Stakeholders query credibility of FG, Southwest meeting on #EndSARS protests
Surprise and pain define the reactions of some eminent Southwest stakeholders to the recent meeting of a delegation of President Muhammadu Buhari, governors and traditional rulers alongside ministers from the zone.
Ayo Adebanjo, Alani Akinrinade, Sinatu Ojikutu as well as Yoruba Ronu Leadership Forum and Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), all spoke to The Guardian regarding the meeting, which was led by the Chief of Staff (CoS) to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu and Director General, Department of State Security (DSS), Alhaji Yusuf Magaji Bichi.
The agenda of the meeting, which held in Lagos penultimate week, was majorly to discuss the region’s rebuilding process in the aftermath of the wanton destruction that trailed the recent #EndSARS protests.
It would be recalled that all six states in the region, especially Lagos, were badly hit by the massive looting and destruction that ensued from October 19 through 22, when hoodlums hijacked the hitherto peaceful protest nationwide to cause havoc.
Disturbed by the colossal destruction, which was described in some quarters as “orchestrated attacks to weaken the economy of Yoruba land,” the meeting came as the third leg of what was termed wide consultations initiated by President Buhari after the protests.
FEELERS from the ‘crucial’ meeting, which lasted for over four hours at the State House, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos, revealed that the leaders discussed chiefly security, among other fundamental issues affecting the region.
Chairman of Southwest Governors’ Forum and Ondo State governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, led his colleagues, including Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Gboyega Oyetola (Osun), Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), and the host, Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos) to the meeting.
On Buhari’s delegation of federal cabinet ministers were Prof. Gambari, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN (Works and Housing), Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola (Interior), Otunba Niyi Adebayo (Industry, Trade and Investment), Mr. Sunday Dare (Sports, Youths and Development), Olamilekan Adegbite (Mines and Steel Development), Dr. Olorunnimbe Mamora (State, Health) and Senator Tayo Alasoadura (State, Niger-Delta).
Traditional rulers that attended were, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi; Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III; Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu; Oluigbo of Ugbo, Oba Akinruntan Obateru; Olu of Ilaro, Oba Kehinde Olugbenle; Alawe of Ilawe, Oba Adebanji Alabi; Olubadan of Ibadan land, Oba Saliu Adetunji; Ayangburen of Ikorodu, Oba Kabiru Adewale Shotobi; Orangun of Oke-Ila, Oba Adedokun Abolarin; Olowo of Owo, Oba Ajibade Ogunye and Owa-Ooye of Okemesi Ekiti, Oba Adedeji Gbadebo.
IT was gathered that the meeting, which was at the instance of President Buhari, was coordinated by the Chairman, Southwest Governors’ Forum, Akeredolu. But, after the gathering, it has continued to generate ripples among stakeholders, with some expressing misgivings over the criteria used in selecting attendees from the region.
A chief question was why some founding members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) from Yoruba land, especially, the National Leader of the party, Bola Tinubu, were absent. Atleast, it is obvious that most of the governors in the region received mentorship and came to political reckoning through him.
Other missing big names included Chief Bisi Akande, a former governor of Osun State and pioneer national chairman of APC; former governor of Ogun State, who also chaired the Constitution Drafting Committee of the party, Aremo Segun Osoba; immediate past Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye and members of the Lagos APC Governors’ Advisory Council (GAC). Perhaps, it was not designed as a political meeting.
To heighten the secrecy that surrounded the gathering, not a single stakeholder or elder from Yoruba land was privy to it, not to talk of extending invitation to elders, leaders of any credible socio-cultural organisation. Said one stakeholder: “Since, the meeting had to do with deliberations on the security architecture in Yoruba security, it would have been good to expand the scope of discussion and invitees, at least, past security experts from the region ought to join the gathering.”
SOME Yoruba leaders who spoke on the issue, apart from Chief Adebanjo of Afenifere and a former Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and Chief of Defence Staff, Lt Gen. Akinrinade (rtd), were Chairman, Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Mr. Wale Oshun, Secretary General, Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr. Kunle Olajide, President Yoruba Ronu Leadership Forum, Mr. Akin Malaolu and leader of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Aare Prince Osibote, former Lagos deputy governor, Alhaja Ojikutu, among others.
OSHUN expressed surprise that such a meeting held without due consultations across the region considering the magnitude of destructions. “Government is always thinking in its own wisdom that it can do whatever it desires. They feel they could achieve something without the contributions of leaders of socio-cultural organisations and that is the reason most of their decisions are faulty because they are based on wrong perspectives and notion,” he argued.
