By Bashir Adefaka
FOR those who know him very well it is not disputable that Prince Bola Ajibola is a workaholic even at 75. The former Minister and Attorney-General of the Federation retired as a Judge of the World Court and subsequently established the Crescent University, Abeokuta.
In this interview with Vanguard, Ajibola bared his mind on President Jonathan’s 2011 presidential ambition, how Ogun State Elders’ Forum under his leadership, has helped in restoring peace and harmony as well as his fears for Nigeria in 2011. Excerpts:
YOU made some complaints concerning irregular power supply and bad roads during the President Jonathan’s state visit to Ogun State but it is said that the President did not to adequately address those issues you raised. What do you think?
In the first case, one cannot but remind the President about the current problems he is facing in running the affairs of Nigeria as the chief executive and once these situations are being highlighted, to a man in his own position, I think he would start doing something very seriously.
At that meeting, which was organised during his visit for the Ogun State Elders Consultative Forum to meet and share views with him, we made it clear that the issue of power was absolutely important and fundamental to the development of our country; and we are terribly lagging behind compared to so many other countries even in West Africa. We also touched on the issue of security, the issue of corruption and the issue of agriculture, health and also education that there is a lot to be done and there is a lot that he could do to improve the situations.
He acknowledged the fact that these are problems and that they are problems that he would continue to look into and he asked for a copy of the paper which I presented and which he took away. I highlighted all these problems and difficulties. I mentioned also the problems of infrastructure; good and typical examples are the roads that have potholes, and something has to be done as quickly as possible on that one too.
Regarding the areas you highlighted, some people say the time between now and May 29, 2011 is not enough for the President to do anything. Should the system of a sovereign nation like Nigeria be made to standstill simply because a President is seeking a full mandate?
Let’s say that we should have a dual perspective on this issue. I was of the view and which I conveyed to him even before now that all he could do at this time was not to get involved in the election process of this time; that if possible he should invest the short period at his disposal to fight hard to provide power for the nation; that if he could do that one alone from the time he took office this year to the end of May next year, definitely, Nigeria would be very much happy to have him next time. Getting involved now may not assist him in looking dispassionately at the issue of the election that is forthcoming and most of the time will be much on the election in which he is a contestant.
Advice which I gave then was that he should stand the position of an umpire and be less involved in the real election activities about voting or not voting for him. But his own view, I think, is that look, this period may not be enough during which he could accomplish all that I had told him and that perhaps a full mandate of four years could assist to get things done. And that was the idea, this second idea, that he now went in for, of saying okay, I’ll try to do so but that is if I’m given a full mandate and within that time I would be in a position to accomplish all that is now required of me.
2011 is fast approaching with all negative and positive signs that are coming with it.Do you have fear for Nigeria in 2011?
The imminent fear that I have at the back of my mind now is this matter of the stolen DDC machines. That got me seriously worried and in my mind I was tempted to think of it this way: have we not even failed before the election? Will the election be free and fair? I was somehow frightened that in Nigeria, with all the contractors here, with all law enforcement agencies, with all our security and having regard to the importance of these DDCs, effort was not put in place seriously to disallow this act.
If those who have stolen are bent on manipulating the election, what could be the result again? We should not allow that to happen and something must be done quickly to redress this situation. They have to do something. May be, ordering new branded DDC and jettisoning all those that were ordered for before now.
Nigerians are becoming unduly disturbed and worried about elections being rigged, not being fair, not being free and they are hoping that this 2011 election would be free and fair and away from any manipulation or any criminal act.
Yes if they commit any crime, if they falsify any document, if they do anything wrong during this election, there is all the possibility they would not be prosecuted. We pray and hope that things would be put in proper shape and that Jega would try his best to ensure that this election coming will be free, fair and correct!
With calls here and there for Interim Government to conduct all elections, what is your take on the need for constitutional directive barring a sitting President or governor from contesting election that he conducts?
That is a view. As a matter of fact, the Electoral Reforms Commission has done a good job and it is important that their recommendations should be further looked into and possibly applied towards these coming elections. There are so many absurdities that ought to be cleared with regard to our elections and the results coming therefrom.
Another thing is this idea of having people winning the so-called elections and having served on the seat of government for almost four years before being told that they were wrongfully placed there by the Election Tribunal.
The typical examples are now becoming many: Aregbesola in Osun State, Fayemi in Ekiti State, Mimiko in Ondo State, Oshomhole in Edo and now, recently, Uduaghan that’s been removed and another fresh election is coming at the time of the general elections. These are all absurdities. We should avoid all these.
The Electoral Reforms Commission is taking care of all these. If they could try to put all those things in place, it could help them to get in a better situation in the coming elections and the results coming therefrom. That is very important. That should be looked into.
