Pa Ayo Adebanjo, recently stepped in as new leader of Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere after Pa Reuben Fasoranti, the former leader stepped aside due to old age. He spoke with SEYE OLUMIDE on the dangers ahead, if President Muhammadu Buhari refuses to restructure the country before another general elections hold in 2023.
• If my son is a presidential candidate under this Constitution I’ll oppose him
What are your plans to lead Afenifere?
If it is another organisation, then you can ask such question. In Afenifere, the struggle continues because we are an ideologically based platform. There is nothing I am doing that my predecessors didn’t do. I am acting under the instructions of my predecessor(s). We are using a collegiate system and there is nothing I did that they didn’t approve. I am not doing anything strange; it all goes along with what Afenifere stands for.
There may be development and advancement but it must be in line with the ideology of the organisation.
There is no change of direction. We stand firmly on true federal system of government, good governance, free education, free medical services, integrated development, full employment and others.
What strategies will you deploy to achieve the ideology of Afenifere, for instance, there is a suggestion that you might need to engage the current National Assembly on how to get Nigeria restructured?
We cannot change our strategy until the country is restructured to true federalism; that stand is clear.
And please don’t say some people are saying we must engage or go through the National Assembly to get Nigeria restructured, who are they (lawmakers)? The National Assembly is a product of this fraudulent 1999 Constitution and that’s our own stand. Is the National Assembly not a product of this Constitution? Is that not the Constitution we all are saying is fraudulent? How can a fraudulent product produce a purified product? It is illogical. If they pretend not to understand what restructuring means, then they should take us back to the Independence Constitution. And I always challenge them to tell us if the 1999 Constitution is made by the people? Our case is this, it is not our Constitution, it is a military Constitution imposed on Nigerians.
The National Assembly, as it is currently composed cannot give us restructuring, I have said it openly many times. On the question of restructuring, I have challenged the Spokesman to the President, Mr. Femi Adesina that when Buhari promised restructuring in 2007, Afenifere campaigned for him. When Buhari contested along with Pastor Tunde Bakare, who was his running mate in the 2011 Presidential election, he (Buhari) promised restructuring and to confirm that go and listen to the latest sermon of Pastor Bakare, where he challenged President Buhari openly, saying, ‘I told you before and we had agreed on it before. I told you that restructuring you should do but you didn’t do it.’
Even under this government, to show you how Buhari is taking us for a ride, they promised restructuring and it was on that basis the former governors of Lagos, Ogun and Osun states, Bola Tinubu, Segun Osoba, Bisi Akande and others naively aligned with Buhari in 2015 to form All Progressives Congress (APC). But has the country been restructured? After they won the 2015 election, the ruling party set up the Nasir El-Rufai Committee on restructuring but what has happened thereafter? My conclusion is, Buhari is the only person opposed to a united Nigeria.
Even the northern elements are talking of restructuring. The whole country is now talking about restructuring, except President Buhari.
How would you situate your call for restructuring and the position of some Yoruba in APC that presidency must come to Southwest in 2023?
It is incompatible. Somebody came to my house recently to appeal to me to support Tinubu’s presidential ambition for 2023, but I said that presidency is not on my floor for now. This people can sacrifice anybody to become president of Nigeria. The presidency is not on my plate now and I repeat it, if you make my son a presidential candidate under this Constitution, I will oppose him. Do we have a country? There is no country and when there is no country why are you talking about the presidency? I am anxious that this country will not break up, especially with all the self-determination agitations all over the places. We need to settle down and discuss how to live together and the terms of our unity. It is after then we can elect the person to become president. All the inequalities we are complaining about are because of this fraudulent Constitution.
Do you know that there were more local governments in the South than in the North? Many people are just ignorant of this, even university dons. They don’t understand what federalism means, otherwise these cabals wouldn’t have had the temerity to be using this Constitution to cheat and oppress us. They created more local governments in the north than the south; what was the yardstick? It is arbitrary.
