Spokesman of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (South West), Yinka Odumakin, has urged the Yoruba not to be deceived by the promise of 2023 presidency as currently bandied by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to woo the people of the region for next month’s election, insisting that the Southwest remains committed to the restructuring agenda.
In this interview, he also speaks on the forthcoming general elections, Obasanjo’s impact on the presidential election and other issues of national importance.
The Southwest appears divided over what should be of more concern to the Yoruba between 2023 presidency and restructuring as being canvassed by the two leading presidential candidates for next month’s election? What do you think should be of more interest to the Southwest?
The Yoruba have a saying that “we cannot all sleep and turn our heads in the same direction.” What is playing out is democracy at work. At the peak of Awolowo leadership, it wasn’t all the Yoruba that followed Awolowo, even in his Ikenne hometown, there were people who were opposed to him. What is clear is that what the majority of the Yoruba people want is the ability to organize their lives; to have a government that can control and capable of placing them in the path they were before our national independence, when there was regional autonomy. That was the time when Awolowo enrolled 500, 000 people in school in the Western Region. We have seen that phase and we have seen this phase, where we have beggars all over the country. The current system spreads poverty. The only set of people who have it good are their (politicians) friends. The system does not spread prosperity to the people even in the North that has produced leaders for a very long time. Using every index today, North is at the bottom. At the time we practiced true federalism in this country, the North was producing about 775, 000 metric tons of groundnuts annually. That was the money that was going to the pockets of farmers that were producing groundnuts. At the time when we have competition, when the regions were struggling to develop, using what they produced, the people were better of compared to today where it is the centre that is distributing money. What we have done is that we have nationalised poverty with the current system. That’s why we have been talking about federalism; we must go back to productivity. We can’t make any progress with the current system where we only share money because the oil is going to dry up. If it doesn’t dry up, a time is coming that nobody is going to buy it again. When we were at the national conference in 2014, a study was done which showed that if Nigeria goes back to productivity, that the country has the capacity to have a N50 trillion budget annually. We cannot continue this way. The only way out is to restructure Nigeria, to go back to the former system that will allow every section of the country to be productive. If we restructure Nigeria all the challenges we are battling with now, Boko Haram, herdsmen’s crisis will stop because an idle hand is the devil’s workshop. The current system is breeding poverty-stricken citizens. Awolowo once warned against the current system. He wrote a book in 1967, which he called ‘Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution’. In that book Awolowo said, any attempt to run Nigeria on unitary system would bring disharmony, discontent, disunity, infighting and the whole machinery of government would break down. That is what we are witnessing today. So, we must go back to the basics, that is the whole argument about restructuring.
Afenifere is a pan socio-cultural group, which an average Yoruba man is looking up to for directions. But considering the division within the group ahead of the 2019 election, what do you think will become of the Yoruba who are looking forward to this organization for direction?
An average Yoruba man is not a fool. When there was crisis in Ife between the indigenous people and the Hausa people, the Buhari government in its nepotistic nature arrested the Yoruba people, including traditional rulers. Who were the people who fought the case of these people? When herdsmen were terrorising these people, who were the people that raised their voices? When Olu Falae, who is seen as the Adamu Ciroma of the Southwest was kidnapped by Fulani herdsmen and matcheted, did you hear the voice of any of these people who now call themselves Yoruba leaders? When they say they are organising Python Dance III to intimidate the people into submission, who are the people that raised their voices? When it is now few weeks to election, some people are now shouting that they are Afenifere. If not for the media, nobody will have time for these people. The Yoruba are not fools. Fear Yoruba people, they are as intelligent as any thing. In 1999, something happened in Alimosho. Bola Tinubu, Senator Wahab Donsumu and the late Funsho William were vying for AD governorship ticket at the party’s rally in Alimosho. Senator Wahab Donsumu and Funsho Williams were at that meeting to campaign, but Tinubu was not there. Wahab Donsumu got up and said out of the three of them vying for the ticket, himself and Tinubu deserve to be considered because when they were on the side of NADECO, Funsho Williams was with Abacha as a Commissioner in Lagos. He even rated himself better than Tinubu in terms of experience and concluded that he deserved to be given the ticket. But Funsho Williams got up and said when he was serving under Abacha, Senator Wahab Donsumu was coming to solicit contracts. The scene was like a scripted movie, everybody at that gathering just chorused, “ Tinubu straight”, meanwhile Tinubu was not at the meeting. That is Yoruba for you. So, our people are not fools. Part of the problem is that it takes the Yoruba a long time to reach consensus, but the moment they form a consensus, woe betides whoever attempts to go against it. In recent times, all kinds of groups have been seen in Yoruba land; we have had OPC, we have had Yoruba K’oya who have gone round championing restructuring, some people are now coming to say what is important to them is Osinbajo or 2023 presidency. What has Osinbajo done for us in the last four years? Sharing N10, 000 to traders in the market? In the First Republic, Ahmadu Bello refused the position of the Prime Minister of Nigeria and chose to be the Premier of Northern Region and allowed Tafawa Balewa to rule Nigeria. That is what we want. What has the presidency done for anybody in Nigeria? Chief Obasanjo was the president for eight years, what has that done to the Southwest? Jonathan ruled for six years; what did that translate to for the South-South? The North has produced the highest number of presidents, yet they are the worst in all indices.
