92 year-old elder statesman and Afenifere chieftain , Chief Ayo Adebanjo, in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, shares his experience as a fanatical follower of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He also speaks on the farmers-herders crisis, restructuring and the fate of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, former Lagos state governor in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) ahead of the 2023 presidential election. Excerpts:
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) two weeks ago urged Fulani herdsmen to return to the northern region if their security could not be guaranteed in their host communities in the southern part of the country. They claimed the Yorubas asked them to leave and have been violent towards them. How best do you think this can be resolved without degenerating into another war?
We are not saying the Fulani in Nigeria should leave Yorubaland. We said the armed herdsmen, the criminal elements among them who are raping, kidnapping our people should leave. You will notice that both government spokesmen and northern elders will never talk about the victims of their havoc. They are only saying they can’t go because Nigeria belongs to all and you are not keeping the country together by asking people to leave. Whom are they fooling? If they have done their work, the likes of Sunday Igboho won’t come out to defend his people. If they have done their work, there will be no need for Amotekun. Even when they agreed to Amotekun, they made it a toothless one. They said Amotekun can’t carry gun but the Fulani herdsmen can carry AK-47. They said the forest reserves in Nigeria belong to everybody. So, we can go to Kaduna forest now and say we want rear animals there because the forests belong to everybody. They are even making comparism that the Igbos are in the North and they didn’t touch them. Are Igbos raping their wives? Are they burning their houses?
As one of the staunch loyalists of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, is there any difference between the politics you practiced then with the one being practiced by modern-day progressives?
You cannot compare the politics we practiced then with what we have today. The present-day Awoist, they are enjoying the goodwill of what we worked for but what we went through, they don’t know and they can’t appreciate it. That is why it is easy for them to jump from one party to another. How is it that a person like me for the past 70 years, whether we win or lose election, I still remained in one party. These so-called progressives, practically all of them are APC in the morning, Afenifere in the afternoon and Jagaban in the evening. Look at what is happening to Gbenga Daniel now. He was in AD, he later went to PDP, now he has joined APC. Nationalism and patriotism for the country is not imbibed in them.
How will you describe the late Awolowo and how were you influenced by him?
What Awolowo preaches in the day, he does not change it at night. That is why I am fanatical about him. Whatever he tells you in the corner, you can rely on it. He was a man of his words. Before Awolowo came, I was an ardent follower of Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe. Azikiwe was the pioneer politician that led strong fight against the colonialists. As he was fighting them, he was preaching a unitary form of government. It was when Chief Awolowo came that he said the unitary form of government would not work in Nigeria. He explained his position and that was what made me his member. As a Zikist I was buying the West African Pilot when I was in Standard Five. In fact, it was my copy that my teacher would read. We were committed to reading Dr. Azikiwe’s column, as well as that of the late Williams.
But when Chief Obafemi Awolowo came and preached federalism, I, like many others, were convinced; that was how I joined the Action group. Before then, we had started the Egbe Omo Oodua in Lagos, and we had won an area council. That was when Oba Adele contested an election as mayor. But instead of making him the chairman of the council, they used Olorunnibe to spite him because he was not in a democratic party. Politics is a matter of conviction; it’s about ideology. Unfortunately, Chief Azikiwe thought that one united Nigeria would be practicable under a unitary form of government. In the election of 1951, Chief Awolowo won in the West, but Azikiwe won all the seats in Lagos. That is history.
While I was the organising secretary of the Action Congress I was very much attached to Awolowo because I was in charge of his constituency in Remo, to the extent that when I was studying in England, he and his wife, HID Awolowo, used to visit me. He would have dinner with me whenever he came for holidays. Their late son, Olusegun, was also studying in England. Whenever his wife was sending foodstuff to Segun, she would package my own separately. So, when the question of regionalism came, Azikiwe has fed us wit so much of one Nigeria under a unitary form of government and he was the man championing the cause of independence against the colonialists, so we all bought into it. He has chains of newspapers and founded several clubs such as Zik’s Athletics Club; Zik Bombers, Hurricanes, Spitfires and so on. I was so fanatical with Azikiwe to the extent that if I hear that Zik’s Athletic Club is going to play in Apapa from Lagos, I go to Apapa as a student. But when the question of regional government came and the question of Macpherson constitution talking of three regions- East, West and North and that every region is going to have its own government, Awolowo came in and said ‘We want to be together but we can’t do so under a unitary form of government’. Then he started to expatiate on federalism. That was what convinced me and I then became an Awoist.
There are attempts by APC governors to lure former President Goodluck Jonathan into their fold, with a promise of making him the presidential candidate. What advise can you offer him on this?
I have no advice to give him. If I will advise him, I will only tell him to act according to his conscience. He is knowledgeable and experienced enough to know what to do. For me to be preaching to Jonathan not to go to APC? Not me! Let him do it. I understood he has denied that it is not true but to me, I believe to delay so far is condemnable. Immediately, they suggested it, he should have come out strongly and reject it. The Yorubas say what you don’t want to eat, don’t try to smell it. That is why I said today’s politicians are not focused. It is a matter of principle.
You once said without restructuring, the 2023 election will not hold but many Nigerians are saying this is unrealistic especially now that INEC has already fixed a date for the election. Have you changed your mind?
I still maintain it that no restructuring, no election in 2023. Didn’t you read the interview granted by APC lawyer, Wole Olanipekun few days ago in which he said without restructuring, Igbo or Yoruba presidency can’t save Nigeria in 2023? Just let us wait and see.
As one of the strong advocates of restructuring, will you support the presidential ambition of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu so that he can make restructuring a reality?
If Tinubu declares for President tomorrow and seeks my support, I won’t support him. I have told him that even if they choose my son as president under this constitution, I will oppose him. This is an obnoxious constitution. It is a constitution by the northern elite to oppress the South. All the things that are causing conflict in the country today is in the constitution made by the military.
