Why National Assemby can’t give Nigerians new constitution —Ayo Adebanjo
ELDER STATESMAN, Chief Ayo Adebanjo is among the few surviving nationalists that negotiated Nigeria’s independence from Britain in 1960. In this interview by BOLA BADMUS, he speaks on issues bordering on national unity, the clamour for the restructuring of the country and other germane matters.
WHAT can you say on the recent claim by a writer that Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was on the verge of winning a major election in the then Western Region before Chief Obafemi Awolowo stopped him through horse-trading?
It is only those who don’t understand history that will say such a thing. Why was it that the election Zik claimed to have won in the Western Region we proved he didn’t win? One question I will continue to ask is how does that help the situation we are in now as a people?
If anybody wants to talk about it after we have won our battle on restructuring, I will talk about it. By raising that point now, our opponents want something to divide us, which I am not prepared for. The issue now is that Nigeria must be restructured. There must be a system of government where every section of the country will have access to occupy the highest office in the land, and not a system whereby any section of the country will exclude another from being the president of the country.
That is obnoxious, uncharitable, inequitable, unconstitutional and separatist. What Awolowo believed in is a federal and united Nigeria. That’s the only thing that brings us together and Awolowo based his premise on the fact that the colonialists didn’t colonise Nigeria; they colonised the Yoruba, the Igbo, and all that. It is they who said we are Nigeria.
And the point must be made. We have been emphasising the question of the amalgamation of Nigeria. The amalgamation was without our consent. But having been done, we appreciate the value the economy of scale of being put together as a country, and we say in doing, so let’s do it in an agreed form. At least, if you belong to a club, there must be rules and regulations of the club.
If we must come together because we are not a nation, we are different nations in this geographical expression as described by Chief Awolowo, let us agree on how we are going to live together in peace if everybody is serious about that. But a section of the country wants to impose their culture, religion, system and administration on the other parts of the country. That’s what is causing confusion.
I have always put the question to (Muhammadu) Buhari in particular, the president of the country, if he is sincere about the unity of the country, if he is honest about it, more northerner and intelligent than the late Sardauna of Sokoto, who agreed on this principle we are advocating. I asked the question in the past, but he has not answered me. He has never refuted that the constitution, which was granted us by the colonialists, was endorsed by the Sardauna, Awolowo and Azikiwe and it was the constitution that was abrogated by the military. All these are facts.
When the military came to political power, they brought a unitary constitution because the colonialists gave us the same constitution under the McPherson Constitution, which was abrogated in 1954 at the London Conference by the leaders of the country. It was the new federal constitution that led to Nigeria’s independence. Nobody is saying you should go back to the regions, since we now have states.
What we are saying is that let’s go back to the principles established under that constitution on the federal system to the extent that at that time, every region had its own constitution at independence. These are historical facts that can be verified. And I have often asked, what is Buhari’s problem about that arrangement? What was the problem of the previous governments, including that of Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and others that refused to go back to federalism? This is because the question of restructuring is not new. When the military wanted to leave in 1999.
Did he listen?
No, he said he was in a hurry to leave office. I have made this statement before: Abdulsalami is a perfect gentleman. He didn’t want to stay long as a military ruler but we could see far into what could happen which is happening now. We told him that while he was still there, we could have a condition whereby there would be continuous peace by his government giving us a constitution that was acceptable to us. We said the constitution which he was going to give us was not acceptable. He said no. When Obasanjo became president, he said there could be no two sovereignties and I took time to explain to him at a press conference that he was confusing the word, sovereignty.
I said his election would not be affected by the sovereignty; that the sovereignty we were talking about was that whatever the conference agreed upon would not be subject to any form of amendment by the government as he did with the Land Use Decree in the 1979 Constitution, I made it clear what we meant by sovereignty; that the conference would only be subject to a referendum to show that people have the final say.
That is the meaning of a sovereign national conference. It did not mean that if the conference was held, we were going to push the president out. So, until the constitution agreed to at that conference comes into operation, the status of the sovereignty at that time will suffice. Those things will still be there.
