By Ishola BALOGUN
Chief Ayo Adebanjo, a chieftain of pan-Yoruba organisation, Afenifere, a lawyer andÂ die-hard Awoist is one of the pro-democracy activists who never called a spade another name.
The octogenerian and former strong member of the defunct National Democratic Coalition, NADECO was very receptive to Saturday Vanguard when Ishola Balogun visited his mansion at Lekki, Lagos. Like he is wont to, he bared his mind on the implication of the continued absence of President Yarâ€™Adua and other issues including the alleged disputes in Afenifere .Â Enjoy it.
The Vice President seems to be very assertive now, giving a feeling that he is in-charge, do you think that will make any difference?
Iâ€™m not impressed by that. The VP who we are saying should take the rein of power tried to deceive Nigerians by saying he is in touch with Yar’Adua claiming that he was in touch with Yarâ€™Adua. Is that what we are saying? We are saying somebody is incapable of ruling, heâ€™s been away for so long and what they will tell us is that oh! no, heâ€™s alright, I spoke to him on the phoneâ€™.
They must have taken us as fools. It is not a question of being assertive, it is his own position. Obasanjo was saying recently that the President should follow the part of honour and resign. You recall that about 50 people who said he should resign initially were reproached by PDP. There is no word the PDP did not use to describe them. Now thatâ€™s what Obasanjo is asking for after several weeks of absence. The VP should not aid them in deceiving us that everything is well.
Besides, he supported the taking of the supplementary budget to Yarâ€™Adua on his sick bed claiming that the President signed it. Like an adage which says he who stole something from the rooftop is not the only thief but also he who helped to bring it down. Those who told us the lie must have had their game but the VP should have been bold enough to say the truth.
A man who has been in coma will sign a document of about 300 pages when he had to sign every page. Common sense tells us that is not possible. And even if he signs, was he conscious of what he was signing. Did he know the implication even to himself. Was he mentally alert to know it was the supplementary budget he was signing. You see when people talk, they should be mindful that weâ€™re not fools.
So what do you think might have happened in that respect?
They have a hidden agenda. My own view is that they just donâ€™t want Goodluck to assume power. It may not be too far from the speculation of some people within the cabinet that they are afraid that Goodluck might be vindictive if given power.
And that is the shadow kitchen cabinet that is behind this problem. Because one man is sick, should 150 million people be sick too.
What is the way out?
The honourable thing is for him is to resign. I donâ€™t think even when he comes back, heâ€™ll be fit and capable of ruling this country. Erroneously, people are saying because heâ€™s alive and all that, the constitution does not say only if heâ€™s alive, it says if he is capable of performing his duty, and not that if heâ€™s still in coma he can carry on.Â It does not mean also that when you have cough or cold you write the National Assembly, but where you have to be flown abroad and hospitalised for days, haba! It is not acceptable.
In the civil service, you go on sick leave and the service will not break down.Â It is not out of place for a President to be ill, but it provides that ifÂ the President is ill, that should not bring down the country,Â hence the Vice President continues.
But how could he resign or write a transmitting letter if he was in coma. Isnâ€™t it the responsibility of the FEC?
Yes. That is why members of the FEC should inform the National Assembly of the position, and ask the VP to act, thatâ€™s what the constitution says.
So, it means it is the FEC that has been failing in its duties?
Yes. So it is, but again they claim the President is well. And again we said, if heâ€™s well and incapable of performing his duties, let him write. But they cannot hide the fact that the President is away and hospitalised. These are facts they cannot deny, and a fit and capable person cannot be hospitalised for two-three-four-to eight weeks, and such person cannot be said to be capable of performing as President of a country.
But our problem is not an insoluble theorem. It is clear that he is not capable of performing his duty. But how long that will be, no one can say but until his doctors say he is fit, he should write so that the VP can act in his stead. Period. Iâ€™ve said it earlier, that for Yarâ€™Adua not to have done that, it is unpatriotic.
If you critically look at his response on the BBC interview where he said he would return as soon as his doctors discharged him to â€˜resume his dutiesâ€™, donâ€™t you think it connotes he had done the necessary thing for the VP to take charge pending his return to resume duties using his own words?
