In this February 2007 exclusive interview with Uhuru Times’ ALEX ADESINA in his Abeokuta, Ogun State home, the then General Secretary of pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Senator Femi Okurounmu, argued that former military dictator, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, was the only one among the presidential candidates that could salvage Nigeria. Excerpts:
SENATOR Abraham Adesanya was at a social event recently despite his ill health. What is his state of health and how much does he still contribute to the running of Afenifere’s affairs today?
His state of health is, I would say stable. As you know, his illness is not physical. So, he can walk around. And he can appear at social functions. You know that at a time he had stroke. Even if you are not a medical doctor, you should know that stroke can have many side effects. Even loss of memory and things like that. Some of the many after effects of stroke have made it possible for him to be very inactive in Afenifere affairs. And that was why he appointed an acting leader. The circumstances of his health since he came back (from abroad) are such that he cannot resume fully. But he is still our leader. But he cannot participate fully in running the affairs (of Afenifere). He doesn’t have the physical strength or the intellectual capacity now to do that.
The leaders of Afenifere are advancing in age. Yet the challenges being faced by the Yoruba in Nigeria does not seem to have changed. How does your organisation intend to face these challenges given the fact that your leaders are not as agile as before?
It is unfortunate that the stereotype of who is a leader is an old man and I think that is a very wrong stereotype. In fact, Afenifere must be credited for taking the initiative many years ago to groom a lot of young men who can take the place of these aging people as they aged. But you will see that most of the Afenifere problems have come from these young men who Afenifere has been trying to groom. Unfortunately, nowadays young men are impatient. They want to do things in such a way that they want to become leaders overnight without even going through any learning or grooming period. The problem of Afenifere in the last three or four years have been caused by the young men who we believed that we are recruiting, grooming to take up leadership positions. But they thought that the leaders themselves must go and die and to immediately give way for them. A leader should be glad to go and retire if these young men learn to stay along the right path. If they absorb the right lessons of politics and practice the philosophy of Afenifere. Then of course the leaders can sit down and retire like any other father and say that, well my son has taken over, he will not derail. But unfortunately, a lot of these young men simply saw Afenifere as a vehicle that they could ride to archive their immediate political ambitions. They did not absorb the discipline. They did not absorb all the ideals of Afenifere. As a result of that, many of them got lured by the transient attraction of money and power. They became indistinguishable in the way they behaved from those who are not Afenifere. They begin to go after money. They go after some body who is in power because; you think you can use him to get to power yourself even though you don’t agree with his philosophy. Many of the young men we were trying to groom became attracted to instant power and so whoever had money was always right, whether the person was acting in accordance with the principles of Afenifere or not. This has been the tragedy of Afenifere. Many of the young men we were trying to groom derailed. And they did not have the patience of absorbing the proper lessons and discipline of Afenifere.
A successor generation is often proof that the leadership of an organisation like yours has been successful. But we are aware that some key younger elements of Afenifere were responsible for the split in the organization. What is the future of Afenifere vis-a vis the younger generation that would succeed the current leadership?
I think the future of Afenifere is very bright. Even the young elements we are talking about and the younger elements generally are already witnessing the failure of their own approach to politics in Nigeria today; that is the politics of using material things you have to acquire power. We see that it has failed us. That is why the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government has failed us. I have no apologies. The government has failed because the leading positions in politics today were attracted to power more because of money, more because of instant wealth. A lot of our young Afenifere men who followed them are beginning to see that the people they follow have nothing to offer. The society is collapsing right in front of their eyes. Even their generation is becoming more and more hopeless because of their own misbehaviour. We must go back to the path of righteousness. Righteousness helps a nation, so says the Holy book. A country where there is no righteousness, where all we have is greed for materialism, such a country is heading for catastrophe. That is what Nigeria is doing today. If I may mention, Gov (Bola) Tinubu of Lagos State became the only surviving Alliance for Democracy (AD) governor and earns a lot of money. Of course, coming from such a state that is very rich, he has a lot of money to throw around. So, a lot of the AD people believe that whatever thing Tinubu did was right, especially those who wanted power. Many of them followed him, now you don’t need to ask them before they tell you that Tinubu is a dictator. When Tinubu criticises Obasanjo, that Obasanjo is dictator, Tinubu is a worse dictator; seven times over that of Obasanjo. Tinubu as a critic of Obasanjo combined Obasanjo in Tinubu himself. He has worked with two deputy governors unsuccessfully. He started with Kofo Bucknor-Akerele and now Femi Pedro who has now decided to chart his own course independently. Many of his commissioners are now disillusioned that this is not the kind of man they can follow.
The result of the recent nationwide census has been released. What is your assessment of the figures as it concerns the Yoruba?
