Chief Ayo Adebanjo is 89, an age when he should have gone into full retirement. But he has not done that because of the love he has for Nigeria. He is still actively involved in finding solutions to the problems of Nigeria. When you meet him, he does not look or behave 89. Papa is still as smart and active as he was decades back. He has always looked refreshingly young. As he prepares to be 90 next April, the respected Ijebu Chief and elder statesman is still actively involved in political activism. He is still passionate about getting Nigeria back on track.
He is a very rare breed. He is one of the foremost leaders of the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere. When City People met him last Thursday at his Lagos home, he didn’t look that far gone in age.
He looked sporty in his white Tee Shirt, grey shorts, white socks and trainers, with a base ball cap to match. He also had his dark sunglasses on. He is blessed with a glowing ebony complexion. He was mentally alert throughout the 2-hour interview session sipping his hot tea. Papa is still as sprightly as ever.
He uses no walking stick, no glasses, all his faculties are sharp. He remains a walking encyclopaedia of Nigeria’s political history with all the dates still intact in his head.
But Papa is unhappy and bitter that Nigeria still is in a bad state today. At an age when he should be enjoying his well- deserved retirement, he is still bogged down with how to make the Nigerian nation work efficiently well, despite the differences in the various ethnic nationalities. He is one of those who feel that Nigeria ought to have been far gone in terms of development by now, if not for political instability. He is one of those advocating the Restructuring of Nigeria. By Nature, Papa is blunt as he does not hide his feelings especially on how to move Nigeria forward politically.
He is one of those who feel that right now the Nigerian government cannot move forward if it does not immediately resolve the issue of ethnic nationalities and go back to true federalism to accommodate all the different groups agitating for self-determination.
Below are excepts of his interview with City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE.
What are your thoughts on Nigeria today? How do you feel when you look at the state of affairs of the country?
I feel sad. I feel sad each time I think of the state of affairs of Nigeria. I am not a happy man. It’s painful that we are still where we are today. Unlike some of you who were born after independence and all you know and saw is the Nigeria after independence. Many of you born into the Nigeria when the military had taken over, grew up to see military rule and the standard of the military.
So, the little improvement that interregnum did is all part of the standard. You never knew what Civilian government is under a person such as Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and what parties are under the 1st Republic, where people know which party stood for what. Parties were judged by their manifestoes. And before elections the manifestoes of the parties distinguish one party from the other and people were left to choose and when they chose there was a Contract binding them.
Lately, there has been so much talk about restructuring. What kind of restructuring do you have in mind each time you advocate restructuring.
We need to make what we mean by restructuring very clear because I can see that some people are trying to confuse others. Restructuring came into our political lexicon after the military coup of 1966 and the Military decided to return us to civilian rule. They, the military restructured Nigeria when they came in by suspending the Federal Constitution in 1966. Before then, it was a perfect Federal system.
We were enjoying it. But once they took over they sacked that constitution and introduced the One Line Regime of the military. The military then was dominated by the Northern Fulani people. So, when they said they wanted to return us to Civilian rule, NADECO, Afenifere, and the progressives themselves said thank you. Before you return us, let us have a sovereign National Conference to democratically decide returning to the Federal system of government.
Obasanjo was opposed to the word Sovereign. He said No. There could be no substitute to sovereignty. I tried to explain to him that by sovereignty we are referring to the decision of that conference, not subject to amendment by the government as he did in 1978 constitutional conference.
When there were many arguments we said forget it. What we were insisting on was key. Once decisions were taken you don’t touch it. When we started the agitation again under ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, we explained it to him that what we meant by sovereign was that, once decisions were taken by the conference, you don’t touch it. That decision is final.
Jonathan himself, at the initial stage, said he himself didn’t believe in restructuring.
Why are some people trying to corrupt the word restructuring and make it look bad?
It is deliberate. They are trying to corrupt the word Restructuring to confuse the people as if it’s a new thing. Can you imagine some lawyers and SANs asking: what do you want to restructure? Many now pretend to be ignorant and pretend as if they don’t know what we are talking about. Restructure means to Restructure to Federal System. Simple. What we are saying simply is get us back to Independence Constitution. Simple. The Independence Constitution that was agreed to by Sardauna, Awolowo and Azikwe.
