An elder statesman and chieftain of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, in this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, speaks on the origin of the calls for restructuring and why the time for the country to do it is now
The late sage and former Premier of the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, said in 1947 that Nigeria is a mere geographical expression and that it can never survive under a unitary government. Between then and now, why are we still singing the same song of restructuring?
It was since 1947 we have been preaching restructuring, and it was corrected to federalism in 1954. If the military had not come in 1966, we wouldn’t be here now. If the military had not disrupted that civil administration through that coup, the politicians might be quarrelling among themselves, but each federating unit would be making progress. Even though the military left years ago, it was a setback that we have been trying to correct till date. Let me give you the background, because I was part of the story; I didn’t read about it. Before independence, under the Macpherson constitution, we were being ruled under a unitary form of government, and there was crisis. Chief Awolowo told them that system of government wouldn’t work in a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious society like Nigeria. He said the only thing that could keep the people together was a federal form of government. That was the starting point. From the beginning, Chief Awolowo and Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, were opposed to unitary form of government while Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was given to unitary government. The Colonial Office sent the three of them to London as a delegation. On their return from that tour, it was at the airport that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe said federalism should be imperishable, because what we had then was an awkward, lopsided federation where one unit was greater than two units put together. Eventually, the federal constitution was agreed upon in 1954. That was the time Awolowo became the Premier of Western Region, Sardauna became Premier of the Northern region and Azikiwe became Premier of the Eastern region. That was the origin, because those who are now talking as if they have never heard the word before are just being mischievous.
What was the relationship like among the three units then?
There was peace, until the military coup in 1966. Each federating unit was autonomous to the extent of its own independence and the constitution of each region was written separately to the extent that in exercising our own autonomy, the Western Region opened an office; the Agent-General office, in London. When others saw how it worked for us, the Eastern region opened and then the Northern region opened theirs. It is permitted under a federal system for units to have external relations on their own. That was what we had until independence in 1960. It was during that period Awolowo fought for derivation of revenue, which we now call resource control. At that time, they agreed that you take 50 per cent of any product from your area, so, the Northern region had groundnut, Western had cocoa and the Eastern had palm kernel and timber. Even after the discovery of oil, 50 per cent was given to the South South up till 1960s. It’s on record, and we were living in peace. Due to the autonomy, Awolowo built Liberty Stadium, Ibadan and the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in the West, Sardauna built Ahmadu Bello University and Ahmadu Bello Stadium in the North, while Azikiwe also built different projects in the East. There was competition for development and there was peace. That is why I said the crisis we are having now had been solved in 1954, and I want you to stress that. But the military changed it in 1966. If that interregnum had not come in, we won’t be where we are because they brought the current constitution, which is lopsided and fraudulent. People who are taking restructuring like a new word or phenomenon are only playing with words and trying to pretend. That is why I wonder why this man, Tanko Yakassai, is talking so flippantly now, because he was parliamentary secretary to Tafawa Balewa. I want to ask him, under what constitution was the country operating at that time? He was one of the progressives from the North. How he has become so conservative and retrogressive, I don’t know. It’s sad each time I read him and he says he’s opposed to restructuring and I wonder; is this not the Tanko Yakassai who was a good lieutenant of Aminu Kano? What has become of him? When he begins to say restructuring is Yoruba agenda, I wonder. The constitution under which he was parliamentary secretary to Balewa, what type was it? Or was that Yoruba constitution as well? It is important to say these things because they are trying to confuse the people.
Notable persons, including the Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, have said that without restructuring, there might be no 2019. Do you share same view?
Of course, without restructuring, there might be no Nigeria. It’s as clear as that. I often say that the word restructuring came into our political lexicon after the military coup. Why? When the military came, they suspended the constitution and then created one-line government. When they wanted us to return to civilian regime, they didn’t want us to have it under that constitution. In 1993, Abacha made that fraudulent document (constitution), he died and Abdulsalami Abubakar sustained it which was handed over to Obasanjo in 1999. Yet, they are saying we have to live together on the constitution made by the North.
Was this constitution made by the North?
