By Bankole Shakirudeen Adeshina
What is the ultimate goal of Afenifere in its synergy with other regional powers in various parts of the country?
Well, the issue on ground in Nigeria now is about the dis-functionality of our governance structure. Nigeria has entered a terminal crisis and in that, there is no way out except we restructure this country completely. Because that great thinker, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, told us as far back as 1967 in his book, Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution, that any attempt to run Nigeria on the basis of Military Constitution will bring about disharmony, discontent. And that except we get veritable super humans to run the affairs of Nigeria, the administrative machinery of the government will certainly crumble under the existing bureaucratic centralism.
And that is where we have got to today in the country. All we have has been disharmony. And then here comes the All Progressive Congress saying, no. These challenges would be addressed if is voted into power. And we trusted its candidate and voted for him. But the result is that we have gone from frying pan to fire.
What are the specific areas of disappointments?
For instance, when this government was celebrating its second anniversary, the then Acting President, Prof Yemi Osibajo, told the nation that N1.2trillion has been spent on infrastructure. But we have not seen one project commissioned!
During the election, they promised N1 will become $1; but today one dollar is exchanged for N365. In fact it was N500 against $1 at a time. They promised they would create three million jobs; two years after, we have lost more than three million jobs.
Under this government, inflation is at all-time high, prices of commodities have gone beyond the reach of the people. And before the party got to power, a liter of fuel was sold for N87 but today, the price is N200!
Our roads have become death traps. Imagine the Presidential Hospital in such a pitiable state, in spite of the funding. That tells you that if such could happen at the seat of power, then the poor are completely hopeless.
Two years after, every index has gone worse for the country. Am I now heaping all the blames on the government of President Muhammadu Buhari? The answer is no. But I am saying that he and his party clearly understood the dynamics of our situation when they were promising us heavens on earth.
Practically speaking, no singular project has been successfully completed and commissioned by this government. And this administration has less than a year to go before the electioneering campaign begins. Therefore, it’s clear today that unless you address nationhood, erecting a new governance structure for the country, return the country back to true Federalism, nothing will work. It’s obvious that the present unitary arrangement is not working in the interest of the entire country.
Some have argued that a sincere evaluation of this government would show it has not actually done as bad as some are painting it?
Well, if you understand where we were as a country, it would be unfair to expect the government to deliver. Yes. Except that they made promises to the people. And there was no basis for it at all. In the first year when this government came to power, the price of oil crashed, the country made about $3.95billion on crude oil. That was less than what Disneyland made same time. Our GDP today, if compared to that of Ireland, it’s nothing. Whereas studies have shown that if we embrace a new paradigm, allowing the state to control all the resources beneath their soil, we would have the capacity to produce a N50trillion annual economy in this country. But we hold on tight to this peanut economy because of the power of demand and control.
So you also understand the enormity of challenges in governance?
Yes, but those in the government now underplayed it because of jostling for power then. And that is unfair to the people. The government has obviously exhausted all the tricks in the book; the result today is still poor governance and impoverished people. There is no such strategy that would work under this kind of structure. It’s a terminal crisis that we are in, and if not treated, the country’s death looms. And countries die too. The Soviet Union is dead. Those of us calling for restructuring are doing so because we don’t want the country to die.
But the government has said that most of the people calling for restructuring are members of opposition political parties. What do you say?
There are two groups who want to kill the country today. They are those who are resisting the restructuring and those who want to break away from the country. And obviously those that want to preserve Nigeria are those asking for restructuring. But if we refuse to restructure, we will obviously be helping those who want to break the country. As you can see, Nigeria cannot afford this looming disintegration.
Could that be reasons why some groups have also been clamoring for Oduduwa Republic?
I don’t know about that. Afenifere did not say that and won’t say that. The fact is the day the mainstream Yoruba say they are fed up with Nigeria, that would be the end of the country. Yet, we have undergone many challenges more than any other group in Nigeria. Right from Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s travails, the emergency crisis in the western region, Weti e, annulment of the June 12 presidential election in which Chief MKO Abiola was the winner, his subsequent detention and horrific killing, the mass killing of prominent Yoruba leaders by Gen Sani Abacha and to all sorts of undue injustices, all in the name to have a country.
What is your take on the recent agitations by the Indigenous People of Biafra?
Well, IPOB is reacting to this age-long injustice in the land. And they were right in their agitations. But there are those of us who see all the possibilities for greatness in Nigeria being restructured than broken into pieces. But if they (FG) don’t listen to us and collapse the agitation for restructuring, the game is going to end up in favor of the breakup advocates.
What are the plans in place to surmount the hurdle of the NASS on the restructuring project?
Well, the only weapon we have is engagement. A constructive and superior argument on why we should embrace this reality. But if they refused, we may get to a situation where we would wake up one day and decide to sack all of them. They should not push us to that. We are only asking them to reintroduce the revolution from above not from below. This has happened in other countries already. We should not allow it to happen here.
And in any case, some sections of the people have fundamental issue with the way the NASS is constituted. And for those referring us to go to NASS for the restructuring project, they knew why they are saying so. It’s because they have done sufficient lobbying without our consent.
