By Omoniyi Salaudeen
The recent massacre of innocent citizens in Plateau State has elicited wild reactions from across all sections of the country with a big question mark on the basis of unity of the country as an entity. In this interview, a respected Yoruba leader of thought and member of the inner caucus of the Afenifere, Prof Stephen Adebanji Akintoye, barred his mind on the question, saying “merely stubbornly keeping together what does not have the inner logic of staying together is in my view a foolish exercise. Let us see if we can generate that inner logic.”
He also revealed the mission of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to the homes of prominent Afenifere leaders recently, saying that the visit was to look for ways to stop President Muhammadu Buhari, insisting that if does not go now on his own, the electorate will stop him in 2019.
The challenge of insecurity in the country is looming larger and the response of the government to the latest massacre in Plateau State has elicited a lot of reactions. What do you have to say about the trend of things generally?
I think we are witnessing a situation in which the people who are in charge of the country are also against a certain section of the country. It is difficult to disagree with the Amnesty International, which said that the rulers of this country are encouraging the killings. I love my country and I wish I could contradict the people who are saying so, but I can’t because the fact on the ground makes it impossible for any sensible Nigerian to contradict what this international organization is saying. It is very sad.
In the face of all of these, there is also the threat of ISIS infiltrating the country. Will that not aggravate the already bad situation?
When you leave your door open, anything can creep in. ISIS is in trouble in Iraq, Syria and is looking for other places to put its threat. It has been doing so in Northern Africa through Libya and through the organization known as Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). And AQIM has found its way to Mali, Niger and Nigeria partly through Boko Haram and partly through the Fulani herdsmen. It is now very strongly under the influence of ISIS. So, Nigeria has become the frontier territory of a universal terrorist war. What does that portend for Nigeria? We must just pray God to save our people. What we are seeing now is just child’s play. It is scary.
Even at that, the Secretary-General of Mayetti Allah Kaurel Hore, Saleh Al-Hassan, has rejected the suggestion that herders from other countries should be prevented from grazing their cattle in Nigeria, citing ECOWAS treaty on free movement of persons within the sub-region. What’s the implication of the statement for national security?
They are just quoting the ECOWAS because ECOWAS protocol supports their intention. It supports what they want to do. I was in Benue this last January, two weeks after the killing of a large number of people in the state by the Fulani herdsmen, and the governor told us that something more serious was coming and brought out a letter written to him by Miyetti Allah. Part of the letter reads: “The land of all Nigerians belongs to the Fulani. And we have asked all Fulani living in all of West Africa to come and help us to conquer Nigeria. We have accumulated large amount of money and weapons for this war. And there is nothing the Federal Government of Nigeria can do to stop us.” In a country where the government is truly loyal to the citizens, these people ought to be immediately arrested. But nobody did anything. And so killings have continued in Benue State and even spreading to other places. We are in a very terrible time. What all these will do to Nigeria, I don’t know. But the omen is not looking good at all. They have a game plan to conquer the whole of Nigeria.
Now, there is a renewed call for the removal of Service Chiefs.
(Cuts in)…And Miyetti Allah says there is no way? Then, nobody is going to do anything. Buhari is not going to remove them. Buhari is destroying our country. People say we are not going to vote for him in 2019. What I will say is to ask him to resign now so that we can pick up our country again. We should not wait till 2019, we must demand his resignation now so that we can pick up the piece of our country and see whether we can rebuild it. What kind of election are we talking about in a country that is shattered, broken and divided? How does Buhari expect an election to hold in the present circumstance? My plea to him is that he should resign. And I ask all men of goodwill in this country to ask this man to resign so that we can pick together the pieces of our broken and shattered country.
But your opinion appears to be a lone voice. Or are there pressure groups supporting this call?
It is not a lone voice at all. There have been groups saying he is suffering from conflict of interests. When you are being told as a ruler that you are suffering from conflict of interest, you are being told it is time to give up the job. One highly placed clergyman from the East said last weekend that Buhari should give up the job. I believe more and more people will speak up in the same direction. I am humbly requesting President Buhari to resign and give us the chance to pick up together the rest of our country. These killings cannot continue. It’s impossible. And under Buhari, they will continue. If he doesn’t resign, it will be the duty of those who love the country to find some way to join hands together to get him soundly defeated in the election. If Buhari continues to rule the country, we may not be able to rebuild it. We will end up with different groups going in their own ways. So, isn’t it high time we looked more fundamentally at this whole country of ours called Nigeria? Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister of our country in 1956 on two occasions said there was no basis for Nigeria’s unity and that what was called Nigeria was British intension for Nigeria. General Gowon as Head of State in 1966 also said there was no basis for Nigeria’s unity. General Abacha did not say it explicitly, but he ran the affairs of Nigeria in such a way that it was clear that he did not see Nigerians as one people. And now, we have President Buhari who is saying the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable, but he is running Nigeria in a way that shows that he does not believe in the unity of the country. Have we not reached a point at which we should sit together to find an answer to the fundamental problem of Nigeria? Merely stubbornly keeping together what does not have the inner logic of staying together is in my view a foolish exercise. Let us see if we can generate that inner logic. Before the coming of the white, we were not hostile to one another in the way we are now. At least, the Yoruba, the Hausa, and the Edo were so close. Available record shows that Clapperton, the first English explorer to enter the interior of what is now know as Western Nigeria, that in every Yoruba town he found Hausa traders and in every Hausa town that his team visited, they saw Yoruba traders in large number everywhere. Things were so peaceful and so friendly that a lone Yoruba woman trader could kick off from Yorubaland, go through the expansive Middle Belt trading with the people on the way and end up in Hausaland or the land of the Kanuri of the Lake Chad and even from there to what is now known as Sudan and the Republic of Congo without any fear of molestation. Things were that peaceful, things were that friendly. Now, we are talking of killing one another. Isn’t it high time we explored these things again and find out whether we can keep Nigeria together? If we find in all honesty that we can’t keep it together, shouldn’t we begin to think of alternative solution? Can we continue to live together on the basis of killing one another the way we are now doing? Is living together still viable? These are the questions we need to find an answer to.