When the military was there, it was dominated by the North and they made the document. The constitution we are having now is a fraudulent document. How? Did we make it? No. Are we federal? No. That is why we say let us decide how to live together. Sometimes, they tell you anybody talking of restructuring wants to separate Nigeria, and all sorts of interpretation they give to it. And I repeat that anybody opposed to restructuring is the enemy of the unity of Nigeria. The Acting President has been saying we need to live together, yes, but I say we have even passed that stage. I don’t know how old some of them were; I was one of those who championed freedom for Nigeria. We have passed the stage of whether we are going to live together or not. The contention now is the condition on which we are going to live together, which was settled in 1954 in London conference before independence. I want anybody to deny this. That constitution agreed to by the Sardauna, Azikiwe and Awolowo, are the present Northern elite more northerner than Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello? The message is that let us restructure Nigeria to federalism as we had at independence. And for those who don’t understand the word restructuring or those who are irritated by the way it sounds, restructuring means let us go back to the constitution we had at independence. Simple.
There are insinuations that the North seems to be against restructuring. Do you also see it that way?
It appears the word restructuring irritates them, save for few of them like Atiku Abubakar, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (retd.), Gen. Yakubu Gowon (retd.), Col. Umar, etc. The military that changed the structure we had at independence did that in favour of the North because they (the North) dominated the military at that time. Under this constitution, they created states arbitrarily and they also created so many local governments arbitrarily. I emphasise arbitrarily. I give you an example. Lagos and Kano had identical population. The military created Jigawa from Kano and then created local governments so much so that from the two states you have over 70 local governments. Lagos still has 20 LGAs. This is one of the inequities in this constitution that the opposition to restructuring wants us to retain. That is fraudulent. Let anyone of them challenge me or tell me the basis for creating the local governments. Again, one of the evils, iniquities, fraud and cheats in this constitution is that the local government they created arbitrarily in favour of the North, they then said that would be the basis of distributing revenue. There are a lot of bad things in this constitution. We don’t want violence, so let’s sit down together and talk. The military men changed our structure and laid down strange conditions for distributing our revenue, like using land mass, whether productive or not. With what is in this constitution now, the North is contributing £1 and they are collecting £1,000. That would be the sum total of the situation. They contribute N1 but they are taking N20,000. They used all the conditions that favour them as the basis for distributing the allocation they don’t contribute to. These are the injustices. You see why the South opposing this constitution. And they are doing that because of the crude oil. Let them refute it. They can’t counter it other than to be politically correct because their leader doesn’t want it. And I accuse Buhari that it is because his people are the beneficiaries, that is why he is defending it. They want it to continue, but it won’t continue. And we are in this position again today because Asiwaju Bola Tinubu led the Yoruba into an alliance with APC. At 89, what else am I looking for? I’m only sorry for your generation. When people should do something positive, they are playing with words because they want to cheat you. I want you to emphasise that the reluctance is because they want the country to separate or they want to impose unity on us, which I call the unity of the horse and the rider. The North would be the rider and the South the horse. We say no, it will not happen. For a democracy that would work, we need to go back to the constitution we had at independence, which our founding fathers gave us. How can you be cheating me and you want me to keep quiet? And I wouldn’t know what the North is afraid of. You should ask them. I made one statement that the northern elements opposing restructuring or independence constitution should tell us what constitution our founding fathers, Awolowo, Sardauna and Azikiwe operated with.
When Obasanjo took over and he inherited this current constitution, would you have expected him to carry out the restructuring?
He’s one of those who caused trouble in this country. He only believed in himself, and he doesn’t believe in others. Anything that does not favour Obasanjo, he won’t partake in it. I have said that and he knows it. If he’s a patriotic Nigerian, he was in the best position to solve the problems of this country, but the military wanted him to cover their tracks, which they are still covering till now. The military is still dominating us, all because of the many things they have done, they want somebody to cover it and that was why they brought Obasanjo from the prison to cover their tracks. That was why he said all the enquiries made against Babangida, he couldn’t find the record even though the news said he had the record. He covered that track. People should face trial like the Nuremberg trials in Germany. I mean it. Nobody can say it before them. They know it because they will kill them. I am saying it because I’m not too young to die. Can you imagine Abdusalami and Babangida now mediating among politicians? The same people who gave us this trouble. I also challenged Obasanjo when he refused the Sovereign National Conference and he said he didn’t want to defy the constitution he swore to, and I asked him did you know what was in the constitution he swore to. Abdusalami said later that he did not release the constitution to Obasanjo until the day he was sworn in, so he couldn’t have known the content. So, after taking office, Obasanjo had the first opportunity to solve the country’s problem but he didn’t. We called for Sovereign National Conference to decide how we are going to live together. There was problem again. Obasanjo said he couldn’t submit his sovereignty to anybody and I argued with him. I explained to him several times that that the word sovereign there meant the decision of that conference must not be amended but would be subjected to referendum.
