Dr. Tunji Braithwaite
- Saraki’s arraignment before CCT will die a natural death
- Why Awolowo, Aminu Kano’s alliance did not fly in 1979
- I didn’t betray Awolowo in 1983 by running against him
- Nigeria not yet free of military opportunism
SECOND Republic Politician, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite is not happy over the deep rot in the polity occasioned by mindless graft especially among the leadership class. This was the reason he made eradication of corruption (clearing rats, mosquitoes and cockroaches) the fulcrum of his presidential campaign in 1983 when he ran on the platform of the Nigeria Advance Party (NAP) which he founded. Currently, Braithwaite says President Muhammadu Buhari has not started fighting corruption despite claims to the contrary. He said the arraignment of Senate President Bukola Saraki before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) is a misstep that will make Saraki a free man soon in spite of the criminal charges slammed against him. Braithwaite, who has been practising law since 1961, in this interview at his Victoria Island, Lagos home, fears that Nigeria is not completely free of military opportunism and its influence in the polity. Going down memory lane, he disclosed why Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Malam Aminu Kano could form an alliance in 1979 and why he ran against Awolowo in 1983 in spite of their closeness.
By Clifford Ndujihe, Deputy Political Editor
His take on Chief HID Awolowo’s death
I see Mama’s passing not as a sad event at all. At 99, approximately 100, it is not a bad news. Having said that I know Mama HID very well more than the public. The public saw her with the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) government. Papa and Mama Awolowo were very close to me. They were regular visitors here. The late Wole (Pa Awolowo’s son) used to visit me.
On virtues Nigerians should learn from HID Awolowo
She was a hard working woman who supported her husband through thick and thin. As Pa Awolowo himself described her, she was a jewel of an inestimable value.
There are a lot of lessons that Nigerians should learn from her. In terms of womanhood, she was not like those opportunistic wives of military officers, who had one stupid project or the other, calling themselves first ladies. We never heard her being called First Lady of Western Region or anything and she never comported herself that way.
On what informed his closeness to the Awolowo family
It was primarily from Law. When he was in trouble before the trump-up charge, I was a great supporter of him when they were doing the Coker Inquiry. This, unfortunately, has been the bane of Nigerian politics. If you have courage that they don’t expect you to have, they will set up some form of inquiries tilted against you. That was why I started supporting Chief Awolowo to his own surprise. He said to me and my mother: ‘how could a young man like Tunji stick out his neck for a man they considered finished?’’
You were part of the legal team before he went to prison…
Yes, even before they formally charged him when he was going through the Coker inquiry with his trusted friends like old Maja and Chief Shonibare. They were the three principal targets.
On Chief Olu Falae’s kidnap by Fulani herdsmen and freedom, last week
It is a sad news. That in this day and age, a public figure of Falae’s standing, an upright man, a hard working one-time technocrat could just be whisked away like that in broad day light is a sad indictment of the present government.
If a man like Falae could be beaten and whisked away like that, it is a serious indictment which Nigerians will have to take seriously especially the entire South.
Why the entire South?
Can you imagine people from the South, traders or something doing that in the North? Of course not. How can Fulani herdsmen from the North carry a prominent figure like that? Then, lesser figures are not safe. I don’t know if they paid ransom or not. It would be worse if they paid ransom. It is downright criminality, it should be punished. I am not happy about ransom being paid to criminals.
Kidnapping should not carry jail sentence of less than 20 years.
You were close to Pa Awolowo. Why did you run against him in the 1983 presidential election?
I ran against him not because we fell out. I gave the reason to a journalist recently but he did not get it. I was approached by people from the Middle Belt, late JS Tarka’s people came here. They knew I was very close to Chief Awolowo. That was in 1978, when General Olusegun Obasanjo’s military regime was preparing to handover and called for the formation of political parties.
Before then, some young northern fellows, one of them was Dasuki, I think Ibrahim was his first name, he was a middle level civil servant in the Ministry of Internal Affairs at Ikoyi when late Chief Sunday Awoniyi was the permanent secretary. It was Awoniyi that I knew very well. In my professional capacity, I used to go there. I had many corporate clients and the issue of business permit and expatriate quota was a major part of any corporate lawyer. For instance, I registered Julius Berger in this country.
So, to get expatriate quota for my foreign clients, I would go to see Awoniyi because his ministry handled such things at Alagbon, Ikoyi here because they had not created Abuja. This young Dasuki was the one who would process it. He got to know me and he used to visit me when I was living at South/West Ikoyi. This Dasuki was one of the young Turks for Malam Aminu Kano in the North. And I was close to Chief Awolowo. So we started talking. They knew my politics, I was writing articles attacking northern hegemony. Still they came to me. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and Mohammed Gusau were also part of the young Turks for Aminu Kano.
And I was for Awolowo together with Alao Aka-Bashorun, Olu Onagoruwa, etc. I was the leader of the young Turks for Awolowo. So, when the military said they wanted to return the nation to politics, the two sides said why can’t Awolowo and Aminu Kano team up to lead the country? These boys asked if I could introduce them to Chief Awolowo. I was the person who took Babangida and Dasuki to Parklane, Apapa where Pa Awolowo lived and introduced them. The plan was Awolowo as the president and Aminu Kano as the vice president should work together for the 1979 election.
Meanwhile, Tarka, the United Middle belt Democratic Congress (UMBC) people who were associates of the Action group (AG) in the First republic approached me and said: ‘Dr Braithwaite, this return to civil rule is fraught with danger.’
