Chief Ayo Adebanjo
An elder statesman, Chief Ayo Adebanjo has in this interview with Punch’s TOBI AWORINDE attacked President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo for failing millions of Nigerians out there with their bad leadership and refusal to change things for good.
You have been vocal about the need for restructuring, even warning that the Yoruba could break away….
All I am saying is anybody opposing restructuring is an enemy of Nigerian unity and it is only those of us who are clamouring for restructuring that love the unity of this country. But if (President Muhammadu) Buhari thinks he can force unity on this country (as it is currently structured), that is the end of Nigeria. That’s what I said. Opposing restructuring is opposing the unity of Nigeria and our own contention is that we had been united under an agreement made in 1954 before independence. The founding fathers were invited to London by the Colonial Office and decided on the constitution under which they were going to live together. That was the result of the Federal Constitution of 1954, when premiership was created in all the regions. That was what carried us until 1960. It was under that system that the Colonial Office said any region that wanted self-government could have it. So, the East and the West opted for self-government in 1956/57, but the North said it was not ready until 1959. That was what delayed our independence till 1960. When all of us got self-government, (we agreed) we could then get independence. And that was the constitution we held on to even after being made a republic. But the coup came in 1966, and it was the military coup dominated by the northern Muslims that created the constitution we have now. That is the bottom line of the problem. They then reverted to the unitary form of government. All the things we had agreed upon to make us live together in peace were jettisoned and they deliberately created it to further the cause of the Northern Region.
From whose government did you experience the most resistance to restructuring?
It’s mostly from the northern leaders because they were the ones whose people loaded the constitution against the South. For instance, every army general (under military rule) wanted a local government. Go and find out, on what basis were the local governments under this constitution created? What were the yardsticks? They created more states in the North than the South, just by the rule of the thumb. And by creating more local governments there, revenue, which should have been distributed on the basis of derivation — what you call resource control now was derivation then, which was fought for in 1954 and granted — they then cancelled it and said they would give 13 per cent to oil-producing areas and the money is divided according to local governments. You see the fraud from the beginning? They created more local governments there (North), then they said they were going to divide (the money) on the basis of local governments. Once they have more local governments, they have more money. And they contribute next to nothing. That is what gave rise to Niger Delta Avengers. That is what is causing marginalisation — Biafra. Even the corruption they are talking about is because of the constitution.
Do you think there is any political will on the part of President Buhari to ensure restructuring?
For instance, talk of the Fulani herdsmen; he aids and abets it. I don’t hide my feelings about it. I’m not deceived by all these cosmetic arrangements that ‘the policeman (Inspector-General of Police) should stay there and arrest them’. Sometimes, I feel really insulted by the way Buhari, the police and the Federal Government are playing on the intelligence of the Nigerian people. He said, ‘I’ve now instructed the IG to go after them’. After who? In December 2016, 800 Christians (were attacked) in Southern Kaduna. The Vice-President (Yemi Osinbajo), who was acting (President) then, told the heads of the police and the army to relocate there. The second day, they were out again. Did he (Osinbajo) utter a word? Before that, (Chief Olu) Falae was kidnapped. His farm was burnt almost thrice. One of the watchmen was killed; not a word from Buhari. Then the killings spread to Agatu (Benue State), Enugu State and all over the country climaxing with the New Year’s Day killing in Benue State. It was when the whole world was condemning it, that he (Buhari) decided it was time for him to talk. And what was the reaction of the Chief Security Officer, the police (IG)? He said, ‘Well, it is the people who blocked their (herdsmen) grazing routes that caused it’. That is the language of the nation’s chief security officer, who is supposed to prevent and punish crime. Then the Minister of Defence said, ‘After all, they are your neighbours’. It is because under the constitution, the state governments are showpieces; they haven’t got anything. They have power without authority. They can have power to pass laws; the instrument of implementing or executing the laws is not in their hands. No commissioner of police obeys the governor; they take their orders from the IGP. This is the position of the constitution and that is what they want to continue.
The debate over state police has been going on for some time….
Let me take this opportunity to tell those people who are talking nonsense about ‘if they give state police, then everybody will use it against their opponents’. Is the Federal Government not using the police against the states that don’t support it? Or does it think we are blind? And anything that is not in the favour of the North, they close their eyes. All these years — let us say before he (Buhari) came into office, for the past three years — there is no part of the country that Fulani herdsmen have not ravaged. There have been kidnappings, r*pe, etc. This is why I believe Buhari is aiding and abetting the crimes. They have the power. This is my case: if they had arrested or punished people after the Christmas slaughter in Southern Kaduna in December 2016, you think the herdsmen would have the courage to do anything? They are rearing their cattle with AK-47 because they know they have the backing of the authority. Who gave them permission? Are cattle rearers permitted to carry arms? Does the IGP not know that it is unlawful? If it is unlawful, have you arrested anybody? Have you seen the videos? Some of the videos, I can’t watch through. They (herdsmen) kill them (farmers) and then slaughter them like rams. Sometimes, they open the bowels of (pregnant) women and take out their children. For some men and women, they remove their privates, slaughtering them like animals. Is that (cattle) rearing? And all these (atrocities) have been going on for upward of two years under your (Buhari) regime? And what you are now saying is, ‘I asked the IG to go after them’.
