THE tenuous state of the federalism in Nigeria accounts for the shades of agitations in the country. The calls have been sustained by a number of issues, among which are the clamour for restructuring, resource control, power devolution, citizenship and state police. Whereas the advocacy for change of the status quo has been frenetic, a few individuals, including senior citizens, have either been ambivalent or opposed to the call for restructuring. However, lately there seems to be a paradigm shift of position and attitude by some of those that initially opposed the demand for restructuring. Among those in the renewed call for restructuring is former Vice President Atiku Abubakar whose view, like that of his former boss, Obasanjo, equally attests to the reality that the existing structure is no longer sustainable.
However, the personality of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, obviously means different things to different people. A critic cum activist and politician, Mr Lanre Banjo, tried to situate the Egba, Ogun State-born chief in what he perceived as proper perspective. Banjo, who incidentally also hails from Ogun, relying on the remarks Obasanjo made at the maiden edition of the Dr Fredrick Fasehun Annual Memorial Lecture organised by the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) in Lagos, X-rayed the stance of the elder statesman on contentious issues. He however said he had nothing against Obasanjo.
Banjo cited some instances that the former president went the extra mile to be his brother’s keeper. He recalls: “Sometime in 1987, a Nigerian, Adeleke Adekoya, was beaten hollow at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington D. C., was taken to the hospital by an ambulance. Leke reported the case to the press, which angered the ambassador who ordered his passport confiscated. It was at that point that I was asked to intervene. My efforts to secure his passport proved abortive, with the embassy officials giving stringent conditions. Unfortunately for the young man, the US Immigration Services required that his passport be produced within seven days or face deportation. He phoned to inform me of this requirement on the very day that I had a meeting scheduled with Baba Obasanjo.
“I tabled the issue and Baba said I should ask him to write an apology letter. This was communicated to Leke who brought the letter and Baba corrected it and asked that it be rewritten. The following day, Obasanjo asked that I went along with him to the Congress of the United States, where he presided over a hearing. He was the only one with black hair and I felt proud as a Nigerian. He had a dinner in the evening with Ambassador Kazaure, after which he directed me to pick the passport up the following morning. Like a connected amotekun person that I was, I walked into the embassy with my head up to collect the passport.
“When a Ghanaian, Professor George Ayittey of American University, approached me in 1994 to introduce him to the then General Olusegun Obasanjo whom he yearned to meet in Switzerland, I gave him an introductory letter. Behold, Baba did not only attend to him; he sent a letter dated August 30, 1994 through him to me. The letter he wrote to me showcased the brilliance of Papa Aremu Okikiola Obasanjo as a talented person.
“This is just to mention a few of those things Baba did to honour me. I don’t believe in just talking about the bad part of anyone while ignoring the good part. However, whenever I see him drifting and engaging in acts that make his forcing the unity of Nigeria from a subjugating position at the back of southerners and in a manner that will make them nothing but chattels, I always differ.”
The recent warning by Obasanjo that the country risks another civil war, if the government fails to accede to the demands for restructuring has been eliciting public interest and passion. Banjo, in his reaction, said: “I am extremely happy that he is beginning to see what we have been saying all along from the departure lounge, apology to his statement at the late Dr Alex Ekwueme’s birthday. At the palace of the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Ikenwoli, Obasanjo said: ‘If we need any restructuring, it is the restructuring of our mindset and mentality.’ He repeated the same on Channels Television in 2017. “Now that he has restructured his mindset, he must atone; he must apologise to Nigerians.”
Banjo also differed with the former president on the calls for restructuring of the country. Before now, Obasanjo had expressed reservations on the issue as he was reported to have said, during his tenure as president, the agitation was about true federalism. Banjo however said he disagreed with Obsanjo’s view then as he maintained: “Those of us clamouring for restructuring and true federalism are not confused. There cannot be a genuine practice of true federalism without restructuring Nigeria. What does restructuring imply? It means organise differently, reshape or realign. In Yoruba, it means ‘atunto; ‘nrụzigharị’ in Igbo and ‘sake tsarawa’ in Hausa.
“The 1999 Constitution is the product of a decree. It is labeled the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria and in practice, it is unitary. A constitution must not and cannot be the product of a decree. It requires representatives from each federating unit to discuss the content of a constitution after each state has discussed and agreed among the several ethnic groups in that state; not people with barrel of gun sitting somewhere to say we the people when they are not the representatives of the people. The constitution would dictate what kind of legislators we will have at the federal and not the National Assembly dictating the constitution.