The ARG chairman also faulted the set of people assembled by whosoever coordinated the meeting, saying that they should not be the only ones that should have spoken for the entire Yoruba race at such a critical moment. “Better contributions could have been made if other brains and stakeholders were carried along.”
Oshun said he was not equally surprised by the low voices of the Southwest lawmakers at the National Assembly over the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests. His words: “Perhaps the federal lawmakers from the Southwest were afraid whether the consequences of the protests could bring an end to the shenanigans and financial profits they were making in parliament.
“One of the things I feel must have set them jittery is the fact that the well organized and good intentioned protests might lead to the stoppage of their fat allowances if it was sustained. But my message to them whether they talk or not is Nigeria cannot continue to run the way it is. Something must bring a change to this present status quo in the nearest future.”
While registering his concern and apprehension, Olajide lamented that such a meeting at the instance of Mr. President to discuss way forward and security in Southwest should not have certain persons in attendance.
He recalled how the President’s Chief of Staff and the Inspector General of Police were part of the sectional northern leaders meeting that held earlier in Kaduna State after the #EndSARS mayhem. He wanted to know whether the views canvassed by the COS and IGP during the northern leaders meeting were their personal opinions or that of the Federal Government. “I would also like to ask if their views at the meeting held in Lagos were personal view or that of the Federal Government, how do we differentiate this?”
To Yoruba Council of Elder’s Olajide, “these delegates appended their signature or lent their voices to the communiqué issued at the meeting of northern elders. Is the FG persisting in dividing the country into their imaginary north and balkanising the south into Southwest, Southeast and South-South to be able to perpetuate dominance of political power in the north and the south as the conquered territory?”
Notwithstanding the outcome of the meeting, Olajide said the sincerity of the Buhari administration could not be trusted, where it appears they preach unity in the north and division in the south.
He warned Southwest governors to tread softly in swallowing hook line and sinker the gimmicks of some northern leaders masquerading as Nigerian leaders. Olajide appealed to the Yoruba monarchs to do all in their power to maintain the sanctity of their thrones, which the entire Yoruba land hold in very high esteem. He admonished the youths to remain calm while patriotic Nigerians address the problems confronting the country through constitutional means.
Genuine Nigerian patriots from all parts of the country, he stressed, must be involved in solving the challenges confronting the nation.
ON his part, Adebanjo said events over the years, especially in the last five years of APC administration, have shown that all politicians from Yoruba land in the ruling party could not be trusted with the destiny of the region under the current administration.
Maintaining his doubts about the outcome of their deliberations with FG’s delegation, the elder statesman said as long as Southwest governors remain stooges planted by former Governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, none of them could speak the truth to Buhari government simply because of Tinubu’s presidential ambition.
“The assembled monarchs and governors would not want to offend Tinubu or Buhari and I don’t expect them to invite people like us.”
The nonagenarian rubbished the various meetings that have held across the geopolitical zones after the #EndSARS mayhem, saying, “If Buhari were serious, what happened is strong enough to have commenced the process of restructuring Nigeria.”
Adebanjo flayed Southwest lawmakers at the National Assembly, saying they cannot talk because they are not the real representatives of Yoruba people otherwise they would have been much more committed to the demand for restructuring.
AKINRINADE also expressed shock that the meeting held, saying, “I didn’t hear anything about such a meeting. I didn’t hear about it at all and none of our monarchs even intimated me. Maybe they were asked to keep it secret, I wouldn’t know.”
The retired general said there is need to interrogate whatever was the outcome of the meeting to find out whether it represents Yoruba interest.
However, he said the failure of the #EndSARS protesters to achieve their noble aim and objectives was not only the failure of all, but also another opportunity missed. “Nigeria had similar opportunity provided by the #EndSARS protesters to reform during the struggle of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), but majority of us in the struggle were naïve about the inordinate ambition of politicians among us. The failure to have leaders to rob minds with is one of the shortcomings of #EndSARS, now everything has returned to the government,” Akinrinade stated.
FROM Malaolu was caution for Southwest governors and ministers that the killing of #EndSARS youths, which they have desperately tried to cover up can never be used as a substitute for Yoruba presidency in 2023.
He enjoined the traditional rulers not to be seen encouraging the Fulanisation of Nigeria by the current administration. “Our monarchs must bear it at the back of their minds that they are not the only ones who can and should be speaking with Abuja regarding the magnitude of the affront and damages done across Yoruba land. They should also realise that the APC Federal Government has done nothing to improve the lots of Southwest since it assumed power in 2015.”
