A former associate of the legendary Obafemi Awolowo and chieftain of Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Olanihun Ajayi has declared his stance that incumbent President Goodlcuk Jonathan deserves to be re-elected in the presidential polls of Saturday, March 28, 2015.
87-year old Ajayi made this and more while granting an interview Daily Sun.
In the interview, the elder statesman expresses his disappointment over the quality offered by the current Nigerian politcal class, calling for the return to true federalism in order to avoid secession.
Read excerpts of the interview below:
The state of the nation appears cloudy. What do you think?
I am really devastated about what is going on. The politicians there are, in the true sense of it, very few. What they are doing really irritates, saddens and, of course, disappoints me.
In specific terms, what do you see that makes you sad?
I don’t see what I expect to see, patriotism. What I see is, ‘oh, how am I going to get elected so that money will flow?’ ‘ How can I continue to be in power and authority?’ That is what I see. I don’t see seriousness, or deep sense of commitment, as you would find in Cameron (British Prime Minister), or the chancellor of Germany or as you will find in Obama (American President). I have said on several occasions that the pillars of democracy here are malfunctioning, if they are functioning at all. The first of it is the executive, what sort of executive do we have in Abuja or in the states? The executive is very bad, very irresponsible. We don’t have a strong, confident and powerful judiciary. And the judiciary is the most important part of democracy. It is not performing.
Even with the reforms in the judiciary?
Well, the lady who just retired started putting in place some reforms, but before we could begin to see the real impact of the reforms, she left. And they put another one there who may retire in two years time. Then the legislature, the National Assembly people are self-serving. They are the highest paid in the world. I used to have a senator here. I didn’t know him. Is it not surprising that I didn’t know the senator in charge of my district? In England, it is not so. If you have any problem, you go to your representative in the House of Commons. It is not so here. And yet we are so wealthy. Our lawmakers are self-serving people. How many bills have they passed since they went in there? The fourth pillar of democracy is the press. There was a time when we used to have a wonderful press in this country, particularly during the Babangida and Abacha time, oh fantastic, very strong and committed. Immediately after the Abubakar transition, we discovered that most journalists were being bought over by the governors, they were given cars, appointments, etc, and those things shut their mouths. And you find out that some of these governors buy into the papers. Of course, when I own my paper, I dictate what you write. By the way, which of these political parties has ideology? Have you read their manifestoes, do they even have at all? Of course, if they have, they don’t do it the way it ought to be done. The First Republic, I love that period very much, I have a lot of regards and gratitude to God for that period, it was the golden era, particularly in this part of Nigeria. If you go to Lagos now, you find that some roads are made while some are neglected. If you go to Ibadan or Ijebu-Ode, or Abeokuta, you find fly-overs, you find roads well done but if you ask what the governor of Oyo State paid per- kilometre, and then ask the governor of Ogun State the same question, you will see that the difference is wide, very wide, and, of course, if you ask who the contractors were, you will discover that the companies are owned by a governor or a politician. So, tell me how can we perform honourably in that sort of situation?
What advice can you give in order to return to that golden era?
What advice would I give them when election is already here? We are going into serious danger because the Niger-Delta people are saying if Jonathan loses, you are going to see hell and, of course, the boys in the North are saying should Buhari lose, you are going to suffer. Where are we? In any case, someone will win. If there is no stalemate, someone will win. I think the advice will be in form of question, and that is, what are they going to do for us? The rhetoric we hear from time to time is, ‘We are going to do some roads, we are going to do this.’’
I think you should ask them how much you are going to pay per kilometre of road? Or if you are going to provide housing, how much would a two, three-bedroom house cost . If you say you are providing classrooms, how much will a classroom cost? Today, if you want to buy foodstuff, you go to the North. What if they shut their gate, what are we going to do about it? Where do you have better land for agriculture? Is it in the North or here? It is here, but government is not doing anything about it? If I were in government, I would have a special arrangement with all my chairmen of local government areas that, based on expert advice I received about a particular local government, potato would be very good to plant there, cassava will be good. ‘So, therefore, go and find land where we can plant all that I have mentioned. When you get the land, I will provide the money to implement the cultivation’.
