The acting Leader of the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, shares with TUNDE AJAJA his thoughts on his new position and the position of the group on some national issues
Following your emergence as the new leader of the Afenifere, some persons are asking what the succession plan would be for Afenifere, given that you are also a nonagenarian like your predecessor. What’s the plan and when will another leader be named?
The succession plan and such things would be within our group and not in the public or on the pages of newspapers.
People sometimes compare Afenifere and the Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze, especially because the Igbo group is like an umbrella body for all Igbo, but Afenifere has a splinter group, Afenifere Renewal Group, how do you intend to bring everyone together?
Ohanaeze is not political while we are political. And like I have been saying, there is nothing like another Afenifere. Any group that goes by that name, Afenifere, is a rebel and I have told them. I told Wale Oshun, their president. They are my products. If they disagree with us and they want to form their own, let them use another name. When you say there is another Afenifere, what have they done or said since then that is different from what Afenifere stands for? It is their ego, which is unlike Afenifere. Look at my appointment that you mentioned, my leader (Pa Reuben Fasoranti) didn’t tell me beforehand; he probably knows what my reaction would be, but our tradition is that we don’t disobey our leader. They don’t imbibe that and they say they are Afenifere; they are rebels. If they disagree with us, let them go and look for their own name. They say they are Afenifere Renewal; what are they renewing in Afenifere; our priority on education, health, rural development or the fact that we stand on the principle of federalism? What do they want to renew there? It is the press that has continued to call them by that name and I will continue to correct them.
You have been speaking for the Afenifere for a long time even before this mantle of leadership fell on you, is there anything different people should expect from you now?
Not at all. Our policy has always been harmonised. There was nothing I had done that did not have the approval of my leader. At any forum I attended for Afenifere, I always said it that I was attending on his behalf. He is older than me. However, there can be improvements but there will be no change of direction.
Not every Yoruba is associated with Afenifere, what steps are you likely to take to bring people in?
We have never claimed to be an organisation for all the Yoruba. We are a political organisation and our party is Action Group, while the Yoruba name is Afenifere. The Action Group has a distinct policy and ideology. So, we cannot say all Yoruba support Afenifere, so we don’t say we are 100 per cent Yoruba, no. Some people would claim that because they are Yoruba they are Afenifere, no. They can only be an Oduduwa. To be Afenifere, you must be a believer in the principles of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Would you say there are some other leaders in Yorubaland that are still followers of Awolowo?
I wouldn’t know that. People would know if there are. It is those in our organisation that we know. This is democracy and people are able to choose who they believe in.
With the way Afenifere advocates for restructuring, why has the organisation not engaged with the governors and National Assembly members from the South-West so they could push for the amendment of the constitution for that purpose?
It may not be known to you or to the public, but we have been doing our things as quietly as possible. They belong to different political parties but we have been talking as much as possible.
Are the South-West governors members of Afenifere?
All of them were Afenifere before they broke away. It was on the Afenifere platform that Bola Tinubu, Bisi Akande and the others were elected as governors. They were elected on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy. That is on record. To now say they have found a new platform is another matter, and we must ask them why. Anyway, I’m not looking backward; I’m looking forward.
Are you making efforts to bring them back?
There was no time we stopped trying to bring them in. Up till Friday morning, I spoke to one of their leaders who knew I contributed to his election. There is nobody there that is not my product, so I call them and I ask them whether they are comfortable where they are now, and I know they are not but they can’t talk. When I speak, I speak clearly. How they became what they are now and why they are there, they know. On whether they are achieving their purpose of going, they know the truth. I have always told them, from Tinubu downwards, that it’s better they save themselves speedily. About two to three years ago, I made a publication in The PUNCH asking Tinubu and the vice-president (Prof Yemi Osinbajo) to get out of the APC. It is on record. We won’t stop talking because a Yoruba adage says no man would push his child to the lion to devour. I remember when they were harassing Tinubu sometime ago, I spoke out that nothing must happen to him. I’m not a member of the APC but I know eventually he has to come back home. So, I’m still on it and I’ve not given up. I’m talking to all of them, that in the interest of Yorubaland and the country, they should get out of the carcass they call APC. There is nothing binding anybody to trace his political history to Awolowo, but what have they got where they are, except opportunism? Meanwhile, I made a public pronouncement that they were a conglomeration of incompatibles. It’s on record. I said it then and I’m still saying it now; if they don’t save themselves early enough, then they are ready for a disaster.
About a week ago, Major General Ishola Williams (retd.) said South-West governors seem to be afraid of Buhari and that it is the reason why they haven’t been pushing for the restructuring agenda, what do you make of that?
That is correct and the reason is that many of them are under Tinubu. The exception is the Governor of Oyo State, Seyi (Makinde). They are all under the canopy of Tinubu, who himself is under the canopy of (the President, Major General Muhammadu) Buhari. But they are deceiving themselves that Buhari would hand over to him (Tinubu) since they supported him (Buhari). I have said it openly before and I would say it again that Buhari is deceiving Tinubu and Tinubu is deceiving Buhari. I’m an old man and I’m a funeral candidate already, so quote me. If Tinubu contests the primary in APC today, he will fail.
