There’re worrisome signs in Buhari’s govt –Adebanjo

Ayo Adebanjo

PA Ayo Adebanjo, one of the top leaders of Afenifere, a pan Yoruba group and member of the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), is a fearless nation­alist. At 87, Pa Adebanjo moni­tors every happening in Nigeria and gives his opinions on issues frankly. In this interview, the statesman examined some steps so far taken by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari especially, some key govern­ment officials, the fight against corruption and planned probe of the Jonathan administration. He submitted that the President will succeed in reinventing the country if he purges himself of dictatorship and tribalistic tendencies even as he urged him to go beyond APC in assembling the individuals to work with.

Looking at Nigeria now, how would you assess the incum­bent administration, would you say the nation is moving in the direction that you expect?

In short, they are serving below expectation, but it has not really got to the stage it can be con­demned. There are certain signs that are worrisome. I was not a supporter of Buhari because of what I know about him which I said before the election . As I have told some journalists, I still want him to prove me wrong.

What are those worrisome signs?

I’m not interested in confirm­ing what I have said because if he proves me right, it is not to the advantage of Nigeria because I accused him of being a dictator, against the rule of law and being tribalistic.

For him to prove me right will not be good for the nation. I want him to prove me wrong by doing the opposite of what I said he would do .

The appointments he has made so far are terribly lopsided . Those of us who fought for independence know that the crux of our matter is that Nigeria’s federation is lop­sided . There was a time when the North was supposed to be bigger than the South put together . That was rectified by the 1954 constitu­tion. When we went to the Lon­don Constitutional Conference, after that conference, the three regions then became really federal. That was the time premiership was created in the constitution. Before then, under the McPherson Constitution, it is either the major­ity party in each region; East, West and the South were known as bigger opponent because it was a loose central. But after the Consti­tutional Conference of 1958, when we now moved the motion for self-government and the western region withdrew its ministers from the centre which was what caused the constitutional crisis of 1957, things changed .

We were summoned to the colonial office and the commis­sioner said the country was multi-national, religious, cultural, that you cannot rule it under a unitary government. There must be divi­sion of labour, all the regions must remain autonomous and have a federal system where each region will develop at its own pace.

As a result, the constitutions of that period were written sepa­rately, East, West and the North. That was what we had until we got independence. Many might not know why we attained indepen­dence in 1960. The motion that caused crisis was for self govern­ment in 1956 for Nigeria. So, when we went to the London Con­stitutional Conference, the North said that they were not ready, that was why those regions at that time were given self-government.

The constitution of 1954 failed. By 1956 when each region became autonomous. That was the position until we had indepen­dence. It was on the basis of that that the independence was granted to us and we were asked to wait till 1959 to 60 because the North said they were not ready for self government in 1956.

We were given our self-govern­ment in 1959 but we waited until when everybody had self govern­ment, that was why we became independenct in 1960. It was the North that delayed self rule.

Now on the lopsided appoint­ments Buhari is telling us that they have more competent people than the South. It is laughable .

My decision on Buhari is not personal, it is based on principle . I knew what I was saying when I said he was a dictator.

How did we get to this stage? Because the Military restructured Nigeria in 1966 after the coup. If Balewa had not been toppled and we had continued with the constitution we had at indepen­dence, Nigeria would have been better today . The system being operated was purely federal , every region had its own pow­ers, revenues were shared on the basis of derivation. The East was having its derivation from palm kernel, the West Cocoa and the North groundnut.

Even after independence when oil was discovered in the Riv­ers, they were having 60 percent. This is important because that is the cause of problems in the Riv­ers, in the Niger Delta, it was the army that caused it.

When the army came to power in 1966, they restructured Nigeria and we nada unitary system, a one-line government. Infact, it was the system that engineered the coup of July 1966 because the North was against Ironsi’s unity government. By the time Gowon came in, the decision for the cre­ation of more state, the minority in the East didn’t want to be part of South-East. At that time, Rivers, Bayelsa and all that state were known as core area.

If we had accepted the way Nigeria was structured before and during independence and follow federalism without Nigeria factor we won’t be where we are. So, when the military came and restructured Nigeria we had this problem.

