Published On: Mon, Nov 11th, 2013

National Confab: It’s Sheer Arrogance For APC Fo Threaten Boycott – Odumakin

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The National Publicity Secretary of the Pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, speaks with MOSES ALAO on the proposed national conference, failure of Nigeria’s democracy and his disappointment with political administration in the South-West. Excerpts:THE Yoruba race has been at forefront of the clamour for a Sovereign National Conference and the president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, appears set to meet that yearning of ethnic nationalities calling for dialogue by setting up a committee in that regard. What is your view on this development?
I think it is a divinely-ordained agenda to give Nigeria another opportunity to fulfill its manifest destiny in the comity of nations. For 53 years, Nigeria has been a paradox of a kind, a land of squandered opportunities, wasted talents, chaos, disorder and injustice, all because we have embraced the wrong idea of nation-building. We have shunned the routes of prosperity, of peace, of unity and of justice by running a multi-lingual and multi-cultural entity as a unitary entity. That is a recipe for disaster. And Chief Obafemi Awolowo, may God bless his spirit, for decades, was telling this nation that the only way a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nation like Nigeria can work is by being a federal state but we chose not to listen to Awo. On three occasions that Awolowo contested the presidential election 1959, 1979 and 1983, he was stopped from being president because he was canvassing for federalism.
Now, see where we are today; after 53 years, every institution and facility are rundown. Nigeria is in a total lockdown. Universities are shut; there is no electricity because we are running the whole of Nigeria from one point and once things fail from that one point, the whole country is in trouble. Power fails in Abuja, then the whole country is in darkness; education policies fail and all the universities are shut down. The greatest thing that faces us today is that even if we have leaders that truly want to govern, the governable space in Nigeria is shrinking because the many crises at the periphery of individual regions have now coalesced to ensure that through insecurity, corruption and other things, the space in Nigeria becomes ungovernable. We have to address these. That is why I said it was God that put it in Jonathan’s heart to use this opportunity. You also have to remember that next year is Nigeria’s centenary and it is a pregnant year for Nigeria; if we don’t choose that particular year to discuss, then only God knows what will happen to Nigeria.

Some people are saying the conference is ill-timed, making reference to the 2015 elections as their reason, while some are saying it is a mere political move that will not yield anything positive.
I have listened to all the arguments of those opposed to this conference and I think they are all self-serving and opportunistic arguments. If you say it is ill-timed, that is an insult. What are they saying? Are they saying the right time is when we are in refugee camps and the United Nations comes to sort us out? What better time than now? If not that what they are interested in is how to take over the treasury and loot it, they will not say that election should be the priority now. Anybody that says Nigeria should go to election the way it is today is calling for war; so, the best time to talk is now, when we can still salvage this country. We have had so many elections; what have been the results? For the Yoruba elements among them, have they forgotten how Awolowo contested election and was not allowed to win because he was asking for a just, equitable and federal Nigeria? MKO Abiola, who thought he had served the Caliphate; built several mosques in Northern states and all that, went to the polls and got the votes; was he allowed to be president? The four years he was supposed to spend in Aso Rock, he spent in jail and when he died, they brought his dead body back to us in Lagos. The issue today is that we must discuss this nation; we must devolve powers. But those who want to keep us in bondage are the ones saying it is ill-advised, ill-timed and all that. But in any case, the Yoruba people know the truth. When you look at the antecedents of those calling for boycott, with due respect, the leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu and all the governors of the party, how many of them can truly say they were part of the Yoruba struggle beyond using our platform to get power?