But there are strong indications that he might contest the presidency in 2023, what about that?
That is why I said you should quote me. I’m not telling you what people say, I want you to write what I say and when it happens let us see who is right. People talk about an agreement between them, but Buhari is deceiving him and he (Buhari) has an agenda of his own. It’s a pity that it’s your (reporter’s) age group that would suffer; it doesn’t concern me. All the time we have been shouting that Nigeria would break, what has Buhari said? What has he said to assuage those fears or to tell people it won’t happen? We just have to keep talking. That is why people are being killed and he sits in the Aso Rock. People were killed and kidnapped and he said we should make friends with our neighbours, and another time, it was to appease kidnappers with government money. We are all witnesses. Why are we all living in denial? If the people in government are living in denial, what about the victims? If you live in denial you would die in it. Young people won’t say Adebanjo didn’t warn them. If it’s not living in denial, (Governor Rotimi) Akeredolu asked herdsmen to vacate Ondo State forests reserved because of kidnapping and rape. They tried to change the narrative that he said Fulani people should leave the West. Have you asked yourself, are southerners in the north raping their (northerners) wives; are they killing or kidnapping them? Did he ask northerners to go? No. When they are talking like that, they don’t refer to the offence their people have committed. Have they arrested these people? No. That is why I said Buhari has a private agenda. These people killed and raped people in Makurdi (Benue) and the governor, Samuel Ortom, reported the matter to the President that about 70 people were killed. Ortom asked that the Federal Government should intervene. Instead of going after those perpetrators; what did Buhari say, he said go and make friends with your neighbours. When I say Buhari is a fake and he has a private agenda, I know what I’m saying. He wants Fulani to take over and that was why he allowed them to come in. When we ask them about the herders killing people, they would say they are foreigners. Government is in charge of security, so how did they enter the country to do damage to your citizens and their property? How many have been arrested not to talk of prosecution? After that, they would go and negotiate with them. If people can’t see, I have said enough. If people don’t make the government realise that they are no fools, they would be taking them for a ride. But some people kept quiet because they were getting the crumbs on the table.
Like retired general Ishola Williams said, why are political leaders in the South-West not talking?
Maybe you are referring to those in the APC. I am saying any Yoruba leader in the APC that is not talking about restructuring is not representing the interest of Yoruba people and I challenge any of them to come out and say they don’t believe in restructuring. From Tinubu to Akande downwards, I challenge them to say they don’t believe in it and they don’t want it. They won’t sleep in their house that night
Despite the repeated calls for restructuring, the government doesn’t seem ready to look in that direction, what is the alternative your group is looking at?
The alternative Nigeria is looking at is that it will break and I want to repeat that anybody who believes in the unity of Nigeria and is opposed to restructuring is a fake. From Buhari downwards and those who have a private agenda. There is no Yoruba man, wherever they may be, who could come out and say there is nothing like restructuring. If there is any, I challenge them to come out and say it. The need to restructure the country cuts across political boundaries.
Why don’t you want to engage National Assembly members who have the power to influence or at least initiate the actualisation of this agenda?
No, Afenifere is standing on a principle but the National Assembly is a product of a fraudulent constitution. Is this National Assembly not a product of this constitution, and is this constitution not the one I described as fraudulent. It is not our constitution. It was imposed by the military and it is Abdusalami (Abubakar) constitution. They can’t deny it. When the foundation is weak, what do you want to build on it that would stand? Nothing. The National Assembly cannot amend a constitution they are a product of and which is a product of fraud, except we are deceiving ourselves. If they don’t change this constitution that would be the end of Nigeria. I’m not saying it in a corner; I’m saying it for Lai Mohammed (Minister of Information and Culture) to come and charge me for hate speech. I’m not a novice in this country. I’m not just an old man; I’m a lawyer by training. I am telling you that the governors, lawmakers and the other political office holders people are relying on to change the constitution cannot do it because they are products of the fraudulent constitution. When we say a document is fraudulent, do you want to build something on fraud? They should prove it that this document is our constitution and that it is the people of Nigeria who agreed on the constitution. The military imposed it on us and it says ‘We the people’. It’s unfortunate that people are denying the obvious and I’m challenging those who feel otherwise to come and say so.
The Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, is from the same region with you, have you shared your thoughts over this issue with him?
The vice-president and Tinubu are in the same boat. They are a product of restructuring. The current vice-president, who was the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of Lagos State, took the government of (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo to court over the local government funds and he won the case up to the Supreme Court. What has changed now? That is the man who now turns around to say what do you mean by restructuring? Some of them even said those of us who are asking for restructuring are looking for a job. When I told him that his father and me were followers of Awolowo, he has not answered me. He was born into it and he emphasised it as the Attorney General. Has the situation changed now that he is in Aso Rock or there is something in the Aso Rock that turns their mind?