That’s why I often say I don’t believe Buhari is sincere about keeping the country together in peace and I will always like to emphasise it. I am challenging Buhari publicly if he believes in the unity of the country; that the people should live together in peace, why is he opposed to federalism? You can see that the South- South, South-East, South-West and the Middle- Belt are all agitating for federalism.
A former governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba, said the promoters of restructuring should go beyond their advocacy by taking their demand to the National Assembly?
No! Both himself (Buhari) and Osoba are just being deceitful. That’s why I said may God save us in this country. Go to the National Assembly under which constitution? Under which constitution was the National Assembly established? Is it not under the existing constitution we are opposed to? What is the sense there? We said we don’t want the constitution, you are now saying that to get that constitution abrogated, you must go for approval from the National Assembly? Why people be insulting us?
Osoba said the president could not do it alone?
No. If the president wants to be honest and quick, we have asked him to adopt the report of the 2014 Constitutional Conference. Or he could have set up his own and let us agree on the new constitution. That’s the essence, and we will agree and go for a referendum. The National Assembly is part of the problems that could have been solved under the new constitution. What about the composition of the National Assembly? You see, people are just being dishonest and I am surprised that Osoba claimed to know much, talking about the National Assembly in this matter. If we accept the existing constitution, why are we asking for a change? If it is a constitution that we made and we want to amend, we will go to the National Assembly. The National Assembly came into existence through the constitution we condemn. I say it is illogical and dishonest for anybody to say that we should go to National Assembly to ask for federalism. We are not asking for the amendment of the constitution. We are asking for a total surgical operation; a complete change of the constitution.
Restructuring is not a philosophy; it’s a system by which we go back to what we want. We can’t go to what we want by keeping this system. The country must be restructured. They are just being mischievous, both Buhari and Osoba or anybody thinking of going to the National Assembly before we can have a new constitution. They should not insult us. We are not asking for the amendment of the constitution. Some people are just being mischievous, particularly the All Progressives congress (APC) people and Osoba.
I challenge those who opposed restructuring, particularly Buhari to tell us why he refused to implement the reports of the 2014 National Conference. Is it because the conference was not set up by him or because what is there is not good? He should answer those questions if he is sincere. If they are not mischievous, then they are completely ignorant of what we are asking for. So, when Osoba was contesting election in 1999 and was asking for an SNC, was he asking for approval of such conference under the present constitution? That’s why I said what we are asking for is a system under which Jagaban and others came into office, I have said it in several interviews; let them refute it; it is not what they are talking about.
There is crisis everywhere; agitation for one thing and another. The country is almost in a war situation. What is really happening; is Nigeria going into war?
The country is living in denial and I said it that even from the conference that General Abdulsalami called in Minna, he should know better. The problems of the country go back to the abandoning federalism and until we change the present constitution, we are in trouble. If we don’t change the constitution, Nigeria will not remain one. I have said it and I am expecting them to come and tell me I made a hate speech. A section of the country is saying that it doesn’t want to stay in the country because you are isolating it. If you are in a club and there are lots of advantage therein: you get loans; they build houses for you, will you say you want to resign from the club? But if you are in a club and you continue to contribute, when your own share of the contribution comes, they don’t give it to you, then what are you doing there?
The IPOB people want to quit Nigeria because they don’t feel being treated fairly well in the country and they believe that ‘if I don’t get any advantage there, let me get out.’ And I have always said if Buhari is sincere about keeping us together, he should have called the IPOB members and asked them, ‘why do you want to get out of Nigeria?’ The Avengers, who say they want to get out of Nigeria, if there is good leadership, the question would have been asked, ‘why do you want to get out; what are the problems?’ All those efforts would have calmed them. People like us who fought for a united country and who still want us to stay together are not happy. We have stayed together and have enjoyed our unity without oppression, we don’t want anything to separate us. So, we want to live together as agreed to at independence, please underline the word, independence, by the Sardauna, Awolowo and Azikiwe. And I still challenge Buhari to say he is more intelligent, more Northerner and more Fulani than the Sardauna, who agreed to the term of our living together.
What lessons do you think Nigeria and its citizens have learnt from the civil war?
They have not learnt anything; they have not learnt anything as the civil war came about because a section of the country felt cheated; that was what led to it.