Senator Femi Okunrounmu, a chieftain of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, in this interview, examined the implications of the rash of defections that has hit the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC and concluded that the development is not in the interest of the nation. He also spoke on the alliance among major groups in the country, the cat and dog relationship between the executive and legislature among other major national issues.
The calls for restructuring and for an end to the mindless killings in the country are two common denominators that unite the major ethnic nationalities against the current leadership in the country. How far do you think this alliance will work considering the fact that each of these groups still has its own peculiar aspirations and interests?
As long as we agree on restructuring it doesn’t matter if they have other things that are peculiar to them. There must be one thing common to us and that is the urge to have the country restructured and to end the killings. I believe that in all these alliances that are being formed by various groups those are the two common denominators that run through all of them – restructuring and end to the killings by getting rid of Buhari. Buhari is not for restructuring and to be able to get restructuring we must get rid of him. And also to stop the killings we must get rid of him because he is the one behind the killings.
But there was the challenge of insecurity in the country before Buhari came to power?
Yes we had the problem of Boko Haram which everybody has his own theory about as to who was behind it but I will not like to go into that now because that one is not clear cut but as far as the current killings in the country are concerned, we are sure there is no doubt over who is behind them. We don’t have any doubts over who is supporting them and who is sympathetic to them. We know exactly who their backers are and who is their major backer? That is Buhari.
Historically, Yoruba have not been so forunate going into alliances. Do you see this particular alliance working out in favour of the Yoruba?
In the past we have all been short-sighted. The Yoruba, the Igbo and even the South-south people have all been very naive and very short-sighted. It is only now that we have been able to really think. In Nigeria we have a common oppressor now and our common oppressor is the Fulani. When it suits the Fulani, they will strike an alliance with the Yoruba against the Igbo; when it suits them they will strike an alliance with the Igbo against the Yoruba. At all times it is the Fulani that oppress all of us. We are now wiser to know that our common oppressor is the Fulani. So, we need to call them to order that if we must have one Nigeria it has to be one Nigeria, where all ethnic groups are equal; where there must be justice for all.
Does it mean that you are not entertaining the fear of the possibility of being betrayed just as it happened in the past?
That fear is always there but what is curtailing that fear now is the fact that all of us are suffering from the Fulani imperialism and from the Fulani autocracy. Everybody is suffering. Look at what happened to IPOB. Nobody knows where Nnamdi Kanu is up till date. The Igbo are tired and don’t want to be part of the country again, everybody is just appealing to them to give restructuring a chance. They don’t even believe in restructuring, they just want to break away. The South-south people on their own part are very aggrieved; they have never been as aggrieved as they are today. So, the fear that any section may betray us has always been there but I think the fear is diminished by the fact that we are all oppressed and we are all feeling it now.
Are you not disturbed by the fact the alliance you are talking about is being done in conjunction with politicians that are disgruntled against the government because of the fear that they might lose out in the party?
When you have a goal everybody who is in support of that goal must be welcomed in the alliance. You must welcome everyone who shares the goal with you and must give everybody a chance. How to curtail them in case they want to derail your goal is a different matter. But as it stands, everybody is welcomed in the alliance provided they share the same goals of restructuring and of removing Buhari.
We are witnessing a rush of defections in the last few days. How do you assess this development?
It is not in the interest of the nation that politicians are defecting from one party to the other. But you see, as a proverb says, if a person is always stealing for you, a day is coming that he will steal from you. Four years ago when they were defecting from PDP to APC, they were all laughing, rejoicing to be clever politicians. The same people who thought they were very clever by encouraging defectors from PDP to APC shouldn’t be so concerned now because they are doing a similar thing to them. In either case defection is not good for Nigerian politics. But as it is, it is tit for tat.
The recently concluded election in Ekiti State has continued to generate controversy. Isn’t it disturbing that such controversy still trails our electoral system in less than a year to major elections in the country?
It is disturbing because there is a major fear that this development has the potential of destroying what we call democracy in Nigeria. We are just calling it democracy, Nigeria does not practice democracy as it is because democracy entails that you give the people a chance to choose their leaders. As it is now the leadership is being purchased. Political positions are being bought; it is whoever has more money to give to the voters that get elected. In Ekiti, they paid between N5,000 and N10, 000 for each vote. And given the level of poverty of our people, it is difficult to resist the temptation of selling their votes. My fear is that this is likely to be the end of democracy in Nigeria. So, we have to go back to the drawing board and see how we can have real political parties that will campaign for votes from the people and that will really depend on the vote cast to be in power. Right now we are not doing that and APC is almost sure it will be re-elected because Buhari has all the money of Nigeria to spend and he is depending on that to buy the votes of Nigerians to return to power. If he does that, that might be the end of Nigeria. Because Nigerians will not sit back and be waiting to welcome him again. If Nigerians know that he has not been voted for and he declares himself president, this country won’t remain what it is today again.
