…How Zik provoked Yoruba NCNC MPs to defect to AG •Says APC wasn’t prepared for governance
…Catholic Schools: The legal trick Jakande used to defeat Okogie
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Hon. Oladipo Olaitan, the National Financial Secretary of Afenifere, the apex Yoruba socio-cultural body was at the inception of the Fourth Republic, the leader of the Alliance for Democracy in the House of Representatives, a prime position that gave him opportunity into the affairs of the nation at that time.
Before then, the lawyer turned politician and property tycoon had served Governor Lateef Jakande in Lagos State in various capacities between 1979 and 1983 including as Political Adviser, Security Adviser and Legal Adviser.
In this interview he gives the Yoruba perspective of the crisis that prompted the mass defection of NCNC members to the AG on the floor of the Western House of Assembly in 1951, why the Yoruba are standing with the Igbo against the expulsion threat by the Arewa Youths, why AD members stood with President Olusegun Obasanjo against alleged conspiracies weaved by his deputy.
The Osun born politician also ventilates his position on the pace and pattern of governance in his home state with a damning prediction on the prospects of the incumbent governor of the state, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola.
What prompted your career choice in law and politics?
When I was growing up, there was this practise of some officials going to waylay farmers on their way from farm, and they would round them up and take them to the D.O’s (District Officer’s) office for the offence that they had not paid their taxes.
It was horrible. Some of them (illiterates) would have their tax papers, but the officials would not even give them the opportunity of showing their tax papers. They would take them to the D.O.’s office, collect some money from them and then release them.
I was growing up, and I didn’t like it, and I was looking for a way I could do something about it. That gave me the idea of wanting to be a lawyer, so I could be able to help these people.
Growing up, I saw Zik campaigning; I saw Awolowo campaigning. In fact, Awolowo used to stay in my father’s house in Ikare each time he came to Ikare. So, I got close to them and used to watch them during their campaigns. So, I loved it.
These people could impact upon human beings around them, so I grew up with wanting to either be a lawyer or a politician. To the glory of God, I qualified as a lawyer at London University in 1970. I was called to the bar in 1971.
Remember, it was a military regime at that time. I stumbled at a meeting in Jakande’s house; one of those underground meetings that they were holding in those days. I sat at the back, and they were discussing how to have party cards, and the question was, ‘how do we number the party cards, say Agege, Ikorodu, Ikeja?’ They couldn’t figure it out, and I put up my hand and said why don’t we do it this way? Let’s put alphabets before the numbers say, Agege – A1234, then B to Ikeja. That sounded novel to Jakande who I had never met before then.
So when we finished the meeting, he called me and asked if that was my first time of coming to the meeting and I said yes. He then enquired about my profession, and I told him I was a lawyer, and he said ‘come to these meetings regularly,’ and that was how I met Jakande and ended up being Special Adviser on Political Affairs in 1979.
He believed so much in me. I was special adviser on political affairs, and anytime there was trouble anywhere in government, I was assigned there; I was put in the Governor’s Office. We had a running battle with Bishop Okogie in those days because we were taking schools off the missionaries. Okogie refused and took us to court on the basis that the Constitution allows him to impart knowledge.
Each time we went to court, he won, and we lost based on the claim that he was imparting knowledge and that he could not be denied that right. I walked to the governor’s office one day and said we don’t have to fight about this and told him that the law gives us the right to give rules and regulations for establishing new schools. Okay, Okogie follow the Constitution, establish schools, but you have to take the rules for establishing schools from us. If you want to establish schools in Lagos State, you must have a standard Olympic Swimming Pool, you must have a standard football pitch and that until you fulfilled these requirements you could not establish a school and that was how we defeated Okogie.
Jakande couldn’t believe it, and that was how I was moved from being political adviser to legal adviser and we were shut out of power in 1983. After 1983 we went into our private businesses until 1992 when Abiola came around. I was very, close to Abiola.
In 1993, I contested for the Senate in Lagos here with Tinubu, Odi Onikosi of blessed memory and Dominic. Tinubu was just coming into politics at that time.
