Chief Sola Ebiseni is the Secretary General of the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere. In this interview by SAM NWAOKO and HAKEEM GBADAMOSI, he speaks on recent developments in the group in the build-up to the 2023 elections and the security situation in the South West region, particularly on the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway.
There is a resurgence of insecurity in the South West, especially on the Lagos – Ibadan expressway. Why do you think this is coming back now; and what do you think government should do with security outfits such as Amotekun in a situation like this?
Insecurity has for a long time been a problem in Nigeria generally but I am quick to admit that there has been some reduction in the level of insecurity particularly in the South West. Now, the first major problem of insecurity in Nigeria is the monopoly of instrument of coercion, monopoly of the instrument of exerting sovereignty by the Federal Government. This is all about the restructuring that we have been clamouring for. A government properly so called must have the capacity to enforce its laws and to provide security for life and property within its assigned area of territorial jurisdiction. We live in a country where you say governors are the chief security officers of their states yet they are deprived of the capacity to ensure law and order, safety of life and property within their own areas of jurisdiction as nations within a nation. The true essence of federalism is to allow the federating units to control their areas of jurisdiction, particularly in the areas of internal security. The South West governors have done very well by establishing Amotekun. To that extent, if you look at the South West generally, Amotekun has made a difference. I speak as somebody from Ondo State. In Ondo State for instance, the people are more readily attuned to the Amotekun Corps either for security of for prosecution of criminals – people have more confidence in it than they do for conventional security system provided by the Federal Government. Unfortunately, the Federal Government has refused to give the Amotekun the requisite firepower to be able to combat criminality and terrorism. And it is becoming worse now in the axis around the Ogun and Lagos State boundaries, and the reason is not far-fetched. It is because for whatever reasons, the Lagos State government has refused to buy into the Amotekun security network because they want to be politically correct. They want to think they are more urbane than the other areas. The areas being targetted by criminals now is not Ikeja, it is not Ebutte Meta, it is not Lagos Island but the soft targets in the rural areas of the state – Ikorodu, Epe, Mowe and areas in their boundary with Ogun State. And the Yoruba are not happy about it.
The Amotekun has closed the gap that has been created by the inadequacy of the Nigeria Police. The earlier the Lagos State government joined their colleagues in the other South West states to enact the Amotekun law, the better for us all.
But there are things that the federal Government can do in terms of improving security, or don’t you think so?
The incapacity of the Federal Government is already axiomatic. Nigeria is too wide, too vast a country to have a mono police system. We are running a federation; a federation in which the federating units do not have the capacity to provide security is not a federation. So, even if the federal Government today doubles the capacity of the Nigerian police, which is a total of less than 400,000 now, to secure 200 million people, it is inconsistent with the tenets of true federalism. The better way out is to increase the manpower of the federal police or allow all the states to hold their destiny in their hands. It is a two-way thing. I believe more with what Amotekun has achieved. For instance, Amotekun is given only pump-action guns while the terrorists use sophisticated, automatic weapons, so there is no match. Yet with less firepower that the Amotekun has, where the Nigeria Police cannot dare go in the forest the Amotekun will go there – police will not go and fight crime in the forest, they wait for information to be brought to them and thereafter after crime must have been committed, they embark on prosecution. But with the kind of criminality that is in the country now, we need an enforcement system that is proactive. That is where we are. So, the Federal Government cannot on its own do anything by seeming to monopolise internal security. That is why today our military has been demystified. When we were growing up, the Nigerian military was the toast of international peacekeeping and peace enforcement mission. Nigeria was the police nation of the West African sub-Region. ECOMOG was our own – to teach lessons to people who misbehave and countries, including military regimes. Is it not an irony today that it is these same smaller countries like Chad, Senegal, Cameroon and so on that Nigeria is now begging to collaborate with us in order to maintain our own internal security? During the Obasanjo/Murtala regimes, Nigeria was made a member of the Frontline States because of the effectiveness of our foreign relations and our military. But today, nobody reckons with our military in the international arena – a country that is not able to provide its own security? It is a laughing stock. That is the situation we have found ourselves.
So, what we need around that axis is that Lagos State should join the Amotekun network. If it relies on the Nigeria Police in the urban areas, let the Amotekun manage and police our forests. The Nigeria Police cannot do that. That is why I am always commending the governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu. Irrespective of the fact that he was elected on the same platform as the Federal Government, he has been able to speak the truth to the Federal Government and stand up against them in terms of the abolition of open grazing, in terms of state police, in terms of giving Katsina local security outfit license to acquire AK-47 when you deny Amotekun the same. But Lagos State wants to be politically correct so that they would not be seen to be criticizing Buhari so that they can become president by all means at the expense of the welfare and security of their people.
How would you react to what can be seen as crisis of confidence between Pa Fasoranti and Chief Ayo Adebanjo?
