Minority having its way is what makes Nigeria ungovernable today, says Akintoye
Professor Stephen Adebanji Akintoye is a Second Republic Senator of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). The octogenarian and professor of history recently emerged as the new leader of Yoruba when various self-determination groups gathered in Ibadan, Oyo State, to elect and endorse him. He is a member of Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere and National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). He spoke with OLAWUNMI OJO and SEYE OLUMIDE about the Monday, September 30 caucus meeting of Afenifere, restructuring and the challenges confronting the Yoruba nation. Excerpts:
What is special about the recent caucus meeting of Afenifere held at Pa Fasoranti’s residence in Akure?
We hold the organisation’s caucus meetings on the last Monday of every month. But the meeting of Monday, September 30 was important because it is the first we have held since the assassination of the daughter of our leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti. It was very good for papa because we were all around him with love and affection. He was equally happy to see that we lifted up his spirit considerably. That meeting gave us the opportunity to comfort our leader; it was a beautiful night for us all.
Was there any deliberation on the state of the nation at the gathering?
That was the main reason we gathered; the state of the nation and how it is affecting Yoruba land. After all, the circumstances that led to the assassination of Pa Fasoranti’s daughter are part of the insecurity challenges in the country. Caucus meeting or not, Afenifere is much worried about the state of insecurity in Nigeria, especially as it affects the Southwest. Without us doing anything against anybody or offending anybody, the Yoruba nation finds itself being targeted for brutalisation and we are worried. But we are also preparing ourselves to meet the challenge.
The reason the Fulani are doing what they are doing is not yet very clear to a lot of non-Fulani Nigerians. Why are the Fulani coming and invading others’ lands? Why are they destroying farms, killing farmers and their families, raping and kidnapping people? Most people do not understand this. But as leaders of our people, who have studied the situation for over a year now, we are worried. This explains why an assigned committee presented a very strong report to Afenifere on the Fulani menace; so, Afenifere is very much knowledgeable and aware about what is happening.
What informed the decision to set up such committee?
We were getting reports from every direction of the Southwest of Fulani herdsmen bringing their cows and doing what their fellow herdsmen were not doing before now. We all know that for many decades, especially since the coming of the British, the Fulani have been bringing their cows to the South. They were usually unobtrusive people, very respectful of farmlands on their way, such that if their cows were going into people’s farms, they would ensure the cows were herded away. They were not very communicative but respected other people’s property. Those were the ones we know. However, in the past four years, another type of herdsmen has emerged. This type allows their cows into people’s farms to vandalise crops and, according to many eyewitnesses from our rural areas, they deliberately drive their cows into farms to cause destruction. By so doing, they provoke conflict with the farming population.
There had been several cases of unprovoked attacks, which have no links to farmlands. For instance, you see a situation where a woman is walking to the farm and Fulani men would stop and rape her and, perhaps, even murder her. They are now coming in large numbers and forcing themselves on our rural communities. They are kidnapping people and also engaging in several other criminal activities.
In some parts of Southwest, especially in places like Yewa in Ogun State and the upper Ogun area in Oyo State, the menace of the Fulani have been very terrible. As a result of those reports, Afenifere set up a committee, chaired by me, to write a report on what was happening and we did a good job. We used hi-tech method to detect the locations of the Fulani in the bush, because we were getting reports that they were creating settlements for themselves in the bush, settlements from which they brought trouble upon the local communities and the neighbouring farmers.
After identifying the places with hi-tech method, we sent young men into the bush to physically see the locations, the people, how many of them there are, what they are doing and how they live in those settlements? The young men did an excellent job. We know that their locations have been shifting but as of March 2018, there were about 189 locations of Fulani settlements in the farming areas of Yoruba land including Kwara and Kogi States. Afenifere has been using the report in its approach to address the situation.
Has Afenifere tried to engage representatives of Yoruba in political offices today with the findings of the report?
I believe that will happen, but we are also working with other progressive regions like the Igbo people of the Southeast, the people of the South-South and even those from the Middle Belt. It is under this development that Afenifere contributed very strongly to the creation of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF).
Can you say there is a form of commitment or determination on the side of the current political representatives from the Southwest to collaborate with Afenifere in addressing this challenge?
