Chief Ayo Adebanjo, elder statesman and Afenifere leader, in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, speaks on the #RevolutionNow protest and the need for an urgent restructuring of the country. He also proffered solutions to the insecurity challenges bedeviling the country today. Excerpts:
Few days ago, some young Nigerians attempted a revolutionary protest against the Buhari administration but they were crushed while the convener, Omoyele Sowore is in DSS Custody. Do you think a revolution can succeed in this country?
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Whether a revolution can work in Nigeria or not is not the issue. Let President Muhammadu Buhari restructure and go back to the constitution. All Nigerians want to see is a change of the constitution. The present constitution, which has made Buhari the most powerful President in the whole world must be changed; the constitution that was imposed on us by Northern Army. When the military staged the coup in 1966, they suspended the Republican Constitution and they were ruling with their military power. So, when they wanted to go in 1998, they talked of returning to the barracks and so they gave us this constitution; it is not our constitution. Don’t forget that the military is dominated by Northern Muslims. So, all the differences that were ironed out through the Independence Constitution, which didn’t favour the North, the Muslim North who dominated the military inserted them. All the things we are complaining about, resource control, marginalisation and others, were inserted in the constitution by General Abdulsalami Abubakar and the military. It was not a question of what informed them. So, this constitution is not the constitution of the people. The Independence Constitution was the constitution of our leaders and that was what they agreed upon. The constitution we currently have and which we are talking about was made by the military, which is dominated by a section of the country.
What do you mean by changing the constitution?
What I am telling you is the changing of the constitution from federal to unitary system of government. It is the unitary system that empowers Buhari to be doing all the autocratic things he has been doing. What we are talking about is basic; it is the unitary system of government that concentrates powers at the centre that he is making use of. If power is devolved, as it is under the federal system, there would be state police and every other thing. How can you have a constitution where the governor hasn’t got the power over the police? He has made law but he has no instrument to implement the law. Those were the ingredients of federalism. So, they don’t understand what they are saying.
The basic issue is that the moment you deviate from the system, under which you agreed to come together, there would be problem. It was the Independence Constitution that made the regions autonomous. It was that power that made Western Region to open an office in London. That is to show you that there was a modicum of autonomy. The office that the Western Region opened in London then, that was where I got married in 1960. We had our Agent General there. Coker was the Agent General. The North had; the East had. It is that system we still hope to come back to and people are confusing issues. But the moment you push that constitution aside, you can do whatever you like under a unitary form of government. That is why we are saying that we need to go to back to that constitution because the constitution we are using now is one we didn’t make and it has allowed them to be doing all these inequities. If there is a federal constitution as it should be, Buhari would have no right to send the army to the East without the consent of the governor there.
When we were at the Constitutional Conference, Ibrahim Coomassie was then the Inspector General of Police. I asked him, ‘you say your federalism followed after America, have you heard of the Inspector General of Police in America?’ The issue of police is a constitutional matter. Even in the Great Britain, which is a unitary system, the issue of the police is normally local.
What gives you the confidence that a change of the constitution will address these myriads of challenges?
If this government is honest enough to go back to the Federal Constitution that we had at independence, there will be minimum friction. It was the powers that the military had that made them to create local government councils anyhow; they created states anyhow. It was not the people of Nigeria that did all these. They said the local government would be the basis of sharing revenue but this is what is causing problems. That was not the constitution we had at the independence; that is what is causing problems. Restructuring is a simple language; it simply means return us to where you took us. It is not a question of leadership. Any leader that has all these powers would abuse them. What we are saying is that the power that Buhari has now, if it is curtailed, according to the Federal System, nobody would care. I would not bother who is the president if we really have a Federal Constitution. The emphasis must be made; the present constitution we are using is not the people’s constitution. It is a military-imposed constitution.
But is there any hope that the country will be restructured?
It will be and that is why we are fighting for it. Don’t forget that the amalgamation of Nigeria was not by our own selection; it was done by the colonial people. This is what people are confusing but having been brought together under the amalgamation, we can appreciate the advantage of the economy of scale. But in doing so, we don’t want to be in a union where any unit of the union would feel cheated, which is happening under the unitary system. So, if we still want to stay together, how do we do it? That is the background to federalism as it is in America, Australia and India.
