AS calls for restructuring continue to gain ground across the country, Elder statesman and leader of Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, has warned that there will be no peace in Nigeria unless the nation goes back to the constitution of its founding fathers. Belching fire, the octogenarian told VINCENT KALU that the country must be restructured before 2019 general elections.
According to him, “the national question must be settled before any other election in this country. The issue of restructuring or coming back to true federalism should not be made an election issue. It should be settled before further elections.” He warned that if anything untoward happens to acting President Yemi Osibanjo, that will lead to the end of Nigeria.
For some months, the polity seems to be overheated and the country seems to be on edge, what is the reason for this?
The major reason is that we have abandoned the path that we are supposed to take. We abandoned the foundation that our forefathers gave us, and we have refused to go back to it.
What foundation was that?
It is the foundation of federalism. There was this crisis in 1953, and the Colonial Office sent for our political leaders as a result of which the Constitution of 1954 was promulgated, which established true federalism and led to Azikiwe, Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello becaming premiers of their regions.
It was that constitution that we carried on after independence and till 1963 when we became a Republic. The problem started when the military took over and restructured Nigeria. When you talk of restructuring now, people think it is a new word. When the military came into power, it abandoned the Independence constitution and put up its own structure; a unitarist government.
When the military wanted to return us to civilian rule, we said, let’s go back to where we were because this unitarist government doesn’t pay. There was competition among the regions when we had the independence constitution, and they were autonomous. Everybody knew how much was coming to them. Under that system, the regions had external positions in London, Chief Awolowo had Western House in London, and it was where I got married in 1960 because of the autonomy of the regions, which is what we are asking for.
That is why I continue to say, what is the problem with our northern brothers? Are they more northern than Sadauna, that approved the constitution? That was what he approved before he agreed to be in Nigeria.
After the crisis of 1953, he wanted to opt out of Nigeria, but he was convinced that he had his autonomy, as there would be a federal system. It was that word that was taken to London in 1954. It was at that conference that Azikiwe was converted to federalism. Once the national question is not settled, you can’t get peace. All these problems are arising because of the wrong system we have been following.
The southern leaders have been hammering on restructuring as the way out of the problem, and they went a step further to call for the implementation of the 2014 Confab report, but recently, the National Assembly voted against the devolution of powers in its proposed constitutional amendments…
(Cuts in) I never thought and those of us in the conference never thought that anything should go to the National Assembly because it was part of the problem that we solved. All the powers that they wielded have been reduced and that is why they are kicking. The recommendation of the confab is that the report should go for a referendum. Do you know how much members of the National Assembly earn? This is a guarded secret and that is what they want to continue. All that had been removed in the report. It is foolish of you to expect that they would approve what will be against their interest.
One thing people seem not to know including members of the NASS, particularly, when they say that the confab was not representative, but the constitution they are giving us, who made it? The confab of 2014 was more representative than this 1999 Constitution.
The 1999 constitution is a military constitution, made by two or three people – Abacha, Abdulsalami and co. The 2014 conference represented all spheres of influence – all professional bodies, youths, religious organisations, political parties, traditional institutions, etc. You want to compare that with the constitution that Abdulsalami and co made?. I’m disappointed that those in the NASS who called themselves, progressives can still be insisting on implementing a military constitution under civilian administration. We didn’t make that constitution, it was imposed on us and you want us to be bound by the constitution that we didn’t make.
Now that the military has gone, we have the opportunity to remove all the iniquities, and you said no, what is the sense, if there is no hidden agenda?
This is a Northern Constitution made by the Northern military men in 1999 in favour of the North, and the evidence is clear. Even the question of the population they used, where is the population? We are the only country where more people live in the desert region than in the forest region. It was the colonial government that did that. We said we don’t want problem, since the military wanted to go, we agitated for a sovereign national conference. There was nothing strange in that. We just wanted to say, let us go back to where we started from. Why should that be a problem? It is obvious that this constitution that you have given us is loaded against the South, and you want us to continue with that?.
On what basis were the local governments created? On what basis were the states created? It was arbitrary. We say, okay, don’t let us quarrel; we still want to live together. We must not confuse restructuring, federalism with the question of separating or breaking up the country. Far from it; It is a mischievous interpretation. Those who don’t want restructuring want to break up the country, why?
