By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
Dr. Tunji BraithwaiteÂ was the national chairman and presidential candidate ofÂ NationalÂ Advanced Party, NAP, in 1983. He retired from active politics in May , 2009 and has since taken the back seat as the patron ofÂ the party.
This lawyer of international repute who represented theÂ late Fela Anikulapo Kuti during his trial over Kalakuta Republic opens up to Saturday Vanguard andÂ speculatesÂ there will be no election in 2011 as PDP is planning a three- year term elongation for President Yarâ€™ Adua and the Governors which he insists isÂ the essence of the much hyped Constitution review. He also speaks about Nigeria being over-ripe for a revolution even as he talks about his relationship withÂ the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti .
Itâ€™s been 49 years ofÂ our independence. Why are we notÂ where we ought to be?
Part of Nigeriaâ€™s problems has to do withÂ the nature of neo-colonialist tendencies. Let me explain that. The people in this country especially the elites see themselves as lords and superiors to the masses. They see themselves as masters or colonialists and Iâ€™m afraid that kind of mentality is being passed down to many generations.
That is why you see people wanting to be Senior Advocates, Otunbas, even in the professions. People carve out something that will make them dominate the others. At least, in my own profession, they call themselves SANs.
All these, believe it or not, affect the psyche ofÂ the average Nigerian. Indirectly or directly, these are theÂ things that drive the young ones and the ones who are not able to achieve it want to get it at all costs. That is what make people to cheat in the universities and even in the secondary schools.
So, you find that it has permeated every level of the society and I blame the unimaginative elites for this sort of thing and it is still this sort of thing that spreads to the larger society and that is why today, Nigeria has become a country that is not respected abroad.
And yet, Nigerians are resourceful and aggressive but unfortunately, some of that aggressiveness are used for negative things. There are so many things about this country and that is why for sometime now, I have come to the conclusion that a revolution is what we need if we wantÂ to do away with all these issues weighing down our country and if we want to put things aright in this country.
I donâ€™tÂ think Nigerians are ready for a revolution. They have so much bothering them and I feel they would prefer a peaceful approach to resolving issues .
You are talking nonsense by saying Nigerians are not ready to free themselves from slavery. No nation has made it without some sort of revolution. Last week, that was the same week that Nigeria was celebrating 49th anniversary, China was also celebrating 50th anniversary but China was not only 50 years. What China celebrated the same week with us was the 50th anniversary ofÂ their revolution.
So, to say that Nigerians are peaceful and would not want a revolution is nonsense. No nation has made it without some form ofÂ revolution. You could call it political, social or industrial or whatever. Or havenâ€™t you heard of American war of independence.? Havenâ€™t you heard of Boston Tea Party which was a rebellion ofÂ the colonisedÂ enslaved people of the US against imperialism across the Atlantic Ocean. So, ifÂ you are saying that Nigerians are not ready for a revolution, then, you got it wrong.
Most revolutions are bloody and in Nigeria, you canâ€™t have that kind of political revolution without shedding blood and Iâ€™m saying Nigerians arenâ€™t ready for that?
It is not for me to say what form the revolution will take. It is the circumstances on ground that would determine the tools and the outcome of such revolution.
You as a media person represent the defeated average Nigerian man who would not want a revolution but I hope that we can change your mind because what you expressed is sentimentÂ and that shows thatÂ this sort of backwardness, this sort of oppression of the elites is taking its toll on Nigerians. The people are terribly oppressed.
They are entitled to have electricity, they are entitled to have water and better roads but they do not have them because they have allowed themselves to be exploited. It is theirÂ right to have electricity, good roads and waterÂ but they do not have them because they have allowed themselves to be enslaved by nonentities who did not even win elections.
These nonentities steal elections and then, they steal all your money and they lord it over you and then you say God will help you. No, God will not help you for a thousand years until you are ready to break the yoke.
That is why I donâ€™t talk anymore. When you called me to book for this interview, I was skeptical because I donâ€™t like to talk for the sake of talking. I am a man of action. I am working assiduously towards a revolution in this country because I know that is the only way out.
You said earlier that there is no opposition in Nigeria and you are right. There is no official opposition in Nigeriaâ€™s so-called democracy and the truth is that democracy does not function unless there is a vibrant opposition.
