In this interview, the spokesperson of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odunmakin, speaks, among other things, on the imperative of restructuring and why he parted ways with President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari has been criticized for his missing WASC result. Does the attestation certificate presented to him meet the needed criteria for a presidential candidate?
I think the attestation certificate presented raises more questions than answers. When you say you are giving attestation, it means you have the original with you, but the owner has lost it. And you want to attest that, yes, this document exists.
But what we have seen so far — there is nothing on that document to show that the person that is using it has a copy of that document beyond their words. I don’t have an attestation but I have seen people who have it.
They would put the number of your original document. But in the one that was given to the president, they put NA, not available. There is no number on it. WAEC in 2015 responded to an inquiry, saying it has no record for Muhammad Buhari in the archives.
That is why some people’s imagination led them to say perhaps there was some input from Lagos because that is where they are experts in such things. Interestingly, it looked like the Ambode primary in Lagos: the panel of NWC from Abuja said there was no primary in the evening, and the following morning they announced results.
They had not even distributed the materials for the election when they were announcing that Sanwo-Olu had won in Lagos. But the same panel the next morning announced the results of a primary that never held. So this thing is looking like that.
I have seen some image on the Internet when they were celebrating school certificate in the villa. Someone wanted to scrutinize the document and the President quickly snatched it from him. Clearly, over this certificate issue, they are in a hole and they’ll just continue to dig.
In 2015, his qualification to contest wasn’t really tested in court. Do you see this ending up in the Supreme Court and is there a chance he could be disqualified?
Well, I guess this is taking the whole country for a ride. This kind of shenanigan diminishes us in the comity of nations. If a prophet had predicted that a day would come that Nigeria would get this low, nobody would have believed it.
I think this will get to court and the court has to pronounce one way or the other. Clearly, as it is today, there is an infraction on the law. Not that someone is saying the president is not qualified, but, based on what he has presented, he is not qualified.
That constitution, the 1999 constitution, is an Abacha constitution. We know Abacha was more or less a Boko Haram. He didn’t go to school. He made the eligibility so low under that constitution. In fact, when you go to section 308, when they say school cert. or the equivalent, the equivalent was primary school with ten years post-primary school experience.
Interestingly, leadership in this country is the only job that does not require any qualification. If you want to be a cleaner, a messenger in an office, what is required is more than what is required for you to be the president of Nigeria.
So there is no qualification required really for the Nigerian presidency. But to go and swear an oath and lie that your qualification is with the military and the military says no, there is no such thing… 2018, again, the same lie that it’s with the military, and the military has not said it is with them.
The next thing is that the military has lost it. And the next thing, one funny man came from WAEC with an attestation. This thing should be tested in court.
Generally speaking, do you think the results of the primaries recently held by parties represent the aspirations of the voting public all across the country?
It couldn’t have. There is what you call party tyranny. And you seen tin gods within the parties doing the kind of things they are doing. Today, you can see the SSS is drilling the chairman of the ruling party. You have seen all the outcry: the allegations of money, applying one rule in Lagos and a different rule in another place.
How can parties that lack the basic ingredients of democracy within their own party give the country democracy when they conduct elections? It is not possible. That is why you can see, sometime ago, they had a senatorial election in Osun. APC lost the whole senatorial district.
A month or so later, they conducted local government elections and APC won 100%. A party that just lost a whole senatorial district and now when they conducted governorship elections, you saw how they had to force the thing to a runoff where they won with over 400 votes.
Yet, they conducted local government polls and they won 100% in the state. So we are expecting too much by expecting democracy from non-democrats. Most of them are not democratic parties. I think the only one that can stand democratic scrutiny is the PDP presidential primary in Port Harcourt where they followed due process.
Did the influence of money matter in the PDP primary?
I didn’t see money. I was not at the venue. What I saw was due process: they did accreditation, they voted, they counted, the agents were there, they announced the results and not one person said that there was a flaw in the process.
Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate, has been under pressure since he picked Peter Obi as his running mate. Judging from comments on the social media, has he opened up a political rivalry between the southwest and southeast?
The comments were more from the southeast, where people were claiming that he didn’t consult them enough before making the announcement. As for the southwest and southeast, I don’t think that is an issue for us.
