• ‘Nigeria’s future bleak without restructuring’
By Dayo Johnson, Akure
94-year-old national leader of the Yoruba group, Afenifere, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, was installed in November 2008 in Ijebu Igbo, Ogun State after the death of Pa Abraham Adesanya.
In this interview, the nonagenarian speaks on the general elections, militarization of the polls, vote-buying, President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election, inconclusive elections, restructuring and the factionalisation of Afenifere among other issues.
The country has just gone through general elections. What is your assessment?
If what we saw here in Ondo State is anything to go by, there was no election. This was an election where people had to buy votes openly, it is a sham. The reports we got from across the country were the same.
lf that is the case, what is the way out?
Nigerians should be allowed to choose their leaders. All those influencing the electorate to vote contrary to their conscience should stop because it will soon backfire. This is a dangerous trend in the history of this country. Our people have been impoverished and the politicians believe that once they can settle them on the day of election they would vote for them. They bought the people’s conscience with money. That is absolutely wrong. The situation whereby Nigerians continue to vote for the highest bidders during elections, not minding the candidates’ ability to perform and deliver can only spell doom for the country and our democracy because the electorate would have no moral ground to question or call those so voted into power whenever they are off the track. But the current economic hardship and lust for money have made our people, especially the youths, to embrace vote-buying and selling.
Should there be a penalty for those who are involved in vote-buying and selling?
The politicians inducing the electorate with money should be apprehended and made to face the law. But the best thing is not to allow it to happen. It was not like this in the days of Awolowo. People went to the polling centres to vote for the candidates of their choice based on the candidates’ ability to perform and deliver, and not to sell their votes and elect those that would not be accountable to them. What is happening now is the direct opposite.
Let’s talk about the desperation of politicians to occupy political offices in the country.
They know there is money there; that is why they are desperate. If they’re going there to serve the people, it shouldn’t have been that bad. The desperation is alarming and if nothing is done to make elective positions less lucrative, it will get to a boiling point and will not augur well for the nation’s democracy.
How do we stop this trend?
We should elect people of good character. Elective positions should not be lucrative. When people win elections, they should not earn much money. If it is possible, make it part-time; we have been advocating for this and the lawmakers should take it up. When l was a councillor a long time ago, I was also a school principal. I only took allowances and some times l would refuse to take the allowances and we worked hard then, but now our people in public office do less and earn jumbo allowances and salaries.
What is your take on the militarization of election across the country?
It is wrong. People should be allowed to vote without intimidation. What’s the business of the military in election? Militarising election is a disgrace to this country. This should stop in future elections for the elections to be credible. We are not in a war situation, so why do we deploy soldiers on the streets to intimidate voters and also use them to compromise election?
Now that President Muhammadu Buhari has been re- elected, what is your reaction and what do you want him to do differently in the next four years?
Re-electing President Muhammadu Buhari for another four years is a disaster because his first four years is nothing to write home about. He has failed to deliver on his fight against corruption, secure the country and improve the economy. The last four years is a waste. He should wake up now that he has been re- elected and tackle corruption frontally; those people who are around him that are corrupt should be dealt with. Double standards should stop .There is hunger all over the place because the economy has not improved. He should tackle that so that Nigerians can see that he is working.
In other words, we should endure him now having secured the second term.
We have to endure and wait for the end of his term. Nigerians should just be patient and continue to endure. There is light at the end of the tunnel. The maximum is eight years. I appeal to Nigerians to keep praying to God for good leaders that would bring succour and smiles to their faces. The suffering is too much but it is for a short time. God will intervene in the affairs of this nation. He has done it before and He will still intervene to bring back the lost glory of this country.
The PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has gone to the tribunal but some Nigerians are asking him to allow the sleeping dog lie.
Why are they discouraging him not to exercise his democratic and constitutional right to seek redress if he felt cheated? Let the tribunal do its job. Nigerians are waiting for the commencement of the tribunal proceedings. It is going to be a celebrated case going by what the PDP candidate said that he has the results of the elections.
Do you think that those advising Atiku not to seek redress at the tribunal are jittery of the outcome?
They are even afraid. The evidence of electoral malpractice is overwhelming here and there. He must have a case and that is why he is bold enough to go to the tribunal. He has some things to tender to the tribunal. Those against Atiku going to the tribunal should stop all their propaganda, let them also go to the tribunal and present their own case instead of advising him not to go or that he has no case. Both parties should proceed to the tribunal with their evidence and let the tribunal decide and Nigerians would then know what really happened in the presidential election.
