RESTRUCTURING: CHIEF Ayo Adebanjo Replies Tanko Yakassai, Says Britain And The North Are Conspiring Against The South

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CHIEF Ayo Adebanjo, elder statesman and staunch follower of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in this interview, tackles claims made by fellow elder-statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai on the issue of restructuring as published on these pages last Monday.

Adebanjo strongly rebuffs claims by Yakassai that the agitation for restructuring from the Southwest was surreptitiously aimed to dominate the rest of the country as he explains that true federalism was the concept on which Nigeria’s independence was founded on. He also tackles the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC for drawing back from its manifesto.

Excerpts: How true is Tanko Yakassai’s claim that the South West has been troubling Nigeria since 1953?

If the North was not ready for independence, how can we, because we want independence, make it an effort to dominate? We contested elections in 1950, and they claimed to have won, but when we got to the parliament, we as a progressive party wanted to be free from colonial rule. It was not only the Action Group; the NCNC was with us, it was only the North that said they were not ready.

Then, Tafawa Balewa led his people out of Parliament, that was what caused the crisis and it was not because anybody wanted to dominate. We all agreed on self-government for Nigeria.

As a result of the crisis, the colonial office invited the leaders to London and it was there Chief Awolowo made it clear to them that the unitary form of government they were bequeathing us, was not working.

Before then, the leader of the party in each region, was in charge of government business, it was as a result of the constitutional conference of 1954 that true federalism was established but our leaders agreed to stay together on the principle of federalism and coming back from the meeting, the position of premiership was established in the Constitution. Tanko Yakassai should fault me on this. Awolowo became premier in the West, Sardauna in the North and Nnamdi Azikiwe in the East and the Constitution of each region was written separately. By the time they did that, the North said they were not ready for self-government but we demanded it in 1957 and because they said they were not ready, they delayed till 1959. It was their (North’s) delay that pushed our independence back 1960.

Is it true that the West moved a motion for independence in order to dominate the rest of the country?

That is Yakassai’s interpretation because there is no evidence of that. If we wanted to do that, why did the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, NCNC, support us (Action Group)? So, they supported us in order to dominate? I feel sad that such a statement is coming from Tanko Yakassai, he is one of the remaining few that I thought would be politically rational and progressive in the North because he was a follower of Aminu Kano.

When the Northern People’s Congress, NPC showed its conservative bent, in the North,  Aminu Kano led the Northern Elements Progressive Union, NEPU, to oppose the Sardauna and the Action Group supported the NEPU in the election of 1959 because they were opposed to the conservative idea of the NPC. Yakassai should deny that, just as he supported Chike Obi in the East at that time against Azikiwe, who was also opposed to federalism.

All progressives combined to get independence, so it was not a question of anybody trying to dominate. We all wanted freedom from colonial rule. It was because the British were supporting them (North) at that time and they were just opportunists. It was not a question of anybody wanting to dominate; it was a question of progressive people wanting freedom for our people.

Yakassai also alleged that it was because the Action Group could not match the North in any competitive election that its leaders resorted to coup plotting. How true is this?

It is unfortunate that this is coming from Tanko Yakassai. It was the North that crept into the crisis of the Action Group because Ladoke Akintola wanted us (AG) to have an alliance with the NPC but Chief Awolowo said no that they were not progressive enough. So, they waded into the crisis in the AG as they are trying to wade into the PDP crisis now. That was what led to that disagreement, and it was they (North) that planned the arrest of Chief Awolowo, of which I was a victim. I was one of those arrested for treasonable felony.

So, it was a question of playing politics with each other.  It was the North doing divide and rule as they are doing now. They (North) want to divide the South so that they can take the upper hand. Since that time, the Action Group has been careful about the fact that if the progressives are not united, they can never win but the North had the backing of the colonialists.

Is it also true that restructuring has been the same slogan but has been changing colour as has been alleged by Yakassai?

I was expecting Tanko Yakassai to have better information and intelligence; I don’t believe he is that unintelligent, he is just being mischievous. The question of restructuring has no difference other than the establishment of federalism which was settled in 1954. Awolowo had been talking of federalism since 1947. Ever before the McPherson constitution came into existence; and when the McPherson constitution came into existence in 1954, it was on that basis that he (Awo) said that the Constitution would not work. So, after the crisis of 1953, he made it clear to the British people; and even at that time, Azikiwe was a unitarist. It was at the (1953) Constitution conference that Azikiwe became a federalist.

It was in 1953, after the return of the delegates from the London constitutional conference, that Azikiwe declared that federalism is imperative, you can check this one up. It was on that basis that the new constitution, which we used till independence, was established. It was agreed to by Sardauna, Awolowo, and Azikiwe and sanctioned by the colonial office. The Constitutions of each region at that time were written separately to the extent that each region had the freedom to open embassies abroad.

The Western region opened an embassy in London, which was where I got married in 1960. The North too followed.  That was what we had until independence. So, we have been talking about federalism even before independence, and we agreed on federalism at the constitutional conference. We had our problems before then but ever since we have been living together. Every region was developing at its own pace; these are all the things we say must go back to. We were living peacefully until 1966 when the army came and destroyed that constitution and put up their structure. Hence, I often say that it was the military that de-structured Nigeria. The structure that the army found during the coup was federalism, but they established theirs.

