Comrade Yinka Odumakin is a renown activist who has since his days at University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University known for his critical positions on national issues. He took time out to speak with Ogunniran Adewale of Integrity Reporters recently. Excerpts;
Why do people see you as controversial?
The thing is that I call a spade a spade. I say things as it were, no matter whose ox is gored and because we are in a society where people can not speak their minds, where there is so much hypocrisy, where people hide their views for certain reasons. If you take the right step to say the truth, it is like you are taking oxygen from human beings. That is one of the reasons some people to say I am controversial.
Can u talk on the internal crisi in Afenifere that led to the emergence of Afenifere Renewal Group?
Some people don’t know why you do what you are doing and they went on to misjudge your actions. I was in Afenifere and we younger generations tried to resolve the crisis between the leaders and the former governors, we try all we could and it was not possible. So, we say okay let us move out and bring out an association that will be neutral from both sides and before we move out, I remember it was Mr. Akinmadewon, an acting commissioner, who asked if we are ready for what we want to do and he said that to say we are ready ,we must be ready to severe the umbilical cord. Though, people said they are ready and we started but within a year most of the politicians that are not ready to severe the umbilical cords pulled out and there was no other option as you know that, Yoruba says that if you cannot proceed further at least you go to where you are coming from and we realised that some of the issues we are fighting in the original Afenifere could be resolved without fighting from outside and today we are better friends with the leaders in Afenifere and we now understand ourselves better and the level at which we operate is at the level of discussions, agreements and not at the level of one man law or a decree that we must obey .
We have issue with our leaders in Afenifere but on the long run we have realised that they are more relevant and they are on the side of the issues that matters to Yoruba people than some people who want to bargain and trade off our people. When you maneuver sometimes people who are not in your shoes will not understand why you have taken certain decisions.
From your point of argument are you saying the old Afenifere is better than Afenifere Renewal Group
My issue with our colleagues in Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) is about the relationship with the then Action congress of Nigeria (ACN) and its leaders. We need to be independent of the party and while we are protesting to be independent of the and the leaders, people were calling us names.
Most Nigerian know you as somebody who fought against military junta and people but they were surprised that you became spokesman to General Muhamadu Buhari, whom you fought his regime. Was that not backsliding?
No, the decision to support General Buhari in 2011 was out of principle, I knew Nigeria political state in 2011, there was general view that we needed a man with integrity, who is not corrupt and who is not coming to office to steal but to lead a guard for changing the country called Nigeria and so I supported General Buhari to run and we went to ACN as they were trying to broker a deal with them until they said Bola Tinubu was been proposed as his running mate. They were having their talks until the talks collapsed and General Buhari called Pastor Tunde Bakare to be his running mate. It was in the course of that, that I was also approached to manage his media and I will look at it from the fact that we are talking about tackling corruption in Nigeria and we need to back this man up. He has contested twice, he was going to put a end to corruption which is our major problem, that is the reason I supported him in 2011 and when we went with him. The first thing we put in the manifesto of Buhari /Bakare was that Nigeria must be restructured. We realized that what is more important to the people was that Nigeria must be restructured. And then he did not plan to stage a coup and he said he will contest election and will take part in democratic elections.
You said Nigeria needs to be restructured and currently there is a proposal for a national conference. Do you believe in a national conference?
When the committee came to Lagos I presented a position which was that we welcome the idea of a national conference. We believe that time is running out for Nigeria and if we don’t do this, it will tell on Nigeria. The committee must agree on how to save this country from collapsing.
So, we welcome the idea, we accepted the national conference but it must be sovereign. Every decision that the committee arrived at can only be tinker with by Nigeria people. That once we hold the conference and we draft a new constitution and what the president need to do is to present the resolution to the National Assembly as a bill which will now formulate a new constitution by repealing the existing constitution for necessary constitution to come into being. We say that based on the quality of the delegates in the country now where all the ethnic nationalities are domiciled and there should be 100 delegates from each zone and 100 delegates from the labour union and that this conference should be ethnic national conference because that is the stumbling blocks of Nigeria. When Nigeria was amalgamated, it was the ethnic group that were amalgamated and Nigeria must decide whether we want to be a federal, unitary or confederal state and whatever the committee decides, the constitution will be directed towards that not the current military constitution that carries a federal name. So those were the major contributions to the Okunronmu panel.
