I read the interview of Chief Ayo Adebanjo published in The PUNCH edition of Friday, March 20, 2015 on why he will not forgive Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) because of the latter’s persecution of the Unity Party of Nigeria leaders as military head of state. While one must concede the Chief’s right to hold his view, the public is entitled to its own reaction to such views on a matter of public interest.
By now my views on Buhari and the need for national reconciliation are well known from my previous article on the issue. This is a time for the nation to move on. This nation is greater than each of us. Those who refuse to put the past and the present in proper perspective will surely lose the future. In the same vein, those who hold to the past will forfeit the future. The past is only important for the lesson it teaches the future.
I surely can lay claim to knowing the Chief dating back nearly 40 years to the days of the Committee of Friends which metamorphosed into the UPN under the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Adebanjo is a good man, one of the surviving grandees of Nigerian politics. Socially, he is a type of “king of the boys” and loves young people. He was one of our leaders in the UPN and the contemporary of the likes of the late Chief Bola Ige, Chief Bisi Onabanjo and Alhaji Lateef Jakande. He is a general of many wars and a combatant in peace and in war. He was one of the foot soldiers and relics of the old Action Group and the treasonable felony saga. He was once a fugitive in Ghana as a guest of the Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah when he was wanted in Nigeria. He has his scars to show for his struggles and you have to respect him as an old warlord. He was extremely loyal to the late Chief Awolowo.
In many ways, he is a blessed man. The trouble with our papa though is that he sometimes holds his strong views too strongly. He can be fastidious, unbending and extremist. The trouble with extremists is that they can be so conscientiously wrong. He still wants to lay claim to being a purist of the Obafemi Awolowo school of politics.
But as he has aged, one is sometimes embarrassed by the company of political renegades in which he is found and in which he obviously feels very comfortable which is totally at variance with his vaunted claim to principles. At the age of close to 90, hardly the age for the political militancy, he still wants to be in the forefront of political struggle. He lives in denial because whether he accepts it or not, a large measure of atrophy has set in even for a man who still looks quite well. It is not strength for an “agbalagba” (respected elder) to be found doing certain things. There is a time to step back. Success without a successor is failure.
His claim to being the champion of the late UPN governors is laughable because many of the direct descendants of the friends whose cause he claims to be supporting have moved on and are ardent supporters of Buhari. His excuse that he does not belong to the same party as the children of those friends of his is, with all due respect, specious. Is bitterness and unforgiving spirit on the manifesto of his party, the Social Democratic Party? Similarly, even the direct victims of the detention of the period such as Audu Ogbe and my humble self and many others have forgiven Buhari in the interest of the nation. The Chief’s attitude is that of a person who is more Catholic than the Pope. If he had been tried and jailed, what would he have done? You would have thought that if we younger ones were being so severely bitter, it is an old man like Chief Adebanjo that will plead for reason, restraint and logic.
I am aware that even though he did not refer to any personal experience of his under Buhari in the interview, the Chief did have a short spell of detention himself under the instrumentality of Oladipo Diya who was Buhari’s draconian military governor of Ogun State. When my cabinet colleagues and I in the late Chief Olabisi Onabanjo cabinet were mercilessly marched to the Abeokuta prison, we met the Chief there in the company of the late Dr. Tai Solarin.
The Chief had been detained because he was the immediate past Chairman of the Ogun State Agro Services Corporation in the government of Onabanjo. Solarin was only a UPN sympathiser, who held no office. But shortly after, the two of them were released, I guess, to make room for those of us who had just arrived for a long stay. As is the way of old men, the Chief, without knowing it, may still be nursing that injury even as short-lived as it was compared to my own relatively long incarceration.
But to hold on to past prejudice tenaciously and declare eternal hatred is most unfortunate particularly for an old man approaching 90 whose main concern now should be the future of the country, his inheritance and meeting his God as a Christian. He surely does not need this. The Chief will recall that the late Chief Awolowo went out of his way to reconcile with some of the people who played active roles in his persecution and in his being sent to jail. The critics of Awo had said he did not forgive. So, the Chief went out to prove them wrong. Chief Adebanjo has always been very proud of his association with Chief Awolowo and justifiably so. But on this occasion he has, conveniently, chosen to forget the Awolowo example because he has become an apologist for President Goodluck Jonathan. The odious record of the Jonathan administration with unbridled corruption, wanton waste, fiscal indiscipline, poor leadership in every sphere, unemployment of graduates standing at 80 per cent, poverty hovering over the land, a decimation of the naira and the economy, a total lack of accountability, loss of 400,000 barrels of petroleum per day, the gratuitous abuse of fuel subsidies etc should offend an ordinary man let alone a nationalist. Haba! These are issues which will make Chief Awolowo to turn in his grave. But for Chief, these count for nothing! Jonathan cannot be wrong!
