Awo’s associate, Olaniwun Ajayi warns Buhari on disintegration

Olaniwun Ajayi
Sir Olaniwun Ajayi needs no introduction either in the realm of law profession, activism, politics and in public analysis. The Isara Remo, Ogun State born nonagenarian, who celebrated his 90th birthday in­ April is a renowned lawyer, astute politician and unbowed activist and democrat.
Pa Ajayi, unarguably, is one of the surviving close associates and loyal disciples of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as well as chieftain of the pan Yo­ruba socio-cultural and political organization, Afenifere.
In an interview with RAZAQ BAMIDELE at his palatial coun­try home in Isara, Pa Olaniwun Ajayi was close to tears when expressing sadness and disap­pointment over the state of the project called Nigeria. The re­spected educationist, who was a former Commissioner of Educa­tion in the defunct Western State lamented that, “this is not Nigeria of our dream,” warning that, if President Muhammadu Buhari fails to do the needful Nigeria will break, collapse, die and disinte­grate like the USSR, Yugoslavia among other countries that are no more.
His words: “And of course, more important, this is very cru­cial; he should ensure that Nige­ria is taken into true federalism. It is very important if he can do that. But if he doesn’t do that, of course, he would have contrib­uted to the disintegration of Nige­ria as a country. Unless we give regards to the diversity of this country, unless we address that issue very dispassionately and very, very objectively, Nigeria will get disintegrated as Yugoslavia became disintegrated.” Excerpts:
Sir, you celebrated your 90th birthday in April, what were your dreams of Nigeria at a younger age?
Well, the dream that I had for this country, particularly when one was guided by the situation we had in early 50s to 1960, was for a very buoyant, successful, pleasant rich country, where rule of law, peace­ful co-existence and general sat­isfaction would prevail. That was my dream because you found at that time that, Western Region was going by leaps and bounds, with its Olympic size stadium, Televi­sion which was first in Africa, the secretariat of first order in Agodi, Ibadan, then residential portion provided in Agodi, Ikeja and In­dustrial Estate, then of course, free primary education as well as 200 scholarships in the leading univer­sities in the world.
Then of course, the encourage­ment the government gave to the farmers as a result of which in­vestment was growing. There was no question of oil. Monuments like Cocoa House, Ibadan, West­ern House, Ikeja Lagos, LAPPA Building in Lagos and Investment House. Then, of course, the gen­eral look of the people, you would see that everybody was happy and lively. Everything was delightful.
Was the painted scenario peculiar to the Western Re­gion alone then?
Then of course, in the North, there were also a lot of develop­ments according to the enlighten­ment which they had. Ditto in the East. A lot of progress was going on. But of course, the West was leading. Undoubtedly, and I am sure, acceptably leading.
Where then did the rot start?
It began when the jam of politi­cal iniquity, political imbalance started to develop. And of course, the evidence of this was the emer­gency regulations in 1961, 1962 and under the regulation, it was a political device, (which they said was legal), to deal with opposition. And the state to be dealt with was Western Region. So, Western Re­gion should be disintegrated. Then the trouble of 1962 arising from the jam which we nurtured in our constitution which was made in England in 1959 during the Constitutional Conference came out. It was a provision in our Constitution of 1960 whereby political opponent should be dealt with. And so, the leaders of the Action Group (AG), were ar­rested, put under house arrest and there the problem of Nigeria started. In 1963 or so, when this thing started, Anthony Enahoro of the blessed memory said, “this thing we are doing, we have seen the beginning, we are not likely to see the end in many years to come.” Here we are today! We are still at it.
How do you now feel?
I have been terribly disappointed. The dream I had, it is a pity. I was 90 years old last April, we have been struggling for nearly 60 years to ensure that things are right in this country. But things are not right.
You call this country a federation. But it is being run as a unitary system where if you answer president, really and truly, you are a monarch. Yes, a monarch because he dic­tates to all the states. That is not an element or characteristics of federalism. Of course, not. He dictates to the state. He dictates to the governors.