I will show you the fraud. The population and number of Lagos and Kano used to be the same, but by the time the military came they created Jigawa from Kano and created more local governments. Jigawa and Kano now have up to about 77 local governments while Lagos remained 20. They now said we are going to share revenue based on the number of local governments. You see the fraud. In the distribution, the north is now collecting more money from revenue sharing to which it contributes less to the national purse in terms of resources.
It is under this same fraudulent Constitution they also use landmass as a yardstick to distribute money.
These are the obnoxious things in the Constitution. As a result, the money we would have used for development here is taken to their region. This is what the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo said since 1954; that let every region keep its revenue. As at that time, money goes to the north through groundnuts, to the west through cocoa, to the east through palm kernel, so we were able to develop competitively. We were now funding free education from our resources. And for the period Awolowo was premier of the West there was no record that he went to the centre to collect allocation from the government of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa. It is our money we used to fund our development. We only paid some percentage to the centre. That is the principle of federalism.
We talk of state police the north refused, they said governors will use it against the opposition but is the Federal Government not using federal police against states that are not in their party? Do you need a crystal ball to know that?
On the issue of security, Mr. President appointed majority of the security chiefs from the north or practically from Katsina State. He could do that because of the Constitution. I am amazed that we don’t do geography anymore in schools these days. I learnt about that a few years ago. I say this is the only country that militates against geography. The geography that everyone knows is that the nearer the desert the fewer the population but it is only in Nigeria that the nearer to the desert the more the population. But the population is not there in the north. This is what I am suffering; this is what is making me weep for this nation.
What is your message to the likes of Tinubu, Akande, Osoba and others who are not seeing Nigeria the way you are seeing it?
What message? They have sold out. It is not that they don’t know. Our people in APC aligned with Buhari on the basis that this country would be restructured. Before restructuring we were talking of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC). When the military wanted to go in 1999, Afenifere said no, don’t send us back to the Unitary Constitution but return us to the one you met in 1966. If you don’t want to do that then organise a Sovereign National Conference where we will decide whether to continue to live together and the condition under which we will remain together. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo came and said there could be no SNC but I told him that the SNC we were talking about is not that of the incumbent President, but the one that the outcome would be subjected to a referendum.
The challenges of this nation have been well taken care of by our founding fathers in 1954 when the British invited them to London and the premiership was established. In 1998 Afenifere demanded for SNC when we were about to return to democracy and that is what we are calling restructuring now. Restructuring is not a political philosophy but it is to return this system back to true federalism. And I ask the question, why is that so difficult for Buhari? We are asking him to go back to what our founding fathers did or is he more intelligent than the late Sir Ahmadu Ibrahim Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, is Buhari more Fulani than the Sardauna or is he better educated than the man; I want him to answer me. That was the Constitution the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sardauna and Awolowo agreed to, they are not pretenders.
This is very important and I want you put it the way I say it. Why is Buhari pretending that he does not understand what we are talking about? Since we have been talking about restructuring has he said a word either for or against? Even when his party set up El-Rufai’s Committee on restructuring, did he say anything despite all the crises in the country? With all the agitations and uprising everywhere, couldn’t he have addressed the nation on the issue?
We should let Buhari know that we are more educated and advanced than what he thinks. I made an assertion; any moment we talk about restructuring he waved it aside. I want him to understand that we have been discussing Nigeria when he (Buhari) was a toddler. I have been talking about Nigeria when he was in primary school. I, Ayo Adebanjo, through Awolowo, have invested more in a united Nigeria more than Buhari.
The Boko Haram insurgency we are talking about, I spent several years in Northeast as a barrister of law preaching the doctrine of true federalism in 1979 under the platform of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). I am from Southwest, if we don’t want one Nigeria why would I have gone there. I spent a whole year in Maiduguri it is on record. Why are we fighting Buhari, when I tell you we have invested in Nigeria more than he did, I am not talking fiction.
