Elder statesman and leader of Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, has said that President Muhammad Buhari and the All Progressives Congress are being clever by half over the issue of restructuring, threatening that the ruling party is playing with fire if it fails to usher in the true federalism Nigerians are clamouring for before the next election.
In an interview with SUN, Adebanjo said: “the national question must be settled before any other election in this country. The issue of restructuring or coming back to true federalism should not be made an election issue. It should be settled before further elections.” He warned that if anything untoward happens to acting President Yemi Osinbajo, that will lead to the end of Nigeria.
For some months, the polity seems to be overheated and the country seems to be on edge, what is the reason for this?
The major reason is that we have abandoned the path that we are supposed to take. We abandoned the foundation that our forefathers gave us, and we have refused to go back to it.
What foundation was that?
It is the foundation of federalism. There was this crisis in 1953, and the Colonial Office sent for our political leaders as a result of which the Constitution of 1954 was promulgated, which established true federalism and led to Azikiwe, Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello becaming premiers of their regions.
It was that constitution that we carried on after independence and till 1963 when we became a Republic. The problem started when the military took over and restructured Nigeria. When you talk of restructuring now, people think it is a new word. When the military came into power, it abandoned the Independence constitution and put up its own structure; a unitarist government.
When the military wanted to return us to civilian rule, we said, let’s go back to where we were because this unitarist government doesn’t pay. There was competition among the regions when we had the independence constitution, and they were autonomous. Everybody knew how much was coming to them. Under that system, the regions had external positions in London, Chief Awolowo had Western House in London, and it was where I got married in 1960 because of the autonomy of the regions, which is what we are asking for.
That is why I continue to say, what is the problem with our northern brothers? Are they more northern than Sadauna, that approved the constitution? That was what he approved before he agreed to be in Nigeria.
After the crisis of 1953, he wanted to opt out of Nigeria, but he was convinced that he had his autonomy, as there would be a federal system. It was that word that was taken to London in 1954. It was at that conference that Azikiwe was converted to federalism. Once the national question is not settled, you can’t get peace. All these problems are arising because of the wrong system we have been following.
The southern leaders have been hammering on restructuring as the way out of the problem, and they went a step further to call for the implementation of the 2014 Confab report, but recently, the National Assembly voted against the devolution of powers in its proposed constitutional amendments…
(Cuts in) I never thought and those of us in the conference never thought that anything should go to the National Assembly because it was part of the problem that we solved. All the powers that they wielded have been reduced and that is why they are kicking. The recommendation of the confab is that the report should go for a referendum. Do you know how much members of the National Assembly earn? This is a guarded secret and that is what they want to continue. All that had been removed in the report. It is foolish of you to expect that they would approve what will be against their interest.
Now that the military has gone, we have the opportunity to remove all the iniquities, and you said no, what is the sense, if there is no hidden agenda?
This is a Northern Constitution made by the Northern military men in 1999 in favour of the North, and the evidence is clear. Even the question of the population they used, where is the population? We are the only country where more people live in the desert region than in the forest region. It was the colonial government that did that. We said we don’t want problem, since the military wanted to go, we agitated for a sovereign national conference. There was nothing strange in that. We just wanted to say, let us go back to where we started from. Why should that be a problem? It is obvious that this constitution that you have given us is loaded against the South, and you want us to continue with that?.
On what basis were the local governments created? On what basis were the states created? It was arbitrary. We say, okay, don’t let us quarrel; we still want to live together. We must not confuse restructuring, federalism with the question of separating or breaking up the country. Far from it; It is a mischievous interpretation. Those who don’t want restructuring want to break up the country, why?
The constitution they want us to continue using is loaded against us, and you want us to continue with it?. We gave you instances of how it is loaded against us; you can’t disprove it. We say, restructuring is going back to independence, you said no, it was not so. In the independence constitution, the functions of the Federal Government were stated, and the residual powers were in the regions, no problem. The question of revenue allocation and derivation was settled, which runs over to resource control now. All that was agreed upon.
At that time, the North was having 50 per cent on groundnut, West was having cocoa and the East, palm oil, and we were peaceful. That was the basis for the development Awolowo made in the Western Region. Did you read on any occasion he went to Balewa for subsidy?
When he built the Liberty Stadium, Sardauna built Ahmadu Bello Stadium. Ahmadu Bello built university, Awolowo also built university, and there was healthy competition. That is what we should go back to, and you said we must continue a constitution which is most unfavorable to the South and most favorable to the North; most partisan. In the unity of the horse and the rider, you want to be the rider and we are the horse and you want us to keep quiet?.
Where do we go from here?
There is no Nigeria. Why is Biafra on, they say they are being cheated? Why is Avengers on, they say they are being cheated? Of late now, we have been suppressing the Oduduwa youths, and they are saying because the peaceful way we are agitating is not acceptable to the North.
This boy leading Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, I have always said that, he is not as bad as you think. The young man is saying that the Federal Government is not keen on being fair. He gave the instance of Aburi which they went back on, and he gave the instance of other things they went back. Right now, they are not sure of restructuring in a way that will be fair. So, let me get out from the marriage. If you are in a club and you feel cheated, would you still remain in that club? That is the case. The Federal Government is mischievous and not sincere about keeping the country together. Look at the Federal Government saying it doesn’t want restructuring. Pastor Tunde Bakare, recently explained that he gave a memorandum to Buhari on how to do restructuring, but the government is saying that it doesn’t want restructuring.
Is restructuring in APC manifestoes?
The party only want to be mischievous. Buhari under APC doesn’t want to rule, he wants to dominate. Those who are being oppressed resist, and if you think you can rule us under this condition, you are playing with fire.
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