Political activist and National Publicity Secretary of the Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, talks about why he is now an ardent supporter of President Goodluck Jonathan with GBENGA ADENIJI
In 2011, you were the spokesperson for Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd) who was then vying for the presidency. He is now contesting same position on the platform of the All Progressives Congress but you are no longer speaking on his behalf. Why did you shift camp?
There are so many shiftings. Gen Buhari himself has shifted. When I worked with him in 2011, he was the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change. In 2015, he is now with the APC. APC is not CPC. The characters around him in 2011 are not the same characters around him in 2011. In all honesty, Buhari is an honest man. I have made my feelings known to him that I cannot function in a new environment. I was with him in 2011 within a period of six months. I have been on the public scene for two to three decades in Nigeria. I have my goals and objectives. My being in politics is not for any pecuniary means. It is about issues that I think are fundamental to me, what I represent and the people I represent.
Some think these issues fundamental to you may be driven by whoever is able to pay for your services.
Those who canvass such viewpoint are people of low intellect who cannot understand me. What did Buhari give me in 2011 to support him? I see a lot of childish comments all over the place. Interestingly, many of the people that are saying these things read themselves into others. Those who clearly have taken a position based on pecuniary interests begin to point fingers at other people or what they would do if they take such a position. That is what I see in Nigeria. I see a lot of false moral grounds in this election. The truth of the matter is that I see a lot of funny people all over the place now congregating or taking positions and trying to demonise others as if we do not even know what is going on. For me really, between the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party, there is no difference. The only difference is that we have Jonathan who convoked a national conference, which we had stood upon over the years. We have the report of the confab on the table.
Now, on another side, we have those who campaigned vigorously against that conference; who worked tirelessly against it; and who said nothing about it in their manifesto. And now, they are promising us change. Which change? Change from what to what? Who are the change agents? You take half of PDP and you sprinkle it. The only change that we need before we can move to any other policy change is to change the structure of Nigeria. The current structure of Nigeria cannot work except we change it. People of low intellect insinuate things. They do not react based on convictions. The best thing is for one to pursue one’s goals and history will vindicate who is right and who is wrong.
One of the leaders of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, said the group endorsed President Goodluck Jonathan because it was convinced he would implement the report of the confab. Is this enough to earn the president an endorsement?
It is more than enough. Afenifere has taken a position. The leaders of the Oodua Peoples Congress have taken a position that based on the national conference, they are supporting Jonathan. Let us check history. When Chief MKO Abiola’s mandate was annulled, members of the National Democratic Coalition and Afenifere were in the trenches for years. One of the plans of NADECO, Afenifere and others was to have a national conference. In 1998, after Abiola and Abacha died, the position of NADECO and others was that we should demand a new constitution before conducting elections. But some people said, ‘No, let us go for the elections. Don’t let this opportunity to slip by. When we get there, we will even get more resources to finish the struggle for the restructuring of Nigeria.’
The same people today are the ones who opposed the national conference; they are telling people now that we have passed the stage of restructuring Nigeria because they have restructured the country to their own interest. They have taken what they want from Nigeria because we know what they were worth in 1999 and today they are multibillionaires and trillionaires at the expense of our people. They are now pumping money all over the place for people to write nonsense; maligning people that they have been bought. We are bought by our convictions that Nigeria is not going to work as it is. It is only political merchants who want to short-change our people that are selling a lie to them and calling it change. Which change? You can see the billboards all over Lagos: One meal for pupils in school in one day. Is that a change for us in Yorubaland?
In 1964, in one day, Chief Obafemi Awolowo enrolled 400,000 pupils into schools. The children of those enrolled that day are now professors. Fifty years after, some people now turn us to almajiris, putting billboards all over the place to tell us that one meal a day for our children in school is change. We have a history; we have a place where we are coming from. Strange children have taken over this place and people should know better. The people carrying all kinds of things are the ones who cannot question what is going on. They are the people who have sold their conscience. This is what Awolowo lived for all his life that this structure cannot work. Go and read Awolowo’s ‘Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution.’
Awolowo wrote the book on June 12, 1966. He made it clear in on page 52 of the book that any attempt to run Nigeria on a unitary constitution would make the government unduly complex, unwilling, in disharmony and the administrative machine of governance would collapse under bureaucratic centralism except we get super humans to run the affairs of Nigeria. Is that not where we are today? Somebody is now telling me that at this stage, I should abandon the path of freedom. The APC said in its first manifesto that the 1999 constitution is sacrosanct. When the party got the views of those close to it, its leaders brought another manifesto out which is silent on anything relating to the restructuring of the country.
