Veteran columnist, author and convener of G9, Akogun (Chief) Tola Adeniyi has argued that at the moment, not even restructuring as being advocated by many southern and middle belt leaders can save the country from an imminent collapse.
Chief Adeniyi who spoke in this interview with OBINNA EZUGWU also alleged that there is a ground plot by certain interest groups to overturn the countr
We entered the new year recently. Often in the new year, we make projections. Do you see things improving generally in the country this year?
Well, like I have always said, Nigeria is like a dilapidated building; a building that is almost collapsing. It has cracks all over the place. Therefore, anything that anybody wants to project is almost irrelevant. Having said so, there were two pronouncements that were made towards the end of the year that agitated the minds of a lot of Nigerians. One is the statement credited to the governor of Bauchi State, which has not been denied. That the Fulani have a claim to every inch of Nigerian land. And that it doesn’t matter where in Nigeria, a Fulani is entitled to, not just be a resident, but also claim ownership of every inch of Nigerian land. That is a betrayal of the nationalities in Nigeria.
The second statement was the one credited to the president, General Muhammadu Buhari (RTD) in Cairo, that all peoples of Africa are free to enter Nigeria, and to live in Nigeria. Against the backdrop of what we have been talking about regarding Fulanisation, Ruga and all sorts of challenges that Nigerians have faced in terms of alleged occupation of the ancestral lands of different nationalities that constitute what should have been a federation, that kind of statement was sufficient to spark off a serious dynamite that can can do damage.
Those two statements, coupled with what has been happening, and the allegations that are so much rife, about bandits, vagabonds and all sorts of faceless and sometimes identifiable characters rampaging Nigerian land, all over the place, killing, maiming and terrorising of people, dragging people out of their farms and desecrating people’s lands. It is very difficult therefore, to project any safe haven for Nigeria in the new year. I’m saying that the new year was ushered in by the leadership of this country with pronouncements that are, without a doubt, threatening the solidarity of and peace of Nigerians. In other words, the agitation is not going away. And every nationality, especially those outside of northeast and northwest, are very worried, and have all been talking about self-determination in response to the threats that have been projected and imposed by the pronouncements being made by those who are supposed to guarantee peace, safety, cordiality and harmony in the country.
The economy is going down the drain. So much money have been allegedly lost by NNPC, the obvious cash cow of the country. We are talking about trillions being lost in the last two or three years. Government has continued to borrow, almost blindly and mindlessly to the chagrin of Nigerians and also the international community. Because when you borrow humongous amounts of money and nobody is seeing what you do with the money, there is cause for worry. On several occasions, huge amounts of money are alleged to be voted for what are otherwise private enterprises. For instance, cattle rearing, ranching and so on. These are private businesses that should not be the concern of any government. Cattle rearing is like fishing, like shoe making, like tailoring, like any other private business. And for a government, any government to assume responsibility of financial commitment and sometimes, even providing military and police cover for such private businesses, it is calamitous to the peace and cordial relations within the nationalities that constitute a country. What I’m saying in essence therefore, is that the new year doesn’t hold much promise for Nigeria, and if care is not taken, the centre may not be able to hold any longer because there is a limit to which any power on earth can push anybody. And all the cultures of the world agree that once an individual, or even an animal is pushed to the wall, he will fight back. Nigeria is dangerously inching towards such desperation.
Going by what you have observed, are you concerned that 2020 may be the year Nigeria might break up?
Well, I don’t see Nigeria breaking up that easily because of age long intermarriages, investments here and there. The Yoruba, the Igbo, the Izon, and even the Hausa and the Ibibio, all of them, have investments across the land. I mean, Aliko Dangote is a Hausa man and he has the largest investment of any individual in the Southern part of Nigeria. Whereas there are several Igbo business magnates that have big investments in the Northern part of Nigeria. That may make a breakup difficult to contemplate. I have historical support for my statement. In spite of the gory, senseless, murderous and brutish suppression of the Igbo that eventually led to the way that started in July 1967 and lasted for 30 month, Nigeria did not break up. Good enough, the Igbo have gone back to the north to continue business as usual. The emotional attachment is there. What may break Nigeria, however, is poverty.
