By Bashir Adefaka
Chief Ayo Adebanjo, lawyer and prominent disciple of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, began his political career as Organising Secretary of the defunct Action Group, AG.
The chieftain of the newly established Social Democratic Mega Party, SDMP, told Vanguard that Nigeria’s only panacea to solving its protracted socio-economic and seeming perplexing political problems is in the convergence of the long clamoured Sovereign National Conference. He also bared his mind on other burning national issues. Excerpts:
Are you rattled that the Nigeria of Awolowo’s dream, is yet to be actualised?
I’m not rattled; I’m saddened! You see you are rattled about something when you don’t expect such a thing to happen. This one ought not to happen if they had followed the training that Awo gave us. Unfortunately those who claim to be Awoists; I call them artificial Awoists because many of them are fake! What they appear to be is different from what they actually are. It’s unfortunate and there is no doubt about that. I’m saddened. It is not the dream of yesterday that we are having now.
With violence erupting across the country, what do you think can be done to prevent a post election crisis in Nigeria?
You see the problem of Nigeria is not strange. Only that people who are dealing with it, make it look as complex as it has become. Many of our leaders don’t even understand the problems, how much more finding solutions to them. You know in mathematics, you have got to understand what the problems are before you think of the theory to apply in solving them. If you don’t get the fundamental right, you can’t get the answer. Also, it’s like a doctor who has a wrong diagnosis of a disease, he can’t apply the actual medicine.
You see, fundamentally and I will continue to repeat that, and may be to the hearing of President Jonathan, if he’s lucky to get in, his first priority should be to re-organize Nigeria as a true federation. Not the fraudulent one that we are having, which we call the Federal Republic of Nigeria, whereas it is actually unitary.
Our forefathers granted us independence from the colonialists as a federation, as at that time, the country was divided into three Regions: West, East and North and that was after the London Constitutional Conference of 1953, following the controversial motion by Chief Anthony Enahoro for self-government. It was the late Chief Enahoro’s motion that led to that London conference and it brought for us true Federal Constitution.
As a matter of fact, when Chief Awolowo and others won the elections in 1952, there was no position for premiership. They were called Leaders of Government Business. It was after the London Constitutional Conference of 1953, that they went to London and Chief Awolowo fought assiduously for a Federal Constitution saying minority must be provided for and there should be no ethnic nationality in Nigeria that will not have access to the highest position in Nigeria.
Federalism provides a situation where each federating unit has a space. Not about diversity in religion, culture and social upbringing; it is necessary however, but once you don’t give cognizance to all these, you have all these clashes.
Do you see the continuing crisis on the Plateau as a consequence of this?
The Plateau crisis is purely religious. In that place, most of the people are Christians. You would find out that the latest situation there is that the Fulanis were attacking people from other tribes, the Christians and all that. Can you imagine people going into the churches bombing the people therein, matcheting them? Can that happen in Yorubaland? There is a problem ditto Niger Delta.
I have always held the view that no amount of government bodies that NDDC sets up in the Niger Delta will resolve the problems over there. What will resolve the problems generally both in Niger Delta and every other place is: give them their autonomy. Give us the Constitution where Bayelsa will be autonomous, where Rivers will be autonomous, where Ogun will be autonomous, where Imo will be autonomous and Kaduna will be autonomous. Then we all come back to live peacefully together. In any Federal Constitution, it is the federating unit that feeds the centre; unlike Nigeria where we all go to Abuja for loan. But by the way you distribute your revenue and all that, the centre takes all! These are the problems and that’s why the Niger Delta problem will never stop!
How can we then get a truly federal Constitution?
Under a Federal Constitution the police, I mean the security is a state matter. Imagine somebody coming from Nasarawa to become Police Commissioner in Ogun and all that. To show you how fraudulent our leaders are all approaching this thing, the United Kingdom from where we took over our independence, police is a Local Government affair and that is why you have the metropolitan police in London. You don’t have Inspector-General of Police in that situation.
The moment a police officer is employed in a metropolitan city, he is entirely there as a metropolitan police officer. As a result, if a policeman is employed in Lekki area, now talking of Nigeria, as a recruit, he will be in Lekki Local Government and no corner in Lekki where criminals are that he will not know.
But when you say you are one Nigeria and you bring a Commissioner of Police from Jigawa to come and solve security problem in Lekki, how will he do it? In America whose Constitution we copied, police is a state matter. But here, if anything happens in any state, Federal Government will say oh yes, go and close down the House of Assembly using the police and they do all unconstitutional things. These are our problems and then they say there is crisis here, there is crisis there. Fundamentally that is it.