But it’s like the voice of pressure group like the Third Force is receding. Isn’t it?
No, it is not going down. A lot of people are too shocked to really put their actions together. When masses of leaders are shocked, what you get is confusion and difficulty in acting together. But that does not mean they will not act together ultimately. When the elections come, you will see Nigerians acting together to see that the Buhari administration comes to an end.
Is this part of the concern that made Afenifere to embrace Obasanjo into the fold?
Afenifere is a father figure of all Yoruba people. Afenifere is a movement for the welfare of all. It’s a movement for the welfare of the Yoruba people in the first instance and of all Nigerians. So, when Obasanjo came and said we cannot let this continue, there was no way to disagree with him. The details of how we work with him will follow. He said the right thing. We can’t let Buhari continue to rule our country. I repeat, the best thing for him is to resign now even before the election. And if he is going to wait for the election, the duty of all Nigerians who love the country will be to join hands together to get him soundly defeated in the election. The world is watching what is happening. Our people are being killed and the rest of the world is aghast. It will be horrible for us to end up electing the same man.
So, the message Obasanjo brought to you is that this government must go?
Yes, and he is right. We have to end this government. Whoever says that is right. It is not only that Buhari should be removed; we must also change the structure that puts so much power in one Federal Government as against the rest of Nigeria. We have to restructure our country so that each section of the country can manage its own affairs. I am glad to hear that the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) is now talking of the need to have state police as it is in other countries.
But who initiated the parley between Obasanjo and Afenifere in the first instance?
He wanted to meet us. He wanted to meet Chief Ayo Adebanjo and Adebanjo told him “that the real leader of Afenifere is Chief Fasoranti, but you can come and see me.” Fortunately, he had earlier seen Chief Fasoranti before that. So, it was he who made the move to see us.
So, you are now on the same page as far as the issue of Nigeria is concerned?
I will say so. And if there are still little areas of insufficient agreement, the Lord will show us the way.
He was in power for eight years and did not realise the need to restructure Nigeria. Has he now come to the realization that it is a restructured Nigeria that can solve the myriad of problems the people have had to grapple with over the years?
The people who put the 1999 Constitution together acted under the influence of demons. They put it together in such a way that it will be almost impossible to unravel it. You can’t even change a local government in your state unless you go through constitution amendment or you denounce the whole system as Ahmed Bola Tinubu did in Lagos to give the state more local administration. Another thing is that the constitution itself puts the government in such strong control of resources; money and power that it is almost impossible to find any Nigerian who will be president and say come let us restructure the country. After the day you are sworn-in as president, you look around and see yourself in control of an endless ocean of cash. You also look around and see no barrier at all to the limit of your power to do as you like. You are not likely to say let us disperse a little power to the other tiers of government. Former President Goodluck Jonathan came from the part of Nigeria, which has borne the brunt of demand for a restructured Nigeria. They wanted control of their resources, their brave and well-educated sons died in the struggle. Then, Jonathan came from among them. What do you expect? You would expect him to do the restructuring the next morning. But when he woke up the next morning and found a huge ocean of money, power and influence lying out there, he put aside the issue of restructuring. Even the national conference he called in 2014 came from enormous pressure. He was happy sitting in the midst of great wealth and power. That is why I have come to the conclusion that whoever sat down and wrote for the country that type of constitution must have operated under the influence of demonic powers. So, it is easy to blame Obasanjo, blame Jonathan. Unless we restructure Nigeria, we are going to have replicas of the Buhari administration over and over again. Whoever says let us remove Buhari must also say let us restructure our country. Let us throw this dangerous constitution away and create another one that will be more in harmony with the need of our country. How can anybody in his right senses think we have a single police force that will be in control of every state, every local government, every village in a country as large as Nigeria? Putting such a constitution together is not an ordinary act. It has to be changed.
What is your expectation of the coming election in Ekiti State amid the threats of violence, allegations and counter allegations of rigging plots from the state actors?
I hope things go well. It is evident that Buhari’s people are determined to rig election. But I hope they will be careful not to throw Ekiti State into turmoil in the interest of us all because Ekiti people are not easy leaves to chew. Ekiti people are very intelligent and brave. If you remember the history of rigging in the old Western Region and the crises that followed, Ekiti was a major part of everything. Ekiti people don’t surrender to bully. It is not part of their nature to surrender to being bullied. They will resist and fight back. So, I hope whosoever is planning rigging in the almighty city of Abuja should remember that Ekiti people don’t easily surrender.