People are getting to a stage in the country that middle class has been completely wiped out. Not to talk of the growing multitude of seriously poor people. And the growing shameless, undisguised and insensitive opulence of the few that had cornered the common wealth of the country. In such a situation, what will happen is what people normally say that if the poor and hungry cannot sleep, the rich cannot have their snore. What will eventually happen is that the Almajiri and all the poor people we think are helpless and hapless, will rise. And arms and ammunition are so cheap in the country. Don’t be deceived by the closure of borders and all of that. Arms are smugged into the country on a frightening scale by those who are desperate to get arms. And arms may eventually get into very many wrong hands that would rather die than continue to live in abject poverty. And like Prophet Mohammed prophesied 1500 years ago, a time will come in the world when the living will pass by the graveside and wish that he were the one in the grave. We are reaching that stage in Nigeria. What I’m saying is that yes, it’s difficult to envisage a breakup of the country, but it’s also very simple to envisage something happening. But the danger is the mode of its happening, the mode of breakup. It would be like Libya, like Somalia where warlords will just emerge and start creating their own fiefdom. That would be complete breakdown. And maybe those pieces of fiefdom may begin to come together to form alliances and what we used to know as Nigeria may end up having six to eight countries. Such a situation is usually very bloody and brings about mass suffering. Husbands could see their wives raped in their living rooms by ruffians. Mothers could see their children slaughtered in the open.
So, what must we begin to do to avoid such scenario?
As a private citizen of Nigeria, and as a leader of the G9, an organisation that I belong to in Ibadan, the cheapest way of averting the calamity that is starring Nigeria in the face is for leaders, I mean, elder statesmen, to come together and discuss. I have started the move by speaking to some retired generals, some retired business men, politicians, former governors, who are above 80 years of age. I have spoken to those that I know and whose voices matter in Nigeria, and who also have seen the world. I’m talking about the likes of Emeka Anyaoku, Prof Ango Abdullahi, Brig General Rotimi in Ibadan, the likes of the newly elected Yoruba leader, Professor Banji Akintoye, and even people senior to those, our irresistible PA Ayo Adebanjo who will be 92 in April. PA Akintola is 102 , PA Fasoranti, PA Onigbogi among others. We are calling on such group of people to quickly, before the end of January, summon themselves to a table, discuss Nigeria, devoid of any partisanship. This time we are not talking about being Yoruba or Igbo, Hausa, Izon, Kalahari, Ibibio, Jukun, Kanuri, Fulani or anybody. But for the fact that there is still a place called Nigeria, even though it’s not working, under that umbrella, they should come together, and very quickly and march to Aso Rock and insist on having dialogue with Buhari and his inner circle because talking with Buhari alone will not change anything. They should speak truth to power, that Nigeria doesn’t belong to any individual or a group of individuals, whatever their political, military and security positions may be. And drum it once and for all, into Buhari’s mind and ears that he has no legal authority to pronounce that anybody can come to Nigeria without visa. No president anywhere in the world has the authority, not Donald Trump, not Macron of France, not Vladimir Putin of Russia, to make that pronouncement that all Europeans can come to Russia and live without Visa.
But don’t you think it may be simply economic and the president is only trying play the big brother or father role in Africa?
No, no sensible person will make such statement given the background of what is going on in Nigeria. Gowon didn’t make such pronouncement in the nine years he was in power, Obasanjo didn’t do so in the eight years he was there. Murtala Muhammed didn’t say so. That has nothing to do with Nigeria playing fatherly role. Father to who? When you cannot even be a father in your own country? Is Nigeria playing father role to individuals in Nigeria? You cannot even play a father role to your own citizens how much more to other people. If the truth must be told, it’s a ploy, having known that there has been serious objections to Ruga, to say the Fulani in Africa can just come to Nigeria and occupy Nigerian land. And there is a serious danger in that. It’s only the poor of any country that would leave their own country to go and settle somewhere. If Britain says every Nigerian should come and live in Britain, I will not go. And people of my age and social status will not go. It will be people who are already trying to escape from the suffering in Nigeria that will troop to the place. So, when you make such a statement, what you are saying is that all the wretched of the continent should come and stay in Nigeria and add to our own misery.
We have electricity supply that is not enough for Ibadan city alone. You have a police force that cannot adequately police Lagos alone. So, when we suffer such deficiencies, not to talk of infrastructure, you cannot be talking of people coming to stay here. A successful carpenter in Mali or Chad will not come to Nigeria. A successful cattle owner in Central Africa will not come to Nigeria. So, you are inviting people who have no skills, who have nothing to contribute to Nigeria to come and add to the problems of an already devalued citizenry in your own country. So, I insist he is not playing Father Christmas, it is an unfortunate pronouncement. A statement that is, for want of a better word, prejudicial to the sensitivities of those who own Nigeria. And who are the people who own Nigeria? It is you and I. Nigeria is owned by the falsified 200 million people they say are living in the country.