If you go into that, you may not get any answer. This is because the type of people who are in PDP.Â Some people said he did, while some people didnâ€™t want him to handover. The evil in this country is PDP, it is a collective mess bestowed on us for the last ten years.
The clique that surrounds him are in PDP, not you and I. But those who should know and claim they know did not tell us the whole truth. This is fraudulent and unpatriotic act against the people of this country. The perpetrators are the people surrounding the President. All we know is that the man they are covering is uncover able. Baring anything, he is a man of integrity and I know if heâ€™s conscious he wouldnâ€™t allow all these nonsense being done in his name. People only want to exploit the situation for their own personal end and not for the good of the country.
If heâ€™s conscious enough, he would have condemned all these acts. And that is why I put the blame on the Vice President.
But could the VP have done otherwise? Won’t he be accused of disloyalty?
He swore allegiance to constitution and people of this country and not to the individual.Â Did he swear allegiance to the President or the constitution? He is a creation of the constitution and thatâ€™s why the President swore and he too swore.
The President didnâ€™t swear on his behalf neither did he on behalf of the president.
Beyond the machinations of a clique in the PDP as you said, do you think there is any agenda playing out in this whole scenario?
You cannot rule out the northern agenda when we talk about the PDP. It is not only a few who lack the courage to say enough is enough. You donâ€™t give it a blanket stuff, we still have people like Colonel Umar and others. But majority of them havenâ€™t got the courage to say enough is enough. If they exist, they havenâ€™t demonstrated it. A lot of them are there for the largesse.
So what are the progressives in the South West doing about it?
What weâ€™re doing is to continue the demonstration. Weâ€™ll continue the mass mobilisation, mass protest to show our disaffection in the government of the day. We should not stop talking about it.
We cannot have the Wole Soyinkas, the Anyaokus and so many intellectuals in this country and continue to have this nonsense and yet we claim to be law abiding. You see, not that we donâ€™t know what is right but the people in government lack the will to do the right thing.
The ordinary PDP man knows what Iâ€™m talking about. Iâ€™m not saying anything new but they lack the will to do the right thing. When a person like Maduekwe is telling you that everything is all right. There are lots of decision that must be taken, there is no body doing that, and the elected president is incapacitated. The honest people in the Arewa said let the constitution be duly followed they canâ€™t say more. Unfortunately Maduekwe and Aandoakaa are lawyers â€“ and they are now putting all sorts of interpretation to the law.
The Bauchi crisis and lately the Jos genocide which has claimed over 300 lives is worrisome, what deduction can you draw from it vis-a-vis the absence of the President?
I think it is also part of the lack of leadership in the country, although if he was here, he probably could have given a more effective direction. The Vice President might be hesitating on what to do because he might be accused wrongly. Thatâ€™s to tell you that nobody is really in charge. You see, the call for the Vice President to act as President is to know that legally somebody is in-charge so, if he was in-charge constitutionally, he probably could have proffered a better solution to the problem.
The constitution anticipated all these and that is why things must be done properly.
I remember the Attorney-General once said nobody can tell the FEC what to do, that they know what to do. The constitutional provision is clear. If the FEC did not do what it should do, they can be compelled to do it by a â€˜writ of mandamusâ€™ and thatâ€™s what Falana did.
Recently, we heard that H.I.D.Awolowo convened ameeting of Yoruba elders. What is it all about?
I donâ€™t know what it was all about. Unfortunately, it was a wrong impression that the media carried. The truth of the matter is that she invited the warring factions in Afenifere. She was going to settle the problem mainly between the leaders of Afenifere and the former governors and she wrote to all of us.
We agreed then that henceforth meetings will be held there and we will find a way of settling the matter. For a whole year, she attempted to call the former governors, they did not heed her call. The next thing was that she gave a report of all the attempts she had made and then decided the way forward.Â A new forum was to be founded. That is not the decision of members of Afenifere. My own view is that we should have been told that each group go back to chart a way for reconciliation.