One of the reasons Yoruba leaders like you supported former President Goodluck Jonathan for re-election in 2015 was that he promised to implement the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference. Since he’s of the southern extraction, why did he wait till one year to the end of his tenure before taking that step?
I agree with you, but we had been asking for National Conference before Jonathan. All the previous conferences were not as representative as the 2014; all the strata of the Nigerian state were represented. It was the greatest thing Jonathan did during his regime. The report of that conference was an improvement on the federalism that our founding fathers gave us. I challenge them to say no, and I’m very serious about this. Some of those opposed to it are saying there is no referendum in the constitution, I agree. But if we all agree on what we want and we identify the impediment, they are the people in parliament. Pass the law for referendum and we implement it, if you are serious and if there is the will to keep the country together on agreed terms. People are saying it is because they (APC) want to win 2019 elections. My own side is that they must do it before election. It must be settled now. In all countries of the world, until the national question is settled, there can be no peace. It happened in Russia, Yugoslavia, etc. It has to happen before election because people have deceived us in the past. Buhari used it and when he got to office, he looked the other way. Anybody can be President, I don’t mind. But to impose this Northern military constitution on us is unfair. The South will not accept it.
Some people think the President was misled to dump the report by some of his party men who were opposed to the idea. Could that be a possibility?
No, the President and APC were dishonest. They deceived the people. There is restructuring in their manifesto. They knew that was what people wanted, so they put it there and made it look like that was the first thing they would do. They must think the people are fools. They keep saying the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable but we have passed that stage.
Have we really passed that stage when we have IPOB and other agitations?
Those are pressure groups and you have that in any country. That is democracy. I ask you, can anybody from Bayelsa go to Abuja and see how their money was spent there and will not come back and feel cheated? For me, when they talk of Biafra, I don’t support Biafra and I don’t support separation, but I don’t blame them. If I were in the position of the Acting President, I would call them and talk to them. I tell you today, with all the noise IPOB is making, if the Federal Government takes positive step today to implement 2014 constitution or take any step to say we want to go back to independence constitution, you would see how all the agitations would go down. It is the reluctance of the government to restructure the country to federalism that the youths are impatient about. We had Oduduwa Republic in the West but we suppressed them. What we are convincing them about, which probably our other colleagues there have not been able to do, is let us fight for restructuring. We want Nigeria to be strong together, but let us agree on the terms.
You have also been calling for the implementation of the 2014 conference report. Is this restructuring about reverting to the independence constitution or it includes adopting the 2014 conference report?
All the content of the independent constitution is contained there. If you are quarrelling about 2014 report, forget the report and forget the word restructuring. Take it to mean going back to the constitution that was operational in Nigeria at independence. That is what we are saying. You see, if you have a federal form of government, every federating unit would be autonomous to the extent of its own independence. We would be complementary to the Federal Government and not subordinates. The devolutions of power are such that the main thing that concerns you would be in the state, like education, health care and basic infrastructure. They would all be in the region. We would give Federal Government what would be its functions and that would be our relationship. Federal Government would be concerned with maritime, immigration, aviation, etc. but now, you are bothered about education, road, employment, health, and so on. How would you deliver on all of them? That was the basis on which they went to England and that was what was agreed upon.
Since you are of the view that there may be no 2019 without restructuring, what if restructuring doesn’t happen before then?
It means the government doesn’t want the country to stay together. They are not honest. If there are conflicts here and there, and we say let us meet and settle them, why should that be a problem? People say restructure the country to have peace and you say no; you want to impose the constitution that favours you. That is why we say we are not going into another election under this constitution where the fraud would continue. That is why I give the geometric solution, that without political stability, you can’t have peace. Without peace, no progress. Look at the amount of money the government would be using to keep the different agitators quiet. It’s because they stopped breaking the oil pipelines that we now have more oil exploration and export. I continue to repeat that those of us that are shouting restructuring for peace are the people who love Buhari, because we are the ones who want peace. Except he (Buhari) too is not honest to keep the country together in peace.
