Adebanjo: Southwest Must Not Deviate From Awolowo’s Path

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Ayo Adebanjo, elder statesman and leader of the Yoruba group, Afenifere, is one of the last men standing in the close-knit political family of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, dating from pre-independence era. He was among the leaders who groomed Southwest politicians in the Alliance for Democracy (AD), for participation in the 1998/99 political transition programme. In this interview with a cross section of the media he bares his mind on why 2015 is crucial for Nigeria and urges the Yoruba not to gamble with it. The Guardian was there.

Where do the Yoruba people stand in the February elections?

I THINK that would also be a matter of principle. The question of South-south is a matter of principle of Papa Awolowo, that a minority would also have the right to aim for the highest position in the country. That was what I was trying to point out about the recent National Conference we had. That conference has taken care of everything concerning Nigeria. Like the issue of power, it is no longer going to be the Northwest, whenever it gets to the North it must rotate within all other regions in the North. The same thing for the South, it is no longer about Southwest but all other regions in the South such that everybody now knows when each of the regions would be president, it is no longer the issue of we are born to rule. Why I am supporting Jonathan is because he is the only man who can implement the recommendations of the National Conference which was set up to bring equity to Yorubaland and to Nigeria. He is the only man. And once he does that, all these things we are complaining about will be rectified. People talk about corruption but they never care to know the root of corruption. The thing is that the Federal Government has more money than all other tiers of government. Now, we have closed that gap in the Confab. We have done it in such a way that the states now have more powers, which may not be palatable to those ones in the North. 

  For example, how did you have more local government areas than the South? How are the local governments in Kano and Jigawa more than those in Lagos? The military at that time just allocated states and local governments to themselves. There were really no criteria with which they arrived at those local governments. So, they now went further by allocating funds on the basis of the number of local governments. You will recall that Lagos State was denied local government funds even when the Supreme Court ruled that it should be paid. That is the kind of wholesome power the Federal Government has and that is one of the reasons I feared if Buhari should govern under this Constitution.

Why?

   Because they have the mentality that they are born to rule. And that is why I think this romance of picking a vice presidential candidate from the Southwest is just a mere gimmick. That is why I insisted that all the recommendations of the Confab should be implemented before the elections because the inequality in this country has been rectified with the recommendations of the Confab. All the things that could cause us conflicts have been rectified. So, all our problems have been attacked from the root. And, that is why those who think it is not to their advantage don’t want it done. Everybody believes that this present Constitution is bad and we then say let us all sit down and harmonize it what is wrong in that? We have done it now but yet you don’t want it to be implemented. And where is the antagonism coming from? From the beneficiaries of the awkwardness of the constitution. And they still want the Yoruba to continue to go along with that? If some Yoruba follow them sheepishly, probably because they don’t know the background, that cannot happen to someone like me. And part of the inequality we are talking about is what has come out in the Buhari certificate matter. In the 

  In the First Republic, you set up a standard for everybody but when it comes to the North, you set another standard, that is exactly what happened in Buhari’s case. Those of us who knew all these things from the beginning are not surprised by the new turn of events. You heard that his principal sent a letter to the military that he was capable and that he expected that he would pass his examinations. That was what was happening in those days in the North. They cannot deny that. If you have read General Isama’s book, you will find it there where he said when they were about to be commissioned, the standard set for them was usually lower for the North. I am sure he never anticipated a situation like this. 

  And do we have corruption on selective basis? Look at the PTF, which he superintended. Even though Obasanjo was trying to cover him up, has he denied anything of such? He knows that if he does, the document is there for everyone to see. So, how can I, as a NADECO man, come and support a dictator. All his antecedents are dictatorial and military like.

But Buhari said he is now transformed

  Don’t give me that. When did he become a democrat? What has he done to show he is a democrat? When he first came as a military man, he was issuing retroactive laws to convict people. We are all living witnesses to what he did with Decree 4, so, that is the type of man you want me to vote in a civilian regime? He says he is not a fundamentalist. It is just that people forget about records easily. Here was a man who campaigned in the North and said Muslims should vote for Muslims. Here was a man who said he was going to work for the operation of Sharia through out the country. He has not denied it, neither has he apologized for all the anti-democratic things he has done. I won’t be deceived by the fact that he has brought a first class technocrat as running mate.

