2023 elections: I’ll be enjoying in my grave if you fail to rescue Nigeria, Chief Ayo Adebanjo tells Nigerians

On April 10, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Afenifere leader, lawyer, politician and activist will be 95 years. Not many of his colleagues are still around as he would readily remind you.

Those who are still alive are enjoying their rest, deservedly. But Pa Adebanjo is still in the trenches, fighting for a better Nigeria. In this exclusive interview with IKECHUKWU AMAECHI of TheNiche, the nonagenarian explains why.

You will be 95 years on April 10. No matter what anyone says, you have earned your stripes and deserve rest. Why are you still in the trenches?

I am still in the trenches because the country is not what I fought for. That is why many of you cannot have the passion that I have. I fought the colonialists that we should have self-government, we should have independence because our people could do better than the white people. And when we started the Independence struggle, we had a goal, a mission, and a lot of dreams which the founding father’s thought would lead us to our desired destination.

 But unfortunately, after we had started with all the wobbling in the 1950s, we arrived at a settlement where we would live together after the London Constitutional Conference of 1954 down to 1956. That gave us the autonomy by which every region and every ethnic group can develop at its own pace. We settled for a Federal Constitution with autonomy in the federating states. We made a provision that where there is anything common to all of us, we should be sharing it on an equal basis or rotation and as a result, the question of Federal Character was put into our constitution. The question of revenue allocation was settled under a derivation basis, which is now called resource control.

 Police was regionalised, local government was regionalised, education, etc. Everything that pertained to the people was in the regions. The constitution was strictly federal. The function of the Federal Government was listed separately and where there should be concurrence, residual power was vested in the regions. Any powers that were not assigned to the federal or regions at the time were given to the regions.

 So, we carried on until 1966. But before then, the first move for Independence was to be in 1956 but the North said they were not ready and we waited for them until 1959 and we finally had our independence in 1960. And that was the period that Chief Obafemi Awolowo demonstrated that the black man can govern himself. All developments that he chalked up, all the miracles that he performed were within seven years – 1951/52 and 1959. The military came in 1966 and that was the beginning of our woes.

 They came in 1966 and changed the Constitution to the present one that is giving us trouble. And that was the beginning of our woes.

With what is happening now, are you hopeful that we can ever get it right again?

 Yes, if we get the forthcoming elections right. I am hopeful but only if Peter Obi wins the February 25 presidential election. Unless Peter Obi wins the election, and I am mentioning Peter Obi because all other candidates are not qualified. Are you listening?

 Any other thing to the contrary, there will be problems. I have said it before and I am repeating it without any element of doubt in my mind. If for any reason, the election is scuttled or manipulated, and Obi doesn’t win, I say emphatically, that is the end of Nigeria.

When you say others are not qualified, in what sense?

 Thank you very much. Take for instance Bola Tinubu from my own region, on the basis of the agreement for peace and equity, the Yoruba people had their share when Olusegun Obasanjo became the president. I am skipping all that led to the Obasanjo presidency because I know you are pressed for time. And after Obasanjo, the power went back to the North and we had Umaru Yar’Adua. After Yar’Adua, it came back to the South, and we have Goodluck Jonathan and after Jonathan, it went back to the North and now we have Muhammadu Buhari about to complete his second term of eight years.

 And after Buhari, power is coming back to the South. How do the Yoruba come in again when they have had their turn? Or is it the South-South? The only region that has not had its turn is the Southeast. We arrived at the Southeast, not for any other consideration but under the Constitutional arrangement we have agreed to in the interest of peace, equity and justice. That is why we arrived at the Southeast and I didn’t know whether Obi will contest or not when I said it is the turn of the Southeast. You will remember that I was the first to say that the presidency should go to the Southeast and no political party had done its primaries at that time.

 And for Atiku Abubakar, how can a Northerner leave Aso Rock and another Northerner moves in? Northerners have had their own share under Yara’Adua and Buhari. So, the Atiku presidency will be the third time for the North. And no chance for the Southeast? Is that equity? The South will not agree, and the minorities will not agree because injustice to one is an injustice to all.

