The National Coordinator of the Oo’dua Peoples Congress, Mr. Gani Adams, tells TOBI AWORINDEabout his grievances against former President Olusegun Obasanjo and a former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu
The Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, recently passed away. What do you think the late monarch will be remembered for?
Kabiyesi (Oba Sijuwade) was one of the best to have ascended that throne. He was a socialite and a person who knew how to have his way in projecting the culture of Yorubaland. In Ife, hardly would you see any of the people taking Kabiyesi to court. And you know the Yoruba are known for seeking justice whenever they feel they have been treated unfairly. Ife happens to be a very big town; for him (Ooni) to have presided over the kingdom for about 35 years, he was a great man. He projected that stool to the extent that whoever succeeds him already has a template. There is no way he (the successor) can reduce the popularity. It is a great loss to the Yoruba race, to Nigeria, Africa and the whole world.
Hearing the news of his death was a huge shock. For the past four years during the Oduduwa Festival, you would feel the presence of Kabiyesi, despite the health challenges that came with old age — he was 85. He would sit with us for a period of up to three hours.
You would never have seen Ooni talking anyhow; he could attend 10 events, but hardly would he speak at two of the events. He would rather ask one of his aides to speak on his behalf. But during the Oduduwa Festival, Kabiyesi would give a speech of up to 30 minutes. That stool is the source of the entire Yoruba race; it has been in existence for more than 20,000 years. We pray that whoever will succeed him will be crowned from heaven.
How would you describe your relationship with the late Ooni?
Ooni was the kind of monarch that would not underrate any hard-working individual in Yorubaland despite the level of his affluence and influence. Whenever I host a birthday celebration, he would send three powerful chiefs to represent him. Before I became close to him, I had a wrong perception of him. When you sit down with some of our politicians, you would hear different things about him. But sitting down with him (Ooni) in his palace turned out to be a delight.
We discussed at length about the unity of the Yoruba race. I remember vividly that around November 1999, when there was a serious factional crisis in the Oo’dua Peoples Congress, he was the first human being in Yorubaland to call for a reconciliation between Dr. Frederick Fasehun and I.
You know how people perceived the OPC back then; even to call us together, you would think twice about your security. But he took the risk because he, as the Alaroye Oodua (Mouthpiece of Oduduwa), needed to reconcile us. His efforts singlehandedly reduced the tension between the two leaders, before God used (former Ogun State governor) Gbenga Daniel in March 2005 to completely resolve the dispute.
Anytime there was a challenge on how the Yoruba should move forward, Ooni would summon all the socio-cultural and political leaders. Apart from writing a letter, he would call you personally.
His last assignment for Yorubaland was last year when the national conference was approaching. He called a conference of all 50 Yoruba leaders to his palace and asked us, ‘What are you doing? What preparations have you made to defend the interest of the Yoruba? Form a committee in my presence’. So, in the presence of the Ooni and some other Obas, we formed a committee. (A former Secretary to the Government of the Federation) Chief Olu Falae was the chairman of the committee, (a former Chief of Defence Staff) Lt.-Gen. Alani Akinrinade was the vice chairman, and (former Secretary General, Yoruba Council of Elders) Dr. Kunle Olajide was the secretary. That was how we began the Yoruba agenda, there in Ooni’s palace. From there, we took the meeting to (a former Commissioner for Education in the defunct Western Region) Pa Olaniwun Ajayi’s residence in Ishara-Remo. Assuming he did not take the initiative, we would have gone to the national conference without an agenda.
I pray God will give us someone who loves the Yoruba heritage as he did; someone who will continue with a strong passion for our identity and be liberal about religion, not a religious fanatic, who will choose one religion and disregard the other two.
During the Goodluck Jonathan administration, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo displayed a strong dislike for the former’s leadership style. What is your view on Obasanjo’s criticisms?
Obasanjo did not normally agree with any President for a period of four years. If he is praising you at the beginning, within two years, he will have problems with you. There is no human being on earth that can satisfy Obasanjo. He is just like a father, but that is the truth. Even when former President Shehu Shagari was there, within four years, Obasanjo started nursing certain feelings towards him. When Buhari was there, from 1984 to 1985, Obasanjo refused to do anything with him; meanwhile, he was dining and wining tactically with (a former Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim) Babangida. If you don’t come to Ota farm, even coming to him, he can set you up.
