Igbo’s politics of isolation will make it difficult for them to produce Nigeria’s presidency come 2023, says Yoruba Council elder statesman

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Dr. Kunle Olajide, an elder statesman, is the Secretary of the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE). In this interview with Assistant Editor, ‘Dare Odufowokan, the YCE scribe recalled an unforgettable experience he had when he was abducted by some armed men, while warning against a break-up of the country, insisted that the rising spate of insecurity in many parts of the country is as a result of clashes between feudalism and globalisation. Excerpts.

The state of insecurity in the southwest is generating concerns by the day. What do you make of the current situation and how do you think we can get out of it as a region?

I must admit that insecurity remains one of the major challenges of Nigeria today. And at the root of it all is bad governance and political leadership-centred elite democracy. I define our brand of democracy as ‘government of the tiny political elite, by the tiny political leadership elite, for the tiny political leadership elite.’ Not for the people at all. It is by far different from what Abraham Lincoln had in mind as democracy. But you cannot blame the present administration alone for these problems.

Our problems are structural and constitutional. The type of constitution we are operating cannot work anywhere in the world for a heterogeneous society like our own. We are different people that make up Nigeria. We were amalgamated by colonialists for their own economic interests. And since we got independence, we have not been fortunate to have the leadership with the right intellectual capacity and patriotism to address these problems. We have not been able to appreciate the true situation of what we call Nigeria.

If we had been able to do that, we would have either remained the way we were before independence or allow the creation of a few more regions and then continued to operate a true federal system of government. But twin-evils bedevilled Nigeria and made this difficult. The first was the military intervention of 1966 that truncated the first republic. The second was the oil boom that brought in so much money that most of our military rulers of that era became intoxicated. Those were the two evils that bedevilled us.

But since 1999, we failed to address the issue. It started in the Niger Delta over the failure of government to develop the area. Insurgence reared its head and it was from there the problems spread to other parts of the country gradually while our leaders watched. The crisis in the northeast came and we are still struggling to curtail that. The north-central followed and soon, the whole of the north became a theatre of insecurity. The south too is not secured, and as such the whole country is affected as we speak.

I have always said the crisis in the north is as a result of the clash between feudalism and civilisation. What we have in the north in the first republic till very recently was pure feudalism. Once you are born rich, you are supposed to remain rich and die rich; if you are born poor, you are supposed to die poor. That was the message of feudalism. But now with globalisation, young people in the north are now asking questions. That is what led to Boko Haram and other criminalities. Young elements are resisting the feudal system of old and craving for change.

The young ones, with the aid of their handset and social media, are now able to see what is happening in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria etc. Some people armed and used the young people for election and won. After that they abandoned them and they say no, that will not happen. That led to insecurity. Yes we talk about herdsmen and the likes. But it is not just about herdsmen. There is criminality in the land with people going about with AK47 killing and raping our women, amongst other vices. Sadly, you cannot stop herdsmen or any other Nigerian from moving from one place to another.

Yes, you cannot stop them. Rather, we must address the problems. That is the main reason I said this country must be restructured. You can imagine the huge amount we are spending trying to curtail Boko Haram in the northeast. These are monies made from all parts of this country being wasted because some people failed to factor their people into governance. While Chief Awolowo was busy giving us education here, they said they didn’t need it there. The result of that failure is what we are all suffering now.

Imagine the sad scenario. A few herdsmen came down here and kidnapped a few people. Within few days they’ve made millions of naira. So, they signalled to their people up north to come down here as it is easier here to make money from kidnapping. The result is what we have all over the southwest today. Sadly, freedom of movement is entrenched in the constitution. So as I said, you cannot stop them from moving around. We can only stop them from kidnapping us and killing, raping our people.

So, since you insist we cannot stop them from coming here, what is the way out?

The way out is simple. I remember Awolowo, Senator Adesanya and others at times like this. Adesanya never wanted us to participate in the Abdulsalami transition. He wanted us to first push for a people-centred constitution produced for Nigerians by Nigerians with democracy and federalism in mind, before anything else. But of course, most of us were very excited. We wanted to get into offices. Abdusalami played on our excitement by promising that as soon as democracy takes effect, a new constitution will be the first thing to do. But he took his exit and we are now where we are.

So, you see participating in the 1998 transition process as an error on the part of the progressives?

It remains the biggest error. We were myopic while Senator Adesanya was fore-sighted. He saw the issues we are now facing then and warned us. Anybody who loves this country genuinely and is sincerely patriotic about this country must buy into restructuring. That is the only way out for us as a nation.

But it appears the idea of restructuring is not the same to all the people agitating for it?

