Afenifere not supporting any party- Arogbofa
Bashorun Seinde Arogbofa is a retired school principal, an elder statesman and currently the Secretary General of the pan Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere. In this interview with Bisi Olominu, he spoke on 2019 elections, how INEC could have a free and fair election, vote buying, governance in Nigeria, herdsmen killings, solutions, Nigeria of his dream and other sundry issues.
Take a critical look at the political scenario in Nigeria, are the signs not frightening?
The cloud is not clear. There’s likely going to be two major parties. There’s a strong force from the government and another strong force from the opposition. The atmosphere has not been prepared for a third force, if a strong third force surfaces, it will catch up and prepare very well like the two strong political parties. So there’s going to be two major strong forces, the one from the Federal government-led, All Progressives Congress, APC, and the one from the opposition, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. In this scenario there’s going to be a battle royal.
With the strong forces from APC and PDP, how can we stop the impending crisis hovering over the country?
The judge or umpire, Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, must indeed be independent. It should allow a free and fair atmosphere. The Commission should not take side in the election matters. It must indeed be an unbiased umpire. The other thing is that the two leading parties should not see the coming election as a do-or-die affair. They should borrow an example from what the former President Goodluck Jonathan did when he lost the last election in 2015. Even though there were forces urging him to go for war, but he said that he would not allow the blood of any Nigeria to be shed because of him. To checkmate this again, there should be an improvement in the economic situation of the country. Politics in the country has been monetised, and our politicians, especially the present ones have so much pauperised the populace by turning them to beggars. Nigerians have to beg to get ‘Kongo of Garri’. Our politicians collect billions of naira while most parents labour to feed. The atmosphere is really a critical one. Well, some of us who really have conscience are so few in the country now. Some who can say no to selling their votes are few. To arrest any eventuality, INEC needs to appeal to all parties to play the game according to the rules. When the people say they no longer need you because you have not performed or meet their expectations, such people should go. Let the parties sell their manifestoes, what they think they would do, rather than resulting to violence. Well, it is a cloudy affair, but God Almighty has been benevolent to Nigeria as a country. When we are in a dire moment, God will always come to the aid of the country .
What is your impression of INEC so far?
My number one assessment of INEC is that it is a tool in the hands of government. I don’t know whether to say this, but that’s what INEC is. The Commission being a judge, must be an impartial one. The composition should not be made by government because they say that those who pay the pipers dictate the tune. We are having problem right now, INEC is not free. It is not an independent body and a judge has to be independent. If you look critically at INEC composition, members are tilted towards those in government. Ditto the service chiefs. Who pays them?
It is the government. I always say that if INEC should be truly independent, it should have its own allocation like we have in the Civil Service Commission, because the Commission is largely independent. If INEC can be allowed to be truly independent, you can be sure to have a free and fair election. There have been some allegations that members of INEC are picked because of political patronage, because of the role they play for those in government in the past. Members of INEC should be picked base on integrity and should not have political colouration.
The issue of vote buying has entered the political lexicon of Nigeria, how could this be checked?
People like us are happy because we don’t belong to this generation. We are terribly unhappy because people are now selling their conscience before voting in an election. It is very sad? We were there when Baba Ajasin, the first Executive Governor of Ondo State governed the state. We were his foot soldiers and the issue of money did not arise at all. His programmes of free health, free education and rural development gave us the edge over other parties. Nobody asked us any money because Baba Ajasin would never give any except for logistics. And what we knew then was that Baba did not spend more than N250,000 on his election. But what we heard right now is that dollars are spent by politicians to buy votes.
On the polling day, some people will go to the polling booths to cast their votes and show those who will pay them money. No wonder Nigeria is rated as the most corrupt nation in the world. We have to work very hard to stop this. Is the government providing employment for the people? When people are jobless, they can be enticed with money for voting. Again I will like to appeal to our people to stop collecting money from the politicians before voting. How long does that money last? One or two days. It is not the best, it is the way to perdition. It is a way to anarchy, it is a way of selling oneself, selling one’s future.
The recently concluded parties primaries were marred with violence. What does this portend for our democracy?
When democracy is not allowed to strive, it always result to violence. Democracy means free choice, it means free expression. It is part of what I have just said, it is a path to perdition. The earlier we retrace our steps, the better for us in the country. This abracadabra way of selecting those who will represent us should stop.
Do you think when you elect those people into offices, they would be able to represent us well. Violence before, during and after our elections is not good omen and should stop.