They used military fiat to create states and constituencies for themselves. In the first republic, I hope you have not forgotten that we had four regions: three in the south, one in the north. How then did three regions become 17 states and one region become 19 states?
Also, there was a time in this country when we had divisions. Lagos was a division. Sokoto was a division. Kano was a division. But today, the Lagos division now becomes Lagos State. When you go to the senate, they have three seats there. The Kano Division has become two states—Kano and Jigawa. When you go to the senate, they have six senators. Sokoto Division has become three states—Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara. When you get to the senate, they have nine senators. Is this fair and equitable? You know the answer yourself. That is why Afenifere is saying the national question in the country today can only be resolved through a constituent assembly. And all the regions would present equal representations to reach this position.
You can’t say you want to resolve the lopsidedness of Nigeria within a lopsided structure. It’s impossible.
You are saying the North is the principal beneficiaries of this current structure?
Of course, yes. And that is why you are hearing from them that the unity of the country is not negotiable. Even the Northern Elders Forum wants to cling on to the undue advantage they have over the rest of the country. And that is not going to continue forever. That is why we say, let’s negotiate Nigeria in a way that we will all live in happiness. If Nigeria is restructured, the North even has better opportunities.
But the country had a beautiful chance in 2014 when it held a National Conference. Why did the former president fail to implement i?
Yes, we had an opportunity and we sat to discuss the way forward, but this government came and said it was not going to look at it because it was not part of it. That was why we found ourselves where we are today. If we had implemented the report, Nigeria would not have entered into recession. I don’t expect the government to implement the report 100%, but it should have done something reasonable because the report was a consensus of Nigerians on how the country should be governed.
APC government’s refusal has shown that its electoral victory was for a section of the country, the perpetuation of the iniquities in the land and the unjust advantages they have.
Do you believe in the credibility of the Conference report?
We have 492 delegates and passed the whole resolutions without a vote. All were on a consensus. And we had the best of Nigerians at that conference. I can tell you, it would be so difficult to assemble that eminent assembly of Nigerians again.
But former President Goodluck Jonathan had eight months to implement the key recommendation of the recommendation?
He didn’t. The said time was for election. One distinguished patriot, Pastor Tunde Bakare said at that time that we should not hold the 2015 elections. That we should take one year to implement that report with a proviso that, after the conclusion of the implementation, GEJ will not contest in the next election.
So, how do we achieve the restructuring project?
On the 7th of September this year, we had the Yoruba Elders Summit in Ibadan where all the Yoruba leaders gathered and voted unanimously for restructuring. That was the loudest statement we have made in the country this year. Those that were not present, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Pastor Tunde Bakare among others, have both supported the restructuring separately. The Yorubas are all on one page on this. And like my lecturer in Ife, Prof. Adebayo Williams used to say, that it takes Yoruba a long time to form a consensus on an issue, but once they do, woe betide anybody that steps out of line.
How much synergy are the Yoruba building to achieving this?
Already, we have established a formidable alliance with South-South and South-East under the Southern Leaders Forum. We have taken that further to have Southern and Middle-Belt Leaders Forum. And Middle-Belt holds 14 out of the 19 States in the North. And we are also reaching out to the core north to discuss this matter. This is because what we are looking for is in the interest of everybody. We are putting our whole into this to ensure that the country is restructured.
Do you think that can be achieved during this political dispensation?
It is obvious this government has collapsed. And to get out of the wood, we believe we must have a more generally acceptable constitution for the next election.
Do you believe in the credibility of President Muhammadu Buhari?
I don’t doubt his credibility.
Do you believe he is a man of high integrity?
Well, I don’t doubt it. I think Nigerians voted for him based on his perceived integrity.
Do you then think that integrity is overrated given how messy he has allegedly handled corruption related issues?
I have two big uncles, General Akinrinade and Dr Akingba. They used to say that with this governance structure we are running in Nigeria, if you like bring Prophet Mohammad and Jesus, as President and Vice President or vice-versa, to run this structure that their integrity will be challenged. It is an unjust system. Did you read about how much APC and PDP spent on the last election, when the law explicitly stated that the much each part could spend was N1billion for campaign? The fact is, there is no saint you will bring to come and run this government that will not be soiled.
We have to dismantle this structure. The very air that is sustaining it is corruption.
How will you respond to allegation of your cozy relationship with the former president?
Were we not the people that led the Occupy Nigeria Campaign that almost brought down the government of Jonathan? Have the people forgotten so fast? The only reason why I supported Jonathan for the 2015 election was because he said he was going to implement the 2014 Conference Report. That was the only basis,
But your wife also supported him….?
Go and interview her. I am talking for myself. In fact, my wife did not support anybody for that election. I was the one who did. And if tomorrow, we have any election, and somebody said he is going to restructure Nigeria based on the report of that conference, I will still go all out to support the person a million times. And I have no apology for it at all. And I am very consistent on this matter. It was on the basis to restructure Nigeria that I supported candidates Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Bakare in 2011. Go and check their manifesto. It was number one on the list.