On the day of that election, we were all filed up, you know it was Option A4. Sarunmi was the person we knew as nobody knew Tinubu then, so Sarumi stood in front. Sarumi was the head of their group then known as Primrose.
It started to rain so heavily that the electoral officers asked us to go home, but to our chagrin, some people came back, and they were counted, and the rest is history, and that is how Tinubu emerged as a senator, and we all left it. That is when also Bucknor-Akerele also emerged with four votes at the Island.
We all went home until 1999 when AD (Alliance for Democracy) came. When the AD came, I, by the grace of God won the election to the House of Representatives under Afenifere.
Afenifere was the rallying point for all of us, but no sooner than we all won the election, everybody started to have peculiar interests. Idiosyncrasies of each person started to play out, and then some people were either with Tinubu or with Afenifere. I stayed with Afenifere and will never bite the finger that fed me. I have nothing against Tinubu, absolutely nothing, but I just could not…it was difficult for me to understand that I would abandon my old ship and join another person.
That was how the little difference emerged, and we were carrying on and carrying on, but in the party we knew ourselves. You were either for Tinubu or main Afenifere, and I was known to be main Afenifere. Of course, he who pays the piper dictates the tune. Tinubu being the governor, he would say he is the leader of the party and had the presence of those he says believed in him and by his own calculation, I could not have believed in him if I would still stay in Afenifere.
Naturally, when people were to be returned, I was not returned because I did not belong. And up till today, I thank God that I am the National Financial Secretary of Afenifere and if my race gives me a particular position to hold for them, I will believe that I am holding it in trust for them. Like when I was in the National Assembly I saw myself as leading the Yoruba Race in the National Assembly.
I did, it wasn’t easy, but I did it.
Do you see the Yoruba Race as endangered under the current dispensation?
We have always been endangered from time immemorial. Even Luggard didn’t like us from amalgamation. They didn’t hide it because when the colonialists came, with tremendous respect to the minorities, they saw three of us – they knew the Hausa very well, and they didn’t hide it, and in some of their declassified documents, they wrote that they were uneducated and could be pushed around, so they had no problem with them.
The Yoruba were educated and were asking why are you doing so so and so to us, why are you not doing this, so they didn’t particularly like us; so we have been an endangered specie from the beginning. That is us; we stand up for what we believe.
Up till now?
Yes. Up till now. There was a clarion call from Arewa Youths saying that the Igbo should quit the North from 1st of October and immediately, Afenifere said to them that if you ask the Igbo to leave, you are asking us to leave.
But they didn’t ask the Yoruba to leave?
That is us.
But the Yoruba joined the North to fight the Igbo in the civil war?
That is very unfair. We did not join the Hausa to fight the Igbo.
What happened was this, when Ojukwu decided to leave, Awolowo went to Ojukwu, took all the risk and said ‘my brother don’t do this, let’s stay in this country and restructure it. What they may be doing to you may not be fair, it is not that we are happy about it ourselves, but let’s stay in there and sort it out. That is how the question of Aburi came about. So we now went to Aburi to try and sort it out. The soldiers of East origin would go to the East, soldiers of Western origin would go to the West, and soldiers of Northern origin would go to the North. We came back.
It was Gowon who reneged. When Gowon reneged, Awolowo again went and met Ojukwu and said, we don’t need to fight a war, but Ojukwu said his mind was made up. At first, Awolowo played this card and said, (to Gowon) look, if you by act of omission or commission you make Ojukwu to leave, then we will leave. What he was saying was that if you force them out, you treat them as low people, then we will say you are saying it to us as well. This thing has to be mutually agreed.
Till today we don’t consider the Igbo wanting to leave as treasonable because that is the essence of democracy – self determination.
But Awolowo was understood to have said that if the Igbo left that the Yoruba would also leave!
Yes, by an act of omission or commission, that if you force them out and that you must do everything to encourage them to stay. Ojukwu has the right to self-determination.