What then is the way out?
Well, the agitation, from the 50s, was that, Nigeria should have states created according to linguistic principles because the diversity was quite clear. Very strikingly clear in this country. Diversity in language. Diversity in question of rationality. Diversity in tradition. Diversity in educational outlook. Diversity from the point of view of where are you looking up to. One is to the Eastern world, the Muslim world. The other one is the West­ern world. From those who were looking to­wards the Muslim world, they took the whole country, when General Ibrahim Babangida was there as President, to the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC). Is that right for a federation? If the states had been created as demanded, that wouldn’t happen. A state that decides to go, it would do so. Then of course, with the Sharia which was in vogue in that time, and in the real party, even in the North, there was a lot of partiality in how of­fices were distributed.
One, you must be a Muslim. You must be a Fulani. You must belong to royalty. You must belong to a very important family in that order. If you look at those in the north­ern states Houses of Assembly, you would see that majority of them at that time during the First Republic, were Fulani. Majority of those who were ministers at that time were Fulani. They went on like that. They didn’t want non Fulani to be anything.
I will give you a typical example. We had Action Group (AG), we had NCNC, we had the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC). NPC was not a political party. It was a union that was turned into a political party. In organiz­ing that union to become a political party, arrangement was made for a meeting to be held where the officers of the party would be elected, particularly, the president of the par­ty. Then, there was an agreement that Tafawa Balewa would be the president of the party. Twenty four or 36 hours before that meeting, two leaders of the North went round. One of them was the grandfather of the present Emir of Kano. I have forgotten the name of the second person. They went round before daybreak, saying, no, it shouldn’t be Tafawa Balewa. It should be Ahmadu Bello. They went to the extent of warning Tafawa Balewa not to attend the meeting where the election would take place to elect the leaders, just to ensure that Ahmadu Bello was elected as chairman of the party. And so he was.
Then Bello himself, with Balewa being the Prime Minister, referred to Balewa as, ‘my man in Lagos.’ So, that was the situation in the country. There was definite planned refus­al to allow states to be created in the country. When agitation was so strong and the claim­ants for creation of states, especially from the COR areas that are now Rivers, Cross River and Akwa Ibom, then, the Middle-Belt, they sent representatives to the 1954 conference, they were told, “no, we don’t prepare to hear you because your case was not in the agenda. So, go home.” Among the representatives was a man who later became Supreme Court Justice, Udo Udoma. That star was from that area. When they came back to attend the 1957 Conference, then, Lenoir was the Secretary to the State Colony. He directed members to set up three commissions. One would be Electoral Commission on delimita­tion of constituencies in Nigeria. The second one was Finance. Then, the third one was to examine the fear of the minorities in the country and allay their fears. They were very unserious and dishonest. And I shall tell you how and why those three commissions were dishonest. Let me take delimitation of con­stituencies first.
The commission went round, but then the basic decision was that the country should be divided into so many constituencies of so many people-registered voters. But, the commission sat and used population figure as opposed to number of registered voters to delimit the country. Do you know the im­plication of that? That is to say, the North, where women were not yet allowed to vote, was reckoned with in delimiting the country. Don’t you see the advantage to the North and disadvantage to the South because people were all registered voters in the South. They did that to favour the north and to ensure that the numerical preponderance of the North was not interfered with. It was a plan to rig elections for the north.
Secondly,on the population. The chair­man of the minority commission, is a politi­cian and member of the conservative party. The terms of reference for the commission were carefully and technically drafted. The members of the commission were specially selected. One of them was a person called Philip. Oh, no! A terrible man. He was a brilliant person. So, the commission was here for all the years. It went round taking evidence all over the country. They went to Niger Delta, they saw things for themselves. Then the commission said, people of Niger Delta, we have gone round and we have seen that to build schools is very difficult here. It is even difficult for farmers to farm because of the terrain. The farmers cannot do normal farming because the land does not allow for easy farming.