That was the Independence by Constitution we agreed to and approved the Colonialists, before the Britons handed over to Nigerians at independence. That Constitution was the sum total of the 1954 Constitutional Conference. Go and read your history.
This present constitution we are using, made by the military, Abacha started it, then Abdulsalam took it over and Obasanjo swore to it without knowing what was in it. That is if we are to believe Abdulsalami. When we now saw what was there, we said it was not acceptable. They wrote Sarda there “we the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria” which is not true. That was what the late Chief Rotimi Williams said before he died that our Federal Constitution was a fraudulant document. He said it was fraudulent in the sense that we didn’t make it and you said we the people. You said the federal constitution, are we federal? I am trying to show you all these to expose what people are trying to confuse.
It is even more irritating when our brothers and friends from the North continue to force us to accept the present constitution because it is they, under the military, who gave us this obnoxious constitution which was done in favour of the North against the South by its provisions.
How did they do that?
They created states abitrarily in the North against the South. They arbitrarily created local governments in the North against the South. And they now said the number of local governments and states will be the basis for sharing revenue. You can see the fraud abinitio.
As a result, they now created a situation whereby they put N1 naira into the booty and collected N1,000. That is the position. They created obnoxious conditions for sharing, things like land mass, population loaded against us. If you go to the North you won’t find the population. And of late, the British officers who came here now said that they deliberately loaded the population of the North during the census in 1952. And they use that to get majority in our parliament. They use land mass, whether it is productive or not.
Let me also quickly point out that this country is the only country that defies geography. The geography you and I learnt at school is that the nearer to the desert, the sparser the population. All over the world, it is like that. In America, Canada, Australia, India, New Zealand. In all these areas the densely populated areas are in the vegetation area. It is only in Nigeria that the contrary happens. And this is the constitution that these people are saying we should continue using.
Some people, once they hear Restructuring, they would say you want to break up the country, you want to separate the country. But I often reply them that it is those who don’t want us to do restructuring that want to separate this country.
Look, if we want to separate this country, we won’t ask for National Conference, we would only go to war. Is asking for a roundtable conference to decide our affairs separation? I often repeat that till today, Buhari and his party, anybody opposing Restructuring are enemy of the country. They are the people who want to force a constitution on us.
At 89 why have you not given up on Nigeria?
Because we need to keep educating our children. That is why I am always open to press men because each time I grant interviews, I get feedbacks of people, who said they had learnt one thing or the other from it, particularly those from the South and Yorubaland. If you don’t take interest in what is happening now, the blind people will be leading you with your two eyes open.
I am always surprised when I see some of those who say they are opposed to restructuring. This happens to be people who were once elected into public office and fed on the principle of federation, who were elected on the basis of support for federalism. It makes me feel sad, all because some of them have the illusion that working with the Northerners and agreeing with them can make you President.
The truth is that, bulk of the Northern conservatives who are in government are led by Buhari. They don’t want to rule, they want to dominate. Even if you say you want peace and you want us to live together why are you opposed to our sitting down together to discuss our problems? To this very moment that the Biafra people are agitating, we have never had agitation for separation in Yorubaland. We have always been saying let us sit together and talk.
Even the acting President tried to insult me and others recently when he said we must learn to live together. It is not a question of being together now. What we are agitating for is the conditions of living together amicadly, that we must agree to. We have passed the stage of people preaching to us that we must learn to live together, that has been causing confusion. Since the conditions under which you want us to live together which I described as the unity of the Horse and the Rider, where you will be the Horse and they are the Rider.
Unfortunately, the Vice President, myself and his father are followers of Chief Awolowo. I can say that the acting President was born under a Federation. Just like the constitution we are asking for now, they too made the manifesto of APC by Buhari and Asiwaju in which they say they are going to do restructuring. So, my dear acting President, first class lawyer, brilliant lawyer, now told us in Nigeria at this stage that restructuring is not the priority now, it is the diversification of the economy. It is unfortunate.
The acting President must be reminded that he was the Attorney General of Lagos that took Obasanjo to court over the question of local government, denying them of their rights. What has now changed ever since? Is it because he is now the acting President? Those are the things that really make me sad. How people sing another song once they get into office