The constitution they want us to continue using is loaded against us, and you want us to continue with it?. We gave you instances of how it is loaded against us; you can’t disprove it. We say, restructuring is going back to independence, you said no, it was not so. In the independence constitution, the functions of the Federal Government were stated, and the residual powers were in the regions, no problem. The question of revenue allocation and derivation was settled, which runs over to resource control now. All that was agreed upon.
At that time, the North was having 50 per cent on groundnut, West was having cocoa and the East, palm oil, and we were peaceful. That was the basis for the development Awolowo made in the Western Region. Did you read on any occasion he went to Balewa for subsidy?
When he built the Liberty Stadium, Sardauna built Ahmadu Bello Stadium. Ahmadu Bello built university, Awolowo also built university, and there was healthy competition. That is what we should go back to, and you said we must continue a constitution which is most unfavorable to the South and most favorable to the North; most partisan. In the unity of the horse and the rider, you want to be the rider and we are the horse and you want us to keep quiet?.
Where do we go from here?
There is no Nigeria. Why is Biafra on, they say they are being cheated? Why is Avengers on, they say they are being cheated? Of late now, we have been suppressing the Oduduwa youths, and they are saying because the peaceful way we are agitating is not acceptable to the North.
This boy leading Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, I have always said that, he is not as bad as you think. The young man is saying that the Federal Government is not keen on being fair. He gave the instance of Aburi which they went back on, and he gave the instance of other things they went back. Right now, they are not sure of restructuring in a way that will be fair. So, let me get out from the marriage. If you are in a club and you feel cheated, would you still remain in that club? That is the case. The Federal Government is mischievous and not sincere about keeping the country together. Look at the Federal Government saying it doesn’t want restructuring. Pastor Tunde Bakare, recently explained that he gave a memorandum to Buhari on how to do restructuring, but the government is saying that it doesn’t want restructuring.
Is restructuring in APC manifestoes?
The party only want to be mischievous. Buhari under APC doesn’t want to rule, he wants to dominate. Those who are being oppressed resist, and if you think you can rule us under this condition, you are playing with fire.
Most of the northerners who were part of the confab have distanced themselves from the report, saying it was an exercise in futility
What do you expect? Do you know how we defeated them in the Confab? The minorities of the North, the Southern Kaduna and others, whom they have been oppressing were wooed to our side to vote, ‘yes’ Those northern minorities in Kaduna, Borno, etc were given states to extricate them from northern domination. People didn’t know why we recommended state creation when they argue that the 36 states are not viable, it is because of the minorities in the North, who cried that they were under slavery, as being experienced in Southern Kaduna. They are the people who said, please get us a state and we looked for those who would work together to form a region.
That is why under this confab report, we made provision that any state which wants to join with another is free to do so. As it is now, there are minorities in those areas that don’t like where they are. My contention is that those who don’t agree with the 2014 confab recommendations should tell us what is not there that was there, or what was there that was not supposed to be. They are not honest with the question of keeping this country together peacefully.
From what we saw at the National Assembly, it seems everything about restructuring has been rested?
No, no, don’t tell me that. We never expected the approval of the report by the NASS. The NASS was assembled under this fraudulent constitution, which we never agreed with. It is a product of this faulty constitution that we are opposed to.
How do we go about it?
Simple, if we don’t do it, the country will go its own ways. The national question must be settled before any other election in this country. The issue of restructuring or coming back to true federalism should not be made an election issue. It should be settled before further elections. The way we are going to live together must be settled before any other elections, and that was the stand of NADECO. Abdulsalami asked us what we were doing, we said, we wanted to know the condition under which we will live together. He said he was in a hurry to handover power. Those of us who could look into the future said if we don’t settle this then there would be problems, and here we are.
Take the example of Russia, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, until they broke into their ethnic nationalities there was no peace. Even those who were virtually brought together, they later broke. Why can’t we learn our lesson?
We have no reason for all that, our founding-fathers found a way to our living together. Our being brought together in the first place was by force not by our consent – the amalgamation of 1914, but we agreed that it was a good thing to be a big country, but on the condition that every federating unit should be happy. The issue at stake is, should Nigerians agree to stay together under agreed terms imposed by a section of the country?
Some analysts argue that the confab answered only one question, how to live together as Nigerians, but didn’t answer the question if we want to be Nigerians?
