Jonathan Will Divide Nigeria if he Leaves Without a Sovereign National Conference - Chief Ayo Adebanjo
Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the 83-year-old chieftain of the Pan Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, is not in high spirits talking about Nigeria at 51.
The legal luminary and an unrepentant Awoist said his disappointment was informed by the fact that the system, applied in running the affairs of the country, has been absolutely destructured from the structure, on which the founding fathers got Nigeria’s independence from colonialists over five decades ago.
He spoke with the Nigerian Vanguard at his Lekki home in Lagos. He opined there would be no alternative way of solving Nigeria’s complex security, economic, and political problems than to convene a Sovereign National Conference.
Q: How do you feel about Nigeria at 51?
A: I’m certainly not happy with the state of the nation, Nigeria, at 51; considering our hopes and aspirations at the time of independence, particularly those of us who agitated for independence before 1960. We thought then that we could do much better than the colonial masters and we had hopes. More so the performance of the Action Group to which I belonged in the 50s. What we were able to do within those seven years of Awolowo’s administration, if the country had been able to carry on from there, we won’t be where we are today. Now, we are far, far behind.
With very, very little resources, Awolowo was able to introduce free primary education, free medical health. He was able to modernize agriculture and he was able to democratize Local Government Administrations. A lot of things he did are still enduring till today. And I look back to see and ask this question: after that, what have we achieved? It’s a pity.
By the time our forefathers got independence, they got it on a straight federal constitution to the extent that each region had its own constitution written separately to allow every ethnic nationality to develop at its own pace. Up till the time we became a republic, we were really being ruled under a federal constitution, which allowed for a lot of competitions. By the time Awolowo was building the first stadium, the Liberty Stadium, at Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello in the Northern Region was competing with him to do that in his own place. Awolowo started the free education and Azikiwe was doing the same thing in the Eastern Region.
Q: On resource control?
A: So there were healthy rivalries and what they are now clamouring for as resource control today, Chief Awolowo had been fighting for it and he achieved it in 1954 under what was called Revenue Allocation on the basis of Derivations. So each region knew where it was and you could see what Awolowo performed. You could see what the region achieved at that time.
Thereafter, the military came and they destructured Nigeria in 1966 after the first military coup. I use the word ‘destructure’ because when you see some of us of the old school of thought particularly under Afenifere and NADECO clamouring for restructuring, that’s what we mean. We want to go back to base. This country must be restructured
Q: For us to know where we are coming from and where we intend to go from here, can it really be pin-pointed that the destructuring, like you said, of the country by the first military government formed the basis of our national woes?
A: When the military came in 1966 and started with unitary system, then the struggle started. Many other things that I have always referred to as being responsible for our backwardness arose from this destructuring. That’s why I said we must restructure the country. The various nationalities in this country must sit together, agree to live together and agree on how we are going to live together.
You see, the question of telling us that the unity of this country is not negotiable boils out of nonsense! There is nothing more negotiable than the unity of this country and anybody who is in doubt of that, recent events have come to confirm that.
We are not yet a nation. In three years' time we shall be celebrating the centenary of the amalgamation of Nigeria but what have we achieved? Zero! Zero! And what many people don’t appreciate is that the colonialists didn’t colonize us under one country. My father for instance was not a Nigerian because he was born before 1914, which was 1895. Chief Awolowo was not a Nigerian; he was born in 1909 before the amalgamation. But in 1914 we were forced to live together.
Q: You had always looked forward to a time in this country when somebody from the tiniest minority group would emerge as President of Nigeria. With Dr. Jonathan at the helms of affairs, is your yearning now met?
A: What we have now, I will tell you and the other people will tell you, is out of sufferance. Goodluck Jonathan was not given the presidency because it was seen as his rights. If you remember the circumstances under which he came into office, where there was a lot of arguments regarding zoning and all that, you would understand me more.
I want a system whereby Jonathan would have been there as of rights. If he leaves that place without ensuring that the Constitution of the country is reviewed in a way that will establish how we will be living together, he will divide Nigeria. But as long as you continue to look forward to other section of the country for favour at any election to allow one section to come and rule…. That is not the basis of the country. What I’m agitating under an agreed Constitution is that the various stakeholders in the country will know when it is their turn to head the country as of rights, not as of favour.
Q: The President is working on a Bill for six-year single term and others. Isn’t that in tandem with what you are clamouring for?
A: Single term does not affect the system. I’m very sorry for Jonathan. I believe in single term but the way he has introduced it is not under a conducive atmosphere and that’s why there is a lot of these acrimonies about it. If we are to agree on that at all, we will agree at that conference because the national conference is all encompassing. This question of constitution amendment in piece meal won’t work.
Q: Why hasn’t the calls for Sovereign National Conference been heeded?
A: When we talk of Sovereign National Conference, people are scared. Forget ‘sovereign’ and let us have a conference that will establish true federalism. Because the word ‘sovereign’ there, like I have said before, does not take the present sovereignty of Jonathan from him until his term is up in 2015. When we talk of Sovereign National Conference, what we are saying is, whatever decision that conference makes, no government will set up a committee to extract or to add to what we agree upon.
The decision of that conference will be final. That’s what we are saying. So if the word ‘sovereign’ is the cause of your fear, forget it. Let us go and sit on the round table. I have heard people quoting Jonathan as saying, “How do we constitute that conference and who are the people going to be there?” The recognizable ethnic nationalities that you have now, put them there first and let us be jaw-jawing as our failure to jaw-jaw is dangerous. So, don’t be scared. People you recognize in the major ethnic nationalities, call them to go to the conference and at the end of the day, whatever they arrive at, people will know that it is their decision.
Q: There is an Afenifere Renewal Group…..
A: (cuts in) They are rebels. Quote me well. I say the Afenifere Renewal Group is group of rebels. I don’t regard them as a separate group. They are the people who want to supplant the leadership of Afenifere. They say they are renewal group and I often ask the question, what are they renewing? What is a quake in the policy of Afenifere that they want to renew? Is it the free education, free medical services?
It is the leadership they want to supplant and because they can’t do it conveniently within the group, they go out and say they are Afenifere Renewal Group. Ask them why did they leave the main body of the Afenifere? What is the single thing that the main body had done that is unlike Afenifere and what is the thing that we refused to do that is Afenifere? What have they been seeing since they formed their so called group that is different from what they stand for? So they are all rebels and I call them rebels!
I heard the new Ogun State governor, Ibikunle Amosun has recognized them by playing host to them recently during a courtesy visit. But who is Amosun? He is a stranger and he is not recognized there. Now the people just believe that those leaders in Afenifere are too tough for them to deal with. There are so many things they are doing that we don’t agree with, because they are only playing lip-service to progressiveness. I feel insulted when I hear that Amosun has recognized Afenifere Renewal Group. Who is Amosun in Afenifere?
Amosun is an opportunist switching from one place to the other. He was in PDP, from PDP to ANPP and from ANPP to ACN. What does he stand for politically? He stands for anybody who can make him become governor. There is no political philosophy behind his principle. He is a nice man. I like him but when it comes to political issues, I disagree.
Source: Nigerian Vanguard