There is no crisis of confidence between them. Here are some instances as a proof of this: When Chief Fasoranti was celebrating his birthday, Chief Adebanjo led Afenifere leaders from Lagos and other states to Akure and spent days to celebrate the leader. He accompanied him to It Ogbolu where a chapel was dedicated to Chief Fasoranti in a school where he was a principal. When Chief Ayo Fasanmi died – Chief Fasanmi was the man the Tinubu group set up as a factional leader to undermine the leadership of Chief Fasoranti. But the children of Chief Fasanmi came to Chief Adebanjo and invited him as the ‘father of the day’ at Chief Fasanmi’s burial. Chief Ayo Adebanjo left Lagos, came to Akure, paid the normal courtesies to Chief Fasoranti and bothof them went to Ekiti to celebrate a man the Afenifere Renewal Group people never allowed to enjoy the comradeship of Chief Fasoranti and Chief Adebanjo when he was alive. On their return, at the next national committee meeting of Afenifere, I saw Kehinde Fasoranti, son of Baba and Chief Adebanjo told us that at the trip to Akure, he had told Baba to give him one of his sons to be appointed into the National Executive Committee so that some of the goings-on in Afenifere, without having to be running around, he would be more properly briefed. When terrorists attacked St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Chief Adebanjo again left Lagos to Akure, first stopped at Chief Fasanmi’s house from where all of us, including Chief Olu Falae, went to Owo to pay condolence visit to the Olowo of Owo and Governor Akeredolu in his office on the same mission. When Afenifere led a delegation to Governor Akeredolu to commiserate with him on the death of his mother, Chief Ayo Adebanjo gave me a special message to him to commend him for being able to stand for the truth on on true federalism and security.
People don’t know the way Afenifere and its members operate. We may have disagreements on principle, which is very normal, but they may not know that we are very close. My children passed through Baba Fasoranti’s school and lived in a hostel in Baba’s compound. You can only divide Afenifere on the basis of ideology and principle but once we agree on the ideology and principle, personal sentiments are not part of it.
So, we are healthy, we are united, we are one and Peter Obi is the man we have endorsed for the presidency of Nigeria. We are not doing it for the first time; that is Afenifere’s corporate decision without prejudice to individual opinions as they have been having before.
So, there is no crisis in Afenifere, absolutely none. There is no division. The only candidate endorsed by the Afenifere after rigorous monthly meetings from 29th July 2021 till 26th September 2021 is Mr. Peter Obi of Labour Party and it was based on the Afenifere philosophy of true federalism, equity, fairness and inclusiveness by which the Nigerian federating ethnic nationalities based on the basis of the geopolitical zones may have a sense of belonging in the government of the federation.
How do you situate the visit of the presidential candidate of the APC to the Leader of Afenifere, Pa Reuben Fasonranti, who reportedly endorsed him?
The report was most fallacious and Pa Fasoranti himself had termed it an attempt to cause confusion in Afenifere. That was what Papa called it and further made it abundantly clear in a press release authorised by him that he never said Chief Ayo Adebanjo was not the Acting Leader nor that Afenifere meetings should return to Akure. That statement ended the antics of confusionists in their unending unholy schemes to destroy the Awolowo political academy. Rather than create any problem in Afenifere the group has since been stronger. It is a blessing to Afenifere in general and Pa Fasoranti to whom his dissident disciples returned in repentance. It was not an Afenifere and not an endorsement by the organisation but a forgiveness seeking visit. From November 2008 when Pa Fasoranti assumed the leadership of Afenifere till March 16th 2022 when Papa Fasoranti voluntarily appointed Chief Ayo Adebanjo to be deputised by Kabiesi Oba Oladipo Olaitan, those who now came to Akure to worship at his feet in repentance, did everything to supplant Fasoranti’s leadership. They formed a parallel Afenifere and made Pa Ayo Fasanmi a factional leader; they stirred up rebellion through some of the youths and formed Afenifere Renewal Group with a view to kill Afenifere. They virtually got Papa Fasoranti exasperated that the retired school Principal and proprietor sought to resign the leadership of Afenifere in November 2015 but persuaded against such move by his dependable colleagues.
But there was a communiqué at the end of the meeting in the name of Afenifere. Is that not the case?
I didn’t see any communiqué and as the Secretary General, I was careful not to join in any mischief against the most enduring and resilient political groups on the continent, with the exception of the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa. The press release by Pa Fasoranti through his Personal Assistant, Abiola, who is like a son has put an end to the fallacy, and this should have sufficed but some of the organisers would rather continue to justify their shenanigans through organised press engagements. For instance, how can some people call a meeting with the letterhead of a WhatsApp Group named ‘Conscience of the Yoruba Nation’ with a self-styled Director General, who only chose the house of our Leader as the venue, after which they came out to say it was an Afenifere meeting? Can you convene a meeting of even an old students association like that? Do you endorse a candidate in a meeting the organisers said would only last 2 hours?