That is not right. We all agreed that we want to stay together, and we stated the condition under which we are going to live together. It is those conditions that they don’t want to accept. It is mischievous for anybody to say that we didn’t agree to stay together. Obasanjo said that our founding fathers agreed to stay together, but he didn’t say the terms. He doesn’t know history. Of course, he is a military man. The truth is that our founding fathers agreed to stay together under that Independence Constitution.
Restructuring is not a strange word, it means going back to the status quo ante. Devolution of powers was settled; the way we are going to share our revenue was settled, and we were living in peace. These are the facts the Federal Government wants to breach. We now have an avenue to go back to settle peacefully, you say no, that we must continue to remain under the imposed condition by the military.
Those who are opposed to restructuring like Buhari and others are telling us that it is the military constitution that they made, which they want us to stay on, which is very unfavorable to the South. How do you want us to live together under that condition? This constitution that they want us to abide with was not made by us, it is the military that made it. Is that democratic?
People who put restructuring in their manifestoes are now saying ‘what do you want to restructure?’ What did they understand by restructuring before they put it in their manifestoes? El-Rufai and co should tell us what they understood by restructuring before they put it there. I understood he wrote the party manifestoes. They used that to deceive the electorate.
Nigerians are confused over the manner the restructuring would be carried out. We have elected members at the National Assembly, would they be dissolved and other democratic institutions?
It has to be done before the elections. Where there is the will, there will be a way. We have known the defects of this constitution, and if the head of state is sincere about it, he should call for referendum for the confab report, even though there is no referendum in the constitution, which is part of the defects, because we didn’t make the constitution. If he is sincere, he should cause to pass into a law and put in referendum and let the people vote for it. It is simple. Laws are made for man and not man for law. We want to make a law that will keep us together, and we are saying that NASS is not our assembly; it is a product of constitution that we didn’t approve of. Send us back to the constitution before the 1966 coup agreed to by the founding fathers. Are they saying they are now wiser than our founding fathers? As you can see, the NASS is not ready to yield ground and the Presidency also is not ready to yield to restructuring, where does this lead us? Disintegration!
Can we pay the price of disintegration?
You must bear the consequences of the act. We have a system that can make us live together, you said, no. Those who don’t want to restructure the country are the ones who want to break it. The federating units won’t stay in the country under unfavourable condition. They won’t stay in a federation on conditions laid down by a section of the country loaded against them. It is evil. You want us to continue under a system, whereby the North contributes a penny to the pool and collects one thousand, and those who contribute 60 per cent, you give them two per cent. That is the system where we are and we say let us rectify it, you say no way, because you are holding the arms. By the time you kill everybody, we’ll see who you are going to rule.
What are your fears for this country?
My fear is that if Buhari with APC does not see sense to do what is needful, he’ll be held responsible for breaking the country. Anybody who claims to love Nigeria and is opposed to establishing the country on a federal basis is an enemy of the nation. They are the people who want to break the country; you can’t force people to live together. Even Great Britain, after living together for so many years, Scotland said it wanted to break away, have they killed them? They are agitating, not to talk of people with diverse cultures. Those of us who are clamouring for restructuring are the people who want the people to live peacefully. Anybody opposed to it wants this country to disintegrate.
How do you rate acting President Yemi Osinbajo and the way he is handling the affairs of this nation?
He is handling it constitutionally. I only hope that people will not use unconstitutional means to displace him. He is acting well and I hope there is no circumstance that anybody would say that he can truncate this democratic system using undemocratic means. If that happens, that will be the disintegration of this country. We hope people will not use any unconstitutional means to frustrate Osinbajo if it is necessary for him to assume the Presidency.
Right now, there are insinuations that all the security personnel around him are northerners, is that right?
The other day his wife was celebrating 50th birthday, no northerner was there. Do they think we are fools? We keep on shouting One Nigeria. One Nigeria is only when you are in control.
You mentioned One Nigeria. Where and when did the slogan emanate? I’m yet to hear One Ghana, One Rwanda, One Egypt, One Britain?
It was in the pre-independence era. Nnamdi Azikiwe under NCNC believed in the unitarist form of Nigeria. Awolowo believed in federalism and said there must be state creation. Azikiwe equated One Nigeria to the unitarist form of government. That is the origin of One Nigeria. Awo said we can have One Nigeria not under unitarist government, but under federal government. It’s a slogan to confuse people.
