Elder statesman and a leader of Afenifere, a Yoruba socio-political organisation, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, speaks with ThePunch on the spate of insecurity, restructuring of the country and other issues
How would you react to the rumblings in the APC? Do you agree with the sacking of the members of the party’s National Working Committee?
A house founded on sand will crumble. The APC is a conglomeration of incompatibles. There is no principle binding them together. It is a question of sharing of offices and power – no abiding ideology. It is the question of ‘who is the master in the sharing of money? The law is there but they choose (the parts of) the law that they are going to obey. So, what is happening to them will happen as long as they are not a democratic organisation. They don’t obey the rule of law and they do politics of convenience. So, I have been following it but I am not surprised. All those who will be talking now will not say the truth because they don’t know where the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), stands. Where the President stands is where they want to stand, not on the side of the truth. So, it is an organsiation, that I have no doubt, is going to crumble eventually. I take pride in the fact that since the Action Group metamorphosed into the Unity Party of Nigeria and later into the Alliance for Democracy; those who have been in that group have never changed.
What is the implication of this for the political future of a former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu?
I am worried for him. He knew all these things before but he was relying on Buhari, and working to make him the President. And I said it before, publicly, that Buhari is deceiving Asiwaju and Asiwaju is deceiving Buhari. Everybody is trying to use the other. Why can’t Tinubu hammer on restructuring knowing that this was what brought Buhari to office? The solution here is that, let Buhari get out of office, dissolve this government now and restructure the country. Until we have a truly federal constitution, we will not get anywhere. As far as I am concerned, nothing in this country will impress me until Buhari institutes a system of restructuring now. Everybody knows that we are being ruled by an imposed constitution and this is what is causing this trouble.
You were among those who warned former governor Tinubu not to drag the zone to the APC in 2015. What did you see then?
I knew this because I have been in this game for 70 years. So, many of those who are talking now were not born then. That is the truth – even Buhari was a toddler; he is now 74. So, each time I tell you, why should Tinubu, the Vice-President (Yemi Osinbajo) and all those who were in AD run to the APC? Why are they hesitating now to stand for restructuring? They can’t talk. All the things I am telling you now – it is not the first time. I said both Jagaban (Tinubu) and Osinbajo should get out of the APC. I said it openly. It is a disgrace and disservice to Yorubaland. So what is happening now shows there is nothing to bind them together.
The resurgence of banditry, kidnapping and killings across the country has become a source of concern. What do you believe has gone wrong with the country’s leadership and security architecture?
We have all been living in denial. How can anybody tell you that what is happening now is a surprise? We ought to have passed this stage even before Buhari was re-elected. Talking about this upsurge in killings in the South and in the North, can you recall the southern Kaduna killings in 2015? I made a statement at that time that this man (Buhari) is incompetent.
The authorities denied that the herdsmen were from any tribe and they bamboozled even the media. But when the Governor of Benue State (Samuel Ortom) went to seek an audience with the President at that time, he was told to go and make peace with his neighbours and let the people and herdsmen live peacefully together.
To show the negligence of this President, he said at a time that he had given the Inspector General of Police an instruction to go to Benue State since January and the IG did not carry out the assignment as of March. The President was able to tell us that he did not know that the IG did not go and the same police boss was still in office. That also went away.
Thereafter, not long ago, the Katsina State Governor, Aminu Masari, reached out to bandits and said he had reached an agreement with them. That was another drama. You know how many times Nigerians have clamoured that this set of service chiefs should be sacked and that they are not competent? The President turned a blind eye. Now, the President, in his latest meeting, said to them that they must prove themselves. This is not the time to tell the service chiefs to prove themselves. They have proved to be incompetent and inefficient since you have been in office. They are already within retirement. So, what do you say? It is only in this country that Buhari would still be in office till now; it is only in this country. He should have been compelled to resign. Law and order have broken down. Where in this country can anyone boast that he can sleep with his two eyes closed?
Prof. Ango Abdullahi, I and others have spoken out before. They said we were talking politics. But you remember that when the Fulani herdsmen killings were at the peak, the President said the herdsmen came in from other countries. Are you saying people came from outside, they are now invading your people and you cannot tackle them? This shows the level of impunity and incompetence that we are facing. So, what are you talking about? And right now, every day, they tell us they have finished the Boko Haram terrorists and that they are winning the battle. Yet every day, they kill our officers and soldiers. So, who are they talking to? I am tired of this situation.
With the establishment of Operation Amotekun in the South-West states, what empowerment do you think they need to enable them to tackle insecurity, especially in the South-West region?