Many of us that are existing till today would know that if we have been practicing the Federal Constitution as Awolowo had it, we won’t have problems. But the fact that Awolowo insisted and we succeeded then to have a Federal Constitution which, as a consequence, warranted distribution of revenue based on derivation. At that time he (Awolowo) fought for 50 per cent for any product that came from your area and that entitled us to derivation on our cocoa where we were having 50 per cent, the North had 50 per cent on their groundnut and the East had 50 per cent on their palm kernels.
So, by the time we had those things, we had a lot of money. By the time we were advocating free education in 1953, there was no question of supplying free textbooks and free exercise books but after 1953 Constitutional Conference, the marketing bonds were broken and the revenue was based on what you had, we had plenty of money and in addition to free education, therefore, Awolowo was able to give free textbooks and free exercise books.
And that was why before the election of 1999, you will remember, Afenifere and NADECO insisted on Sovereign National Conference to talk about restructuring the national Constitution. Many of you may not understand when we talk of restructuring the country. You know when you talk of restructuring a country there must have been a structure there before. It was the military that de-structured Nigeria in 1966 after the coup. Because there was a Federal Constitution that already structured the country but when they came, they suspended it and that is why we are advocating that we should go back to the basics.
And at that time in 1999 we, the NADECO led by Afenifere leaders, didn’t want to take part in Abdulsalami’s Constitution and people didn’t understand. I said, “Well before we do any election, let us have a Constitution of the people. It is under the Constitution we are going to have an election.” But Abdulsalaami said he had no time. He said, “I am going; when you get your democratic rights and you are in power, you can do that.” We knew that we were not being tasked. While we were insisting then, there was a clamour from the populace. As a result, we participated because truly we didn’t want what happened under Abacha to repeat itself.
What particular thing that happened under Abacha are you referring to?
Abacha pretended to do Constitutional Conference but loaded the place with his people. That was the time Ojukwu said publicly that the election to that Constitutional Conference was more valid than that of Abiola. We boycotted it querying why we should go to a Constitutional Conference when the government had already loaded its own nominees in it. Even those elected were a minus. So we leant our lesson from there and that was why we took part in the Abdulsalaam Constitution in 1999.
Like General Abdulsalaam said, did you make any effort afterward to decide your fate the way you really wanted it and how?
Unfortunately we told our flagbearers that we had only won the battle but not the war and that they should not take part in any meeting of government in Abuja until we had the Constitutional Conference. Because, go to history, we and the Alliance for Democracy, AD, made the Sovereign National Conference, SNC, an election issue. Thereafter, as Afenifere we toured every House of Assembly in the Southwest asking the lawmakers to pass a resolution that there must be Sovereign National Conference and that, after the resolution has been passed, you; our flagbearers should follow it up. Don’t go and collaborate with any government in Abuja until the conference has been held.
Then they said, ‘Oh, we are in minority’ and we said to them, we had done it before.
The Action Group was in the minority in the First Republic when we collapsed the McPherson Constitution.” Because when Chief Enahoro made that resolution, Mcpherson then said that our ministers from the West must no take part in that motion for independence: ministers then were chosen from each House of Assembly and then our people said what for? So our people like Bode Thomas, Chief Ladoke Akintola and even the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Aderemi, went to the cabinet under the platform of the Action Group. Mcpherson said to the Ooni during the visit, “Your Highness, I won’t like to sack you because you are CMG. And then the Ooni said, I won’t even give you the right to sack me. I will resign. He resigned as minister and that was what caused the crisis of 1963.
You see, we knew that Nigeria was a tripod: East, West and North. The moment any of the three legs is removed, it can’t stand! That was why the colonialists asked for the Constitutional Conference of 1953 which gave birth to the 1954 Constitution that made us truly Federal and the Constitution of the West was separate, East separate and North separate. That was what we had until independence in 1960. And even when they were going to change the Constitution to Republic, it’s the same thing but the coup of 1966 brought this thing by the military and so, the reason we are shouting for restructuring of the country.
But they failed to restructure and our flagbearers whom we gave the mandate failed to insist on our mandate that we were not taking part in this government unless there was a restructuring of the country.
The military used their powers to create so many Local Governments. Lagos is bigger than Kano but out of Kano they created Jigawa. Kano has about 40 Local Governments, Lagos has 20. That is the awkwardness of it because there was no basis, no yardstick for creating Local Governments. The military just used their veto and that time too they even located the headquarters for a Local Government without knowing where it was, only to find out later that no place was bearing that name. They did the revenue allocation to the number of Local Governments and that is why the South, I mean Lagos in particular is being cheated under the system.