The issue for us — both zones, Afenifere and Ohanaeze, we have been been meeting. We started the meetings in Lagos first when Dr John Nwodo emerged as the president of Ohanaeze. I put a call to him.
And then he called to say he was coming to Lagos to come and see us. He came to Lagos and then we started a relationship between Afenifere and Ohanaeze. Then we said our brothers in south-south should be part of it.
We talked to them. It became the whole south. We talked to our people in the middle belt and it became the southern and middle belt forum. We moved to Nigeria as a whole, called in Northern Elders Forum and we also have what we call the Nigerian Elders Forum.
We have agreed — there is a consensus that what Nigeria needs in 2019 is a president that will restructure Nigeria, go back to practice of federalism, make Nigeria productive once again. We should quit this culture of coming to Abuja at the end of every month and then some 36 gamblers in suits bring their calculators.
What we should be doing is that every section in Nigeria should go under their soil, bring out everything there and create corridors of prosperity all over Nigeria — north, south, east and west. There is no part of Nigeria that is not blessed with one resource or another. In fact, if we remove those 68 items on the exclusive list…
Take mineral resources: there is a study that shows that Nigeria will have a budget of N60trn annually as against the N8trn now. They are saying they have to sell assets to fund the budget as from next year.
If they sell assets in 2019 and do not restructure Nigeria the way we are talking about, in 2020, will they start selling Nigeria? They will start human trafficking. Are they going to sell citizens to fund the budget?
What we need to do now is to restructure Nigeria — to federalism, for a productive Nigeria where work comes back on board, not sharing money, not laziness. When we do that, there will be no battle over who is president of Nigeria.
When people are back on the field working, creating prosperity, people will be concerned with their region. In the First Republic — people have forgotten that, in this country, Ahmadu Bello considered it a lower position to be prime minister of Nigeria.
He preferred to be premier of the Northern Region and he sent his lieutenant, Tafawa Balewa, to be prime minister in Lagos. That is because the powers and responsibilities, the resources were in the regions.
That is what I am saying about federalism, about restructuring: that we must get power back to those places, and that contrary to the lies that people have told that restructuring is a southern agenda against the north.
One of the greatest advocates of restructuring in this country is the presidential candidate of the PDP. The strength of Atiku is that he is a detribalized Nigerian. He is at home in the west. He is at home in the east.
He is at home in the southsouth — everywhere in the country. So, how can a man love other people, be at home with others now be in support of something that will kill his own region of the country? That is a lie. In fact, what we are saying is that, before we started money sharing, the north was producing 675 metric tons of groundnut annually.
That’s what we are saying: let’s change the structure of Nigeria. Once we do that, the Fasholas who are saying power will return to the southwest in 2023 — they miss the point.
“I have seen some image on the Internet when they were celebrating school certificate in the villa. Someone wanted to scrutinize the document and the President quickly snatched it from him. Clearly, over this certificate issue, they are in a hole and they’ll just continue to dig.”
Has Afenifere endorsed a presidential candidate?
No, we have not. But we are going to. We are not going to do it alone. We will be doing it in unison with the Ohanaeze, with the south-south Pan-Niger Delta Forum, with the Middle Belt Forum. It will be a pan-Nigeria endorsement for 2019.
UK-based cleric Sheik AbdulFattah Adelabu has repeatedly said Afenifere is driven by bigotry and xenophobia. Why would he say that?
I don’t even know who you are talking about. Any person that says such a thing about Afenifere must be suffering from dementia.
Even in today’s Nigeria, not necessarily Afenifere, we saw the tension that was generated during the 2015 elections over the voting strength of the Igbo community in Lagos.
Did Lagos not move on after that? What was Afenifere’s position at that time? We calmed the situation. Those who have kept the country together today are these groups you are talking about. Why is there peace in Niger Delta today? Is it not because of these groups?
When Buhari was in London and Osinbajo was going to the southsouth to find peace, who did he go through? Have you seen any of us threaten the peace of Nigeria? What have we been doing? We have never threatened the existence of Nigeria.
In fact, anybody that calls for restructuring is not a bigot — he is a friend of Nigeria. Let’s create an inclusive Nigeria where everybody will be happy. Let’s make Nigeria a salad bowl society. You know when you take a salad bowl, you have different kinds of ingredients.
