Why elders have always led Afenifere —Ayo Adebanjo

FOREMOST nationalist and new leader of the pan-Yoruba organisation, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, speaks on his new role, state of the nation, clamour for restructuring, population census, among other issues in this interview by Subair Mohammed and Bola Badmus.

 

HOW did you react to  news of your appointment as the new leader of Afenifere?

Well, I am not enthusiastic about it. The way my leader, Pa Fasoranti did it, he didn’t consult me. He only asked if I was coming to the meeting and I said I can’t come because of the danger on our roads. It is not that I didn’t like it but I think he should have looked for a younger person. He said he is old. He is 95 years and he is asking a 93-year old to step in. That’s all my reservation. As he said in his address at the meeting, nothing is going to happen outside what has been happening. We are only going to continue with the vigour. Traditionally, Afenifere has been governed and ruled through a collegiate system with the approval and consent of my leader, Pa Fasoranti. There is nothing I do that he didn’t approve. All the events, meetings and organisations I have been attending have his approval and consent. There is no change at all, except that we will continue in that trend.

 

With your appointment, has it not become the tradition of Afenifere to appointing elderly people to their leadership?

No, it’s not a question of appointing elderly people to the leadership position of Afenifere. I have tried to correct this impression severally. I intentionally mentioned earlier the question of youths. Where are the youths that can be appointed who have not been here, there and here again? Tell me? In fact, some of our members, who knew I could reject the appointment, asked me, “Baba, who would you suggest amongst us?” They are all competitors among themselves; they all claim to be equal. For instance, if Professor Banji Akintoye had not displayed what he did, he is bound to be there because he is younger. So when he came, I put him forward wherever we went; but he wanted to jump the queue. He formed the Yoruba Congress against our leader but everybody knows that the leader of Afenifere is the leader of the Yoruba nation. They are just deceiving themselves. We don’t argue that. He did cause a controversy within. Somehow he has repented but he is still carrying on. That’s our problem. So, when people say young men should take the lead, a lot of young men are opportunists. You can’t see traditional members of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in any party today I can tell you with the hindsight of young men, who joined us as the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), as the Alliance for Democracy (AD ) because they knew that if they didn’t join our party, they couldn’t win any election. But the moment they had difficulty in getting their ways, they bolted away and that’s responsible for where we are today. That’s why they have to go with the North. What is the relationship between Tinubu’s antecedent with Afenifere and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC)? They are incompatible. I said it at a time that the alliance they have is a conglomeration of incompatibles. Look at what is happening now. They have nothing doing other than sharing of offices and the sharing of offices is what is tearing them into pieces now. All I am saying is not off record; it should be out in print.

 

In 2007, Afenifere backed the aspiration of Buhari. Could this be the precedence Tinubu considered before going into the alliance you talked about with Buhari?   

You (pressmen) should do critical analyses. I have said it time and again that we supported Buhari based on principles. I had no personal grudge against him. I knew he was a perfect gentleman, who was incorruptible. And because he believed in restructuring, which was what he told us in 2007, that was why me, Pa Abraham Adesanya and all the Afenifere team campaigned for him at that time. But he deceived us. In 2011, when he contested with Pastor Tunde Bakare, restructuring was on their programme. When he sought an alliance with Tinubu foolishly, restructuring was on their programme too. But how far has he gone now? After winning the election, he set up a committee on restructuring headed by Nasir  El-Rufai in 2018, how far has he gone with that too? The man was just deceiving people here and there, while he has a private agenda. If I forgive Tinubu for joining Bihari in 2015 thinking that he would do restructuring, after winning the election, was he not side-lined? And again in 2019, restructuring was number one on APC agenda, you’ll then ask, what is the delay? Rather than speak out to the subject matter, Tinubu was always saying words to pamper the north. They told him they are going to give him presidency but now, they have dug a hole around him. Is Babatunde Fashola with him? Is Kayode Fayemi with him? All those people he took to the presidency, are they with him? All the minor appointments Buhari gave to him, including the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) job that was given to Babatunde Fowler (former Managing Director, FIRS), were withdrawn. He removed Fowler and replaced him with a northerner. What has Tinubu gained for the South-West? Tinubu couldn’t say any good thing about the Yoruba nation when we were talking about insecurity in the West. And when he wanted to talk, he opened his mouth wide talking nonsense. How can a genuine Yoruba man, after seeing what the Fulani people did to the Yoruba, say we should give our land to Fulani for ranching? Have we not being doing ranching when Chief Awolowo was there? All because he wanted to pacify the North, he told them he would give them land for ranching, on what basis? Our people are now wiser. They are not lobbying the North. Nobody has gone from the South-West to the North to plant cocoa, so what is he talking about?