They shouldn’t deceive us. So, how many people does Buhari want to be killed before he takes action? Eight hundred here; about 200 in Agatu; some in Enugu, Ondo, Kwara, Yewa (Ogun State), all over the country, pretending nothing is happening. Even so, have you heard any word of sympathy from Buhari to the Benue people? We are not animals. He was elected to take care of us, and I say this: he was doing this deliberately with a plan. His strategy was to have all the security officers in the country loaded in favour of the North, mostly from Katsina. So, if you southerners want to resist, the security forces are in his hands — heads of the army, police, Department of State Services, everything. When he made those appointments then, to which we cried foul, his spokesman said, ‘He’s (Buhari) just starting’. I am only giving you all this background just to say I am not taken in by this cosmetic action. After 73 people have been buried, they say, ‘Well, it is because the people passed the grazing law.’ And the (Benue State) government told you the people who caused this are known. They gave you their names. The man (Governor Samuel Ortom) repeated it every time: ‘Those who come to bother my people here are known. I’ve submitted them to Buhari’. Nothing was done. On top of it all, he (Ortom) had to request to see Buhari. Now, he (Buhari) has gone to Nasarawa, Adamawa, and his own place (Daura, Katsina). He has not deemed it fit to go and sympathise with the people of Benue. That is the President of Nigeria. That is why I say he is just the ‘President of Katsina’. He should be reminded that he is not the President of Katsina; he is the President of Nigeria. What word has he uttered to the people of Benue? Not even to tell them, ‘This is a very serious thing. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again’. After all these years that people have been shouting, he has time to go to Adamawa and other places. It’s not his fault. Particularly for those of us in the West, it is (Asiwaju Bola) Tinubu that put us in this trouble and Tinubu has not learnt his lesson.
Do you think Tinubu may have found himself in a difficult position?
How is he in a difficult position? Even (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo and all those who supported Buhari have now said, ‘It is not the Buhari that we know that is doing this’, and they withdrew. There is no harm. He (Tinubu) has no excuse. Before he supported Buhari, I shouted. My interview was published: ‘Don’t vote for Buhari. If you vote for Buhari, you will regret it, particularly you people from the West’. They said I got money from (former President Goodluck) Jonathan. I said, ‘I know what you people don’t know’ because a lot of people, who were Buharists at that time, were between the ages of 30 and 40. All of the things I was recounting that Buhari is guilty of, they were not born (to witness) then (1983-1985); those who were born then were teenagers, so they couldn’t appreciate it. Mind you, Tinubu himself has not uttered a word against these cattle rearers; against the lopsidedness of security officers. Even when the cattle rearers fought them in Ile Ife (Osun State), the IGP was so blatantly partisan. He arrested only (the people from) one (side) and took them from Ile Ife to Abuja to show that they really are a conquered territory. Osun has a commissioner of police; the offence committed is in Osun. You took them to Abuja to go and try. We had to cry and do all sorts of things, took one of their traditional rulers there, just (for you) to show (us) that you are in control.
Is that fallout as a result of the centralisation of security?
It’s not fallout; that is one of the evils of the present system! Now, they are talking of state police and devolution of powers. All the things that are under restructuring, they are now admitting one by one.
Including the Vice-President?
Don’t mind that one. I have told him to remember the son of who he is. His father and I were the followers of (Chief Obafemi) Awolowo on federalism. He was born in federalism. And when he was the Attorney General in Lagos, he took Obasanjo to court over local government (allocation) that was depriving Lagos. He won the case up to the Supreme Court. Now, he is the Vice-President. It just reminds me of what (Reuben) Abati (wrote) that there is something wrong; the moment some people get to Aso Rock, there is a juju there that turns the good people among them into the worst devils.
Do you think that when Vice-President Osinbajo noticed that Buhari was not going to do anything about restructuring, he should have resigned?
