Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, in this interview with TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE speaks on the need to restructure Nigeria, the Muhammadu Buhari administration and the recent arrest of some judges over allegations of corruption
Nigeria recently celebrated her 56th Independence anniversary. As one of those who witnessed the country’s attainment of independence in 1960, would you say this is Nigeria of your dream?
No! This is not the Nigeria of our dream at all. The Nigeria of our dream and constitution is not what we have now. It was the military that turned the whole thing upside down.
So, as a result of the awkwardness in the constitution, what we have now is the result of the bad constitution that we are operating. Every problem in the country arises from the constitution. This is not the Nigeria of our dream; we are far from it.
Are you blaming the military for the country’s present predicament?
Of course, there is no doubt about that. It was the military that gave us the constitution that we are complaining about now. The so-called democrats have also taken us back. Members of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) up till today don’t believe that May 29 is Democracy Day, what we have is a civilian regime not democracy.
But we’ve had 17 years of steady civilian administration…
Since then till date, NADECO have not celebrated May 29 as Democracy Day, except turncoats, who joined the government. We believe that June 12 is Democracy Day, while May 29 is the day the military gave us civilian administration.
Don’t you think that 17 years is enough for successive civilian administration should have corrected the error by the military?
Part of the correction is to have a new constitution, which government has never done. We can’t do the correction under this awkward constitution. If you remember, NADECO, Afenifere and many other groups before the 1999 election insisted that there must be a National Conference for a new constitution other than the military constitution.
The military said they want to go and the then Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, said we should allow him to go and allow the incoming government to organise the National Conference.
When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo became president in 1999, people said there should be a National Conference but he said there cannot be two sovereignties and he is going to defend the constitution. But I said which constitution does he want to defend? Is it the constitution that he doesn’t know anything about because Abubakar told us that he didn’t really read the constitution until the day he was sworn in.
If people said we don’t want the constitution, common sense demands that he should change it. The constitution is not our constitution but the military’s constitution. You can’t dispute that and that is why I often quote what late Chief Rotimi Williams said that our constitution ‘is a fraudulent document because it was not made by Nigerians.’
But several attempts have been made by successive administrations to change the constitution through constitutional conferences but the recommendations never saw the light of the day…
Who are you blaming for that? What did all the constitutional conferences recommend? The blame should be put where it lies because those who are enjoying the awkwardness in the constitution don’t want it to be changed. We are where we are because of the constitution we are using.
Prior to the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria has had three civilian presidents but people appeared not satisfied with the system. What do you think is the problem?
The constitution under which they controlled the government is faulty. The basis of government is faulty. In that context, will it be right to blame Buhari for Nigeria’s present problem as some people are doing? Why shouldn’t we blame him? Government is in a position to change what is bad to good.
The problem we have is that all the people in government have refused to change what the people want and that is why we have been getting the same results. History always repeats itself because people in government repeat the mistake their predecessors made.
The common thing is that people cannot get different a answer and change if they are repeating the same thing. So, until we do the right thing and restructure the country we cannot get the right answer.
So, without restructuring the Buhari administration may not make any meaningful mark?
Restructuring is a national question and without restructuring there cannot be political peace; and without political peace, we can’t make progress. That is the bottom line. Without restructuring that will make every component part of the country feel satisfied, there would be no Nigeria.
How would you assess the Buhari administration after over 17 months?
I didn’t support this government and I gave my reasons. What did I say against this government during the last general elections that is not happening now? Why are people asking for a different result? I said the mistake Nigerian people will make is to vote for Buhari and when some people accused me of being a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) man, I just laugh. So, I am not disappointed that Buhari has not disappointed me.
I made several allegations against Buhari and unfortunately people didn’t look at the message, they were looking at the messenger, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, an Obafemi Awolowo man. I have not been proved wrong about everything I said then because everything I said is happening now.
So, there is no basis to ask me whether I am satisfied or not when all I said is happening. The memory of the public is very short and it is the duty and function of the Fourth Estate of the realm to remind the electorate. I said Nigerians should not go this way and people ignorantly went there; just like I told Bola Tinubu not to go into the alliance of incompatibles.