Some Politicians havebeen complaining that the timing of the committee was wrong, what is your position?
What timing is wrong, we have said that the government should not be involved in it, and that include the drafting and ratification of the constitution and we suggested 100 persons per zone
Why don’t you support more than 100 people per zone?
We don’t want it to be too large, there should be equality of representation also we believe that this country is more important than any election but of the all election we have conducted since 1999, nothing has changed. Nigeria has made more money than it made before 1999 yet infrastructure has collapsed, life expectancy was 54 years but today it is 42 years, universities are under lock and keys, no light, no water and nothing works. Election will not solve all these, the issues election cannot solve is what will be discussed at the National conference and if people are saying this is not the right time, so, when will the time be right. Is it when we hold election that pundits all over the world will say has failed in Nigeria.
Those who are critising the conference are self serving opportunists, they are benefitting from the present rot in Nigeria and they don’t want to lose what they are benefiting. In 1998 after Abacha died and Abiola was killed, we were supposed to fight for a new constitution before we went for another election and it was these same people that were against the conference now that resisted and say we should go for election. They said: “When we win the election, the power that we acquire will be used to fight for new constitution”. Now, 15 years after, what fight have they initiated than buying private jets? If you ask me well, they said they will do it after elections but have they done? Go and check their manifestoes, the manifestoes of the APC does not promise anything about restructuring this country, in fact, they put it black and white that corruption is sacred document, so they want to put us in bondage because the constitution we are using now has put our people in bondage. It does not impact on people’s lives because the constitution says every power flows from Abuja.
If we do as it was done before, when Nigeria was being run in the region because if some region says boko is haram and they decided to burn down their universities and some say it is halal. So, there is no better time for this conference than now and I bet you, if we go for re-election without discussing these issues, it is that election that will break up Nigeria because that election will be conducted along the Christians and Muslims line, North and South line.
How can you rate President Goodluck Jonathan’s regime?
Well, I think that the government of Goodluck Jonathan come at a time when the Nigerian people eyes has opened and that everybody sees the problem of Nigeria as Jonathan’s, that once they remove Jonathan, every problem of Nigeria will be resolved but the truth of the matter is that all presidents in Nigeria, the predecessors are always better than the incumbent President. I remember Obasanjo, people were saying Abacha was better, during Yar’adua they said Obasanjo was better, that Yar’adua was Mr. Go Slow. Jonathan came and the people were saying, if not for Yar’Adua’s sickness, he would have done better than Jonathan. If we don’t restructure this country, when someone else come, we will say under Jonathan thing were better than now because Nigeria as we have now is a bad tree that does not bear good fruits. I am not going to talk about corruption in Nigeria again because when I look at people like Tai Solarin, Gani Fawehinmnmi, Ranson Kuti, they spent all their lives in jail, Gani Fawehinmnmi spent more days in prison than he spent with his family fighting corruption in a country where there was no values, so the people you want to imbibe good values has the power to lock you in jail, Baba Omojola just died.
There should be national ethos, where we will all agree that this is bad, what some section will call corruption is what others will call smartness, as at today in Nigeria there are criminal code in the south and there are penal code in the north, something that you do that may attract imprisonment in the south may attract fine in penal code. Look at Oduahgate, some people said it was because she was an Igbo woman that is why they are castigating her. When Ibori was charged to court, there were people who says is it only Ibori case, so we don’t have share value, until you run this country like a proper federation nothing will work.
Some days ago a minister was sacked in Ghana because she said she won’t leave government until she makes one million dollars. She has not even stolen, she is still thinking about it, but because they have values, she was sent packing. Until we get to that point in Nigeria, we won’t succeed. We will be 100 years next year and the people have not sat down, so we need to come together to understand ourselves properly and the only thing that can bring peace and harmony is federalism ,where each area has autonomy and can run certain region base on their culture and norms and we meet at the centre, if we don’t do that, forget it.
When Sen Femi Okunronmu-led National Conference/Dialogue committee visited Edo State, Col Tony Nyam and Gov. Adams Oshionmole had verbal confrontations which marred the sitting in Benin, though they were friends, was that a good omen for the confab?.
