Dr Kunle Olajide is the Secretary-General of the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE). In this interview with ANAYO EZUGWU, he speaks on the clamour for Oodua nation, insecurity in the South-West, and why the region prefers a new people’s constitution to the president in 2023, among others
What is your take on calls for secession by some Yoruba groups and personalities?
Yes, the Yoruba groups and personalities calling for secession and the existence of the Oodua nation are justifiably angry. They have been frustrated especially by the current administration.
The nepotistic attitude of this administration is unprecedented in the history of Nigeria. The presidency appears to be absolutely insensitive to the cries of the people.
And there are moments I wondered within myself whether Mr President has not set himself to be the last president of a united Nigeria or to be the chairman of the dissolution committee of this mere geographical expression. He is absolutely insensitive and his failure to talk to the Nigerian people cannot be explained,
I cannot remember when he spoke to us last. So, they are justifiably angry but there are still some of us, perhaps, who have had the privilege to seeing a better Nigeria in the past, who still believe that we have not fully explored the opportunity to keep this country together because we believed that the country is richly endowed. If properly managed by a patriotic leader, who is not an ethnic bigot,
all parts of this country will benefit from a united Nigeria.
But if this country continues to be managed by an ethnic bigot and a nepotistic president, then there is no doubt that within the shortest possible time, this country will fall apart. So that is my attitude to them.
Do you think it’s a sponsored agenda for perhaps political or economic reasons?
It may be so in other parts of this country but not in the South- West, not in Yorubaland. We have seen better days in this country and by our very nature, by our tradition and culture, we are not selfish people. We are not at all.
We are not trained to be. We have proverbs and wise sayings of the past ages that teach you right from your infancy that you should not be selfish.
You should give consideration to others and that was demonstrated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo when he was in government. Those of us who had access to the Villa, you hardly could know which tribe Mr. President comes from.
The Villa was bubbling with easterners, northerners, Yorubas and in fact, the key positions in the presidency were held by northerners in the Villa itself. The national security adviser, chief of staff and the chief cook to Mr President, all of them were northerners. So that tells you the attitude of the Yorubaman.
The Yoruba are not interested in becoming president of a collapsing country. We, Yoruba lead ers, are not prepared and we are not willing to sacrifice any of our sons and daughters to head the country that is doom to fail. If you bring angels from heaven, they cannot operate this 1999 Constitution successfully because the country will collapse and disintegrate.
So, we will be more interested, perhaps, in the President of Nigeria under a new truly federal people’s constitution, not this 1999 constitution. This 1999 constitution is purely, simply and unjustly government of the tiny political leadership elites by the tiny political leadership elites and for the tiny political leadership, not for the people of Nigeria.
Those who are enjoying this 1999 constitution, the political leaders, they are not up to 10,000 in the whole of this country. National Assembly 450 or 500 of them; each state assembly maximum 40 people multiple by 36 states; commissioners average of 25 per state multiple by 36 states; chairmen of boards of parastatal both 500, they are not up to 10,000 in a country of 200 million people, it is unacceptable, very unacceptable to us.
Our agitation is not for the 2023 presidency, not at all. In fact, we are more determined not to participate in the election because this constitution cannot take us anywhere. The constitution gives 100 per cent powers to the elected president and governors.
They are all emperors dispensing the money of the people as they wish. The National Assembly is in the pocket of the president. The state assemblies are in the pockets of the state governors.
Then our economy cannot sustain bi-cameral legislation in the centre because there should be few items on the exclusive list; all the other items should be on the residual list for the state governors. Nigerian people reside in the states and local government, not in Abuja. So that is where the power of the people should be not in Abuja.
That is the position. We are not interested in any presidency of a sinking ship. How can you be happy being the captain of a ship that is about to sink because you will be down with it or a pilot of a plane that is about to crash?
What do you gain from that? What is your position on the various moves of Sunday Igboho within the southwest and is YCE in any way engaging him privately on some of his moves?
Well, you can only engage with somebody who wants to listen to you. He wants to listen to us because he says it every time that he is a true Yorubaman. And he listens to us and we understand his worries. His own future like the future of his generation is at stake.
We have received the boarding pass waiting for the announcement to go and meet our Lord. So what we can take now, they cannot take it because they see their future being jeopardized.
In fact, at some stage, they believe that we are sacrificing their future for the sake of this country. So we are not restraining them in any way because we ourselves cannot beat our chest to say that the Presidency is listening to us. He is not.
If I were Igboho’s age, I probably would have been doing what he is doing because I would not be prepared for anybody to waste my future.
So let them go ahead with their own gospel they are preaching, we would go ahead with ours and whichever one comes first would benefit the majority of people in the southwest zone would be acceptable to us.
If we have Oodua nation, I have absolute confidence that we would run it efficiently and effectively.