Another thing that is even also very much advisable as I’ve mentioned before is that, one should restrain from being a judge in his own court. The law calls it: nemo judets incasua soa that is, ‘don’t be a judge in your court.’ Allow independent conduct of elections. If you are going to sit for election, don’t be part and parcel of it; stay neutral and fight for your chance as a candidate. But now that you are part of it and you are also in government, that could be a compromising situation that is likely jeopardise the free and fair need of that kind of election.
As an elder statesman and non-partisan (do I say Nigerian because you a global figure, what is your view of the various struggles for political control ahead of 2011?
One area that I fear seriously at this moment is the undue advantage being taken by our National Assembly having regard to their position by increasing recklessly and very heavily their intake as salaries and remunerations. The consequences could be fatal; the consequences could be very destructive; the consequences could be an end to the whole nation and I have noticed that problem looming.
Some people are now bent on going into politics not because they want to run properly, justly and rightly this nation but, they also want to go in there to loot as they believe others are now looting; abusing their offices, abusing their positions and everything that belongs to the nation.
I don’t understand! They told them that they are now taking to their own pocket 25 per cent of the national treasury. Some of them are now saying no, the executive is doing the same or even more. A pot is now calling kettle black; that is a way of describing the situation. But those who are not in politics, those who are not in government are watching and they are saying to everyone: if they can get there to loot, why can’t we get there too to loot? The stage at which they are stealing, that is becoming very, very dangerous and alarming.
I heard of a story that a chap in Edo State once came out and said he was going to contest the election for the membership of Edo State House of Assembly and there and then he was killed. A similar thing happened in Ekiti and now it’s now becoming a matter of do-or-die that they must get there and they must enrich themselves and they must do it at all costs because they want to get there to loot! Nobody is governing justly, properly, rightly, effectively again other than looking for a means of exploiting, the means of extracting money to themselves.
This is very dangerous! This is very alarming!!
I personally believe and this is the way I fashioned my own life. And let me tell you a bit about it. When I finished my studies at the London University and at Lincoln’s Inn as Barrister at Law and on my way back to Nigeria, so many of our friends were trying to lure us into politics. It was fresh then as people were just moving on. We got our independence in 1960 and people like us finished our studies in 1962. So many of our colleagues were telling us right there in London that they had been invited by their own people to come and lead them into politics. I said to them, like Shakespear said: “May they not be my oracles as well. I will not like to join that band wagon.”
The reason is not far fetched.
Once you have not earned conscientiously, rightly and properly with integrity your own assets in life, you would be reckless and you would be ruthless and the reason you would get in there is to get money at all cost. I don’t believe in it and so I just decided that I would go and earn with my own sweat and that my earning would be from the profession which I belong to: Law.
And once I was able to do that, I would have enough money to myself. If then I was invited to come into government to serve, I would serve honourably, I would serve diligently, I would serve meritoriously, I would serve without taking any money and I would serve honestly without any hope of enriching myself. Because I had already earned, in the very hard way, my life assets.
And it so happened that after I had practised for 23 years from 1962, 63 to 1985 and at the time when I was already serving as the President of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, the General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida administration invited me to come and serve as the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, which I did. But telling you frankly and honestly, I realised that I had earned sufficient money with which I can manage my life and that there was no need for me to be paid any money.
Of course they said yes, but take it and use for those beneficial services that you feel it can be used for and I did because once I got to the Ministry of Justice, the first thing I did was to pick my pen and ask for a file: Do not pay me any remuneration whatsoever here! Once the payment is made available to me, do it the following way. I gave directive: 35 per cent must go back to government so that they can run good government; 25 per cent to the Nigerian Bar Association that happens to be my root from which I came into the government and then 40 per cent to those who are in need and those who are deprived and those blind, lame people all over Nigeria at five per cent each to about eight charitable organisations.
That was how the money was spent for six years.
This, to me, is the right and proper approach when you are talking about serving the nation. People should not go into that office there or into position in order to steal, in order to loot, in order to be unduly, excessively enriched but to go in there to render selfless service. I did and I was always in my office on Saturdays and Sundays. You can ask those who served with me. And I was always doing so regularly
There was a time when we were busy with the Constitution and for three weeks we were sleeplessly serving in the ministry preparing, drafting, working on it. That was it, go and look into the records. The performance was heavy, was good, was excellent. There’s no doubt about it.
What advice do you have for Professor Attahiru Jega for him to do a good job?
Once beaten twice shy. And I hope that he would be very firm, he will serve independently, he will not allow himself to be persuaded one way or the other in doing wrong things; he will allow justice, fair play, proper conduct of the elections to hold this time. All eyes are on him; people are of the view that he can do a good job and I think he should do so in the light of the new Electoral Law and in the light of the new Electoral Reforms that are being catered for and that he should come with a very clear, clean and free election this time around.
