By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor
Ayo Adebanjo could be described as a strange man. At 82, he still engages in an hour of road walk everyday. In fact, last week, when Sunday Vanguard went after him in his Ijebu-Ogbo area of Ogun State, he was away on road walk. Looking like a sixty-something year old, one thing you concede to Pa Adebanjo is his unflinching belief that the Awolowo way of politicking is still the best way to go.
Therefore, in the light of the renewed awakening of progressivism in the Yoruba South-West geo-political zone, a feat engaged by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Sunday Vanguard sought the views of Adebanjo, an old horse of the Awolowo political leaning and an Afenifere leader, on the sense he makes of recent happenings in Yorubaland.
Congratulations on the seeming re-emancipation of Yorubaland. At least the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is being driven away gradually
Yes-o! Let’s thank God. We’re all happy about that.
But was this not what the elders could not achieve or fight against in 2003 and 2007? Why was it not possible for the elders to succeed?
At that time, our flag-bearers misconceived the idea of working with Olusegun Obasanjo as President. This was because they didn’t like to take directives from us and they believed they wanted to take their own destiny in their hands; they claimed we were tormenting them because we put them in office.
They, therefore, sought an alliance with Obasanjo, that they would vote for him for the presidency in return for their staying in office and leave South-West for them. That is why each time Segun Osoba says “Obasanjo da le” (Obasanjo betrayed), people should ask him “ile wo lo da?” (who did Obasanjo betray?). There was an agreement to which we, the elders, were not privy but which they alleged that we led them to.
My political opponents will tell you that I will never agree to have anything to do with Obasanjo, politically because I don’t see any virtue in him, nothing credible in him, particularly as far as the interests of the Yoruba people are concerned. Obasanjo is not a Yoruba man, he doesn’t want what the Yoruba people want and I’ve always said so.
What do Yoruba people want?
We want autonomy. We want to be part of Nigeria as an independent entity, self-sustained but not subservient to any part in a true federation.
We were made to understand that it was the elders who sold out to Obasanjo, that that arrangement had input from the elders?
I’ve heard that nonsense talk before. I know how Bisi Akande came into the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, we didn’t know him, it was Bola Ige who brought him when he started having problems with the late S. M. Afolabi as his deputy.
The way Akande carried on was as if he knew Ige more than us, I won’t dignify him with a response. Ige was his mentor and Ige is my own contemporary and Ige won’t claim to be more Awolowo than myself.
Akande made a lot of misstatements – I won’t say he lied. He’s not ashamed to be so blatant.
He even went as far as saying that we were jealous of Ige because we wanted to be minister instead of Ige – under Obasanjo? (laughter). Those who know me know that I would never want to have anything to do with Obasanjo.
My disagreement with Ige was simply that he should not serve under Obasanjo. Obasanjo needed us more than we needed him and that was my argument.
It was my strong belief then and now that if Bola Ige had not joined Obasanjo, we would have defeated PDP in no time. How can our first class man go and join that renegade of a man.
But you were a member of that Constitution Review Committee of Obasanjo and that made you an appointee of Obasanjo? First, what became of that committee?
That is for Obasanjo to answer.
You were, by virtue of that posting, an appointee of Obasanjo?
It was a technical committee. Ige and Akande used it against me. Obasanjo claimed that he wanted to bring all the parties together to produce a peoples’ constitution and our argument then was that if we did not take part, we would not push our case and they would label us critics. I took part as one of the five party leaders nominated. As at that time – go and ask Maman Yusuf, he’s still alive – Ige, though Justice minister, still wanted to be a member of that committee. It was an all-party committee.
My party nominated me and not Obasanjo. Except they are now saying that we shouldn’t have cooperated at that time! The recommendation of that committee which never saw the light of day, we were strict on restructuring of the country. Our membership of that committee was able to open the eyes of our colleagues from the other parties that Afenifere was not talking about secession but about true federation.
So, Obasanjo knew what he wanted all along? He drew AD leaders out and swindled them knowing that restructuring had become a bait!
You just go and read that report. Thank God today, even Ayo Opadokun was also there. It gave us an opportunity to explain to the other people that the Sovereign National Conference we were asking for was an alternative to bloodshed and that we must agree to live together based on terms and conditions agreeable to all.
We just wanted true federalism. If you recollect, Obasanjo’s first presidential media chat, I was there and we thrashed out the issue of SNC because Obasanjo’s fake argument was that there cannot be two sovereignties but we made him understand that whatever that conference recommended should not be reviewed by any other committee; that was our position.