If we are in Nigeria with other parts of the country and if it is a restructured Nigeria with not more than 15 items in the exclusive list for the presidency and the other items on the residual list for the states and local governments and with revenue with the state governors running and exploiting its resources and deploying those resources according to the priorities of their people, it will be good for all. In that type of country, all parts of Nigeria will benefit but with this nepotistic one where the president himself is not doing his own people enough good because kidnapping in Katsina happens almost every hour.
That is the home state of the president. The poverty rate there is higher than any poverty rate of any state in the South-West. So I don’t know the benefit to which he has put the power of his presidency to his own people.
But his own people would decide to face him there. We will face our own premiers or governors here or who the power resides with because when you complain about a bad road in front of your house, your governor will say it is a federal road. I wonder what a federal road is doing in my hometown.
If it belongs to Ekiti State, I can march to my governor and stop him from entering his car to come and repair my road. But he would put a signpost that this road belongs to the federal government. So what type of federalism is that? So we are not opposed to what Igboho is doing at all because his future is at stake here. D
o you agree that with those who said restructuring is a South-West affair and not an acceptable notion in other parts of the country?
What you are saying is not entirely true because in the southwest as far as I’m c
oncerned we are not waiting for restructuring. Because when you are talking about restructuring, it is this National Assembly and this executive that you are going to rely on and they can never restructure themselves out of power. They have so much money.
The National Assembly about 500 people takes about 25 per cent recurrent revenue of Nigeria that has over 200 million people. How can such people restructure themselves out?
The president has absolute powers of life and death over every citizen of this country, how can you depend on them to restructure. What we southwest people are clamouring for is a brand new people’s constitution.
We want to go back to where we started from and restructure to suit where we are now. In other words, we started in 1960 with three regions, 1963 we became four, now we are 36, so as far as we are concerned let us have 36 federating units. Each would be powered to explore and exploit its resources and spend according to its priorities.
Any of the units that decide to merge are free once their state assemblies agree with two-third of the votes they can merge and become a state. Any state that wants to remain and believes that it is viable has the absolute right to continue. So that is what we are for.
These people would not restructure themselves out and it is this political system that emanated from the 1999 constitution that is the bane of Nigeria. That is where all our money goes.
We have commissioners with chains of special assistance and personal assistance. We have ministers with chains of PAs. Let me remind you that the Western Region of those days stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to River Niger. Chief Obafemi Awolowo had only 14 ministers with portfolio and he ran effectively that land space which now consists of about 10 states.
The 10 states now have 10 state governors; 10 state deputy governors; 10 speakers of the state house of assembly; 10 deputy speakers; 10 chief whips; 10 majority leaders; 10 minority leaders; I hope you are summing them up. An army of commissioners’ average of 20 per state multiple by 10 that is 200 commissioners, All going to about 600 political office holders when Chief Awolowo had just 14 ministers.
In fact, it was later that he had a deputy premier who didn’t mean anything. The deputy premier was a minister of local government, so he was a minister like a commissioner. So, he had just 16 people running what we have over 600 people doing now. Then the state governors go to Abuja with their begging boots to take revenue that was collected from their various states.
You can see the paradox with this experiment. You get Value Added Tax (VAT) from southwest, south-south and southeast, you get Customs duties from Apapa Lagos and Murtala Muhammed International Airport, you cart all the money to Abuja.
Then Lagos State Governor and the other governors go cap in hand before the minister of finance to beg for whatever the minister dims fit to give them and she will send a larger part of that money to places where no contribution at all was made.
Can you see the injustice in that? So where you have injustice you can never have peace. So that is our position.
Are you in support of those who believe that the 2023 election should not hold except the country has a new constitution?
I’m 100 per cent in support of their position but unfortunately, this current constitution has given so much power to Abuja and then no matter what you do you have some people who want to be ministers.
And as far as I’m concerned, these ministers are servants to the presidency. The presidency is the overlord of these ministers but they don’t care as long as they make money for themselves.
But perhaps I should use your medium to advice and caution and warn them because some of them might not be able to return to their respective homes when the people get angrier than they are now.
So they better stand with the people, return home and press for a new constitution or remain there forever.
Afenifere recently declared that it has not endorsed Bola Tinubu for the presidency. Don’t you think the Yoruba race is only washing its dirty linen outside with such a statement?
No, we are very forthright. I speak for my people by the grace of God we are forthright people. Where we stand we know it at all times. This is not the time for anybody to visit 95, 96 years old virtually almost centenarians who are mourning the demise of the national publicity secretary hero to canvas for political support for an office.
What type of office is that? That is grossly insensitive to the feelings of the Yoruba nation. So when I saw it on the internet that Afenifere endorsed Tinubu, I knew it could not be correct.
I was sure in my mind. In fact, I’m sure when they told Pa Fasoranti that they were visiting him, they gave him the impression that they are going there to console him on the demise of Yinka Odumakin and they got there singing another song for the old man. He probably didn’t even hear them.