I have looked at these figures then seen trends which contradict. For example, it is an established fact that a lot of people are migrating towards Lagos. Lagos is becoming more and more congested everyday. Without talking of absolute numbers, just talking about the growth of population, it is common sense that the fastest growing area in the country should be Lagos State. I am talking now not in numbers but rate of growth. For a result to now say that Lagos is not growing as fast as Niger State not in absolute numbers now but in growth that must be fiction. Take the case of Yobe and Borno States; they are being threatened by the desert. The desert is encroaching more and more on their territories. The people are being forced to migrate downwards. But this census figure is telling us that the north is growing more than the south. If you look at the figure they allocated in 1991 and the one they have allocated this time. they indicate that the entire southern region is not growing as fast as the north. This is contradiction.
Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who was elected on the platform of the ruling People democratic Party(PDP) has defected to the newly registered Action Congress (AC). How should his case be handled given the acrimony it has generated in the polity?
The whole system of governance has been corrupted. There is not enough regard for decency and morality any more. Once people abandon what is right and what is wrong, and they do what is expedient, all sorts of thing will begin to happen. In any decent society, a Vice-President who find out that he can no longer work with his boss either because they disagree in principle or for whatever reason, the decent thing to do is to resign. You cannot stay on as Vice-President to a President, refusing to leave office and then leading the opposition against him. It is immoral. On the legal approach, the constitution says that a president and Vice -President must come from the same party. One the Vice-President has abandoned that platform and has gone to another party that is a violation of the constitution. But it should be left to the courts to interpret.
You are a leading member of the newly registered Democratic Peoples Alliance (DPA). How prepared in specific terms, are you for the April general elections?
The Democratic Peoples Alliance (DPA) is a party of people who believe that through thick and thin, you must stand for the principles of politics of service, not politics of opportunities. DPA stands for politics of service, politics of non-compromise with evil, politics of decency.
In a surprise move, General Muhammadu Buhari, was recently adopted as DPA’s presidential candidate. Critics believe he should not be given a chance because of his conservative approach to national issues. Beside, it is believed that your organisation committed a similar blunder in 2003 when it adopted President Olusegun Obasanjo as its candidate. What is your reaction?
Human beings must make choices between the available options. For the Presidential race this year, the Yoruba race is not in the position to say it will contest. We have looked for a candidate among the other political philosophy. Our initial bias was to say that it is the turn of the south-south to get to the office of the President. Ever since Nigeria attained independence, the south-south has never ruled in this office for one day. But when all the south-south aspirants themselves withdrew under pressure from President Obasanjo, we cannot force them to contest.
Why didn’t DPA come up with one candidate then?
We can’t just go and pick someone like Obasanjo that picked Yar’adua. To support a man for President, he must be a man who has been thinking about the job, who has been thinking about what he wants to be the president for. Who has been working very hard to study the situation in the country and how he can improve it. Not a man sitting down enjoying himself, you will now go and call him to come and be the president. We have to look at the active aspirants. We have to look at the active aspirants. We need a president with certain qualities. Certain level of patriotism and commitment. But as a result of intimidation all of them said, we give up. We are now limited to look towards the north. Buhari, Atiku and Yar’dua. From these three which one best represents the progressive ideals? I think it is Buhari.
Questions are being raised about Buhari’s culpability in the death of some leaders of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). These include the late Chief Olabisi Onabanjo and Prof. Ambrose Alli. Both men were among scores of politicians detained in prison when Buhari aborted Nigeria’s Second Republic. How would you situate your support for him today with what he did to these politicians in 1984?