Apart from the regroupings and the alliances going on in the country now, Nigerians, despite the misgovernance and bad leadership being experienced, are not so keen to mount the kind of pressure we saw against the military, against the current leadership.
It is easy to mount opposition against the military because the whole world knows that military rule is an aberration and there is no pretense military rule is autocratic, that makes it easy to get public opinion against the military. But in case of bad civilian government, they hide under the fact that they are democratically elected, even though we didn’t elect them: they bought their way to power, they are hiding under the pretense that they were democratically elected and the world is not very kind to people who try to remove democratically elected government. The only way we can remove them is to vote them out. But if we cannot vote them out, we will let the whole world know that we didn’t elect them; they are just imposing themselves on us. We should let them know that they are election riggers by demonstrating against them on the streets. Our people don’t want to sacrifice anything; they don’t want to sacrifice their comfort, their luxury and their convenience. Until we are all prepared to get to the streets and demonstrate against bad governance, we will continue to have bad governance because the politicians do not want to govern well on their own accord. They want to cheat and serve their own pockets. It is only pressure from the public that can keep them on their toes, so we must be prepared for that at all times as Nigerians if we want good governance.
In the history of elections in Nigeria, the incumbent hold the aces. In view of this, don’t you think the Yoruba need to reconsider their stance in order not to lose out should the APC government come back to power?
The Yoruba have never been dependent on being part of the Federal Government before Yoruba land makes progress. Throughout the First Republic, we were not part of the Federal Government yet we made the greatest progress in Nigeria. So, if the Federal Government is a looting government. The Yoruba don’t have to be part of it. We can forge ahead on our own by having our own good governance in Yoruba land. Let’s forget about the desperation of joining the mainstream, Nigerian mainstream has always been a bad one. Yoruba made a great mistake by joining the mainstream in the Fourth Republic. It was by joining the mainstream that we all dragged Nigeria back. The Yoruba have always been the ones pulling Nigeria up when others were dragging it down. It is better we don’t join the mainstream if it remains a bad one.
Will Afenifere back the president should he concede to restructure Nigeria and do what you think should be done to stop the killings in the country?
Of course, if the president suddenly becomes a saint and becomes a true democrat and all of a sudden he begins to love all the ethnic groups in the country equally without showing any bias to any group. If in addition to all these, he begins right away to restructure Nigeria and arrest the killers and jail them, of course, we will know he is a different man. But even today as I am speaking with you, we all know he is not a different man. Look at the officer in charge of Plateau State, General Solape who arrested some members of Miyetti Allah in connection with the killings in the state, he was asked to transfer those people he arrested to Abuja. Of course, the law states that they should be tried where they allegedly committed the crime for which they were arrested. If they committed the crime in Plateau, why should they be transferred to Abuja. The whole idea of transferring them to Abuja is to free them. So, the man was resisting the pressure to transfer them to Abuja and because of that he was removed. That does not show that they want to try these killers. Buhari wants to protect them so that they don’t get tried. So, that your question is very theoretical: Buhari can never change.
The relationship between the executive arm of the government and the legislative arm has been frosty for some time now with both of them claiming to be working for interest of the masses. How correct is this?
It is because we the people are indolent while the executive and legislative arms are full of rascals. We have a rascally executive that is stealing money left, right and centre, and a rascally legislature that is doing as it pleases it; that is catering for itself. We have been searching for years about the ridiculous amount they are budgeting for themselves and the allowances they are getting including the un-budgeted and illegal allowances they are giving to themselves. So, when you see them quarreling, it is for their own selfish interest. The executive we have today is not good for democracy, likewise the legislature. Unfortunately, the people are not doing enough to keep them on their toes. In democracy, the people have the responsibility to keep government on its toes.
As it is, the same set of people you classified as rascals are most likely to be at the forefront of a restructured Nigeria. Do you see Nigeria reaping the benefits of restructuring with the same set of people at the helm of affairs?
If we get a government that supports restructuring, every part of the country will have greater autonomy and the central government will be less powerful, there will be less hold on each of the sections. If we have restructuring, the Western region can go back to develop its economic programmes, it will have its own educational programme and will be able to generate its own resources and design the kind of programmes that will benefit its people. The East can do the same thing. It won’t be a case of rascals sitting down in Abuja to decide the fate of everybody in Nigeria. Restructuring will give us unity in diversity and will recognise the diversities of the various groups in Nigeria by giving autonomy to those sections so that they can develop along their own priority line.