All these issues that are causing problems in the country today are under that constitution. If we sit down and rework that constitution, many of our problems today such as corruption, marginalisation, and insecurity and so on will be solved. That is the basic. Whatever anybody may be complaining about at this stage, if the foundation is weak, the building cannot stand. The major cause of disaffection in the country is the constitution. It is the constitution that concentrates powers at the centre that makes members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) say they want to go. It is the constitution that gives all the money to the centre that makes Niger Delta Avengers say they want to go. If we don’t solve these problems, there would be no stability. If there is no stability, there can be no peace and if there is no peace, there would be no progress.
Restructuring means different things to different people. What is your understanding of restructuring?
When we are talking of restructuring, it is basic to our further development, not for fun. It is just saying go back to where we started at independence, no more, no less. All those who are opposing restructuring, particularly from the North, they can’t claim to be wiser than the late Sardauna of Sokoto. What restructuring is saying is: go back to what Sardauna, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo agreed to at independence and that was what was changed in 1966 after the coup. The analysis is clear. Let’s go back to where we started and there will be peace, there will be autonomy for every region and you can now talk of real development. What development would take place when Boko Haram is there operating?
How best do you think the insecurity challenges in the country can be addressed?
Despite being the Chief Security Officers of their states, the governors are lame duck. They can’t deal with security issues in their states and have to rely on the federal government, which is also struggling to tackle the security challenges. All other problems that arise as a result of this awkward constitution will be addressed once we change the constitution. We must make the regions autonomous and empower state governors to take charge of the security affairs of their states. You want to tell me that if Akeredolu has the power by the time the people coming from the Mid-west were kidnapped until the daughter of Papa Reuben Fasoranti was killed, wouldn’t he have solved it? In that same area, five pastors of Redeemed Church were kidnapped and within 24 hours, they were released. The victims were released, but where are the kidnappers? So, the security agents cannot see the kidnappers but they can see the victims? The way they reacted to the abduction of the Redeemed pastors, did they react like that after the killing of Mrs. Funke Olakunrin? Up till now, we have not gotten any report. When we said the killers are Fulani, they countered us by saying ‘No, they are not local Fulanis but foreign ones’. So, are they saying foreign Fulanis must not be arrested?
These issues of herdsmen were there when ex-President Jonathan was at the helm of affairs but it was not as high as this. The herdsmen killings and banditry rose when President Buhari came into the office; check the statistics. The people that have been killed under Buhari’s tenure as president are far more than those who were killed during the civil war. Before he was elected in 2015, the campaign then was that being a military man, he would be able to find solution to the Boko Haram crisis and he promised to do that in six months. People seem to be forgetting a lot of things these days because nobody is talking about these things.
If Buhari is serious about peace in this country, let him put into operation now the way of restructuring the country. And for now, let him change all the security architecture from the Army to the Police even the DSS. Let them be indigents of their states. You cannot bring a man from Borno who has never been to Lagos all his life to come and police an area like Mushin. What does he know about the area? So, let him change the security arrangement and let state governors be responsible for their well-being. Buhari is just deceiving the people talking about security, economy and corruption. He doesn’t want to change the constitution because they want to Islamise the country. When we say he is planning to Islamise the country, he will say no. If he is sincere, let him restructure the country by way of changing the constitution as many well-meaning Nigerians have said.
Do you think APC leaders like Tinubu are telling the President the truth?
I have always said that Tinubu came to office on the basis of restructuring and till now, he has not denied it. I am not really interested in Tinubu or 2023, what is paramount to me now is restructuring. Anybody promising Tinubu they will handover to him in 2023 are just deceiving him. The man deceiving him knows that he is deceiving him. Only Tinubu is stupid enough to be thinking that it will be possible for him. Let Tinubu be daydreaming to think that he will become the President in 2023. When that time comes, we shall see but my focus now is on the constitution.
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