Dr. Kunle Olajide is the General Secretary of the Yoruba Council of Elders who has never been shy at any time to discuss the problems of Nigeria. In this interview with Olusesan Laoye, he talked about the Fulani incursions into the Southern parts of Nigeria, the agitations to evict them, because of their atrocities, and the attitude of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government towards it, saying that the only way out is to go back to the arrangement reach with the colonialists before independence.
As General Secretary of the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) what is your take on the alleged violent activities of herdsmen, especially the South West and the controversy over eviction orders?
Well, this has become a serious problem for Nigeria as a whole. It has turned to serious security issue. The activities of the Fulani are not limited to the southern parts of Nigeria alone. You have them in Benue, Taraba, Plateau, Southern Kaduna etc. It has turned out to be a security threat to the entire country and which must be addressed immediately because this can consume Nigeria, if the trend continues unabated. What is worrisome is that the Federal Government has turned deaf ears to this serious problem, as if, nothing is happening. This is sad.
How do you think this can be tackled?
The only way is for us to have true federalism. The stand of the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) is not different from that of Afenifere that called for the total restructuring of Nigeria. The Yoruba have been the protagonist of restructuring and true federalism. The YCE would like Nigeria to go back to the agreement reached and negotiated with the colonialists which at the time was just three Regions but now we have six.
We should understand that Nigeria has never been one people, one nation but different people, with different cultures, believes and priorities and as such each unit should be allowed to explore and exploit its resources according to its priorities. We must in a true Federal system have a centre that would only be responsible for few things, such, as Customs, Immigration, defense, currency, general security and foreign, affairs
Unless we restructure, and bring about true federalism, Nigeria is heading towards falling apart.
To me Nigeria stands on a brink; the country is almost falling apart. Before now insecurity was restricted to the North East and North central but now, it is all over Nigeria.
How can we solve the problem of Fulani incursions and the attitudes of the youths in the south towards them especially what Sunday Adeyemo aka Sunday Igboho did in the South West and what the youths did in Abia State to evict them?
I must confess to you this happened because of failure of government in its responsibility to protect the people. This has made individuals to seek whatever method to defend them-selves.
Self defence is the first law of nature and that was what Sunday Igboho and the youths in the Eastern parts of the country did. They had to protect themselves and their people and that would send a strong signal to the Fulani that they have done enough in terrorising their hosts.
This to some extent would scare them.
Although it was not a lawful action for a lot of reasons because if somebody can wake up one day to say the Fulani should go, someone else can wake up the next day to say the Ekitis should leave Ibadan, Ondo should leave Ekiti. Whatever it is, it is nothing but anarchy and this should not be encouraged. What should be done to check insecurity and flush out criminals in the forests is to strengthen the Regional and local security networks which are now in place legally, like the Amotekun in the South West.
I can assure you that the South West Nigerian governors are on top of this. What they just need to do now, is to fully equip and fund Amotekun adequately, and give the outfit correct staffing.
There are lot of unemployed graduates from the universities and polytechnics in Yoruba land. They should be employed and paid good wages to encourage them.
Let them be fully equipped to comb the forests to fish out the criminals. If i should go further on insecurity, it is not only here in the South that we have it, because all the high ways in Nigeria are no longer safe. People are afraid. The bandits have taken over and the government is not doing anything about it. What we have in the South now, is like the bandits and herdsmen are waging a serious war against the South.
Do you think the Forest Reserve guards should be brought back to police the forests as we had in the old Western Region?
Yes. That is a good idea. It means the forests won’t be left open and porous and it will be impossible for criminals to hide in them, be it Fulani or indigenes. You know that it was an offence to go into the reserves in those days, even to fetch firewood because if you are caught, you will be prosecuted. They should provide vehicles to move round the forests. I could recollect that Land Rovers were used in those days by forest guards, who were then licensed to carry gun. I think it was double barrel.
What collective efforts should be done to keep Nigeria save because insecurity is adversely affecting the economy of the country?
We are trying in the South West. We are shouting on rooftops and linking with other parts of the country that believe in what we are doing. But we shall continue to say that the only way for now that can save Nigeria is true Federal system. For me, we are making progress. Look at the situation now, even the home state of President Buhari, Katsina, has turned to a dangerous zone and not safe anymore.
You can imagine the bandits damning the President while on vacation at home and right in his backyard 300 school children were abducted and the government negotiated with them. So far now, nobody has been prosecuted. So there is glaring evidence of government failure. Where you have all these, it is anarchy that builds in. With our population, if anarchy comes in, it would be a great disaster for Nigeria because we won’t be able to curtail it. This should not happen because we are now interrelated with one another.
What is the stand of the Yoruba Council of Elders for Nigeria to move on as a nation?