Away from the controversies of the Buhari government. Have you been impressed by his performance in office overall?
I have refrained from talking about the federal government. We have been criticising governments for 50 years. I celebrated my 50th year as a columnist and a writer in February last year. So, I have been writing columns, I have been trying to influence opinions and all that for over 60 years now. So, I don’t think it’s my place to begin to talk about a particular government. There are thousands of others who have the ink and the paper to assess the performance of any government, and particularly the current government. All I will say, from opinions gathered and the indexes that we have seen, is that the Buhari administration has really performed very low in the expectation of Nigerians and they see it as regrettable.
I know however, that no government is a total failure. It would be insincere to just say that the Buhari government has not done anything in the last four years plus. There might have been some economic policies. There might have been some things that will require time to germinate. The railway lines are being constructed. There is the drive to improve agriculture. There is the modernisation of some of the airports. But when you put all those side-by-side with the safety and security of Nigerians, they pale into insignificance and they can then be written off. Because even if you have the best roads in the world, but all the citizens of the country have been slaughtered who are those going to use the roads? But like I said, the final judgement on Buhari’s administration, I think should be left to history.
Talking about the killings that are happening. Is there a sense in which you feel that the government is unwilling to tackle it?
As far back as 2008 or 2009, I wrote about eight articles. You can Google my name and find them there. I spoke about the Fulani herdsmen and condoned barbarism. I wrote that in 2008, and I have written so many other things along that line. So, it’s obvious to everybody in the world that the brutish and arrogant attitude of those slaughtering fellow Nigerians all over the place, in Kogi, in Benue, even in Katsina and Zamfara would have been put in check by a serious non partisan government. The Yoruba, God bless them, have a saying that if somebody is beating you and the person who in position to stop that beating, does not stop it, it means that the person is interested in beating or is even the one sponsoring it. So, it’s obvious to the whole world. I mean, why has it been difficult for the federal government to publicly denounce the militant herdsmen as terrorists? They have been terrorizing people.
The United Nations says that the Fulani herdsmen are the 4th most deadly terrorist group in the world. Why has the home government not been able to say so? And they are calling IPOB that doesn’t carry arms terrorists. And they are calling MASSOB terrorists. The Shiites people who are just a religious movement, you proscribe them. And yet, people who would say, if Benue government doesn’t stop its anti open grazing bill, or if Oyo State doesn’t stop its anti open grazing bill, we are going to kill everybody there, nothing is done to them. And the man who says he wants to make a legislation against hate speech will ignore that person. The SSS that will pursue somebody for taking photographs or for buying a SIM card, or a journalist for writing an innocuous article, will leave a man who says he is going to subject a whole state to bloodbath. That speaks volumes about the double standards that have driven civilisation and common sense out of Nigeria.
You spoke about a time when there might be warlords here and there. Looking at the banditry in the Northwest, Boko Haram in the Northeast. Has it not really started?
Yes, it has and it’s going to escalate. I just didn’t want to say so, it’s already started. You see, the leadership of this country has always lived a life of mirage. They have always lived the life of ostrich, in self denial. There are local governments in Nigeria that are not under the control of the federal government or any state government. They are there. But we pretend they are not. You are running a military government, not a civilian government, but you are living in self denial. You have military presence in almost every state of the country. The jobs that should normally be carried out by customs, you see soldiers there. The other time they said they raided shops in Yaba, and went like thieves in the night to more or less loot shops owned by the Igbo traders. And soldiers were there. Ordinary police actions, you have soldiers there. There is no place in Nigeria today that doesn’t have heavy military presence. Ordinary checkpoints, you have soldiers there. If people are coughing in Osun or in Katsina, it is soldiers that would go there. It’s a military government in every sense of the word.
Let’s come to the Southwest. You referred to Prof Akintoye as the Yoruba leader. Some people contend that. Are they mischief makers?