But then, all these problems are not enough to give you a state. But that they must be looked after by the majority party in the East­ern Region. But they are not looked after. They were treated like just others.
Then, in the case of the Middle-Belt, the commission said, yes, you complained that you are being forced to use Hausa language and that Hausa language is not your lan­guage. But of course, you must remember that Hausa language is a trade language. It is used all over the world and all over Africa as a language of business. So, we cannot be­cause of that give you a region. We cannot. And of course, you can be sure that the party in power will look after you. You would not suffer. This was in 1957. But my brother, you know what happened in that region of Ni­geria, the Middle-Belt in 2008? When they wanted to hold an election, the power that was in that area wanted the North of Jos to be occupied by non Christians, which they resisted. And there was a lot of trouble. In the end, government had to say there was going to be declaration of State of Emergency. And someone was brought to manage the affairs of Plateau State. You know the beginning of that in 1957? Creation of states.
Then somebody wrote in the papers that, well, after that, the Middle-Belt has to go very quietly, very slowly, very carefully, oth­erwise they would be punished by the power that be because their life was in the hands of the Fulani. So, there was nothing they could do. That was in 2008.
And of course you know in 1997, I think that was Zango Kataf trouble in Kaduna State when Zamani Lekwot was going to be sent to the gallows. He was made ready to go to the gallows. Unfortunately, when the trouble was going to start, Lekwot was not there. He was somewhere in the North. He was abso­lutely not there at all. But because he was a big fish in that place, they roped him in. And they wanted to make him the victim of that sacrifice. But for GOK Ajayi now of blessed memory, he would have been killed. I think, later, Babangida thought he should be re­leased and he released him. He was present with us in 12014 at the National Conference. I saw him and congratulated him that he is still in the land of the living. So, these are the things going on in the country.
Before the first coup and the counter coup that brought Yakubu Gowon to power, we had a law governing oil production and rev­enue allocation. Without reference to any­body, that law was altered by Gowon to fa­vour everybody. He just reduced the revenue allocation principles to nothing. Well, we are either a federation, or in unitary form of gov­ernment. So, this political imbalance is the bane of this country. Unless a halt is brought to it, then, it is going to kill this country.
Do you think that Nigeria’s problem would be solved if the recommenda­tions of the National Conference are implemented?
Oh, you have put it in beautiful proviso. If implemented. If, if, if, if, if implemented. Yes, if implemented, yes, fine, it will solve some of our problems. It will solve very mi­nor problems. The major ones are still there. If you go through our constitution, particu­larly 1999 Constitution, which was brought before daybreak, because we did not know when it was done, you would see method of sharing things. There is a proper name for it-federal character. Well, is federal charac­ter principle being observed in this coun­try? Let us ask our conscience. I want to tell you my brother, we may be clever and do things to suit a section of the country all this while. But there is nothing we think or noth­ing we say or nothing we do that is hidden from God. Our country has been structured in a way that is not only irregular, improper, but in a way that is very detrimental to the wellbeing and welfare of the people of this country. And God is just looking at us. He is going to descend and when He descends with His judgement, it would be terrible for those behind our problem. This is because we are practicing political iniquity. And iniq­uity is not synonymous with fairness or righ­teousness or equity. It is not and God does not favour such things among his children. Where that is being practiced, those who are responsible definitely cannot go without be­ing punished.
Now you are talking of federal character, in the time of Babangida, if you see his cabi­net, I have forgotten the figures now, if the number of the cabinet was 15, you would find that 10 would be northerners, five would be southerners. Ditto in the time of Abacha.
Well, today, you find that the judiciary is in the hand of the oligarchy. The caliphate made sure that the chief justice of the federa­tion should be a northerner. Ditto, the head­ship of the Court of Appeal, northerner. The headship of the Federal High Court, should be a northerner. Then of course we have fed­eral character. Do all these practices answer to federal character principle? If the answer is no, then, those who are responsible are go­ing to be punished for it. Then, you may say what is this man talking about. We are talk­ing of what is real, he is talking of what God will do or what God may not do. Yes. We are all under the almighty God in our day to day  doing. Those before us, even in ancient time, those who misbehaved never went without accounting for their sins. The consequence of our doings in this place, not only that those are responsible will suffer, their generations will also share in the punishment.
