Yinka Odumakin is well known for his views on Nigeria’s lopsided structure. He also speaks consistently on issues of justice, equity and the need for the political elite to quickly resolve all the outstanding issues in Nigeria before it is too late. As spokesperson of Afenifere, Yoruba socio-cultural group, he is also unwavering about his people’s desire for a better Nigeria. He speaks with Adewale Adeniran of integrity reporters
Q; As we approach 2019, there are fundamental issues agitating the minds of many Nigerians one of which is the clamor for restructuring. What is there to restructure?
ANS; Well, the word states clearly, it means Nigeria consistently runs on a wrong structure. Though we call ourselves a Federal Republic of Nigeria, but we are on a unitary constitution. We run a constitution where Abuja runs every aspect of our lives.
Today when you look at the constitution of Nigeria, there are 68 items on the exclusive list, which means that everything that has to do with governance in this country is run by a central government that we call the federal government.
Because there is a difference between central government and federal government, a federal government is a situation where we have a government at the center, which are coordinate, whereas under a unitary system, we have a central government that dictates to all the federating units. That is why today we have a situation where the federal government collects the receipts of all the resources across Nigeria.
Because in Abuja today, there is nothing they are producing, not even pure water. So, what they do in the FCT is that they gather all the resources across Nigeria, the federal government sits on it and now begins to say they are giving bailouts and they will sit in Abuja and determine projects for the states without even looking at the peculiarity of each state. For instance, you have a federal ministry of agriculture that will go and import fertilizer and give to the state, whereas Oyo may not need fertilizer. Whereas that money should have been in the pocket of the state and they could have deployed it to the best areas they think it can be used.
That is why we are saying we should go back to federal structure. Like we had before in this country, 1950, our founding fathers met in Ibadan and they agreed that because of the nature of Nigeria, we should have our independence based on the federal constitution and that’s why in 1960, in those years, we could see accelerated development. We saw the way various regions were developing. If you look at the western region, what you call the NTA today was western region television 1959.
What If I tell you now that the television station was created in the western region? Television was just one year old in Britain at the time. The royal families in Saudi Arabia used to come to UCH Ibadan for treatment. Now we have a president who will travel to Saudi Arabia. We beat some of the best universities in the world at University of Ife, with an atomic energy center. All that facility is gone. So, the whole argument about restructuring is: let’s go back to federalism. Let every section in Nigeria develop at their own pace. Let’s go back to productivity. Let every section get competitive again. Let every region build their own resources to develop at their own pace and let’s draw up a constitution that gives priority to productivity, not sharing money. We can say federal government should enforce laws while state government legislates.
Q: Recently, the Afenifere, a group you belong, endorsed Atiku Abubakar, what informed this this decision?
We have not endorsed Atiku Abubakar, all we said was that we are for the candidates that will restructure Nigeria. We are going to make endorsements, but it won’t be made by Afenifere alone. You know we are in alliance with our friends across Nigeria, the Ohaneze Ndigbo, Middlebelt Forum, and northern elder’s forum. We operate under what we call Nigerian leaders and guilders forum. It’s all these group together that will make a giant position known about the candidate we are going to support for the 2019 elections but we have resolved that we will only back a candidate that supports restructuring of Nigeria because we know we cannot continue this way.
Q: But definitely, your body language has shown that your group is backing Atiku because Atiku has taken the position you just expressed now, is that correct?
A: Before we make our position known, let other candidate also make their positions known on restructuring and spell it out clearly what they want to do to restructure Nigeria. If they do so, it means that we have so many options to pick from.
Q: You were critical of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu in one of your writeup recently, what informed that?
A: I have nothing personal against him. And what I wrote was not against him as a person, I am just recalling the history the way it happened. Except you want me to edit history and not report clearly what happened. And I want the public to fight me if that there is a line I wrote that is not true. So, I have to recall some of this history, because many people are not aware of what really happened. For instance, there are two issues I had set the record straight, the first one was on the issue of who emerged as candidate in 1999. Many people believed that it was Afenifere that imposed him, I made it clear that it was not so. And to show how he emerged that we were just following the rules. But I know that there are certain things that weigh into making it happen that people are not aware of. In fact, many people did not know that the problem in Funsho Williams strongholds was organized by Tinubu. So that once the leaders state that anywhere that there are problems they should cancel everything, Funsho will not emerge candidate. So, if they had added those four local governments, Funsho would have emerged, but once they have decided based on the rules that were set up, Tinubu emerged.
I was trying to explain also in 2003, that a lie had been put out there that Tinubu fought Afenifere because he did not want to be part of the deal with Obasanjo. Many people did not know that it was Tinubu that started there to deal. That he was the one that first met the president and organize a meeting with his colleagues to meet with the leader.
But when he got information from Atiku that this is what will happen, he backed out and left the rest of them, that was how he became the last man standing. And we begin to think like he has some special ingenuity, super intelligent endowment and so. These are just history.
Q: But previously, you were in the same camp with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Some people even believed that you are also a beneficiary of Asiwaju’s benevolence. How true is this?
A: There is no such thing as being a beneficiary of anyone’s benevolence. Yes, circumstance put us together at some point, but I parted ways with him 12 years ago. If I recollect the conversation we had on the night of December 24, 2006, when I told him that politically, I don’t think I can be in the same boat with him, I have no personal hatred towards him. If am passing by and I see fire in his house, I will call the firefighters to come and put it out. But we have serious differences ideologically. Tinubu and I were very close. It was clear that he knows how to use people with talents. And God deposited one or two things in me as a person also which were useful to him, and which was why he drew me close. But I have fundamental differences with him. He’s a nice person. There one credit I give to Tinubu is that if you agree on a way to go and he stands to benefit from it, he will not spare his blood to get that thing done. He can literally cut himself, drain his blood if that is what is required to get that thing done.
But one when you have with conflict with his personal interest, you will not say bye before you find him again, he would be gone. So, I won’t say he does not have his own good side. He’s a good man to have in your corner. He thinks on his feet; he’s a strategist. But the only problem as the Yoruba would say, you know there’s a bird in Yorubaland called Ajau that the arm is longer than the leg. If he does not put self-first all the time, he’s a good man to have in your corner.
Q: So far, after almost three and half years of Buhari’s regime, what is your impression about his government?
A: Well. It’s very clear now, three and half years ago we were promised heaven and earth and were told one naira will be equal to one dollar. We know how much it is today. Fashola said any government that cannot fix power problem in six months is Gbatueyo (ineffective). They put him in charge of power, three and half years he said fixing power is not a magic. The regime came three and half years ago and said they were going to fight corruption. Transparency International came and said corruption in Nigeria is worse than when they got to power. By the time they took over, our debt was 11 trillion naira, today its 22 trillion naira in three and half years, it has doubled. India was the poverty headquarters before they took over. Today, Nigeria has overtaken India as the global index of poverty. As of today, we were more divided than before this government took over. Before this government took over, herdsmen killing were not an everyday affair, today we are used to it. It doesn’t make news anymore unless they kill about 200 people in one day. So, in all indices, things have become worst today than they were before this government took over. And that is why we were saying in 2015 that the issue was to restructure Nigeria, to put Nigeria in a new path, they said they are bringing change, and we said no changed is going to comes based on what we have on ground. What has changed for good? Nothing.
Q: Lastly is it true that Jimi Agbaje has employed your service as his publicist?
A: No. Jimi and I are friends and politically, and our relationship has gone beyond engaging a publicist and the rest. Yes, I will support him in whatever capacity I can, but it’s not in terms of giving me public relations jobs, no.