Another former governor of the state, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, lauded Chief Adebanjo on his contributions to national polity, saying the foremost nationalist had played his part well in the history of Nigeria.
Ukiwe also commended Mr. Bankole Olayemi, the publisher of the 18-chapter book, “A Day in History,” for doing a very good job, while expressing the hope that the country would throw up more people like Chief Adebanjo who would always be ready to be at the forefront of leave the country better than they met it.
Speaking at the event, Professor Banji Akintoye, attributed the rot in the society to the fact that the older generation had chosen a lifestyle that repelled today’s youth. The former lawmaker argued that the issue had been further compounded by the fact that successive governments had continued to
push away the body of noble principles created by the defunct Action Group (AG) led by the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
“Unfortunately for us, these same youth are the most educated Nigerians, around. They know what is happening in other countries of the world. They are more informed about the world, and when my generation when we were young, how many members of my generation went to school? How many went to the university the way you have done? You know more about this world than we know, on the aggregate.
“The result is that you know what people are doing out there to improve the lives of their people and when leaders are not doing it in Nigeria, you are repulsed. So there is no attraction for you to be as the leadership of the country. They are keeping you away because they are upholding standards and vision of life that repels you,” he stated.
He noted that some powerful interests are hell-bent on ensuring that the issue of restructuring is not addressed in the country, adding that the sage, Chief Awolowo was denied the presidency of the country because of his principled stand on such issues as restructuring and the enhancement of the welfare of the common people, which some powerful forces were never in tune with.
“So there is this endless war between an ideal and a vision of life that focuses on the welfare of the majority and another vision of life that focuses on enriching the elites, and as long as that is there, younger people will stay away from politics,” Prof Akintoye stated.
Chief Adebanjo, while responding to a question, observed the lack of principle on the part of majority of new generation politicians who always come to seek for votes from the people, saying that this deficit had accounted for why they preferred to jump from one platform to the other unlike in the past.
Adebanjo, who contended that Nigeria had no reason to be poor, recalling the tour he was part of to Maiduguri with the sage, Chief Awolowo, lamented that part of the problem the country was facing in the hands of those found in position of power nowadays was that political parties were no longer “operating on their manifestoes.”
Chief Adebanjo however, tasked the Nigerian youths in the country not to wait any longer, but tap into the opportunities available to serve the country, maintaining that they should not feel repelled by the attitude of the nation’s leadership.
Adebanjo, who recalled that Chief Awolowo, in those days, cancelled youth associations on account that there was no need for such segregation, however believes that nation’s youths must push for a political structure that would enable them effectively participate in the nation’s politics, without the fear of being sidelined by the older generation.
On his part, Mr Bankole Olayemi, the publisher of the book, who spoke earlier, described Chief Adebanjo as “a man of principle and a genuine democrat even in small matters.”
He further described him as a highly disciplined leader and a patriot, saying even at 90, the nationalist and a former NADECO chieftain represented “an indomitable spirit.”
“With the example of Chief Ayo Adebanjo like others in his category, we believe many books will be written,” Olayemi said.
Also in his review, Professor Wale Adebanwi, said Chief Adebanjo had always remained unyielding in the efforts at building a new Nigeria, pointing out that he was not a man that one could involve in any struggle that was never meant to be prosecuted to the end.
“Chief Adebanjo does not operate on the concept of limited conflict, so don’t involve him in any struggle that you don’t believe in finishing,” he added.
In attendance were: former Lagos State governor and All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu; former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; Dr (Mrs) Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosumu; Reverend (Mrs) Tola Oyediran; Mr Segun Awolowo Jnr; Chief Olu Falae; Professor Pat Utomi; Mr Tony I. Uranta; Dr Tokunbo Pearse; Dankam Ozuagu, representative of Alhaji Aliko Dangote; Pastor Tunde Bakare; Oba Otudeko; Chief Kofoworola Bucknor Akerele; Barrister Taiwo Adeoluwa, who represented the Ogun State governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; Professor Banji Akitoye, Chief Olusegun Osoba; Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe; Chief Horsefall, Mr Bankole Olayemi, the publisher of the book; Professor Wale Adebanwi, the book reviewer; Professor Aboaba, Chief Guy Ikoku,
Honourable Oladipo Olaitan, Mrs Doyinsola Abiola, Mr Okara, who represented Bayelsa State governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson.
Others include – former Defence Minister, Musiliu Obanikoro; Director General, Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Chief Segun Awolowo; Chairman, Troyka Group, Mr Biodun Shobanjo; Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, Chief Olu Akinkugbe and wife of Ogun State governor, Dr Olufunsho Amosun, among others.