New Telegraph

September 29, 2023

If Buhari doesn’t want Nigeria on fire, he should organise constitutional conference now –Ayo Adebanjo

Leader of the Yoruba socio-cultural, Chief Ayo Adebanjo has commended the Southern Nigerian Governor’s Forum (SNGF) for taken positions on the issues confronting the country at their recent meeting in Asaba, Delta State. Adebanjo also urged the likes of Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu to ceasefire on the calls for secession and allow the country find solutions to its problems. He spoke with OLADIPUPO AWOJOBI in an interview. Excerpts…

What is your opinion on the position of Southern Nigerian Governors Forum (SNGF) on the need for a national conference and restructuring of the country?

That is a welcome development. Until we organise a national conference, there is no solution to the problems that are confronting the country. The President is just taking everybody for granted. This cannot be done in organised climes because it can set the country on fire. The whole Southern Governors coming together to take a position, it’s like a part of the country speaking on an issue.

But some people are saying that we should go back to the report of the 2014 Constitutional Conference …

That is a shorter one. The 2014 Constitutional Conference organised by former President Goodluck Jonathan was very comprehensive, we can’t get better personnel for a constitutional Conference in terms of quality, education and presentation. If the president is serious, he should set up a committee to look into the report and then we can move on. The man is now telling us he doesn’t know about restructuring, if he didn’t know about restructuring, what did the committee headed by Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna State recommend in 2018 say? If the president loves this country, if the allegation against him that he wants to Fulanise thd country is not true, let him constitute a body to examine the 2014 national conference within two to three months they will get it and we can move on. I only pray that the Southern Governors would be firm in their positions because all the injustices we have in the country are due to the issues in the 1999 Constitution and we will continue to experience them if we are still talking under this Constitution.

That is the evil of the delay and the delay is deliberate. You cannot take the whole country for granted. The President is now saying that he is setting up a body on Boko Haram. He is saying “shoot on sight” against bandits for people to believe that he is fighting insecurity. They will now shoot southerners and say they are carrying arms. If you see people with arms, arrest and prosecute them. You cannot shoot on sight under a democratic system. I made a statement in my inaugural address commending the southern leaders.

They should start working on their positions because any delay would give an opportunity to the president to continue to rule the country the way he wants. Any delay on changing the Constitution is to allow more havoc in the country. President Muhammadu Buhari cannot continue to rule this country under the 1999 Constitution, he knows that. The Southern Governors should move on and ensure that their positions are obeyed. The delay to amend the Constitution is provoking people into violence. See what he is doing about the South East, he said that he is setting up an arrangement on the issues of insecurity in the South East and the people from the region were not part of the meeting. To stop the dictatorial power under this Constitution, we should change it now. How can the whole country be talking about something and you refuse, even members of his party are calling for constitutional amendment. If you say those who are talking about restructuring or secession are wrong, then come and tell us your own solution. People are saying they don’t want a constitution and that there should be restructuring, you say no, but you have not come up with your own solution. You said that the National Assembly is working o n it, is the National Assembly not a product of the constitution we are complaining about? We are being treated like fools. Can a product of fraud amend fraud. We are saying that the constitution we have is not our own, that it was imposed, we want to rectify that constitution, they said it is not possible. The southern leaders have taken a position, they should be firm on it and insist on the details of changing the constitution. They are talking about banning open grazing and freedom of speech. They are not talking about the havoc the herdsmen are causing the people of the South. They are only talking about the man that wants to rear animals, freedom of movement to go and damage the farms of other people. You are only talking about what they will lose, you are not talking about the demand of the people. You say they should give them land for ranching. It is like saying that if you don’t want us to rob your house go and give us your property. You were saying that they were born there, you are not talking about the damage to the farmers all because they were born there. Those who are talking about restructuring are saying that we don’t want to secede that we want true federalism. They left that aside and they are saying that they don’t know about restructuring and we told them. We told them to go back to the constitution that the Sardauna of Sokoto, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe agreed to. You pretended you didn’t hear that. If Buhari doesn’t want to set the country on fire, he should organise a constitutional conference now and do away with the job within three months. Any other step is just a pretence. The Southern Governors should not allow themselves to be taken for granted as they have come up with a position.

You were quoted to have said that the 2023 general elections might not hold if there is no constitutional conference before that time. What do you mean by this?

It won’t be fair if we go ahead with the elections without amending the constitution. You are going to have an election under this constitution that we have experienced for more than 20 years? We have been talking about this thing before now. Afenifere insisted on a constitutional conference before Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar (rtd.) handed over power in 1999 and he said ‘no’ that we should go and do it, when we have a civilian government and we have been like this for 20 years. Each time we want to have an election, the president would say that he would do restructuring, and do everything that we want. In the 2007 election, Buhari signed an agreement with his vice presidential candidate then, Pastor Tunde Bakare, that he would do restructuring. Also, in 2018, before the 2019 general elections, they set up a committee headed by Governor Nasir El Rufai and the committee recommended restructuring, they didn’t tell us they didn’t understand it then. You see the deceit. The President is pretending that he does not understand what the people are saying. He is saying that he is performing under this unwanted constitution.

So, what will happen if the elections hold without the amendment of the 1999 constitution?

Everybody is saying the constitutional conference must be done. If he fails to do it, he is encouraging the separatists, he is encouraging the Sunday Igbohos, the Nnamdi Kanus with what they are doing. It is this restructuring that we are using to slow them down because we told them it would soon be done. I don’t want violence or separation, nobody wants secession. I have said it in my statement that Yorubas, the people of the South West region, we have invested in a united Nigeria, we don’t want it to break. But they are doing everything to provoke people for the country to break. That is my submission. They want to break the country by refusing to listen to the people that want a united Nigeria and the whole country must realise that.

What is your advice to secessionists such as Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu?

I have advised them to hold on on their demands for separation. But what they are telling me is that the people I am talking about would not do what they are saying. When I told them that President Buhari would restructure the country, they said that he would not restructure the country. I told them no, but the more they delay, the more they are proving them right. If the Federal Government agrees to restructuring, all these demands by Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho would stop, I have said it before. They have not examined that. We are giving them the antidote to the problem in the country, but they don’t want to listen. This is not the first time this would happen, Sardauna of Sokoto wanted to break the country in 1953 it was Chief Obafemi Awolowo that said ‘no.’ It is on record. That was before they went for the constitutional conference in London. People are now blaming the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo for not allowing Sardauna not to separate the north from the rest of Nigeria. This means a lot to those of us, who witnessed the situation. You don’t want the Igbos to go and you don’t want to include them in your government. You cannot be in a place where everything is against you. If you want the country to stay together, let us have a national constitutional conference, what you don’t want you remove and leave the ones you want. Hodling another election at this time without the constitutional conference is a pretence. Let us change the constitution and agree on what we want. If there is an alternative, tell us the alternative to the constitutional amendment. If you say you don’t want restructuring, what is your own solution to the problems at hand?

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