Furthermore, how can the Chief and his compatriots claim to be speaking for the Yoruba people in the circumstances of today? In the four years of his Presidency, President Jonathan treated the Yoruba with contempt and has totally decimated them under his administration and denied them of their rights. Of the first 20 positions in this government, he didn’t find any of the over 40 million Yoruba appointable. By whatever criteria-merit, numerical strength, contribution to the national purse in every sphere, this is not just an insult, it is robbery and the height of ingratitude. Jonathan is obviously not a student of history.
If he is too young to know that it was the Yoruba, led by Awo, who fought for the emancipation of the ljaw and other minorities pan-Nigeria, and that Chief Awolowo, it was, who first predicted an Ijaw presidency in Nigeria, he must, at least, remember how the Yoruba stood by him and were the first to endorse his candidacy. While Edwin K. Clark was deceiving him, Prof. Tam David-West once reminded Jonathan that it was former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who made him President not the Ijaw. Jonathan told us that much too when we visited him in the Villa. Unfortunately, Jonathan does not honour his promises just as he does not listen to good advice and does not show gratitude.
During the said visit, he made several promises to a large Ogun Peoples Democratic Party leaders’ delegation, of which l was a part, and which held meetings with him over two days at the Presidential Villa some four years ago. Although he made several promises, he did not keep any of them. This was when nine legislators held sway against 15 legislators, including the Speaker in Ogun State under Governor Gbenga Daniel. The Chief, an avowed democrat, was never uncomfortable with this situation in his home state but looked the other way. It was a sordid act of the oppression of the majority by the minority. But the bitter pill was that our President, who assured us that Nigeria not being a “banana republic “(his words) would never allow this to happen, forgot his promise as soon as it was made. He never gave the 15 legislators the security support they needed to do their work. The minority held sway to the end. No wonder the same odious saga is repeating itself in Ekiti State today with seven legislators in charge making laws, passing budgets and approving the appointment of commissioners while 15, including the Speaker have been emasculated. Jonathan as leader of the nation has acquiesced in iniquity and lawlessness and led the way to the turning of Nigeria into a banana republic.
Anyone who believes that Jonathan will restructure the Nigerian federation will believe anything. From what we know, the President’s word is not his bond. One would have thought that the Chief and his comrades are too politically astute to fall for such a gambit. First, he cannot do it all by himself alone, by decree. Constitution amendment is the responsibility of the National Assembly and would have to be done by negotiation of the nationalities. That is the way of politics. In six years, he has not even succeeded in getting the Petroleum Industry Bill passed. Secondly, to hold on to one issue, as the Chief and his compatriots have done, when the life of the nation is at stake is, at best, unthinkable and an illusion. Chief Awolowo would have looked at the balance sheet in taking a position and it would have been clear to him that a dead nation cannot be re-structured. He would have felt most uncomfortable in the company of lawless people like Tompolo, Asari Dokubo, Gani Adams and their ilk. The Chief Awo that l had the honour to know closely, would not have felt comfortable with the real Jonathan, who we now know is a leader who stands for nothing.
May I conclude by saying that even the blind know that the current struggle is for the life and soul of the Nigerian nation pure and simple. As Senator Adolph Wabara once said, this is a situation in which everyone must bear his father’s name. With all respect to the Chief, he and our other respected leaders have turned away their attention while the country burnt. They have strenuously, though unconvincingly, sought a good reason for dining with the devil. The Chief has, for reasons best known to him, become comfortable with bad governance the way Awo never was.
They surely needed a good reason for their marriage of convenience and for ending in the same bed with the PDP which they, still pretend to abhor but in whose warm embrace they have ended. To now say, as they deceptively argue, that they are supporting Jonathan and not the PDP is doublespeak and disingenuous.
They didn’t learn this in the Awo school of politics which was firmly and famously founded on principles and not on crass opportunism. This is what Shakespeare called “motive hunting of a motiveless malignity.” Like every marriage of convenience, the end of this misadventure will be total humiliation and disappointment. I hate to tell him this but his credibility is at stake in this election. It is not the kind of fight a man takes up in his old age because the chance for redemption is extremely limited. The Yoruba have never suffered fools gladly and their memory is not short. In a few days, it will be clear to all that the Yoruba people did not fall for the contraption and inglorious adventure of the Social Democratic Party and its leaders.
Adefulu MFR, a lawyer, wrote in from Lagos