You said it takes the Yoruba a long time to reach consensus on issues. Do you see the Yoruba settling down for a common agenda in this year’s elections?
Yoruba already have a consensus on what they want. They want restructuring. They don’t want their people to be butchered anymore. They have demonstrated this. They showed it in Osun. A state the APC won with over 100, 000 votes in 2014 and with their manipulation at the last election, they could only claim a victory margin of 400 votes. So, Yoruba have already made up their mind.
The Southeast also appears to be in dilemma between 2023 Presidency and restructuring, do you see the Yoruba capitalizing on that to maximise its own opportunity?
Sunny Ade sang a song that “whoever is coming to Lagos for the first time should be very careful because there are some demons in Lagos who are ready to sell one house to eight people.” That is exactly what APC is doing. They are promising 2023 presidency to get the people divided; at the end of the day they won’t give it to anybody. They promised that it would be Ekwueme’s turn to takeover power in 1987, but what happened later? Buhari struck. They will finish now and refuse to give it to anybody. It is only those who are driven by mad ambition, those who don’t understand the power game that will be talking about 2023 presidency. Are they saying Nigerians should endure the madness and the killings and the suffering going on in the country for another four years because Tinubu, Fashola and Osinbajo want to become President in 2023? That is a joke.
It is obvious that the North is not favourably disposed to the idea of restructuring. Don’t you see this as a major impediment to its realisation?
I don’t know what you mean by the North. Atiku is the most eloquent voice in the North and one of the frontrunners of restructuring. He has been talking about restructuring since 2004. Is he not a northerner? What about the Northern Elders Forum? They are also in support of restructuring although there may be one or two areas they just need to harmonise. They are for restructuring. Is the entire Middle Belt, which has been decimated not part of the North? Do you think they are not for restructuring? It’s only a few of the northern elite that is opposed to restructuring.
You have just pointed out that the APC is just playing politics with 2023. Don’t you think Atiku might also be doing the same with restructuring?
I have listened to him; I have watched him closely. He has a book on restructuring and I believe he is convinced about what he is saying as far as restructuring is concerned. He may not be able to do it 100 per cent because nobody can achieve that at once, if he is able to achieve 60, 70 per cent that is still okay. If he fails to do it, he will leave office in disgrace. There’s no magic anybody can perform with the current arrangement.
The president has promised to deliver a free and fair election. How are you taking this promise?
I don’t think anybody should believe the president’s promise of free and fair elections. If he is serious about conducting a free and fair election he would have signed the electoral bill into law. A man that went to condole with Shagari’s family and was writing 2018 as 218 before adding zero after they spotted his error; a man Ameachi said he doesn’t read, the same man is claiming to have spotted errors on the electoral bill. What this means is that he wants to retain power by all means. Apart from not signing the electoral bill, Amina Zakari is another reason for suspicion. The only thing that is not true is the claim that Buhari nominated her to INEC. He wasn’t the one that nominated her, it was Jonathan. It was El-Rufai who recommended Zakari to Jonathan. As I said, if she is a kind of person that can put national interest above personal interest, no matter who recommended her, there will be no problem. But that’s not the case. In Edo, Ondo and Osun, she was the director of operations and she has been accused of playing certain unhealthy roles. She was accused of being behind how the Osun election was forced into a rerun. After that she was removed. Her case now is a double-edged sword. She is Buhari’s niece and she was nominated by El-Rufai. So, she must not participate in the election.
Of what significance do you think the support of former President Olusegun Obasanjo is to Atiku’s candidacy?
Hate him or like him, Obasanjo has his network. In any contest, having Obasanjo on your side is more of a blessing. He is an opinion leader so his support for Atiku is indeed a blessing.
There has been upsurge in the activities of Boko Haram terrorists as the elections draw closer. A similar situation played out in the build up to the 2015 election. What do you make of this?
It is just like the problem of the herdsmen. When the president was sick they lowered the rate of their attacks, but when he returned they increased the spate again. But our people must not sleep, they must always be on their guard and they must settle for and insist on what is good for our country. We cannot continue like this.