Between 1967 and now what has changed that the Yoruba are now partnering the Igbo?
We have always been.
Give me an example.
Afenifere is saying that if Nigeria were to break into a war that the Yoruba will not join the North unlike what you did in 1967?
You got it wrong again. We did not join the North; we were in Nigeria.
Ok, will you stay in Nigeria to fight the Igbo?
What has changed?
Nothing has changed besides the question of self-determination. You see, this amalgamation, we were nations brought together, and you cannot force us to be together. We can talk about it to stay together, but you cannot force us to stay together. We hold that as sacrosanct.
If the Igbo decide to leave as they are saying and we are persuading them not to, and I am a member of the Southern Leaders Forum, and our decision is that we must try and salvage this nation but on the basis of justice and fair play.
What do you consider justice and fair play?
For those of us who were born before 1966, we remember that Western Nigeria had its Constitution, the North had its own Constitution, and the East had its own Constitution.
We developed at our own rate and pace, there was heavy competition between the trio, and that is simply what we are talking about. Let’s go back to what Ironsi took away from us. It was Ironsi who messed this up. It was Ironsi who suspended that Constitution and all we are asking is, go back to that Constitution. Let us go back to what Ironsi took away from us!
Why should the North agree to that given its electoral advantages in federal constituencies?
Why should I not lock my door and not allow a thief to come in and take my things? Tell me! Why should they continue to ride roughshod on me and I continue to be happy? We are saying no. In truth and indeed, nobody wants to be at a disadvantage anyone in this equation. North was growing at its own rate and used to have groundnut pyramids in those days and what is stopping them from continuing? Because of oil?
I tell you this, and maybe this is unknown to them, the Northern part of Nigeria has the best mineral resources this country can ever think of. There is gold, there is diamond, there is uranium, everything you can think of is in the North, but why are they not prospecting it?
If you can stay at your desk as managing director of one company and sign documents, and you get bribe of N100 million just for signing a document, and you tell that same man to come and establish a factory costing N100 million but will not get profit from it for the first five years, do you think the man will do such a thing?
That is what is wrong. They are getting cheap money. They are not used to labouring for money; they are used to cheap, easy money, they don’t want to work. They don’t have the need to work. But we are saying to them, work and then reap from the proceeds of your labour, but they say no, we don’t want proceeds of any labour, we don’t want to labour, we just want proceeds.
But some Southerners are even against restructuring?
Gen. Obasanjo is an enigma of a sort. You have people like that. You can be an enigma for good purpose, and you can be an enigma for a bad purpose. Awolowo was an enigma for good purpose, for liberation, for freedom, for development of his race. Obasanjo is the opposite, and I will tell you why.
The totality of Obasanjo is a Northern product, his brain, his intellect, his orientation is Hausa. What do I mean? He has been a product of the Caliphate Army. Everything he has been in life has been the result of his being in the Caliphate Army. Don’t forget that this same man was imprisoned and was brought out by the caliphate.
But as AD leader of the House, you rallied round Obasanjo?
Yes, I did.
That was because he was Yoruba, you then did not see him from the Caliphate angle?
I did not. If you watched me on television in those days, if you asked me about Obasanjo I would tell you that the last person I would vote for as the president of this country was Obasanjo.
But when he became president you rallied to support him?
At a point! And I will tell you why.
In the history of this country, no president has ever done as much as Obasanjo has done to develop the economy of this country. We were in the woods, owing Tom, Dick and Harry before Obasanjo came. He paid all the debts, and we started to have external surplus. Who wouldn’t support a person to do that? When we saw that in him we said let’s give this man a chance.
For that reason we supported him, but there was an undercurrent going on and let me say this for the first time. Atiku (Atiku Abubakar, former vice president) was using some members of the House to undermine him (Obasanjo) on a daily basis, and we thought that was not good. That was not fair.
Were they AD members or PDP members?
PDP members! In fact, when I say PDP members, I mean top PDP members.
Including Speaker Na‘Abba?
Possibly! Most likely, probably and we saw it, and we thought that was not fair.