People criticise Robert Mugabe ofÂ Zimbabwe but Mugabeeâ€™s opposition has been able to gain up to 25 % – 30% of seats in the Zimbabwean legislature. You find them agitating to win 100%, you find a genuine agitation in the face of hindrance and of course, you know that people like that have never been afraid of death.
Zimbabweâ€™s opposition is one oppositionÂ that is not afraid to break the yoke of the people but unfortunately you cannot say so ofÂ Nigeria. The Nigerian masses have been fooled.
As I say, even the so-called union leaders that are supposed to champion your cause donâ€™t do so. They compromise the cause of the follower ship for their selfish ends because of theirÂ mind set on gatheringÂ titles, positions, acquisitions ofÂ wealth and that is why you find non-entities, the moment they enter government, they become billionaires.
They steal money. People without any useful means of livelihood become billionaires when they enter government and the oppressed NigeriansÂ bow before them because you believe in your mind set that they have made â€˜it. No, they havenâ€™t made anything. They are rogues and they continue to oppress and exploit you.
I told my own children, the members of my own party that â€˜look, you canâ€™t go on tolerating this thing. So, get it into your mind that only a revolution can put this country on proper footing and I donâ€™t talk for the sake of talking.
I want action and God willing, there will be a revolution in this country sooner than we think.
But who will bell the cat?
People are already doing something. Or is this the first time you hear people talk about a revolution?
People like Wole Soyinka talk about Nigeria becoming a failed state…
But I am not talking about a failed state. I am talking about a revolution. There is an organisation, Nigeriaâ€™s United For Democracy which is tested. We are not talking about belling the cats.Â A long time ago, I did say that we are going to sweep out the rats and the cockroaches and mosquitoes in our political system. We will do that and it takes a revolution to do so.
That was in 1983 when you contested presidential election but nothing has happened since then.
You say nothing has happened but a lot has been happening since then. This latest bank tsunami did not just happen. We have been working and this is one of the results.
I want to tell you something. IÂ want youÂ to know that this government which was validated by the Supreme Court byÂ 3â€“4 votesÂ was a disgrace. The judgement that validated this government was a disgrace. This government said it is going to conduct election in this country in 2011.
Elections in this country never have legitimacy, never have integrity, they are always being stolen. Those who are responsible for this know what they are doing. They reckon on your first remark in this interview that Nigerians are so docile, so they continue riding them rough-shod. But are Nigerians docile? Maybe. But there are some of us who cannot be ridden rough-shod and we are the ones that say no. You donâ€™t expect me to take their nonsense.
But the best way to fight a system is to be in that system…
Thank you very much but that is not true. It is another nonsense for you to think that if you join a system, you can change it from within. We have been hearing this and that is what the educated elites are using to deceive people.
How do you expect me to join them so that I may have the opportunity to change them from within. We will continue to resist them as we have been doing andÂ nobody can take that away from us. We are working.We have been growing converts to our way of thinking. All these people we have in leadership are just opportunists and I will like to see how these opportunists are going to conduct elections in this country.
There is so much looting going on in this country and the people should brace up to them. The people should not keep saying that God will help. God doesnâ€™t help cowards.
CanÂ revolution come about withoutÂ a formidable political opposition?
I do not belong to Mega Party. Mega Party does not have the calling. Everybody knows I belong to the school ofÂ thought that says that only a revolution in action can save the people of this country. I have been consistent on this.
I donâ€™t see any future for Nigerians until we put a stop to all these over-exploitation. Corruption has virtually destroyed this nation. It is on record that combating corruption has been our mantra. We are not human rights activists.
We are political revolutionaries. From day one, we said all we need to do in this country is to sweep away the rats, the cockroaches and the mosquitoes in government so that the elites will begin to understand what we were saying. But it is on record that up till today, we never joined them.
We will not join them. We have follower ship. Revolution is not planned on the pages of newspapers, we understand that. And that is why I keep telling you that lets see, how they are gong to conduct the next elections.
The military pride itself for having intervened in the affairs of this country. I wonâ€™t score Nigeriaâ€™s military as all that patriotic in their intervention. Most of the mess which we have now was committed by the military.
How many of their retired generals are notÂ millionaires?
At what time in our political history did things go wrong? You were around in 1960 when we got our independence. I believe your Chambers should have documents to this effect?
I trained abroad as a lawyer because in my time, there was no university that taught Law. Now, when I came back to Nigeria, I was disappointed. My chambers was existing at the time Nigeria got her independence but what we got was a dashed hope.