 So, that is why I said that the country should better be sensible and stop living in denial and do the right thing.

Some Nigerians believe that we have never had free and fair elections in this country. How hopeful are you that the 2023 elections will be different?

 There is no perfect election anywhere. But I am hopeful. So far, so good. I am hopeful because of the electoral law. If they keep to it, implement it and execute it, the elections will be free, fair and credible.

It is interesting that for the first time, your political interest is aligning with that of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

 You are correct. This is the very first time we are agreeing and if you remember when we both met in Enugu, Obasanjo told them that we agree because of Nigeria. We are agreed that if we don’t enthrone fairness, equity and justice which the Obi presidency will represent, all our problems will continue. It is the agreement on principle on the ideal to save this country that has brought us together.

Going forward, do you see this agreement between the two of you subsisting or is this a fleeting moment?

 Well, as far as the terms don’t change. You see, the thing with Afenifere in particular is that if you look at our record, we have always been consistent. If Obasanjo withdraws tomorrow, that doesn’t change me. I will just say, well, he has gone back to the woods.

Now that you have mentioned Afenifere, is the group together again or still factionalised?

 Don’t talk about that one again. You journalists are just fanning the embers of what is unnecessary. I have told you all that and it has been demonstrated but you people continue saying there is a division. Where is the division?

As the elections get closer, Nigeria is enmeshed in multiple crises. Right now, there is the lingering fuel crisis and then the Naira redesign palaver. Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, has alleged that the crises are contrived by some elements in Aso Rock to scuttle the presidential ambition of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. What do you think?

 That is their affair. It is diversionary. Is el-Rufai not part of the bad government? They only gathered themselves together to govern and rule forever, not for the people but for themselves. These things are all the results of bad government.

 What is el-Rufai talking about? Was he not the one who once said Buhari was not fit for any public office?

 So, I don’t want to get myself involved in their domestic wrangles because they are a conglomeration of incompatibles. They are together because they are in government. They are people with various vested interests. They have no common interest for the unity of the country and progress of the common man.  That is APC. So, I don’t want to talk about their internal struggle.

 My concern is how to get out of this tangle and by the time we get the right person in government with the right constitution, the country will be fine.

President Buhari recently apologised to Nigerians for the failings of his government but urged the electorate to vote for the candidate of his party so that he will continue from where he stops. When you hear things like that what comes to your mind?

 That shouldn’t surprise you. That Tinubu should continue from where he stopped? Where exactly is that and what is Tinubu continuing with? Except we are dunces in this country. To continue with the mess that he has given to the country? To continue with everything that has broken down, the road construction that is broken, the railway that is not reliable, or the insecurity? Can you talk about security in this country? Where in this country today is kidnapping and rape not continuing? Somebody who came to power as Commander-in-Chief and former military officer promising that he will wipe out Boko Haram within one year. Where are we now?

 Don’t let us talk about Buhari. Just forget him. Whatever he says, he is saying to the Marine. I have said it before that my prayer is that God should keep Nigeria together until we get rid of Buhari in May. He has done so much damage that the less we talk about him, the better. Not a word Buhari says that I can believe. Is restructuring not in the programme of the APC? Was it not recommended by the el-Rufai committee set up by the APC? Don’t let us talk about the Buhari government. Just forget it. A government that is nepotism personified, injustice personified. Even the judiciary. That is why all the judges are afraid of him, even his ministers are afraid. They cannot say anything contrary to what he wants.

The Nigeria Immigration Service some days ago in Abuja said it had seized 6,216 permanent voter and national identity cards from migrants in 21 border states nationwide. The Acting Comptroller-General of the NIS, Isa Idris, who disclosed this at a retreat with Zonal Coordinators and all Command Comptrollers at the service headquarters in Abuja said the 2,393 voter cards and 3,823 National Identity cards were seized from persons believed to be in unlawful possession of the documents. How can there be free and fair elections when foreigners have been empowered even as citizens don’t have their PVCs?

My dear, I said earlier that even the press is living in denial. Many atrocities committed have gone unreported. In 2015, you know what happened to the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Kano? You pressmen have forgotten.

