Chief Ayo Adebanjo, is a lawyer, journalist, elder statesman and close associate of late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The nonagenarian was one of the key protagonists of a Federal system of administration in Nigeria and has remained dogged on the ideals upon which the socio-political Party, Afenifere and The Action Group was built. He has been the only politician who has never decamped from the party in the last 67 years. Baba Adebanjo is also one of the few known critic of President Buhari. He is known to speak truth to power, no matter how much it may hurt, and he does so unapologetically.
He is one of the nationalists, has been actively involved in politics since 1951 with the formation of the Action Group Youth Wing. He has dedicated his life to fighting for the establishment of true federalism, restructuring, and the holistic development of the nation.
City People Online Editor, SEUN JOSEPH, was at his Lekki home a few days ago to engage him on several issues that bother on Politics, Party Affiliations, Restructuring, North-South Dichotomy, and many issues..
‘Baba’ also revealed tips on how he has been able to keep fit, and remain energetic at 92. Enjoy
How would you rate the Buhari government today..?
If we go into that we can keep talking for the rest of the year, but all I can say now is that, this is not the government we want, this is not our constitution and people ought to understand that. when you talk about restructuring the country back to federalism, people used to think restructuring is a philosophy and I have continuously explained to people that it is not.
Restructuring simply means, we want to go back to federalism, and you can’t go back without restructuring the system. And what is federalism? We talk of Resource Control, Local Government Police, and people think you are asking for too much, but those are the tenets of federalism. And why federalism? this takes us to the history of why we are together. The idea of federalism is a nation of diverse religion, culture, ethnicity, and history. And you cannot run it under a unitary system of government. That was made clear in 1953 when there was a crisis in Nigeria as a result of the system of government under the McPherson constitution.
What led to that was as a result of Chief Enahoro’s motion for self-governance, it caused an uproar. As a result of that crisis, the colonial government under Lloyd Changish, invited Nigerian Political leaders, Azikiwe, Awolowo, Saudana, who were the leaders of NCNC, Action Groups, they invited to London and that was where they agitated the need for self-governance. Before the Machpeshon constitution, he wrote a book, Path to Nigerian Freedom, that the country Nigeria that you have brought us under a unitary system of government will not work. We are not tribes, but nations of diverse ethnicity. create an enabling environment where every unit can develop at his own space.
How will you score the Change-campaign so far since 2015?
What change are you clamouring for? Let’s be cleared. When Buhari came with the Change Mantra, what we put forward was the change of constitution, but without a change in the constitution we can’t get anywhere, that’s why we want you to clarify. I don’t accept the meaning of their own change in the concept of the APC. I’m opposed to the concept from word Go. But Buhari gave an image of a man who is willing to bring the desired end when we in Afenifere supported him in 2007 because we believe he will further the course of a federal system of government.
It is necessary to remind the people that the constitution we have now is not our independent constitution; it’s an imposed constitution after the military coup of 1966. You remember earlier I mentioned the conference in London 1953, That was when federalism was established in this country, and the position and title of premiership were included in the constitution. and the function of each government was made clear to the extent that each region has the constitutional power to operate. That was how Awolowo was able to open a University in the western region at that time. The National Secretary was at 15 A Palace Garden in 1960. That where is I got married.
So, I often emphasize the fact that anybody opposed to restructuring is an enemy of united Nigeria. I have challenged Buhari a lot of times. This is not the constitution that the founding fathers of the country gave to us. It was the military that changed it in 1966. They have not refuted that, and unfortunately, our people are not taking part in this debate, they don’t know this. You can’t impose a military constitution in a civil democratic society. And because we don’t want war, we say let’s have a conference again, and let’s decide again whether we want to live together. If we are going to live together, how? that’s the essence of the sovereign national conference, which unfortunately president Obasanjo said he can’t change his sovereignty. But I spoke to him that the conference will be final and no authority will add to or remove from their recommendation except the recommendations go back to referendum.
That is the sovereignty of the people we are talking of. So any government that organizes the conference, the term of the incumbent government will not be affected. There must be restructured before the next elections, because all the complaints of various groups are because of the incompatible composition in the constitution. Many of the documents are majorly anti-south, and antichrist, so we don’t want a quarrel, let’s just settle it at the round table. That’s what we are saying. And we say anybody opposed to that must have a hidden agenda.
What is the state of Afenifere today?
We are where we are. We are the father of federalism in this country, and that’s where we are going back to. It was Afenifere that initiated the sovereign national conference. Don’t forget Afenifere is the Yoruba name for Action Group. So, people mistake it for a cultural organization. No.
That everybody is Afenifere. No. Those who are Afenifere are those who believe in the political philosophy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Anybody claiming to be Afenifere, don’t believe in what they are saying. They just want to use the popularity of Afenifere to make a name. But strictly, Afenifere is a man, who believes in the federal structure of Nigeria as preached by Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
How did Afenifere start?
The Action Group came into existence before independence. The name Afenifere is the name given to it in the catchment areas. Action Group existed with NCNC and the NPC in the first republic. And it was on that platform that everybody contested in that election. But because of Yoruba easy identification and acceptability, we gave Action Group the name Afenifere. The manifesto of the program of Action Group is referred to as the Afenifere agenda. So that is why many of us are very passionate when they say Afenifere is for everybody. That is what separates us from those who believe in the unitary form of government. About the time there were organizations that combined all the Yorubas and was founded by Awolowo and Adeyemi Alakija, that was Egbe Omo Oduduwa, that is different from the Action Group.