Ideologically, the question of Amotekun is begging the issue. I have been saying it is rather the question of state police and local government policing, which are the ingredients of restructuring. This is because when we are talking about restructuring, a lot of things are embedded. It is like patching the question when we continue to say Amotekun, Amotekun. Is it just Amotekun that you (the Federal Government) can give us? At the time they killed the daughter of our leader (Pa Reuben Fasoranti), I challenged Buhari by saying, ‘Don’t ask the governors to go and do something, give them the power and the control of their regions and see what will happen.’ He didn’t do that. That was when the government now started the discussion of community policing and local policing. How can the governors serve as the chief security officers of their states and they have no control of even the police? There is no federal system anywhere the governor or the mayor or somebody has no control over his security apparatus.
And I added that, again, if you are not giving state police at the moment, then all the federal policemen in a state must be the indigenes of that state. He (Buhari) pretended that he did not hear. And I said at that time, ‘How can you say you can take care of my house better than I can do?’
Did you give the governors authority over their police? The policemen in their states are not bound by state authorities. How can you ask a Fulani man to go and police an Ijebu community in Ogun? What does he know about the terrain of the communities? The police say they don’t get intelligence reports; how can you get intelligence reports when you don’t understand the language of the locality? When we met at the 2014 Sovereign National Conference, I challenged the IG at that time (Mohammed Abubakar). I asked him a question; I said since we are practising a federal system like the United States of America, have you heard anything like the Inspector General of Police in the USA? No! No! They don’t have such.
Naturally and geographically, Nigeria is not sincere with itself. It is only in Nigeria that the nearer the desert, the more the population increases. The geography you and I learnt says that the vegetation area have the most population. It happens in New Zealand, India, Japan and China, but in Nigeria, they tell us otherwise. What a fraud. That is why they will not do restructuring.
Some Nigerians have said Operation Amotekun and other regional outfits could be a precursor to the state police people have been clamouring for. Do you believe that?
Again, that is still begging the question. The regional outfit is only assisting us. There is no doubt that Amotekun will improve the situation. But it is still begging the question – it is an attempt to water down the operation and benefits of state police. Why is the President afraid to give the governors the power which they are entitled to under a federal constitution? My view is that Buhari is intentionally frustrating the country by not doing the right thing. He has failed to secure lives and property of Nigerians. Our economy also is bad. What was the value of the naira to the dollar when Buhari came into office and what is it now?
The Buhari government criticised (former President Goodluck) Jonathan for wasteful spending. Now, Buhari has been going to the National Assembly to secure more money and take loans to fight Boko Haram and undertake the economy. And what has been the result? What I expect now is that Buhari should resign. That is what I am saying.
As it recently played out in Ondo State, some public affairs analysts have argued that state police may become an oppressive tool in the hands of governors to silence the opposition and deal with perceived enemies. What would you say about that?
Yes, that question is apt. But is the Federal Government not using the police to oppress states that are not their own? They are just talking nonsense. That is not an excuse. If any state governor does that, the judiciary will deal with them. The state House of Assembly will deal with them. But how can you claim that you can take care of my house better than me? And how can you question a son how he spends the money of his parents? Is that your business? All the elections that the Federal Government has conducted and won in those states; was it not federal power that was used?
Northern elites have lamented the rising insecurity, especially banditry, in their region and there have been widespread protests. Do you think that state governors in the North are playing adequate roles in curbing the security problems?
What role can they play? What roles have been accorded to them by the constitution? You can only accuse them if they are in control of their police or security. That is what I am saying. When I am talking about the state police, I am not referring to the South alone. Even in the case of the Boko Haram terrorists, it is only when you involve the locals that you can win the war. The Commissioner of Police gets instruction from Abuja before he carries out a major action. Until we get down to the rudiments in this country, we cannot solve our problem. For the greater part of my life, I have worked for the unity of this country. In 1979, I campaigned a whole year for the Unity Party of Nigeria in Borno State. If I wanted a separation, I would not be there in the North. I was a lawyer and we worked for a progressive government. But now, we have narrow-minded people in power, who are also putting inefficient people in positions. That is what we are talking about. You don’t keep anyone who is due for retirement in service; you may consider them if there is good performance. But how do you keep in office those who are due for retirement and who also have not been efficient? Nigerians are shouting, “Send them away”. Yet, Buhari is telling them, “You will see my red eye.” What are they (military chiefs) going to do? Is it when they (criminals) finish all of us?
You have said Nigeria’s current political structure is not balanced and that the country needs to return to true federalism. What specific steps should the Federal Government take in that direction now?