Afenifere recently endorsed President Goodluck Jonathan for re-election. What informed the decision?
Well, quite frankly, the question of presidential election should not arise in this country at all. In this place called Nigeria, there are so many nationalities, these are different countries before we became Nigeria, but, the white people just came, uninvited, and began to take positions as if you were taking positions in a farm. So, putting us together, as it is now, is absolutely wrong. We don’t need a monarch, or an emperor as we have in Nigeria; we are running a unitary form of government. This is not true federalism. We don’t need a president. Let everybody be on his own so that he can be making progress. When that happens, there won’t be animosity, hatred or witch-hunting and jealousy as we now have.
Until we do that, Nigeria cannot have peace; you know what happened in the defunct USSR, before 1989/91, where there was implosion in the place and the many regions there decided to break away from Russia. In Czechoslovakia, there were, two dominant nationalities and there was no love lost between them, but they were staying together. Then the leaders met and said they could not continue like that. Eventually they met and agreed that the Czechs should return to their side and the Slovakia to their own side, and there was peace. There was also the issue of Yugoslavia, a country precisely like Nigeria with about eight ethnic nationalities, but they were never the same. They said the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable, stupid people! It is those who benefit from the irregularities going on in the country that are saying that. The earlier we can sit down as we did in March to August last year and negotiate our unity, the better for Nigeria.
Why did the Afenifere endorse Jonathan for second term?
(Cuts in) Afenifere is dealing with a sta-tus- quo issue. What do we have and what have we been having? Since 1960, we have had about 36 years of Nigeria’s rulers coming from the North. And, now they are saying they want power back. And they are saying `if you don’t give us you are going to see hell’, and the other people who are holding on to it are saying ‘if you let the thing slip from our hand, we are going to show you pepper’. Now, talking about our approval of Jonathan for a second term, I think he is the third or thereabout of a civilian president that would be coming from the South. In this kind of situation where majority of the presidents had come from the North, do you think there would be satisfaction and peace? So, this president is a southerner and we have not had southerners as we have northerners as President or Head of State. And, of course, Jonathan is trying to do a second term. I think we should give him.
So, it is a matter of supporting the minority.
Yes. What I detest, of course, is the boasting in the Niger-Delta that should Jonathan lose, heavens would come down. And on the other side, the northern boys saying if Buhari does not win the election, there will be hell here on earth. But maybe be they should go ahead and do whatever they like because the situation should not have arisen at all. Nigeria does not need President. I think we should have something similar to what is going on in Switzerland.
How do we go about that one?
The conference we had in March was rubbish. Yes, we came back with state police, local government autonomy, devolution of power. This means we have shrunk the exclusive list. In 1960, we had 28 functions in the exclusive list. When we became republic in 1963, the thing was about 29. In 1979, I think it went to about 60. In 1999, everything just went up. I think what we should do now if we don’t want trouble is to negotiate how to live together because we are not immune to what happened in Yugoslavia, it can happen here. I hope you remember Operation Wetie.
There are people who benefit from the irregularities going on in the oil sector, they don’t want the status quo to be disturbed. They want it retained.
So what do you see happening in this election now?
I don’t know what is going to happen. Anything may happen. But quite frankly, neither of the two main presidential candidates has come to say I am going to do 1,2,3,4 and each is going to cost me xyz amount and this is where I am going to get the money. The Afenifere endorsement of Jonathan will obviously pit it against the ‘progressives’ in the South- West, or what do you think?
We just had to make a choice. Before APC came, it used to be ACN. But then, we had some boys who broke away from A.D and from PDP and formed ACN.
It is a question of six and half a dozen. There is no much difference between APC and PDP. I don’t know the ideology of APC because I have never seen their manifesto, ditto the PDP. I see the election as the shadow of our crisis that is thickening and our body politic is not well and very vulnerable particularly when you hear the reactions of the Niger- Delta people and the boys from the North. I hope we would get it right but not at a great cost.