Like I said, you have to choose one that best approximates your ideals. None of the three leading candidates form the north is perfect. Every one has his minus and plus. But the one that best approximate the progressive ideals is Buhari. The reason is this: When you talk of human rights record of Buhari, I agree he might have gone a little too far. If Buhari had ruled this country for up to eight years Nigeria will not be the stench it is today. It will not be an undisciplined country it is today. It will not be the corrupt country it is today. The Buhari regime came out to fight all these ills. Even the Bible said where the evil men are suffering some innocent men are bound to suffer in the process. I myself I suffered under Buhari’s regime. I went before his military tribunal for trial. Fortunately for me I had enough evidence to proof my innocence and I was left off. I know as a nationalist and a patriot that the idea of stopping corrupt people is a very good one. In fact it is one of the reasons why we need a Buhari. Nigeria is a country of indisciplined people. It is a land where people think they can go into government to steal money and later be crying human rights. Now when you arrest rouges they talk of human right, they go to court and ask that EFCC should not arrest them. I don’t support that kind of right. The person stealing has violated the right of millions of people. It is the right of Nigerians to have free education, free health care services, to live a good live. Today it has become acceptable that everybody in high office must steal. We must stop that, and if that is going to stop, it is someone like Buhari who can stop it with the cooperation of the society. When Buhari was Head of State. he did not steal money compared to Babangida who came to reverse everything, institutionalize corruption and all the bad things we have today. Secondly when it comes to human rights, everybody matures. Buhari was in his early forties when he became head of state. He has now had some opportunity to mature. In the 2004 general election, he believed he was cheated. He knows what it is to have a democracy. He contested the result of the election democratically and constitutionally to the highest level, the Supreme Court. There are events in life that changes one’s life. He now knows the importance of democracy and civil governance. As a president, he will not combine all the executive and legislative powers he combined as military Head of State. In 2005, we marched together in Abuja, and Buhari, Balarabe Musa, Braithwaite, Ojukwu, and other progressive were on the streets of Abuja demonstrating against the dictatorship regime of Obasanjo. We were being chased by the police. If you look at Buhari’s programmes, restructuring is one of his programmes. This is what we have been calling for. On another note, if you say Buhari did something to Awolowo it will be wrong to support him, when we look at those who have done Awolowo some wrongs, is there any person who is worse than Obasanjo? What Buhari did to Yoruba progressives can not be as bad as what Obasanjo did to them. It was Obasanjo who deprived Awolowo of victory in 1979 and gave it to somebody who was not even interested in the presidency because an Obasanjo was not interested in an Awolowo presidency. The same Obasanjo is who Ebenezer Babatope is working for today.
A Yoruba has been in the saddle of the nations affairs for almost eight years now. What is your assessment of the last eight years and what its aftermath portends for the Yoruba?
Eight years of Obasanjo administration has been a complete disaster. Several Yorubas have talked about Yoruba going to mainstream. Now Yoruba went into the mainstream with the PDP supposedly and for the last eight years how has it benefitted us in anyway? The road between Abule -Egba and Sango-Otta is impassable after about eight years of Obasanjo’s rule with Obasanjo in power. Look at the problem of petrol, in eight years he could not build refinery that we need to service our people. We are still importing fuel. Today the refineries are not any better than he met them when he took over. Nigerians are still suffering today. Those who imposed him on us are eager to take power back. They did not expect him to spend eight years. Many of them believe he has stepped on their toes, they are waiting for revenge. As soon as Obasanjo leaves the place, they will want to exact some pounds of flesh from us because they believe that Obasanjo deprived them of certain privileges. The consequences is that we are going to suffer for his offences and crimes against those who gave him the presidency. Obasanjo is now trying to appeal to them; part of the appeasement is to install Yar’adua at the expense of the nation. Yar’adua cannot be a good president for the country. Part of this appeasement is the census results that have been released. All these are being done to see that he remains in the good books of the North and at the expense of the Yoruba Nation.
The DPA and AC romancing Buhari. How do you intend to work in a harmonious relationship with the elements in AC, who you do not seem to like?
The Action Congress has its own presidential candidate. Neither one is going to step down for the other. That alliance died the day they were singning it. There is no way Atiku will step down for Buhari and there is no way Buhari will step down for Atiku. They are going to contest against each other.
What is your assessment of INEC’s preparedness for this year’s election?
When people talk about INEC I laugh because Obasanjo is INEC. INEC is just an institution recognized by the constitution. INEC is just as independent as the police. Obasanjo is INEC. Obasanjo is the Inspector General of Police. I don’t believe we can have free and fair election in Nigeria this year. Already, Obasanjo has decided who his successor is going to be. He said his policy must be continued. He has set up a campaign committee. He is the chairman of the campaign committee. The president controls INEC. He controls the police.
But he is an outgoing president……
He will still be there until new president is sworn in. Until the day the next president is sworn in he is still the president. Whether Yar’adua wins or he doesn’t win, he is going to be declared the winner.
If that is the case, why are the opposition parties bringing in candidates?
Nigerians don’t face reality.
Are you admitting defeat?
It is not a matter of admitting defeat; I am admitting reality. If the opposition parties are to live up to what the people expect of them, they should begin to protest before the election. In other countries they would have start protesting right from now.
Performance is hardly a yardstick in assessing political office holders in Nigeria today. How can we return the polity to that period when office seekers will be assessed based on what they want to do with power instead of the current practice?
There are three things we can do. First is to reduce the incidence of corruption and money politics. Secondly the level of poverty must be reduced. Get people jobs, get them the means of living. Thirdly, political education, politics should be what am I going to do. Make a promise. It is a covenant with the people. If you vote for me this is what I will do for you. The people who bastardized the country deliberately impoverish the people to make these kind of things to happen.