We have people like Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, who once called for it but have now backtracked…
(Cuts in)That is why you the fourth estate of the realm should expose them. Don’t make it look like the opposition is the one talking. All the facts are with you. El-Rufai that said he’s an accidental civil servant is also an accidental politician. Even people like Babangida, Gowon, Atiku now say let’s go back to it. (Olisa) Agbakoba, who was part of the 2014 conference, said recently that it’s because of 2019. If that is so, that is why we are saying let us do it now before election. Don’t make it an election issue. Anybody that says after election wants to deceive us again.
Some are of the view that without restructuring, Nigeria would break up eventually. Is that a position to worry about?
No doubt, and it’s unfortunate. I’m sorry for this country. These so-called leaders are very dishonest and fraudulent. They are cheating the people and they want to silence them, calling them all sorts of names. Imagine. Even the Chairman of APC (Chief John Odigie-Oyegun), an intelligent former Permanent Secretary like that, now saying what is restructuring? That ‘they are taking their time.’ You are taking your time to do what is necessary for you to survive. What type of government is this? You journalists should tell them they can’t fool us. They want to divide the country and set it on fire because those being cheated would not accept it. The press must also not keep quiet about this. Restructuring was the manifesto under which their National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, became governor, yet all of them now make it look like restructuring is a new thing. Before the 1999 election, NADECO led by Afenifere insisted that we were not going to do any election until restructuring into federalism took place. That was the time the calls for it started. Some people were resistant but we could see ahead. Let them deny, and I have put the question to Tinubu, whether that was not the position before he contested. When he contested the election, more or less on protest, after we won, each state House of Assembly of Alliance for Democracy, among which was Lagos where Tinubu was, they passed the resolution in the House, calling for Sovereign National Conference. Go to the records of Lagos and Western states won by AD. I’m challenging Tinubu to deny that. That is the basis on which he was elected. So, he’s a betrayer of the people of Yoruba land. For Tinubu to be in a party that is now denying restructuring of the country back to federalism, now pretending as if they don’t know what is happening. I put the question to Tinubu and the APC leaders whether that was not the position before any of them was elected in 1999. The APC and Buhari should confess that they deceived the electorate to get their mandate. And their chairman should admit that they are a party of deceit.
There was a time Prof. Ango Abdullahi said the South was developed with resources from the North. How do you react to that?
As for Ango Abdullahi, he’s not in my category in political class. It’s people like late Maitama Sule and Shehu Shagari that are my contemporaries. Some northerners have said it before the election that it’s their turn and when they have it, they have it for keep. Any election done without restructuring is a deceit. And under this constitution made by the military, your President is the most powerful President in the whole world. If you look at the heads of most of the security agencies today, most of them are from the North, and Tinubu and others are there. This is what they should explain to us. What interest of ours are they protecting there, because they told us they are doing what Awolowo cannot do by forming government with the North? Okay, what have you brought home now? Slavery, oppression or cheating.
You said before the 2015 elections that Nigerians would be digging their graves if they voted for Buhari, do you still hold that view?
I’m happy I said it. It’s the greatest mistake and I’m sure they can see it now. And I say I’m disappointed that Buhari has not disappointed me. His admirers then told me that all the dictatorial tendencies I accused him of were under the military. That was their excuse. But we have all seen it. I wish he disappointed me and I promised him I would apologise, but he has not disappointed me. You media should be the ones exposing them. Let me tell you frankly, there is no party now. The APC is in pieces. I’m saying it positively. Look at how the Attorney General of the Federation spoke about the Acting President the other day. Is that a government? So, if you people expect a miracle between now and the end of this tenure, under this arrangement, you are deceiving yourselves, because the party in power is not united. That party is broken to about six pieces. They should prove me wrong. Buhari has his group; Asiwaju has his group; Bukola Saraki has his group and each group has sub-groups. Even the Buhari group is not united. In Buhari’s group, you have El-Rufai’s group that wants to kick him out. Put it down as I’m saying it. In Asiwaju’s group, there is a sub-group; Fashola, Fayemi and Amosun have left his group. He can’t claim to have the ‘Bourdillon boys’ like he had before. I want to urge you journalists to help us enlighten the people on what is happening. We shouldn’t suffer if our leaders are honest.
When you and others supported Jonathan for re-election because he promised to implement the report, how sure were you that he would also keep to that?