So, when they said they wanted to return us to civilian rule, NADECO and Afenifere now said take us back to where we started. That was the origin of Sovereign National Conference, if the military was going, we told them to allow us to agree on how we are going to stay together.

We were specific, we wanted the conference to establish federalism in Nigeria, but General Abubakar Abdulsalami was anxious to go. When we were insisting, people said the Action Group are stubborn like Nigeria, but we could see, and that is what is happening now. It is amusing that progressives, who inherited progressiveness with Awolowo are now dilly-dallying over restructuring.

Restructuring does not mean anything other than a return to federalism, that is all. What we are saying is: the army forcefully took over power, and they gave a Constitution to us, they said they are now going, they were insisting that we should use the Constitution they used to rule us and progressives are supporting that! That is the contention. Whether it is restructuring, devolution of power, we are still talking the same thing; it is only because they want to confuse.

I don’t believe that they do not understand. Look at El-Rufai still asking what are they restructuring? He is one of those who wrote the APC manifesto, and they put restructuring there. What don’t they understand by restructuring when they put it there if they are not making fools of themselves?

So, it is mischievous and unfortunate for Tanko Yakassai to start to falsify history that is the background. That is why I say today that those of them opposed to restructuring, are they more northern than the Sardauna?

Yakassai also accused South West leaders of dividing the country with calls for restructuring?

That is very mischievous of Tanko Yakassai. Does he not know that since independence, we have been shouting that the federation was awkward when the Northern region at that time, was bigger than the two other regions put together? And we have been asking for the creation of more states for the minorities, that is not anybody’s agitation.

We have been agitating for the minorities even before independence, and at independence, it was settled. It was at the constitutional conference that the Willinks Commission was established for the minorities. He should go and check because I am not sure whether he (Yakassai) was a member but Aminu Kano was a member of that delegation.

So, it was a matter of leaders coming together to agree on how they want to live together at independence and not a question of whether anybody wants to do anything.

On Yakassai’s claim that the South cannot change the Constitution without the North?

It shows his (Yakassai) absolute ignorance. We have no Constitution. The Constitution he is asking us to obey is not our Constitution, and we did not make it. Let him dispute that, it was the army that took government by force, ruled us with that Constitution and wants to continue to rule us after they have left. It is a shame for any progressive politician to take pride in the Constitution made by the military.

Why must we forsake the Constitution made by our founding fathers? That is the question Tanko Yakassai should answer. The federalism I am asking us to go back to is the Constitution the leaders of the country agreed to. He wants to obey the constitution imposed on us by the military composed of northern people, and they did the Constitution in a way that the South was at a disadvantage; we will not take that.

The South cannot be bound by a Constitution imposed on them, and he cannot say we did this Constitution. Is this the Constitution Sardauna, Awolowo and Azikiwe made for us? That is the question he should answer.

He also said that any northerner, who is aware of the strategic position of the region, would not be afraid of any constitutional changes because he knows that it (restructure) cannot happen without his consent. How do you react to this?

Yes, he will say that because he knows the Constitution, such as this, was made against the South by the military led by the North and that is why we are opposing it. You cannot rule us by a constitution we did not agree to. That is the Constitution imposed on us by the northern military. It was a northern military Constitution he is now asking us to operate.

So, he is expecting us to assent to a Constitution agreeable to him and unfavourable to us what type of thing is that? When people say restructuring is aimed at breaking Nigeria, what people are arguing is, we must agree on the terms of staying together and those terms were agreed upon in 1954 that we should live under federal Constitution.

It is that Constitution that the army changed when they came in 1966 by force. He should deny that what we are asking him to do now is against what Sardauna, Awolowo and Azikiwe agreed to and not what the military is saying. He should not confuse the people.

He alleged that those agitating for restructuring are trying to impose their views on the minority.

I am the more sad to hear that from Tanko Yakassai because he is one of the few remaining northerners that I thought can put sanity into the politics of the country. If that is the way he is still arguing, it is just unfortunate.

Anyway, it must be clear to Tanko Yakassai that the condition laid by the military to rule us by force is not acceptable to us in the South. Whatever he may think about that, our condition of living together was settled by all the leaders of the country democratically and approved by the colonial office in 1954 up to 1960 is what we are arguing for.

But why do you think the North is afraid of restructuring?

The North is afraid of restructuring because if you look at the Constitution, all that we are complaining of were imposed by the military who were in office. The creation of states was arbitrary; the creation of local governments was arbitrary. The population they had was imposed upon us by the British, where is the population now?

He does not understand what restructuring is all about. Restructuring is going back to federalism as agreed to. Let him say that is not so. If restructuring is different from federalism we are advocating for, then, I plead guilty.

If people like Tanko Yakassai are still talking this way, they are the people who don’t want this country to stay together. Amalgamation was imposed upon us by the British, we have agreed to that because we see the advantage of being together but what we are now saying is that let us agree on the terms of living together, it was on those terms we agreed to in 1954. These are issues, Tanko Yakassai should address the issues, he should not bastardise restructuring.

The question of staying together is established but what we are disputing is the condition of staying together which has been perverted by the military under this Constitution.

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