What is your take on inconclusiveness of elections in the country?
That is very bad. When elections are held, people should get the results. There should be no doubt about who the people voted for. Winners should be declared immediately after elections.
But a new vista has been introduced such that after people cast their votes, the votes are counted, the results are awaited but at the end of the day, there are manipulations. That is why people are complaining.
People argue that the introduction of inconclusiveness into the polity was meant to favour a particular party. Do you agree?
It is very obvious and it is unfortunate. When did we start this issue of inconclusive election? It’s a ploy to manipulate elections in states and constituencies where a particular party was not doing well. Nobody is deceived by this ploy. Nigerians can see and read between the lines. It’s really a pity we have descended to this level in our democracy.
What is the future of Nigeria without restructuring?
There will be no progress. But if we restructure, for instance, Ondo State will be able to tap its mineral resources. At the moment, you can’t touch it. Apart from that, if we restructure, we will have our own police, which will help in quick dispensation of justice. These are the things that will automatically take place when we restructure the polity. Nigerians are complaining that nothing is moving, it is because those in government have decided not to do the right thing. It is a statement of fact that the future is bleak without restructuring.
What is your opinion on former governors going into the Senate?
They find it lucrative and they are desperate, that is why they are going to the Senate. The bottom line is that elective positions are becoming more and more attractive. Those in government after tasting power do not want to leave. When governors complete their terms, they should go. They aren’t going to the Senate to serve. It is not for service, it is the money and continued relevance in the political scene, that’s their driving force.
What about retired generals contesting for presidential election?
Again, it is lucrative and the love is for power. This should not happen. Keep the military out of government. We are not in the military era, when they retire; let them retire to their private lives. The idea of retired generals becoming democrats is unacceptable. They should leave the political stage for real democrats.
You are 94 now. Where do you want to see in Nigeria before your exit?
My dream is that the country should be able to produce honest people, hardworking people, young men who will be forward looking to build a great and virile nation. But as it is now, there is nothing to write home about and our dream has not come to being. When l was a councillor, l was also a school principal and l did not take anything from the council. I was doing it free because l had a job. There was passion to serve the people. But the whole thing has changed; today everything is monetized and you see people earning fat allowances. It appears money has taken control and there is nothing we could do about it except a miracle happens.
Why is Afenifere factionalised?
Afenifere was one but my friend, Ayo Fasanmi, decided to set up a rival group which is very unfortunate. The Afenifere we used to know was one and we spoke with one voice but l don’t know what he (Fasanmi) really wants.
No doubt we are friends but l don’t know what he really wants. l have not heard about him until recently. But l guess some people are prompting him to set up a rival organization to give an impression of a divided house. It is very unfortunate.
What do you think is the role of leaders like Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in this matter?
Tinubu does not belong to us. He is a member of APC. He is encouraging some people to start agitating as a rival group. He is with Ayo Fasanmi.
Last week, the governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, announced that some schools will be named after some Afenifere leaders, including Pa Ayo Fasanmi. What is your take?
Government has also named a school after me. I think it is the reward for hard work and selflessness. If that is the way they look at it, it is okay. When l founded Akure High School, now named after me, l gave it to government; they did not ask for it and l did not ask for money. I think now they said they want to reward me. I was doing it then to serve the people
Do you read politics into the renaming of schools after Fasanmi and others in Ekiti?
I don’t know but l think Fayemi thinks the people should be compensated for their hard work.
Now the big question agitating the minds of the Yoruba, who is the Yoruba leader?
It all depends on what you mean but, for instance, l am the leader of Afenifere and that does not mean l am the leader of Yoruba. If Yoruba want a leader, they have to sit down and think in all ramifications, cultural, social and historical. If, for instance, people name me as Yoruba leader, some people will say that’s not right. Afenifere is not an all embracing organisation. Afenifere is representing a section of the Yoruba people, so that is it.
When Pa Obafemi Awolowo was alive, he was referred to as Yoruba leader, likewise Chief Adekunle Ajasin. Why is it difficult to have a Yoruba leader?
There is so much awareness now. People are looking at it from a sectional view. Muslims will say no, Christians will say no, political leaders will say no. So there is factionalization. During the time of Awolowo, it was easy to get the people together for leadership; it was like that for some time before things fell apart.