Well, the simple answer to that is to ask, ‘is there anywhere in the world where a leader has emerged that every constituent of that community were party to the election? Did all Israelis gather to elect Moses to lead them out of Egypt? If they had waited for a consensus to get out of Egypt, they still would have been there till today. Is it all of them that agreed that they should move out of all the places they are scattered all over the world to go back to Israel in 1948? It’s just a handful of people led by Ben Gurion. Did all Igbo agree that Ojukwu should lead them after he had been appointed by Aguiyi Ironsi? When the Igbo were deciding whether to go to war, did they call a plebiscite? The background to the emergence of Professor Akintoye is very clear. Some Yoruba organisations, about 78 of them, felt that the way the Yoruba land was being encircled, that the values of the Yoruba had seriously eroded, and they said, we need somebody we can go to; somebody who can be a rallying point. The way Akinjide stoop up at Ibadan in late 1966 and decided that Chief Obafemi Awolowo should be our leader. They didn’t consult me in Ijebu or consult my grandfather in our village before deciding to chose him. So, if 70 organisations felt threatened in their land and say yes, one Akintoye has been taking, he has been making speeches. We have been hearing about him in the US where he has been for the past 35 years. He has been encouraging the Yoruba, he has been giving us confidence and so on, and therefore, let’s have him as our leader. It doesn’t disturb anybody. It doesn’t disturb the position of PA Fasoranti or the position of our PA Adebanjo. Of course, it’s expected that there would be people who will say no we don’t want him, we don’t know him. But the thing is that Prof Akintoye is not just the leader of Yoruba in Ibadan or Lagos. He is the leader of the Yoruba, even in the Diaspora. The Yoruba world congress has membership in Brazil, in Cuba, in Haiti, Barbados, Benin Republic, Togo, Sierra Leone, Ghana and he is the leader of these large worldwide assemblage of Yoruba people and people of Yoruba descent. We have 76 million people in Brazil, people who have confirmed that their ancestry is Yoruba. We have more Yoruba in Brazil than we have in Nigeria. And Yoruba has been adopted as one of the national languages of Brazil. We have Yoruba academies being set up in Brazil, Cuba, all over the place, under the leadership of Professor Akintoye. And he has been doing it for years. So, I’m sure that’s what they saw; these are the values they saw in the man and said, look, let him be the rallying point for us. Akintoye is a member of Afenifere. He is the chairman of their political committee. He still attends their meetings. He still goes to PA Fasoranti. PA Fasoranti was his teacher. Akintoye is not a man who arrogates anything to himself. He is a very humble man. His residence is like a Mecca. All Yoruba from everywhere troop to his residence to see him, to seek his counsel. That’s what it is.
The security outfit that the Southwest governors are putting up. It appears that federal government and the traditional security agencies are not comfortable with it. Is it surprising to you, given that we have Hisbah police and Civilian JTF in the north?
I have spoken about double standards in this country. Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna at one interview, said Nigeria is two countries. He said so. The mindset of some people in this country is vexated on the assumption that they have one country and others who are probably enslaved have another country. By the mere fact that almost half of a country says it’s under Sharia rule in a country that is supposed to be a circular state already says that we have two different countries, two different sets of laws. So, what constitutes a crime in Zamfara may not constitute a crime in Lagos. And yet you say you are running one country. We have always had this Hisbah in different parts of the north. And we have always seen videos of several police recruitment going on here and there in Kaduna and so on. The sponsors of Amotekun if they have balls they should just go ahead. They don’t need the permission of anybody to set up security organisations for self defence, especially when the federal government constitutes a very dangerous precedence of having the head of security for every state being responsible, not to the leadership of that state, but the leadership in Abuja. And yet we say that the governor is the chief security officer of a state. That is doublespeak.
There is already this argument about who succeeds Buhari in 2023. Is it not unfortunate that it’s being talked about at this stage? Again do you feel the north is willing to cede power to the south?
Two questions. One is insulting, it’s insensitive and sheer madness for a people to start few months of a new administration and be talking about another administration four years along the line. It’s a confirmation that political leadership in Nigeria sees politics as an industry. It’s like saying I have just opened a new shop and I’m projecting I have to open another shop in four years time. The whole thing is insulting, it’s dirty. It is infuriating.
The second question whether a section of the country will yield power to another section is also insulting. And Nigerians who talk like that, they make me sick. It shows that they have no self confidence. They have already surrendered the leadership of their own lives to other people. You can also Google an article I wrote about eight years ago titled “Who are this They?” When they kept saying, ‘They won’t allow us to have state police, They won’t allow us to do six years single term. They won’t allow us do this and that. Who are this they? They won’t allow the Igbo to ever rule Nigeria.’ Why should the collectivity of Nigerian nationalities continue to talk about some people called They? Who are this They? Are they just dropping down from the sky? The power you arrogate to this your They, who gave it to them?
The They in this sense is the North and….?
There is no north. That’s another thing, there is no north. Which north? You can also Google an article I wrote, “Which North?” Go and talk to anybody in Taraba, he will tell you he doesn’t belong to the so called north. Go and talk to people in Zangon-Kataf, they will tell you they don’t belong to any north. Go and talk to people in Benue, they will tell you they don’t belong to any north. Which north? The north of Ahmadu Bello is dead. Whatever is called north in the time of the great Ahmadu Bello is no more there.