The only person who has commented on this in the party is Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who said they would study the report. Now, let look at this analogy: I am in a cage and somehow wants to open the cage so that I have my freedom. But someone now says I should stay in the cage but will make sure my children get a meal a day inside it. If the only thing I will get to stay inside the cage is for my children to have a meal a day, I will not stay. Even if the person has a political party willing to make my father its presidential candidate and my mother his running mate, I would go on the path of freedom.
Why didn’t you see the ruling party as the path to freedom in 2011?
I have told you that this is not about political party. What is party? Let no one deceive me with any label. Some of us work on convictions and principles. When we worked for Gen. Buhari and Bakare in 2011, we were largely influential to the manifesto of the Buhari/Bakare campaign. We said we could restructure Nigeria through elections. We have not abandoned our beliefs. That is our conviction. It is online. The twelfth item on the document is on restructuring. There is nothing of such in the APC manifesto.
What makes you think that your convictions are sublime and genuine?
My convictions are my convictions. We have not attacked anybody for believing in the change mantra. Why are they now attacking us for taking a position? We believe our beliefs are right, they also think their positions are right. We should go with our different views since March 28 is just around the corner. Why the blackmail?
Don’t you think the ruling party is also not free from the situation you just painted?
I do not know about that. I am talking about the one I know. I do not trade in abuses. I engage people on salient issues. Now they are talking about corruption. If not that the world is coming to an end, is it some of the people in APC that will be talking about corruption? Individuals who are poster boys of corruption; some have cases before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The way some people are desperate for change, if some notable armed robbers were placed before them and they were told to chant change for such individuals, some would still shout it. For me, it is not about APC or PDP, there is nothing being put forward that is different.
We keep talking about corruption as if it is limited to only the federal level. Which of the states under APC can pass a corruption test? I once took a former governor of Oyo State, Adebayo Alao-Akala to the EFCC because he asked all the local governments in the state to award five kilometers of road at N50m each. I wondered how there would be such uniform road project. When the commission charged him, it was part of what he was charged with. But given what APC is doing in South-West now, if I see Alao-Akala today, I am going to apologise to him. A five kilometre of road awarded for N50m which I frowned at, is now awarded for N1bn. These are the change agents. When the elections dates were shifted within the law, we saw many things flying about. We read several vitriolic editorials on that postponement when things actually showed that the commission was not fully ready to conduct the elections. Local government elections were supposed to have held in Lagos State since October, no one has questioned that. I am certain that anybody who says he wants to fight corruption yet keeps the 1999 Constitution is a fraudster. This is because the constitution encourages corruption by giving immunity. This is part of the things the confab addressed. There are a lot of criminals in government who have enjoyed immunity over the years. They will not want it to be removed. Are we not in a democracy? Is there a law mandating that if A supports B, I must support same?.
What will your group do if the Presidents wins and reneges on his promise to implement the confab report?
When he met with us in Akure, he told us categorically that he would implement the confab report within the 12 months of his return to office. If he reneges, we will mount the barricade.
You don’t think it could be late in the day then?
Nothing is going to be too late in the day. A philosopher said if we fight we can win. If we don’t fight, we have lost. We can hold President Jonathan to the promise but we cannot hold APC to it because its leaders did not participate in it.
You were vocal in condemning the oil subsidy scam. Don’t you think your stance now contradicts what you once stood for?
What is the contradiction there? This is why I said there is little scholarship in the land. That I opposed certain policies of Jonathan does not make me his enemy. If there is any untoward policy, I will still oppose it. Since the protest, the administration has not increased price of fuel.
Are you not bothered working for the same administration that made you return to the streets then?
Is Nigeria now a one-party state where there is no freedom of choice? I am not working for any administration. I am working for issues. Intelligent people should be able to separate issues from personalities. Fuel was increased, we called people out and the price was reduced. What happened to those who protested against the Lekki Toll Gate? They were beaten by the ‘change agents.’ Was the toll reduced?
Does your wife, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, who is an activist, support you in your convictions?
It is not question of whether she supports me or not. She is an independent person and I am too. She is not political. I am political. She is a civil society person.