Now, in this country, if we go through the list, at least not less than 15 persons have been heads of this country at one time or the other. Well, out of the 15, not less than 10, in­deed I would say, about 10 were northerners. Are other people illiterate that they cannot run the affairs of this country?
And in any case, what are the things that the North can point at and say, this, this and this are the developments and progress that we did when one of us was head? None at all! Even the person they put there, that is Obasanjo. They put him there in his second coming. They thought they would try to pac­ify the South, particularly the Yoruba people by taking one of their number to be president of this country. The man was in prison, they took him out of prison and within 24 hours they granted him pardon so he could be pres­ident. He was there, and he was like a dog in China shop. He misbehaved a lot in the place to the extent that he wanted to do third term.
Well, the first president of America, who was being persuaded to do third term, he rained a lot of curses on those people who were trying to convince him to do third term when the Constitution provides for two terms. He descended on them and rained curses on them. He said, no, it shouldn’t be heard. I know of course that there were some American presidents who did third term. At times, because of war and so on and so forth otherwise, certainly, Americans will not do anything against their constitution. Here, we flout our constitution, we abuse our constitu­tion, we abuse our position when we are in authority.
You see the way the country has been loot­ed within the last 16 years. It makes a person of my age, I have been in this for over 60 years, it gives me a lot of sadness. I am very sad, disappointed, I feel angry and at times, I feel like crying. See what is going on and see how many Nigerians are suffering. And yet, many of us are in control of millions. Al­though, those who are in control of millions are being very stupid. Very stupid. What are they going to do with it? Worst still when the acquisition of their ill gotten wealth was at the expense of the Nigerian people who are the owners of the money?
The other day, the Deputy Managing Di­rector of the NNPC said, we have saved $287million. Then I stopped to read. What I read was that they invited foreigners to come and do what they call Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) for our refineries. And they quoted over 200 million dollars. Then he said, boys, can’t you do this thing? The boys said they can. Would you do it prop­erly? Yes, they answered. So, the boys went there and put the thing right and working. And because of that, they have been able to supply those who are generating electric­ity more gas than before. What is more, the TAM they did cost them only $10m. You see the differences? The foreigners would have gone with $287m. That was what the previ­ous government was doing.
Can we credit President Buhari for that?
Of course, in that way because he ap­pointed them. You see, I don’t know whether your question is that whether my aspiration has been met under this administration. Well, I will say as far as I am concerned, it is too early to judge him. But as far as I am con­cerned, Buhari, bearing in mind his age, and of course his experience, he will do the right thing which he failed to do during his first coming as a soldier and as Head of State. He knows the yearnings and the wishes of Ni­gerians. He knows our problems. He knows that, the mess which the previous adminis­tration created was just unthinkable from the way they have amassed wealth. The way they have stolen money. The way they have allowed incompetence. The way they have disregarded merit in who they appointed into office. So, let us hope and pray that Buhari would be guided by God almighty and ap­point young people of merit into his cabinet and not people who no longer have any fire in them. Not people who are being recycled from time to time. And that he will not hesi­tate to appoint men and women of integrity into his cabinet. And of course, more impor­tant, this is very crucial, he should ensure that Nigeria is taken into true federalism. It is very important if he can do that. But if doesn’t do that, of course, he would have contributed to the disintegration of Nigeria as a country. Unless we give regards to the diversity in this country, unless we address that issue very dispassionately and very, very objectively, Nigeria will get disintegrated as Yugoslavia became disintegrated.
I am sure you know how Yugoslavia be­came disintegrated. But at the same time, I know, around the same sector of the Eastern Europe, was the Republic of Czechoslo­vakia. It consisted of two important parts, Czechs and Slovaks. The Slovaks people are the ones agitating for separation from that union for very many years. Then later, in the late 80s, the Slovaks went to their parliament to say, they should pass resolution that, that nation should get out of that Republic called Czechoslovakia. Their Parliament passed that resolution.