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, is from the South-West as well, have you considered pitching the idea to him?
They are all products of Afenifere, but they have derailed. All of them are saboteurs and they have betrayed the Yoruba people. They are all there in their own self interest. What did they say when we were talking about Amotekun; what have they said about restructuring? Like I said, they are all products of the fraudulent constitution; how did they get there? I have said it and I will say it again that if we don’t restructure, that is the end of Nigeria. Apart from Afenifere, this issue has been the clamour of the South-South, Middle-Belt and Ohanaeze.
The PDP came under heavy criticism a few days ago when its committee recommended that the party’s ticket for the presidential election in 2023 should be left open as against the calls by many that it should go to the south. Though the party says it has not decided on the issue, what are your thoughts on this?
I’m not a PDP person. PDP has never been consistent on anything and the two major parties are the same. What is the difference between the two of them? There is no ideology that is binding them at all. It’s chop I chop ideology. All that matters to them is for Buhari to leave and for them to get to power or retain it.
The National Livestock Transformation Plan has been proposed as a solution to the farmer-herder crisis but some states have reservations about it, what’s your view?
What I know is that nobody can impose ranching on any land in the South-West and I say it positively. Let any governor come and challenge me that I should shut my mouth.
Late Chief Lateef Jakande has been described as the last of his stock when it comes to progressive leaders, do you share such belief or you think there are still others?
He was our candidate and he was a man we called ‘Action Governor’. He stood for excellence in leadership and he was a shining example. On whether there are others, it could be young people like you if given the chance. The problem is that people have become too materialistic. If you follow what we are preaching you would get there. You see people who criticise the government, and the moment they make him an adviser, people change tone, and that is why things are the way they are. People who should be good leaders would rather compromise because they are served from the crumbs on the table.
Some people have even lost hope in the country, what is your message to them?
When we are asking for the change of this constitution, they don’t know that if that constitution is nor changed, they don’t stand a chance. What is the motivation for changing the constitution? It’s responsible for the mess the country is in. That is the summary. If that constitution is not changed, that would be the end, and that speaks to those who believe in the progress of Nigeria. Change the constitution. Let me give you an example. How can people like you emerge as a councillor in any of these two parties without being a millionaire? That is why we are saying change the constitution for a more conducive atmosphere. How can you become a governor in this country without being a billionaire? In these parties, you have to pay millions of naira to obtain the form. Can somebody who is not a billionaire have the opportunity to serve his people? They might even ask you how much you have. Is that democracy? This is what happens in these two parties. So, when I say Buhari is a fake man fighting against corruption he has not done anything to wipe out corruption even within the party. You remember he said he borrowed money to collect his nomination form in 2015, after he won, what did he do within the party to change that system? He continued under the same system in 2019. That is why I said this government, from Buhari downwards, they are all corrupt. All those who are in this government, from Buhari downwards are all corrupt because they got into office through a corrupt process.
There are fears that the real herders have been infiltrated by criminals, some of whom have made it to different parts of the country, including the South-West, how can this situation be managed?
Those who are causing the trouble should go back. Arrest them and prosecute them and there will be peace. If you don’t do that there will be no peace and if there is no peace there will be no country. Under this same constitution, the security of the people is in Abuja. Sagamu, Owerri and other parts of the country are controlled from Abuja and until that arrangement is changed, there can’t be peace. You want to tell me that if the governors are in charge of the security in their states and they have state policing all these armed robbers and kidnappers would not have been fished out.
Chief Sunday Igboho was on his way to your house when he was almost arrested by security agents, how did you feel about that?
That was undemocratic and should not be happening. It is part of the things we are suffering under Buhari; depriving people of their constitutional rights. They shouldn’t have stopped him from coming; they should have allowed him to get to my house and arrest all of us together. Until people are courageous to fight for their rights, they would never be free. Instead of people to say something is bad when it really is, they would say it’s not very good. I’m repeating it; this new generation would suffer and may not get out of it unless they fight it.
Would you re-invite him to your house?
This is what is important; the solution is simple but the people that should provide it would not. Whenever you find criminals, arrest them and prosecute them. Buhari is the chief security officer of the Nigerian state and there is a law forbidding people from carrying arms. These Fulani herdsmen who have been living with us over 100 years used to carry stick; they weren’t carrying Ak47 like some of them do now, openly with which some of them kill, rape and abduct people. Yet, there are no arrests not to talk of prosecution.
What do you make of the President’s directive that anyone carrying AK47 illegally should be shot at sight?
That is unconstitutional. Shoot at sight in a democratic society? When you see anyone in that category, arrest them and prosecute them according to the law. Other than that, people would be killed unjustly. It is pretence. A former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Olu Falae, was kidnapped, and after that his farm was burnt and attacked a number of times. Can you imagine that? After all these have happened, a people have now risen in anger to defend themselves and you now went to arrest those who arrested the people making trouble in Oyo State and you even charge the OPC members that arrested the man with murder. All these would be happening and you say we should keep quiet. It would come to a head one day.