When we say the bad eggs among the Fulani herdsmen should leave, we are specific. The dangerous elements among them should leave. And to show how deceitful they are, they tried to change the narrative. Governor Rotimi Akeredolu said the Fulani people in the reservation forest should leave the place, they interpreted it to mean that the Fulani people should leave Ondo State. What nonsense?  Akeredolu was specific. That’s why I said Buhari has a private agenda. He didn’t say a word when they kidnapped Chief Olu Falae, who is a former Secretary to the Federal Government and former presidential candidate. He was kidnapped; they burnt his farm and not a single word from Buhari. Was Falae insignificant? Or are we insignificant as Yoruba people? But when Akeredolu said these criminal elements must go, they wanted to change the narrative and interpreted it to mean another thing.

 

Afenifere once supported Buhari, at what point did separation occur between Buhari and Afenifere?

You are just asking an obvious question. Why did we support him? We supported him because of restructuring, has he done it? No. So, that’s exactly the issue. I have no personal grudge against Buhari. The military, who gave us the a constitution, have gone back to their barracks. I want you to emphasise this: for some of the misguided intelligential among them and among our people, I have repeatedly said that this constitution is a fraudulent document. The military made it in 1966. They have not rebutted that. I have said it publicly that if Buhari truly loves this country, why is he opposed to restructuring? Why is he hesitant? It is this restructuring our founding fathers: the Sardauna, Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, Aminu, Oyibo Ojigwe, all agreed to at independence in 1960. Is he more Fulani than the Sardauna? Is he more intelligent than our founding fathers? I even challenged Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, who are defending all the nonsense the government is doing.  The confusion in this country today is because the people refused to address the issue we are talking about.  When we said they are more corrupt, it is not a case of just blackmailing them. One of the reasons we supported Buhari in 2007 was when we thought he was going to do restructuring. He came into office in 2015 and said he borrowed money to do primary election. He said he would reduce salaries of the presidency, senators and legislators, which one has he done? What did he do to change the system that operates in the political parties? That is the beginning of corruption. When you said a presidential or governorship aspirant should pay millions of naira to buy an expression of interest form. That is corruption. He campaigned about that. I have not forgotten. He said he was so poor that he had to raise a loan to pay for nomination form. I was expecting that when he got into office, he would change the system but he didn’t.

For young men and women to have a chance, this system must be changed. If you remember, I told them that the change Buhari was campaigning about was the change of the constitution and not anything else because all the complaints and corruption are embedded in the constitution. They padded local government areas in the North. We are the only country that negates geography. The geography I know that still exists is that the nearer the desert, the fewer the population. Populations don’t grow in the dry vegetation area; go to America, Asia, India, New Zealand, and Oceania but when you come here, they tell you north has more population than other regions. So, we are saying, where is the population in the north? Is it Kaduna or Kano, I have toured the place, where is the population? We don’t know what is happening in this country. The north avoids anything that could make population (census) accurate because they know that they haven’t got it. At the end of the day, we say let us have regional autonomy; that is why we are insisting on federalism; that let us have it on ethnic and linguistic principles.