 The man and his entire family – wife and children – were burnt to death in his own house and no arrest was made till date. They all died. That is why I said they should come and arrest me if I am lying that some top, known people are behind the insecurity in the country. The man was killed because he had proof that the election was rigged. The whole family was burnt to death. No arrest was made, no one was prosecuted till today. That was the end of the matter.   Can’t you remember? Am I telling a lie? That is why I said they should come and arrest me.

 That was when this administration came in 2015. A whole INEC Commissioner was burnt alive with the family and not a single arrest was made, not to talk of prosecution under this administration.

 If it was a normal society, APC should not show its face again for election in this country. What have they done to recommend them for re-election? Everything they met is worse than ever before. The roads are bad, no railway, air transportation is in disarray. Nothing. And Buhari is saying that Tinubu should continue the oppression. May God forbid!

But that is your opinion because there are some Nigerians, like the Governor of Katsina State, Aminu Masari, who actually believe that the contrary is the case. Masari was quoted last week as saying that the 2023 general election is between light and darkness, and APC represents light.

 You have forgotten that the governor of Katsina was the first to cry for mercenaries to come and defend him and his state? It is on record. That is the home state of Mr President. The governor there has become helpless. And later on, I think el-Rufai joined in the call for mercenaries. These are the same people who are talking that they should be voted for again when they have proved that they were helpless in carrying out the most primary assignment of any government – the protection of life and property.

 They have proved to be incompetent, inefficient and incapable. You pressmen, anyway, if you talk too much they will close your newspaper. It is part of the oppression. Even the little that Arise and Channels TV are doing, you know they are trying to be very careful. AIT that tried to be bold, do you know how many times they shut them down, the whole world shouted before they were reopened? The press is not free. They are working under a lot of restraint because we are under a military dictatorship under the guise of agbada.

 I have told them, I am ready for them. But I warned them, I told Lai Mohammed that before you come to arrest me for anything I have said against this government, go through all the facts I have stated and prove me wrong. That is why they cannot come. The facts I have stated emanated from them.

But it is a very big issue when you imply that some people in government or close to them sponsor terrorism, which is what you have said in the course of this interview.

 When they are privy to those harassing us, that is very serious. And it is not me. Commodore Oluwunmi said it on Channels TV. They first harassed him and said he should come and clarify and the whole world shouted and they left him. He said they are buying the wrong military equipment to fight Boko Haram.

Look at Sheik Gumi, the negotiator with Boko Haram people. Gumi knows where the Boko Haram people are but our security people don’t know where they are. You see this government And they dare not touch Gumi. How do you explain that?

 You should all go on your knees in prayers now. Let God come down as early as possible to get rid of this government.

So, what gives you confidence that Peter Obi will win this election?

 He has to. If Peter Obi doesn’t win, that is the problem of the country. Where do you see the APC having the goodwill to win election in Nigeria? Even in the North, no matter what religious or ethnic card you play, the suffering is common to all. They know how much they were buying rice in 2015 and how much they are buying it now from N7,000 in 2015 to N36,000. They know how much they were buying petrol then and how much they are buying it now. You are not a stranger to this country to know all this. That is the complaint of the people. I did not manufacture it.

 Buhari said there is no money. He has spent all our commonwealth to buy military equipment to fight Boko Haram. What is the result?

 Well, as I have told you, it is for you young men. For people like me, it is only because I have love for this country. What is going on does not affect me.  How much longer am I going to live at 95? What am I hoping for that God has not done for me? Where are my colleagues? I have trained my children but I have grandchildren, I have relations, I have dependants.

 I repeat, God will come down in 2023 and save us from Buhari. God is not an unkind God. You can see all the suffering in the country. We are helpless.

You saw this coming in 2015 and kicked against the election of Buhari. Why do you think other Nigerians didn’t see what you saw then?

 You should ask them. Remember, I warned them against Buhari. What did I say then that has not happened now? You said 2015, Awolowo has been saying this since 1951 before Independence. That was what convinced the colonialists to change the unitary form of government under the McPherson Constitution to the Constitution we had at independence. That is what the military dominated by the North changed in 1966 because the system under which they were dominating the country had been wiped out. So, they brought it back by force and imposed a Constitution on You.

