Elder statesman, Chief Alex Olu Ajayi is a political ally of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and a business partner of the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II. He was former registrar of the West African Examination Council (WAEC), teacher, university/civil administrator and a local government chairman for 10 years under both the military and civilian governments. In an interview with selected journalists in his country home in Ado-Ekiti to signal the making of his 91st birthday, Chief Ajayi expressed worries and dismay over state of the nation, deteriorated standard of education, security challenges in the country, ethnicity, terrorism, killings, among others. ADEWUMI ADEMIJU reports
You were in politics. Looking at the political system then to now in terms of service delivery, are we moving forward?
Then you served as Campaign Director of Chief Awolowo in 1979 what distinguished the late sage from other politicians? Papa Awolowo had a virgin forest, so he had prepared himself, and got all the labour that would work for him in the forest.
He was able to face the jungle and clean it very well. He studied Commerce, Economics, Financing and he was a businessman. He was the first to build a storey building in Remo.
After studying Commerce, he went abroad and studied Law. He created his own party called Egbe Omo Oodua, then Action Group. By the time all these started, he was well equipped; he did not just jump into anything. He was fully equipped to run Nigeria. Harold Wilson once said Awolowo would be a good Prime Minister of Britain. Yes I was in charge of Awolowo’s campaign then in Borno State. What happened was that he invited me for lunch one afternoon, my friend Chief Lateef Jakande was there too.
And I was telling them news of Borno State that there is interconnectivity in cultural heritage of people in Nigeria. The Borno people are cosmopolitan, their dressing, everything. In fact, they used to say then that they liked people in the South. They are friendly and were never conquered, El Kanemi was never conquered by Uthman Dan Fodio.
So when Chief Awolowo heard me talking about Borno, he was coming down from the staircase, he said ‘Alex would be an asset to us in that place.’ That was how I became his coordinator in Borno and some other areas around that side including Yobe, Damaturu, Potiskum, Konduga and Baga.
They are pleasant people, they are so blessed, and the land is clean, when rain falls, it doesn’t perforate beyond five or six inches, so the weather is always there. When you plant, the trees grow, can you imagine. The animals, cattle feed well and are always well nourished, you can find them in Maiduguri. The animals are fat, well fed, and there is water.
In terms of political system and service delivery, Awolowo’s time was novel. He had a whole region to himself. What you have now is just mini states and their IGR cannot cover their expenses. How did you get money for anything?
Awolowo at that time had a whole of the West, including the Midwest. We had rubber, timber in the West/Midwest, cocoa in the West, Ondo Ekiti and Ogun, we have trade in Lagos and other axes there, so there were enough to take from. If you satisfy this side now, you satisfy others then.
But now, there is nothing to use and satisfy anybody, it has turned into miniscule. All that could spread around has been cornered by income.
They find it difficult at times to pay a salary, whereas if all these are in one big purse, it could spread around. Awolowo passed on that integrity. He would not touch anybody’s coffer. When my father was a member of the House of Assembly, he had no salary. They were not paid salaries; they were given 20 pounds in a month, that is N40 as a token. Members of the House of Assembly then had nothing.
Are you proposing a regional form of government as a solution to the problem?
It may not be all, because there is the human aspect. We found that there was lopsidedness in the sharing of opportunities, because there was not much coming to this side of the world. At times, then when politicians attended meetings in Abeokuta, they would tell their Ekiti counterparts: you people don’t come to meetings, donate money at conventions.
You know that the Ekiti man may not give you money, but his cocoa enriches you there. So they may not give them positions, whereas a young Ijebu man in Lagos, as long as he wears his Awolowo cap, would go to the secretariat.
But an Ekiti man would not think of going to the party secretariat, he would want to go to his farm, burn his yam, eat it with garden egg, work in his farm and go back home, not interested making big money in AG secretariat.
Because of the frustration occasioned by the lopsidedness in sharing of appointments, resources, infrastructures in the country in favour of certain parts of the country, a kinsman of yours, Professor Banji Akintoye is currently agitating for Oodua Republic and this is gaining momentum. What is your take on this?
It’s a necessary and genuine reaction to the insults we are receiving from northerners. One of them said they would continue their conquest on the unconquered people. Imagine! How can one say this in this century? Banji is my young nephew, I invigilated his entrance examination to Christ’s School in 1950. I am not backing Oodua Nation as such, but I am backing confirmation of our autonomy and existence, self-respect, self-reverence. We have self-respect not to allow any young tout from the North to start talking to us. Northern governors started meeting a long time ago, governors in the South never did that.
In the Nigerian Constitution, it is stated that more states can be created to make everybody equal. We have 19 states in the North, 17 in the South, there should be fair distribution.
Landmarks are justifiable ingredients in creating states for departmental administration. Landmarks also mean there would be resources there, that is what is taken into account when you are doing allocation, it’s not just population.