In the beginning, apparently many of our elected leaders, governors and legislators didn’t understand. It was a strange phenomenon to everybody. We did not want to behave like an alarmist to start making noise about a situation that we didn’t understand. It is very difficult to understand, we must be fair to our people. But now everybody understands, especially now that the Fulani are speaking out, saying, “This is what we want to do to you. We are coming to kill, maim and destroy.” They say that very explicitly and there is no doubt in the mind of anybody that this is war, an invasion. And so, at last, our elected leaders are beginning to take action. You probably would have heard that our six states governors are taking action now. They are joining hands to devise methods by which they are going to rid our lands of the menace of the Fulani herdsmen.
In the course of your research, were you able to establish if the influx and the menace of the herdsmen are linked to the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration?
I don’t think that is difficult to see. It is easy to observe that since Buhari became president, the Fulani herdsmen menace has increased tremendously. It is not a wrong conclusion that somehow the presidency of Buhari gives the herdsmen confidence and audacity to do what they are doing now. We have done a lot of things, not just Afenifere but Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF). We have presented complains to the international community and there are many reports we encouraged our people to send to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the world. I think the international community now understands our plight in Nigeria. The United Nations now understands that there is an ethnic cleansing going on in Nigeria by the Fulani against other people of the country. Some governments in world, like the United States of America, also understand by now that the Fulani is carrying out ethnic cleansing in Nigeria against other ethnic groups and it is unacceptable.
But the National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu and vice president Yemi Osinbajo, the two topmost political leaders from the Southwest, have said the insecurity in the region cannot be solely blamed on Fulani herdsmen. Perhaps, they are looking at other factors…
Cuts in… in an elective democracy, people can sometimes behave the way Tinubu and Osinbajo did. This is their government; it is the government of their political party. They worked to get Buhari elected and the tendency in an elective democracy is that people support the government of their party. There is nothing rarely strange in that. The only thing is that if the policy of the government of your party is undoubtedly hurting your people, you have the duty to speak up and get your government to take action. It’s because that is yet to happen that a lot of people are complaining against our elected leaders who are members of the APC. The attitude of Afenifere is not to accuse anybody but to keep encouraging, asking and demanding that our elected leaders should do something, and the governors have responded, and they are doing something, which is a very good change.
To what extent has Afenifere or SMBLF gone to interrogate Tinubu, Osinbajo or any political leader from the South, including members of the National Assembly, to let them see the true picture in line with your report?
It is possible we haven’t done enough in that respect but now we are preparing to do more, to take the report and our findings and go and discuss it in the appropriate places. But Tinubu is a major factor in our politics in the Southwest. He is the leader of the party that controls five of our six states, and that makes him a very big factor indeed. We will discuss with him and let him know and understand what we have found. The report is fantastic in many respects. It is a report that was done not only in Nigeria but also in some countries of West Africa to put all the facts together. It is something that every person who is representing Yoruba land in government should have in his or her hands.
What is Afenifere doing about the issue of disunity in Yoruba land?
Afenifere is heavily burdened and you need to understand that. The Yoruba nation is large, with a great sense of history and achievements in its history. To lead such a nation is not easy, but Afenifere is doing considerably good job, given the limitations. Afenifere is not a government and it does not command the instrument of governance, but it has the authority of history and powerful suasion. In the face of the limitations, it has been doing well.
Afenifere has the challenge of unity, because Yoruba people are very intellectually and highly developed. The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo used to say that Yoruba people would ask questions no matter how good you think you are. What that means is that if we had been in our own country, we would have been a very democratic people indeed because everybody recognises the right of others to ask questions. That is what is happening, because people are asking question.
It is also being claimed that Afenifere has left its major role of socio-cultural consciousness and is meddling in partisan politics. Isn’t this one of its setbacks?
Afenifere’s involvement in politics is targeted at a particular thing and not just general involvement in politics. It is a targeted involvement in politics. For instance, we believe, and most Yoruba people will agree with me, that the way Nigeria is currently structured with a constitution that makes the Federal Government the ruler and owner and controller of everything and resources while the state government is subjected to the influence and manipulation by the Federal Government and so not productive is wrong. All of that is not good for Nigeria and Yoruba people. We want to be able to manage our own affairs. We know we can develop our part of Nigeria; we have done it before and we can do it again. The only thing holding our hands is the Federal Government, because it controls everything. Governors have been turned into timid people who must kowtow to the central government. Therefore, Afenifere says Yoruba people want Nigeria to be restructured; we want to return to true federal system in Nigeria.
