‘Jonathan’s popularity dropped when he started failing on his promises, accepting bad advice’
Professor Tony Afejuku is a public intellectual/commentator, Tribune columnist, an eminent poet in the Department of English and Literature, University of Benin, Benin City. Before the last general elections, he spoke to Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu in Benin City on the polls and Dr. Jonathan’s presidency.
What’s your opinion on the rescheduled polls?
I was not surprised and I am still not surprised about the rescheduling. Long before that happened, I gave an interview where I said something – and I am still saying it – about what I called a poetic prophesy regarding the election. I said that the election would not hold, that it would be a miracle if the election held; and in my several other writings I kept on saying the same thing, making the same poetic prophesy that it would be a miracle if the election would hold – because I saw it coming. I don’t want to go into further details and I am saying it now that if care is not taken, the so- called election that has again been rescheduled may still not hold as planned by INEC. I am speaking both physically and spiritually; whether from the part of INEC, from the part of government – of course this government knows that there is nothing for it as far as the presidential election is concerned; physically speaking, it is there, spiritually speaking, it is there. They have been trying to do whatever they can to drag it on and on but ultimately it will only be a miracle if Jonathan comes back; physically or spiritually, they have been doing all kinds of things but I don’t want to go into that; from what we know, from what I know, from their realms, whatever power they possess they have been busy doing all kinds of things but Jonathan has lost it, everything, including goodwill from the Masters. I know some of his helpers. I am not saying this out of fun. Those who offer him spiritual service, some of them I know, and they are in agreement that he has lost it.
But sir at what point did he lose it because this is the same man who four years ago had the goodwill of almost everybody?
He lost it at that point when he decided not to be committed to his promises. For example, name one promise he made to Edo people, to Binis, for example, that he has effected successfully. What promise has he genuinely kept? Please refresh my memory by naming it. In the whole of the Niger Delta, what significant thing has he done for the people – for the Urhobo, Itsekiri, Isoko, Ogoni, Ikwerre, Bini, Etsako, etc.?
In Edo State, for instance, the Binis have the largest population. When he made one of them a minister, what position did he give to him and who is there today? I have said it before and I am saying it again, the first thing he did was to establish six universities and put one in his village Otuoke. Why? That’s tribalism. If you want to establish a federal university for Ijaw people, why can’t you put it in another Ijaw territory or Ijaw town? Did Awolowo do this when he was in power in the West? Ahmadu Bello also did not do that. He could have put ABU in Sokoto but he did not.
These are masters, iconic leaders and titanic politicians and statesmen that you can always invoke their names when you are making this kind of point. Since their time we have not really been lucky with our political helmsmen, including Jonathan, who is gradually in our political imagination appearing as the most disappointing ever. People should expect something curious, something curiously curious and perplexing. Jonathan has lost it, let them do whatever they want to do, they are only prolonging the curiously curious day. If the election had held in February, Buhari would have beaten him hands down. I am not a politician but they are making the greatest mistake of their lives if they disallow Buhari from emerging president if he wins the election free and square.
They will also be making the same mistake if they prevent him from contesting the presidential election. They will regret their action when it is much too late. I don’t want to say more than I can see, let me say less than I see or imagine. There is time for everything. Jonathan`s time has passed.
On the part of INEC, the issue of card reader has been controversial, what is your take on that?
Why are they afraid of the card reader, why? Let us try it for once; it is only those who have the intention of rigging that will object and you can see that the majority of those objecting to this card reader device are those that come from the ruling central party; suddenly they found out that it is not to their advantage. If it was to their advantage, they would not be objecting now just like they did as per their action that resulted in the postponed elections; if they knew or believed sincerely that they had the upper hand, the election would not have been postponed. Let the INEC men use it and let us see; if that will check rigging allow Jega and his team to use it but they know that it is not something that will eventually end up in their favour, that is why they have been doing what they have been doing, including the several acts of intimidation against Jega whom they have been accusing falsely of being a member of APC, or who has been induced or influenced by the party in opposition. Up to now we have been given no proof, no hard or soft evidence to convince us. They just want to stampede the man into doing their bidding, this rugged man, this rugged umpire as solid as iron, who they cannot induce, who they cannot long cajole, or stampede to do what they want him to do to give them victory, undeserved victory; but if they deserve victory, why should they not get it? So anything the man is doing now, they are giving him all kinds of names, all kinds of interpretations, all kinds of readings and misreading and misjudgments so that is why we have all these controversies but I believe they are induced controversies. There should not be controversy at all. INEC is supposed to be independent even though the INEC chairman was appointed by the president; let him do his job. The presidency is not made for one man; anybody can be there so long as he is qualified to be there as a Nigerian.