Would you blame AD governors for working an arrangement outside of Afenifere?
The AD governors knew what they wanted; it was to spite Afenifere leaders.
You people led the governors to meet with Obasanjo.
It is untrue of them to say so. The meeting we had was with the state governors.
At that meeting – because they were the ones who told us that Obasanjo wanted to see us and the president of a country cannot say he wants to see you and you turn him down, at least you will still have to go and listen to him – we decided that only two of our representatives would speak. At that meeting, it was Cornelius Adebayo and Femi Okunrounmu who spoke on behalf of Afenifere – neither Pa Adesanya, nor I, spoke at that meeting. When they were emphasising the issue of SNC, we believed we persuaded Obasanjo on the matter.
What made you think Obasanjo was persuaded? Who could have persuaded Obasanjo? That’s exactly why I said he swindled you all.
What Obasanjo said was that if we believed so much in SNC, we should go and persuade the other people of the other zones to buy into it so that when he eventually convenes it, he would not be accused of doing the bidding of Afenifere.
If a man who had fought against something now shifts and even advises on how to mobilise support for the cause, is that not progress. That was what they referred to saying that I started dancing and saying that Obasanjo had become born-again. Let them come out and deny if Obasanjo said so or not. That was what I referred to but which they twisted to say I danced on behalf of Obasanjo. I won’t deny what I said. Compare that to their meeting where they promised not to field a presidential candidate for AD.
But, he was crookedly smarter?
Of course! If our own governors did not have their own agenda, Obasanjo couldn’t have succeeded. Where would they say I attended another meeting? Was that the meeting which they agreed not to field a presidential candidate? Let them come out in the open and contradict what I am saying. The meeting they referred to, I did not speak neither did Pa Adesanya speak.
What I said after the meeting was that here was a man even advising us on how to mobilise for our own cause. For a man who had always resisted saying the unity of the country is non-negotiable and who now says go and mobilise support, what other sign of change do we need? But, Obasanjo’s argument was so silly that the only thing you even need to do in a heterogeneous society like ours is to negotiate how we will live together.
The South-West is regaining its soul.
Even that one you’re referring to, there was no doubt that Obasanjo never won any election. It was the mistake of our governors, to sidetrack their leaders and claim, if it had worked that they succeeded without Afenifere. There were some things that the governors were doing that did not make sense at that time.
They did not carry the party along. Look at Ogun State, for instance. Osoba would call a meeting of consultative council and he would invite people he appointed into parastatals and I challenged him once.
How would those people challenge his authority as governor? Who would make contrary arguments?
Look at the local government area creation issue. How many leaders did they carry along?
As a party, there are people who would not have contested elections and the party, in the days of UPN and Action Group, AG, would tell them not to worry, that they would be compensated after the election and these were things done to keep the party together by servicing almost all interests. Now, people carry on as if the party is a personal property.
I challenge all of them to come out in the open and tell Nigerians or Yoruba people whether any of their programmes were ever discussed at any party caucus meeting? Nothing like that! Today they say they have Afenifere Renewal Group: What new ideas have they brought out different from what Awolowo or the elders had in mind? They did not have that internal cohesion at the time of election, so it was easy for them to lose.
And, when people talk of violence in Yorubaland, it is unfair. What happened in the past is that people resisted rigging and cheating. If their votes were not discounted, people wouldn’t have come out to protest.
It happened in the First Republic and it happened in Ondo State in the Second Republic too.
By the time Obasanjo cheated them, the governors had lost touch with the people who should have reacted to protect them. That is the simple truth. It was late hour when they started running up and down.
They went into an alliance with Obasanjo, a man who does not like anything Awolowo. Let me tell you, Obasanjo’s problem with Daniel is simply because the man is doing things to extol the virtues of Awolowo.
Please, help clear the air on this: The man who withstood Obasanjo in 2003 and 2007 is the same man leading the crusade and helping to restore the Yoruba agenda today and that man is Tinubu with whom you have differences?
We are all politicians and all that he is doing now I am in support – to get rid of Obasanjo.
And, would I have spoken rightly to say that what Afenifere elders could not achieve, Tinubu is achieving now?
Wait a minute! Examine the principles behind what Tinubu is doing. Examine the morality. Take an example of the internal wrangling he is having with Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, is that consistent with true party politics?
We’re looking at the outside, if somebody is doing something for self, then there is danger ahead. Fair enough, he survived and we know how he survived and it was in our favour that he survived. Whatever method he used, we support, but that does not mean that we would not recognise the faults in his way of doing politics.