In the First Republic, we had a federation of three regions: North, East, West and later we had the Mid-West. You must note this, when we said Awolowo performed wonders in education, agriculture and all, have you heard that he went abroad to solicit for resources? He didn’t and that was because of the system of revenue allocation. It was 50 per cent at the region and 50 per cent at the centre. We had money through cocoa; north had money through groundnut and east had money through palm kernel. The South-South are clamouring for resource control, seeking for a way to change it from 13 per cent. The Federal Government is now getting more money than the owner.

 

Still on restructuring, since Buhari is hesitant and Afenifere is unbending with its demand, can’t the governors in the South-West lend their voices to the call for it?

There are many factors restraining the South-West governors from lending their voices to the call for restructuring and that factor is Tinubu. The only saviour we have is the governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde. It is Makinde that is free because the rest are sponsored and financed by Tinubu. So, they can’t look at him in the face. Therefore, what we are saying is, let my people go. That is the reason he cannot do anything. We supported Buhari based on principle and the moment he debased from that principles, and that’s what separated us from him, Tinubu and others. And that was why I accused Tinubu, Segun Osoba, Bisi Akande and others of betrayal because it is on this principle of restructuring to federalism they won election. I asked them to go to record. When they won the election on the platform of restructuring, Pa Adesanya ,of blessed memory, led Afenifere to each of the state Houses of Assembly in western region for them to pass a resolution for the Sovereign National Conference, which we  now call restructuring and we did when Tinubu was the governor of Lagos State. He was the chairman. We did it in the West. We did it in Ogun State when Osoba was there. We did it Ondo and Ekiti states and we told them, the moment we have got the mandate of the people of the Western Region, don’t go to Abuja for any meeting until they do Sovereign National Conference to restructure the country but when they got there, they sold out and that is what separated them from Afenifere till today.

 

Can you tell us how Afenifere came into being?

Have you heard of the Action Group? Afenifere is Action Group. When we started the Action Group in 1951, it was known all over. The West, being the catchment area of the Action Group, the Yoruba had difficulty interpreting what the Action Group was. So, we interpreted the welfare programmes of the Action Group of free education, employment creation, free medical care, integrated governance for the people to know and understand that the goodness we want for ourselves is what we want for them, that’s the meaning of Afenifere. The slogan of the Action Group was Life more abundant and it is life more abundant that is translated to Afenifere. Even at that time, when people said the Action group was a sectional party, it wasn’t so. On the basis of our philosophy for federalism, we were the only national party in the whole of the federation in the First Republic. The Action Group wasn’t a tribal political organisation. We were the only party that had representation in all the parliament of the country. We were the government in the Western Region. We were the opposition in the East led by S.G. Ikoku. We were the opposition in the North led by Alhaji Maito and these are areas of the Minorities and we were the opposition at the centre led by Akintola. No other party can claim that representation in that context, so how can a party be more national?

When we went to the London constitutional conference, it was this minority people we put in the delegation of the Western Region led by Awolowo. We put Alhaji Maito from Ilorin; Briggs from the South-South, S G Ikoku from the East. We put them in our delegation to the London constitutional conference because Sardauna and Azikwe claimed there were no minorities in Nigeria. So, when we got to the conference, Chief Awolowo asked them, where is this man from? Where is that man from? That was what led to the Willie commission of inquiry that gave birth to all these minorities. That is why I often told the late Matthew Mbu and all the minorities that they are all ingrates because the 1979 election was the best opportunity for them to repay Awolowo but they voted for the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). They said Awolowo couldn’t win. They deserted those of us that recognised their existence and voted for those that said they didn’t exist.  So, all what Afenifere stands for, all other people are just joining and imitating  us. These are all what we have been preaching since the 1950s before independence, which we got until the military changed it in 1966. That’s why all the complaints we have now about resource control and marginalisation are all creation of the Fulani Constitution in 1966. That’s why Buhari will hesitate to change it because all the dictatorial powers he is exercising now is under the constitution. The moment he changes it, he becomes powerless. And that is why he deceived the people that he is a born-again democrat. And I warned the people at that time not to vote for him because he is a dictator and a religious jingoist. Where are we today?

