Dr Tunji Braithwaite, an octogenarian, politician, lawyer and elder statesman, in this interview broadcast on Abeokuta, Ogun State-based Rockcity FM, went down memory lane to recall political developments in the country. He singled out former President Olusegun Obasanjo as one not to be counted among respectable Nigerian leaders. LAWRENCE ENYOGHASU monitored the interview. Excerpts:
You were one of those who defended the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the 1962 court case, how did you get to join that team as a young lawyer?
When I returned from Lincoln College, abroad, that was early 1961, the difficulties and troubles in the Western region of the country were just brewing, and from my perspective, I saw injustice, I saw a gang-up against a man (Chief Awolowo). What was appalling to me was the fact that his actual colleagues and comrades in the struggle for the betterment of their own region were being cajoled to betray him by people from the North. I was about 26 or 27 years old then, and that disgusted me, so that was the first thing that attracted me to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, why is everybody going against this man? Why are those people with whom he agreed certain policies are now coming out to deny him? So, it was that sense of injustice and unfairness that attracted me to Chief Awolowo, I wasn’t a politician, and if I was going to be in politics at that time, young as I was, I would have been with Dr. Nnmadi Azikwe because Azikwe had a family tie with me, he told me himself that he caught his journalistic traits from my uncle, so that was the sympathy that attracted me to Awolowo.
Is it true that, that case was cooked up?
Yes, it was a trumped-up charge. It was a case that was contrived in order to cage Awolowo because they saw Awolowo as the only nationalist among the three founding fathers who was ready to square up to the colonialists. The colonialists’ intentions were never genuine, they still wanted to rule Nigeria by proxy, it was just as well that they had not discovered oil in large quantity at that time, otherwise the future of Nigeria would have been different. So, Awolowo was the only one that was relatively progressive and ready to square up to them in the mould of Kwame Nkrumah, even Robert Mugabe, whom they are now vilifying- they are only vilifying the man because he stood up to them, so that is the only reason.
Now if you so much believe in this man, Awolowo and you have the kind of respect you portray now, when you were going into politics, when you wanted to contest, in 1979 when your party wasn’t registered, why didn’t you team up with him?
That’s a good question, as I said to you, I wasn’t interested in politics, but to answer your question, when the military in 1979 was planning to return the country to civilian government, I saw that these military fellows were dishonest, Obasanjo and his co-travellers. I together with a bunch of young men, incidentally people came to me from the North, especially from the Middle Belt, who I won’t call collaborators who formed alliance with Chief Awolowo’s party, they came down to me and said “look Tunji, this proposed return to civilian rule is a ruse, unless Nigerians came up with true revolutionary people, the military are just handing over for a little while, allow them to mess up and come back.” I reported everything to Chief Awolowo in details; I told him that certain people are doing this and that, he said I should continue listening to them but I should beware, so I went on. I was telling them if I’m to join any political party, they can be sure that it would be what Awolowo was trying to put together, which was the Unity Party of Nigeria but somehow, even I took some young Nigerians like Alao Aka-Bashorun, and some socialists, I introduced them to Chief Awolowo, after some time, this people from the North convinced me that we needed a revolution in this country and I shared that thought with Chief Awolowo, he had to be very frank with these people, Chief Awolowo thought that they wanted to con me to make money out of me, that was when I felt that we cannot handle this military opportunists, they were being teleguided from abroad particularly British and that we had to engage in a socialist reconstruction of the economy in this country, lock their goods out, all sort of things. Our manifesto is there, so we didn’t see eye to eye with me, together with a couple of socialists, I brought some of them out from the United States, I pulled some of them out from universities in Nigeria and we drafted the manifesto and it was so successful and was widely accepted all over the place that the military could not register, could not live with us, they said we were too revolutionary and of course, they made sure we were not registered. The registration process was neo-colonialist nonsense, you don’t need permission from any government to form association, to canvass for political positions, so that was where our disagreement started from.
Can it be taken that in 1978/79, UPN and Awolowo’s idea was not revolutionary?
No, far from it. He later realised it, he confided in me but I cannot tell you this, all the people who worked with him, who became governors, in Ogun State, Oyo State, Lagos, he wasn’t pleased with them, he said “if he had known, I would have listened to you, Tunji’’, Mama was there and the late Oluwole, we became friends all the same.
Recently, a statement from former President Obasanjo had generated controversy, that Awolowo was actually not a formal or elected leader of Yoruba, that he was loved by some supporters and not the entire Yoruba nation?
Well, I don’t know why a man like Obasanjo with his antecedent can still be a reference point among highly respectable, intellectually-sound Nigerians, because Obasanjo himself does not pretend to be a serious person.
But he has ruled this country longer than anybody?
Well, I cannot ascribe that to a mark of excellence, anybody can rule the country. The Bible tells you, even the basest of men can be placed over a nation, go and look at Daniel 3. That’s the problem with Nigerians, we are very resourceful people but you’re so gullible that you worship mediocrity. But not every Nigerian, so don’t use Obasanjo as a respectable reference point, I dismiss whatever he said concerning Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Based on Obasanjo’s antecedents, some people will see him as a nationalist, if you look at his record in the Army, he tried within his means to unify this country?
That is your own opinion, I have told you from my previous answer that I don’t share that view.
Why did you not continue your involvement in active politics?