Don’t you think your current political posture may affect public perception of what she stands for?
What have I done wrong? That I am pursuing my beliefs and should not run contrary to people who do not know what I know. If you wake me at 3am to tell you what my convictions are I will not scratch my head before reeling them out because I am convinced about them. Many of us know the issues that are stake and can see clearly. We cannot follow the madding crowd. I belong to the Awolowo political ideology. He said Nigeria could only work if we changed the present structure.
Many believe that the bearing of the current government pampers corruption. Do you have a different view?
Corruption is everywhere in Nigeria. The only way we can change it is to change the structure of the country.
Are you not convinced that a new leader may tackle corruption better?
Fighting corruption in Nigeria today is not about one man but the whole country. For goodness’s sake this is not a military administration where tribunals could be set up and throw people to jail to serve 300 years term. In 1999, how many governors were convicted for corruption except those former President Olusegun Obasanjo exposed for political reasons? There are cases that are 10 years old in courts now which have not been heard. Corruption is so endemic in Nigerian and that is why we have to go to the root. This is why we believe they (political office holders) should be stripped of immunity so that they can be tried while in office if accused of corruption. Immunity is dangerous and Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution stipulates that even if a person has a criminal case before, once he gets immunity, that is the end of the case.
By the time these people are in office for four or eight years and they have amassed enough, they would ensure that the wheel of justice would not move. If anybody says he wants to fight corruption in Nigeria without the desire to make sure the constitution is changed, it is a fraud. Under this arrangement, one cannot gather the proceeds of corruption, make new leaders and promise to fight corruption holistically. It is not possible.
Your book, ‘Watch the Watcher,’ was published three weeks after former President Olusegun Obasanjo released his controversial autobiography, ‘My Watch.’ Was it a coincidence or a commissioned documented response?
People make all kinds of insinuations. Go and read the book. I wrote it as far back as 2005. I have not read Obasanjo’s book. Some Nigerians are intellectually lazy and all they make are insinuations. I do not need the permission of anybody to title my book.
Why did you delay its release?
I am at liberty to release my book anytime. That is my last answer on that.
You were part of the Save Nigeria Group delegate to the President and you were offered a bribe. What does that episode tell about the Goodluck Jonathan-led administration?
Yes, I was part of the SNG delegate to the President then. When we were leaving, they offered us money for transportation and we returned it. That is the end of it.
You once identified Jonathan as winner of Osun and Ekiti elections. What made you say so?
Yes, he won the elections by his disposition. Under past administrations, election results were changed and they were do-or-die. Election tribunals proved all these. After the Edo governorship election, the governor, Adams Oshiomhole, gave the victory to Jonathan who ensured adequate security.
You left Afenifere to Afenifere Renewal Group and later returned to Afenifere. Why did you go back?
Many people do not know the history of ARG. In 2007, when there was an intractable disagreement between former governors and the leaders of the Afenifere, some of our friends; Wale Oshun (a former chief whip of the House of Representatives), Ayo Afolabi (who is currently the director of publicity of the APC in the South-West) and others said we the below generation should come together and see how we can bring ideas together. We decided to chart an independent course, if that would put an end to the crisis among the leaders.
That was how the idea of ARG came. Some of us were very weary because we knew that some among us were neck-deep in the then politics of the Action Congress of Nigeria. We asked ourselves if we were ready. We said we would be independent. That was how we started it. We mobilised others so we could pursue the cause of the Yoruba. I was in Ekiti State during a bye election in the state. It was there I read a congratulatory advert by ARG in a national newspaper congratulating Bola Tinubu as its leader for reconstructing Fajuyi House. I called the chairman, Oshun to know when we decided on the advert. I said since people were then accusing us of being a Tinubu group, the advert just confirmed it. I told others that I was leaving but was begged that they would get to the root of the matter. I had boasted to the public that we were independent only for the advert to happen. I just decided to withdraw from ARG without making a fuss about the issue. There are some issues that one will not want to talk about but people who do not know what happened begin to talk.
Is Afenifere not tied to the apron strings of any individual?
Whose apron strings? Name, if you know any. Afenifere is independent and that is why it was able to take an independent position.
What is your relationship with Pastor Tunde Bakare now, since you have different convictions?
Our relationship is cordial and super. As a matter of fact, we are pursuing the same thing but our approach may be different. I am not a run-of-the-mill activist. I am a political person.