By Bashir Adefaka
Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye clocked 80 two Fridays ago, precisely February 8, 2013.
An economist, seasoned administrator and former President of the Alumni of National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) Kuru, which is the highest body for policy formulation and leadership training in the public sector of Nigeria, the Ijebu Igbo, Ogun State- born democrat put in 35 years of meritorious service in the public service including 28 years in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) where he rose to the position of Director. In 1992, he was an aspirant to the office of the President of Nigeria on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). He later became an elected Senator of the Republic (1999-2003).Durojaiye, currently a constitutional lawyer, speaks, in this interview, on many issues. Excerpts:
During your time at the Senate, you were an activist-senator. What informed that?
It was my background and desire to serve and improve the lot of my people, to put things right. I remember telling that to some journalists when I called a press conference to dampen the struggle in the Senate around September 2002 about the acrimony between President Olusegun Obasanjo and the President of the Senate, Anyim Pius Anyim.
That time, the senators were in two groups, polarized; one working to impeach the other and I happened to know. I was a little bit indisposed when we were on vacation and I could not resume when others resumed because of not feeling well. But message got to me that the Senate, which had already broken into two groups, was planning a certain thing. So the group that wanted me to join them wanted me to do so to impeach Mr. President (Obasanjo).
I said, “No, I won’t be party to that. We should not impeach Mr. President and we should not encourage the President team to impeach the President of the Senate. Impeachment should not be on.”
Knowing the Senate for its versatility and brains at that time, how did you get to convince them to accept your position against their resolve considering the role they too believed Obasanjo was playing to the detriment of the legislative arm?
I told them the story of King Solomon’s first judgment when two women were reported to have slept and one of them killed her child in her process. The king said he would divide the dead child into two and divide the living child into two. The woman, whose child died, said, “Yes, fair enough. It will neither be hers nor mine.” The one whose child was alive said, “Ah! Great king, please, I cannot right here and watch my child slaughtered. It’s better you give the child to her. Maybe when the child grows, somehow the whole house will point him to someone who is his real mother.” King Solomon said, “Give that child to the woman who wanted to…”, that no one would like her child to be slaughtered in her presence.
The relevance of that story to my experience in the Senate and what I quoted on the floor of the Senate is that we who fought for democracy, we who really suffered eighteen and a half months solitary confinement with one meal a day in the military gulag, democracy meant more to us than those who, just by chance, because they didn’t suffer as much as we did, to be able to win election and get to the Senate. That we could not wait and allow democracy to fail in the third year after returning to it having struggled so much.
Because for two powerful heads of two of the three arms of government to be at loggerheads was an indication to the military that we were not ready for democracy yet and so the military should come back. That was the implication and the way I saw it and I said no.
I tried to get that into them on the floor of the Senate but they didn’t want to shift ground and so I called a press conference. It was around September 2002. That was what quelled the movement at that time for the Senate group to impeach President Olusegun Obasanjo and the President group in the Senate to impeach the Senate President Anyim and his deputy, Ibrahim Mantu. It was my press conference that saved the situation because the media and the whole nation came to the fact that, “Yes, we cannot afford any impeachment now.” Whereas they were friends; up to the beginning of that year, both Pius Anyim and Obasanjo were very close. I just give you that as an example in answer to your question that what made me more active at the Senate was the fact that we really suffered for democracy.
I also wrote the report on Odi, the sledge hammer on Odi, it was the Oyi of Oyi, Chuba Okadigbo, that was Senate President at that time. He led the team and he brought me to be part of it. And he said I should please write the report of what I saw. I wrote the report chastising the government of Obasanjo that, “that was overkill. You were killing a mosquito with a sledge hammer.” It was too much.
It was I who also raised a motion on the floor of the Senate that unless government paid the arrears of pensioners, we senators would refuse to accept our salaries at the end of that month. That also endeared our Senate at that time to the people of Nigeria that we were ready to make sacrifice and that jolted the government into action.
So, you could imagine now the racketeering going on, on pension funds which has seen pensioners’ dues being looted by few greedy and wicked public servants.
If you were in the Senate today, what would your new motion be, looking at the kind of judgment a court recently gave on a pension thief?
If I were in the Senate today, I would call for heavy punishment for such people. It doesn’t need much talk. It is simple. Stealing in greedy and wicked manner public and pensioners’ funds, as it has been witnessed now, should attract heavy punishment.
Back to where we were, another thing that really made me active at our Senate was the move to impeach a state government and declare an emergency in the state. There was the governor of a state that was not in good terms with some powerful people in the Senate and there was a move to teach him a lesson. Unknown to me, people had been lobbied to support the motion and, on the floor of the Senate when the issue was raised, I just raised my hand and raised a strong argument about why Nigeria should not indulge in any declaration of state of emergency anywhere, that the first of it they did was in the Western Region in 1962. We were just consequently coming out of the events Pa Anthony Enahoro predicted at that time that we were letting loose a chain of events the end of which nobody knew and nobody knew really because, it was always one coup after another until 1999 when we returned to democracy.
I said,’ so, now, you want to have another emergency? What does the Constitution say about situation of declaring state of emergency, either imminent situation of war or total breakdown of law and order and such serious security situation?’