When the army said they want to go, I’m trying to give you where our problem lies, the Afenifere and NADECO then said no, before you go we must restruc­ture Nigeria to where we were.

The call for restructuring resulted to the question of national conference. We don’t want to restructure Nigeria by force we want to sit down and look at what is causing all these problems. It is only at a conference that you can resolve all that. And if you go into record, the position of Afenifere is consistently against the stand of the leaders of the North who are opposed to national conference. They claim that national confer­ence will split Nigeria. We say no, anybody that oppose to national conference wants Nigeria to split by force. It is those of us that are calling for national conference that want a peaceful resolution of our coming together in unity. That was how the agitation of national conference started.

So, when Abdulsalami Abuba­kar said he wants to return the country to Nigerians, we said no, the constitution we have been having is military, let’s go and draft this constitution and have the people’s constitution before we have an election. If you were around then you will remember that the position of NADECO and Afenifere was that no election except we have confab.

Abdulsalami, he is still alive. We could look into the future that is why everybody is now refer­ring back to what Afenifere and NADECO stood for. We said if we don’t settle these things the mo­ment we get there forget it. They said no.

When we were insisting, some said that these Awolowo people have come again, the mili­tary people said they are going, let them go now. When they go you do what you want, it was that pres­sure that made us took part in the election . If we didn’t take to part in that decision they would have claimed to have had mandate, so we now contested the election and made the issue of national confer­ence and election issue.

But some Afenifere and NADECO members opposed the last conference , why?

What I said to supporters of Ti­nubu was that they were not right in what they did. Tinubu now said that national confab is an aberra­tion, a diversion, but that was the platform on which he was elected . And to confirm this I told them go to the archive of Alliance for Democracy, Houses of Assembly, at that time after the election, we took a decision at Ijebu-igbo, I now call on Tinubu to challenge this, that every House of Assembly where we won the election must pass a resolution for national con­ference, to implement, to follow our electoral manifesto of national conference and that was done. I don’t know who was here and I said they should do the research in the archive of these Houses of Assembly- Ogun, Lagos, Osun and all the states we won that time. But they now said national conference is a diversion.

Don’t you think that Tinubu’s opposition to the national con­ference may have been based on sincerity and the way the Jonathan’s administration came about it?

My dear principle is principle, and that is why because I sup­ported Jonathan, people were saying I was bought and I said no. I was emphasising then that this conference he has done is the key­note. The people who are saying they will wipe out corruption they are all corrupt, I maintain that. The leeway Jonathan had with me is that Jonathan by convoking the constitution and promising to implement it, will take us back to where we were.

As you see now they have won the election under the old constitu­tion that is imperfect, that all of us said is lopsided. We all agreed. We said then that the moment you don’t change this constitution the old injustice will continue and why? May be you don’t know why we are emphasizing the change of this constitution.

Why are we insisting on the recommendations of the confab? The confab brought us back to where we were, it was the coup of 1966 that gave the army power to do the present constitution under which they created local govern­ment arbitrarily in favour of the North, created states arbitrarily in favour of the North, local govern­ment and state should be the basis of derivation. That is why you have the problem in Niger Delta. Equity is no longer there, the man who contributes N5 now collect N20. That is the root, now when you are hearing what all these talk about the constitution? And I said by that time that the change we need is the change of our constitution. Corruption they are talking of now is embedded in the constitution.

It is the constitution that puts plenty of money at the centre, at the expense of the regions. Un­der the constitution now, we have reduced the amount of money that is being given to the states and devolution of powers are given to the states.

So, when there is too much money in the centre, there is no sense there. That is the root of corruption. When we are hearing constitution, recommendations, that is the only way there is no magic about it.

If I read somewhere that Buhari said that the constitution must be drawn perfectly. No quarrel, he becomes my candidate.

Some people have argued that the problem of the country is not constitution but implementa­tion of the constitution . Do you disagree with such claims?

The 1999 Constitution is a military constitution I have said it, let them refute it. Remember what late Rotimi Williams said that our constitution is a fraudulent document. And why did he say so, he said the preamble and the content are fraudulent. What did the preamble say, it said, “We the people of Nigeria” did we make the constitution? And the Federal Republic of Nigeria, are we Fed­eral? So, all that is false.

