When Vanguard sought to interview Second Republic lawmaker, Senator Ayo Fasanm a fortnight ago at his Osogbo residence, his Media Aide, Mr. Tope Adebayo, said the late pharmacist-cum-politician was not in good health, but assured that the interview would come through. He agreed that interview questions be sent. In his last interview, Pa Fasanmi expressed sadness on the state of the nation and said that there is a need for Nigerians to restructure themselves before the country is restructured. He also bared his mind on the agitation for power shift to the South in 2023, the reason there is always infighting among Yoruba leaders, his meeting with the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and his decision to join the Action Group.
*We must restructure ourselves before restructuring Nigeria
*By 2023, power must shift South
*Why Yoruba always compromise with other regions to fight themselves
*How I met Awo and joined Action Group
*I’m worried about what I’ll tell Awolowo when I meet him
By Dapo Akinrefon, Deputy Politics/South-West Editor & Shina Abubakar
At 94, how do you feel?
I have to give glory to God Almighty. I didn’t ever dream that I can go up to 94, because on September 27, I will be 95. I could remember I wanted to contest election to the House of Reps in 1964, I was sick and I went to the Wesley Hospital at Ilesha; then a white man was in charge of the Hospital.
When he examined me, I did not know what he saw; he looked at me and said my boy, what have you been doing with yourself? I told him I wanted to contest an election to the House of Representatives and he said if I did not stop running around I had only four months to live.
He asked me to go to one corner and think about what he told me. I said: ‘Doctor, I won’t give up for five months, whatever drugs that will last me for four months he should just give me’ and he said, “My boy if you have decided to commit suicide I cannot stop you”. Since 1964, I did not commit suicide, so I enjoy the grace of God throughout my life.
At what age did you join politics and what prompted you?
I joined politics at the age of 35. I have had an interest in politics when I was in Government College, Ibadan because when I was a child, I went through what they call poverty. As a child, I used to follow my father to work as labourer to mould blocks. One day, one of my father’s elder brothers came to visit my parents, he did not meet us at home and he came to where I was doing labourer work with my father.
He queried why I wasn’t going to school and my father told him he could not finance it. He took me to Offa in Kwara State and enrolled me in a school.
After primary school, being a brilliant student, I got a scholarship to Government College, Ibadan, where I was a prefect in charge of the food store.
One day, a teacher sent one of the students to me asking for a big yam from the store. I insisted that he put his request in writing because the food was meant for students, not teachers.
He later sent a note, so I gave him the yam and later reported the matter to the Head Teacher, who was a white man.
After facing a disciplinary panel, the teacher was transferred to Benin. Some teachers wanted me expelled for my rascality. Since then, I have vowed to always fight for the interest of the common man and justice.
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How close were you to the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and what were those attributes that endeared you to him?
I was very close to Papa Awolowo and I was one of his witnesses during his trial. Awolowo was a man of principle whose life is worthy of emulation. I met Papa Awolowo in 1954. Though I had a passion for (Dr.Nnamdi) Azikiwe, I did not belong to any political party. There was a time, I and my late friend, Tunji Otegbeye, organised a group that also fought for Nigeria’s independence. One day I was on a TV programme, the man who anchored the programme asked me a question about the Action Group, and I told him vividly that I am independent of the party.
Without knowing that Awolowo was watching the programme, I told the anchor that if the party did something wrong, I would condemn it. So, Awolowo asked someone to locate and bring me to him.
So, while I was in my house in Lagos I received two men, who told me that Papa Awolowo wanted to see me. I was curious why would an Awolowo want to see me and on getting to his place, he asked about the television programme.
I told him, if the party did anything wrong, I would criticise it and if right, I would praise it. He looked at me and told me he admired my courage. He called one of his staff to give me the membership card of Action Group. That was how I joined the progressive political family and since then, I have never derailed.
Would you say you are satisfied with the state of the nation?
When I look at what is happening in the country. I always feel sober; this is not the country of our dream or the country we fought for. If not for the intervention of the progressives, this country would have been worse or collapsed due to the 16 years of the PDP government. The PDP introduced corruption to the polity.
Every day, you would hear they stole billions of dollars not naira again. I have always been praying for Nigeria and asked myself if I meet Awolowo what would I tell him?