Is that not the reason why you should support him, that he has a good vice?

  That is not possible because the running mate has no political experience. He is a first class technocrat, a distinguished lawyer and a nice gentleman, but if you are talking of politics, it is another matter entirely. They just brought him in. Tinubu brought him in as Attorney General; he was never in politics. He comes from Ikenne. Does he know the politics of Ikenne?

So, the Southwest may be making a mistake?

  Exactly, there is no doubt about that, that they will be making a big mistake and digging their graves. They may not listen, but I, Ayo Adebanjo is telling them. I am 87 years old, I can die any moment, so that when ever it happens, they would be able to say that indeed, that man told us. Buhari is only deceiving them. Go and read what Wole Soyinka said about him in 2011. Has it changed? Go and read what El- Rufai said about him in 2002 that he is not electable. These are the same people polishing him. When I look at the whole scenario, I feel sorry for this country.

But don’t you think the Yoruba are irrevocably committed to following Buhari through Tinubu?

  I don’t believe Yoruba are following Tinubu. There are so many factors that made him win election in those days. When it comes to these facts, it is now left for the Yoruba to decide. Those of us who suffered imprisonment during the NADECO days under Abacha are still here, Tinubu was not around. To those of us who were really victims of dictatorship, you cannot send Buhari to us. I don’t know those who are now doing chop chop politics. From the beginning, we never believed that a military person should come and rule under a civilian regime and that was one of the reasons the Yoruba strongly voted against Obasanjo in 1999. It was the military that imposed Obasanjo on us, because it was Babangida and Abdulsalami that brought him and imposed him on us. They may have disagreement later because Obasanjo didn’t perform. It was Obasanjo that brought Yar’Adua, he also brought Jonathan.

Is it not an irony that instead of the Southwest following people like you, they are following Tinubu and his ‘progressive’ party?

  That is left for them. I have given all the facts. This is a democracy. With all we are saying, you and I know that we are suffering here in Lagos. I am Fashola’s fan, I won’t say he has not done well, but those of us who created his predecessor, Tinubu, know that he could do better for Lagos, that is what we are saying. You may not appreciate what is happening now except you remember the Western Region where things moved well. A man ruled the Western Region for seven years without strike. He introduced free education when our income was barely five and a half million pounds, including Edo and Delta at that time by share economic ingenuity. Is that what we are having now? You have people who do job a of N50m and say it is N250m and yet, the people would be saying he has done a good job. With all that is being done in Lagos, some of us have asked how much is the cost? What is the revenue of Lagos, both the internally generated and the allocation? And yet, we still owe that much debt? And yet we have to pay for tolls. I am not contesting election for anybody to vote for me, all I am saying is for posterity. Where they have done well, I say it, where they are wrong, I say it as well. When they talk of corruption in Jonathan’s government, I won’t say the government is clean, but those who are talking about corruption, how clean are they themselves? This is the question and yet these are the same people you journalists extol to high heavens. Are you saying there is no corruption in Lagos State? The only job we have now is to reform this country and urge Jonathan to implement the recommendations of the Confab so that we can all start on a clean slate. There may have been a lot of irregularities in the past and it is the irregularities that people are fighting. Everybody must have autonomy to rule itself and we all combine at the centre for what joined us together. If we had no federal system, Awolowo could not have done what he did in the Western Region.

So INEC should just allow Buhari to run the election and forget about the certificate?

  I don’t know. Don’t put words into my mouth; that is left for INEC to prove if indeed he has the certificate. That is what the law says, it is not I. You journalists must be honest to this nation. You are not doing me any favour; neither are you doing the country any good by trying to plaster what should not be plastered. What the law says is this: You must have a school certificate before you can qualify.

But the school has presented that now?