Malaolu argued that the Buhari administration could not have conceded to the demands of the #EndSARS protesters and now turn around to arrest or freeze their accounts. His words: “If we are to properly probe the mayhem in the aftermath of the protests, let’s start from who released the Lagos BRT buses for thugs to go and attack the protesters?
“On whose order did police initially seize the instruments of the protesters before the police quickly backtracked? Why did Lekki Toll Gate managers remove CCTV cameras before the carnage began? Government should also tell Nigerians about the storage of COVID-19 palliatives and those behind it. Was is the #EndSARS protesters that did that?”
Former Lagos deputy governor, Ojikutu expressed disbelief, saying she wasn’t aware of the meeting like other stakeholders she reached out to, adding: “I do not think with the magnitude of damages done across Yoruba land we should throw such a meeting open. I hope they are not handling it as party affairs.”
Words from within
ALTHOUGH the meeting was not thrown open, the traditional rulers and Akeredolu spoke the truth to the Federal Government delegates on the situation of things in Yoruba land, as well as, the need to tinker with the current structure of government if the country must grow and develop.
The Ondo State governor disclosed that the meeting was held due to the magnitude of destruction witnessed in the zone. He stressed that the coordinated violence shook the Southwest to its foundations, as hoodlums freely destroyed public assets and infrastructure that had sustained the region’s economy.
The style of the attacks, especially in Lagos, was worrisome, Akeredolu stated, remarking that the peace in the region remained fragile in the aftermath of the violence. While stressing the need for all hands to be on deck to fully restore peace in the Southwest, he noted that the issues that made youths to be used by those who orchestrated the destruction should be addressed.
He said: “Before our very eyes, what started as a peaceful demonstration turned to a different thing that became a threat to all of us regarded as the elites. What we witnessed in the violence showed that something needed to be done to address the underlying issues and come out with solutions. We must be able to sustain the peace in our region at all costs.”
Sanwo-Olu said the engagement could not have come at a better time than the present period, when the region had just come out from disturbing events. He expressed the belief that the dialogue would open a new chapter of peace and prosperity in the Southwest.
Gambari’s sad message
THE Chief of Staff, Gambari, disclose that President Buhari was saddened by the magnitude of the destructions in Lagos State and Southwest zone, stressing that that necessitated the presence of the strong delegation from the Presidency.
Noting that the vigorous manner of the EndSARS protests indicated the frustration of the youth, Gambari said they had been ignored for a long time in governance. He therefore urged the political class to go beyond lip service and equip young people with skills to make them competitive in the labour market.
THE traditional rulers present unanimously called for true federalism and devolution of powers to address fundamental issues confronting Nigeria, noting that true federalism will foster development and enable the component units to develop at their own paces and to cater for their people.
Some of the traditional rulers suggested the setting up of a Southwest Development Commission to undertake socio-economic intervention programmes in the region, arguing that the commission should perform similar functions like the North-East Development Commission and the similar one in Niger Delta Region.
In his address, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Ogunwusi said: “The governors have taken the right steps with this meeting. However, they have been far away from us, the monarchs. You should not wait till election period before you reach out to us. This type of meeting should come regularly. We know the good and the bad in our communities but we are under-utilised. This dialogue would bridge the gap of communication between political leaders and traditional rulers.”
Oba Adeyemi, who noted that the present system which gave Federal Government total control over security at the state level, is not the best for the government, canvassed for true federalism as part of the measures to address security problems in the country.
Oba Obateru in his address sympathised with the governors, especially Governor Sanwo-Olu over the high level of destruction in Lagos State. He therefore urged the Inspector General of Police to conduct detailed investigation into the incident and fish out those behind the protest.
Akiolu, said the security architecture of the country must be restructured. “The truth is very bitter. Politicians cause majority of the problems. The power with the federal government is too much. The security architecture of the country needs to be restructured.
Oba Alabi, said the attack on Lagos and other states was a calculated attempt to decimate the economy of the Southwest region and therefore demanded for composition of South-West Development Agenda to reconstruct the destruction that took place in the region.
Oba Olugbenle said: “The issue of insecurity has been with us for years. In 2014 National Conference, we spent weeks discussing Nigeria. The report had not been looked at. There is nothing stopping the current government from implementing the recommendations. There are so many powers from Abuja. It is time to have true federalism. We should drop politics and look critically for the implementation of recommendations of the National Conference to address some of the issues in the burner.”
At the end of the two-hour long brainstorming, a 13-point communiqué signed by Governor Akeredolu and Oba Ogunwusi, was released.