But Senator Tinubu was a recognised member of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO).
He was pursuing June 12, thinking Abiola would become president. Before June 12, where was Tinubu in our struggle? Did you hear of him in any of the Yoruba struggles? He came through June 12, thinking that he would fight for Abiola and he would become president and the moment Abiola was killed, when NADECO leaders began to demand that they go for restructuring and constitutional restructuring before we hold election, they were the ones who said ‘let us go for election first before addressing the constitution.’ They goaded NADECO and Afenifere to embrace transition in 1999, saying once they got power they would go and fight for restructuring. 14 years after, what fights have you seen them carry out? Beyond that, I have also heard them say we should wait for election and that when they take over power, they would hold the national conference. That is a bogus lie; they will not. Go and look at the manifesto of the APC, the party said they are committed to the present constitution; so they just want to lure our people into election, have the power they want and keep Nigeria the way it is, which is tantamount to keeping our people in slavery. So, we have this opportunity to get out of bondage and we will not allow self-serving politicians to use their personal interests to keep us in bondage. In any case, they have proved that their interests are not the interests of the Yoruba people, because those people who were struggling to get by yesterday, we know the resources they now control at the expense of our people. Now, our people are languishing in poverty. Begging was alien to the Yoruba people, but go everywhere now, you see people begging on the streets. So whatever these people are saying are in their interests and not the interest of Yoruba people. And Yoruba people have shown them that they are not on the same page with them because you needed to be at the NIA, both in Akure and Ondo, where the authentic representatives and leaders showed up to take positions on the national conference. Afenifere took position; Yoruba Unity Forum took position; Oodua People Congress (OPC) took position; the entire South-West took position; Yoruba National Assembly led by General Alani Akinrinade took position and the Save Nigeria Group took position. When you talk of Yoruba people, who is left?

Are you saying the threat by APC, which controls five of the six Yoruba states, will not have any effect on Yoruba’s position at the conference?
What effect will it have? It is not a conference of political parties or do they think it is Governors’ Forum we are going for? Or is it a politicians’ summit? A national conference is a conference of nations; it is when the nations have decided that they want to have a country that they can now talk of political parties. The conference has nothing to with political parties; in fact, if political parties are allowed to enter the conference it is out of generosity. They may not be more than observers because when Lord Lugard amalgamated Nigeria, he didn’t amalgamate APC and PDP. It was nations within Nigeria that he amalgamated and he signed treaties with Hausa people, Calabar people, Egba people and so on. So, let the APC bring out the treaty that Lugard signed with them to give them a locus to this conference. Therefore, it is preposterous and it is sheer arrogance to say that they will boycott a conference to which they have not been invited. It is like you, a journalist, threatening that you will boycott Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) conference, when you are not a lawyer.

If the nations go to the conference and say they don’t want to be in the same country again, what is the fate of the APC? The nationalities are the hardware of any country and it is when you have the hardware that you put the software. I even think the APC people are overrating themselves by saying we are the governors and this and that. Were they the governors in 1999? Were they the governors in 2003 and will they be governors forever? How does power incense people and they get intoxicated with ephemeral power and start playing god? They are arrogating to themselves what they are not. God forbids, if tomorrow we hear “our fellow countrymen” will they not flee the country? Will they say they are the governors? So, when mere men begin now to play god, it beats me. As I am, I know the number of governors that have passed through me in Yoruba land between 1999 and now and some people who are just in power for four years think they are greater than their people. We are talking of constitutional matters and the governors are talking about boycott; did Raji Fasola in Lagos ask Dr Tunji Braithwaite, who is a foremost constitutional lawyer before saying they are aligning with Adams Oshiomhole to oppose the conference? Did Ibikunle Amosun consult with Prince Bola Ajibola, a former justice of the world court who was at the NIA, to know what he thinks? Did Kayode Fayemi ask Chief Afe Babalola or Wole Olanipekun in Ekiti State what they think on constitutionalism and what is going on now? Did Abiola Ajimobi call people like Chief Richard Akinjide and the rest of them to know what they think about the conference? Did Rauf Aregbesola consult Justice Wale Babalakin and General Akinrinade, who have been on this matter for years? Do they think since they have become governors, they are higher than everybody else? That is not the Yoruba way and we have always dealt with such matter in our own way.

So, what are the major agenda the Yoruba race will be canvassing at the conference?
Right from the time Awolowo began to give us focused leadership, we had always asked for a federal Nigeria and that is what we are still asking for today. We want a Nigeria where each constituent unit will be able to self-determine; where we will not be bogged down with where we are; where it will not be like the situation now whereby Abuja’s failure to agree with university lecturers has led to the closure universities throughout the country.

