We need a new constitution if Nigeria must be saved —Chief Ayo Adebanjo

Elder statesman and a leader of the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, in this interview by BOLA BADMUS, speaks on the state of the nation, the security situation, especially in the South West and the way forward for the country.

 

What is your take on the heightened tension in the South West as a result of the nefarious activities of some Fulani herdsmen in the region?

The security situation, as I have said, demands that we tell [President Muhammadu] Buhari to change the constitution now. Let us go back to federalism and everything will be okay. Security, revenue allocation, the economy, etc, are all embedded in the constitution. It is the powers given to Buhari under this constitution that is making him do all this mess he is doing. He is the most powerful president in the whole world under this constitution. That is why he is hesitant to change the constitution. And this constitution, I say, is not our constitution. It is a fraudulent constitution. It was forced on us by the military. Let them deny that.

This is not the constitution the founding fathers, the Sardauna of Sokoto, [Alhaji Ahmadu Bello], [Nnamdi] Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, gave to us. It was the military that changed it in 1966. All the complaints we are having now about security, about allocation of revenue, about the police, are because of the constitution. It was they who changed it and Afenifere warned and told Abacha then that ‘if you are returning us to civilian rule, send us back to the constitution you met us with’. All this talk about security and others was not there. The governors at that time had control over security in their regions, not lame-duck governors that we have now. You call them chief security officers of the states but they haven’t got power over the police or over anything. They set up Amotekun but you said they don’t have the power to bear arms; that they have to get permission from the IGP. What kind of nonsense is that? When they [herdsmen] started killing people, you said what is happening in Oyo was not right and nobody could send the Fulani out of Ibarapa. They killed several people there. They killed distinguished citizens. They killed a PhD holder who came from abroad and started mechanised farming and employed people and there was no arrest.

 

What do you say to the quit notices given to herdsmen in Ondo State and in the Ibarapa area of Oyo State?

The question of Ondo, don’t take it out of context. The man said they should leave the forest reserve where they are doing the havoc; he didn’t drive them out of Ondo. They killed Obas, they killed citizens, they raped and the forest reserve is their hideout. He asked them to get out of the place. If the Federal Government that is now talking about power had taken action and arrested them all the time they were killing and raping, [Governor Rotimi] Akeredolu wouldn’t have had to issue such an order. Akeredolu was elected by his people to protect their lives and property. It was when things got to the brim that Akeredolu said enough is enough; you people should get out of this place. So, those who are talking about the right and wrong of the reaction are not talking about the action that caused the reaction. Ditto in Oyo.

 

How best do you think the herdsmen crisis can be resolved in the South West and other parts of the country?

They have to return us to true federalism, give us state police and do restructuring of the country where the local people are allowed to take care of their own security. How can you say you want to take care of my house better than I do? That is the problem.

Why is the Federal Government hesitant to allow the states to take care of their own security? Can they take charge of the security of forests from Abuja to Ondo? That is the crux of the matter. When [South West] states came up with the idea of Amotekun, they said they couldn’t bear arms but the people they are going to contain, who are attacking them, are carrying arms. Miyetti Allah, all their herders, they carry arms unlicensed, and we have not heard of any arrest. But the people who have legal right to protect the people, they cannot carry arms.

Look at Oyo, for instance, they have lived there for years and they have intermarried. They had never asked them to go. Why are they asking them to go now? A guest wants to take over the house, asks the owner to get out because he wants to sleep.

If Makinde and Akeredolu were in control of their states’ security – they know the local governments, they know the Obas – they [the Fulanis] wouldn’t have done half the havoc they have done before they would be contained. But they did it and there was no consequence. They reported them but there was no further action taken against them.

Look at the case of Benue. You will remember that Governor Ortom did go to Buhari when they killed 78 indigenes of the state. He told Buhari that these people were not unknown people. He said, ‘They wrote me a letter; they are known’. What did Buhari say? He told him to go and live peacefully with his neighbours. It is on record. That was a governor reporting to him directly. Then he [Buhari] sent the Inspector-General of Police in January. By April, he didn’t know whether the man went there or not. He himself said it and the man was still in office after he knew that he did not obey his command.

 

There are already calls for caution; that the situation must be properly handled or it could lead to war.

You see, all those who are talking don’t know anything about this country. Even Buhari was a toddler when we started fighting for the unity of the country. Look at Garba Shehu asking us to go to the National Assembly. The National Assembly is part of the products of the failed constitution. The National Assembly, whose members earn humongous salary against the wish of the people, is part of the problem we want to solve. Did we agree to that? What logicality is in there? They take us for fools. We haven’t got cattle head.

For Garba Shehu to be telling us to go to the National Assembly to table the demand for restructuring, he was talking absolute nonsense.

 

But who should initiate the move to restructure the country?

Who initiated the Abdulsalami Constitution that we are using now? When I say it is a fraudulent constitution, you should know what I mean. The constitution says we the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a unitary constitution. Is the constitution federal? And it is the contents of the same constitution they are asking us to amend; you want to amend what you didn’t make. Make it clear to all those who are trying to be academical and intellectual that it is all nonsense.