We have said it several times that the only way is restructuring. If you recall, in 2017 all the Yoruba Socio Cultural Organisations organized a Yoruba Summit at Adamasingba stadium in Ibadan. I was the chairman and all organisations were there and we made it clear to all the things we want in Yoruba land for Nigeria to remain as a nation. What was advocated was not for the Yoruba alone but it would benefit all sections of the country.
What are your views about the debate going on now regarding political parties and their activities?
Let us tell ourselves the real truth, the political parties we now have are associations of like minds motivated to only get political power principally to serve themselves and their cronies, not the entire people of Nigeria. They are only there looting the treasury. I think with time, true political parties would emerge. The misfortune of Nigeria is that both the major political parties the APC and the PDP have conspired to impoverish the people. That is a shame. The country needs political parties with ideologies that would shape Nigeria. It is very sad that we have no political parties but gang ups of looters.
Again the issue confronting us, which we have to tackle to give Nigeria a better political structure, is the Presidential system of government, which I think is bad. It is too expensive and it won’t work with the ethnic sentiments we put into it. It is even very bad that the system gives room for money politics because if you don’t have money, you can’t go into politics in Nigeria and that is the reason those who are actually willing to serve the country cannot win elections because they don’t have money.
The best as I always said is for Nigeria to break into units so that every unit would monitor candidates and aspirants’ source of income. It is their community that would pick them on merit where they would contest elections based on their track records, antecedents and the way they relate with the people in their constituencies.
People still talk about traitors in Yoruba land. Don’t you think these kinds of people would jeopardise the struggle which some of you have set out to achieve?
As a matter of fact you can’t rule out people like that in a struggle, societies and organisations.
It happens all over the world. But the irony of life is that at the end people like that always become irrelevant because with time too, people always realise those who are genuinely championing their course. People are different and we can’t but have betrayers. But we are not going to be discouraged about that.
Then what is the way forward for Nigeria as a country to move forward?
The way forward is to pull out as units. The APC as a party deceived Nigerians about its manifesto. But some of us warned. They claimed that what was the topmost agenda in the manifesto is that they would give Nigerians true federal government, which they have failed to do. They now set up El-Rufai’s committee because of the 2019 election to cajole Nigerians but unfortunately for them, the committee came up with a brilliant report, which should have been a step forward but up till now, nobody touched the report.
I have suggested that if the Federal government and the National Assembly are serious about true federalism they should send a bill to include referendum in our constitution. There is no referendum in the 1999 constitution. Along the bill they would send, there should be a provision for the enactment of a constitutional conference commission. Once the bill is approved by the National Assembly, and signed by the President, it becomes law.
From that point, the constituent Assembly commission would be given a month or two to arrange for election into the constituent assembly, so the Constituent Assembly would sit, for about four to five months to have enough records and documents and also go into archives to dust up various reports on the matter in the past. They would then give us a neat and new constitution, which would not be subjected to the National Assembly but the people in the referendum. That would completely make it the people’s constitution not the kind we are operating now, that is one-sided and loaded against a section of the country but in favour of a section.
As a member of the 2014 National conference set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan, produced a report, which was said to be the best ever had. Do you think with that report, that of El Rufai’s committee and others in the past, we still need another one. Will the new one being proposed not be a waste of time and money?
Yes. In the history of Nigeria that was the best conference ever had where we had collections of elites from the First Republic till now – commissioners, retired judges, people from the military, labour unions, handicaps, academia, clerics and people from other professions. There were many things in that report which could be adopted. We only need to adjust one or two things that are what Nigeria needs.
We need the parliamentary system, where those going to both the states and National Assemblies, ministers, commissioners, will have to contest elections in their constituencies before they serve.
Those who want political offices must live with the local people and not that the governor or the president would just bring someone from London, America or even when you are in Ekiti you go to Lagos and bring someone who never visited home and who does not know the problems of his people and even his ward to serve.
Honestly there is no constitution that would be in place now that would not take majority of what were in the report of that 2014 national conference.
The best APC could have done for Nigeria is to have implemented the report. If that had been done we would not be in this mess today.
It is clear that this presidency is not interested in the unity of Nigeria. It has done more harm to Nigeria than other governments known in my lifetime. The government has polarised the unity of Nigeria than we were before and that is why there must be a new constitution in place before the next election.
With the trend of things do you think elections would hold in 2023?
This is not a question of belief. We must have elections. The alternative to that is the collapse of Nigeria but God forbid. That possibility is there because things can’t continue to go on like this. My fear is just that I doubt if the present government with the characters of the players can manage transition to election.
Today Shehu Garba would say something, tomorrow Femi Adesina would say something else, while Boss Mustapha is entirely on his own. To be frank, Nigeria now appears to be running on auto pilot.