Elder statesman, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi is one of the few surviving close associates of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. At 90, he is still saddened about the events in Nigeria particularly about the inability to achieve the dreams of the founding fathers. In this interview with POLITICAL EDITOR, AKINJIDE AKINTOLA, he regrets and he is disappointed at the turn of events in Nigeria and expresses the fear of the unknown with the emergence of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as President-elect. But he was optimistic that if Buhari behaves like a patriot as he claims, then Nigeria would be saved from collapsing. Excerpts:
Congratulations sir on your 90th birthday. How do you feel at 90 considering the situation in the country?
I feel very happy and very thankful to God for sparing my life for that length of time. Of course, that I’m alive is a great privilege and a rear grace and I feel very happy.
It is noteworthy that at 90, you are still agile in your walk while your memory is still intact; what is the secret?
The secret is the grace of God. In any case, what is man without the help of God? What is man without the mercy of God? Because man basically is a sinner; man commits sins, iniquities, here and there but God is so merciful and for a person like myself, he spared my life and with all the best things of this life which He has given unto me; for me, these are things I should be profoundly grateful to God and indeed, I am grateful to God.
From your own wealth of experience, how do you want to advise our incoming leaders?
We have been doing that and we shall continue to do it. And that is that we should acknowledge the fact that Nigeria is not properly constructed. The book I’ve just published is titled: ‘Political Power Imbalance in Nigeria’; because the political power in Nigeria is so imbalanced, therefore, we have not been running our lives correctly and properly.
Take for example, the presidential candidate whom we voted recently, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. I pray that God Almighty will uphold him and prepare him and be with him to run the affairs properly, correctly and in the overall interest of Nigeria and not in the interest of a section of the country. And of course, the things that he should promote is the sort of conference that was convoked by President Goodluck Jonathan between March and August last year, the Confab. That was the first time when a conference to examine the problems of Nigeria was held. The one of 2005 convoked by General Obasanjo was just for his own personal purpose. And I think, being a man of advanced age, the President-elect who is 72 now, I think he should sit down and ask himself: why is it that Nigeria, having been independent for the past 55 years and yet lags behind other countries which were at the same stage of development as Nigeria in 1960? Countries like China, Brazil, India, USSR- these were the countries that attained the same level of development as Nigeria but they are now ahead of Nigeria. Why is it that we are not developing? Why is it that our boys and girls still go to other countries to look for greener pastures at very great risks? See what is happening in Indonesia now? See what is happening in South Africa? Our boys and girls who are between the ages of 20-25; when they get to England or America for studies they settle down and they don’t want to come back because the atmosphere here is not conducive to proper learning. In any case, what do we have to learn from Indonesia? The President-elect should sit down, think deeply how he could help this country to find peace, stability, progress and advancement. The way to do it calls for only one answer which is to grant each nationality in this country, self determination like the south east, south south, south west or north central, north west and north east. Grant them self determination.
Does he have the power to do that?
He does not but he should promote it. Jonathan did with the Confab, Buhari should also convoke it and see it through to take care of all our problems. We have so many problems.
What about the last Confab report you were also a member and which many have applauded and recommended for Buhari; can he implement what he knew nothing about?
Its government’s report. He can’t say he knows nothing about the Constitution of the country, therefore I’m not going to follow the Constitution. Its government document. There are some of them which can be done administratively, there are some of them which will receive the attention of the national assembly. These are the things he should watch because failure to do it, sooner or later, Nigeria would get into serious trouble; Nigeria may suffer the same fate as Yugoslavia and this is what we are trying to avoid and Nigeria should be made to realize the problem of Czechoslovakia, the problem of Belgium, USSR and how these problems were solved. USSR had so many countries either by war or otherwise constituted USSR but the people at a time asked for self determination but the authorities of Russia would not grant such request and what followed was war with the result that what used to be a very huge country some years ago is now a country of 25 units. In the case of Czechoslovakia Republic, the Czechs and Slovaks have been together for centuries but in the late 80s Slovaks said they want to be on their own. Then the agitations and movements grew and grew and ultimately, the Slovaks went to parliament and their parliament passed a law that they should separate from Czechs and that their leaders should take steps to convince the leaders of Czechs to do the same so that they could amicably separate without any brouhaha. Then the leaders of Czechs saw the reasonableness in their being separate and they too passed the same law; so the two went their separate ways even though in the finality of the whole events, the Slovaks suffered as their administration was wobbling because they were very corrupt and very weak economically. But then they were running their own affairs and after some time, they would overcome their problems. Today, both of them are at peace. In the case of Yugoslavia, all through the years, their leaders had resisted agitations that each nationality should have self determination. The last thing was that in the 80s, the late Joseph Tito who was a retired soldier stood his ground that self determination be granted to each of the units. But he died and the people started what we did, they were meeting, trying to find solutions to their problems but they couldn’t agree because some people were benefiting from the irregular nature of the country. They were benefiting just as here. And of course what followed was war. They started to kill one another and that took place for nearly 10 years. Their last leader was arrested about five years ago and he was the last leader to be arrested; others had been arrested and dealt with in The Hague. I think he is still under trial in The Hague. He was one of the people who conducted what is called ethnic cleansing, inhuman things. If the pleas of these ethnic nationalities had been answered, that wouldn’t have happened. This is what we are trying to avoid here. We don’t want to go into conflict, we don’t want Nigeria to explode, because if this happens, we would overrun the whole of West Africa. The whole of West Africa will be flooding with refugees, this is what we want to avoid. If you go deeply into the affairs of Nigeria, you will find out that there is no state out of the 36 states of the federation that does not have minerals upon which the people can depend. Despite this, we continue to have a large army of unemployed graduates. It’s a very terrible way of creating future problems for ourselves. That is why I say General Buhari has nothing to lose to ensure that the imbalance of political power be eradicated completely. There should be fairness, equity and justice and principled restructuring of the nation for peace to reign.
Outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan agreed to restructuring but having lost the election, don’t you see this as a setback for the restructuring of the nation?
It may happen eventually if Buhari gets there and turns his back to the conclusions of the Confab. He can say: ‘take it away, I don’t want that’, which is very easy to do. Because, as I said before, a section of the country has been taking benefits, undue advantages from the irregularities in the country. It’s a pity. Well, Jonathan is on his way out, there is very little he can do because his days are numbered. It is for Buhari now as a patriot if indeed, he is a patriot not to run an exclusive government because he has started to say something to that effect, like: ‘I shall do this’, ‘I wont allow this when I get there’. Its not so, it should be ‘we’. He should work with the governors because the governors are not under him. He should work with them in a united manner, to forge out stability and progress. Look at this, they sold electricity company to some bodies in a bid to improve electricity supply but the case is worsen now. For many days now, I’ve been using generator, how can a country develop like that? So, he should as a patriot, face our problems and solve them and if he does that, he will be carving his name in gold. But to continue with the status quo, is to continue injustice is to continue to water the inequity that is going on in the country; if he fails to address that then our catastrophe is just near.
At the moment sir, do you have any regret about how the country as being run?
Saddening regret. And very often, I’m very sad, frustrated and disappointed. I’m unhappy with what is going on. We look at these problems and for six years, we haven’t gotten an answer to the problems. These are the things that make me very sad, very sad. Even this last election, it was all function of money. The money they used over the last election was like no man’s business, and yet our people are wallowing in abject poverty. It’s very sad.
And can things go on like this?
It may go on like this but in the end, Nigeria will collapse. In any case, Nigeria had never been one, would never have been one. What we had was Sokoto Empire, Borno Empire, Oyo Empire, Benin Kingdom, etc; that’s what we had until the British came and they were signing treaties with the Obas, Obis, Sultans and Emirs and all these are on record because we were different. But they believe we just emerged from slavery, therefore lets put them together and call them a protectorate- Lagos Protectorate, Northern Protectorate and Southern Protectorate and later they created 24 Provinces across the country, then they created three regions- North, East and West, just as it suited them. Ultimately they decided to amalgamate all of them because it was very difficult for Westminster to manage them because there was no money in the north but in the south there was much revenue to use to run all together. That was the reason for the amalgamation which was to the detriment of the country. Like I always say, if God keeps a birth register, you won’t find the name of Nigeria in that register, because Nigeria is not the name given to us by God like God gave Israel their name. The name was given to us by a female correspondent of the London Times and the name stuck. Of course, the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in his book described Nigeria as a pure geographical expression that could not last. How can you put oil and water together and expect them to blend? The principle of federalism has not been observed. A country like ours which is multinational, multilingual and multicultural should have true federalism. That’s what we should have and unless we practice true federalism, we are gunning for trouble.
But the incoming government claims to be progressives with some of their leaders professing to believe in federalism?
One is PDP, the other is APC; they are the same. PDP, thank God is going gradually into progressiveness. I’m sure, APC will follow because these are political parties that are not well founded, they all self serving people. They are not political parties based on any ideology or for the interest of the masses. They are making money for themselves. They demonstrated this during the last election when both openly distributed money between N500 – N2000 to win votes. Voter turn out in the presidential election was more than that of gubernatorial because more money was shared to people. They are not founded on ideology, did you hear their manifestoes during the campaigns that they are going to ensure that Nigeria is properly constructed? Nothing like that.
Jonathan’ conceding victory as peace balm?
Yes, it contributed to it but what happened was the grace of God because if the position had been the other way round, violence might have happened. But we thank God for that. But the crucial thing is what happens after the election? People who have been elected, let us see how they would run the affairs of the country. Nigeria as a country does not need a President; if we do need a president, it should be a nominal president as we have in a place like Switzerland, where each nationality, like we have six geo-political zones, each one will nominate one person to go to Abuja; then we would have six or eight persons in the Presidency in Abuja who would work together as leaders of the country with one of them answering the name- President of the country for a period of one or two years; after that, another person takes over. Then there will be no fight when we are running the elections. There would be no violence, no conflict. If there would be conflict at all, it will be in the regions or in the states; there will be peace and more understanding in the country.
I recall in 2007, Afenifere leaders supported Buhari’s presidential aspirations, what happened now in 2015 that you backed Jonathan instead?
I can’t really recall what happened then but it’s true we gave some backing to General Buhari because Obasanjo had disappointed us, Obasanjo is a failure as he has always being. Because we expected Obasanjo to bring sanity into the system which he never did. He was trying to feather his own nest. You know in his first term in 1999, this part of the world didn’t vote for him. he was seriously aggrieved then he made up his mind that come 2003, he would make us to lose unless we supported him. he made some of our governors to support him like the man in Ogun State, he supported him and in doing so, the governor failed. The governor felt that if he supported Obasanjo as agreed, he too will benefit, but Obasanjo knew his onions and schemed him out. It was all due to the machinations of Obasanjo and this was all over the country.
Fear of incoming government?
However, I have never been at home with anything Fulani. This is because the Fulanis are basically, fundamentally and traditionally feudalistic. They have forever been feudalistic. And of course, if you know who the Fulanis are, you will agree with me that nothing can come out with any arrangement you have with the Fulani unless it will end in his favour. And apart from that, the Fulanis love power with passion. They love power so much and that’s one of the things that gave me some doubts about Muhammadu Buhari being a Fulani. I wont be surprised even if he is not going to contest second term, he will make sure that a northerner takes over from him, a fellow Fulani man. And if he doesn’t do that, I will be surprised because basically the Fulanis love power. They want to be in power all the time.