We now say, let’s sit down and make the constitution of our own. That is why I said the press should enlighten the public about it. Educate our people about it. By calling for a true constitution and recommending the confab. By saying that, I’m not saying that there is no corruption. I support the war against corruption by Buhari with a caveat that it must be across the board. He must not be selective.

So far are you not comfort­able with the way he is going about the fight against corrup­tion?

No, no, no! How can you say you are going to probe Jonathan government alone, is it Jona­than government the only one that is corrupt? They are making noise about the NNPC abi? Cor­ruption is there. You must have a single account, who started several accounts? Was it not Babangida? Or he has forgotten that he was the one who made dedicated account during the oil boom that led Abacha to do an inquiry that led to Okigbo’s report. Pressmen please help us. People like me are not agitating for nothing. You can recollect, about 12 or 20 billion dollars that was alleged to have been squandered by Babangida . It is there in the Okigbo report .

We expected Obasanjo to do something but behaved as if he didn’t see the report. The News then published it, but where is it today?

That is why I’m asking why Bu­hari is trying to limit the enquiry? Is it because he wants to cover his colleagues? He has to make it ho­listic, you are a clean man yes, but why should he cover his people? Are we saying that a man who was Minister for Petroleum for eight years that he is clean? And that is Obasanjo. I have no prejudice against anybody. By the time I press the thing down, you have no answer for it. What is fair is fair.

The argument is that prob­ing everybody might end up distracting the President and his government in the next four years. Don’t you reckon with the excuse?

My dear, when Murtala Mo­hammed came into power, didn’t you and I hear of the series of governors that were probed at that time . It was was only Lagos State government that he spared? He probed everybody. When there is a will there is a way. He didn’t make this excuse. He only said it was only Jonathan government I’m go­ing to probe. That means abinitio he’s partisan. I support the probe, I don’t support the partisan probe.

What is your take on the clamour that the President should also probe his henchmen even when those making such calls are yet to submit any petition against the people they are accusing of being corrupt ?

The people he wants to probe are their petition against them now?

{Cuts in} Just the immediate past government officials?

I agree, how many of them do they have petition against? You are saying no petition against them, by the time they will say oh yes, this period of govern­ment and probing anybody who has anything against them should bring it, then we will see. It is like saying declare your assets and you declare quietly, no, it should be done publicly. As you came to my house I told you this is the only house I have, you published it, those who know I have some other houses will say don’t mind Chief Adebanjo o, so-so-so place he has this, so-so-so place he has that. That is the essence of public declaration.

The problem is that we know our problem but have not got the courage to solve it. Buhari’s only handicap is that unfortunately, each time I talk about him, they say he is clean and I say well I agree he is clean, but I’m also aware of the saying that says, show me your friend and I’ll tell you who you are? Look at how he lives, if he can be comfortable in that group, then something is wrong somewhere. Atiku is in that group, I want to be specific, that is the man that Obasanjo openly accused of being corrupt and he too said well, you said I’m cor­rupt, what about you? The record is there. Atiku said Obasanjo was almost bankrupt before he came into office and it was he and Fasawe that deposited N200,000 in his account. We all read it in the paper abi?

How much is Obasanjo worth now? These are the people Buhari is working with and he is talking about corruption. And we know so much about them. There is scarcely any state in the federation Obasanjo hasn’t got landed prop­erty. I was in Akwa Ibom and the former governor told me Obasanjo had a large portion of land there. He has a university, secondary school, he has this he has that, (laughs) . Would you say those things came from the salaries he earned as President . You also get corruption by extortion, how did you build library here? All those who contributed for his library can we say that they have no oil well?

My dear, all that I’m say­ing has nothing to do with me. I’m 87 I can drop dead tomor­row. I’m saying this for posterity. If you people don’t wake up to eliminate all these iniquities in our society you are done for.

You talked about Buhari’s ap­pointments being lopsided, but the argument again is that he has just made about 31 appoint­ments and that there are still more to come. Are you not a bit in a hurry to pass a verdict on the President?