And that is one good thing that Bola Tinubu did by creating Local Council Development Areas that Obasanjo chose to sabotage. We can go on and on and on; one thing leads to the other.
So, without this fundamental change in our set up, we can’t have peace. And I had told Obasanjo before when he said “the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable”. I said he’s talking nonsense; there is nothing more negotiable than the unity of this country. We must sit down at the roundtable conference and decide whether we want to live together or not.
And how do we live together? Every club has its own rules and regulations. So by the time we sit down together, you will be able to say no, you are cheating us. We will do it among ourselves peacefully. That is why people say if you make changes impossible, you will make violence inevitable. If we sit down and we say no you are cheating us because you don’t give us 100 per cent derivation and then you say no, you can’t have 100 per cent; take 50 and let’s have 50. You negotiate it! They will then feel as part of the federation. Nobody wants to leave a big country.
You have always talked about these problems but nothing has changed. What do you think is responsible?
Yes, this is not the first time really that I am talking about the problems. We will continue to talk until the right thing is done. That thing is still there and until you remove the cause of the problems we will continue to suffer the pain! We will continue to talk until we get there and that is why we are hoping now that, under the Attahiru Jega-led INEC, people’s votes will count this time around. And that is why Jonathan has a stake. If he is lucky to have it and he misses the point and the opportunity to organize a Sovereign National Conference, he’s doomed!
Obasanjo missed the opportunity of his name being written in letters of gold and so his name will be written in dust. I said it before to him, when he called his fake Constitutional Conference which had nothing that came out of it, that if he thought he could maneuver the system, he was joking. Because Obasanjo thought he could use that conference to his own advantage. No! You can’t cheat the people and expect that people will not react! He missed that opportunity and I hope Jonathan will not miss his own opportunity because, you can’t do a thing the wrong way every time and you expect a different result.
What is your assessment of the way and manner your children in the Awolowo school went about picking their flagbearers for the April, 2011 general elections?
Who do you refer to as my children?
The progressives in the filed.
Those you call progressives are not progressives. I maintain it until they come back under one banner and that is the essence of our establishing Social Democratic Mega Party, SDMP, which now has Chief Olu Falae as its National Chairman and Professor Pat Utomi as its Presidential Candidate. We are not known because we have not got the money. That’s our handicap but the ideology, the principles and the manifesto we stand for can’t be beaten. The quality of our leadership can’t be compared even with that of PDP or ACN. You won’t find all those dubious characters in SDMP.
It’s a thing I have said publicly ad I can still repeat it. Who are the characters in PDP? A few who are there haven’t got the courage to come out because they want to take the advantage of being in power. I believe there are some progressives in the PDP but the platform on which they operate doesn’t allow the progressive in them to manifest. Even the young progressives who have something against PDP and ACN, when they come they are told, “Can you win an election?” But you have to fight for it because impossible can always be possible.
By the time the Action Group started in the 50s we were losing elections in Lagos, we lost election in Ibadan, in Ilesha. We were able to win the majority but we were not as popular then as we are now. So, we started by preaching especially the free education which Chief Awolowo worked hard upon and implemented. Nobody believed it was going to be possible but by the time we started the free education on 1st of January, 1955 people were amazed asking: “Is it true?”
How did you do it?
Before we started the free education scheme we had registered the students, we built the schools and we had established Teachers’ Training Colleges where teachers taught teachers. All those were done. We did real planning before we went into the implementation of the scheme. Unlike now when people would go into government without preparing for governance and they just pick up programme and implement it without actually having to have planned for it. That is why they fail.
And that is why we say any political party that follows strictly what Chief Awolowo left behind has no other result to achieve except success.
Go to the archive! If you go to Sopolu Library in Ikenne, there is nothing about this country that Chief Awolowo had not planned for. Except that he didn’t plan for corruption that permeates what is happening now. When you ask your candidates to pay millions of naira each before they can contest an election, is it for whoever wins that election to go into government and serve diligently? How do you therefore expect him to get there and not be corrupt?
Lastly, the Afenifere has been silent. Has it lost its voice or what is happening?
No, no, no. It is you press people we should ask. We have our secretariat at Jibowu in Lagos, but whatever we do you don’t publish us and those that are opposed to us have a way of making the media not to publish us but their own activities are given prominence. I say this with authority. Yes!
You see what is happening all over the place now. AC would claim that they are party of Afenifere, they are Awoists. Where in Awolowo’s politics will you see them conducting primary elections and those primaries are marred with violence?