He should have (resigned). I say that without any hesitation. The Vice-President — I know him from his youth — highly intelligent and highly qualified. A professor who is very sound. He has a job of his own. He is not jobless. Why shouldn’t he resign? He went there with the thought to serve, maybe thinking of the West that, if there are any excesses of the President, he would be able to check it. No! He was brought into wealth and he was silenced because of office. So, the Vice-President has no excuse. Tinubu has no excuse, particularly the Vice-President, who is a professional in his own right. He knows about all these ills. He has fought against them before. All these things are going on and you are seeing it?
Some would compare Buhari’s panel on restructuring to Jonathan’s 2014 National Conference, which was convened just before the 2015 election year.
My dear, that is an excuse. That is what you accused him of. If you now believe that it (implementing restructuring) is right, why don’t you now do it? It was because he (Jonathan) didn’t do the right thing, we voted him out. Why are you emphasising the man we voted out to justify your inaction? They have no clue. The APC (All Progressives Congress) has no clue. All their intention was ‘away with Jonathan’ and I warned those of them doing that. Now, Jonathan is gone o. Well, I’m sorry for people of your generation. People like me have very little to complain about. I can die any moment from now and my children will kill a cow. I am 90. What is the big deal in a 90-year-old man dying? But I’m shouting to the top because I want to go on record that you were warned and that is the fight that Chief Awolowo had been fighting before he left. I want to be satisfied that when I meet him, I can report to him that I didn’t yield an inch. That is why I’m talking. Am I going to become president? Do I want to be governor? Have I asked any one of them to give my children jobs? Have I asked for any subsidy from them? I have nothing to gain but for your generation and I have grandchildren.
The Buhari administration claims it is fighting corruption.
He should be ashamed talking about corruption war now. What he has done on corruption has not been holistic and he has turned a blind eye to those who run the government with him and are deep in corruption – from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation to all the principal officers around him. Look at the (Abdulrasheed) Maina case. He (Buhari) has not given a reason. That is the man fighting corruption. This man (Maina) was suspended for corruption by the former president (Jonathan). He (Buhari) said, ‘Go back there’. And you’re fighting corruption?
What does this say about the reputation of integrity with which Buhari campaigned for president in 2015 and won?
His integrity is gone. He should know that, except those who are still ‘chopping’ (eating) under his government. All those who thought he had integrity have seen that none of it is there. When a man who has integrity authorises his AGF to go and meet a criminal in a strange land and then reinstates that criminal? It’s a pity!
How do you react to calls for Buhari’s re-election?
Those (calling for his re-election) are people who just want to play to the gallery.
Do you think anyone else can put up much of a fight against Buhari?
Why can’t they? Buhari can’t put himself there. It’s the people because he still believes he can buy salt and rice for you so that you will vote for him. But if you really feel the pinch of what is happening, he shall see. And that is why I say this constitution must be changed before the (2019) elections because all the possibility of rigging is within the electoral law.
I’ll give you an instance to show that Buhari is not serious about bribery and corruption. He cried out aloud before the (2015) elections that he had to borrow money to contest. What has he done about that? What law has he passed to say no political party primary should impose more than so-much on aspirants? Those are the things I am saying. To be a councillor anywhere in Nigeria, you must be a millionaire, first to contest your primary and then to contest the election. Not to mention being a governor or even a senator. Those are the things in this constitution we say must be jettisoned to create a level playing field.
Do you think there is enough integrity in the National Assembly to change that law?
If Buhari has the political will, and we all agree that this constitution is bad and I also answer the question. They say it is because the 2014 conference was not done by them. I say, ‘That is no problem. What are the things done there that you don’t agree with? Remove them. What are the things that you say must be there? Put it there and pass the law and send it to referendum’. They say referendum is not there. But man is not made for the law; the law is made for man. Use the doctrine (of necessity) that made Jonathan the acting President. It’s because there is no political will. But we didn’t make this constitution; why do you want the law we didn’t make to be binding on us. You know your constitution is a fraudulent document? It says, ‘We, the people of the Federal Republic’. Did you make it? Is your constitution federal?
How do you feel about the National Assembly’s attempt to change the timetable of the 2019 general elections so that the presidential election follows that of the National Assembly?
All that is a game within the party. I can’t see Buhari signing that document. They want the presidential election to come first so that it can have a bandwagon effect. Why should it matter which order it comes in?
What effect will Obasanjo’s Coalition for Nigeria Movement have on the elections, if at all?
I believe in the third force, not the CN, particularly (not) anything that Obasanjo has a hand in because Obasanjo is one of those who created this problem for us, although I agree with all he said about Buhari. So, you must distinguish what I’m talking about. I only add that there is nothing he has said that is right now, which I had not said before the (2015) elections. What I will only ask him (Obasanjo) to do now is apologise to Nigerians for misleading them; and those who contributed to the problem can’t be part of solving the problem.