Why did you warn Tinubu not to go into alliance with incompatibles?
I warned him not to go into the alliance of incompatibles because of what I know about Buhari and his antecedent. So, I am not surprised about what is happening to him. I am talking out of experience. I said before the last election that the greatest mistake the Yoruba will make is to vote for Buhari.
Go and examine that statement and compare it with what is happening in the country now. All the allegations and evidence I gave then were rubbished by Buhari’s supporters because many of them were blinded by the fact that Goodluck Jonathan’s government was corrupt, which I didn’t deny.
So, you really believe that Jonathan’s government was corrupt?
I never defended Jonathan on the issue of corruption. I made my stand clear at that time but many people were deaf and their position was let Jonathan go and I asked: After Jonathan, what will happen? I have asked several times what the programme of the APC is. I said they only agreed on one thing; get rid of Jonathan.
There was no Memorandum of Understanding of how to distribute the spoils of office and as a result of that when the common enemy they agreed on has been sent off, the infighting began. From the word ‘go’, the choice of the Senate president was the beginning of their crisis because that was the first action of the party.
When old men talk, people should listen, they shouldn’t shove their words aside. So, people should look at my forecast, statement and warning before the election and put it side by side with what is happening now to see whether I have been proved right or wrong and draw the conclusion.
You and some Afenifere chieftains recently met with Tinubu, what was the meeting about?
What is your business about that? What has that got to do with what is happening in the country?
But there are speculations that the meeting was about realignment of political forces ahead of the 2019 general elections?
That is not your business. If we are talking about realignment, are we going to do that on the pages of the newspapers? We are talking about issues in the country. We are talking about what he (Tinubu) did wrong and going to where he shouldn’t go. Why are you asking what we went to do there? Is that your business?
Was the meeting about the state of the nation?
That is not your business; you are not a member of my political party, or are you?
But you are not a member of the APC?
I know; it is my party that I report to, not to you.
Was the meeting part of realignment of forces in the South-West ahead of the 2019 elections?
Wait until you get the result, don’t jump the gun. You can be putting you facts together; you are entitled to it.
But at present, the Yoruba seem to have lost their place in Nigeria’s politics?
They will have to look for how to get their house together.
What steps are Yoruba leaders like you taking to ensure that zone’s interest is protected in Nigeria’s politics?
We are trying to educate the Yoruba, who have been led astray to look inward and get their act together. That is what we are doing.
Tinubu and Afenifere leaders worked together during the 1999 general elections but went separate ways in 2003. Is there a possibility of both camps working together in 2019?
Why not? It is not the question of working together; it is about those of them who walked away from those who put them in office for reasons best known to them. They should think whether they have got the right thing where they went to or not. If they have hit the wall there, the right thing to do is for them to go back to where they left and we will welcome them.
So, there is the possibility of Afenifere uniting and becoming a strong force in South-West again?
That may be your conclusion. There cannot be progress in the country or in Yorubaland because we are the most oppressed, without ourselves being united. We know that the Fulani are trying to divide us and we are not stupid enough to fall into that pit. I am not a member of the APC. Tinubu is not my fan.
He is a stubborn and disobedient fellow. He was conceited and he taught he had all the answers but if we allow him to continue like that, the whole Yoruba race will suffer. That is the essence.
That implies that the role you are playing now is more of fatherly role to Tinubu…
Of course, not only to Tinubu but the Yoruba. In Yorubaland, no elderly man will send his son however bad he is to the lion for him to be killed. Tinubu has proved to be a disobedient boy but he has seen it now. But we won’t say because he has behaved badly, we will push him to the lion to be destroyed.
So, your meeting was meant to prevent Tinubu from being destroyed?
Go and draw your conclusion. I have said lot of things and we all know the problem and crisis that is going on. I didn’t mince words. When I spoke during the last elections, and I received lots of brickbats and some people even said Jonathan gave me a lot of money; my children said they didn’t see the evidence in the house.
