If we don’t restructure, we may not have a country in 10 years — Oshun
• Tinubu Does Not Own ARG
National Chairman of Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Mr. Wale Oshun speaks on the group’s renewed quest for Nigeria to be restructured to true federalism within the next decade, as otherwise, it stands the risk of going under. SEYE OLUMIDE reports.
What informed the summit ARG organised in Ekiti State recently?
You cannot talk about Ekiti summit without also talking about what the body is and what we do. What we do is that, sometimes we get together and discuss about who we are and what we stand for, so we don’t lose focus. That is why we call it a retreat. It is time to review our activities, so the summit is to ensure we remain on track to do what we set out to do originally. What we discussed was predicated on how we were established.
There was a time Afenifere leaders were at each other’s throat, when the governors were on one side and the elders on the other. These sharp differences did not really manifest when the late Pa Abraham Adesanya was in charge. He was able to manage the crisis, but it became worse after he died.
The crisis continued when the then governors and elders were throwing brickbats at each other. Those of us who regarded ourselves as younger members of the group, even though we were in our late 40s and 50s were thinking of what to do. This notwithstanding, we had paid our dues. Some of us had been imprisoned, while some had been locked up in the struggle to defend the Yoruba nation’s interest. It wasn’t as if we came from the blues, as we were part of the system. We were the consistent victims of the misunderstanding among the leaders, who ought to have shown direction.
We ultimately ended up convening a retreat, which we called the Ibadan Retreat or IITA Retreat, where we brought together all the feuding elders to resolve the crisis. We also ensured that other germane issues bordering on Southwest’s development were discussed.For instance, we discussed Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s attitude to development. We also interrogated many issues, though it ended at the level of discussion, because no sooner we left Ibadan than the old attitude of throwing brickbats started again.
Chief Ayo Adebanjo granted an interview to The Guardian to celebrate his birthday, which erupted the old crisis. But a major takeaway from the Ibadan retreat was the decision to establish a policy think tank, a policy institution, which we later named Yoruba Academy.But when other issues of the follow up to that Ibadan meeting started, we discovered the futility in continuing to waste our time, hoping we could resolve the differences among Afenifere leaders. We then decided to establish our own body, which would not be accountable to the two feuding sides. That was how we started meeting at Magodo in Lagos to hold consultative meetings.
We met several times at Governor Kayode Fayemi’s home in Maryland, Lagos and came up with the decision to establish ARG. We believed then as we believe today that we should continue to foster the welfarist principle that guided Chief Awolowo in his sojourn in government and to follow his footstep in interrogating the issues of policies to development.So, we decided not to let that feuding rubbish Afenifere’s name. We decided to take up the name ARG, which came after many consultations. And I can recollect that many times, Mr. Jimi Agbaje would ask at the meeting whether we were really ready or have what it takes to establish another body.
What we did was to quickly start the Yoruba Academy. After that, we brought together Yoruba academics, intellectuals and accomplished Yoruba businessmen and women in all fields. Our focus was what should be the next step for Yoruba land. It was those consultations under the Yoruba Academy that led to the decision that all various governments in Southwest must cooperate with one another for the purpose of pursuing both economic and political development.
Essentially, we are concerned about the economic aspect of development, as that is what would create the jobs and better life and address economic challenges that would lead to growth. So, we decided to pursue the concept of integration. We then saw the need to have a separate body to pursue, which led to the recommendation to establish another body called Development Agenda for Western Nigeria or the Integration Commission.
But we also realised that only government can reasonably handle integration activities, the conceptual aspect of development in education, industry and housing, among others. We then decided that the best thing was to seek the buying in of all governments in Yoruba speaking area. We thank God that all the governors and governments keyed into the project.
At that time, even erstwhile Governor of Ondo State, Dr. Segun Mimiko, who was ruling on the platform of Labour Party supported the idea alongside other governors, who were members of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). They all came together to launch the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria.
So, it is the quest to continue such interrogation that brought about the Ekiti summit last week, which aimed at reviewing the situation in our country and how we are faring in Yoruba land. It was also to interrogate if there was anything we could do to assist the present set of Yoruba governors and political leaders on what to do to make life better for the ordinary citizen.
Can ARG be trusted to do all that you mentioned, as there is insinuation that it is an offshoot of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who allegedly financed and sponsored the group to rebel against the parent body because of his selfish ambition?
Between God and I, Tinubu knows nothing about ARG’s formation, not to talk of financing it. Any member of the group will also tell you Tinubu knows nothing about what we did. Tinubu was invited to Ibadan just like other elders, because when the crisis was getting out of hand, we decided it was time to invite the governors who were Tinubu’s colleagues.
