By Bashir Adefaka
Afenifere and The Patriots chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, has thrown his weight behind President Goodluck Jonathan’s move to convene a national conference, saying that no efforts should be spared in making the exercise a success. holding the currently processed national conference means to postpone 2015 elections that it is worth it.
The 85-year-old lawyer in this interview urged critics to cooperate first and criticize the President only when he fails. Excerpts:
HIS comments on President Goodluck Jonathans’s moves to hold national conference
I am happy about it. No matter what some people might think or say, it is in the right direction. If you don’t get all that you want, you take the one that is given and ask for more. In fact, there is no complain except that I congratulate the President for being a listening leader.
Here is a man who originally opposed the system but who is now yielding to the pressure of responsible citizens. Those who are opposing his new decision, what is it for? People are already criticising him that he is not going to do anything about the outcome of the conference. But we have just started! And I believe that it is an evidence of good faith for him to, first and foremost, set up an advisory committee to go and find out the modality on how to go about it. And the committee is a composition of credible and responsible people.
On skepticism trailing the move in some quarters
I don’t see any reason for the skepticism.Those of us in NADECO and Afenifere had insisted that there was not going to be election in 1999 unless we had a Sovereign National Conference. If you could recollect, that was what we told the then Head of State General Abdulsalami Abubakar but he said, “No, no. I don’t have the time for that. When you get your civilian government, go and do it.”
We had made national conference a condition precedent for whatever we were gong to do in this country. We can’t continue with this awkward federation. Whatever you are doing is under restraint, dissatisfaction, complains here and there. You do an election today, tomorrow one of the states will take you to court. The revenue allocation controversy too is there. All these are products of defective Constitution.
But then we say okay, let’s go and settle all these and then some are now hijacking that noble course to say when we go there we are going to disintegrate. Do you see how awkward their reasoning is?
On fears that the conference may dismember the country
If people want to disintegrate, you don’t need to call conference for that. Each person will just go on his own way. It is those of us who don’t want the country to break that are anxious that we should live in peace and that all those things that are causing problems and disaffection among us should be settled around the table.
But settling these issues around the table has not been possible because of the word ‘sovereign’…
(Cuts in) There is nothing difficult thing about that sovereign thing. The sovereignty we are talking about is not what they think. What we are saying is that, the stakeholders who have been elected to decide on how we are going to live together, once they have agreed on anything there should be no sub-committee to review it. That is all! And it should only go to referendum. We are talking about the sovereignty of the people.
And in any event, one point must be made clear, and this is point even some of the people – lawyers, more intelligent people – are saying that they can’t touch this Constitution, that this Constitution is not ours! You and I know that it is a military Constitution and now you want to tie us to it with all the defects and that it is going to be amended. The people that you are trusting to amend it are part of the problem! We shouldn’t confuse ourselves at all.
In one word, would you say that you trust the sincerity of President Jonathan not to make this conference go the way of his predecessors?
We are all people of goodwill. We want to do something for the development of the country. The thought that ‘he won’t do it or won’t do it well’ is the thing that is affecting the bottom-line of the whole conglomerate in the country. If he doesn’t do it then the whole world will see.
And look at it, even from the beginning a man who doesn’t believe in the national conference has now not only begun to believe in it, he has also set the process in motion and he is talking of no ‘no-go areas.’ That is an evidence of seriousness, sincerity and I am going to toe that line until the contrary is proved. So, all these pr-empting should stop for us to at least move forward.
Don’t forget that every other committee you might have been talking of, this conference is the bottom-line. The people had been forced to live together since 1914 by amalgamation. So, we have enjoyed economy of scale and so nobody is talking about breaking up. We want to discuss the terms of our living together so that there can be no more conflicts. What is wrong with that?
On perceptions that President Jonathan wants to use the confab to deal with the North
In what way will anybody think he wants to deal with the North? That is what I am saying that whoever thinks that way is reading unnecessary into it. To deal with the North in what sense when we say let us come together and discuss our differences? Is that the way to deal with the North?
Niger State Governor, Babangida Aliyu, warned against people making statements he said made it look like Nigeria was heading for breakup, saying the North would survive on its own if Nigeria breaks up
If there has been anything that has been the cause of grudge by the Yoruba, the Igbo, to say, “Well, this is what you are doing which we don’t like. Don’t do it again,” is that dealing with the North?
The point is, we must discuss with ourselves. Some people are enjoying some advantages as a result of this awkward federation. They would not like us to settle the problem. This is an awkward federalism! You say you are a federal government but you are practicing unitary system and as a result, a lot of conflicts arise! These are the things we are talking about. And it must be made clear that this is not the Constitution our founding fathers gave us.
It was the military that de-structured Nigeria in 1966 and we have been battling with this de-structuring ever since. And we now say, okay we have had enough of this violence here and there, we have had enough of this disagreement here and there. Let’s sit down round the table and put all these causes of disagreement on the table and trash them out.’
The people in the Niger Delta, talking of resource control is not the beginning. Awolowo had been talking of revenue allocation on the basis of derivation since 1952. The people of Niger Delta now say they should be having 13 percent. How do they arrive at this percentage?
In the FirstRepublic and SecondRepublic when the mainstay of economic growth was cocoa, groundnut and palm-kernel, we had 50 percent and that was the agreement.
The North was having 50 percent of their contribution to the national economy, the West had 50 percent and so the East, 50 percent on palm-kernel. Why are you opposed to going back to this? Is that equity? These are the inequities there and again you created Local Governments arbitrarily and on the basis of this you are distributing revenue! And we say let us settle down.
Lagos is bigger than Kano. Kano has 40 Local Governments, Lagos has 20. If you look at all these and you want me to stay in a federation where I have bitterness; we say don’t let us fight over it.
Let’s discuss it and find the way out. Even those who are victims of this awkward federation and have been fighting against it, now say it is not necessary that we should sit down and talk it over.
To me, if the 2015 election is to be postponed for us to settle how we are going to live together, it is worth it. What is the point of having an election only for us to start quarreling immediately after? Let us find a way of putting a stop to this boil.
We want to live together. Yes. We want to live in peace! Not Boko Haram today, Niger Delta militants and kidnappers tomorrow. I have said it before and I have told the President that those opposed to a national conference are the people who want disintegration of this country.