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It has not been smooth sailing for the opposition from the beginning — Supo Shonibare, a pioneer AD leader

By Dapo Akinrefon

Chief Supo Shonibare is a lawyer and a chieftain of the Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere  Shonibare was an active member of the defunct National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, whichchallenged the military administration of the late General Sani Abacha. 

SDP
Chief Supo Shonibare

When the 4th Republic was birthed, he became a participant and joined the Alliance for Democracy, AD. In this interview, he bares his mind on issues such as the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day, insecurity in the country and the role the AD played at the inception of the 4th Republic among others. Excerpts:

How do you see the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day?

The condition precedent, which was the catalyst for our transiting to our present civilian rule, was the election of June 12, 1993. We must not forget that then-IBB regime set several booby traps to abort the process, including a contrived court order late at night. Nigerians trooped out to vote, in probably one of the most credible, transparent elections we have ever had. Then we were fortunate to have had a victor of the ilk and resolve of Chief MKO Abiola (winner of presidential poll); who was unwilling to accept any compromise to surrender the mandate, even when faced with the choice of opting out or facing the possibility of losing his life. His resolve was tested for several years in solitary confinement. He was a brave man and the hero of our present civilian government. Had he surrendered, the event would have been a debacle. The democracy commemorative date of May 29 emanated from that June 12 foundation and that epoch-making event.

Do you agree that the clamour for restructuring has lost momentum?

Restructuring or devolution of power to the federating units was the covenant entered into by our founding fathers when we became a federation. They were mindful of the need to reduce ethnic suspicions and build upon the concept of unity in diversity to encourage each federating unit use its relative advantages for the benefit of the collective unit. They knew a unitary system will sow the seeds of suspicion and encourage more divisions. We can see centrifugal forces pushing us more apart. A proper operation of a federal system would have reduced the pool of discontent clamouring for secession. Speaking for myself, we will all be better economically, socially and in our security arrangements as one federal entity. Simply sloganeering unity in a unitary system in a country comprising several ethnic nationalities is unworkable. There is no stable country comprising various ethnic nationalities anywhere in the world operating a unitary system of government as presently practised in our country. We need to be able to smell the coffee.

Kidnapping and banditry among other security challenges are gradually creeping into the South-West. What steps should be taken to curb this dangerous trend?

Successive administrations since that of President Olusegun Obasanjo, through President Muhammadu Buhari, have not been able to solve the plethora of security challenges. We need to devolve our security architecture and also ensure that the police are detached, as far as possible, from political control both at the federal and state levels (when state police are finally established). We must develop a template that will ensure that operational responsibility for the police is not determined by the President at the federal level- as the present Police Act directs. We should confer that function on the Police Service Commission at the federal and state levels and devise a template that will ensure its independence from political domination.

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Political pundits argue that if South-West leaders had maintained their hold on Alliance for Democracy, Nigeria would have had a virile opposition. Do you agree?

AD was a national political vehicle founded by some of the leaders of the struggle for democracy, with the expectations that leaders from other geo-political zones in the struggle, and traditional allies of progressive politics in the South-South (particularly those who had been allies in UPGA resistance of the 1963-65 who had not been part of UPN-1979/1983) and the emerging progressive leader in the North, who some of us had identified to be Alhaji Balarabe Musa, would join us. Unfortunately, we were not successful in that regard. I personally made spirited efforts to go to Kaduna to enlist the support of our ideological leader-Alhaji Balarabe Musa – to lead the party as National Chairman. Alhaji Musa declined. Even Ambassador Jolly Tanko Yusuf tried to persuade Alhaji Musa. Alhaji’s condition was that we adopt PRP as the political vehicle. Ambassador Tanko Yusuf subsequently accepted to be National Chairman after Chief Michael Oderinde (who was then our leader residing in Abuja and I had gone back to Kaduna to plead with him to lead). Our elders had had an understanding with Amb Jolly Tanko Yusuf prior and had expected him to present the nucleus for the 18 states in the North, excluding Kwara. That became problematic when the list was being compiled by Mr. Ayo Opadokun/Senator Kofo Bucknor- Akerele/Dr Femi Okurounmu at Uncle Bola Ige’s hotel suite at Abuja Hilton. We were fortunate to have had Alhaji Abdulkarrem Daiyabo, a Kano based politician who I had cultivated a personal friendship with and had invited to turn up to join us. Alhaji Daiyabo ended up providing the nucleus of the structure AD used for registration in seven of the states in the North. Amb Tanko Yusuf’s group submitted the protem nucleus for Kaduna & Middle Belt areas. We were very successful in the South-West and had hoped the template of transparent, performing populist developmental democratic socialist policies enshrined in the manifesto of AD, in a manner reminiscent of AG and UPN ( with apologies to anyone), will recommend the party to have the buy-in of other progressive states. Unfortunately, we were embroiled in the struggle for the control of the party by those in the executive, which schism made the vehicle unattractive as the national alternative vehicle with a clear ideological slant of policies to evolve a fairer society and a restructured polity. I hope we will still be able to present an ideological platform which is electable and caring about the wellbeing of the majority in our society, as well as championing transparent governance and restructuring. The only prominent leader in the struggle for democracy outside the South-West, who elected to be part of Alliance for Democracy, was Chief Chukwemeka Ezeife. He was the National Vice- Chairman (South-East) of the Protem National Executive. Dr Arthur Nwankwo submitted nominees. Dr Udenta Udenta was his nominee to be Protem National Secretary. Amb Tanko Yusuf’s group submitted the Protem nucleus for Kaduna & Middle Belt areas.

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