The intense struggle by the two leading presidential candidates in the next’s month election has divided the Yoruba political leaders. The pan Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, is now speaking in different tunes over which candidate to support to achieve the age-long desire for restructuring of the country.
In this interview, Prof Stephen Banji Akintoye, declared that anything short of restructuring in the present circumstance would be a foolish and futile exercise. He also warned the national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on his new appointment as Chairman, Buhari Presidential Campaign Council, saying the 2015 experience will still repeat itself after the elections.
Afenifere seems to be speaking in different tunes over the two leading presidential candidates. Some leaders are even accusing one another of betraying Awo’s legacy. How do you see this scenario?
The bottom-line to all those activities is that we have an election coming and the different groups are eager to ensure that their candidates are not driven electorally out of Yorubaland. They want to see their candidates win a lot of Yoruba votes. And when it became apparent that Afenifere had given its support to Atiku, then other people also gathered together to say they are Afenifere too and they declared their support for Buhari. These are election time theatrics. In doing so, they went and brought one of our most respected citizens – Chief Ayo Fasanmi. Many people may not know Fasanmi today. He is one of the bravest and most patriotic Yoruba men alive. He is an old man. He is no longer very active, he is challenged health-wise. But for them to be credible, they had to find a man of the calibre of Chief Ayo Fasanmi. So, when people mention the name of Ayo Fasanmi, there are very few of us who are inclined to talk about him. It is very difficult. I cannot critise him personally because I know him. So, they played the game using one of the biggest names as far as we are concerned. And everybody said we must not let them compel us to attack the name of Ayo Fasanmi. I cannot say anything against him. If I open my mouth about Fasanmi, I have nothing but praise and respect for him. I knew him in a terribly difficult times in the history of Yoruba people. When election of October 1965 was rigged, only the youth wing of the Action group association was able to stand up to say: ‘no we do not accept this. ‘ And who was the leader of that group? Chief Ayo Fasanmi, the bravest of the braves. I was his vice president. Chief Soji Odunjo was our secretary. So, it is not easy to play with the name of Ayo Fasanmi. They say they are Afenifere and Fasanmi is their leader, so be it. But the important thing is that the other group who has Chief Fasoranti in Akure as its leader has been the one doing the duties of Afenifere. When, for instance, the Yoruba have any trouble from any quarters, they are the people who have always stood up to fight. When the Fulani herdsmen began to invade the Yoruba land, killed people, raped women and so on, it was Chief Fasoranti and his leadership of Afenifere that rose up and decided to find out what was happening and how to respond to it. The same thing they did in Ife when Hausa-Fulani community attacked Yoruba people. Chief Fasoranti called an emergency meeting of Afenifere where it was decided that some leaders of Afenifere must go to Ife to intervene with a view to making sure that type of eruption does not happen in Ife again. The delegation led by Ayo Adebanjo went to the palace of Ooni of Ife, thanked him for the role he had played in curtailing violence. If Ooni had not stood up and sued for peace, the violence would have continued and many more foreigners would have been killed. When the Federal Government arrested some people, including a chief and took them to Abuja to be paraded as criminal, Afenifere led by Chief Fasoranti hired lawyers to protect them and prevent the police from parading them as criminals. It is clumpsy. That’s how people tend to behave when election comes.
One of the Yoruba leaders who attended the Ibadan meeting said they resolved to support Buhari because his welfare programme, agricultural policy and infrastructure development, among others, are in line with the philosophy of Obafemi Awolowo. How would you want to situate this position vis-à-vis the aspiration for true federalism and restructuring agenda?
I don’t want to talk about candidates; I want to talk about issues. The central issue which Chief Awolowo struggled for was that each section of Nigeria should be able to develop within itself and that is the meaning of federation. Each section of Nigeria should be able to develop its own resources and prevent poverty among its people. The idea that one government in Abuja or wherever it is will develop Nigeria is not acceptable to the Awolowo type of thinking. When after the Second World War in 1946 and the British began to talk of structure for Nigeria, the group founded by Chief Awolowo, Egbe Omo Oduduwa, was the first organization ever to write a very detailed proposal for a federation of Nigeria and submitted to the British government. He believed that if that was not done, it would be impossible to rule Nigeria. And we who are now his successors are now saying that attempting to rule Nigeria with a central government is a foolish thing. A lot of poverty that now exists is a product of the fact that the power of self development has been taken away from the various sections of Nigeria and everything is concentrated in the hands of the Federal Government, which has become overburdened, orgy and incompetent. So, whoever loves this country has to support restructuring so that we can have local initiative in development. Whoever says that is what we need now is saying exactly what Awolowo would be saying now if he were alive. Over centralization of everything has led to too much decline and degeneration in Nigeria. We in the Western Region used to be the leader in education not only in Nigeria, but in Africa.
Now, our education system has gone down. Part of the reason for that is that the Federal Government presumes to be able to organize education everywhere. They sit down in Abuja and make grand statements about what they are going to do for the whole of Nigeria what is impossible for the whole of Nigeria by anyone single central government. I don’t think there is any reasonable and legitimate response to the statement that the thing that Nigeria needs most now is to restructure its federation so that we can return to the situation in which various sections of Nigeria can develop their resources so that Nigeria can move forward again.
Awolowo had to go to meetings upon meetings of the constitutional conferences of 1950s and explained to everybody what a federal arrangement meant. He wrote books on it. He became the one explaining to the leaders of Nigeria that only a federation can do the development of Nigeria. We are a country of many nations.