There was a committee of members of the two warring groups who are working with her for the reconciliation, apparently those are the people who took the decision. Who am I to say no, but is that acceptable to the warring groups.
Is that the way forward? She now said, there will be a new body to which all other political parties will be subjected to.Â At that preliminary meeting, why found another body, weâ€™ve had so many of them like the Yoruba Elders Forum, Yoruba Coucil of Elders.Â I donâ€™t believe in the proliferation of such bodies. She was also a party to the formation of the Yoruba Council of Elders. Why founding another one.
What is the name of this new body called?
It is called Yoruba Legacy Forum. Whether it is the name that will make us united, I really donâ€™t know. Unfortunately the former governors disrespected Mrs. Awolowo by not heeding her call. In my own view, they destroyed the might in her and that was what I thought we should have addressed before anything.
Unfortunately, when we talked about it they said that would not bring unity. When a person like Chief Awolowo call anybody in this country particularly those who claim to be followers of the sage, and they wouldnâ€™t attend and she made that effort for a whole year calling them, who are they, I say who are they until we made them governors. They became governors on the platform of Afenifere.
They canâ€™t deny that. We campaigned for them in the name of Afenifere. One of the founders now called you, you feel too big to honour the call. And then one of them Lam Adesina said he had come to represent others. Is that not an insult? Suppose those of us the woman called also sent representatives, who would she have listened to and for a whole year.
I really find that uncomfortable and Iâ€™m sure she is not comfortable with that too. It is not a way of settling matter. It is the greatest disrespect that will be shown to her in y own view, for her to call anybody who claim to be the follower of Afenifere who became whatever they are in the name of Afenifere, not necessarily to accept what she had to say but to heed her call.Â That is the kind of disrespect shown to the wife of somebody we revered.
Well, probably as a leader, she wanted to go extra mile to bring everybody together…
Well, you may say Iâ€™m being hard, but that is not the tradition left for us by Chief Awolowo. He never condoned discipline. He never sacrificed discipline for unity. It is indiscipline for a woman of that figure to call you and you refused. She claimed she made several calls to a former Governor of Lagos State to attend. She told us and I asked myself, why? This Governor, to Mrs. Awolowo. It is beyond my comprehension.
All the former AD governors, except Lam Adesina who claimed to be representative of others. And all the time she has been calling meeting for settlement, only Lam Adesina came. Even the previous body led by Justice Eso and Gbonigi, weâ€™ve always been open, saying if you say the leaders of Afenifere have done anything, let them come and bring their complaints against us. And if they found us guilty, weâ€™ll apologize. All we want is unity.
Justice Eso and Gbonigi called them over ten times, â€œquote meâ€ the highest they could do was to send Lam Adesina. Even in one of the meetings, they even said they should cancel Afenifere before theyâ€™ll attend. But if we had raised this problem when they started, they would have accused us of wanting to truncate the peace move. But we knew nothing will come out of it. Now that she called them, what happened to Justice Eso and Gbonigi before, Elders of Yoruba land, has repeated itself again.
The letter written and signed by her was defied. I did asked Mama to mention the names of those she phoned subsequently, she refused.
In your own view what do you think should be done to get the reconciliation through?
It is simple. It is to get those who left Afenifere to come and tell us why they left. If it is Ayo Adebanjo who is too heady and overbearing, come tell us. By the time they do that, those who are wrong will apologise, and we move on. Why is it that those of us they are accusing of one thing or the other are willing to make peace while they are not?Â Did we ask you to do anything that is anti-Afenifere or did we ask for contract or appointment and on the basis of that you said you are not gong to deal with us? Come and tell us.
They call themselves renewal, I call them rebels. What are you renewing in Afenifere and what is archaic in Afenifere? The free education, free medical services, integrated rural development, full employment, resource control or the call of parliamentary system or the insistence on federalism. Those are the ideals of Awolowo. Which one of them have we abandoned that youâ€™re now renewing? It is nothing but ego.