There was another very outspoken and highly respected senator, Dan Sadau, who supported my motion, which broke the back of the camel (laughs).
Taking another retrospective view of the Senate, 1998-2003, that you belonged to, it appeared those of you in the opposition parties were always having your way. How did you do it or was it because of the respect they had for some of you?
It was the combination of all that because, at that time, there were really very experienced people. Look at it, those of us in our set; Okadigbo was already a national figure before he came to the Senate. The same thing Evans Enwerem. They were all well known people in their areas. Now in our own place, in Ogun State in particular, Ogun produced three of the first eleven: Professor Olabinto; Femi Okurohunmu, a very brilliant young man and my humble self. From Lagos, look at Wahab Dosunmu. He was in Senate before and later a minister; Adeseye Ogunlewe, very brilliant technocrat, was permanent secretary before coming to the Senate. You know, people really had garnered much experience and some of us were veterans in the struggle to oust the military. These were the people and we found ourselves in the Senate at that time.
The level of maturity, the level of academic background and so on; if not higher than what we have now, it is certainly not lower than what we have been having. And then if you look at the average age and experience too, I was already in my 60s when I was in the Senate. Today, we have people in their 40s and so, they haven’t garnered our kind of experience. I was Director, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), President of National Institution of Policy and Strategy Studies Alumni, which was an experience I brought into the Senate. That is not what it is now. Except a very few people like our contemporary, David Mark; very few, you can point them. With due respect to them, I’m not saying this to slight them. Look at Ike Nwachukwu. He was secretary-general of ANI, Alumni of National Institute, he was Minister of Foreign Affairs before, he was governor of Imo State and he was a General in the Army. Look at all that accumulated experience. Whatever you may say about this political maverick, Arthur Nzeribe, he was a very experienced politician.
These were the people we were together in the Senate of our time. As to the opposition, the ANPP, I have just told you a man, Dan Sadau, very brilliant elderly person from Sokoto and he was an ANPP man. So, whenever some of us combined to speak on an issue, our colleagues in the PDP didn’t joke with it. I remember there was one of us from Adamawa, I can’t remember his name just now but he was much younger than Jubril Aminu. He said, “Oga, how could you think this out?” And I remember the day I sang Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s song on the floor of the Senate in January of 2002 where he sang, “Trouble sleeps, yonga go wake am. Wetin you go find? Na wahalaaa you go find.”
There must have been a serious issue that necessitated that because, as a Nigerian leader of Yoruba extraction, using songs as a means of buttressing points are not far-fetched. What was the issue?
At that time, the friendship between the President of the Republic, Obasanjo, and the President of the Senate, Anyim Pius Anyim, was at its peak. There was this Electoral Bill that we made some amendments to. Somehow between our approval and the time of President’s assent, there was an alteration and then the bill came back to the Senate for debate. Furious debate. Then I said the honourable thing was to call that bill back, repeal it and re-enact it back to the way we wanted it to be. I said that was the only way out. If you do not do it that way, you aren’t ready.
Then the Senate President, Anyim, out of sympathy to his party at that time, said,’ no, no, no, there could be a way out,’ and I said, “Look, let me sing the Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s song for you” ;and I sang that song on the floor of the house (laughs). It was before the end of that year that the relationship between the two of them; Obasanjo and Anyim, went sour. And what I said in January, I said it again in September. All within nine months in 2002. These are the real reasons my name was prominent in the Senate at that time. I still remember now that the very first motion that was unanimously approved on the floor of that Senate (1999-2003) was moved by me.
What motion and what was it about?
That was in June 1999 when we were newly sworn-in. The very first call of President Obasanjo administration was to kill the queues at filling stations. That was the first of his achievements, I can remember. Before he was sworn-in, everybody was suffering at filling stations from long queues. I didn’t remember how he did it but, within a month of his assuming office, he cleared all that. He was sworn-in on May 29, 1999 and, within a month, the queues disappeared. Fuel was made available. We were just enjoying that return to normalcy when the trade unions; two of them in the petroleum sector, NUPENG and the other, gave notice that they were going on strike in July of 1999. I think it was about something due to them that was not paid. They said they would go on strike if that was not done.
It was about a week that the newspapers had been reporting it that I moved a motion in the Senate that we should intervene and prevail on government to talk to them and probably meet their request so that we did not revert to the suffering we just got out of. The motion was unanimously approved. That was within the first three weeks of our assumption of office. That was what sold me out to the media that this is the man whose opinion will carry weight in this Senate. It was so too with some of my colleagues who were also moving such wonderful motions that really worked.
What were the challenges?
In all, people were criticizing us that we were not militant enough in opposition to the government.
And what was your reaction to that?
And I said,’ look, we are here to construct not to break’. Breaking that government would be breaking democracy. So, that we should just criticize the government and give alternatives to them about what they should do. Like I did that January 2002 when I asked the house to recall the Electoral Bill, repeal it and re-enact it the way we wanted it to be. I think the Alliance for Democracy (AD),my party, was already planning what they wanted to do in 2003 but ours as senators was just to do what was necessary.
