By Remi Adefulu
Yinka Odumakin, journalist, activist and social commentator is the spokesman of Yoruba socio – cultural organization, Afenifere. In this interview, he speaks on a variety of national issues, recalling that the Afenifere backed President Muhammadu Buhari for president in 2007 when he agreed to restructuring Nigeria.
The Buhari Administration is two years in office, how will you assess his administration?
Well, it has been two years down the line, but there has not been serious efforts to put Nigeria on a new track in view of the change that was so much pronounced during the campaign. When you look at the indices and talk to the ordinary Nigerian on the street, Nigerians are worse off today than they were in 2015. If you look at the cost of everything that makes good living, they have gone out of the reach of the ordinary people. Yes, we know that the government came in the midst of challenges, but we have not seen concrete, concise approach to tackle the problems of Nigerians. In the last two years, the only area we have been strong is in the area of anti-corruption, but beyond exposing how corrupt the system is, there has been no attempt at any institutional solution to the problem. In terms of attempting to block leakages in the system, it has been business as usual. A witness from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was asked whether there has been any change in the way the former National Security Adviser (NSA) was collecting money, he said the system remains the same. We are only seeing allegation of corruption against the former regime, but more cases of corruption are surfacing every day. Look at the case of the Chief of Army of Staff. We saw how long it took to suspend the ‘grass cutter’ who even had the gut to ask “who is the presidency?” This administration made so much noise about declaring their assets publicly. In two years, President Buhari and his deputy are yet to fulfill their promise. The change that we were promised has turned out to be change of personnel, not a change about the way things were being done. Unfortunately, with the style of administration that we run, the race for the next election has started. When this government came in 2015, the level of government and public support it had was such that if the president had ordered somebody to be beheaded without trial, he would have been supported. it’s not so anymore. If this administration fails to deliver, anybody who says change henceforth may be stoned.
Does this not confirm the allegation that this administration was not prepared for governance?
After attaining power, they were now asking, what are we going to do with it? We are yet to see that dynamism in government. We have not seen a serious economic team in place. A robust economic team. In fact, when three officials of this government speak on the same issue, it’s as if they are representing three different governments. Everybody is just doing his own thing. There is no integrated approach. In the midst of all that you can’t see dividends. Most importantly, Nigeria has a structural problem. Awolowo warned as far back as 1967 that you cannot run a country like Nigeria along unitary line. There is fighting here and there. More people have been killed in the last two years in Nigeria than in the last 16 years of this democracy and government is not realizing that we have a fundamental and structural problem, so they are just doing the wrong thing. It’s like a man who built his house on a faulty foundation, now the rain started to fall, and the house begins to shake and he says let me adjust the window, let’s pull the curtains. He has not gone to the root of the problem. That is what the government is doing. You say you want to fight corruption and you are running a system that is built on corruption, that its lifeline is corruption. For instance, to become president or governor in Nigeria today, you can’t use honest funds to do it. When you have to spend billions to get elected, you are compromised before you get into office. If you want to fight corruption, you can fight the corrupt ones who did not support you. If you want to fight the corrupt ones close to you, they will remind you that it was their corrupt money that got you into office. It was these people who changed us from parliamentary system to presidential. There is no way clean money can get you to that position, and once you cannot get there by clean means, you cannot fight corruption. We run a lame system where we allocate resources, whereas if we practice true federalism and everybody generates their resources our attitude to governance will differ. In fact, the kind of people we elect to govern us will be different. Those who shifted us from parliamentary to presidential intended to put us under the rule of the king who cannot be questioned, who is above everybody. The country is dysfunctional due to these problems
Some powerful forces in the North are against restructuring. How feasible is the idea?
It’s unfortunate that the core North bluntly refused to see reasons why we need to restructure Nigeria. We need restructuring to enjoy prosperity. All they want is amass and control. They believe they can only prosper in inequity, that they cannot prosper under a new arrangement. It’s a fallacy. At the 2014 National Conference, we looked at the map of Nigeria. There is no part of Nigeria that will not live in prosperity and happiness if we practice true federalism. The mineral deposit in Niger State alone, if we practice true federalism will make that state richer than some countries. With restructuring, they will prosper better. The North should stop looking for what is not there. They are searching for oil in Lake Chad. The mineral deposits in the North will fetch them much more than oil. Their style is if I don’t make it, you must not make it. In the area of education, they make the system uneven. A child from the South is given admission with higher marks, while his counterpart from the North gains admission with lower marks in the common entrance exam. What is common in that entrance? It’s uncommon entrance. It’s from that narrow point of view that they look at things. That section of the country is not interested in the prosperity and advancement of anybody. All they want is for everybody to be at a level where you can’t develop, where you can’t make progress.
Is this connected with the position of some northern delegates to the National Conference who dissociated themselves from the conference outcome?
Those so called Northern Delegates Forum are singing from the same hymn book with the enemies of Nigeria who want us to remain the way we are. When the 2014 National Conference came up, we all went there as Nigerian delegates. Jonathan set up the Okuruonmu Panel which came up with a wonderful formula. It’s not that we are not unaware that in the first republic, we had four regions. In the first republic, Lagos was a division, Kano was a division. Today, Kano is two, Lagos remains one state. We had 15 representing each zone. An elder statesman was nominated from each state and all the rest. When we got to the conference, northern delegates started screaming that there were more southern delegates, By the time we got to the table, we saw they were poor students of arithmetic. They later said on every issue, we must achieve 10 percent but we said no. That is not democracy. As God would have it, that conference passed over three hundred resolutions we didn’t have to vote once. At the end of the conference, we all sang the old national anthem, held ourselves and thought we were about to start a new Nigeria. But the moment 2015 elections came and they got power back, they felt they had staged a successful coup against the conference. They saw APC victory as a victory for them. Of recent, we started a forum of the delegates and we resolved to meet in Abuja on May 2, 2016 to put pressure on the system to look at those reports and implement them. That was why the Northern delegates came together to see how they can fragment a conference by representatives across Nigeria. We have Southern Kaduna, IPOB, Avengers etc., and you want us to remain the way we are. Anybody who says that is an enemy of Nigeria
How relevant is Afenifere today?
Ever relevant. It’s a group that strives to maintain Awo’s philosophy and ideals. If there is anything to point to the relevance of the group, the recent development after the Ife crisis has shown that. Afenifere will continue to be in the vanguard for the aspiration of the Yoruba people and Nigeria at large.
Is it ideal for Afenifere to pitch its tent with a political party or candidate?
It’s a plus. An election wants to hold and a candidate says I will restructure Nigeria and the other says we don’t believe in restructuring, we won’t implement the confab report, what do you expect? In 2007, when Buhari agreed to restructuring, Afenifere backed him. We are consistent. Check the records, I was the spokesman of Buhari/Bakare campaign. Go and check. The first item on their manifesto is restructuring of the Nigerian federation. It’s about our fundamental interest. Even if an Afenifere leader becomes president, under the current system nothing will work.
Do you think the South-west has gained from Buhari in view of their overwhelming support in 2015?
Go to the banks. They are sacking people, companies are closing down, investors are leaving the country in droves. New ones are not coming. Everywhere there is a standstill. I do not think the last two years have been worthy of the desired change expected.
What should be the Yoruba agenda for 2019?
I think at the stage we are now, the Yoruba must insist that 2019 should be on the basis of a new constitution. It will be wrong to hold another election under the present constitution, and if Nigeria does not agree to a new constitution I think Yoruba will be justified to ask for a referendum on the future of this country.