 

How best can you describe Afenifere, is it a socio-political or socio-cultural group?

I have been correcting it but you (people) refuse to listen. Afenifere is a political party. By the time we won the majority of votes in the Western Region, and the opposition started saying we were a Yoruba party, that’s where they had the impression that the Action Group was a Yoruba party. It was never a Yoruba party. Egbe Omo Oduduwa was formed before the Action Group to unite the entire Yoruba. I was the Secretary of Egbe Omo Oduduwa in Lagos in the 1950s before the formation of the Action Group, where I became the organising secretary. These are all I know. I didn’t read it in the papers. It was when Azikwe wanted to confuse our people that he said the Action Group was a sectional organisation, in what context? Our programmes of free education, free medical services and all that, which of these can you say is only for the Yoruba people? These are all propapanda. There is never a time we are cultural. We added culture for tactical reasons when Buhari took over and banned political parties. We clinched to Afenifere and said we are a socio-political and cultural to avoid being banned because they didn’t ban Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF).

 

As the new leader of Afenifere, you must have heard of Afenifere Renewal Group…(cuts in)

Don’t tell me that! You are very ignorant. Each time you said it, I correct you but you refused to take to corrections. I said those that created any group outside of Afenifere are rebels. Don’t I say that in the papers? If you are in an organisation and you break away from the original group, are you not a rebel? It is you (journalists), who made them that.

 

Are you making any effort to reconcile with them?

Reconcile what? The doors are open. They went away on their volition. If they decide to come back, the doors are open. All of them are rebels, including Ayo Fasanmi, who was claiming their leadership. It was a mistake on the part of Ayo Fasanmi and he did on many occasion told me that he would be with us. It was Tinubu that was using him to say that they had broken away from the original group. When we founded the Action Group Youth Association, Ayo Fasanmi was after us not before us. It was me and the late Fani-Kayode that formed the Action Group Youth Association in 1953. I was the Central Secretary while Fani Kayode was the Central Chairman. It was when we founded branches all over that Ayo Fasanmi became a leader in Osogbo. I ask, those that said they don’t belong to Afenifere, what have they done that is different from what we are doing? When Tinubu wants to use them, when we say something, they say another to the contrary. If they believe we are not Afenifere, why can’t they found their own? Why are they attaching themselves to Afenifere? What is Afenifere Renewal Group? What are they renewing in us? They have nothing original to claim. If they know they have substance and good ideas people can follow, let them found their own for people to follow. They should stop attaching themselves to us. In the midst of insecurity ravaging the South-West, Gani Adams and Sunday Igholo visited you, can you tell us the purpose of their visit?

What for? Why should I tell you? All you need is that they are together. Why do you want to know what is sounding in my gramophone? You see people disagreeing and you see an elderly person settling it, and you are now asking how did he settle it, do you need that?

 

What approach can you suggest to curb insecurity in the land?

There is no approach other than what we have been saying. Afenifere has been consistent on its call for state police. By the time they founded Amotekun, they were agitated. They know that they are using the police they are giving us against us. How can you say you are a better keeper of a house than the owner of the house? To show you how they have enslaved us, when the governors said they are partnering Amotekun, the Minister for Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami had the effrontery to say they had no right. They are using the constitution to cow the South and that is why they are not yielding to restructuring easily. People in the South, which is being led by Afenifere, should put on their thinking cap. There is no solution to united Nigeria except restructuring. And I want to repeat for the record, I don’t stand for anybody that opposes restructuring.

 

What effort are you making to ensure that the youth are groom for the leadership of Afenifere?