Zik and others including Edwin Clark, who was his follower were criticising Awo of being a tribalist when he, Awo, said there should creation of states for the minorities to be really establish a federal institution. At that time, there were only three regions and the North alone was bigger than other regions put together, Awo said this was an unequal federation, that there must be more states.
In the course of fighting for that, Zik criticized Awo as a separatist, until they arrived in 1954 at that conference, where Awo converted Zik to a federalist. On their return from the London Conference, at the airport, Zik told pressmen that federalism was imperative. Awo opined that in a country with diverse ethnic nationalities, diverse cultures and religions, that unitarist form of government could never work. The argument of Awo was in consonance with that of the US and Ghana. That was how federalism was established in the constitution. Let anybody contradict what I have said. Before going to the 1954 Constitution conference in London, Zik was a unitarist, while Awo was a consistent federalist. Federalism was the agreed constitution of 1954, which the Northern people changed and that is why we are in trouble today. We will never get out of this trouble until we go back to our founding fathers’ constitution.
El-Rufai, Buhari and the Northern governors, are they more northern than Sardauna, who agreed to this constitution? It was under this constitution that Balewa was the prime minister; it was under this constitution that Tanko Yakasai was the parliamentary secretary to Balewa. I’m challenging Yakasai. Why are they opposing that constitution now? This is what your founding fathers in the north agreed to; what has changed? I have been deliberately mentioning Yakasai, but he has not answered me. I have been challenging the Northern leaders if they are more Northern than Sardauna, who agreed that this was the way to live together. That was the best time that the north made progress and it is what Atiku is saying. We have passed the stage of somebody saying that restructuring was trying to break the country. We want to stay together, but what we are saying is the condition must be agreed upon. And if there is no agreement, it is separation. That is why I maintain that those opposed to restructuring want to break up this country.
In a recent newspaper interview, Balarabe Musa described the southern leaders and some Middle Belt leaders as troublemakers. He said the same thing they are doing now was what led to the civil war, and that it was the conspiracy of the Southwest and the South East that brought about that war. What is your reaction to this?
Balarabe Musa is a confusionist. It makes me believe that these Fulani people, no matter what they say, this domination thing lives in them. He is a progressive. How can you say we are troublemakers when we are pointing out the evil in the constitution you want us to obey, and we say remove this iniquity, you say we are troublemakers. I don’t regard him as one of the Fulani hegemonists, but the way he is talking, and the way some of them are behaving, you can see that, that Fulani thing to dominate is always there in them. How can a man like Balarabe Musa say Southern leaders are troublemakers?
When the NPN deposed him, it was Awolowo that saved him. Ajayi and I were the lawyers engaged to protect him. The moment that was done, he refused to be the running mate of Chief Awolowo. Let him deny that. We want to forget the past and move forward. These people think they can say anything and get away with it. How can Balarabe Musa of all people say Southern leaders are confusionists for demanding that we should stay together on agreed terms? Will he deny that the constitution we are asking that we go back to, was the constitution agreed upon at independence? I don’t want the issue to be confused. The issue is, should we accept the constitution by the military, or we go back to the constitution of our founding fathers? Let him and others answer this. If you talk of the civil war, everybody has his own side of the story.
Balarabe Musa is not opposed to restructuring, but he said resource control is a no go area
There you are. You see, that is why they contribute penny and take 99 per cent. He wants that to remain. Is that the condition that we got independence as agreed by Sardauna?
When they were taking 50 per cent from groundnut, it was fair. What he is saying is that you get revenue from one area and you give them pittance and take the rest. Will you agree?
If we had not been amalgamated in 1914, would he be talking of sharing our resources? They want to be cheating us and this is what is leading to Biafra and Avengers. When you want to cheat somebody openly and you want him to keep quiet and for him to resist you, you say he is a troublemaker. I’m really disappointed in Balarabe Musa and Tanko Yakasai. How can Yakasai say, restructuring is Yoruba agenda because we are saying let us go back to the Independence Constitution, which he used to serve under Balewa. When he was serving Balewa under that constitution, it was not a Youruba agenda.
And Balarabe said they don’t want resource control, if you are from Bayelsa and you go to Abuja, and see how the money from you background was spent there, and when you come back to Bayelsa with a whole state having one road, and you believe the person cannot take up arms?