They want position and those of us in the forefront, they want to displace us. I donâ€™t mind that, but I wonâ€™t be displaced without any justification. Many of them in the last five years have been in different parties. while those of us they say weâ€™re old, for over 50 years now weâ€™ve remained constant in one party. How many of them that are accusing us can lay claim to that, even among the five former governors, go and look at their antecedents. We put them into office under the platform they now desecrate.
I think there is a misconception when you talk about AfenifereÂ uniting the Yorubas. Afenifere is never a Yoruba organisation, I continue to say it. It is not like Arewa or Ndigbo. It is a political organisation of distinct identity. It is Action Group.
If you will recall, the Action Group is known in Yorubaland as Afenifere. Although we were in the Middle Belt, North, East but the catchment area remains the Yorubaland where the name Afenifere was coined.Â It literarily means somebody who likes good things for himself and others.
You mean it has never been a tribal group?
No, it has always been a political group ab initio, not tribal. And when people say all the Yoruba are Afenifere, Iâ€™ve always disputed them. All the Yorubas are never Afenifere even under Awolowo.Â Never.Â Because it is a distinct political organisation of the Action Group.
For example, at the time Afenifere was under Action Group of Awolowo, the Bensons were in the NCNC, the first Attorney General, the likes of Adeniran Ogunsanya, Kola Balogun, Fadaunsi were in the NCNC. These were prominent Yorubas. So, there was never a time the Yorubas were all in Afenifere. But I agree that Afenifere enjoys the majority of Yorubas.
The political platform for Afenifere was Action Congress then…?
Yes, Action Congress, later it was UPN and now AD.
But canâ€™t one look a different political platform to exercise his Afenifere ideals?
No, the political ideology you accept is Afenifere and it must be through its platform. You canâ€™t accept two political ideologies. You can only claim to be implementing Afenifere programmes but youâ€™re not Afenifere.Â For example, everybody now is identifying with Free Education of Awolowo, it does not it mean youâ€™re Afenifere. We fought tooth and nail to establish that name, thatâ€™s the position.
And when the dispute in Afenifere started, they say oh, the Yorubas are divided. Nobody has ever thought of Yoruba being divided before the former governors desecrated it.
The point is, the Yorubas outside were not accepted as Afenifere, it is like when Obasanjo appointed some Yorubas as ministers and he said, he was bringing Yoruba to the limelight. Thatâ€™s balderdash, because he was ignorant of history and political sophistication of Yoruba.
What was the level of your closeness to Chief Awolowo?
I was one of the youngest to be very close to him. I claim, and I claim that Iâ€™m one of those who contribute in making Ikenne in Mecca.Â I was part of those who propagated it. I was one of those who nick-named Awolowo â€˜Awoâ€™.Â In 1951, when the Action Group was founded, he mounted the podium, and I shouted Awo and that was how he got it.
Now, 2011 is around the corner, what do you think it portends for the South West politics?
I really donâ€™t know, I cannot see light at the end of the tunnel, even for the country. South West is part of the country, if the country is not well, the South West cannot be well. The question is what are the parameters being laid down for 2011, order than the fact of a repeat performance. As at present, there is no level playing ground. God forbid PDP comes to power.
Because the system that gave them power still remains in place. You see, our problem is not insoluble. You donâ€™t need a crystal ball to know what the election would be. Here is a government that has been in power for eight years, without any positive significant changes. What is the position of our education, roads and other infrastructures. What is our naira worth? In the worst days of Abacha, it was N85 to $1even when crude was being sold for $23.
The richer we are, the poorer we become. Right now, weâ€™re the only oil producing country that is suffering for fuel. During the oil boom, all the oil producing country invested their proceeds in the capital countries â€“ Saudi Arabia bought almost all the countries in UK and America. By the time the global meltdown came, they reverted to it.
What can we show for our own, it is in the pockets of individuals, many of them are friends of Obasanjo and the government of the day. They know them and give them protection, and many that are chasing the corrupt people are worse corrupt people themselves. What is the asset of Obasanjo before he became president and what does he worth now.Â Nobody is talking about that.
Weâ€™ve been ruled by a ring of people who are most unpatriotic, and mostly corrupt. It is a pity, I donâ€™t see any light at the end of the tunnel.