•Obasanjo is jealous of Jonathan
•Tinubu rode on our back to power
Pa Ayo Adebanjo, 87, a legal luminary, is one of the most vocal Yoruba leaders in Nigeria today. His politics dates back to the 1950s when he was a young and ebullient player in Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s pre-independence political movement, Action Group. In 1980s, he was briefly imprisoned by General Muhammadu Buhari’s military junta for his political activities. He was also a part of the struggle to return Nigeria to democracy following the annulment of June 12, 1993 elections. He was the National Leader of the defunct Alliance for Democracy in this Fourth Republic. In this interview with our Lagos Bureau Chief, SAMUEL OGUNDIPE, the vivacious octogenarian reflects on issues of national importance, especially as regards the upcoming general elections…
We’ll begin with the 2015 elections. What are the stakes in these elections and how high are these stakes?
Well, the country is between the devil and the deep blue sea. We have two evils running for president in this cycle and we’re now compelled to take the lesser one. There are pros and cons on both sides. The cons against Jonathan is that his administration is corrupt, if he’s not corrupt, he’s surrounded by corrupt individuals. You cannot dispute that. I won’t dispute that in all honesty.
But those who are against him and accusing him of corruption are even more corrupt, because I know all of them. From Buhari to Asiwaju (Tinubu) to Atiku and all of them, I’ve dealt with them before, so I know them.
Therefore, the stakes for 2015 are high in the sense that we have before us a choice to either move the country forward in peace or otherwise. To move the country forward, we must elect Jonathan because he’s the only one among all the previous presidents who has the courage to convene a national conference. The national conference is the only instrument through which we can get this country restructured. We’re running a very flawed Constitution that was foisted on the people of Nigeria. Only the national conference can correct this anomaly and the president has promised to implement it.
Are you saying that the 1999 Constitution through which Nigerians are being governed was not devised by the people?
You are a journalist, you know this Constitution is flawed. It was put together by the military. The Afenifere insisted that we must put together a Constitution that truly defines democracy and in which every part of the country has a contribution. But then Head of State, Abdulsalam Abubakar, said he did n’t have the time to convene any national conference for a new Constitution. He said “when you have a new civilian government you can go and do your conference.”
But some of us kicked against this and we warned then that by the time you have a new civilian government it will not be easy to put together a national conference.
What is your grouse with the Constitution?
We wanted the Constitution changed because it is weighed heavily in favour of the North since it was the army that put it together. In it, we have more local governments in the North than in the South. It is that Constitution that created more states in the North than in the South, which is why the Southerners are screaming that they’re being marginalised. The Constitution also based the allocation of revenue on the number of local government areas in a state. This is why I am affected as a Yoruba man. This is why northerners don’t want the Constitution changed.
You’re very happy with the outcome of the national conference, how confident are you that, should President Jonathan secure re-election, he will implement the recommendations contained therein?
I am very confident that he will implement the national conference. He promised to work on it and make sure it’s adopted when we submitted it to him. The Senate President was there and he also commended our efforts. Those who are saying he will not implement it are those who didn’t participate in it. Those who said it was a distraction. I have no iota of doubt that he will implement the confab in his second term.
How do you think the president will successfully navigate the hurdles the APC threatens to throw his way when he attempts to implement the recommendations of the confab? Considering the fact that the APC now dominates the House of Representatives.
The president will take the national confab to the people via a referendum. That’s what we recommended that he must do with it. It cannot go back to the National Assembly because it’s too divided. And, quite frankly, the National Assembly is part of the problem we solved in the document. Do you know how much they earn? We significantly cut their pay and emoluments, do you think they’ll let the confab see the light of the day if we leave it to them? Of course not.
Do you have any provision for that in the Constitution? I mean, how do you intend to circumvent the National Assembly within the ambience of the Constitution?
Yes, we were confronted with this question that the Constitution did not provide for referendum and we said ‘look just go and tell the National Assembly to amend the Constitution to accommodate referendum then we’ll put the confab to the people through referendum.’ There’s no point talking about National Assembly because it’s a part of the problem. The people should mount pressure on their lawmakers to make sure they amend the Constitution because the future of the country is at stake. At my age, at 87, I have nothing to worry about, your generation is what we’re fighting for.
Baba, one can safely assume that Yoruba really believe in your agitation to advance their plight as well as keep the unity of the country intact, why does it seem like everything you do or say is at variance with that of Governor Bola Tinubu, who’s another famous leader of the Yoruba?