Tinubu cannot restructure Nigeria even if becomes president tomorrow. Don’t let anyone deceive you about that. I have told Tinubu that if he wants to become president after the constitution of our people have been made, that is another matter but definitely not under this current constitution. That people’s constitution would have settled how power rotation is going to be. We won’t be embarrassed by people who are now telling us that zoning or power rotation is not in the constitution.
All these things they are doing against the South-West now, what is Tinubu saying about it? He can’t talk. That was why I said he is deceiving Buhari and Buhari is also deceiving him. The north is not sincere about the presidency coming to the South in 2023. They are saying ‘let the presidency come to the South’. And some of their people are saying Tinubu is the right choice. While they are doing that, they are also setting up Fayemi. Their tactics is divide and rule.
They are not only dividing the South-West, they are causing division in the entire South. Now, they are dangling the presidency before former President Goodluck Jonathan. Tomorrow, they will say it is Amaechi or Umahi. The strategy is that while the South is quarreling among ourselves, they are going to bring in a northern presidential candidate. We have dealt with their forefathers and we know the mischief. Look at what happened in Ibarapa in Oyo state where we have a paramount ruler, Alaafin of Oyo. But President Buhari sent for Ooni of Ife who is in Osun state. Is Oyo in Osun? He didn’t send for Alaafin because that one had already written him a letter that should his government fail to arrest the brazen criminality and impunity by killer herdsmen, the Yoruba people may resort to self-help. So, he deliberately invited Ooni of Ife to spite Alaafin and cause disaffection between the two rulers. That is why I have been talking to Yorubas not to allow themselves to be divided.
There are reports that the Vice- President cannot so anything on restructuring as he is handicapped. Do you share that view?
How is Osinbajo handicapped? Is that not the man who said what do we understand by restructuring? How is he handicapped? Is that not the same Osinbajo who took Obasanjo to court over creation of local government in Lagos on the issue of true federalism when he was Attorney-General in Lagos? What has changed now? He is a dishonest politician and they are all hypocrites. They are only selling the people for their own gain. I told Osinbajo that how can you say you don’t understand restructuring? Your father and myself are followers of Awolowo and you Osinbajo was born on the principle of restructuring. Has he denied it?
Some have claimed that one of the reasons why you parted ways with Tinubu is on account of your rigid attitudes to issues while he is flexible and generous. What is your take on that?
Yes, Tinubu’s supporters have claimed that one of the reasons why we parted ways was because he likes spending money for people while elders like us are stingy. That is true and I have challenged him that if I were to ask for money, how much did he give me before I took the action that made him governor? The late Ganiyu Dawodu as the state chairman of Lagos state AD had already forwarded the name of Funsho Williams as winner of the primary. I overturned it as the national chairman”.
When there was a dispute between him and Dawodu, the woman he called his mother, Alhaja Abibatu Mogaji whom I have known since Action Group days phoned me to intervene. I told her ‘Alhaja, you know me. I am standing for truth. Ask your son, did I get a penny from him before I recognised him?
When he was trying to undermine his then deputy, Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele and we told him that he can’t do that. I also spoke with Kafaru Tinubu and I said ‘Kafaru, if I ask you for N20m at that time, won’t you give me? He said I will give you. I then asked ‘why can’t we talk to this boy (Tinubu)? That is how no matter how much I criticise him; he will only reply me back through his boys who are his mouthpiece. He will never reply me directly. I stood by him through thick and thin on principle, not for any material gain. He can’t say ‘Papas, stop threatening me because this is how much I gave you’. That is the integrity I’m selling.
When he was governor, he was stubborn on certain issues. So, during Christmas, he gave myself, Papa Abraham Adesanya and Olanihun Ajayi cows as Christmas present, but we returned it to him. We told him we won’t accept his gifts because we talked to him but he refused to listen. On a certain occasion when he brought Christmas present, I told Tunde Rahman, his media aide who brought it that if I reject this gift now, people will say this man never forgives. That was how I collected the gift. When he was to be arrested and I spoke out that touching him amounts to touching Yoruba nation, he came here to thank me with Wale Edun and others. I told him pointblank I did it for Yoruba nation and not for him. All the things happening to him now, we warned him earlier.
Ahead of the 2023 presidential election, analysts believed that some powerbrokers have whittled down Tinubu’s influence and they are doing anything to stop him from contesting. What is your perspective on that?
They said Tinubu is a strategist. I just laugh whenever I hear that. A strategist that can’t see what is happening in APC. You are the principal partner in this merger but you have no constitutional position in the party. They deceived you that they are going to make you chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) but they never set it up deliberately. So, the constitutional bodies of the party you have no say and yet, he is still thinking that he is something in the party. There was an occasion when Buhari told him that there cannot be two national leaders in the party and that as President; he is the only national leader. So, if Tinubu continues deceiving himself; that is his problem. You can see (Aremo Olusegun) Osoba now begging the party to call a national caucus meeting when they now know that by doing the membership registration, they are trying to edge them out and it is going to affect them.
I have been saying it that Tinubu betrayed us and now in his lifetime, he is already receiving his reward. Are the APC people not paying him back? I am not saying this for the first time that Buhari is deceiving him and he is also deceiving Buhari. Let them keep deceiving themselves. He is already receiving the reward for his betrayal in his party.
What do you want to be remembered for and what will you tell Chief Awolowo when you eventually meet?
I want to be remembered for my consistency in saying the truth at all times. That I keep the flag flying until I go to the grave for the cause he stood for. I did not yield an inch to the opposition. It is what he left with me that I continue to consistently preach to our people. Those who accept it, they see the result. Those who rejected it are also seeing the result.