You can see egg, lettuce, carrot — and they are not fighting themselves though they are distinct. You know they have different identities. But it is the combination of all these ingredients that make salad. We are saying let Nigeria be a bowl of salad. God created us as Igbo, Yoruba, Ijaw and the rest.
You’ve given a wonderful example of a salad bowl. In terms of people, it would be a cosmopolitan society. Restructuring is calling for the segregation of society. When you talk of restructuring the country, what exactly do you mean?
When we say restructuring, it means Nigeria was on a good structure before; it was deformed by the military. Let’s go back to what worked for us. Let’s go back to federalism. Let’s go back to what worked.
In 1967, Awololwo wrote a book, “Thoughts On The Nigerian Constitution”. He explained that you cannot run a multicultural society like Nigeria with a unitary system. Any attempt to do so will create tension between the people, will make the people be fighting themselves.
The whole administrative machinery of government will crumble under bureaucratic centralism. That is where we are in Nigeria today. Nigeria has ‘knocked’; it has become a stalemate project. So when you say restructure — let’s go back to the structure that can guarantee peace.
Today, Nigeria together, we are much more divided than we were before amalgamation. Killings all over the country. Go to Kaduna, go to Jos, there are kidnappings. No peace: herdsmen killing farmers all over the place, Shiites in Abuja.
It is a dysfunctional society. So, clearly, when we say restructure, we want to create peace, harmony, inclusive society where every section of the country will be busy making their country better like it was in the First Republic when Awololwo, when the west was building Cocoa House, the first television station.
The first television station in Nigeria was in Western Nigeria. It was built a year after they started watching television in Britain. When television was established in Western Nigeria in 1959, there was no TV in France.
That’s what I said we should go back to. Who is talking about segregation? We are talking about competitiveness, healthy rivalry.
“How can parties that lack the basic ingredients of democracy within their own party give the country democracy when they conduct elections? It is not possible.”
Is there data to support assertions that Nigeria is not working? Because, today, it is the biggest economy in Africa, today more people than ever have access to education. Politically speaking, a Yoruba man has been elected president, an Ijaw man too. What is it that isn’t working?
Today, Nigeria is the world headquarters of poverty. Six Nigerians fall into poverty every minute. Twelve millions jobs have been lost in the last three years. We are under N22trn debt as at today. It was N11trn.
Nigeria’s debt to GDP ratio is one of the lowest in the world. All the statistics you have given are negative. Are there no positives?
They exist. Nigerians now commit suicide every minute. You give me the positive. All this nonsense about ratio of debt — what does it mean to the lives of our people? People are going hungry. People are begging. Look, the biggest job in Nigeria today is begging. Can you honestly tell me that your life today is better than it was four years ago?
Coming back to competitiveness and healthy rivalry. Are you in denial that the regional structures of the 1960s were the primary cause of the civil war?
It was not the structures that caused the civil war. The issues that caused the civil war are very clear. The civil did not just start in ’67. The civil war started in ’62 with an attempt to impose an unpopular government in the Western Region.
It led to a crisis in the west. It led to “Operation Wetie” that led to something else: the problem of marginalization. After the ’66 coup, you know all that happened. This country had no government for three days.
“We have never threatened the existence of Nigeria. In fact, anybody that calls for restructuring is not a bigot — he is a friend of Nigeria. Let’s create an inclusive Nigeria where everybody will be happy.”
But the structure shaped the events of the time.
No, it was not the structures. It was the ambitions of northerners — the attempts to create conquest, to dominate. Domination — that is what it was.
Is that what you call healthy competition?
The healthy competition I am talking about refers to the days when Awololwo was building Cocoa House.
What about the political competition you just described?
The healthy competition was when Awololwo was building Cocoa House, building the rest of them. The groundnut pyramid was going up in the north. The east were giving scholarships. That is the healthy rivalry I am talking about.
Is it that when you find it convenient, you focus on only the negative or only the positive? You’ve refused to acknowledge the biggest problems from the 1960s.