Awolowo didn’t come to me. I went to Awolowo. I was a Zikist. It was Dr. Azikiwe that aroused the political consciousness of this country, including Awolowo himself. When he founded the West African Pilot, he said show the light and the people would find the way. At that time, Dr Azikiwe had a football club, Zik Bombers, Zik Hurricane. Whenever a match would be held anywhere in Lagos, I used my pocket money to go there because I knew Zik would be at the venue. But the change came when Awolowo came to preach federalism and I knew they were going to introduce the Macpherson Constitution; all the regions would have their separate governments and Awolowo said to do this, every ethnic group must be autonomous. He gave his reasons. He said we are not a nation; we are geographical expression. Yoruba is a nation. Igbo is a nation. Ijaw is a nation. So, every nation must be able to group together to rule themselves. That is the basis of our own federalism. We are Awoists. We are consistent and that is why you asked us things we said 10 years, we never deviated. It has to be because that is our guiding principle. Those in the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and other parties have no antecedents. They have no principles. But you can trace our history. We are consistent federalists. That is why Awolowo is known as the father of federalism in Nigeria.  Back to the question, the youth should come out to take over. They need not wait to be called out before they act. Many of the youth are mercenaries. They are opportunists. They can’t wait for their time. They don’t want to serve before they become anything. If we are to go by the standard in the Action Group, many of today’s so-called leaders can’t become officers. You must have served selflessly before you are made a candidate. Unlike now, to be a candidate is determined by the length of your purse.

 

Ahead of 2023, what is the stand of Afenifere?

There is no 2023 in my own diary. Get that straight. If he does not restructure, that is the end of Nigeria. He must restructure this country before any election. He can’t keep this country together under this obnoxious constitution. Who is he deceiving? He controls the court. He controls the tribunal. He rigs the election and heads to the tribunal and the Supreme Court which he dictates to.

 

Governor Akeredolu has advised agitators such as Sunday Igboho  and other agigators for self-determination for the Yoruba nation to steer clear of Ondo State? As the leader of the Afenifere, what is your view on the warning?

There are those who want to go, particularly the youths; and there are those of us who are temperate because we don’t believe in the country separating. But that is under a condition that we are under a truly federal constitution as agreed to by our founding fathers. It is not under the current constitution, where they make our governors lame duck governors. They call them chief security officers without the instruments of that office. You want to be in Abuja and still be controlling the remotest parts of the Western region. You also control Abuja from ilaje Ese Odo. So, we should not condemn some of the youths; we will not agree with them but that is not the issue. But those of us, who are elders, are temperate with him. That is the signal that the federal government should quickly restructure this country that everybody is clamouring. The moment they do that, it will silent all these agitators for separation. We are all individuals; we want to achieve the same goal with different methods. And they (the youths) have their reasons and you can’t say they should stop; that is the views of the youths of this country today and the majority of the elderly people. But those of us, who believe that we can still stay together under an agreed constitution, we make it clear. I’m not condemning them (the youths); and I’m not saying Akeredolu is not right; all I’m saying is that let everybody have their own share. And the reason for it, we must know. I don’t support separation in all, and that is why those of us who are far-sighted, have been clamouring that we should have an agreeable constitution that we had at Independence in 1960. The constitution they (military) wrote is not the one we want. So, the youths can no longer wait because their future is at stake. Those of us who are elders are now saying, ‘no, take it easy.’ Take for instance when Akeredolu said Fulani herdsmen, who were in the forest reserves raping, should come out, the people who put them said no; that he was asking all Fulani to go. They are trying to change the narrative. That is the problem.  I have made it clear: why has Buhari not listened to the voice of reason? I have also emphasised and repeated that Buhari has no greater stake is in Nigeria than me. I also said I have invested in one Nigeria than himself. And I illustrated it with Borno area, where there is the problem of insurgency, I was there for one year campaigning for the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in 1979. If I don’t believe in one Nigeria, I won’t go there. My party had a candidate who died only a few months ago. That is to show you that nobody wants the country to break. All the agreements of our founding fathers for the condition of living together; the military removed them in 1966. That is why we have the current problems. That needs to be address. If Buhari is honest on keeping this country together, let us agree on a constitution. If he does not, he is the number one enemy of Nigeria.

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