Then, they sought consultation with Czechs and they say, well, okay, we see wis­dom in it and we will accede to your request. We can go our separate ways. Of course, the part that suffers from that separation was Slo­vaks because they were poorer. The Czechs were alright.
Well, being poor is okay, we will find our way to development and progress. Now, they are on their own and nobody is dictating to them. So, there is peace in the place we used to call Czechoslovakia. There is peace on the right and on the left.
Ditto for Belgium. The ethnicity problem in Belgium was very intense. Intense in the sense that, if you are going to the French sec­tion, you will see written in front of you: You are now approaching French section, be care­ful. That is Fleming people saying that. If you are not careful, you get into trouble. Ditto if you are going to the Fleming’s section, you will be warned. All sort of things were there creating problem for the authorities in Bel­gium. Then of course, they sat and amended their constitution in 1960. And they have been amending their constitution since then, to cater to the problem arising from diversity in their country. And so, what you have is a very peaceful, organized country-Belgium.
It is more or less the seat of the European Union (EU). The last time they amended their constitution was in 2012. They do so whenever they see problem arising from their diversity. We should learn from that.
Look at the USSR, with so many countries making up the Union. But those countries later said, we want to go on our own. Leave us alone. They told Moscow they wanted to go their separate places. And of course, Mos­cow refused. But then in the end, there was war here, war there and war everywhere. Now, USSR that used to be a very large country has been reduced to 22 countries now making up the place. At my age, I don’t want such for Nigeria.
The same thing in Yugoslavia. For very many years, the people of that country, an ancient country, very good country, precise­ly like Nigeria, had their various nationali­ties. About six or eight of them. But they all wanted to be on their own. Self determina­tion. And their leaders have refused, saying, the more we are the better. Oh, the more we are the merrier. But the people were suffer­ing. The last leader was Joseph Tito. He was a General, who refused. He said no. Well, he died. After his death, meetings were held here and there in Yugoslavia. But there was complete absence of sincerity and honesty and real principle in that place. Therefore, the meetings were not effective. In the end, they started to fight. And they continued to kill one another for 10 years. You know about this. So, the place you always refer to as Yugoslavia is no more except two or three nationalities that are now together, Montene­gro and Serbia or so. They put themselves together and call themselves Yugoslavia.
I think we should flee away from the situ­ation that befell Yugoslavia. We are not im­mune as a country to such things. We are not.
What do you think would be the feeling of the late sage, Chief Oba­femi Awolowo if he were to be alive today?
Oh, his feeling would be one of disap­pointment, one of frustration, one of sad­ness. Yes, that is how he would be feeling. This is not Nigeria of our dream. We didn’t plan this. We didn’t want this. But of course, it was not unknown to him that the people they were dealing with were difficult people. Of course, he realized in their time that Fu­lani don’t play with power.
Fulani like power and would do anything to attain power. It doesn’t matter how. But then, if you hold power, there must be people over whom you use the power. If you hold power and use the power irregularly and unfairly, with a lot of partialities and irregu­larities, and in an inequitable manner on the people, what sort of power is that? It is an ex­ercise that you will regret by and by. This is because I am a Christian and you are a Mus­lim, I am sure what I am going to quote in the Bible would also be in the Qur’an. “This thing that you are doing, do you think I don’t see you? You think I am like you? I will ask you one by one.”
What then is your impression about the Yoruba of the South-west votes for Buhari a Fulani man?
Well, I don’t blame them for voting for Fulani man because the Yoruba people as well as other people across the country were overwhelmed about corruption. It was too bad.
Awo’s associate, Olaniwun Ajayi warns Buhari on disintegration Awo’s associate, Olaniwun Ajayi warns Buhari on disintegration Reviewed by Ioaness vita on Sunday, September 27, 2015 Rating: 5

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