We have been on the project of Nigeria’s unity for a long time and that is why his (Buhari) delay in restructuring is the cause of the secession uprisings and self-determination calls we are witnessing today. People like us don’t like what is happening because they want to break up Nigeria that we worked for. But despite the fact I don’t want break up, I also don’t want to live in a country where my people will be slaves to another section or ethnic group, No! That’s the problem. That is why I said I don’t support secession neither do I oppose it. If you are sincere and want peace to return to Nigeria then let Mr. President restructure the system of government to true federalism that every federating units had agreed to. He cannot continue to force this unacceptable system on us. Forcing this Constitution on us by delaying restructuring is what is giving rise to the Sunday Igboho and many Igbohos will still rise. It is people like me that are suppressing them because we don’t want more of them.
I understand now that there are some youths in South-South that are agitating to secede. If not the respect the Yoruba have for my likes they would have stoned us for talking about restructuring. The youth said they are tired of the current system.
It appears Buhari is not the only one adamant to calls for restructuring; there are people encouraging him not to do it even among Yoruba people?
Even in Yoruba land, not all of us will agree on restructuring because democracy allows freedom of speech and expression. And in any case not all Yoruba are in Afenifere. Only that majority are on our side and was that not how Britain fought for Brexit? We are too educated for all these petty excuses. Tell me any Yoruba man who doesn’t want restructuring? And I have openly challenged all the governors to talk the way I am talking that we want restructuring. And I added the word that no one, either traditional ruler or politician in Yoruba land can be bold to say Yoruba doesn’t want restructuring and let’s see how such person will sleep peacefully in his or her house that day.
I have said it. There is no Yoruba man that can come out today and say he or she doesn’t want restructuring. When Buhari came in 2015 and loaded all the security chiefs in the North and from Katsina what did he say? He said he was attending only to those who voted for him; is that not what he said? He doesn’t believe he is the father of the country and that’s where you want peace to reign.
I say our people in APC are not sincere to have continued with this arrangement beyond 2019. Tinubu knows about all these things because he was with us in 1999. We were reluctant to return to democracy in 1999 until Nigeria was restructured and the campaign we made was Sovereign National Conference but the former Head of State, Gen Abdulsalam Abubakar (rtd) said no, “when you get your civilian administration you can do it.” The late Pa Abraham Adesanya warned him (Abdulsalam) that this is what we foresaw, restructure this country first or take us back to the Constitution we had before you returned us to democracy, but Abdulsalam refused. One credit I will continue to give Abdulsalam is that with the government then loaded against Afenifere, we couldn’t have been registered as Alliance for Democracy (AD) to partake in the 1999 elections. But it was Abdulsalam who said if we didn’t register Yoruba people there will be problem. He insisted we must be registered, otherwise; we didn’t qualify to have been registered as a political party, because of the dictatorial conditions laid down by previous governments. He knew there would be trouble if AD was not registered.
We went into polls and after winning the elections in Southwest, we told our governors not to go to Abuja to collect anything until we did Sovereign National Conference, but having got to power and enjoyed the paraphernalia of their offices, the governors turned down our advise. They are enjoying the crumps they got from Abuja and turned themselves to governors without authority. They are only Chief Security Officers (CSO) by name, they have no control over the police. These are what we are fighting for and you want me to continue in that at 93? When I was in my 20s we fought for equality and we got it. That is why I said our people made a mistake by following Buhari in 2015, which can be pardoned but for them to have continued in 2019, is unpardonable. We got all these things done before the military came in 1966.
What are your fears if this country is not restructured?
It will break up. There is no sentiment about that and how soon it will take, the signs are there. That is why people like me are stressing, begging, shouting and when people like Abdulsalam, Professor Wole Soyinka and Obasanjo are saying we cannot afford another war. Even Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (rtd) said it is too dangerous to go into another civil war.
When the northern people said Yoruba should leave the north, Yoruba people also threatened northerners to go back to their region. It is the intervention of some of us that saved the situation. No right thinking person would love to remain under this current Constitution. We have been in Nigeria under unacceptable conditions for too long and if there is no remedy then to your tents, O Israel.