During the move to impeach Obasanjo you were in the Speaker’s Office when Atiku came to mediate. Is it true that Atiku had a private briefing with Na‘Abba in an inner room?
Na‘Abba is very close to Atiku. Do I need to say more than that? That Na‘Abba could have been working for Atiku? Do I need to say more than that? And we saw it, and there was no point. Everything Obasanjo did was not good. There was nothing he did that was good in the eyes of Na‘Abba. If Obasanjo was going to the toilet, it was bad, if Obasanjo was having breakfast it was wrong for him to have breakfast and it got to the point that Na‘Abba was putting posters around Abuja pushing himself as Speaker. And we said no, this should not happen and I stood up with my AD members and fought it.
We didn’t vote Obasanjo, no. If tomorrow you ask me to vote, I will not vote Obasanjo; but in those days he was doing some right things and we supported the right things he was doing. This is the typical thing about the Yoruba race if I don’t like you and you are doing the right thing I will still support you. That is the Yoruba man for you. The sense of justice is innate in us; I don’t care what anyone says.
In the days of NCNC, my senior brother was in the Western House of Assembly as an NCNC member. He was a minister in the Old Western Nigeria House of Assembly as NCNC member. That is us!
But Paul Unongo in a recent interview with Vanguard, accused the sage, Obafemi Awolowo of introducing ethnic politics when NCNC members overnight defected to the Action Group?
This is what happened. We say in Yoruba that there is a limit to your wanting to be nice to a person. If that person now wants to see you as a fool, we can say, stop there my brother; I am not a fool. What happened was that the NCNC was a nationalistic party; the AG was not that much of a nationalistic party. In the whole of Lagos, all council elections were being won by NCNC even though Yoruba were the people being voted for such as Adelabu, Fadahunsi, Olaitan. We didn’t see any difference between us and the Ibo man; we were all human beings, we were just looking at the programmes of each party.
This thing had been brewing since Zik and Awo were in London. They had these various associations, and it was Zik in one of those associations who said this (Awo) is a Yoruba man, don’t follow him and that was how that thing started. When they came back, Awolowo just overlooked it but when Zik was winning in Lagos and was now disparaging our culture…
In what way?
You know it. We tried to swallow it and pretend that there was nothing – Nnamdi Kanu is doing the same thing now. Yes, Kanu is doing the same thing, but we will pretend as if we don’t know.
Kanu in one of his videos said that if any Ibo man goes to a church headed by a Yoruba man, that man is a fool!
What did Zik say?
It is like he said that he is going to rule us whether we liked it or not. He was going to be in charge, he was going to rule the East, he was going to rule the North, and he was going to rule the West.
We said we didn’t mind you ruling the East, we won’t come there. We won’t come to fight election in the East, and we never did. So, why don’t you fight election in your own area and we fight election in our own area?
All Awolowo did was to say fair enough, this is our house, it is entirely up to you, if you are saying to yourself that you cannot manage your house, you need a stranger to manage it for you, it is up to you. He did not say more than that. What the Yoruba of those days were virtually saying to themselves was we cannot manage our home.
It is just like the UK saying, get a German to come and rule us because Theresa May is not doing well. I don’t think that would be acceptable to an Englishman.
That is not tribalism, it is you saying hold on to your turf, and I will hold on to my turf; if you call that tribalism, we take it.
What does the defeat of the APC in the Osun West Senate contest mean to you?
I am from Osun. We have been badly treated; we have not been governed properly by the governor.
Sometimes, I shudder and ask could this be deliberate? Could this be intentional? This is because I happened to know the governor and knew him growing up as a child.
I also knew him in Alimosho, nice young man and he rose up to be a commissioner in Lagos State. But are you now telling me that a man who served as commissioner for works in Lagos for eight years will not know the rudiments of running a government? Will such a person be in charge of a state and refuse to conduct local government elections? Will such a person be in charge of a state and refuse to appoint commissioners? Is that not even a constitutional aberration? For somebody to be a governor and refuse to appoint commissioners, what is the difference between being a dictator and being a democrat? A democratically elected governor who refuses to appoint commissioners, is he not a sole administrator? That is a dictator, whatever name you call it. So, what could have made this man to think that that is the best way to run Osun State?