For me, it is not politics at all costs. For instance, how can I participate in some silly contraction put together by this fellow called Babangida when he said Nigerians could not form political parties by themselves and then he created two parties, NRC and SDP. Babangida formed two parties and asked Nigerians to join one or the other party, that is absolute nonsense, that is taking the whole country into a strange jacket, and all your so-called political elites, they ran into one or the other one of these rubbish simply because they wanted to be in politics, I don’t think like that. Are they in politics or are they looking for opportunity to be in government? To most of them, politics is their profession, politics is where they earn a living. To me, it’s a chance to help the poor Nigerian masses and not to enrich myself. So, for you to say that I have not been active in politics, that is wrong. When Buhari contested election in 2007, I was the chairman of his presidential election declaration committee, at Transcorp Hilton Hotel and I made a profound statement on that occasion that we were backing Buhari because of all the past rulers in the country he is the one we relatively believe can tackle corruption. Although we have been fighting corruption everywhere, there is still corruption in the civil service, in the judiciary, corruption everywhere. Now we know he said that if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.
If we talk about two-party system and look at its records, it tends to show that that is what we want. It has been one party and one opposition; everybody is rushing to the ruling party?
But for the fact that you travelled a long distance to come and interview me, I would have closed this interview session. You said it shows that what? That is what?
Nigerian politicians want….?
(Cuts in…) Of course, Nigerian politicians do not want….
(Cuts in…)Am talking of Nigerian politicians?
Well, if you are referring to Nigerian politicians say so. Nigerian politicians by and large are irresponsible, Nigerian politicians don’t give a damn about your interest, Nigerian politicians look… just to show you how unscrupulous they are, look at the wave of defection from PDP to APC. Soon, you will find them again moving the other way. Nigerian politicians have no respect even among the people of this country. The fact that they purport to win election does not mean that they won; we all know what is going on. But even then it is not difficult for any intelligent mind to see what is wrong. We are waiting to see sons and daughters of this country, well cultured from their homes who will have principle, and until you put such people in positions of authority, the country is not going to make any appreciable progress. So, don’t tell me what Nigerian politicians want. It is quite different from what the masses, from what even our generation, our educated sons and daughters even want. How can you say two-party system in a multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-dimensional country like ours want? I mean, even there should be position for independent candidacy. It is because they simply know that they cannot toy with bright, honest, cultured, young generation of Nigerians which abound across the whole country.
In 1993, NAP, Nigeria Advance Party came up with a concept which became popular among young men that we have to sweep rodents, rats, mosquitoes and cockroaches out of this country. In 2010, a young educated man in the person of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan came on board. People seemed to accept him then for his youthfulness. Eventually, when Buhari came, we have been told of different scam, figures are now being opened up to us about him.
Was it a mistake to choose a young man at that time like Goodluck Jonathan?
Don’t forget that Jonathan was imposed upon the country by Obasanjo, unless you don’t know what is going on. He has the right to take matters from the top, we don’t know the root. Jonathan was the deputy governor to Alamieyeseigha. He became governor by default. Jonathan was single- handedly chosen by Obasanjo to be vice president to Yar’Adua. Yar’ Adua died, he then became president. It is true he contested election as an incumbent president, but if you know how elections are manipulated in this country; it was upon the election that he became president. However, let me tell you something about Jonathan. I find Jonathan as a humble person, I find Jonathan as a levelheaded fellow. However, if you are surrounded by hawks and wild animals and you are not of a strong character, you are bound to be pushed on your performance. As for Jonathan, nobody is going to damage his reputation before me. Because I speak not to please the gallery, I speak what I know to be true.
You are a member of the national confab that was held in 2014. Laudable and acceptable as that programme was, as we speak, nothing has been done on that report. What do you think should be done?
Well, that national conference as far as am concerned was the best national conference that has ever been held in respect of Nigeria when compared with the pre-independence conference that was held in the UK; because in that conference, membership was drawn from all the parts of the country and taking account of the peculiarities of each of the different places. Even the youths and trade unions were all represented. And that conference endeavoured seriously to look into what I would call “recurrent issues’’ that have bedevilled this nation’s development and cohesion. That conference did it’s best to highlight these issues and make corrections where necessary in ministries or governance or the question of devolution of power. I have heard that Buhari said, I hope he was wrongly quoted, that he is not interested in the outcome of that conference. If he really said so, it will be a big mistake for him. If he ignores the outcome of that conference, because as I said that conference is the best that we have had so far in trying to give a country to all Nigerians that will be pleasing to everybody. Pleasing in the sense that everybody will have what he/she is entitled to, each can develop at their pace, there will be no issue regarding revenue allocation. Let each zone keep what it produces and let us agree what activities will be contributed to the centre or the operations of the Federal Government. So, can you have anything more equitable and fairer than that? But some people will not want it because they simply set their eyes on oil. Because oil is easy to mine, they can just get workers and just fold their arms, and will either sell it or sub-contract it to international buyer, who comes and just take us cheap, while they will just collect the proceeds and share it to individuals. It is wrong. You can never have truth, you can never have judgment with that kind of development. That is why the local people where the oil is coming from engage in self-help, hoping on what they can scoop from the oil.
As one of those who was at the conference, are you thinking of doing something to let Buhari act on the conference report like forming a pressure group?
Well, one of these days I will try and meet Buhari and discuss with him
So, what is your impression about him, people have said he appears to be going towards the North in his appointments?
Well, he handles anything as he feels, he has just been appointing some fellows in some appointments here and there. Let us wait and see his cabinet and his policy direction. No ruler in this country can get away with hegemony. People are now much more enlightened. The younger generation would not just accept anything and put their hands behind their backs and say thank you, sir. It is going to be bad for any ruler to be hegemonic.
By LAWRENCE ENYOGHASU, SUN