Maybe I should explain what I mean by restructuring. To me, it is living the reality of who we are as Nigerians. Nigeria is not yet a nation. It is just a country of different people living together. We must begin the processes of welding the people together to form a nation. That is restructuring. I love the country and nurse no separatist agenda. Break up will not be in the interest of any of us. We have lived together for so long that I think it is not going to work if we go our separate ways. We must build a nation out of this country.

America did the same and today, they are a strong nation. Not less than 80% of Kwara people are Yoruba people and you group them with the north. Look at Kogi and Kaduna states too and you will see how people are forced to belong to where they shouldn’t be. We must identify and appreciate our differences first if we truly want to weld the people together into a nation. Our differences are enormous but with understanding and transparency, we can turn these differences into strength in our process to build a nation.

You talked about the last constitutional conference in the country…

It was a cross section of prominent Nigerians from labour, politics, business, academia, women groups, civil society, students, youth groups, diaspora, religious groups, ethnicities, name it, 400 people together discussing daily for three and a half months. I doubt if we have ever had anything that representative in our match to unity. But for President Goodluck Jonathan who convened it, the conference would have solved the country’s problems. Sadly, President Buhari hasn’t done much about the report too, except for mentions recently on the propriety of state police and the likes.

I want to appeal to him to promptly revisit the 2014 conference. Maybe he can set up a committee to examine the recommendations and advise him on them. We don’t have the money to assemble people again for such a huge assignment. We have had many in the past, gather all the papers together and let a committee to look at all the reports for two months and pass their recommendations to the national assembly. Time is running out and we need to do this urgently if we love this country. President Buhari must show he loves Nigeria by doing this now.

Nigeria is so unsafe now that I can no longer ride any of these big cars comfortably. A couple of years ago, I bought one big car and I was driving at about 6pm between Ado-Ekiti and Efon Alaye. I was coming from Otunba Adebayo’s office that day. And suddenly, a group of young people ambushed me with guns. They took my driver into another vehicle and drove my own with me inside. I was psyching them up as we go. And they told me that they were suffering while some people were earning millions and millions for doing nothing.

And I told them I was a wrong target as I have never held any political office in my life. They responded that when bad people are being punished, some good people will share inside, so I should forgive them. That was about 2001. They took the car away after driving me around for some time. But they were so nice that they stopped and asked me to take all my valuables away from the car. They even wanted to take me to my house but I said no. They left me on the highway with my Thuraya handset. That is how bad the situation in our country is today.

Talking about the Yoruba race, would you agree that the people of the southwest are today more divided than they have ever been before, given the many socio-cultural groups and bodies speaking for the race today?

Yorubas are not divided. We are a civilised race. Given our emancipation and civilisation, we cannot be bundled into one organisation like some other people. Don’t worry yourself about the various groups. That’s freedom of association and opinion. I see it as a sign of strength. Democracy strives best when you have diverse opinions coming together. We are united. Tell me any Yoruba socio-political organisation that is against restructuring or true federalism. You will find none. So, we are united, not divided.

So, you are comfortable with the factionalisation of Afenifere and the proliferation of other groups like your own group, Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE)?

Even Jesus Christ picked twelve disciples. So, when you don’t agree with the principles of a group, or you become too ambitious to submit yourself to the dictates of the majority in your group, you are free to go and form your own. That should not in any way be interpreted to mean the Yorubas are divided. As I said, I see it as a sign of strength and civilisation. We are a sophisticated people. We cannot all be boxed into a corner or bottled into just one group.

But as I have been saying, in a democracy, you don’t say things like ‘Yoruba leader, Hausa leader, Igbo leader’. In a constitutional democracy like ours, the only leaders we have are those elected by the people. But of course, due to the respect we have for ourselves in Yorubaland, we can have leaders of the various groups. Afenifere can have an Afenifere leader, Afenifere Renewal Group can have a leader, YCE can have its leader and so on. But it is wrong for anybody to say I am a Yoruba leader.

Now, we hear a Yoruba leader was elected in person of Professor Banji Akintoye in a contest between him and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Who are those who voted? How representative were the delegates? Who were they representing? Were the candidates aware of the contest? What notice was given? I just heard while in my house from an editor. They wanted my comment and I said no comment. Neither Akintoye nor Tinubu was at the venue. Now they have clarified it that Professor Akintoye is the leader of Yoruba World Congress and all he has been saying is in tune with the Yoruba agenda.

And you don’t think it is important that all these groups should unite and form a formidable group?

We are untied and we pursue the same cause. I speak with Wale Oshun often and Prof. Akintoye himself has called me to seek audience with me recently. I spoke with him last week. There is no animosity as we are all exercising our right to freedom of association and opinion. We work together. But to say we should all be bottled up, no way. Our race is far too sophisticated for that. We have been civilised long before the coming of the colonialists to the shores of Nigeria. It cannot happen and as it is; there is no animosity.