We, the true apostles and followers of Obafemi Awolowo have been taught to stand firm on truth and what is happening now is the Yoruba confirmation of the fact that ‘bi iro ba n lo logun odun, ojo kan ni otito ma ba’ (however fast falsehood runs for 20 years, it will only take one day for truth to catch up with it). That is what is happening.
With over 60 years in active politics, what is your take on the crisis among the leading parties – APC and PDP?
I have said it before that APC will break up because there is nothing binding its members together. What policy did APC gave Nigerians before they voted for the party other than the fact that Jonathan was corrupt and we are going to send him away. What next after sending him away? In the real days of Nigeria, the media would be agog by now.
By now the media should have being doing analysis of what I said before the election and relate it what is happening now. I said Buhari is a dictator and not a democrat; go and look at what is happening today. In fact his party is even complaining that they don’t know what he is doing. He has refused to obey court orders.
Several courts have granted bail to the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki but the Federal Government has refused to release him. I said he is a tribalist; go and look at the pattern of appointments that he has made so far. I am not talking of the jeunjeun appointments he gave to some people and states. But those who can think know what is happening in the country.
Those heading the whole security apparatus of the country came from the North; there is no Yoruba man there. People should ask Tinubu, who asked Yoruba to support Buhari, what we have got from this government. You cannot be ignorant of the saying that the vice president is a vice president without function.
Why did you say the vice president has no function?
Don’t ask me that? Don’t pretend that you don’t know what is happening. Are you telling me that you have not heard that the vice president is just being sent around like a civil servant; he doesn’t really partake in government.
How many appointments can we see that he influenced or do things as a Yoruba man in favour of the Yoruba? Is involvement in government all about asking the vice president to represent the president in Jamaica, doing this or that? Is that participation? Is what is happening not confirming what Buhari was said to have told Tinubu that he is prepared to share government with him not power. Do you know the meaning of that?
It is like saying you want me to put people in government but the power to do things, I won’t share it; I will decide that. People should start reasoning, particular those who are Yoruba and southerners.
The young ones are those who are going to suffer. Ayo Adebanjo is already going. I am 88 years old and tomorrow people may hear that I am no more and my children will definitely invite people to come to eat.
Many people died at 50, 60 years old and if my children tried to complain about my death at 88 by saying that the devil has done his worse for me to die, people will asked them what else can devil do? I am just being practical and what I am saying will not make me die tomorrow or prevent me from living up to 105 like my father did. But the practical thing is in God’s hands.
So, everybody must do things when they are still alive because nobody knows when he or she will die. The young generation should think about what is happening in the country now because they are the ones who will suffer most.
What is your take on the anti-corruption war of the present administration?
It is fine, beautiful; except that it is not holistic and not within the rule of law. That is my quarrel with it.
What about the recent arrest of some judges by officials of the Department of State Services (DSS) over allegations of corruption?
Is that within the rule of law? Was due process followed? I condemn the incident in all ramifications. I support the war against corruption in every form but not outside the rule of law.
The moment you do things outside the rule of law in a country, people are not safe, particularly under Buhari, who by nature is a dictator although he said when he was sworn in that he is a born-again democrat.
I have nothing against Buhari; I respect him and his way of life but I don’t agree with his politics, which is sectional, tribalistic and dictatorial. That is where we use to disagree. He is one man, who can really clean this country of corruption because there is no concrete evidence of corruption against him. And it was on this basis that we (Afenifere) supported him in 2007.
Why did Afenifere support him in 2007?
There were three contestants at that time; Umar Yar’Adua, Atiku Abubakar and Buhari. And we said of the three, he is the only one we can say is clean, and that was why we voted for him. Among the three, we have no candidate at that time and that is why I say my criticism has always been on philosophy, ideology or principle.
I am sure many people would be surprised that I once supported Buhari. I did that because of his anti-corruption stand because at that time, it was Obasanjo who said Atiku was corrupt. That was his certificate and testimonial. And it was Obasanjo, who brought Yar’Adua and many people were talking so many things about Obasanjo himself either directly or indirectly.