I know that you just needed my reaction, you know the answer. You made 31, only seven from the South, is that not a handicap for the South? He is going to make other appointments which are mostly statutory. Statutory because when he is going to ap­point ministers he must appoint from all the states. Is he going to deprive the North from that? And, don’t forget, the presidency was making this excuse that there are other appointments when he had no excuse. His argument was that he appointed those he trusted including your former MD, a bril­liant young man. It is unfortunate that a person like that now will be expected to defend the indefen­sible. But when they can’t defend it they say alright wait now, he is still making other appointments. Will that handicap be covered? You are running a race to pick something in Ibadan and your competitors are at Shagamu and you are still in Lagos and you said the race is not ended. My dear, that is a cheap excuse. I hope you heard what I said? It’s a cheap excuse, an afterthought.

And we heard the Chairman of the party, Oyegun defending it . He has ignored the party . How can a party of that nature be sidelined ? This is a major assignment for the party. I thank God that I had an experience with a party like the Action Group. And Lai Muhammed was saying that Buhari is not a dictator. How can Lai Mohammed come and tell me now that he is not a dictator? They are only afraid that in the next appointment he might not chose them, that is why they are hiding their heads. But the paper was clear saying APC leaders say they don’t know about this and that they are annoyed about it. And their chairman said well, the next one we look into it. Why the next one?

People say he has only ap­pointed those he trusted based on competence, since when have northerners become more competent than people in the South? If anybody can’t tell them I will tell them that, since when? When we included federal charac­ter in the constitution, it was be­cause of the backwardness of the north. And when we are balancing at that time it was second rate people we are balancing with from the north. They can’t deny that, they existed both both in the civil service or anywhere. Suddenly they are now more advanced than the South. They should say that At that to the marine.

Before the election when you were warning that Buhari is a dictator and a tribalist, did you have things like lopsided ap­pointments and likely lopsided­ness in the siting of projects in mind?

No. But his past action is there for everybody to see. We gave in­stances of his being a dictator, being against the rule of law and they said it was a hate campaign. We didn’t just accuse him of that. The man is not a democrat, he doesn’t uphold the rule of law. We gave instances of those things. He murdered people under a law that has not been in existence by the time they committed the offence and we showed the pho­tograph. These were things we used and his supporters said it was a campaign of hate. There was no allegation I made that I didn’t back up with evidence. They said he has changed and that he is now a democrat and we ask what is the evidence that he has changed or was it because he said he has changed because he wanted to contest an election? The evidence on the ground now is what we have got.

Would you say Nigerians should still expect the worse?

No-no-no, I’m not praying for that. That is where I’m different. With all these things that I’m saying, if you read my interview in the Independent, I said I pray that all these things we are saying against Buhari, he should take note of them and change. That’s my prayer. Even now I’m not one of those who would say I told you so, no! 55 years after indepen­dence, we are still where we are? That won’t pay me. When I’m gone, my children are around. It will only pay me if Buhari changes and take note of all these things we are talking about. I’m saying it not to destroy him, but for him to change, I want you to note that.

A man we says he is not a democrat and has not pretended about it. Leading members of his party who have the courage to say that are saying it albeit anony­mously . You have already read in the papers that many of them have anxiety about the ministerial appointments. In a democratic society? In a democratic party? Is there no basis for them to sit down and say how many ministerial ap­pointments that are coming from different areas?

One of the views I have about APC is that it is a conglomeration of incompatibles, there is nothing binding them together. All that bonded them together was to get rid of Jonathan. What form of government we give, how we’ll do it, APC never agreed. If they have agreed abinitio, there wouldn’t have been the National Assembly crises. I’m not after that Buhari should fail; I’m praying that he should succeed. For him to suc­ceed is in my own interest. All I’m saying is that there are some things he is doing and some of the supporters are complaining about now, are the things I said before.

What do you make of some side comments, insinuations that the South West was deceived into voting for Buhari ?

I don’t want to go back to the electioneering . If you can recollect why the people opposed Buhari at that time, I don’t want to emphasis about the response now.

By Iheanacho Nwosu, SUN