Pa Ayo Adebanjo’s participation in politics dates back to the First Republic when he was a member of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo-led Action Group (AG). In the Second Republic, Adebanjo remained with Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). Today, he is a staunch member of the Yoruba political group, Afenifere. In this interview, the Yoruba leader, in his late 80s, speaks on the state of the nation.
We now have the APC government in place and I remember that you once said that anybody who wants to fight corruption in Nigeria must be a determined person with solid foundation. Do you see the Buhari regime as fitting into that your description?
Well, everybody supports the effort to stem corruption and, as a democrat and one of those who fought for democracy in real terms, I want corruption to be fought in a holistic manner and not at the expense of the rule of law.
What do you mean by holistic manner?
Holistic manner in the sense of no sacred cows, everybody must be seen to be fair and non-partisan. The corruption in this country is not something we can link to one party or one man. It is general, including the civil service and Muhammadu Buhari has the personality to do it if he wants to. But the impression we have about the way he is doing it now is that he is after his opponents; maybe some of the suspects are corrupt, but the way he is flouting court orders, am not happy about that. It could be because I am a lawyer, or I am a strong advocate of the rule of law or maybe because not obeying court orders was one of the reasons I gave against his election. And at that time, people told me that he does not obey the rule of law during his first time because that was military regime, but now he is under democracy and I said OK. Even when he was sworn in too, during his acceptance speech, it was clearly stated there, ‘’I will obey the rule of law’’, but that has not happened.
I understand when you say you are a lawyer and you are concerned about the rule of law, but I don’t understand your problem with this issue of being partisan.
I said it appears he is partisan, because all those that are being accused now are from the opposition and we also know that, among his people, there are people there who are also corrupt.
But what do you say about those who would ask the question “did they do it or not”?
All those he is accusing now, have they been found guilty? What he said before was that anybody with a case of corruption, he will not have him in his cabinet and you and I know that a lot of people who have been accused of corruption are in his cabinet. But he said they have not been found guilty before any court of law. Well, if that is the basis, then that should also apply to everybody. So, I want to take up the question that he has to start somewhere. He must start somewhere, but let him start two here, two there and not hunting for those who opposed him during the election. I am fully in support of the anti-graft war, but it should be fair. Anybody who is found guilty should be made to face the consequences and not because somebody opposed you and it should be done in a manner that is constitutionally right.
I know that in 2007, you supported Buhari, and, afterwards, things went the other way. Are you surprised that he (Buhari) won the 2015 election?
No! As a democrat, it is just like I supported the late MKO Abiola in 1995. Abiola was not a member of my party, he was one of those who opposed Awolowo. But whether you like it or not, millions of Nigerians voted for him and I said then that no man has the right to nullify the election, that was the stand of Afenifere then. Why we supported Abiola was not because we liked him; it was, whether you liked the man or not, Nigerians had spoken. So, no individual must truncate the popular wish of the people.
So, in 2015, are you surprised Buhari won the election?
Why should I be? That was the wish of the people. That is democracy. All I am saying is all those things I accused him before the election, you should prove me wrong. I can’t afford another four years being wasted in Nigeria again. Whatever it is that he is doing, I want him to succeed. I did not support his election bid, but he has won. As good citizens, we must support him to do everything to clean up the mess where ever it may be found, but it must not be done in a way that will look as though you are the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge. Take for instance the case of the ex-NSA, Sambo Dasuki, he was granted bail but we have seen how it is playing out. It is either we accept the rule of law or we don’t. Democracy has no qualification, we either accept democratic principles in all ramifications or not. We can’t accept democracy when it pleases us and reject it when it doesn’t please us. The Constitution must be followed and obeyed and the Constitution defines the role of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. I am 100% in support of the corruption crusade. However, the only thing I am against is that fighting corruption is not compatible with restructuring the country, the basis of which I supported former President Jonathan, the basis of which I didn’t support Buhari because I believe restructuring the country, given the politics there, the outcome of it does not favour his people of the North and he (Buhari) will not be inclined to do it.
Which of the outcome does not favour the people of the North?
You read the recommendations of the National Confab. There is the question of devolution of power, the question of local government, etc. Under the present Constitution, Kano and Jigawa have more local government areas than Lagos and Lagos and the two northern states have the same population. Lagos has about 20 and Kano plus Jigawa have about 70 and they now distribute revenue on the basis of local government, which is where the first cheating comes in. We rectified this at the Confab. The moment they rectify it, those who have been advantageously placed under the awkward Constitution will not like it. But in the recommendations, the problem of marginalization has been solved. The question of Boko Haram will be solved; the question of Biafra will be solved. That is why I am emphasizing the implementation of the Confab report because if we don’t, there will be no stability and if there is no stability, there will be no peace and when there is no peace, there will be no progress.