Then they went out to issue a release to say that he has endorsed them. What office? This is a mourning period.
Even the Middle Belt Forum declared that they were going to stop all activities for 30 days to honour the memory of Yinka Odumakin, how much more the Yoruba nation.
So whoever these people call themselves going around in this mourning period for us, that is very insensitive. And don’t forget that a few days ago Tinubu himself went to condole Pa Adebanjo and wrote a tribute for Yinka Odumakin.
Then the so-called supporters are now talking about endorsement for the 2023 presidency by anybody now in Yorubaland, it is not acceptable to us. It is not dirty linen.
We have a saying in Yorubaland that if you have anybody who wants to tarnish your white garment, you have to keep a long distance from such a person. As far as we concerned, that is who we are and we stand for the truth and we are not afraid to defend whatever position we take.
How concerned are you over the spate of insecurity in the Southwest especially on kidnapping and herdsmen attack?
I’m very well concerned but don’t let us fool ourselves. I don’t know whether you read my interview on Gumi and Obasanjo meeting?
No, I didn’t read the interview …?
You better find a way to read it. Anyway, this is what I said. I said it is a good start but they were not serious in addressing the security challenges of Nigeria because I cannot see any meeting that wants to address security situation in Nigeria, coming out with a Communiqué that does not condemn open grazing, destroying of farmlands, raping of women, kidnapping for ransom by criminal herders and that does not talk of social justice in the polity. Where you don’t have social justice, there will be insecurity.
Where less than five per cent of the population lives in opulence and affluence and display it in the front of the vast majority who are eking out a living, that is social injustice and you can never have peace there.
So for me, the communiqué did not touch the issue of social justice, which is the result of this 1999 elitist military unitary constitution that completely alienates the people of Nigeria and gives all the powers to the elected officials.
I would have expected their communiqué to outrightly condemn it and announce a new people’s constitution. They did not touch social injustice, criminal herders, and then what type of meeting are they holding. So that is for me.
We are concerned about the security situation but let us not make a mistake by believing that it is only the criminal herders that are causing the security problems. Unemployed graduates who are very angry about the opulence of their leaders too are angry.
They will do anything to eke out a living. A 25-year old young graduate wakes up in the morning without N200 in his pocket, when he gets to the highways he is thinking of how to make money to feed himself that day and he can join any gang.
So, is a matter of criminal herdsmen, open grazing, which is primitive and outdated and social injustice, inequality in the treatment of Nigerians with the resources of Nigerians.
Do you think southwest governors are doing just enough to curtail these waves of insecurity?
I have said it openly, not only southwest governors alone, state governors are not doing enough.
They can do better than this but in the last 15 years, they seem to have brainwashed everybody to believe that the fault lies with Abuja. It is only now that we are calling their attention to it.
Then I have commended the southwest governors for the Amotekun, which is good but I’m now urging them to fund it more. I was virtually the first Nigerian to criticize publicly about three or four years ago the funding, buying of vehicles, motorcycles and communication gadgets for Nigerian Police Force.
How can you be using state resources to fund the federal government agency that is taking 54 per cent of the revenue? Instead of you employing our youths, buying motorcycles and communications gadgets for them to police our forest, you are giving Nigeria police that takes orders from Abuja, not from you.
But I’m happy now that all of them have heeded my advice. At least I can see less of it in the southwest because any governor that does it I will take such governor again back to the Nigerian people. How can you use our money here, which is meager to fund a federal government agency, which has little or no responsibility?
And that commissioner of police doesn’t take orders from you, he takes orders from Abuja and you are using my own money in funding him. That is paradoxical.
Recently the Yoruba race lost one of its illustrious sons in Yinka Odumakin. What are your thoughts around his demise and how can he possibly be immortalized?
So many ways he can be immortalized. In fact, in my own little way, I intend to immortalize him. He died in the service of this country. He has been working with me for over 30 years on having the true Federal Republic of Nigeria. He is a forthright advocate of true federalism.
He got so consumed with that struggle that he became 100 per cent emotional about it and that in fact was the first problem he had with his health. So he died literarily serving Nigeria. His last article was published a few days ago, which he submitted over a month ago before he went into a coma, that tells you what type of patriotic Nigerian Odumakin was.
He must be immortalized and I have no doubt that monuments would be named after him by the grace of God. And if in my own lifetime we have a Nigeria of our dream, I will initiate a move to name a very important monument in the southwest of Nigeria after him.
What is your take on the appointment of the new acting Inspector General of Police?
I have not heard about the new IG before but that is not my problem. If the appointing officer thinks he is the best, well let’s wait and see.
But personally, I think it is still advancing nepotism. For a sensitive government, I would have expected Buhari to look for a southerner for that position otherwise Fulani, Fulfulde or Hausa language would be the lingua franca of the National Security Council, which is not fair.
So for me, that is the only criticism I have on that appointment. It is grossly insensitive and he does not take into account the feelings of Nigerian people.