Part of the resolutions arrived at by the Southern Governors at Asaba convergence is that the President should convoke a National Dialogue where leaders of the country would come together and discuss issues on federal character in appointments, ban of open grazing. What is your take on the meeting and the resolution?
This is what Southern governors should have done some five years ago, but I am glad they have taken some action. Now the Northerners know that the South can have a personality of its own. Open grazing and nomadic life is primitive; every state should create an area where cattle can feed in large company. In Ado Ekiti, we used to have LIC, a livestock centre.
We had it in Erunfun and Okeako around 1978. It is better to go back to that. Open grazing is an insult. Why should Northern herders come here to kill, rape and destroy the farms as if we are back to slave trade?
On insecurity presently ravaging the nation, I blame AGF Malami and former IGP Abubakar Adamu for the extension and sinking of terrorism in Nigeria. For instance, when Amotekun was going to be started in the South -West, instead of Malami to privately discuss the problems with the governors, if there was any, he went public and discredited the mission.
Adamu who sat with them when they were planning the security outfit too reneged ingloriously and the Federal Government came out with a still born community policing. Amotekun was planned to check the influx of criminal herders, the herders themselves are raw materials of Boko Haram, particularly those of them who are foreigners.
They are Fulanis, you find them in Nigeria, Chad, Senegal, Mali, everywhere. They scroll between being herders and Boko Haram, and so Nigeria is now a colony belonging to terrorists.
With what Malami told the governors and Adamu’s U-turn, the herders and their sponsors became hardened and emboldened, carrying AK-47 around. Nigeria is enslaved. I repeat the herders are handmade of Boko Haram, they are the raw materials I wrote about Boko Haram seven years ago.
There is no point for the Attorney-General to use the Federal Government cover to discredit the security plans of the Southerners. Things are changing, we are not robots.
This is not the first time this would happen. For instance, the Civil Defence now carries arms to curtail crime, they didn’t carry before, but there are some now carrying arms among them all in the bid to tackle crime. Even customs, prisons, everything is changing all in a bid to achieve positive results. We cannot remain indefensible. With Malami’s reaction to Amotekun, it turned South-West governors to colonial subjects.
The community policing being talked about does not have any effects, because the traditional people are not duly carried along when planning such. There’s no proportional arrangement in terms of recruitment and population, but Amotekun would have done well looking at the structure whereby local hunters would be involved.
For instance in 1973, at a time there was a rampage of hoodlums around, we mobilised local hunters and the robbers were chased away. If Malami had not been so arrogant with the federal might, it would have been easier for those governors to operate freely and checkmate the crime in their terrains. What has come out of the state policing? Herders are still on rampage and no place is safe!
Ekiti, as a state, is a product of agitation. Will you say today that you have the Ekiti of your dreams?
Fortunately I was one of those who worked for the creation of Ekiti State. Each government that has come around, both military and civilian, has their own history and follows their party’s manifestoes up to a point.
There is always room for improvement, that’s the largest room in the world. The governors have all toed a plumb line of rectitude that is why there has never been scandal here at all. There is an interpersonal relationship.
Ekiti is too small for petty infighting, we are in the background, we caution them as their fathers. All the governors that have come here, I have had a relationship with them…
Lt Col. Inuwa Bawa, Col. Atanda Yusuf, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, Ayo Fayose, Segun Oni, Brig. General Adetunji Idowu Olurin, Tope Ademiluyi, Tunji Idowu Odeyemi , Kayode Fayemi. Fayose is from my ancestry, Afao, his home town, was founded by Odoba.
What’s your reaction to the recalcitrant posture of state governors on local government autonomy?
I have been talking about autonomy every day. Don’t forget that I am also an interested party. I was the local government chairman for 10 years, and that time, no one even had any business to be recalcitrant. You are above 90, so also is Aare Afe Babalola.
The two of you have certain similarities; you are reading without glasses, you still have the complete set of teeth. What’s the secret of your agility and longevity?
First of all it’s the chance of nature. When you have many kola nuts in a basket, one or two may be white.
I have lost some of my siblings and here we are. It’s not that I don’t have any ailments of my own, but fortunately they are not the debilitating type. I don’t have diabetes, asthma or any debilitating ailment. I had ailments like rheumatic. At the age of 7, I slept on a cold cement floor in Ondo.
When I woke up, that was how it started. It was treated at that time, but it kept on recurring. Later, it went off and would come up again in 2017, not that I have permanent pain on it.
High blood pressure is mostly common, especially at old age. I have been hypertensive since the age of 30, since April 1960, but I have been managing it well till date. As for sight, it could be hereditary; my parents at their very old age had very good sight.
I also keep to petty hints that I hear from friends and people, like taking plenty of vitamin A and palm oil. When you wake up every morning, wash your eyes with cold water.