There is no single government that can deal with peculiarities of these nations. We have allowed our country to decay under the impact of over centralization.We need to go back to the point at which we had a proper federation and prospered as a country. I have said it again and again, if Nigeria continues to be like this, poverty is going to deepen, hopelessness will increase, conflicts will increase, violence will increase, crimes will increase. We are already a crime-ridden country. More and more of our people will be taking desperate steps to get out of Nigeria. Thousands are dying in the desert and in the Mediterranean in an attempt to get to Europe. More will go there and die. It will reach a point when people can no longer take it and Nigeria will disintegrate and break into pieces. It will be a messy war. In the end, what happened to Yugoslavia will happen to Nigeria. Restructuring is the most important thing for Nigeria now.
Then, how do you see the move by some political players using 2023 as bait to get the votes of the Yoruba people?
I don’t care whether Yoruba man is president or not. We just must restructure. It doesn’t matter who the president is, this country must restructure for it to continue to exist. I will want Yoruba man to be president of Nigeria. Why not? I refuse to see partisan groups among the Yoruba people. I see Yoruba as a nation of great capabilities, great civilization builders. They’ve done it before in our history. So, when I see a Yoruba man, I don’t see APC, I don’t see PDP. I don’t care any party any Yoruba man may belong.
All I care is that Yoruba people as a nation like other nations in Nigeria should be allowed to return to the way they were developing their regions and probably calling themselves first inAfrica and leading education inAfrica and creating powerful corporations like Western Region Development Corporation which later became Oodua Investment Development Corporation which was the single largest investment agglomeration of investment capital on the African continent with holdings in industries, commerce, real estates, banking and finance and so on. That is what I want to see, I don’t care who is the president. It is better to see a Yoruba man become president, but I think it is much better that Nigeria be restructured so that Yoruba people can go back and rebuild their civilization which is under serious threat now.
With the way power now rotates between the North and South, where is the interest of the minority?
Chief Awolowo was the only politician who believed minorities should be treated as human beings too and who did everything to help them. Can you believe that the leaders of our country went to the constitutional conference in London and when Awolowo began to talk about the minorities, some of our leaders said there were no minorities in Nigeria? Isn’t it horrible that anybody will say a thing like that? What Chief Awolowo did in the next constitutional conference was to include minority in the Western Region delegation so that they would go there and show their face. And out of spite for Western Region and Chief Awolowo, the Federal Government created the Mid-Western Region in 1963. Chief Awolowo welcomed it, the Action Group welcomed it. But they insisted that the other minorities must follow. The North said no and the East also didn’t want South of the East to go away. These are the fact of the existence of this country. But Yoruba men and women don’t know. If they know how much we in the Southwest have sacrificed for orderly structure for Nigeria, they will not be playing games against restructuring. I don’t know of any significant citizen of the Southwest who has never spoken in favour of restructuring of this country. You may because of your partisan politics support somebody who is opposed to restructuring. But you are not carrying the message of the Yoruba people to do that. The message of the Yoruba people is that the country must be restructured. Who is president is not as important to us as the kind of structure we have for our country.
The national leader of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has just been appointed as the Chairman of The Buhari Presidential Campaign Council. This in essence means that Yoruba have a lot of stake in this election. Don’t you think so?
Again, I don’t care what party Ahmed Bola Tinubu belongs to. He is a capable Yoruba man and I can stand up anywhere in the world and say that. I looked at his energy, his political sagacity, and his resourcefulness when he tried to save Nigeria in 2013/14. The country was breaking up literally. Corruption was highest in every area of the government. The political party in power was breaking up and everything looks as if it was going to be dissolution of the country. Different sections of the country were already talking about secession. Then, he stepped forward, brought people together and created a new political party which called itself All Progressives Congress (APC). And he did a very patriotic thing by not asking that his own part of the country should be nominated by that party as presidential candidate. If Bola Tinubu had wanted a Yoruba man, if he had wanted himself to be nominated presidential candidate in 2014, he would have been nominated. And just as Buhari won, he would have won. But he didn’t do that. I give that to him as credit. You don’t deny credit to those who deserve credit. I give all of that to him as credit. But when it was all over and Buhari won, what did we see? Tinubu was kicked out of the door. He no longer became significant part of the government. Well, politicians will choose what they feel like doing, old men like me will stay in the background and say what are you people doing? I cannot claim to understand what our people have been doing since then. Perhaps, because Buhari found his campaign not doing too well, he wants to bring competent hand of Bola Tinubu into it. He had saved his country before in times of trouble; maybe he can also save Buhari this time. But I don’t see that anything will be different. I am an old man. When young person falls, he looks in front. When an old man falls, he stops and looks behind him. I look behind me and I don’t see that anything is going to change. I believe that when it is over, it will be the same thing all over again. I see him behind the door. I hope not so, but I fear so.
How would the minorities find their voice in the political arrangement of this country?
I have hope in one thing that has happened. The fact that the Yoruba people of the Southwest under Afenifere, the Igbo people of the Southeast under Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the minority people of the South-South under PANDEF and the peoples of the Middle Belt under the Middle Belt Leaders Forum have come together in the past one year and established a Southern-Middle Belt Forum which brings all the minorities together, sitting face to face with the big Yoruba nation from the Southwest, the big Igbo nation from the Southeast, I think it is a good potent for the future, for all of us as a country, but also for the minorities. A year ago, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum after their meetings in Abuja decided that the right thing now will be to nominate a Middle Belter for the presidency of this country. Unfortunately, it has not been easy to get that done. If a body like that could take a decision that the best for the counry would be a Middle Belt president, I see that as signs of good things to come.