Nigeria is being ruled by older people. When would the youth take over governance of this country?
On a lighter mood, the President, Mohammadu Buhari has said that he has the right to contest. He is the one who signed Not too Young to Rule bill into law, and when he was giving them that licence , he said wait ” I too can still run for that office second term”.
What’s being done is that deliberately youths are being punished, deliberately being made poor, deliberately being of end the opportunity to rise up. I am not saying that it’s only Buhari’s government that’s largely responsible for unemployment in the country, but successive governments have been unfair to youths of this country, in a civilised world, government would have known how many vacancies exist in the system, but our government never done this. The government is using a sort of fire brigade approach.
Is it not these young people who are being used as thugs?
We are not preparing them for good future. Not giving them the kind of education that can make them to really assume leadership in the country, the kind of education that can make them independent.
Is there any hope for our youths in the country?
There’s hope for them. Those who are in power now will not be there forever. Somebody have to take over. I think they have to come together and fight for their rights. They have to wriggle out from the clutches of those suppressing them, fight against those siphoning the money meant to make their lives better. Youths in the country have to wake up, they have to be disciplined, punished themselves to take mantle of leadership in the country. They should see those who have siphoned the country’s money as their enemies. Some of us have canvassed that the National Assembly job should be on part time basis. This is really eating deep into the economy. Our youths should cry against this, they should join hands with those condemning it. This is where we waste a lot of money. Look at some of our serving governors after spending two terms as governors now go to the National Assembly again. To do what?
Bola Ahmed Tinubu at a colloquium in Abuja mentioned that water was the reason Fulani herdsmen ravaged the Southern part of the country. What’s your take on this?
I don’t think it is so. Tinubu being one of the leaders in this country should watch that kind of utterance. We expect that he should know the minds of Nigerians on this issue . Whether it is water or not, we should be very careful, it involves the lives of the people.
I read something about the colloquium in the newspapers and I think the Secretary General of Miyatti Allah and the moderator of the programme really proffered solutions to the problem, that Almajiri schools should be provided for the children of the cattle rearers to give them brighter future.
They also stated that ranching was the solution. Yes we have been living together in peace in this country, the Yorubas, Ibos and the Hausas.
They have been rearing cattle’s, but not with the sophisticated weapon, AK47 that we are seeing with them today. Where do they get this?
The government should provide better security for us. If the argument of the government is that some of the herdsmen are coming from Libya, Chad and Niger republic to Nigeria, what I expect Tinubu to say is that our porous borders should be fortified. The man from Miyatti Allah and the coordinator of the colloquium made good contributions. But are the farmers concerned invited? People like Chief Olu False should have been invited to narrate his ordeals in the hands of Fulani Herdsmen. I would have loved Tinubu to read the 2014 Confab reports held in Abuja on the issue of herdsmen where participants suggested that ranching should be provided for them. This ranching will provide education for them, make their cattle better stuff, make them to research on their job. I think Tinubu is not asking them to come to the Atlantic Ocean to rear their cattles. That will be war.
How can the farmers/herdsmen issue be resolved in Nigeria?
We have been living together for long without any problem. They reared their cattles with stick and sometimes with cutlasses and knives. But they are now with AK47. Where do they get this?
We have to be very careful with this issue. It is about land issue and we must be very careful with it. The way we look at land issue in Yoruba land is quite different from that of Iboland and Hausa land. You cannot just pounce on somebody’s land.
The best way to solve the problem is to look critically at the suggestions made during the 2014 Confab report and act on it. The Confab comprises of eminent Nigerians, first class traditional rulers, top government functionaries that sat for two months to proffer solutions to problems bedevilling the country .
Why is Afenifere not supporting APC?
Thank you for this question. Afenifere is a sociopolitical group and it is not supporting any political party. We are supporting an idea, supporting a group that will make life better for the people. We are not supporting a label because the ideologies are not just there. We are supporting an ideology that will make life better, an ideology that will make this country restructured. An ideology that will make education, health available to the people. Any group that’s ready to do all this Afenifere will support.
Is this Nigeria of your dream?
No. We are gradually grounding to a halt. Life is no longer worth it. God who created us has been helping this country. That some people will be killed and we looked the other way, we are not created for that. Nigeria of my dream is the one propounded by the late sage, Obafemi Awolowo in his four cardinal programmes, free health, education, rural development. But we are gradually moving away from these.