He had issues with (Gen. Sani) Abacha before he was arrested and later was saying (late Chief Moshood) Abiola was not the Messiah—the same Abiola, who had personally prostrated before Prof. Wole Soyinka in Sheraton Hotel, Lagos, begging him to let Obasanjo become the United Nations Secretary General. But when Abiola’s turn came, he turned his back on him.
He was in prison when Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar came to in power. In 1999, he (Obasanjo) was given power; he dealt with virtually 90 per cent of the people that assisted him from prison to power. He disagreed with (the late President) Umar Yar’Adua for befriending Daniel.
When Jonathan came into power, within two and a half years as Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party’s Board of Trustees, Obasanjo had issues with him. Before the end of Jonathan’s four years, he tore his PDP membership card. I have never seen any person on earth, who a party would bring from prison to become president for eight years. No matter the situation or issue, couldn’t he have been silent like Abdulsalami or Yakubu Gowon? Is it when one becomes an elder statesman that he should become an activist? If we, as activists, are heating up the polity, as an elder statesman, he should tactically caution us or persuade us. But when an elder statesman, who has been in power for 11 years, becomes an activist to the point that he campaigned publicly for the candidate of a party, then you can be sure something is wrong.
National Coordinator, Oodua People’s Congress, Otunba Gani Adams
Do you agree with Obasanjo’s view that Awolowo was not the political leader of the Yoruba?
Do you agree with Obasanjo’s view that Awolowo was not the political leader of the Yoruba?
Thank God for (former Ogun State governor) Chief Olusegun Osoba for giving us an opportunity to remember history at the national conference. As a journalist in those days, he refreshed our memories: On August 16, 1966, all leaders in Yorubaland endorsed Awolowo (as Yoruba leader) and Obasanjo was a garrison commander under Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo. After that, Obasanjo could not talk. I have never seen somebody in life who could say the best candidate would not win an election against Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1979 and we all know what happened in that election.
I don’t know how old one will be that he will start writing a book that will affect his future. Obasanajo is the luckiest person in Africa. I have never seen anybody who is belle-full (overfed) to the point that he would be looking for what would destroy his stomach. How can anyone be writing that kind of information to sell to the whole world? I am using this opportunity to appeal to people (eyewitnesses) to X-ray that book and write rejoinders. They should not underrate what he wrote as a former Head of State for fear of people using it for research. That book he wrote, My Watch, is highly condemnable. It is unacceptable. It is something a reasonable Yoruba should think twice before reading. How can anyone on earth be attacking Awolowo that gave us free education, the Liberty Stadium and the first 24-storey building — Cocoa House — as far back as 1957?
This man ruled the Western Region for five years and gave us the Rediffusion (television) in the same month France got it. He did all this with just agriculture; there was no oil then.
About 200 people were given scholarships, many of whom became professors. Awolowo is the reason for the education standard the Yoruba have today.
I cannot imagine why he (Obasanjo) would be abusing this man (Awolowo). Even if he doesn’t believe in his leadership, couldn’t he have even issued a statement (at the time) to say so? After the death of Awolowo in 1987, when no one has ever questioned his leadership, Obasanjo then wrote a book in 2014, saying he doesn’t believe in a Yoruba leader and that he (Obasanjo) was an Owu person, but that he would prefer to be recognised as a nationalist, an Africanist or a world leader. But how can a person be a leader in Nigeria without having a base? The Yoruba will tell you ‘adara n’ta, ma dara n’le’ (good abroad but not at home). When they say that, it means such a person is finished; that means the person has no base. So when a person dies, who will glorify him? Most of his statements have always been out of selfish interest.
You have been very vocal about your conflict with the national leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Have you settled your differences?
I will tell you categorically, he (Tinubu) is a person I was so close to. But I realise now that he didn’t like me. He was just trying to manage me.
Why doesn’t he like you?
I don’t know. He was trying to identify with the group (OPC) back then, but he was not planning to repackage it to make it great. We tried our best for him. We stood by him when Obasanjo was trying to water him down. As a matter of fact, when Obasanjo detained me for 14 months, I got information from the (Presidential) Villa that one of my offences was that I was very close to Tinubu. It took the intervention of the law of the land to effect my release in 2006. Obasanjo wanted to keep me in detention till the 2007 general elections so that Tinubu (as Lagos State governor) would not hand over power to his successor, Babatunde Fashola.