But there is Hausa-Fulani north?
There no Hausa-Fulani, there is nothing called Hausa-Fulani. Is there any people called Igbo-Yoruba? Is there any people called Ijebu-Egba? Is there any people called Ibibio-Kalabari? It’s all part of the deception. It’s all part of the political strategies to bamboozle people. There is no Hausa-Fulani. You are either a Fulani or you are a Hausa. Even if your father is married to a Fulani, it doesn’t make you Hausa-Fulani. Nigeria is a patrilineal society. The father is the owner of the child. Unlike some communities in Ghana which are matrilineal, like where Jerry Rawlings comes from. But in Nigeria, the child bears the father’s name. It is the same in Europe and the American world. So, if your father is married to a Fulani or your mother is married to Hausa, you are not Hausa-Fulani. I have grandchildren whose father is Italian. So they are Italians. There is no Hausa-Fulani. I had warned several times, the kind of forces combined to slaughter the Igbo in 1966 cannot happen in Nigeria. It cannot happen again.
But when you look at the figures of the last election, you have an overwhelming majority of the votes from the north. Isn’t it an attempt to make a statement by the so called north?
In 2003, that powerful woman politician from Kwara, Sara Jibril was awarded 900,000 votes in Port Harcourt in the presidential election. It was in the rush to just allocate figures. So, that some people came out with figures doesn’t mean anything. We had an election where the chief electoral officer was allegedly murdered with his wife and children. Himself and his wife and children were allegedly burnt alive after declaring a particular candidate winner. Is that the kind of figure you are referring to? That figure did not make any statement. It only confirms the fraud that has been ruling Nigeria since 1914.
Talking restructuring now. It appears that there hasn’t been any headway…?
I don’t talk about such things anymore. Restructuring what? What are you restructuring? I have gone beyond talking about that. I was an advocate for restructuring maybe some six years ago. Two years ago, I was also a champion of confederation. But I have come to the painful conclusion that confederation will not solve the problem we have, restructuring will not solve the problem. You cannot restructure a building that is about to collapse. If you say you are restructuring Nigeria, and you are talking about true federalism, you are just wasting your time. And the reason is simple. You are in a country where a section of that country says that every other person doesn’t matter. And that every land that belongs to every nationality in the country belongs to that single section. And you are saying you want to restructure. It’s like the conference they had in 2014 which even went further to say that they could give 52 states when several states cannot even pay salaries.
As long as Nigeria is still one country, restructuring, confederation, whatever cannot work. As long as the man in Enugu doesn’t require visa to go to Sokoto, you are just wasting your time. If you are a murderer in Port Harcourt, you can’t be stopped from going to Zamfara to continue to murder people there because they will tell you there is freedom of movement. So, what are you restructuring? It will not stop what is going on.
So, what would stop it is total….?
I don’t know what will stop it. But I leave it to those who have common sense to draw their conclusions. We have gone too far to edge of the abyss, we are just on the precipice. We are just waiting for something to push push us into the abyss. Even if you restructure, but you are still in the same country with the person who has the mindset that Nigeria belongs to people all over Africa, they will still insist on that. And the leader of that country can say, I’m bringing all the Igbo from all over the world to come and live in Nigeria, or I’m bringing all the Yoruba to come and live in Nigeria.
You have a group called League of Nigerian Columnists. It doesn’t appear that it is still active?
We are still very active. Most of the people in the Nigerian League of Columnist are in the advanced stages of their lives. Most of them are over 65. In fact, the leadership of the organisation is on the average 70 years. Dan Agnese, myself, Henry Boyo who just passed on, Yakubu Mohammed. The younger ones like Reuben Abati, Osuntokun, Adeniyi Omatseye, Egos-Alowes, Ikechukwu Amaechi. Amaechi is a very active member.
But we can’t be noisemakers. We are opinion leaders; we are influencers. And therefore, we cannot afford to be frivolous. We are very active, but we are silent about it. We influence policy makers by reaching out to them without necessarily resorting to the media. We can phone the governor of Kano for instance and say we are worried about the number of out-of-school children in the state, and that our association would like him to pay attention to it. That’s the way we operate. We can phone the presidency and register our displeasure with any policy we feel is not right. That’s the way we operate. We are publishing a book very soon. The book is going to be out by February. It’s being packaged by Ray Ekpu, Amaechi and Reuben Abati. These are members of the committee. Of course, Professor Anthony Kila is our general secretary. Our vice president is Yakubu Mohammed. He is also very active.