“The National Assembly is a creation of the constitution and cannot amend a decree that does not qualify as a constitution. No Nigerian state will agree that her own natural resources should be controlled by the Federal Government to empower an ethnic group. Only those who want to reap where they do not sow and those who are too mentally lazy to fend for self will say that the resources of other states should be shared, based on the number of local government areas which are unfairly created and implanted in this 1999 Decree. Only those who are mentally retarded would say that if federal roads are not maintained in my state, people’s lives should be at risk and I should be spending state money to bury citizens or to buy drugs to keep them alive from preventable accidents.
“Anyone driving on a dilapidated highway in my state will be wondering who the governor of the state is; not the president. Only daft people will allow themselves to be called the Chief Security Officers (CSOs) of a state with monthly security votes being given to them and then a useless constitution will require one Police Force managed by an ethnic group in its own interest and, as a CSO, I can’t have my own police. To have genuine federal system therefore, we must reorganise; we must engage in atunto, nrụzigharị and sake tsarawa.”
More instructive are what Banjo perceives as the shortcomings of the ex-president, including his utterances and postures that often portray him as pro-establishment senior citizen. The radical politician gave instances: alleging “Under Obasanjo as the president of Nigeria, it was proper for Abuja to use the federal police to rig elections or intimidate its enemies in the states, but wrong for states to have any security arrangement with sufficient local knowledge to protect their own communities. We told him when he was in power. His reaction was that we were all stupid. We even told him that the North has her own police, but he said the constitution allows it.
“Due to the imbalance of states, 19 in the North, which include Yoruba in Kwara and Kogi, there is no southerner that can become the president today without being a slave to the North. If a zone clamours for the presidency and the North insists that it is her turn and decides to offer vice presidential candidacy to the South-West, if the North can’t find anyone to take it, which is impossible, they would go to another southern zone. Is that a good structure? So, what Baba Iyabo did with that statement was to dock and avoid blame; I would not allow him to hide under a fig leave.”
Banjo concurred with Obasanjo that the country needs a new constitution to meet the agitation and aspiration of Nigerians, though he queried why the former president was non-committal to the course in the past. His words: “Pa Obasanjo is a unique and possessor of a special purpose in life who is imbued with special grace and qualities that helped him in attaining greatness. Unfortunately obstinacy and lack of respect for others’ opinion prevented him from using that grace and peculiar endowment to uplift Nigeria. He mostly bowed to opinions and positions that would make southerners slaves.
“He rebuffed us when we told him the same thing when he was in power. With tears in President Nelson Mandela’s eyes, he asked Obasanjo why he and other leaders allowed Nigeria to slide into the river. That expressed sadness of Mandela did not give him a challenge to improve Nigeria when he became the president, the second time. Mandela did not live long enough to witness the pariah state the herdsman in Aso Rock has turned Nigeria into. Anytime that the Nigerian military took over power, the first thing they usually did was to suspend the constitution. Obasanjo is complaining from the departure lounge about this constitution he swore to on two terms to defend and uphold. He did not lead the suspension of this oligo-military constitution and establish a Constituent Assembly without a no-go area.
“Having ruled Nigeria as a military Head of State at the age 39 and having participated actively in the Biafran War, one expects him to have acquired certain experience about multi-ethnic society. No matter his hatred or disrespect for Papa Obafemi Awolowo, I expect him to have read most of his books, especially My March Through Prison and Thought on Nigerian Constitution and, if he is an admirer of talents and respecter of endowment of God, he should have implemented some of those things Awo recommended. This leads me to hypocrites like Chief Afe Babalola who could have influenced him to do the right thing and now, all of a sudden, they are awake to criticise Buhari and demand for restructuring when they are all about to bid us farewell.”
Banjo wondered if Nigerian leaders knew that they would one day account for their stewardship in the future. He believed that perhaps such reality it had suddenly dawned Obasanjo. “That question should be posed to Baba Iyabo. He is shit-scared of the judgment of God now at the departure lounge. No, he must be prepared to answer all these questions with Gani Fawehinmi (SAM), being our lawyer, waiting to prosecute, Pa Awolowo, Chief M.K.O. Abiola and Ken Saro-Wiwa being in witness box. I have served Chief Gani Fawehinmi and engaged him to serve as the masses lawyer and I have asked him to subpoena our witnesses, including Mandela.