Prof. Adebayo Williams, a scholar, journalist and novelist is also the Chairman, Publicity Committee, Abraham Aderibigbe Adesanya Memorial Committee. He spoke on the exemplary role of the late former Chairman of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and Afenifere, Senator Abraham Adesanya as well as on the state of the nation in an interview with SEYE OLUMIDE and ENIOLA DANIEL.
What is the significance of the 10-year anniversary symposium of Abraham Adesanya’s death scheduled to hold next week?
It is very significant in the sense that Nigeria is currently at a political junction in which nothing seems certain again. All the old certainty, either political, economic, spiritual or moral by which we lead and live before as a nation are fast crumbling. There is so much political ferment, controversies, sufferings and hunger in the land. It is as if we are experiencing something that is strange and unreal 10 years after Pa Adesanya departed.
The symposium is an opportunity for us to re-assess the state of the nation and also to proffer solution to what is beginning to look like a terminal crisis for Nigeria. We hope that we can rub minds and that is why we have brought people from all over the country.
Former General Secretary of Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, would deliver the lecture and we also have other contributors such as General Zamani Lekwot (rtd), who has been a victim of the national question of this country (Zango-Kataf religious riot in 1992). We are also going to have the President-General of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo, who is currently facing a kind of revolt from the youths in Southeast. The youths believe Nwodo is not radical enough and thinks everything is beyond dialogue.
At what point exactly did Nigeria derail from the path of progress and development?
If you look at the founding fathers, there is a lot of nostalgia for them now in retrospect, a lot of romantism about their political career particular in the west. There is that huge nostalgia for the founder of the Action Group (AG), Chief Obafemi Awolowo, which is merited but what happened in the First Republic, which account for a success that a lot of people have preferred to gloss over is the fact that those founding fathers did not work in vacuum. They had a political structure to follow, which greatly enhanced their vision. For example, before the 1950s, Nigeria was run as a harshly unitary and centralized system, there were some of our founding fathers that bought into that, depending on their background.
Somebody like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, with the background of an American tradition of free willing intellectual didn’t believe that there should be tribal or ethnic segregation. His idea was we should all come together under a very strong central government. On the other hand, you had an Awolowo who held to his belief that Nigeria was a mere geographical expression.
Awolowo actually reformulated an old saying by an Italian statesman that ‘Italy has just been created, you have not created Italian. In fact, he said “now we have created Italy, it’s time to create Italians”, so, you can create a country without creating the organic citizenry, that is if you don’t have people who buy into the idea of that country, you are wasting your time.
So what happened when we had the regional government was that these people (founding fathers) were persuaded after interacting with one another. I mean Awolowo, Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello were persuaded to drop some of their extremist positions to adopt something that is more congenial. For example, Azikiwe, who didn’t believe that we should create regions, was forced to agree to the idea of federalism (the components parts constituting the center and not the centre constituting the parts), as he would have wanted.
Awolowo, whose position was very closed to a form of confederalism, was persuaded because it was a kind of Utopian Federalism as it is practised in some other countries, which could not have worked. He was persuaded to accept a modified version of federalism. In the case of Ahmadu Bello, he was a confederalist and left to him, he would have nothing to do with the centre but he was also persuaded to have something to do with the centre. He had to rethink the notion that he has the right and privilege to mold the aspiration of young people according to their culture, religion, history and the state of their development. That was the political envisioning that made the regions possible, that also made it possible for a man like Awolowo to embark on his grand emancipatory project, which made it possible for him to, within the generation, allow the Yoruba to traverse from the farm to the factory. But if it has been otherwise, if there was no political structure that I am talking about, all would have been in vain and there would have been no region for Awolowo to experiment with.
The military came and disrupted the arrangement after which Nigeria have been having all kinds of funny arrangements that do not address the fundamental structural disequilibrium of the nation.
The fact is if you don’t have a political structure, you cannot build an economic structure. All these people proffering several solutions about the economic crisis are wasting their time because the fundamental crisis about Nigeria is political and until we address that, we are not going anywhere.
How do we want to live together and relate? To get a clear answer on this there is the need to restructure Nigeria. If we have a properly restructured country, then it would have been better for the Northern region to go and solve its problems on its own terms and within its own timeline and framework with nobody saying they are backward. The military that interrupted the regional arrangement, unfortunately was not the messiah we thought they were. This is a very critical point because in some other countries, we have had visionary military leaders who were able to homogenize all the clashing cultures and impose a foundation for nation building but what the military did in Nigeria was a farce.
Would you say our founding fathers and the likes of Adesanya and others that participated in NADECO struggled in vain?
No. That is where I am an optimist for the fact that the military overreached itself through the annulment of Chief MKO Abiola’s presidential mandate in 1993. Although, the military could have got away with the annulment if not for the likes of Pa Adesanya and the pro-democracy groups that stood against the military, even with the threat of persecution and imprisonment. There was even an assassination attempt on Adesanya’s when assassins rained bullets on his Mercedes Benz but he got out of the car unscratched. This gave him the nickname ‘Apamaku, the last man standing.