Of course, when you sow the wind, you will reap the whirlwind. For almost eight years he has been sowing the wind and now, he must reap the whirlwind. I am sure that he is not surprised that he is losing.
Are you telling me that you don’t need commissioners to make inputs into what you do? It is unbelievable!
It beats my imagination. He is the lord of the manor, no commissioner, no person to ask him questions, nobody to make inputs and so he wakes up one day and says, I want to build an international airport!
Under normal circumstances, who did the quantity surveying? There should have been a lot of underground work before you say you want to build an international airport and commit several millions which are all gone into the drain now.
There is no airport there. I have the picture of the airport; there is only one dilapidated building standing there.
Then you wake up one day and say you want to build an interdenominational something? Have you had of government building churches? It is because he is alone, he is thinking for himself. He is thinking for himself and talking to himself. He is sowing the wind, and he is reaping the whirlwind.
How does this affect the 2018 governorship election?
He will lose(He meant Aregbesola’s candidate as he is in his second tenure).
So you think the APC will lose?
If he doesn’t lose, I will be shocked. No salaries paid, pensioners are not paid, you go and buy a helicopter for Osun State, and nobody sees the helicopter, except occasionally when you want to go from Oshogbo to Ipetu-Ijesha. By road, it is less than one hour, and you are taking a helicopter there? So, why do we need a helicopter for? What is the size of Osun State in any case?
Have you heard about the educational system in Osun State? You have heard about the opon-imo, not one single one available anymore and we spent billions on it.
All the students in Osun State must wear the same uniform. It is unfair, completely unfair, totally unfair. It is not right. I think he is not being fair to Tinubu. He has done great damage to the man.
I feel sorry for Tinubu, and I am sure he believed in him, and I don’t know what will be going on in the mind of Tinubu now. He fought hard to get him there and at a point in time, during the struggle, he gave Aregbesola his bullet proof vehicle to use just to protect him. What then can a leader do?
And now see what he is getting. Remember when they were about to do the last general elections, Tinubu had to physically go there just to rescue him. So, would they have expected him to have gone to campaign for him for the Osun West senatorial bye-election?
Or would you have expected Bisi Akande to go and campaign for him? So they left him to his own and now he can see himself. He cannot win. There is no way he can go about it. Teachers are not paid, pensioners are not paid, no roads, nothing! Let him point to one thing! He has been trying to build one bridge at Gbongban.
It is unfortunate, very unfortunate, very unfortunate.
What is the way out for Nigeria given the call for restructuring?
We don’t have a choice, and I hope that common choice will prevail. We all know that things are not right, we all know unless we are pretending. We have all been sitting on this fossil oil from the Niger Delta; time is running out on it, development is running out on it. Volvo, one of the biggest car manufacturing companies in the world will soon stop manufacturing cars using fossil oil.
Very soon, the price of crude oil will be $15 or so. Let us go by what we used to have. Let us learn how to work. Even the Holy Bible says you reap out of your sweat. Let us also work, let us begin to tell our children that they need to work. Let us institutionalise the dignity of labour; it is not here anymore.
Take all these things away from the exclusive list apart from Foreign Affairs, Defence, Immigration, Citizenship.
Give police to each region; we used to have it before. Do you know that each region used to have its own police?
Do you remember that when Nigeria was being amalgamated that the North insisted that it be put in the document; the right to secession and self-determination. But those were the things that Ironsi removed through the Unification Decree of 1966. That is where the problem started. Western Nigeria had its own Constitution; the East had its own, the North had its own. As a matter of fact, Western Nigeria had its own Agent-General in London and the house being used by Nigeria in London now was owned by Western Nigeria. We were competing. The first television station in Africa was from Western Nigeria. But now, we cannot build railways just because it is in the exclusive list.
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