 

The government has remained adamant in spite of the preponderance of stakeholders calling for the restructuring of the country and a change of the constitution. Does it not appear that those that the government wants to talk on the issue are not the ones doing so?

Who is to make the call, is it not the people? We are the people saying it. Afenifere is saying it. SMBLF is saying it. Every other person, every group is saying it. We say change the constitution now or the country breaks. They are calling for a change of the constitution because they don’t want violence. We want to live together and we want to agree on the terms of living together. That is the essence.

We called for a Sovereign National Conference, the [Goodluck] Jonathan government organised the 2014 confab. The report of the conference Buhari put in the archive and I said if you don’t like what Jonathan did, what you don’t want in that document, take it out and what you want, put it in there and let us move on. If all that is not satisfactory to you, send that document to the National Assembly. We will not agree to a constitution made by the military from a section of the country. They don’t listen to that argument and we are saying it is fraudulent. They don’t dispute it. And that is what the press must try to explain. They are pushing the question aside.

 

The constitution we are using now is fraudulent, and how do you do a new one?

I have said that it is either you use all the previous ones or you set up a new committee. How do you do it? You make an executive order and then subject it to a referendum and in three months, we are done. Rather than doing that, they are confusing things and talking about where the presidency goes come 2023. That is diversion.

We say that under this constitution, we are not united, we don’t agree. If we must stay together, we must agree on the terms of staying together and that was what happened in 1960. It was the leaders of the people at that time that went to the London conference to get us a constitution in 1954. That was repeated in 1960.

 

Next year, campaigns will commence ahead of the 2023 general election. What do you think should be done on the issue of insecurity between now and 2023?

If Buhari is sincere, if the APC is sincere, they should set machinery in motion. To shorten the process, there were previous conferences with their various recommendations. That was what we did in 2014. Let us agree on that. Once we agree on that, within three or six months, we are done. We can do that before the elections. If we don’t do that before the elections, the country might go its different ways.

 

The country would go its different ways?

Yes, of course. I have said it before. This is not the first time. I will give you instances. The Eastern Region says they want to break because they are not included. The Egbesu say they want to break because they are being cheated. Now Oduduwa is going down there because we are being suppressed. That is why I say the country would crush. But give us a united constitution before that happens. If not, we would go our separate ways.

 

If you had the opportunity of speaking directly to President Buhari, what exactly would you tell him?

Buhari would not listen to us, he has his private agenda. Since he assumed office, we have been agitating that he should change the constitution. Have you heard a word from him?

Before he came into office, he put restructuring in his agenda as the APC presidential candidate. Is that not so? When Jonathan was handing over to him, he handed him the report of the 2014 confab and he said this was an important document. We heard this in the video of the handing over. He (Buhari) received the document and put it in the archive.

When they came in and settled down, they set up the El-Rufai committee and it recommended restructuring. What has happened? People said ‘when he comes for second term, he would complete it’. The same people are now saying that the issue of restructuring, ‘they don’t tell us what it is’ and that ‘restructuring means many things to many people’.

You can see how dishonest they are. Even the vice president who took OBJ to court on the principles of Local Government restructuring is pretending not to know what restructuring means. They are taking us for granted.

 

Do you think it would be in the president’s interest to see the country so divided?

His interest is to ‘Fulanise’ the country. I have not said this for the first time. I said it before he was elected into office. You will remember that he said that the bandits who were terrorising the country at a particular point in time came from Libya. A commander-in-chief said bandits came from Libya to oppress his people and he didn’t arrest or prosecute them. What kind of commander-in-chief is that? He openly said they were from Libya. So, he knew where they were from.

In Kaduna, El-Rufai said he traced some aggrieved Fulani to negotiate with them outside the country. You can see the latest game now. They are bargaining with the cattlemen now to pay them N100 billion. Have you seen the video? That is how far we have degenerated.

Look at what is happening in Oyo State. If they had not calmed frayed nerves, the situation would have degenerated. Look at the crowd that followed Sunday Igboho. Igboho was telling them [Fulani herdsmen) to leave Ibarapa. He didn’t tell them to leave Oyo State. He said they should leave Ibarapa because he said they were wreaking havoc in our land.

When the government delegation went there, you read the paper, the people they met there said the Fulani collected ransoms after they kidnapped them. The Yoruba and the Igbo live in Kano, are they stealing their cows? Why are you taking us for fools? Nigerians have the right to live anywhere in the country, but you don’t have the right to go and commit crime anywhere and you don’t have anything to show that you are arresting the criminals. God save us.

Is it an accident that everybody is saying that Fulani must go? Why is it Fulani? Has anyone answered that question? When the Middle-Belt wants to talk, they would say Fulani. When the South-South wants to talk, they would say Fulani and when the South-East wants to talk, they would say Fulani.

You have not brought out anyone that has been accused and arraigned them and said, ‘Look at them, they are not Fulani’. Whoever they are, if you have arrested them, we would have known. They are making life impossible for the people. They killed Obas. They killed a professor. They killed others. People can’t go to farms anymore. Chief Olu Falae was abducted from his farm.

 

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