Tinubu is a product of our long time agitation. We brought Tinubu into mainstream Afenifere. Tinubu acquired his fame after he used our platform to become a governor. But no one cheats the Yoruba people and go scot-free, mark my words. He was one of the NADECO abroad, he didn’t suffer with those of us who faced the fire. When Buhari and Abacha were putting us in the gulag, Tinubu was not there. Tinubu is supporting Buhari today because he doesn’t know him. I know him. I dealt with him. You hear (Professor Wole) Soyinka say he’s the most draconian leader we’ve ever had after Abacha. I experienced his brutality. He promulgated a decree that was retroactive. A retroactive action that punished people for offenses they’ve committed long before the decree. He used it to punish his political opponents.
Buhari rode on the widespread opposition that the then Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) mounted against Shagari’s government. Baba Awolowo was at the forefront of the struggle then. Buhari rode on this atmosphere to get to power only for him to pack those of us who led the struggle against Shagari into prison. He went to Baba Awolowo’s house and dismantled his cupboard and sitting room. All those who are supporting Buahri today have never bothered to ask him why he did what he did then or if he has apologised. They’re just following him because of their blind quest for power.
I hear people say Buhari has changed and I burst into laughter. Have they paused to ask, how has the man changed? What has changed about him? Which democratic institution has he attended to study democratic principles? He’d never denied all the allegations leveled against him about his draconian past and he has never apologised for them. He said people shouldn’t judge him by his past, that is not a statement from a changed man. I, as a person, will judge you by your antecedents.
Your group has endorsed the president’s re-election strictly on the basis of trust that he will implement the recommendations of the national conference, but an APC administration could also do this Sir?
It is not true. Buhari will not implement the confab. His party said it was a distraction when Goodluck Jonathan convoked it. The APC was the only party that refused to send delegation to the national confab. Jonathan is the only president that summoned the courage to put the conference together after we mounted pressure on him, he is in the best position to implement the outcome.
Baba, you’re not a member of the PDP. Rather, you’re a top-notch in the Social Democratic Party, SDP. Question: what, if any, support does your party receive from the PDP or directly from Mr. President as a way of appreciating your tenacious support to get him reelected?
What support? You’re insulting me. You’re my son, but what you’re asking me is part of the rumour you people are circulating around. Ayo Adebanjo is my name. Go and ask Buhari or Asiwaju whether I have a price. Go and ask them. I have no price. It is they who monetise politics. If I have a price, I will be with Tinubu today. And, for your information, there’s no favour I have asked from Tinubu that he didn’t give me. I have been in this game over 60 years ago. The so-called progressives these days are in five parties in five years. They’re accusing me of taking money from Jonathan because wherever they go it is money that directs them. I am not getting anything from either the president or the PDP. We’re backing Jonathan because he’s the only one that has the possibility of turning this country around by implementing the recommendations of the national conference. We in the Afenifere do not back people for material purposes.
What are the two most important recommendations in the confab document?
The devolution of power, which would engender true federalism, and the enumeration of executive authorities entrenched in the Constitution. Because there will be equity amongst the ethnic nationalities and the executive will have no power to do anything, everything has been taken away, I can even vote for Buhari with that Constitution in place.
You don’t mince words about your support for the president, why are you not working with the likes of Chief Bode George to canvass votes for him in the South-west?
We’re working together, this interview is part of it. I am sure (Bode) George has been granting media interviews as well. I have nothing to get from them but I am working with him because the country is in trouble. The young generations have no job. They graduate after so many years and will suffer many years more without job. This is not about me, because I am old and all my children are successful lawyers, doctors and bankers. This is about your generation.
Can you quickly sound off on the infamous imbroglio lingering between President Jonathan and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who’s an elder statesman like you, a father of the nation?
First of all, I don’t want anyone to associate me with Obasanjo. I am also not one of those who believe Obasanjo is a father of the nation. He is not. He is jealous of Jonathan’s achievements because he was a disaster as a president. Obasanjo was a disaster.
But he said he’s fighting for the plight of the common man because at his age and status he believes he must speak truth to power?
That is nonsense. What is he accusing Jonathan of that he, himself, is not guilty of? How could he talk about good governance when he failed to build refineries or properly maintain existing ones when he was president and petroleum minister for 8 years? What can anybody say he did for the Yoruba as president? What can he say he did for the Yoruba who are even his people that anyone can point to as his legacy today? Please don’t let me talk about him. Let’s leave him out.
We don’t see you bowing out of Nigeria’s political centerstage anytime soon?
No, never. I can never bow out of Nigeria politics until I am in my grave. My leader, Chief Awolowo, did not bow out of politics until he was in his grave. And even in his grave, his philosophy lives on. That is why I am free to say anything I like to contribute to national issues. I don’t talk about somebody in the day and go back to him at night for favour.