But there is this allegation that the endorsement of Obi did not receive the blessings of all the members and that it was only a decision of Chief Ayo Adebanjo and a few of you. How do you react to this?
I can only sympathise with those who make such allegations because they either do not know the history of Afenifere or are at some mischief. Afenifere is not a social club or even a socio-cultural organisation as many people mistakenly see it. It is a socio-political organisation anchored on the Awolowo school of thought and the principles and ideologies that rule the organisation since it birthed action group in 1951. It has never been apolitical or politically neutral. It has always taken hard decisions on how best it considers Nigeria may be ruled. When, in 1951, Afenifere took a corporate decision declaring federalism as the most suitable form of government for Nigeria, not all members joined. When it took a decision to form broad alliance with the broad spectrum of nationalities and groups, many other members including Awolowo’s Deputy, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola felt otherwise. High level leaders of the Afenifere stayed put with Abacha when the group formed NADECO and fought for the realisation of the June 12 presidential election won by MKO Abiola. Down the line, when Afenifere adopted Olu Falae in 1998 at the D’Rovans Hotel in Ibadan as its presidential preference against Chief Bola Ige who was Deputy Leader, many of the members have not forgotten till today. Have you forgotten that Afenifere, while Chief Ayo Adebanjo was Chairman of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), adopted Bola Ahmed Tinubu against Funso Williams even against the preference of Alhaji Ganiyu Dawodu, Lagos State Afenifere Leader, was it unanimous? Come off it.
How is supporting Obi in line with Afenifere objective of protecting Yoruba interest?
Yoruba interest is foremost to live in peace and prosperity in a country they have joined others to be part of. They have accepted federalism under which they had their destinies better fulfilled in the government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. They now clamour for the return of true federalism which also entails giving all groups a sense of belonging through zoning the office of the president. As omoluwabi we the Yoruba had our turn through Obasanjo and we are also completing another eight years as Vice President. The decision was first taken in February 2021 by the Southern Governors Forum, under the Chairmanship of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State that the next President of Nigeria after Buhari’s eight years must come from the South. Afenifere and its colleague-organisations in the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, on 31st May 2021, adopted the same resolution and further admonished politicians from the South not to accept the positions of either National Chairman or Vice Presidential candidate which would seem to undermine the resolution. You see equity is an unruly horse; you don’t embark and stop it at your door until it has reached its just destination. What equitably stops the North after eight years of Buhari prevents the Yoruba from having another bite at the cherry when her brother has not once tasted. Afenifere means ‘goodness to all’.
It is known that power is not served a la carte. The Igbo even in the party primaries were known not to have supported their own.
Well, if the leadership of our federation is a matter of the survival of the fittest, let’s see how that may engender peace. The Yoruba fought and grounded Nigeria through NADECO for two years, it is now being daily confirmed that terrorists now ravaging our country were deployed from all over Africa to force a northern return to power in 2015, Jonathan was picked as Vice President to placate militancy in the Niger Delta and save oil money and the economy. By 1979, just nine years after the civil war, Alex Ekwueme had become Vice President, yet 52 years after you hear some hogwash about how an Igbo cannot be trusted. My brother, if you look at the constitution, you will discover that without consensual arrangement, respected by all, some parts of the country may not rule with serious implications for the health of the federation. The military gave the South East five states with 95 Local Governments. Only Kano with Jigawa which was part of it and had same 20 Local Governments with old Anambra State… now Kano and Jigawa have 75 and if you add Katsina 34 you have 105 between the three states. You must be a magician to expect the Igbo to willingly subject themselves to a primary determined by one delegate per Local Government.
Beyond moral persuasion, what really is Afenifere strength politically?
As we say in law, the fact speaks for itself, res ipsa locutor. Do you see birds flocking to a tree without fruits? Why this desperation for Afenifere endorsement to the extent of forging a notice of meeting if the group is of no political essence? Afenifere made the difference in Yorubaland and it is historically axiomatic today.
What is the relationship between Tinubu and Ayo Adebanjo specifically?
Very cordial and I am witness to such evidence of camaraderie which are even in the public domain. For instance, when Asiwaju returned from medical trip last year October, I was privy to the arrangement to go visit him. In fairness to Asiwaju when he got wind of the proposed visit, he politely, through Tunde Rahman, one of the finest gentlemen around him, not those who take delight in insulting people like Chief Adebanjo or Professor Akintoye, told us that Asiwaju felt he should rather be the one to visit Baba. We felt differently and said since it was to rejoice with him, it was not out of place. Baba visited him and it was a public matter. Most of the people celebrating Asiwaju today because he has a presidential ticket condemned Chief Ayo Adebanjo in two consecutive Afenifere meetings and cruelly declared it as an act of indiscretion.
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