But the National Confab ended and the recommendations were submitted to former President Jonathan several months before the exit of his administration and he did not appear to take any step.
He took some steps…
What he did was to submit it to the National Assembly and we all know that that was towards the end of his tenure.
Don’t let us argue about that. The situation now is, he didn’t do it and the other man (Buhari) said I won’t have anything to do with it. So which one do you prefer? I want to agree with you that Jonathan wanted to do but couldn’t, meanwhile, here is somebody who said that it is not even in his books. In the case of Jonathan, he did it against all hurdles. On convocation of the National Conference, you must remember that Jonathan himself did not initially accept it. It was pressure that made him accept it. So, if half way he accepted it, and said he will do it but couldn’t do it towards the end of his term, and he said he will do it in his second term, he was more likely to do it than somebody who says he will have nothing to do with it.
Did the Yoruba get their request for regionalism at the Confab?
Go and look at one of the recommendations; there is a clause there ‘’that any group of states may come together economically or otherwise”. Meanwhile, the minorities in the North, who are likely to be merged with the region, now want their freedom first. So under the recommendation, all the states in the South-West are free to decide a particular arrangement that will give us regionalism.
Some people in the South-East are agitating for Biafra. Do you think this is an appropriate request at this point in time in Nigeria?
That is why I said let us go back to the roots. How do you support the break up of the country? Those of us who have been agitating for the restructuring of the country want the country to stay united, peaceful. It is the question of marginalization that led to the new demand for Biafra. If they do not suffer marginalisation, there will be no case for Biafra. The Constitution should provide autonomy for the regions. Awolowo did everything he did in Western Region without asking money from Prime Minister Balewa. He raised money from the region and did free education, free medical services and integrated rural development. But now, the power to do that is concentrated at the centre, but we have made our recommendation to them at the National Confab. It was the late Chief Rotimi Williams who defined Nigeria’s Constitution as a “fraudulent document” and I asked him why and he said because the preamble says “We the people of Nigeria” whereas, we were not there when it was drafted.
You have been a politician and in politics even before some of our present day political leaders were born. Give us your opinion about our present day politicians.
They are a disappointment, they are not what we thought they would have been and I am saying this with all sense of sincerity. When the first coup took place in 1966, we were among those accusing Balewa of corruption. I must tell you that the corruption we are seeing now, it is the military that brought it, they institutionalized corruption.
But the military came and told us that politicians at that time were corrupt and taking us backwards…
And you found out that when they came, they were worse. When they removed Balewa and others that they were corrupt, we supported them but, when they came in, what happened? What toppled Gowon regime? And ever since then they have been in and out. Unfortunately, many of our people have short memory. Most of us who know the story of this country were there. These APC people you are talking about, only agreed that Jonathan should go, they have no plan of what to do if he goes.
The revelation that money that should have been used to purchase arms was shared could be bad, but worse enough that some Yoruba elders, including Chief Olu Falae, have been mentioned as part of those who partook in the sharing of the money. When you heard this, what was your reaction?
People are not being fair to Falae and co. They got the money from their political colleagues and not Dasuki. This is not the first time political parties support each other during an election. Political collaboration is common; the Action Group did that in the First Republic when the Middle-Belt joined us in Action Group, and we sponsored Tarka and his colleagues. In fact, some of the leaders of the UMBC at that time, we had to pay them ministers salaries to keep them to fight the battle in the Middle Belt, because they were fighting people they could not face financially.
Apart from the corruption cases being pursued now by Buhari, what other areas do you think deserve his attention?
They are so many. He has a manifesto. But I don’t see the programme they have. And that’s why I said I am praying for him to succeed. Those of us criticizing him now, he should take our criticism in good faith and look at what we are saying and not who is saying it. When I said that he is dictatorial and that he does not obey the rule of law, he should ask himself: “Is it true? Have I done it? He should do the purification in a constitutional manner, without infringing on the liberty of the individual; this is what I stand for since the NADECO days.
A former Governor of Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, described the three main socio-ethnic groups in Nigeria namely: Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, Arewa Consultative Forum and Afenifere, as nothing but secessionist groups. What is your position on these three groups?
The problem of Balarabe Musa is not strange to people like me. He has been a lone-ranger in his own progressiveness. He has forgotten that it was the Unity Party of Nigeria that fought for him when he was attacked by his state House of Assembly. It was Chief Awolowo, the late Chief G.O.K Ajayi and I who defended him at that time. He was not a member of our party; he is not a Yoruba man. Balarabe Musa’s definition of progressiveness or ideology is in his own context. Anything that is different from his own interpretation is not the right thing. We have always stood for the unity of this country on the basis of understanding each other