“The President was a nice person to me. We shared food on the same table. But if I may just give you one reason: throughout the campaign when we stayed together, I did not see anywhere — there was no day that we sat down on any issue in the country in readiness for when he would take over: what he wanted to do on education, on health; it didn’t happen. I didn’t see any preparation for office. Today he has been in office for the last three years, you can see the result.
I have told you the cause of the civil war. Go and read your history properly. You are missing it. When I talk of healthy rivalry among the regions, it is about our development.
What about the politics?
The east saw what we were doing, they wanted to outshine the west. The north saw it. Even for education, today you started this interview on the note of school certificate. Look at leaders we had in the ’60s. Look at the videos of Tafawa Balewa when he went to America in 1961.
You would be proud to be a Nigerian. He walked with confidence, spoke English. Today, we have leaders who cannot give a quotable quote and would be fumbling through prepared speeches. Go and look back then. That structure was better for us.
It produced all those leaders — the Ziks, the Awos, the Ahmadu Bellos and the rest. Just go and Google “Tafawa Balewa in America in 1961”. Look at the way he walked with confidence; Americans were clapping. Now when we go there, their response is, we don’t want that lifeless person coming here. And you think we are doing better?
Doesn’t the interest of the southwest in restructuring boil down to money — and basically the desire of just one state, Lagos, to collect all taxes, including company taxes, rather than the federal government?
It is not about that. I have told you, people have fixated on what is there now. They are not looking at what is possible, what they are not doing. When you look at the mineral resources in Zamfara, in Sokoto, in Jigawa, the deposits there; the taxes you are talking about in Lagos is nothing.
Money is under the soil of Nigeria. Remove those 68 items on the exclusive list, we would start to get money from everywhere. We can do N60trn budget, we won’t borrow a dime. There is money, but they are blinded by the cheap oil money.
Today, there is even wealth we are mismanaging, misapplying. Things we should leverage on under federalism, what should be our assets are now our weaknesses. When you talk about factors of production, what do you list? Land, labour…
We have a teeming population; we have refused to educate them, turn them into productive manpower. We’ve made them almajiris, beggars and the rest of them. Instead of now putting them to work — when those gamblers are meeting… we have more people in Kano, so allocate more money to us.
Let us share more money. Bayelsa, our population is small. All this, instead of making them productive citizens. Look at land. Land is part of production. When it comes to sharing money, land mass. You hear claims that our land is bigger, so give us more money.
“Today, we have leaders who cannot give a quotable quote and would be fumbling through prepared speeches. Go and look back then. That structure was better for us. It produced all those leaders — the Ziks, the Awos, the Ahmadu Bellos and the rest. Just go and Google “Tafawa Balewa in America in 1961.”
Back in 2011, you were a supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari and you were the spokesman for his campaign. How did you end up as an opposition to him?
I have a long history of political involvement right from my university days. In 2011, I became the spokesman of the current President. I didn’t know him that time. I got involved because a man I was close to was made his running mate, Tunde Bakare.
The issue came up that I should go and be his spokesman and I agreed. I did all I could do for that campaign ex gratis because I believed it was a cause. But in the course of the campaigns, I came to certain conclusions that will not make me repeat that.
The President was a nice person to me. We shared food on the same table. But if I may just give you one reason: throughout the campaign when we stayed together, I did not see anywhere — there was no day that we sat down on any issue in the country in readiness for when he would take over: what he wanted to do on education, on health; it didn’t happen.
I didn’t see any preparation for office. Today he has been in office for the last three years, you can see the result. So there is nothing personal, apart from the fact that I don’t think there is capacity to serve in office.
In 2011, too, you started off as an opposition to the Jonathan government. You were very critical of the government and, all of a sudden, you couldn’t see anything wrong in all he did. How did that happen?
You can’t say that. God will never let that day come when I will become an uncritical supporter of anybody. Any human being — I look at your strengths, I look at your weaknesses. In 2011, like said, I was with Buhari. In 2012, we organized “Occupy Nigeria” that almost brought Jonathan down.
My only reason for supporting Jonathan in 2015 was because he organized a constitutional conference which was to put Nigeria back on federalism. And today, if Buhari agrees to restructure Nigeria, I will be in his corner. I deal with issues, not personalities. My politics is issue-driven.