But Buhari was the only person we cannot say anything awkward against on question of corruption and we didn’t hesitate to support him. He bought dresses for members of Afenifere at that time and we held a rally in Ibadan for him. So, there is no personal hatred against him. Whenever he does the right thing we are with him.
In this contest, I once said that if today Buhari upholds restructuring or conversion to true federalism, I am his supporter. I said it openly. And when he made his acceptance speech and said he is a born-again democrat, I wrote him that as long as he keeps to that, he can rely on our unflinching support to his administration. But there cannot be democracy without the rule of law. A democrat does not use arbitrary power.
A democrat will hesitate to desecrate the institution of judiciary and disgrace the whole country by the way he treats our judiciary. Restructuring the country, solving the national question will not affect the fight against corruption. Anybody found to be corrupt should be punished.
Buhari has blindfolded the face of everybody with the fight against corruption. In the name of fighting corruption, he is doing dictatorship and not obeying the rule of law. The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, once said what they met on ground was so much and that is why they can’t progress.
They have insulted the whole population; a man was crying to be president for 16 years and yet he doesn’t know what he is going to find there. He got there and said things are bad; does it mean that for the 16 years that he has been fighting to be president, he didn’t know the problems involved.
Are you insinuating that President Buhari was not prepared for governance?
Yes! The man has no clue and that was part of my criticisms against him. I said lots of things before the election and I was maligned; people said that I got money from Jonathan and they called me a PDP man.
They were talking about the messenger then and not the message. People should sit down and look critically about what I said at that time, whether it true or not. Is everything I said then not happening now? The leader of a nation like ours’ in modern world saying the place of a woman in Nigeria is in the kitchen. Unfortunately, he said that in a country where a woman is the head of the country.
What disgrace can be worse than that? And somebody opened his mouth wide to defend him, saying President Buhari was joking. What an expensive joke; a damaging joke showing how primitive we are; how we confine our women to the kitchen. That was why I said that he has northernised the government.
He is president of Nigeria and not the president of the North. If it is in Kastina State, you can tell a woman that she cannot become a commissioner; we will say it is their culture; that is the essence of federalism. If we have a federal constitution, everybody will develop at his or her own space.
People would be free to practise their religion and the North can easily carry out their Sharia law and discipline people according to the Sharia law but that law cannot be practised in any other place outside the North. In the last government, women challenged Jonathan to give some percentage of his appointments to them and he improved on it.
According to them, Obasanjo tried and Jonathan improved on the percentage, but Buhari has drawn them back to the 18th Century and yet they are saying it is Northern culture. Is that what we voted for?
It appears that you won’t stop criticising this administration?
I am not a critic of the government in any form; I am a statesman. I have been doing politics before any of those in government knew what is called politics. I will support anything in favour of the country.
When I said I support the war against corruption, was it not base on his campaign word. It is good for the country and if not for the way he has done it, we won’t know that even the military men are so corrupt. But as a democrat, I believe that whatever you do, you must do it within the rule of law.
The moment you go outside the rule of law in any civilize world, nobody is safe. The media should also watch it because if the president gets away with doing things outside the rule of law, any journalists, who tries to be critical of his government would be picked up. Now people are saying those who are being arrested by government are politicians and judges, but if care is not taken, it will extend to other people.
Don’t forget that it was under Buhari’s regime that they said people can’t write anything against government. A lot of people were jailed when he was military head of state. Those are signs of dictatorship and those are the things I said then but his supporters said he did those things during the military era and he can’t do that under a civilian government.
Those were the facts I gave then and I am expecting him to disappoint me. The way he has treated the judges is in his character and that was how he ruled in 1984. Left to him, if anybody is alleged to be corrupt, the person will just be arrested and it would be the person’s responsibility to prove that he is not corrupt.
That is not the procedure. He who alleges must prove; that is what we know in law. People should not be carried away by the euphoria of wiping out corruption. We should not allow him to use the war against corruption to practice maximum dictatorship and wipe out opposition.
I am a victim of military dictatorship and that should make you to understand why I am passionate against anything aside the rule of law. So, when we are criticising, people should not look at who is talking but examine what the speaker is saying.