Then, Tinubu was the only survivor that secured second term as governor among his colleagues in 2003. The likes of Lam Adesina, Segun Osoba, Niyi Adebayo, Bisi Akande and Adebayo Adefarati were already out of government, and of course they were also part of the crisis.For instance, Adefarati was not with the governors. He was on the side of the elders, so it would not even be right to say the crisis was between the governors and the elders. Let’s put it this way: Bola Tinubu has no hand, was never consulted at anytime or played any role in our activities. Yinka Odumakin, who made it an issue in the past, was then our member and if you ask him, he should know or should be able to say Tinubu was not involved in ARG’s formation.
It is convenient for those wanting to demean what we are doing to say otherwise, but we ignore them. Anyway, we don’t intend getting involved in altercations with anybody, but to take steps that are cogent to our people’s development, even outside the government. We are trying to put pressure on those who have the capacity to change the course of development for the better in Yoruba land; that is the type of pressure group we are.
Some of our members had argued that to do this effectively, some of us would have to join politics. I have always been a politician anyway. I have been in the political party from inception, before the anti-military struggle we coordinated against the late Gen. Sani Abacha and Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s government when we were in the National Assembly. It is puerile for anybody to say Tinubu influenced us. I will be 70 in my next birthday and somebody will look at me and say ‘ young man.’ How can I be a young man at 70? And a lot of my colleagues are in that range, with some even older. They tried to rubbish us by saying we are being directed. By who? There is no ARG member that is not accomplished in one profession or the other.
So, why did Odumakin leave the group, when he fell apart with Tinubu to return to the elders’ fold; why is Tinubu’s name at the centre of the whole crisis?
The original problem of Afenifere had nothing to do with Tinubu. It started with the late Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Chief Bola Ige and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae over the presidential ticket in 1999. It started with Afenifere’s decision to push for Falae’s nomination over Ige, who was of the view that the precedents in the Awolowo political family are that he (Ige) was senior to Falae and should therefore have been given the ticket.
But there were counter arguments that even Awolowo allowed him (Ige) to become the governor of Oyo State over and above Pa Emmanuel Alayande, as that was the majority’s view then. It was argued that Pa Awolowo also allowed Cornelius O. Adebayo to emerge over Pa Josiah Sunday Olawoyin in Kwara State because that was the majority’s wish then. You can find some elements of righteousness on both sides. Ige, who felt he was the most senior, deliberately travelled out of the country and didn’t bother to lobby his colleagues enough for the ticket. He felt that it was given he would get the ticket, but his colleagues thought otherwise. They considered his actions arrogant, so they settled for Falae. That was the beginning of the altercations.
Again, some others didn’t want Ige to serve in the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, but Ige decided otherwise. Those are the build up to the Afenifere crisis, and it got to a point the governors, being the executive power holders, were expected to play a role. But the likes of Adefarati, Adesina and others, they saw some sense in standing with the elders. However, the younger ones like Adebayo and Tinubu saw sense in being flexible and supporting Ige. So, you had that kind of polarisation. It didn’t really start with Tinubu; it started because the leaders couldn’t manage their affairs and Ige was one of them.
Once there was such a disagreement at that level, which they failed to manage, despite the fact that Pa Adesanya tried all his life to ensure that the crisis didn’t become a permanent problem. He tried to compartmentalise the dispute within the group, but there were some of his colleagues that wanted to confront Ige. I discussed the issue in my book, which I published more than 10 years ago. They wanted a fight and Ige gave it to them. It wasn’t a Tinubu issue.
It became a Tinubu issue, when Afenifere made the error of campaigning for all the five governors for reelection in 2003, but refused to campaign for Tinubu. Even as young as I was then, I remembered warning and asking Afenifere leaders: Suppose Tinubu was reelected? But they said it didn’t matter. Coincidentally, Tinubu was the only reelected Southwest governor in 2003.
With that development, it was unrealistic of Afenifere elders to think that the man they didn’t want reelected would now open his arms to happily welcome them. And that was why the crisis continued. Unfortunately, Ige had passed on by then. It was convenient for the elders to make it look like it was a fight between them and Tinubu, but the truth is the crisis didn’t start that way and history is there to judge. Before, it was a leadership crisis between some of their ideologues against Ige group, but they eventually made it look like it was their fight against Tinubu after Ige passed on.
Why did ARG suddenly become lukewarm in demanding for restructuring, when the likes of Tinubu and some other Yoruba leaders that are currently part of APC government turned their back on the subject?
