Chief Ayo Adebanjo, an elder statesman and Yoruba leader of thought, has said that President Muhammadu Buhari can postpone the next general elections for six months to implement the restructuring agenda of the All Progressives Congress (APC), if he is genuinely sincere about it. In this interview, he insists that doing so will settle all the national questions causing separatist agitations in the country.
“If it requires postponing the election for six months, it is worth doing. That is my stand. If it is necessary to postpone the election for six months to get us agreed on a constitution that will give us peace, I support it. Once we do that, there will be no more issue of Avengers, IPOB and others. There will be progress. If it requires postponing the election to do the proper thing, to settle the national questions, to have peace in this country, I don’t mind postponing the election. Everybody now knows that this constitution is not working; everybody knows that it is not giving us progress. I don’t believe shortness of time for the election is an excuse when we know that postponing the election is the medicine for our illness,” he declared.
You are one of the vocal advocates of restructuring. What do you have to say about the latest position of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) on restructuring coming at a time when the nation is getting closer to another election year?
They are welcome. I leave it to the public to judge. But we will not agree with any attempt to water it down. I believe they are not sincere. If they want it, we accept it. Let them take positive action now. If they are really serious about it, let them do it before the election. We know that they want to make it an election issue, that is why they are coming up with it now to deceive the people. When they get there, they will begin to say they can no longer implement it like they did before. For me to believe them, let them do it before the election. Federalism is federalism. How can you say you want devolution of power without restructuring? How can you say you want State Police without restructuring? All these are parts of the federal system. Even Resource Control and derivation are under the federal system. I don’t want to go into that debate because that will confuse the people. If they will restructure the country back to all the components of federalism, I am ok with it.
Are you saying that their recommendation is not far reaching enough to do a genuine restructuring?
If you begin to talk about that, they will be hanging on it as an excuse not to implement. Let them do the form of federalism they want before the election and see how far it goes. I don’t believe them because they have said something like that before. Buhari in particular reneges on whatever he says. He reneged in 2011 with Pastor Tunde Bakare. It is because of pressure that they are now talking about it. But they are not talking to babies. Here is a party that put restructuring in its manifesto and after they got to office, they are setting up committee to look into restructuring. Agitation for restructuring has been on since Abacha’s days. I don’t want to encourage them by splitting the forces of federalism. Let them do what they understand by restructuring before the election to show that they mean business.
And you think there will be enough time to do that before the next elections?
If we know that that is the way forward, what is sacrosanct about the election? If it requires postponing the election for six months, it is worth doing. That is my stand. If it is necessary to postpone the election for six months to get us agreed on a constitution that will give us peace, I support it. Why do we have to do things that will give us problem? Once we do that, we know where we are going. There will be no more issue of Avengers, IPOB and others. There will be progress. Since we know the root cause of our problem, why are we doing what is not necessary? If it requires postponing the election to do the proper thing, settling the national questions, to have peace in this country, I don’t mind postponing the election. They should not use this election as an excuse for not doing the right thing. Everybody now knows that this constitution is not working; everybody knows that it is not giving us progress. Why should we now hesitate to do the right thing. I don’t believe shortness of time for the election is an excuse when we know that postponing the election is the medicine for our illness.
You are lending credence to the voice of those who are already making insinuations about the need for possible postponement of the election because of restructuring.
That is the reality. Those are the people who love this country. By the time we settle the national questions, Nigeria will be in peace. All the areas of conflict would have been settled; the condition for living together would have been settled. What is sacrosanct about the election if that is the way to peace? I don’t want them to use election as a pretext. What do we lose postponing the election to have peace?
On whose head lies the power to postpone the election?
Buhari, of course! He is the man in charge. If it is the wish of the people, why can’t he do it? We all agree that this constitution is not working. Since we all agree that federalism is what we want, why don’t we go for it? This is not a question of being partisan; it is a question of reality.
But that will amount to tenure elongation which is unconstitutional.
(Cuts in)…. Man is made for constitution or constitution made for man? The National Assembly had to invoke the doctrine of necessity to have peace during the Yar’Adua crisis.
What should be the starting point now to get the country restructured?
I am not going to draw the modalities; they know how to go about it, if they are sincere. We are in a position to remove any impediment to achieving an enduring peace.
South-west leaders recently issued a statement that the Yoruba would not cede an inch of their land to anybody to establish cattle colony. What if the Federal Government insists on going ahead to implement the policy?
Mark my words, they can’t. The Federal Government has no power to acquire land in any state or region. Go and read Land Use Decree. If Buhari does not know, the Attorney-General should have advised him by now. If the Federal Government wants to use land, it must be with the consent of the governors. They have no power over anybody’s land.
Is there any alternative way to eliminating conflicts other than the creation of cattle colony?
If they are talking about ranching, nobody will raise any opposition. For ranching, you negotiate land with the owners. That is a civilized way of doing it. Don’t forget, cattle rearing is a private business. Can we ask Buhari to compel the people in the North to give land to plant yam or cassava? They just want to cause trouble. Was there any such problem before Buhari came into power?
There were pockets of attacks before he got to power.
(Cuts in)… Thank you for using the words pockets of attacks. Yes, there were pockets of attacks but there was no burning of houses, raping and kidnapping. The country is now overrun by the herdsmen. Is that acceptable? The country is almost going into ruin because of private business of some people. Buhari’s advisers are not advising him well. People are accusing him because those who are doing these things are from his ethnic group. He should disprove the allegation by taking positive action to stop the incessant attacks. To turn a blind eye to all these activities is to encourage the belief that he really encourages them. I have said it before; he is aiding and abetting crime. He cannot claim not to know all the evils that are being done. People sleep in their houses; you go and rape their wives and daughters overnight, kill them and most cruel of all, you burn their farms. That is not cattle rearing.
But there is this argument that the people causing all these havocs are foreigners who have found their ways into the country.
They should be ashamed to talk like that. The fact that they are foreign people makes the matter worse. What they are saying is that they are not capable of protecting lives and property. The more they raise up the argument, the more they make the matter worse. It shows how incapable our security apparatus and the Commander-in-Chief are. If they cannot guarantee the safety of our lives and property, they are not qualified to rule us because the mandate they are given is to protect lives and property.
What is your take on the issue of Third Force?
I am part of those who believe there should be a Third Force but I do not belong to any of the organizations pushing for Third Force. If you read my statement on the letter Obasanjo wrote over Buhari, I said I agreed with him in-to-to. People want to confuse the issue by confusing the messenger and the message. The question is: are the allegations he made correct or not correct? There is insecurity and the economy is bad. And he is still saying he wants to come back. I am one of those in support of the principle of Third Force. But I don’t belong to any of the organizations pushing for a Third Force. We have been preaching the need for a Third Force since the time of Jonathan. I am one of those who said that both APC and PDP would not carry us anywhere. It is now becoming apparent. Again, I have said all the things Obasanjo said about Buhari in my previous interviews. I said, “If you vote for Buhari, you would regret it.” The whole country attacked me at that time that I got money from Jonathan. And I said in my statement supporting Obasanjo that his assessment of the Buhari administration was correct. The only thing he did not do is to apologize to Nigerians for leading us astray. What I saw then, he didn’t see it.