To prevent the break up of Nigeria, Buhari must restructure now. The National Assembly members must compel him to do so. The number one enemy of Nigeria’s unity is President Muhammadu Buhari for refusing to restructure the country now. Quote me fully and I am ready to be arrested for hate speech.
There was an attempt to arrest Sunday Igboho recently. How did you see that?
That is the problem. Those are the irrepressible youths who don’t want restructuring any more because Buhari is delaying. I said if you don’t restructure now there would be more Igbohos coming up, those who do not want to stay in Nigeria under this Constitution any more. And I have said it before, if Buhari restructures now, it will put an end to Igboho, Nnamdi Kanu, leader Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and others.
Kanu sent delegates to my 90th birthday. I never met him before. His representatives during my birthday said to me that the people in government won’t listen to those of us calling for restructuring, but I pleaded with them to exercise patience. He sent six representatives to my birthday. And I told his delegates that breaking up Nigeria, is not good for us. But the way we are going, we need to be careful. We need to return to what Azikiwe, Awolowo and Sardauna agreed to. The context of what they agreed to would be the context of the federating states. What is harmful about that? If Buhari is sincere why can’t he at least honour the manifesto of his party on restructuring? He is oppressing us under this present Constitution and that won’t work any longer. The youth believe that Buhari won’t listen and they are clamouring for break up but I said no we shouldn’t break up Nigeria. I am insisting Nigeria must not breakup because the youth didn’t suffer what our generations suffered for Independence. But for the respect for me they would have been stoning me in Yoruba land now. They think I have betrayed them because I refused to concede to their philosophy of breaking up Nigeria. I know the implications if Nigeria breaks up but how can we stop it? That’s the reason I am begging Buhari to restructure Nigeria. I won’t agree to Yoruba land to be in Nigeria as a second class citizens. It is Buhari who is asking for violence.
There is this notion that Southwest governors are not sincere on the issue of restructuring….
No. I disagree with that argument. I am sympathetic to the governors. They are under pressure. They are under Buhari and Tinubu, except the Governor of Oyo Sate, Seyi Makinde.
Tinubu sponsored the governors and they don’t have the temerity to speak, as they would have wanted to. You recall that Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo and Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti, spoke on restructuring but they cannot say it the way we are saying it. I sympathise with them. When I say ‘sell out’ I don’t refer to these governors but those people that helped them to the offices. When they were entering into an alliance with Buhari in 2015, I warned them because we had entered into such agreement before. But when he failed them in his first term, I wondered why they committed the same mistake in 2019. For instance, one of our people in APC arrogantly said we do not understand the northerners and I said okay. But see what has happened to them now? They don’t know what is happening in Buhari’s government again. And I say it categorically that with all the promises they gave Tinubu, if APC conducts its presidential primary today, I doubt if Tinubu will win.
Mind you, Buhari’s people from the north don’t want to leave power and they have not only divided the Southwest, they have also divided the South. They are putting the bait to former President Goodluck Jonathan, to come and run in 2023.
Do you also think traditional rulers are sincere and committed to restructuring?
Don’t attack the traditional institution too much. I have been in this struggle since the First Republic. Traditional rulers are equally like civil servants. They are under the governors and the governors are under Buhari and Tinubu. Many of them are with us but they cannot speak up like we are doing.
Despite your warnings, some are still preparing for 2023 presidential election. How do you react to that?
I don’t believe there will be 2023 elections if restructuring does not happen before then. I don’t see 2023 at all without restructuring before then. From what you are seeing now, do you think any peaceful election can take place in the eastern region under this government or in Southwest or Middle Belt or South-South? Except we are deceiving one another, the tragedy of not restructuring this country before election is what is generating the tensions. And it is becoming more devastating every time we missed the opportunity. Bakare told Buhari that trying to stop an idea that has come to stay is like standing in front of a moving train.