It was an unfortunate development because I think Col Nyam should not have allowed himself to be provoked by Adam Oshiomole, who came to the event to provoke people. Firstly, he kept people waiting for two hours, lectured them for one hour and did not allow people to speak their mind , so being Col Nyam zone, he should have kept his cool. If it is to be me, I will walk out, I will say I want to ease myself and will only return to the event after he has finished, but I think that is an isolated incident .
Col.Tony Nyam and Oshionmole are friends and both of them have agitated for national conference before, so as an experienced person, what do you think might have caused the rancor between both of them on the same issue they had agitated for in the past?
Well, I think Col. Nyam still want Nigeria to work for all and Adam Oshiomole has gotten what is working for him as a governor, he has security votes, public funds, so, this is the best Nigeria they can have. They don’t want Nigeria to work, it is a clash of interest while Nyam want a country that works for all, Oshiomole want a system that work for few.
Gov. Oshiomole and your humble self are comrades way back but it is unusual to have heard a renown activist like you talking against his fellow comrade like Gov.Oshiomole in favour of a renown coupist, Col. Nyam. Has anything gone wrong in the struggle?
It has shown that Col. Nyam has shed the military mentality by accepting dialogue and I think Oshiomole by lecturing the committee for one hour in his office has shown military mentality. I think that the country has constitution does not mean the country has a democratic governance because people don’t respect rules and we should not forget that this same Oshiomole want to fight Attorney General, Adoke at the Villa over Olaitan Oyerinde, so the thing in Edo doesn’t start today.
What is your over view of the current regime in Nigeria?
Well I don’t think the government has live up to the expectations of the people and don’t forget that the government is armed strong and also a President who is presiding a little bit about half of the country because I don’t think he has been to four cities in the north, a president that cannot hold Independence Celebration at Eagles Square, while bombs are flying here and there. Like I said, the governable spirit of Nigeria is shrinking. So, I don’t think he has been spectacular and the only place I think he cab redeem his image if he ensures that the conference is done properly, he will be a hero if he does a proper national conference where we all agree on how this country should be ran. This will be the greatest achievement he can have.
This structure has collapsed, Awolowo has predicted this in 1966, he predicted that if we allow military to prepare constitution for us, there will be break down of governance, people fighting themselves and except we get super human beings to run this country, it will fail and it has failed. The Nigeria we have today is a house with a faulty foundation and it is shaking.
Do you think this confab will be the solution to Nigeria’s problems?
This is the only opportunity for us to create an atmosphere, the national conference cannot solve all our problems but we can’t solve any of them either if we don’t hold it, like I said the governable strength of Nigeria is shaking.
Few weeks back traders who travelled to Borno to trade were killed, their money stolen and the P R O of Bodija Ibadan market was saying that it is high time the country should be divided so that we can go our different ways. He said they went to Ghana, Togo to trade and nobody kill then because if that should happen it will lead to diplomatic row but people were killed in Borno and nothing happened. You just go and bury your dead and you think if it continues forever people will fold their harms so if we don’t try to begin some consensus and we go for election, that election will be fought along regional lines, the south says second term, the north says we want our power back. There will be war, so the election will be on religion and regional line. Many of the people who are against it now will show much interest in election. After restructuring Nigeria, the Sarudana has the opportunity to be the Prime Minister of Nigeria but he chose to stay in the North as the Premier of Northern Region and sent his lieutenant to be Prime Minister in Lagos because the powers are in the region, the do or die we have now was because of the 52 percent of the oil money, it is not about empowering their people, the North has power for over thirty years, what have they done for their people rather it is boko haram, so to prolong the life of Nigeria, people must be able to reach consensus through the National Conference and that is why I believe so much in it because I know that it will work, Because if it does not work Nigeria has few years for it to be regarded as Nigeria.
So, with what we gathered, every group that represents the south west are for the conference only APC is against , South, North-East are for the conference so we should make the best use of this conference so that we can form a country where there is peace and harmony.
How do you manage home front bearing in mind that your wife is also an activist too?
It is all about managing our time, understanding each other and ensuring that you perform your responsibility. We let no one affects the other and that is what make life very easy.