That is not a new thing. It is an obvious step. Our present system is a product of the present constitution. So, we cannot use the provisions of an awkward constitution to rectify the system. And the recommendations of the 2014 Sovereign National Conference are there that Jonathan handed over to this government. If Buhari does not believe in that, let him set up his own and let us move forward. What is it that you don’t agree with, then take it out; what is it that you believe in, then put it in, and let us move forward. But when they want to deceive us, they say, ‘Well, there will be devolution of powers and we can restructure by looking at state police.’ They are just deceiving themselves. I have said it before that with all these things that are happening, Buhari has shown that we cannot rely on his words. We in Afenifere supported Buhari in 2007 when he said he would undertake restructuring. I have asked Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu (Buhari’s spokesmen) to renounce that statement and they have kept quiet. Restructuring was also the first campaign promise of this government in 2014; till now, they have not done it. They set up a committee headed by the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, but till now, they have not embarked on restructuring. What are they taking us for?
Despite the perceived non-performance of Buhari in his first term, a good number of Yoruba leaders still supported his re-election. Is it that the Yoruba cannot speak with one voice?
What do you call a democracy? Even when Chief Obafemi Awolowo was ruling the Western Region, did he have a 100 per cent support? No. He only had the majority support and that is democracy. And those who are opposing should remain to keep the government on its toes. That is what democracy is about. Look at Britain and how Brexit happened when the country said it was exiting the European Union. It was controversial but the majority supported it.
Our own amalgamation has been for over 100 years and those who handed over independence to us gave us a federal constitution in 1956. I have repeatedly said that it was the military that changed the constitution in 1966. We must continue to repeat that the problem we are having now is the problem of the military. In 1999, when the military wanted to go back to the barracks, we told them, “If you (the military) are going back to the barracks, send us back to the constitution you met.” This is because the constitution we have now is not our constitution. And I repeat, restructuring is the constitution that Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe got before independence.
And I put the question: Is Buhari more intelligent and Fulani than Sardauna or Balewa? They have not answered that question. So, let us go back to the Independence constitution as agreed on by the political leaders. But the government is saying that it is not so.
I am not happy. I am conscious of the fact that my life is short and I am only living by the grace of God. All that I am saying now is not for me. If you change the constitution of our country now, I am not going to be the President. It is the younger ones that should do something; if they refuse to fight for this country, they will suffer for it.
People cannot feel touched as I am. You know why? It is only very few of us that are remaining now who fought for independence. I fought for it as a student. I know what we fought for. I know what I am talking about. I know what we were able to achieve under the regional governments.
Now Jagaban is thinking they (Buhari and his team) will hand over the government to him; he is just deceiving himself. I don’t support anyone to be President of Nigeria under this present constitution; it is an unjust constitution. We must have a just constitution agreeable by all the federating states and stakeholders and then we can move on. And we have done the greater part of it, which was the 2014 Sovereign National Conference. And I challenge Buhari that we cannot assemble a better crop of Nigerians than the 2014 composition. The personalities, the quality, the diversity and religious groups were there and they were professionals. You cannot assemble a better composition than that. But this is a military government in the hands of civilians.
This is the second year Nigeria is celebrating June 12 as the nation’s Democracy Day; as one of the leaders of the National Democratic Coalition, do you agree that the government has done enough about June 12?
I have said it before; Democracy Day was changed – are we democratic? The essence of the June 12 struggle is to create an egalitarian society and wipe out poverty. Are we wiping out poverty? The man who said he was going to wipe out corruption and was complaining about his party that he had to go and borrow money for his nomination form; what has he done since he came to office? How can one expect a young man to come and contest a political position when you don’t have money? When we were supporting Buhari in 2007, we thought he was the cleanest among the candidates. We went to Adamasingba (Stadium, Ibadan, Oyo State) and we campaigned for him. That is why I look at Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu when they are defending what should not be defended. I don’t have anything personal against Buhari.
Nigerians have been talking about the zoning arrangement and some people believe that it is proper for the South to produce the President by 2023. Do you agree with that rotational arrangement?
They are all pretending. If they really want to keep this country together, it is obvious that the North, South-West and the Ijaw people (South-South) have had it; why are you denying the Igbo from power if you really believe that we are one?
Mind you, my own position is that I don’t believe in any election until we have restructured this country. So, anything I am telling you about where power should go is after we have restructured this country. This is because under this constitution, if you conduct any election, Buhari will rig it. Anybody can spend money and rig the election in this country. They will say you can go to court. You will go to court and come back to square one. Therefore, let us break the constitution. If anybody wants to be corrupt and rig election, let it be in their own region. On education, agriculture, health and other sectors, let us have a real constitution where the states can be allowed to develop their regions. If you want Sharia, bring it on in your own area. Let us go back to the basics. Why should we say we want to go back to the constitution our forefathers gave us and that should be a problem if we are really sincere? That is the truth. This is the way to go. I don’t have anything to benefit. It is for my grandchildren. But we must all work for the unity and progress of this country. We need people to take action because this country belongs to all of us.