University of Ife was run by the Western Region then and it was the pride of academic excellence. If that had been allowed to continue whereby universities are run by the regions, when Boko Haram run down universities in the North-East because Boko is Haram [Western education is abominable], and the South-West says education is our major asset, because in the First Republic, between 1955 and 1965, the least Western Nigeria spent on education was 29.8 per cent of the budget. There were two years that it spent 41 per cent of its annual budget on education and 60 years after that; UNESCO is recommending 26 per cent. So if the South-West says education is its heritage and it wants to keep by running universities well, you will find out that many people sending their children to neighbouring countries will send them to the South-West and we can in turn go to other regions with competitive edge. We can say if the South-South controls their oil, let us go and build refineries there so we can refine oil there and sell to our people.

That is what we are asking for; let no region hold the other region down. Don’t tell me because your son cannot score 300 in JAMB, he should be allowed into the university at the expense of mine, who has scored 300 because your son must also have a place in the university. Basically, federalism and autonomy are the key things for the Yoruba and we are going to push for these at the conference because once you agree that Nigeria must be federal then everything must fall under a constitution that is truly federal that will allow the creative enterprise of every region to flourish. This idea today that all the states are now salary earners, all the 36 states go to Abuja on the 26th of every month to collect salaries and then come back to do what they like with it, is not sustainable.

You appeared to be politically insatiable. When the PDP governors were in power in the South-West, you criticised them for corruption and even wrote a petition against one of them. The people voted them out and embraced the current set of politicians who address themselve as progressives and here you are criticising them for corruption and arrogance. What exactly do you want in terms of governance in the South-West?
Thank God you said they address themselves as progressives. Words have lost their meanings in this country because, strictly speaking, I don’t see what is progressive in many of the APC politicians. You said when the PDP was in power I criticised it. Yes, but we didn’t criticise PDP to bring in another set of guys who are worse than PDP, with the only difference being that they carry brooms whereas the PDP carries umbrella. People like us are insatiable because we think what these politicians can do for our people are not being done; if it was about ourselves, we have access to most of them.
We could have been frolicking with them but that would be at the expense of our people. People have said that they liberated the South-West from the PDP but they are doing worse than the PDP. For instance, I wrote a petition against former Oyo State governor, Adebayo Alao-Akala to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and I think that is part of the case against him now. He asked all local governments in the state to give a five kilometer road to a particular contractor at N50 million per kilometre and I said it was criminal. Is the topography in all the local governments the same? How do determine it is N50 million flat per kilometer? Of course, Alao-Akala came after me and one of his aides nearly fought me on Galaxy Television. That time, they said we were being used by the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) what they didn’t know was that, people like us take positions based on convictions. Now, here come our liberators in quote. Do you know that in the same place where I criticised Alao-Akala for awarding a kilometer of road for N50 million, HITECH is doing a kilometre of road for N1 billion in the same Oyo State and others states? I have challenged them for the past three months, if I am lying let them come to the world to say Yinka Odumakin is a liar but they have not responded. You know what that means to our people? For every kilometer of road done at N1 billion, N950 million is going into somebody’s pocket and you know how many children that will keep in school; how many health institutions it will build.

You are from Osun, and there is the controversy about the Resident Electoral Commissioner there. Do you think the allegation by the PDP is true?
I have followed for a long time some of the debates over the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Osun State and I have kept quiet, not because I don’t know the truth, but because I want to see how the issue is resolved. However, I was surprised to read an interview where Ambassador Oloruntoyin Akeju said if anybody had evidence that he had a link with Tinubu, he should bring it out and that in fact, he didn’t know Tinubu until he became REC. I said ha ha, at this point I cannot keep quiet because a man that would be an umpire for an election should be a man of integrity. Before now, he was an ambassador and it is often joked that ambassadors were paid to lie on behalf of their countries; then you can lie to the outside world not to us within and he is no longer an ambassador now but a REC. To go on the pages of newspaper to tell such a lie beats me hollow and some of us are compelled to speak out because we have our values and ethics.

Culled from Sunday Tribune

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