  This is not the kind of certificate I have. I don’t think this one is tenable. If they can be fooled, I cannot. That is why I think Jega should come in. Though Jega doesn’t want to be seen as supporting anybody, but from the law that he is expected to implement, Buhari has not satisfied the Constitution. Jega is only trying to shift responsibility by saying people opposed to Buhari’s qualification for the polls should go to court. I heard the APC saying Buhari has been contesting election for the past 12 years and nobody said anything about it, why now? And my answer in form of question is, if someone has been committing robbery and getting away with it, the day he is caught, you are now asking, why has not been caught all this while?

Are you saying it is as good as INEC disqualifying the man based on what is on ground?

   Except you are saying the law should not be obeyed. The law is not made for fun. We should not be sentimental about this thing. That is why we say there are two standards, one for Ayo Adebanjo and one for Buhari. That is what is happening in the secondary schools. When they say examination cut-off mark is this, there is a lower cut-off mark for those in the North. That is the kind of thing we have been going through since amalgamation and we have been shouting that let us educate the people of the North, but they don’t want to be educated as we are, yet they want to be qualified as we are.

What is happening to Afenifere? 

  AFENIFERE is still very active. In fact, very soon, we are going to meet in Akure, Ondo State.

But it is no longer as vibrant as it was in 1998/99.

  Well, I am sure that would be because of the press. You are light on to the world, just like the motto of the defunct West African Pilot. There is no doubt that there is some kind of division among us caused by some rebels who didn’t want the right thing to be done, because we are strictly Awolowo’s disciples, undiluted. We don’t modify Awo’s principles for our own interest. Progressive is progressive, not progressive today and conservative tomorrow. Those who were never progressives, the moment they join you, they automatically become progressives.

How are you resolving the challenge of people trying to twist the principles of Awo?

   We shall continue to say what is right for people to decipher. There are no two ways about it. What we are doing now is to ensure that you people follow the right path. The principle of Afenifere leaders, particularly myself, is to tell you the truth because lying and falsification of things have dominated the country.

But there are a lot of people now calling themselves progressives?

  I will say all those ones are fake. All those people in the then ACN that are now APC are fake progressives.

How?

  They are fake in the sense that they don’t pursue the principles of Awolowo. Take, for instance, the issue of federalism, you know we were part and parcel of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). And during the NADECO days, we were the only ones shouting about the issue of Sovereign National Conference for the restructuring of the country because the federation was an awkward one. It was not balanced. And it was because the military choked us in 1966. The Constitution the colonialists gave us at independence was jettisoned after the 1966 coup. And that is why you saw arbitrary creation of states and local government areas because the people there were northerners. And we said we don’t want the country to separate; for us all to live in peace, let us all sit down and restructure the country on the principle of federalism. Federalism is the system whereby the various ethnic nationalities that formed the country can grow at their own space and then still keep the country as one. That was what we insisted upon. You would also remember when Abdulsalami Abubakar said we should go for election, and we said no, we should first of all hold a conference that would lead to a new Constitution, which we would all be happy about, but he said, ‘no, I am in a hurry, when you get your civilian government, you can go and do it.’ That was why one was held during the Obasanjo time. 

  All those with us during the NADECO time that insisted on National Conference are the same set of people saying now that the Goodluck Jonathan conference was a diversion. That was what Bola Tinubu said. I have said it before, let him challenge it. Sovereign National Conference was one of the manifestoes we used in electing him into office as governor of Lagos State. It was part of the Alliance for Democracy that there must be a National Conference. When we won elections in 1999, it was because we reluctantly took part in the election because we didn’t want people we didn’t believe in to win elections in Southwest and claim later that we were not representing the Southwest. That was why we contested the elections so that everybody could see that we had the support of the people. After the elections, all the six states in the Southwest where we had our governors, Afenifere leaders toured the Houses of Assemblies, led by late Papa Abraham Adesanya, for them to pass a resolution that there must be a National Conference. Tinubu was there. Now because something does not suit him, because he has some motive now, he says the National Conference was a diversion. Is that consistent with our policy? 

  Now, what you find these days is imposition of candidates, which is against the principle of Awolowo. Take the issue of free education, you hear free education in Lagos, have you been to their primary and secondary schools and see the number of children there? Can you find any of the children of these ministers in any of the public schools? Is that what they inherited? It is matter of principle. This is what separated us the Afenifere from the ACN who called themselves progressives. It is not a personal thing.



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