President Buhari is trying his best but corruption is now fighting back. If we do not kill corruption corruption will kill Nigeria. Everybody has to embrace dedication and service to humanity.
So, what can be done to correct the ills confronting Nigeria today?
The only thing we can do to correct the ills confronting Nigeria is for everyone in public office to make sacrifices for the country and not to enrich themselves. I served the country in the first and second republics.
I had an opportunity to serve under the Military Governor during the Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi administration in the old Western Region. I served as a director, Housing Cooperation.
I was the one allocating plots of land everywhere. I allocated in Bodija, in Ibadan, Lagos, Ogun, and Ondo states. I did not allocate a single plot to myself. I brought Oroki Estate to Osogbo. I did not have a single plot anywhere and as a lawmaker, during my service, I did not build any house anywhere.
I don’t think our politicians today can do such a thing. In 1994, I served under General Sani Abacha in one of the 19 committees. Abacha offered me a building directly opposite the Sheraton hotel in Abuja, but I refused.
I am a pharmacist by profession. I worked as a pharmacist before I joined politics. But most of our youths have seen politics as a job. You must have a career before you join politics. So, anyone that has no work and such a person joins politics, that person will steal public funds. So, every politician should not see politics as a professional job.
Do you support the restructuring of Nigeria?
I have never been against restructuring; it is what we have been championing for as progressive members. But I always say before we can restructure Nigeria, we need to firstly restructure ourselves. If we did not restructure ourselves and are saying we want to restructure the country, it cannot work.
When the Afenifere went to visit Mr. President last year in June, we re-echoed the restructuring of the country. But before we can succeed in that every region must reach a consensus. There must be a conference which will be acceptable to everybody and it must pass through the National Assembly. Then, it will become a law. The restructuring is one of APC’s agenda.
I could recollect that the party constituted a committee that was chaired by Governor El-rufai of Kaduna State. Restructuring is not as easy as our people are saying. But, I believe with the progressives, the country is in safe hands.
Do you support the zoning of the presidency to the South?
Why not? We have all competent people that can lead us. The North is presently enjoying the office, by 2023, power must shift to the South. All the party members must agree on the region that should present the next presidential candidate.
Some people nominated you to be the leader of Afenifere, did you accept?
Yes, our Afenifere is Afenifere Egbe Ilosiwaju Yoruba. What happened was that some have turned Afenifere to Afenifejeun. I believe if our great leader Papa Awolowo were to be alive, he can never support a conservative party. Afenifere is like an arm of the progressives. Some other groups have deviated from Awolowo’s ideology. So, the Afenifere, which I am the National Chairman, is the original Afenifere with progressive ideology.
But you are aware that Pa Reuben Fasoranti is the National Leader of Afenifere?
Like I told you from the beginning, there are criteria we follow in choosing the leader of Afenifere. If you look at the past, the people that led Afenifere have held elective posts. Some people, who are claiming the leadership of Afenifere, have never held any elective posts.
So, go and check history from our leaders, Pa Awolowo, Adekunle Ajasin, Senator Abraham Adesanya and my good self. I am very close to Fasoranti and we are good friends. We both used to say that politics cannot separate our friendship. But the truth of the matter is that our Afenifere is the only Afenifere with Awolowo’s ideology.
Why do you think there is always infighting among Yoruba leaders, whether political or traditional?
Anyway, the problem we have as Yoruba is that we do not believe in each other, we always compromise with other regions to fight ourselves. Before we can survive this, we need to come together and speak with one voice.
As a staunch Awoist, would you say the present governors and leaders from the South-West are following Awolowo’s dreams and vision for Yoruba land?
Yes, I can say that the APC governors are doing their best. They are progressive-minded governors especially those in the South-West.
What is your advice to today’s politicians?
My advice to this generation of politicians is that they should not see politics as their professional job. They must have their professions before joining politics and when you have an opportunity to lead, be a good leader that is worthy of emulation.
Our leader Papa Awolowo used to tell us, what you cannot eat when you are nobody, don’t eat it when you have the opportunity. You must maintain your good standing and principles; you must as well be disciplined.
(Pa Fasanmi died on Wednesday, July 29, in Osogbo, aged 94 after a brief illness. He will be laid to rest at his hometown, Iye-Ekiti in Ilejemeje Local Government area of Ekiti State on Tuesday, August 4.)