Now you can then begin to wonder whether they (pro-democracy forces) did not succumb too early to the military? I think they ought to have insisted on a fundamental restructuring of the country instead of the blame game and blackmailing of their own colleagues and indecision whether to be part of the government then or not. To me, if the Southwest had insisted in 1999 that unless Nigeria organised a National Conference and find an arrangement to push this country forward, the country would have been better than this. After all, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) was a sectional party but it had to be registered by the electoral commission then because the military government knew that without the Yoruba participation, the whole exercise would have been a nullity and the people would have returned to the trenches. Unfortunately there were all kinds of internal problems among the pro-democracy groups coupled with the individual ambition of some of their leaders. Some people wanted to be president and they don’t care under whatever structure, which has come back to hunt them and the country.
Because of the political structure and the long military intervention, Nigeria lacks the tradition of long struggle, which makes it different from a country like South Africa. For instance, the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa was founded in 1912 but it didn’t come to power until 1990 or thereabout yet the party never scattered. We don’t have such a thing in Nigeria because our politicians lack organizational discipline. As soon as Abiola died, you find a lot of our leaders jostling to replace him.
After the death of Pa Adesanya, the Yoruba have been unable to have a central figure to lead them. What is responsible for this?
One thing about Awolowo was that he was not just a visionary; he was also a believer in what is known as ‘Apostolic followership’. Awolowo was able to mentor a group who were willing to die for him and die for his idea. But then they have their crisis in Action Group (AG). I believe that part of the problem is cultural; for example, Chief Ladoke Akintola did not see reason Awolowo adopted the hard stance towards the north whereas Awolowo viewed that as a kind of betrayal.
But the fact is Akintola came from a cultural background like Ogbomosho where continuous interaction with the north was acceptable. A lot of people didn’t see it that way.
Another issue why Yoruba finds itself where it is today was because when Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) became president in 1999, I said it that he (Obasanjo) was going to decimate Afenifere. A lot of the cracks were been encouraged in the group because it was not a strong organization. For example, Chief Bola Ige was already having problems with the group and they were going to expel him before he died. They told him he cannot leave the group without obtaining formal permission but he said he needed nobody’s approval to take his exit. Eventually, two splinter groups emerged, which they are trying to harmonies now, although it’s still very rocky.
I hope the younger ones can come together and revive Afenifere because it is still the most formidable and dominant group, no matter the way you look at it.
Would you agree that Tinubu’s role in the Afenifere crisis contributed to the death of Pa Adesanya?
I am yet to see the death certificate of Pa Adesanya so, I wouldn’t know. But I know that he died of age related infirmity. He might have been heartbroken about development in the organisation particularly on how things ought to have been done.
I don’t think it was that local crisis of Afenifere that killed papa; he was contending with so many sad developments at that period. For example, he didn’t want his daughter, Mrs. Modupe Adelaja to serve under Obasanjo’s administration but the woman insisted she has right to take political decision and then, there was the internal struggle between Chief Ige on one hand and the Ijebu Mafia on the other hand, which made papa to be very unhappy. We should not also forget that people like Bola Tinubu are new breeds politicians, who are not likely to accept the idea that some old people should be somewhere dictating to them about how to run modern governance. This was a kind of rebellion that was inevitable then. I am not sure the outcome of those developments were appropriately managed. There were mistakes on all sides but some of them are rectifiable while others can never be rectified. That’s the unfortunate tragedy of the Yoruba in this contemporary time.
What are those rectifiable and the un-rectifiable mistakes?
Rectifiable in the sense that they (Afenifere) can still come together but only at the cultural front, I do not see them coming together politically again because there have been too much schism. I used to ask from Papa Ayo Adebanjo, one of the followers of Awolowo the offence of Tinubu and his response is that the former governor of Lagos sold the Yoruba to Hausa Fulani in the last general election that brought President Muhammadu Buhari to power. But I also reminded Papa Adebanjo that his party too adopted President Buhari in 2007 as its presidential candidate. Chief Awolowo also worked with the Hausa-Fulani until the end of the civil war before he left, so, there must be much more to the issue between Tinubu and the leaders of Afenifere. I’m not saying that Tinubu is without a fault and I will never say that. He is my friend.
What are your fears for Nigeria as we are moving closer to another election?
We have been saying that Nigerians need to sit down and talk. I have been saying this for the past 20 years that elections will not resolve national questions. In fact, it worsens it. We have seen situation where elections led directly to civil war in many African countries. When you think that democracy is solely synonymous to election that is what they call electoralism. Election is just one aspect of democracy so the way we are going, if we are not careful, Nigeria is heading for a terminal crisis. If we cannot talk among ourselves, eventually the United Nations (UN) may be forced to come and supervise a talk in this country. That is my prediction and I have no apology for saying this.
The masses are so important, so are the elite. My fear is that if we go to this election with this kind of mindset, particularly in the current ruling class, a winner may emerge but the contending contradiction may make the country ungovernable for such a winner and then we just begin to slide towards Mogadishu.