Restructuring is not a philosophy, it is a system that works for a country that has varying ethnic groups, religions, and culture, it means the system must be restructured. We are saying we should go back to federalism, and we can’t achieve that under this system. Just like when we are talking about the sovereign national conference and resource control. We say let us have a conference to decide how to live together and why. It should have a content of federalism.
We are at the disadvantage in what has been imposed upon us today by the miltary. They dictate how our revenue is beign shared. They contribute little and take most. Each region must have the autonomy to control its resources.
The police, the army, education and all, as typical in all federal institution particularly in America which we are competing with… I also gave an example that when we had the 2014 sovereign national conference, I had the opportunity of asking Kumasi, if you say this your system of governemnt is inspired by the system in America, have you heard of Inspector General Of Police in America? Even in Great Britain with is unitary, you can only have Chief of Cosmopolitan Police. It is the policy of the locality, you begin from that locality and end there. There is no corner of your local government that the police do not know. The idea of sending somebody from Zamfara to come to Oshogbo, where does he knows? This is a fundamental issue. It is a clarification of the fact that we are federal, so let us all have the element of federalism in the constitution.
What is your position on Amotekun?
It’s the idea of living in denial by the government. If there is federal restructuring, Amotekun is automatic. Amotekun, another name for state police. The federal governemnt is controlling everywhere through the police and we say no. How can you say you can take care of my house better than myself? We have the pesonel, manpower and all. That is why we are clamouring for a strictly fedeferal constitution. Anything other than that is anti-democracy.
What is your relationship with Asiwaju?
God used me to make Asiwaju Governor. The last time during my birthday, people thought I didn’t invite him when he came, but I did. I invited him. How can I invite Tinubu and he won’t come? and if you attended that event, you will agree with me that he confessed the same thing that I made him the Governor. It’s a known fact. I have been telling people before then and they didn’t believe until he confirmed it and they were shocked.
Even the VP who is insulting us, I told him he was born in restructuring. His father and myself were ardent followers of Obafemi Awolowo. He was born in 1957!. The modern church built in Ikenne under the name of Obafemi Awolowo, that land was granted to them by his father. And when he has served as Attorney General to Tinubu, they took Obasanjo to court over local government affairs, stating that they have no right to withold their money. He took that case up to the supreme court and won. Now he’s saying he does not know what federalism is all about. That shows you how unpredictable people could be.
How do you receive the news of Asiwaju contesting in 2023?
I don’t want to meddle myself in that affair, because I don’t believe in it. As for me, they are just deceiving themselves. If we say we want a united country, would we say a unit of that country has no right to aspire for the highest position in the country? It is a simple matter. I believe there won’t be an election in 2023 if there is no restructuring
Would you support youth to contest?
You people just talk about youths but are mere conservatives. Let the youth come out and prove themselves. Most of the youths are corrupt. Nobody supports youth more than Afenifere, but not youth by age, but youth by intellect and integrity. Some of these youths are opportunists. Are they not the youths that will be PDP in the morning, APC in the afternoon and PMP in the evening? Are you not?
How about France, and Canada sir?
It depends on how you build your home? If you are sampling the system of the west, have you got the circumstances of the west in Nigeria? Even Buhari who complained that before he was elected, he had to go and borrow money for his nomination form, has he changed anything? Those of us knew this thing from the beginning will tell you this man is fake. There is no integrity in him. He was complaining about the numbers of the plane that Jonathan had during his administration, but he had more. Let’s not even go there.
APC is not a political party. I have said it from the word go. It’s a congregation of the compatibles. If they exist until 2023, I will congratulate them.
They’ll fall apart. Because there is no principle that’s binding them. Of all the political parties that were formed before 1960, it’s only Afenifere that’s still existing till today. Where is NCNC, where is NPC?, because we are the only political party talking about Nigeria that prides itself in federalism. If there was any party that was national in the first republic, it’s the action group. We are in the government in the western region, we are in the opposition in the centre, we are the opposition it the east, lead by Ikokwu. We are in the opposition led by Sule Maito, under the alliance of the Talakawas which is the Action Group. So is the middle belt. And none of these parties can claim the political authority. I have said it many times, nobody has come to challenge me.
How would to describe the dethronement of Kano Emir, and the Ekiti?
That’s the result of the rottenness of the present administration. Take the case of Kano when the federal government is laying claims that Buhari doesn’t know about it. whom are they deceiving? So, it’s all because this government is not focus and there’s no principle in their polity. All politics of bitterness, sharing of offices based on loyalty, not because you deserve it. I have been in one political party for the past 67 years, where have I defected to? I can’t go to another party because what I believe in the Action Group is nowhere else. They go to where they can win elections and be in government. You’ve got to be passionate about why you are in a political party, and why you contested.
The future is in your hands. As for me, I tell people, I am already gone. That I’m living now is the grace of God. I shouldn’t be talking about politics now at 92. What else do I want? But young ones are not coming to fight on principle. Once you get an appointment as an adviser, and some money begins to come in, you start withdrawing from the truth. Take APC for instance, all the crises that are going on, are the issue based on people’s mandate or personal-vested interest?
How do you manage to keep fit at 92?
The grace of God. Nothing more. You see all those health tips: exercise, eat well and so on, it’s when the Grace of God is still there. What I believe is if you try to live a honest life, There is a way that God rewards you.
When I was writing my book, one of the people who partook in the process asked me how many properties I have, I said, ‘Go to Alausa and ask’. I have only one house here, and I have a country home in my village. Anything I have acquired today is through my profession. It is legitimate and plain. I have never been Governor. I have never been Chairman. I have never held any political office. None. But God has blessed me and has added longevity to it.