Is there no way that the elders and the young ones can come together and resolve this lingering crisis in Yorubaland?
Of course, there should be a way out.
Do you know the efforts we put in to resolve the crisis? Do you know how far we went?
The problem I find with Tinubu and others is that they have a private agenda of their own that is not consistent with our own philosophy as taught to us by Awolowo.
What we observed was that the moment they got to office, they began to behave differently but Yorubas have a proverb which says if there is no somebody yesterday there will be no somebody today (ti ko ba si eni ana, ko ni si eni oni).
The whole of their administration, the four years they spent, what did they do in those four years to remember Awolowo – forget the one that Tinubu is now going everywhere naming things after people.
Lagos was a difficult thing for us to win in those days. We won Lagos back because they were saying Lagos was not part of the West but Awolowo fought it and we won it back. We went as far as the London Conference and we even had to publish a book, Lagos Belongs To The West.
Lagos originally is in Yorubaland and the Colonial office wrote that whether by land or sea, there are many kilometres of Yorubaland that you have to pass through to get to Lagos.
Some people say you are too rigid and this mantra of Awoism that you, in particular keep chanting, appears to be obsolete and cannot be employed in today’s politics.
No, it is not like that. People are missing the point. The mistake people are making is that they are confusing issues. The rigidity that pays off is a rigidity that is worth dying for.
What is rigidity in Awolowo’s philosophy? What is rigidity in having free education?
Are we having free education today in the West?
Even in Lagos, do we have it?
Those who see these people mid- way can be carried away but we who know what is happening can never be fooled.
Okay, what Tinubu is doing in Lagos when compared to what the Federal Government is doing, then you can not compare because you would say he is doing a lot. But, within the context of what he should do as a Yoruba governor, a Yoruba man to his people, then it falls below the standard. It is not enough.
Why should we reduce ourselves to a situation when we accept less as more and we say at least, we thank God.
That much is less than the standard expected of an Awolowo man.
Look at what Lateef Jakande did in Lagos. Whatever anybody wants to say about him, he executed party programmes but what we have today is a situation where an individual has turned it into his property, personalising everything and then people come out and say we are rigid.
But this problem between you and Tinubu…
There is nothing personal; it is purely based on principles. He said he wanted to be chairman of AD in Lagos and that Ganiyu Dawodu should step aside, but we refused. I told him it would never happen because that is not the way it is done.
I told him he would not dictate to us who would become chairman of the party. Tinubu himself told me that he had asked the children of Dawodu to prevail on their father to step down and I told him that is not the way to go.
He said he would make him chancellor of Lagos State University, LASU. I also told him that if Dawodu has agreed to step down, I, Ayo Adebanjo, will not agree for you to start dictating to us on how to run the party, a party that we had been running before you became governor, no, we will not allow you depose Dawodu. It is just a matter of principle. Any disagreement with Tinubu is purely on principle. I detest his political methods.
Okay, here is a man complaining about the elders; he merely picked those who would contest and when people protested that they did not know some of the people, his reckless response was to ask if they knew the governor he gave to them in 2007 before. That was reckless. That is not the type of party I want to belong to.
If a window of reconciliation opens, would you jump in?
I’ve always said I am open to reconciliation. Look at another issue: Even after disagreeing with us, in order to demonstrate that they were the ones now calling the shots, he went into an alliance with Atiku Abubakar and Audu Ogbe, both of PDP who were sidelined by their party. After they were sidelined, you now absorbed both men, renegades of PDP, you started working with them, believing that you owned the West, then with votes from the North, you would win.
I asked: On what principle are they aligning with Atiku and Ogbe? What has changed?
On what political principle was the alliance based? I am strict on principle and ideology: Is it on true federalism? Is it on our socio-economic programme. People know Awolowo for what he represented. Free education, federalism, are synonymous with Awolowo and UPN.
Tom Ikimi, publicity secretary of Sani Abacha, now a leader of Action Congress of Nigeria, CAN? Is that the type of political party you want me to go and join?
I would rather go back to my grave with my name intact and referred to as rigid Awolowo man than join that type of company.
You must stand for something. Look at the people they are collaborating with, just to sideline the elders.Go and ask them why they disagreed with us. Was it based on principles or on policies.
Some people just got blinded by ambition and we are watching where it will all lead. Did we ask them for contracts or were we disturbing them because of our children whom we wanted jobs for? Did they do something in respect of Awolowo’s policies and we disagreed with them? It’s all about sheer pettiness.