I disagree with that notion. Let us look at the history of restructuring in this country. If you look back, you will remember such names as Alao Aka Bashorun, Beko Ransome-Kuti and Afenifere because that is what we stood for and we still stand for it. The communiqué we issued after the Ekiti retreat stated that restructuring must be pursued. We also called on Yoruba leaders not to be ashamed in their pursuit and advocacy for restructuring, because President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Nasir el-Rufai are not afraid to protect their people’s interest. Therefore we (Yoruba) should also not be afraid to project our people’s interest, which can only be achieved through restructuring.
We need to recall that even when APC was going round the country, trying to find out Nigerians’ position on the matter, and it came to Western region, members of the party went away with the clear message that Western Nigeria would want the country restructured as a true and proper federation.
But the interesting thing is that the general concept of APC’s report, which el-Rufai openly presented, is that there is a general acknowledgement of the need to restructure Nigeria to become a proper federation. So, if the party is shying away from it, one day, it will still have to return to it because that is the result of an engagement the party had with Nigerians. You can confirm this from el-Rufai and Senator Olubunmi Ajetunmbi of Ekiti State.
Are you not bothered that the likes of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Tinubu, Governor Fayemi and other notable Yoruba politicians in this government are now speaking from both sides of their mouths about restructuring?
But Fayemi was talking about restructuring. What he said was that across the country, there may be people who may not understand restructuring the way Yoruba leaders are saying it, and it is imperative for Yoruba people to try and make themselves explicit on the mater for others to understand it, unless you want to fight a war. But we want to discuss it and educate others, so that they will see that when restructuring is properly done, each zone will benefit from it.
Fayemi said all we need to do is to let other geopolitical zones look back to the post independent era, when we had a true federal Nigeria. When the North decided it would have no relationship whatsoever with Israel, but the West did. Then, Nigeria didn’t have diplomatic relationship, but every region could open up and that is why Western Region could have an office to manage its own affairs. This means it would be to the country’s advantage, if we have true federation. In such case, even those who have 80 to 85 per cent Muslim and have been clamouring for Sharia could implement it. So, Fayemi is saying we need to allay the fears of those opposed to the concept of restructuring, but people are twisting his words.
Secondly, I cannot speak for the vice president, but the last time I heard him speak on the subject, he was of the view that those who would like to see restructuring should follow the judicial process, but we believe that restructuring should be constitutional process. We would continue to have judicial interpretations, which could happen in the next 100 years to clarify faulty areas. But basic transformation in terms of constitutional reform can only take place thorough constitutional engagements and not through the courts; like we had during the 2014 National Conference organised by former President Goodluck Jonathan. The vice president didn’t say we don’t need restructuring. He only said it should go through the judicial process, which will take over 200 years and the country will be under the table by then.
Are you saying Nigeria may be doomed if it is not restructured within the next decade?
If we don’t restructure within the next 10 years, we may not have a country to talk about. It is necessary we understand that because the dynamics are there. The instability facing Nigeria today was not there 10 years ago, whether we are talking of Boko Haram, militants or kidnapping. And the instability will continue to mount, whereas if we restructure properly and each region manages its security and structure its policing system, housing and investment, all the regions would create the economic structure that would enhance their development. The earlier we started working on it the better. All that Fayemi said was that we must find a means of ensuring that other Nigerians who are yet to grasp the concept of restructuring understand it.
But the ambition of some Yoruba politicians in APC to become president in 2023 is also hampering the demand for restructuring, which is why some people are doubting ARG’s sincerity on the issue…
Let me be categorical. Obasanjo was president of the country for eight years. Indeed, if the Yoruba had had any Head of State that put them on backward slope, it was Obasanjo’s regime. The issue is not who becomes the president, even though we must consider it in our discussion, since it is now a norm that the presidency must go round the zones. But the important thing is that those aspiring to rule the country are aspiring to rule an impossibility. It doesn’t matter where such people come from, whether they are Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo.
If Nigeria had been restructured 10 years ago, the Buhari administration would have been much more meaningful. The fight against corruption would have been institutionalised and not the personalised approach to the anti-graft war we have now. It is not about whether the president has integrity. Nobody is disputing Buhari’s integrity, but a restructured Nigeria would ensure that the fight against corruption is institutionalised and the president would now be free to face governance and not be bugged down by who has stolen what or who is diverting what?
What is ARG’s view of APC manifesto in 2015 in which it promised to restructure Nigeria?
I am not in government, but I know that Yoruba leaders that participated in evolving APC manifesto and constitution insisted there must be restructuring, and none of them can deny it. If the party now refuses to implement it, that means whoever is in power believes that is not his priority. I am yet to see a Nigerian who believes that this country can be at its best, if it remains in the present constitutional mode.
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