Tokunbo Ajasin is a leader of Atayese, a Yoruba self determination group in the South West. In this interview, he took Yoruba leaders to task over their support for President Goodluck Jonathan’s second term bid saying they are on their own as their view does not represent that of majority of average Yoruba people who have been abandoned by Jonathan in the last four years. He gave his support for General Muhammadu Buhari, presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) saying even though Buhari jailed their father, (the late Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, former governor of old Ondo State), the family has forgiven him and will vote for him at the forthcoming polls. Excerpts
Recently, Yoruba leaders, comprising the Afenifere, Yoruba Council of Elders, (YCE) and other stakeholders endorsed the second term bid of President Goodluck Jonathan on account of his promise to implement the report of the last National Conference. As a leader of Afenifere, how do you see this?
Everyone is free to support whoever he wants, that’s not a problem but the problem is when they say they are representing me in their support when I was not consulted. There was no consultation whatsoever, I was not asked what my views were, yet they say Yorubas have expressed support, what kind of support? That’s what I quarrel with. If the entire members of Afenifere or Yoruba Council of Elders say they endorse Jonathan, I have no problem with that, but saying Yorubaland, that is going too far.
Are you not a member of Afenifere?
I am, but the original Afenifere unfortunately has broken into two or three factions.
But there have been reconciliation?
No, there hasn’t been. We’ve tried to effect reconciliation many times. I was involved in one. I spearheaded one, it lasted for a short while but it broke up again. There was one, ARG, involving the younger elements in Afenifere, I was involved too, with Supo Sonibare, but that also didn’t work out. We called everybody to IITA, people bought into the idea, they all came but after that if fizzled out again. At a time we found out that the main opposing group was the governors against the leadership of the group who were not in government but engineered what was required for these people to be in government. The leadership gave them a chance but after getting into government they became something else. We’ve tried to reconcile that but somehow, it’s impossible.
What about the efforts by Bishop Gbonigi-led committee?
That was the ultimate. Everybody wanted reconciliation but the governors didn’t want reconciliation as the old people. They were not forthcoming as the old people. Yes, the old people have their own ways of doing things, holding on to our ways of life, our traditions, goals etc. but the governors felt opposed to them. But for me, it was an overkill as I still believed they could have carried them along. They could have reconciled their differences.
What about the Unity Forum led by Mama HID Awolowo?
That was why the Unity Forum was formed. We tried again from that angle to reconcile the groups. Afenifere was a group that everybody liked especially amongst the Yorubas. What really happened is that Afenifere was an ideological group, some people thought it was an umbrella group, non-political. But Afenifere was political, with welfarism and egalitarian society as its focus. So if you are for that kind of ideology, yes, you are Ok, but if you are not and then you say it should be an umbrella, then there will always be crisis and I think that’s part of the problems because some of the governors, are more to the right than to the left and they wanted to establish themselves as opposed to other groups.
So, you were not part of the Ibadan meeting?
No, I was not involved. I was not invited. To now go there and make that kind of declaration is totally wrong and false. When we wanted to go for the National Conference, they called everybody. Though I didn’t agree with some of the people appointed but we all met, even at Ibadan, at the House of Chiefs, the governors participated and everybody was there. But this one, you just called a few of your people and you now say the Yoruba people. As far as we are concerned, they are on their own, they cannot speak for Yoruba people but they can speak for themselves. I have no quarrel with that.
At the meeting, they hinged their support for Jonathan on the Confab report. Do you see Jonathan implementing the Confab report?
Let me tell you a funny thing about the reason they said they are backing Jonathan on the Confab report. When the Confab was being established, or maybe I should even go back a few years earlier when Jonathan wanted to contest for 2011 Presidential elections. He went around canvassing for votes. He called us, I was a member of ARG then and he came to us. He had initially made a statement to pooh-pooh the conference. But we trashed it out with him on this occasion. We told him it’s surprising to hear him say there was no need for a conference as Nigeria is Ok the way it is. He said that was not what he meant and that maybe the paper misquoted him. We later convinced him on the need for the conference as that was the plan of the Atayese since 2006, that do restructuring first before the elections. So, he had four years to have done it which he didn’t and it was only towards the end of his tenure that he now woke up to the idea of the conference, hence the APC (All Progressives Congress) said no and opposed him. But I didn’t agree with APC, I said this is an opportunity, let’s give him a chance.
We even went a step further by saying that if it is necessary to prolong this administration and all the other political offices in Nigeria and not have an election until we have a new Constitution, we said so, be it. We even asked for two more years so that we can have a new Constitution. Because we felt this old Constitution is a fraud, a Military Constitution. But they went ahead with their meeting and didn’t implement it the way we wanted it. Even the way the conference was put together, we were not really in support. But we felt half bread is better than none, lets see what will come out. So, they nominated quite a number of people; we wanted a democratic one, but by and large, we felt there was a good representation. I was supposed to be there but you know the Nigeria way of doing things, where someone strikes off your name and insert another one. But it didn’t matter, we wanted something done and they came out with resolutions at the end of the day – recommendations which were divided into two parts. For one part its executive powers of the president that can do it; then the other one which needs legislation. They also came out with some other recommendations which I don’t agree with, like the creation of states which to me is not a thing we like and then to now present it to the parliament is again not a sovereign conference as we wanted.
We wanted a parliamentary system, we didn’t get that. Few things like that, we didn’t get. Now that they have been given this recommendation, they took it, instead of implementing it, they set up another committee of four or six people to go and look at it again. Yet, you know you are going in a few months time. He should do things in such a way to be done quickly. But the committee sat on it. One would have expected that the one that requires executive order should be implemented right away while the one requiring legislative approval, push it to the legislature. Like it is happening in America where the legislature is accusing Obama of usurping their powers, he could do same here. He could have given the order. What I thought should have been done was that he gives the order, if they felt he has no such powers, then let them contest it. Then you make it an election issue as election is coming. This is a chance to say: I wanted to do this but I was not given the chance, the legislature is preventing me; so, this is a way to show that this man is serious about this thing. Then we strengthen his hands by voting for him so that he can do it. We don’t want words of mouth alone; he told us four years ago that he was going to do a road, but after four years he says he wants another four years before he can do it, haba, he can tell that to the marines. Who will believe that kind of story? Nobody. I don’t believe he’s going to do anything because he had every opportunity to have done it. So, for them to say because he has promised to do this, they are backing him, its not good, its not worth it.