It is said that charity begins at home. Five years ago you became Chairman, Ogun State Elders’ Consultative Forum. What informed the establishment of the forum?
The Ogun Elders’ Consultative Forum is the brainchild of our governor in the state, Otunba Gbenga Daniel. In fact, the inauguration was on the 9th of October 2005 when we were all invited to assemble at the Valley View for the inauguration ceremony and I happened to get in there casually. We sat down and he came out with his thought on the need for this Elders Forum.
The governor is firmly of the belief that our state is heavily blessed with men and women of substance, intellectually and professionally. And there is all the possibility that so many of us could be of service to our nation if we can all be assembled for this kind of forum where we would all put our talents, experiences, thoughts, wisdom in order to enhance the development of our state; knowing fully well that so many of us have achieved quite a lot nationally and internationally, recognising that such a body would lend the needed support, advices and good recommendations to the state government in order to ensure good development and good process within our state.
And we all agreed to start the ball rolling and participate effectively in the development exercise. Incidentally, I was there and then appointed as the chairman and a decision was also taken at that meeting that standing committees should be set up to look into various aspects of government endeavour in order to articulately address some of those needs of the state.
Could you mention some of those standing committees?
Yes, there was the decision that we should have a Peace and Conflict Resolution Committee and I was again asked to head that committee. Professor Adebayo Adedeji was appointed to head the Economic Development Committee, which he did creditably well even till date. Incidentally his (Adedeji’s) 80th birthday is now going on. I’m wishing him many happy returns on the birthday!
That is not all. We also have the Welfare Committee headed by Ambassador Iyabola; she is one of us and she agreed to serve in that capacity and we all agreed that Professor Ogunlusi should also serve there. For Education Committee, Olorogun Kuku was appointed to head that committee and he’s done a lot of research works on education comparing the situations in all parts of Nigeria to the present situation in Ogun State. We have Professor Mabogunje heading that of Poverty Alleviation and similar Matters Committee and that committee has done quite a lot of work on the issue of poverty in the state.
And that is not all. We also have what we call Security Committee headed by Ambassador Jolaosho, one our octogenarians. He’s done very well together with other members interested in the issue of security. With him the work is going on very well and there has also been a lot of interactions between that committee and our own committee on peace and in most cases, whenever there is any problem in any part of the state on the issue of security and ensuring peace, we’ve always come together to brainstorm on how best to deal with the situation.
Can we look at instances of some of the security situations you have dealt with so far?
We had one recently involving someone considered to be violent and very chaotic to the state and we quickly called the meeting of the two committees and the consequences of which resulted in writing so many letters to the authorities warning and urging them to do something to stop the chap from going on with all acts of incitement towards violence. So, we have always worked together.
We normally have our plenary meetings once or twice in a year. At times we do hold extraordinary meetings when situations are really serious and getting out of hands. And we have men and women of talents and we’ve received some with their fortunes of good thinking and effective cooperation in so many of their activities within the Elders Consultative
But we did not stop there. We felt money was needed to continue our activities and because of that, we set up a Treasury Committee and we have been collecting money from our members that we use and are still using to help our financial situations whenever there is need for us to do so.
For example when there was this problem at Ijebu-Ife, some of our members visited the community there at the invitation of the Ajalorun of Ijebu-Ife, His Royal Highness, Oba Oguntoye. We discussed with them; we gave them out support with about N1 million and also tried to give them words of encouragement. We’ve done this in so many other areas. We went all out with another committee to settle the problem between the Iperu community and some others who were claiming the same zone. We have resolved that and peace has since been restored in the area.
There is also the issue of Obaship in Ado Odo, where some people were fighting violently against the Oba installed the place. In fact on this matter, a judgement has already been given by the Supreme Court and we stood by that and we urged all the people of Ado Odo to please abide by the judgement of the Supreme Court and to keep peace and work and live in harmony with the Oba. This is the current position.
The relative peace that Ijoko community has achieved today, was it part of your forum’s effort?
Yes and that was part of our efforts. And as I told you, our committee worked for many months on trying to resolve the problems that were created there and we worked hand-in-hand with our Security Committee as well as the Nigerian Police. We did so. It’s all part of our exercise and we’ve been to all parts of Ogun State trying to resolve problems here and there. And it’s been well organised and well arranged. In fact, we are being called the House of Lords of Ogun State and we are living up to expectation.
Explicitly speaking, your position on the Ado Odo is that the Oba has been recognised by the Court: what of Ijoko?
The same position is that the people should make sure that the Ijoko people keep peace with the Oba that is there now. That is it.