The imperialists departing government was partly to blame for Nigeriaâ€™s woes. Let us put that aside and talk about us. I have spoken about our mentality as copy-cats, the mentality of Nigerian elites wanting to feel superior to Nigerians.
That should not be. People should have concern for their countrymen ifÂ they are inÂ privileged positions.
They should begin to help Nigerians and createÂ a level-playing field so that more Nigerians would be uplifted to the overall benefit of the people of this country. I donâ€™t like speaking about myself but since you raised that question I will answer it.
From day one in 1960, I started championing the cause of the oppressed and those who suffer injustice. When Chief Awolowo was being persecuted, I was one of the youngest lawyers who stepped out to defend that man, not for politics but for injustice.
If I shared Chief Awolowoâ€™s political view at that time, I would not form the National Advanced Party. I told Chief Awolowo at that time that from the things we were seeing in this country as far back as 1978, that we could not do politics the way they were doing it before then.
There has to be a drastic departure from the Nigeria mind set. I told him that ethnic rivalry, religious jingoism and all kinds of primordial thinking could be exploited by foreigners and that it would bring chaos among our people and so, we needed to depart to thatÂ path even at that stage. Chief Awolowo was very close to me.
He was closer to me than most of his so-called followers. Awolowo once said that if I was interested in politics, I could become a Governor but the point is that I was not interested in politics for politics sake. I wanted to jettison the backward mind set of Nigerians, their attachment to titles, their attachment to all manner of worthlessness.
The present constitution is not a constitution that would make this country progress.
Now, why should anybody be granted immunity for crime? Yesterday, that was 6th of October 2009, in Italy, they were saying that they must remove immunity from Balusconi so as to prosecute the man for the crimes he committed.
But here, I cannot understand how anybody can grant immunity to a thief but thatâ€™s what we do . We grant immunity to robbers who take your money to build sky scrappers, even thoughÂ these edifices are all dangerous .
There is no water. The place is full of bore-holes. Thereâ€™s no transportation. No light. No good roads. They steal your money and build personal things and you bow down to them. Then, you are now afraid to confront them.
Okay, it is understandable. You are afraid to confront them because the law enforcement agencies have become their personal support and protectors. It should not be. The law enforcement agencies should be concerned about honesty, about protecting the rights of the average Nigerians so that we will have blanket development, blanket infrastructure.
Everybody has to make arrangement for his drinking water. We should have light but we donâ€™t. The 6,000 Mega Watts of electicityÂ is one bigÂ lie and then, you go and call them Mr. Governor, Mr. President, Mr. Senator and so on, even local government chairmen want to lord it over you.
It is wrong. Thatâ€™s why even children want to get away from this country. I donâ€™t want revolution just for the sake of shedding blood. You talked about peace. Iâ€™m basically a peaceful person but very angry at injustice and oppression.
When you contested presidential election under your National Advanced Party, Nigerians didnâ€™t vote for you. Gani Fawehinmi also tried and failed…
Let me stop you there. If we were contesting election in another country other than Nigeria, we would win seats but in Nigeria, they donâ€™t understand. Itâ€™s politics of exclusion here. Thieves grab levers of government and they keep every other person out.
This is the situation and this goes on and on and then, they attempt to legitimize themselves. We see through thisÂ by virtue of our enlightenment. We see this and we speak out and we are not going to be guilty of conspiracy of silence.
We will continueÂ to talk, to organize and to enlighten people to see what is good not only for them but for the generation next. Those who have been occupying government knows what is good and what we are doing. They know.
But the point is this: we have an objective and we will fulfil that objective because what we live for will even survive us. We live for an idealism that will survive us.
One would think you are tired and retired!
Retire ke! Me, retire. We are in a state of war for the soul of Nigeria. I cannot retire. What I did recentlyÂ was to hand over to somebody else to take care of the day-to-day running of the party so that I can see to other things.
But what I told you without any fear of contradiction is that what we are doing is yielding results.
So, are the people you handed over to as capable as to drive this revolution because like you said, Nigerians want to see action. I remember Gani Fawehinmi, he had the fire inside him.
Gani has done his part. We thank God for his life. But let me tell you, there are a lot of people in this country who would carry the fire. You asked whether the people I handed over to has the same fire. You will be surprised. They have been brought up by us and to think they will not be able to carry on is a great miscalculation.