Incidentally, many of them in the opposition party today came from the PDP; call them the PDP rebels or whatever; at the end of the day, all of them are two heads of the same coin, that is why some of us are not politicians but we still want the best for this country. Of course the controversy will die out but if they don’t want it to die out, the controversy will kill and bury them.
What is your position on the fuel scarcity?
First I am not a fuel economist but all kinds of theories, statements have been made, are being said to constitute the theory of fuel shortage. I read one which was putting the blame on the APC. So anything that goes wrong in Nigeria, APC must take the blame. I think the advisors of the president are deceiving him; they are not telling him the truth and I think many of them are just there because they want to be there, I mean his advisers, even the Finance Minister, I don’t think she is telling him the truth. They also say it is because of the plummeting price of crude oil in the international market. They also said oil marketers are being owed so much money. So whatever it is that is responsible I think the ruling party should take the blame. They should not look for anybody else to blame. But as I said, the president has lost it, he is not in control. He has never been in control.
What would you say about the recent victories of the Nigerian Armed Forces against Boko Haram?
Again, I will say less than I know on this matter. I have been doing some research, and going incognito to the barracks and all that. The soldiers are not happy. There are those who confided in me that some of this equipment has been there, why were they not used before now? Why did allow their colleagues, their friends to be so massacred? Why did they court-martial their friends for the wrong reasons? But the other angle I will say is what we call Pyrrhic victory. We have not seen Boko Haram. We are misreading Boko Haram. Remember that Boko Haram was never and has never been a combatant force; they operate as if they are guerrilla fighters but when they saw the under-belly of the military for whatever reason, they did what they did. Before now, we never knew that Boko Haram was in charge of these vast territories and even the victory they are talking about is because they got assistance from Chad, Cameroun, and Niger; that is why we are having this seeming victory.
If Jonathan had done what he needed to do to decimate Boko Haram, we would not have had what we are having now. It is too late in the day at least for this regime to kill Boko Haram. Also remember the accusation that they are just out for Christians because Jonathan is a Christian from the south but you can see that they have also been attacking mosques and even regimes in other countries where Muslims are presidents. So they have grown wings; they have grown tentacles beyond the shores of this country, even beyond the shores of Africa. It is a huge battle but their main focus is Nigeria. The other day we read that one of the sons of a former CJ has gone to join ISIS.
So there are things that we do not know about; there are things that we see but that we do not see clearly. There is greed, the question of greed, and security votes are involved; they won’t tell you how much they have voted for security because the more the war lasts, the more money they heap and stash somewhere. So all kinds of things are happening. Initially I thought the Boko Haram thing was something good, I thought Boko Haram was fighting a just war for a just cause – please read my Tribune writings on the subject, but eventually their violence has assumed what I will call unrighteous violence but this president for whatever reason decided not to do what he was supposed to do. You can win the battle but have you won the war? That is the point. Our soldiers now have victory in the battle-field because of the presidential election but the ultimate war, have they won it, can they win? Boko Haram will keep on changing their tactics and strategies. Now they have resorted to bomb blasts. That was how they started.
What will you say about the controversy that greeted the EPZ ground breaking ceremony over land ownership disputes between the Itsekiri and Ijaw in Delta State?
The Ijaw are engaging in expansionism. They have no land. They should know their history. Where they are today in what we call Gbaramatu is all Itsekiri-land; go to intelligence reports, go to history, to court judgments. I am not saying it because I am Itsekiri. Come to Benin-land, for instance, they are claiming places like Okomu and all that, they are all Benin-land go to Ilaje, go to Akwa Ibom, they come as fishermen. I have said in the past that our forefathers allowed them to stay in those places out of generosity. Now their offspring today are abusing the generosity of our ancestors. They are saying today that they are a kingdom, kingdom or clan without land? The truth must be said, we’ve been very accommodating and magnanimous but they have been abusing it.
Will I say because I have been living in Benin for quite some time, for many years then I will now say I own Benin or you in your house, somebody comes and you put him in your boys quarters, you pass on and the person’s offspring now say they own your property? Somebody you were kind to? If you are there for 100 years, you are still not the owner. The son of a lion is a lion whether you like or it or not, the offspring of a tiger is a tiger.
If they have been showing us the respect that we greatly deserve, there wouldn’t have been any problem but you want to take everything that you don’t own. Look at the Maritime University, Omatseye (Temisan) the then DG of NIMASA, was the one who conceived the idea and wanted it established in Koko partly for proximity to Benin where there would be easy collaboration between the fledgling institution and University of Benin but they removed him as the DG of NIMASA because they had their agenda and put an Ijaw person there.