It is also important to look at some of the things you have not spoken about. NADECO; what was the General Mohammed Marwa connection, which people said almost cost him his life following the series of bomb attacks allegedly masterminded by the Head of State, General Sani Abacha’s Strike Force? Was he truly a member?
No, no, no. As far as I remember, Marwa was not part of NADECO and I don’t think he claimed to be.
Why then did your activities as NADECO thrive under his watch as military administrator of Lagos?
Well, he could be a sympathizer of NADECO and he might be a fellow traveler of NADECO, that is sharing our aspiration to put an end to military rule and realization of June 12, 1993 election result and so on. Yes, we had many sympathizers and supporters and they formed their own enclaves and their own groups in various parts of the South West. And those days, South South too and some pockets of it in the South East.
But the real NADECO, those who we called NADECO, attended NADECO meetings presided over by Pa Anthony Enahoro, there was no time we were ever up to 30. There was no meeting of NADECO that we held that people were up to 30 and I was there throughout until the time I was kidnapped (laughs) and put in Abacha prison. The highest we ever had was between 20 and 22. When we were many, 25; people who were NADECO, we could count them on the tip of our fingers.
And those were the few people that shook…
T he whole nation. But somehow the impact we made was so strong that there was spillover in other parts of the country. There was a time when we knew that government had planted moles in our midst, we were always minding now what we were doing. The number of those who were attending our meetings was reduced to eleven. In fact it was reduced to nine with one accredited to Papa Ajasin, the real head of the movement but because of age, he was already in his 80s and distance, he was based in Owo, Ondo State. And so he could not be coming to Lagos for the meetings. So he was asked to nominate one person he could trust to be in the NADECO exclusive group. That was number ten. The number eleven person was the nominee of MKO Abiola. Somebody he could trust to represent him and pass information across to him because at that time he was in prison. And do you know who he nominated?
I don’t know.
Olabiyi Durojaiye (laughs). I was the one MKO Abiola nominated to represent his interest at the inner-caucus of NADECO. So, I was one of the first eleven of NADECO.
So Chief MKO Abiola was part of NADECO even from prison?
Definitely he was but, through his wife, Kudirat Abiola. She never attended our meetings but she was being briefed and she was a fearless fighter in her own rights. But the information we gathered later was that there was a mole planted in our midst and you could see the mole in her aide. Because they were asking, ‘This lady hasn’t got that kind of education to be drafting the kind of speeches she was giving. Somebody must be drafting her speeches for her and pointing for her the way to go’. Most times they mentioned my name.
And were you?
No, the truth is, Kudirat never asked me to write anything for her. She was just committed on her own and was working. I was not aware of any of those things. If anybody was to draft anything for her or to tell her what to do, I was likely to be that person because of the closeness. Abiola’s house is just across here (Opebi, Ikeja). Now, that was the report that was getting to government.
They sent warnings to me and I received anonymous warnings too. There was one of the top security officers when we went to a meeting and he called me to one side and said to me, “Everyday we have report that you are one of the brains behind NADECO and we respect you.” The man is still alive and I don’t want to mention his name. He said, “We respect you and we like you.” I had been their President of the Alumni of National Institute (ANI). He said to me, “Don’t let us hate you. General Abacha is worried about this group that wants to destabilize the country.”
I told him that I did not plan to destabilize the country but that I operated purely on principle of justice and fair play. And that if Abacha had won an election and MKO Abiola were to be a soldier and denied him the mandate, I will fight Abiola in favour of Abacha to restore his mandate. I said that the military should not have allowed Abiola to contest that election. Maybe they did not expect him to win because, I said, once they allowed him to contest the election and he won, they should allow him to rule.
Was it as a result of your not shifting ground that Abacha ordered that you should be picked up and sent to prison?
That was the conclusion anybody following what was going on could arrive at. They had been giving me anonymous calls and one of the top security officers had confronted me physically. Yet I did not change position. There was this very first meeting that Fredrick Fasehun called when he was about to establish the OPC, Oodua People’s Congress. He just felt that the way things were going, we had to use some form of militancy. We got into that meeting, which was held outside Lagos in a town in Remo. Immediately I arrived at that meeting, I told Fasehun that there are some faces there I was not familiar with, that they were faces of young people who looked like students and I asked him, “Are you sure these are not on the payroll of government because what we are doing amounts to treason?” If we must use militancy, it amounts to treason. I said those young people looked strange to me and I asked if he was sure of them. He said they were very good people defending our own terrain. I said okay.
Immediately I arrived home from that meeting, that same day, it was Easter Monday, and that time we had this telephone box with tape recorder; playing back my recorded voice messages I heard, “Welcome back. We have been watching your movement.”
Was it that serious?
I’m telling you and it went on, “Be careful which company you keep because we are watching you.” To me, that was too strange a coincidence. I just returned from a meeting and that was recorded telephone voice message here. Then I told Fasehun, “I don’t think I will like to continue with you in this thing.” He had my support initially but I didn’t take part in any of those things. I got fully involved in NADECO because NADECO did not have anything of militancy. All NADECO had was using the press and arousing public opinions that somebody who had won an election should be made to rule. That was what i belonged to.