I was blackmailed by even most of the leaders of the PDP back then because of my closeness to Tinubu. We later realised that he (Tinubu) did not want the group to exist. In the middle of our (OPC) crisis — though we had no evidence at the time that he was the one fuelling it — he couldn’t call us for reconciliation. He preferred to dine with (OPC founder, Dr. Frederick) Fasehun and I separately. Majority of OPC members were in Lagos, but Tinubu did not do it (resolve the crisis). After Daniel’s reconciliation process, Bayo Banjo called me and said, ‘Gani, Lagos is your base as OPC. We need Tinubu to put finishing touches to this reconciliation’. This was after we had held a press conference, where I was named National Coordinator of the OPC and Fasehun, founding father. (Osun State Governor Rauf) Aregbesola was then the Lagos State Commissioner for Works. Together, we drove to Bourdillion to meet Tinubu.
After we got to Tinubu’s office and Banjo presented his case, the first thing he (Tinubu) did was to bring out a magazine. He said we should look at the publicity that Daniel used the reconciliation to make. We said, ‘Your Excellency, what is the problem? Do yours for the sake of history in Yorubaland, after all the bloodshed that had happened within the group’. But he just went into a long rigmarole and that was how we left that place. Banjo was highly disappointed, but God has said He is happy with anyone who initiates peace.
Tinubu and I disagree politically. The last election marked the first time that we had to disagree openly and from the beginning of the election, I had made up my mind that anywhere Tinubu is, I will not go there. Even if he is supporting the right candidate, I will go for the wrong candidate. You can ask some of the Yoruba APC members; some of them accused me of not supporting (President) Muhammadu Buhari. I told some people, who are close to Buhari in Abuja, that I wouldn’t align with them as long as Tinubu is still APC leader in the South-West. I could have supported Jonathan without making a noise, but I knew Tinubu was so smart. If he realises you are not supporting him, he will strike your structure from underneath. So, we made sure that we blocked those holes to a certain extent and that is why since 2007, he has been asking some OPC members to say a lot of things about me. But I told people that you can’t expect me to be joining issues with parasites. Politics is a game of number. If someone is supporting a candidate against you, you look for a way to tackle him. One cannot drag me into supporting a candidate on the pages of the newspaper. We have to negotiate.
Didn’t it appear that you placed your personal dispute with Tinubu before the interest of the Yoruba people?
Yes, politics is about interests, but I cannot give someone power (empower someone), then he starts working towards my downfall. Besides, there are two ways of getting power: through the barrel of the gun or through the ballot box. What we have now is democracy; it is through the ballot box. If you want to enlist me as your supporter and one of the people that will influence your progress, you must negotiate with me. I am not saying you should give me money. But I have followers; what will you give them? Assuming Tinubu was not confronting different leaders of self-determination groups, it is possible that the APC could have won 90 per cent of the votes and the people that lost interest might have done so because they couldn’t decide who to vote for.
Are you disputing Tinubu’s influence in the last elections?
I don’t dispute his influence much because he tried his best to make sure some people in the South-West were persuaded. In Buhari’s case, I think his time had come; it was settled in the spiritual realm. Six to eight months to the election, nobody thought Buhari would win the election. Buhari’s clout grew beyond Tinubu; it became an image that could sell the APC. People chanted ‘Sai Buhari!’ They were not shouting ‘Sai Tinubu!’ I am not saying Tinubu did not work towards that image, but God had already made up his mind that Buhari would be the president.
Do you think the comparisons that have been drawn between Awolowo and Tinubu are true?
You cannot compare Tinubu with Awolowo. First, Tinubu was just a governor for two terms. I was in Lagos at the time and we didn’t enjoy free education or free health. There was nothing like employment for all. There was no welfare policy. All Tinubu did was to repackage Lagos State and he brought some elite to showcase that there was democracy, even to the extent that there are more private schools in the state than public schools. We are products of the free education provided by Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria. I remember receiving textbooks and exercise books with stamps saying ‘not for sale’. So, the distance between Awolowo’s legacy and that of Tinubu is just like the distance from heaven to earth,
In the last elections, the Igbo and the Yoruba in Lagos were pitted against one another along PDP and APC divide, leading to heightened tensions in the state. Do you think it will have a lasting effect on their ability to coexist?