I have told those who said there is a crack in the ranks of Awoists that there was nothing like that. We may have many groups, but none of the groups is speaking against what we all stand for. That is what is important to me. That we all choose to express our freedom of association is not the same thing as division. We need to get that straight. In 2017, we organised Yoruba Summit and we all worked together. I was the chairman of the planning committee and Professor Akintoye was the one who drafted the communiqué.

Over there is the picture taken at the event. You can see Afe Babalola, Ooni of Ife, Fayose, Mimiko, myself and others. In other words, we can easily come together anytime there is need for it. It does not matter where we are now. Awolowo was elected Yoruba leader when Colonel Adebayo was governor of Western State. It was the governor who brought everybody together at the House of Chiefs. The military had disbanded all political associations at the time. And Awolowo was popularly elected as the Yoruba leader.

I was physically present and I can still remember his acceptance speech that day. He said he will accept the position for as long as political parties are still banned. He urged that as soon as political parties are unbanned, Yorubas should be free to go and join any party of their choice as it will be wrong and immoral to call anybody Yoruba leader at such a time. Not even Awolowo will call himself a Yoruba leader in a multi-party democracy like we have now. The only people we can have now as Yoruba leaders are traditional rulers and elected public officials.

People say 2023 is behind many of these developments within and outside Yorubaland. Do you share this view?

As far as I am concerned, politicians have a right to plan. To them, four years is like 20 minutes. But my position is that the Yoruba race will not be easily bottled together by any force. Those of us who witnessed the crisis of 64,65, know what we are talking about. All powers of government were used. Awolowo was banished to Lekki. His disciples were jailed and tried for treason. And Alhaji Adegbenro who was deputy premier and later premier was jailed. Yet, the Yorubas refused to be cowed. Trace it properly, and you will find a professor in every Yoruba family.

January 12 1966, the Commonwealth Prime ministers’ conference was to take place in Lagos. And we felt so bad about the happenings that we at the University of Ibadan set out to stop the conference in Lagos. We left for Lagos from the university at about 4am. That morning, former Oyo State governor, Dr. Victor Olunloyo, then a lecturer in the university, drove into the Student Union building in his Citroen car. He was of course pro-Akintola. We nearly stoned him but he ran away.

He, however, betrayed us by informing the authorities about our plan. He did that because he didn’t want us to go and embarrass Akintola who was premier then. So, when we got to Maryland junction in Lagos, we met a barricade of policemen positioned to stop us. We were infuriated. They stopped us and we alighted. They asked us to sit down and we did. We were negotiating with them. They gave us ten minutes to go back, we refused. They tear-gassed us and chased us as far as Owode Onirin. There we were both tired and they ran out of tear gas.

They begged us to go and we asked they should release all our people and they did. That was when we returned towards Ibadan. At Idi Ayunre, we were ambushed by policemen who took us all to Iyaganku where we were detained. It was our vice chancellor who came and insisted he would bail us all as we had not committed any offence. Of course, we had been told to give fake names and faculties to the police when we were being processed for bail. That night, I dreamt Balewa and Akintola were killed and two days after, they were killed. Now, you are beginning to see why I am passionate about this country.

What is your take on zoning as regards 2023?

Contrary to what some people are saying, the south did not break the agreement in 2011. When Obasanjo ran for second term in 2003, northerners ran against him and Nigerians decided based on the zoning arrangement. So, when Jonathan ran in 2011, Nigerians made him president with the zoning arrangement in mind. I strongly believe that should a northerner run in 2023, Nigerians will reject him based on the same zoning arrangement we have adhered to since the return to democracy in 1999.

Power does not belong to any tribe; it belongs to the people of Nigeria. Anybody who loves this country knows that the next president in 2023 must come from the south. Recently, the middle-belt opted out of the Arewa Consultative Forum. There are competent people in all parts of the country. So, if anybody says for competence we must shun zoning, I disagree. Let us stick to the zoning agreement in the interest of the country. But power will not be given on a platter of gold. It is not served a la carte.

President Buhari even needs to support zoning to correct the impression that he is a tribalist. I want him to leave a legacy of a nationalist. To patch the country together until we are reasonable enough to have a constitution that is truly agreed to by the people of Nigeria, we need to express patriotism by doing everything that can keep the country together. And one of such is the need to allow the south to produce the next president of the country in 2023. It is expedient to do that especially now given the degree of mutual suspicion among us.

And talking about the Igbos of the east, they have not played the politics that will make it easy for them to get the presidency. They might still get it if they have a candidate that can sell them to other parts of the country. But if one looks at the politics they are currently playing, where can you place them? The politics of isolation will not go far as regards the presidency. No region can make itself president. You need the support of all other zones of the country if you want the presidency. This is where I fear for the chances of the east in 2023.

 

 

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