Return to civil rule
I said, ‘how’? They said they had been victims of oppression for many years in the North, and that was why they teamed up with the AG in the First Republic but it did not help them much. I was reporting what they said to Chief Awolowo every time they came. He too found it interesting and he said, ‘all right, continue to listen to them.’ They wrote papers and I was delivering everything to him. I was not convinced at first and I was reporting to Awolowo. Meanwhile, Chief Awolowo’s inner core of the AG was forming the UPN. He didn’t keep me out of such meetings. Then after some time, Chief Awolowo said, ‘Tunji, be careful that these people were not out to rip you off.
The people convinced me that if this country would realise its economic and political potential, the next dispensation must be revolutionary. They said, these military boys must be watched. The people from the Middle belt knew the military boys, some of them were also living in Kano. They said, ‘Tunji, we want a young fearless person like you, a lawyer to form a distinct party.’ They turned out to be right. They said they knew the military boys that the boys were deceiving the Nigerian public. I told Pa Awolowo. He asked what I meant. I said there were many things that needed to be changed in the Nigerian Constitution. He said that would be too dangerous to them (AG), that they would see us.
Pa Awolowo was the only one whose outlook came relatively closer to what those boys wanted. Then we had a number of young university lecturers of socialist bent. Pa Awolowo could not go half as revolutionary as we wanted. When he said he could not, we formed the Nigerian Advance Party (NAP). Our complexion was made clear, that we wanted revolution. We will sweep out the corrupt element. We will probe. That was where clearing the rats and cockroaches came into it. We said we will deal with the military and all the people who had been involved.
That was why the military registered the First republic parties in their new names. They registered UPN, which was AG. They registered Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), which was the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC). They registered National Party of Nigeria (NPN), which was the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC). They also registered Aminu Kano’s Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). In 1979, they did not register us deliberately even though the PRP came to me the night before and said they were sure that NAP had met all registration requirements. Aminu Kano and SG Ikoku came to this house and said, ‘you are likely to be registered, should we form an alliance?’ I said, ‘yes’ because they were the nearest to us.
NAP was finally registered in 1983, what happened?
We had gone to civilian rule then. Before the handover, the military asked us to dismantle our operations. We said no. they harassed us but we did not dismantle. We had structures because from 1978 to 1983 we did not stop operation. We were going through the entire universities and polytechnics. We were pretty strong and given our socialist and revolutionary bent, they had no choice than to register us in 1983.
We were going strong. And we knew that something would happen to that regime. In fact, President Shehu Shagari sent Alhaji Umaru Dikko to me to say that the information was that if he was declared the president after the election, the military would intervene. And that he was advised that if he invited NAP, PRP and the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) there was a possibility that the military would not intervene. I met him one-on-one at the State House. We declined. There were a few offers made to us. We declined. Given our socialist revolutionary bent we were not ready to form an alliance with these bourgeois neo-colonialist groupings.
Didn’t Awolowo feel betrayed?
He was not betrayed at all. In fact, what he said was that he did not know that I was that serious a politician. He thought our relationship was based on law because I was passing briefs to him. He said he did not realise I wanted to do politics that he only saw me as a man for justice, human rights activism.
I can’t tell you many things, they will appear in my book but certainly, he did not feel betrayed. I don’t want to disclose this yet. Pa Awolowo regretted that I was not in the UPN because he said some of those who were governors were not as useful to him as Tunji would have been.
Mama HID Awolowo still sent such message at my 70th birthday through a lawyer, Awoniyi, who worked in Awolowo’s chambers. So, there was no question of betrayal. Pa Awolowo felt he should go with his old friends in AG. I was not in AG.
His assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari administration so far
I spoke on a TV programme where people asked me questions on the latest appointments that he made – chief of staff, secretary to the government of the federation, etc, whether they were not slanted to the North.
I said may be so but I have other insight to the latest appointments because I know Buhari very well and he knows me. I said forget about the northern slant and look at other more significant things. The date of the announcement of those appointments was significant. The announcement was made on August 27, which was the anniversary of the Babangida coup that toppled Buhari in 1985.
I said people should think about that. Why would he make such pivotal announcement on such an anniversary? People should think. We should not take things on face value. So, it is clear to me that, Buhari for the moment, is not thinking about North and South. My analysis is that Buhari is thinking of the military. He wants to do something about the Nigerian military. If you looked at his latest appointments, two of the appointments were his former military colleagues. It shows that Nigeria is not yet out of the woods when it comes to military opportunism and he wants to clear his backyard first.
Much noise, no action against graft
We have heard a lot of noise being made about attacking corruption. What has he done about attacking corruption four months after he was sworn in? The fact that we are having better electricity supply and the refineries are working cannot be what he has done.
His body language, may be. But what we got all this time is military news. To me, he wants to make sure that military opportunists, military looters, who are still very much around in the control and administration of this country directly or through their proxies are adequately handled.
How many people have been charged for corruption? Nobody. One military fellow, Sambo Dasuki, the former NSA has been taken to a Magistrates’ Court. Put your two and two together if you are a thinker.
What about Senate President Bukola Saraki being taken to the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT?
That is what I am saying. Saraki’s arraignment before the CCT will die a natural death. The charges that I heard read against Saraki were criminal, why take him to the CCT, which is like a bull dog without teeth? The CCT has not got criminal power.
Where should Saraki have been taken to?
He should have been taken to a court with criminal power to send people to jail if found guilty. The CCT cannot jail. You will find that this circus show will die a natural death.
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