A former chairman of the National Democratic Coalition, Ayo Adebanjo has shown that old age is not a reason to stop agitating for a better country, writes Shola Oyeyipo
Even now that he has clocked the ripe age of 90, former National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) chieftain and leading member of the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, is by every measurable standard, one of the few rare breeds on the Nigerian political turf.
Hate him or like him, you cannot but agree that he has remained a dogged, fearless, honest fighter and a dyed in the wool seeker of a better Nigeria, and the reason is understandable. It is because he is among the few living people who were privileged to cut their political teeth under the tutelage of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
He was about 32 years old when Nigeria attained independence in 1960. Like so many other Nigerians, he saw the country in its heydays – when it promised to join the league of greater nations on the globe, but sadly enough, he is still around to see the continued gradual atrophy of the golden opportunities. And it is basically for these reasons that he said he could not remain silent on Nigeria as long as he lives and things are not done right.
He has been a front line voice in condemning successive governments and national leaders for their failures.
According to him, his relationship with and trainings under Awolowo got him genuinely committed to the entrenchment of a new social order and to persistently criticise anyone he considers as standing in the way of Nigeria’s political development and corresponding progress.
Born on April 10, 1928 to Chief Joel Adedairo Adebanjo and Salawatu Anomo Adebanjo in Ijebu Ogbu Oke in Odogbolu Local Government Area of Ogun State he had his primary and secondary education in Lagos. Later, Adebanjo had a short stint at the Ministry of Health, Lagos.
He was sacked from the job on the grounds that he was rude to an expatriate after he participated in a demonstration for self-governance in Nigeria. He later joined the Nigerian Tribune as a journalist. From the newspaper owned by Awolowo, he was recruited into the Action Group and became the pioneer organising secretary.
This was the position he held between 1947 and 1953 before he proceeded to the United Kingdom to study law. He was called to the Bar in Lincocin City in 1961. On his return to Nigeria, he joined Awolowo’s chambers as a practising lawyer until the crisis of the Action Group in 1966, where leaders of the party, including him, were charged with treasonable felony.
Adebanjo was in Ghana on exile from 1966 to 1967. He later returned to Awolowo to form the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and from then on he has maintained a place of prominence in the evolution of the Nigerian political history.
The elder statesman was a die-hard Zikist – supporter of late Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe, who started buying copies of the West African Pilot published by the latter when he was a standard five student. He was however swayed by superior argument at the emergence of Awolowo, who proffered federalism as against the unitary system Azikiwe canvassed.
He has taken strong stances on a number of issues in Nigeria, but at the moment, his position is that without restructuring, Nigeria will eventually stop to exist as a country, stressing that: “Without restructuring, there is no Nigeria. No matter how you delay restructuring, if you don’t do it, that is the end of Nigeria and I don’t mince words about it. You won’t have political stability without restructuring and without political stability, there can be no progress.
“There will be no political stability without having the national question being resolved. The national question is that the federating units must be satisfied with the conditions of being together. That is the consensus of those of us who have been agitating for restructuring.”
His argument has been that the 1959 and the 1963 federal and regional constitutions of Nigeria were symbolic of true federalism that Nigeria’s founding fathers put in place.
For those who think corruption was a recent phenomenon in Nigeria, Adebanjo said it dated back to the early days of the country. However, and understandably so, it was not this rampant. He said: “We should be apologizing and asking God to forgive us for those who we thought were corrupt then compared to what is happening now. They were 10 percenters. Our people now are 150 percenters in corruption.”
A walking encyclopedia of Nigeria’s history, Adebanjo is ever willing and ready to share with anyone who cares to listen his knowledge of the rich history of the country. And he will tell you the history in the most fascinating manner.
In an interview last year with Seye Kehinde, City People Publisher, when he was 89, Adebanjo explained why he refused to give up on Nigeria. He said: “Because we need to keep educating our children. That is why I am always open to press men because each time I grant interviews, I get feedbacks of people, who said they had learnt one thing or the other from it, particularly those from the South and Yorubaland. If you don’t take interest in what is happening now, the blind people will be leading you with your two eyes open.
“I am always surprised when I see some of those who say they are opposed to restructuring. This happens to be people who were once elected into public office and fed on the principle of federation, who were elected on the basis of support for federalism. It makes me feel sad, all because some of them have the illusion that working with the Northerners and agreeing with them can make you President.
“The truth is that, bulk of the Northern conservatives who are in government are led by Buhari. They don’t want to rule, they want to dominate. Even if you say you want peace and you want us to live together why are you opposed to our sitting down together to discuss our problems? To this very moment that the Biafra people are agitating, we have never had agitation for separation in Yorubaland. We have always been saying let us sit together and talk.
“Even the Acting President tried to insult me and others recently when he said we must learn to live together. It is not a question of being together now. What we are agitating for is the conditions of living together amicably, that we must agree to. We have passed the stage of people preaching to us that we must learn to live together, that has been causing confusion. Since the conditions under which you want us to live together which I described as the unity of the horse and the rider, where you will be the horse and they are the rider.
“Unfortunately, the Vice President, myself and his father are followers of Chief Awolowo. I can say that the Acting President was born under a federation. Just like the constitution we are asking for now, they too made the manifesto of APC by Buhari and Asiwaju in which they say they are going to do restructuring. So, my dear Acting President, first class lawyer, brilliant lawyer, now told us in Nigeria at this stage that restructuring is not the priority now, it is the diversification of the economy. It is unfortunate.
The Acting President must be reminded that he was the Attorney General of Lagos that took Obasanjo to court over the question of local government, denying them of their rights. What has now changed ever since? Is it because he is now the Acting President? Those are the things that really make me sad. How people sing another song once they get into office.”
Adebanjo is one of the few remaining statesmen who are not afraid to speak truth to power. For doing this, he was called all sorts of names but he has remained undaunted.
A walking encyclopedia of Nigeria’s history, Adebanjo is ever willing and ready to share with anyone who cares to listen his knowledge of the rich history of the country