There is no doubt; that is what every Yoruba person wants and it is the duty of Afenifere to fight for what its people want. And that means that if an election is coming and there is a candidate who appears to likely take restructuring seriously then the group will support him or her. In the 2015 election, former President Goodluck Jonathan had called a National Conference in 2014 and there was a very good reason to believe and expect that if Jonathan had won, he would go forward and implement the decisions of the conference, which would have led to a restructuring of the federation. And so we said we would invest our power and influence in Jonathan to help him to win so that he can do for us what our people want.
In 2019 there were two candidates. Buhari had said unequivocally that he had no business with restructuring. He said he had not even read the 2014 conference report and he did not intend to read it, but will merely toss it into the archive where it belongs. On the other hand, former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, spoke very loudly and trenchantly about restructuring and some of us who were watching felt he would definitely restructure Nigeria if given the chance and that was the reason we endorsed him. Atiku even went as far as trying to persuade northern elders, his own people, to see that there was a lot of benefits in a restructured Nigeria for them. A group like Afenifere could not but have supported Atiku in the hope that he would do what he said and the leaders of the group held a closed door meeting with Atiku, where he assured us very solemnly that he would do restructuring.
So it is not just participation politics; it is also a targeted participation for purposes that will benefit the Yoruba. But there are people, very significant citizens among us, who didn’t believe that Afenifere should be putting its enormous influence behind any particular candidate. And so, when Afenifere stood behind Atiku, some people felt their party is going to lose, so they went on and created another faction of Afenifere. But I want to believe the division is not going to last, because every Yoruba agrees something is wrong with the present structure of government and it requires being changed.
For how long will Afenifere continue to support candidates that propagate restructuring, but ended up losing in general elections? In the 2007 presidential election, Afenifere supported Buhari, who then promised to restructure Nigeria if elected. He eventually lost. Jonathan in 2015 also lost. In 2019, the group supported Atiku and again he lost. Would you now consider a change of strategy?
Thank you for that suggestion, because there are people among us who are making the same suggestion. We need to look at the matter more succinctly to come to the right type of approach that would work. Apparently, we have to admit that the methods and the choices that we have made have not worked. There is another big thing about restructuring; it is not only that our choices have not work like I have said, it will be very difficult to expect any Nigerian who becomes the president under the circumstances of today, the 1999 Constitution, to really go ahead and do restructuring. The president of Nigeria, under the 1999 Constitution, is the most powerful politician on earth. There is no limitation to his power; those who wrote the constitution actually created chaos; there is nothing the president of Nigeria cannot do. Even if a Yoruba man becomes the president under the current constitution, I fear if he would want to do restructuring. I will not mention the names of very senior people in this government who have been complaining to me, saying, “Look baba, you are creating too much trouble about restructuring.”
Even if it were Prof. Banji Akintoye that emerges as president of Nigeria under the 1999 Constitution, although age is no longer on my side; I’m afraid, anyone sworn into that office with this constitution would never think of restructuring. You wake up the next morning to see the entire Nigeria in your hands. There are enormous resources despite the cry that the country is poor. The constitution gives a president the power to do whatever he wishes to do. Nigeria’s president can do all sorts of horrendous things by the power invested in him by the constitution. The court gives but the president says otherwise and nothing will happen. This is a system built upon impunity. What restructuring means is telling whoever is the president to whittle down his endless power and give part of it to the states. It will be very difficult to see any Nigerian who would want to do a thing like that. Another challenge to restructuring is the North’s aversion to the demand and this is because all the impunities in the 1999 Constitution are to the benefits of the northern region.
The south has been accusing the north, but the real issue is, if the north were not cashing on the division in the south would it have been easy to continue to dominate and shoot down demands to restructure Nigeria?
We discussed this issue a long time ago in the meeting of the Unity Party of Nigeria when I was in the Senate in 1980. The beauty of democracy is that the majority will have their way and the minority will have their say and when the majority have had their way and the minority have had their say, what the majority decide then becomes what will be done or the action to be taken, but it doesn’t work that way in Nigeria. The majority, of course, wants restructuring. The people of the Middle Belt want it. The entire south wants it; we are clearly the majority, about 70 per cent of the population, but the minority says no matter what you do we will not accept. Then, what can you do? It makes Nigeria ungovernable. It makes the country endless deadlock and that is where we are today. The majority must be allowed to have its way and the minority must be allowed to have its say.
No comments yet