Two options I had during the election; one who said if I win I will do it and the other who said I throw it to the dustbin. I gave my support to the one who promised to do it. Neither Buhari nor APC or anybody opposed to restructuring is sincere about the unity of this country. I don’t speak in general terms. It is an act of betrayal on the part of Tinubu to lead the Yoruba into an organisation that would not implement going back to federalism. That was the basis on which he was elected as the governor. What can be more specific? He took action against Obasanjo over this same constitution, and this Acting President was the Attorney General that took the matter to the Supreme Court and they won. Although, Obasanjo, as usual, refused to obey until Yar’ Adua released their money to them. It is this fraud in the constitution that he fought. It’s that situation now that we want to rectify and he’s saying he doesn’t know about it. You see how man can be wonderful. You should ask the Acting President and their legal adviser. They are all my boys. By the grace of God, Tinubu was governor through me. But I don’t believe in betrayal. You can quote me like that. For him to be opposed to restructuring, under which he was elected governor and under which he deceived the electorate, he’s a betrayal of the people and the Yoruba land. Restructuring is in their manifesto, so why have they developed cold feet? Because they want to be politically correct. The herdsmen are ravaging the country and they can’t say a word because Buhari himself is the head of the herdsmen. We have said that, they have not denied it. Cows can now drive pupils from the classrooms and they keep quiet. Herdsmen can harass a man like Chief Olu Falae, a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, in his own farm and they even abducted him, yet not a word from Tinubu. Herdsmen went to Agatu and Southern Kaduna and killed many people. The essence of government is to protect lives and property. They have failed to do that. They have no right to be in office.
Even though leaders across all the zones are calling for restructuring, do you think it can happen in this regime, because their body language on this matter doesn’t look positive?
That is why I said if they don’t do it there would be no Nigeria. Everybody is now vocal. The Avengers did their own violently, and that was why I said Biafra is violent reaction to this fraudulent document. The Acting President should call them and talk to them.
How long does Nigeria have to take that step?
Now. That is my advice to the Acting President. Even in the North, it’s not the masses that are against it. People like Col. Umar and Atiku are there. People say Atiku is calling for restructuring because he wants to contest election, but I say balderdash. I don’t swallow that. He has been championing restructuring even before the National Conference. I don’t belong to his party, but go and read his speech on restructuring and see if you can beat his argument. Like Babangida said, if you have been doing a thing for some time doesn’t mean you should continue it.
But the same Babangida is one of the military men whom you accuse of bringing the nation to this level.
That is true, but for me, I look forward. Anybody who wants change in this country is my friend. I won’t go back to what he did before. Have you forgotten Saul in the Bible. However bad a person might be, if he’s now for the betterment of this country, he’s my friend. For you to move forward, think progressively. People abandoned agriculture and other ventures all because of cheap money, so the earlier we go back, the better. When people question Atiku’s position, I don’t consider the messenger, I consider the message. What is Atiku saying? Restructuring. What do I believe in? Restructuring. Whether he has a purpose or not, it’s not my business. If we are one in achieving what I believe in, to that extent, we are allies.
What would be your final word on this issue?
To pray God to persuade this government to yield to the voice of the people. We have an Acting President but they are not giving him the full cooperation. Where do you find the word ‘coordinate’ in the constitution, yet that was what they used when Buhari was travelling. If we don’t speak out they may say we are all fools. That is why we are speaking out. And let me tell you that I wasn’t surprised seeing Buhari’s audio message in Hausa during the Eid El Fitr. When I was warning you against Buhari, I saw it in the first coming. I’ve been in this game for 65 years. It was he and Idiagbon who said they don’t read newspapers. The man doesn’t obey the rule of law. All these I said and they said that was military. What is he doing now? The court said he should release Dasuki and El Zakzakky, he said no. Also, there is bad, sheepish followership in this country. If one-quarter of what is happening here happens in another country, they would have forgotten this government. If the people are so docile and careless enough to go for an election without restructuring to independence constitution, they are doomed. Quote me. I have no doubt about that in my mind. If we are to do 2019 election under this constitution, forget this country. The Acting President said we don’t need restructuring, we only need diversification. I don’t blame him; he’s trying to be politically correct, and I believe that their chairman, Oyegun, is too intelligent to be saying what he’s saying. Many people are still in APC because of the appointments that are yet to be made. They are hoping. I feel sorry for this country.