You remember a story in the Bible where one ofÂ the big prophets who had done exploits told God, â€˜ah, Iâ€™m the only one remaining and Iâ€™m tired, take me homeâ€™. You know what God told him? There are 7,000 others.
So, there are so many Nigerians that have the fire and we donâ€™t even hear about them. The need for a revolution in this country is so strong and there are people available to see it through.
What Major Nzeogwu and his colleagues tried to do in 1966 was a revolution but it didnâ€™t work.
It was like thatÂ because they allowed the reactionaries to intervene. The reactionaries in the military intervened with active help and support from abroad. But the situation of the world is changing now that oppression and injustice in different parts of the world is no longer the business of that country. So, donâ€™t worry about that.
Nzeogwu and his colleagues failed because there were reactionaries in the military as well as corrupt elements. And these hijacked their revolution. But like I said, the consideration of world politics has changed.
There is an international court of justice for trying injustice committed against humanity. People who appeared to have gotten away with the injustice they committed have not really gotten away. They would be brought to justice.
If you canâ€™t see the handwriting on the wall yet, I will not blame you. In Nigeria, the best is a tool in the hands of the corrupt elements. Sooner than you can imagine, the best will be in the vanguard of a revolution. There is no alternative.
In the past ten years, we have had uninterrupted democracy…
I donâ€™t accept that. It is because we have contrived some bogus election. That does not necessarily mean we have had democracy. I donâ€™t accept that. It has not been a successful transition. The truth is that Nigerians have been sleeping on their rights.
But they are going to wake up. This is not a democracy. Didnâ€™t you hear what Hilary Clinton said? This is not democracy. This is the Nigerian brand when you have 100% landslide victory by people who are not even popular.
President Yarâ€™Adua is working on our electoral reforms and constitution amendment.
There will be no general elections in 2011. The purported constitution amendment being planned is term elongation for the President and the Governors.
There is plan to give the President and Governors three more years and the only way they plan to do it is to entrench it in the Constitution so that elected office holders will have a single term of seven years.
It is what former President Obasanjo tried to do and didnâ€™t succeed that they want to modify. Already, gubernatorial elections would not hold in some states and they are going to use that as a basis to negotiate for uniformity
You know, the tenure of some of the governors didnâ€™t start counting from May 29 2007. That is where they planned to start. There will be no elections in 2011.
I want to ask some questions outside politics.
Yes. If I can, I will answer them.
You used to be Fela Anikulapo Kutiâ€™s lawyer.
Why do you dress like Fela?
Me, dress like Fela ? You have gotten the whole thing lopsided. MyÂ designs were chosenÂ in 1978 duringÂ Felaâ€™s trialÂ for Kalakuta Republic andÂ I was his lawyer. The KalakutaÂ trial was one of my biggest cases. NAP conceived this design for that trial and it has stuck. No, I donâ€™t dress like Fela. It should be the other way round.
ButÂ youÂ are the run-away lawyer in Felaâ€™s song?
Itâ€™s not me.
Maybe it was the lawyer before the destruction ofÂ Kalakuta Republic. He wasnâ€™t seriously mentioned in the song but it was just a one-line yabis but it was not me. I represented him during his Kalakuta Republic trial. That trial was one of my biggest cases.
But you quarreled with him?
We didnâ€™t quarrel. Fela was amenable to my guidance up to a point and we parted ways over his marrying 27 wives and I advised him against that. Outside that ,he was an authentic revolutionary and we have similarity ofÂ ideology.
Did you advise against his marrying 27 wives onÂ grounds of morality?
Africa is a polygamous society.
Really. So, how many wives has your husband?
This interview is about you.
Answer that first.
My grandfather had wives.
I didnâ€™t ask about your grandfather. I said your husband. You see, 27 wives is hazardous to a manâ€™s health and Fela married them in one day!
I advised him not to but he did. It was because of his health. Its a health hazard to sleep with so many women. How would you satisfy them?It is not easy to satisfy one wife not toÂ talk ofÂ 27 ! Well, in the final analysis, I was proven right .
Are you close to his children?
They are like my own children and I love them. I was equally close to Professor Olikoye.
Outside Fela, would you say the amnesty granted militants will be the panacea for peace in the Delta region?
I donâ€™t have panacea for peace in the midst of oppression. How can you expect to have peace when there is injustice ? If you want peace, you do justice.
But when there is no justice, all you can attempt is some kind of hodgepodge, a kind of temporal lull in a turbulence. That will not last. Let there be justice first.