 All the time I have been saying this is a fraudulent Constitution, how many of you in the media have taken it up? Nobody. I have been shouting the way I am shouting now. I was a lone ranger. It is left for you. You are talking of education, you will leave university, three or four years after, no job. ASUU went on strike for nine months and they said the country wants to develop. God save Nigeria.

Your views are very strong. Are you in any way being harassed by the Nigerian state?

 They know that I am ready for them. Most governments in this country imprisoned me. Do you know that? I am a jailbird. I was involved in the Awolowo treasonable felony trial. Maybe you don’t know. Abacha imprisoned and detained me. You remember they arrested me, they said we killed Abiola’s wife. And when we were holding a reception for Ambassador Walter Carrington in my house, they came there and broke the place.

 The damages I got from them in court, they have not paid till today. Olisa Agbakoba is my lawyer. He is still alive. I think they have given up on me. They must be telling themselves, that old man, he will soon go. That is why they have not touched me. That is what I think oooh!

 But when I was in Abacha’s detention, I told Abacha he was wasting his time, that it would only take one bullet to finish the job. I was 68 years then. I said if you kill me now what are you going to gain. As at that time, I only had my last born who was reading medicine in the university. All others had graduated from the university. I said, don’t waste your time. That was then and I am still alive now.

Look, I told some of my colleagues yesterday that I have every reason to be grateful to God. My leader – Awolowo – was only 78 years when he died. Ajasin who followed him was only 88, Adesanya who followed him was 88. My friend and colleague, Olanihun Ajayi, was 92. I will be 95 years in April. Why should I not thank God? It is only the funeral dirge that I am waiting for now. So, anybody who is trying to attack or kill me is just wasting his time.

 If I die now and my children say, oh, the devil has done his worst, will you not laugh at them? So, I think they have given up on me. That is what I think oooh! But if there is anything, I am ready. If somebody like me cannot talk about Nigeria today, then who will talk?

 Those of you who try to talk, they will harass and arrest you, if you have a business, they will close it down. This is not a government. This is sheer tyranny as I said before.

I saw a land use charge notice pasted on your gate as I was driving in. Are you in default in payment?

 No! In fairness, I think it is just administrative negligence because I have a letter exempting me from paying ground rent as an old man. But they don’t look at their records and each time, they will say, you have not paid your ground rent. That is why I don’t bother to remove the notice again. It has been there for some time now. It just shows how negligent they are.

 Sometime ago, I even bothered to go to the ministry to show them the letter from them exempting me, then the following year, they still came with the notice. That shows how inefficient they are.

At a time like this, what message do you have for Nigerians?

 That they should open their eyes; shine your eyes and vote solidly for the Obi-Datti ticket on February 25. That is the only thing you have now. It is your last hope. If you miss it, you will regret it forever. Put it down. Your last hope is to vote Obi-Datti solidly and show that indeed you have been suffering. If you allow anybody to buy your votes, aaah, you are in a dungeon.

How hopeful are you that will happen?

 Well, if it doesn’t happen, when the result will come, I will be enjoying myself in the grave. I am only saying it for those who are coming behind. You may not have heard this, I told my colleagues that I prayed to God before to take the issue of the president of Nigeria out of my mind. Why should I be bothering myself with this mess when I lived in this country before now when my children were in the university in the 1950s, 60s and even 70s and I told them if you make a First Class, I will buy you a car. How many families can say that now when they cannot even buy a bicycle? That is why you cannot have the passion that I have. The whole thing has degenerated completely.

 You know when you are taken to the hospital and your condition is critical, you are admitted in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Nigeria is in the ICU. The country is on life support which has carried us to 2023. If we get it right by voting Obi-Datti, we will be taken off the life support and come back to life. If we don’t, gbam, that will be death.

 When a government has borrowed to the extent that it has to borrow more money to pay interest on the loans… Haba! You are bankrupt. Didn’t you see the budget? They have to borrow money to pay the interest. My dear, I weep for Nigeria.

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