I think we can coexist, but I want to appeal to our Igbo brothers to be very careful, especially of our royal institutions. They are our pride; no matter what mistakes you find in their statements, there is no cause to downgrade or insult them. In our culture, the Oba is like a god. If they make a mistake, go to their palace and talk to them within the palace. I read an article in a newspaper directed at the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwanu Akiolu, and I was not pleased. I asked myself, ‘What are the Igbo trying to cause in the South-West?’ The Oba of Oworo said if they had been allowed to do a normal appeasement, the helicopter crash would have been averted. I read about 20 comments of Igbos abusing him. I couldn’t believe it. There were also some foolish Yoruba who, because of their fanaticism, joined them. I wondered whether we are in a country where we are not entitled to our belief or speech. If this man, as a traditional ruler, says something about his tradition and some people are abusing him, it is an insult to the Yoruba people.
A former President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Anthony Cardinal Okogie, also recently spoke out against Yoruba monarchs that hosted Jonathan during electioneering, saying they lied to the ex-President. What is your reaction?
It is bad. I have my reservations about Cardinal Okogie because he is someone I respect a lot; I don’t like that statement at all. I am appealing to him, as one of our radical priests, to be very careful about statements concerning our kings. Any priest in Yorubaland is under a king, no matter how powerful he is. It is normal in any election for the incumbent President to visit all the respected kings. If the Cardinal could have extended it (statement) to the Emirs in the North and the Igwes in the South-South and South-East, I would have said he was being neutral, but why did he pick on the Yoruba kings alone? After all, Jonathan visited almost all the important traditional rulers beyond Yorubaland and we didn’t hear anyone of them saying he would not win. It is normal for them to pray for you. The (late) Ooni of Ife did not say he would win; the Alaafin of Oyo was so tactical; none of them made a categorical statement. Even Oba Akiolu was tactical. As a person fighting for the cause of the Yoruba, I don’t find that statement heartwarming.
People have a very negative perception of the OPC. They often think of it as a tool for political violence. What do you think of this perception?
Great and everlasting organisations have always had to deal with wrong perceptions. There is no way you can start and get it right. Do you know that the African National Congress (in South Africa) was listed by the State Department in the United States as a terrorist organisation until 1994? Check history, you’ll find that any great organisation, in its earliest form, is never accepted. But with time, it gains global acceptance.
During the elections, we heard of multiple attacks by the OPC in places such as Oshodi,…
(Cuts in) We were not given a chance to explain our side of that story. We are not part of the union (National Union of Road Transport Workers). We tried as much as possible to say we did not have anything to do with MC(Oluomo). Yes, MC was our boy before he became union leader. But we could not say because they want to arrest him for political violence, then we want to take his garage (motor park). What is our interest? Most of them are my boys. I don’t get involved in union issues, no matter how lucrative it is, because I hate insults. You won’t see me laying my hands on anything that will soil my name because of money. I would prefer to drink garri in my house.
What were the terms of the N4bn pipeline surveillance contract that you and other militant leaders signed with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation under the Jonathan administration?
The terms and conditions were very accurate. They (NNPC) formulated the agreement; we studied it and signed it. We have done the job; we wrote reports every week by which we communicated (with the NNPC). We also submitted monthly dossiers. We didn’t want to take chances because some people perceived that we were given that contract without due process. We made sure that all the agreements were concluded by us. We took the job on March 16 and handed over on June 15. But since we finished the contract two months ago, we haven’t been paid. They promised to pay us the first instalment for one and a half months. But then, we realised that they wouldn’t be able to meet up, so we called a meeting to tell the public. If we go to court, what of public opinion? People didn’t know we had signed that contact with the NNPC’s legal department. People thought Jonathan just wanted to throw money away, so, he gave us the contract. But people didn’t understand that about 90 per cent of the money was salary. The NNPC gave us a standard and we agreed to pay N50,000 per person. So, we informed the public so that the people would know how we got the contract, how it was signed and how we wrote a report. Knowing Nigerians, we just wanted to sensitise the public before taking the matter to court. In fact, on June 14, they sent us an email congratulating and commending us for completing the contract. They said they weren’t sure the contract would be renewed but that they thanked us for the completion of the contract.