Thereafter they took the Maritime University to where they call Okenrekoko, actually and in fact, truth and history Okenrenghigho as it is called by the Itsekiri who own the land; that’s why the Itsekiri are not worried about the over-night transfer. We had EPZ in Ogidigben and initially they wanted to claim Ogidigben. Then of course our governor from nowhere brought the idea of deep-sea port. And they said it should be called Deep Seaport, Gbaramatu and we said where in Gbaramatu because if you want to say Deep Seaport Gbaramatu, you can take it to Bayelsa or wherever because actually they came from a place called Gbaran when we allowed them to inhabit the land; it is not workable. We said: let us know the location in your Gbaramatu, it is like saying Deep Seaport Itsekiri, or Deep Seaport Edo, you must be specific regarding the exact location you have in mind; it can’t be Deap Seaport Isoko or Deep Seaport Etsako; for example; where in Isoko or Etsako? Put it there in your pin-pointed location with an identifiable name.
This Ogidgben EPZ, we are not saying EPZ Itsekiri. No. The Ijaw have numerous communities and villages. Let them take it to one of them, to a specific Ijaw location. Kpokopo and Madangho, they are not Ijaw towns. They want to claim all our territories, now because Jonathan is in power as president? It is unworkable. This is what I will call vicious violence. Go to court and come and prove that you are the owner of the land. Once you are a tenant, you are a tenant; we were generous and kind to their ancestors. Is that how they are paying us for the generosity? But these things don’t last; a small man of today is a big man of tomorrow. As Achebe would say, let the eagle perch, let the hawk perch, let the sunbird perch, that is what I subscribe to, they cannot take what does not belong to them because we are small, we cannot cede our land, we cannot cede our territory and I believe the Benins are also not ready to cede their territory too. Ilaje people are not prepared to cede their land as well but we will keep on accommodating them and we are going to continue to accommodate one another so long as we respect the laws of domicile. Don’t forget we are not Americans, we are not Europeans where when you stay in a place for a long time, you become an indigene but even the new people, the new inhabitants allow themselves to be absorbed as members of the new place. That is why you have Chinese Americans and so on because they now see themselves as Americans. Why can’t the Ijaw who have been living in our territory see themselves as Ijaw-Itsekiris, or Itsekiris in Ijaw-land see themselves as Itsekiri-Ijaws;
what is wrong with that? This greed will lead to nowhere. Of course we have Itsekiris who live on Urhobo soil, who live on Benin soil, who live in many villages here in Benin; so are we going to say we own Benin? If you go to Lagos, go to Ajegunle, our people are there. We know history and have history. Are we claiming that we own those places? Read the history of Lagos (Eko) and you will appreciate my turn of mind here. You can’t come and claim what does not belong to you because a people are small. They should leave our EPZ for us and they should do the rightful thing. Not the needful because the needful may not necessarily be right. The Ijaws should do the rightful in their collaboration with us as we are ready to do with them. The needful is out of it.
Let me state this very significantly and happily so. The Ijaw and Itsekiri have been inter-marrying, connubating for years, for a long, long time. We must keep on this consanguine relationship, and resist greedy local champions who call themselves leaders, political or un-political, who have been causing bad blood among the Itsekiri and Ijaw. We must resist their divide and rule style and strategy and live in oneness, in unity with respect for rule of law. The so-called leaders of primordial sensibilities and imaginations who are not prepared to turn a new leaf by way of showing good examples should be resisted. I say and preach this as a lord of peace, as an ardent peace activist. The EPZ will benefit us all. It will also outlive us all. It is time for us to take the oath of peace in the coven of peace and of rule of law regardless of what the Jonathans and Jonathanists may do or say or may not do or may not say. I have sent this message to my Ijaw brothers and friends and Itsekiri friends and brothers. We need heroes and leaders who can and must inspire new events and history that our current selfish and greedy leaders are not giving thought. Our current times need an evocation and invocation of right ideas and thoughts to take us away from oceans of chaos. Think, Ijaws, think! Think, Itsekiris think! We need each other and will always need each other.
Lastly, can you speak about the university system? Have you now reaped the benefits of the last ASUU strike?
Nothing has changed. And nothing will so long as the current leaders hold sway in the land. My brother, my fellow pen-pusher, I am disillusioned. Maybe I should do an Andrew at last. I am disillusioned. A senior colleague has advised and warned me not to go the way of Professor Awojobi, the Engineering guru, formerly of University of Lagos, whose virulent disillusionment on account of our country’s poor governance gave up the ghost many years back. But this Awojobi example and reference is an understatement, perhaps an exaggeration. But I am disillusioned. The universities are no more the universities we knew. And they may never be the universities we knew again.
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