In this interview with MAYOWA SAMUEL, the leader of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, speaks on the report of the European Union on the 2023 elections, oil theft in the Niger Delta region, the continued detention of freedom fighters like Sunday Igboho, Nnamdi Kanu and his perceived feud with Pa. Reuben Fasoranti. Excerpts:
What are your thoughts on the proclamations so far by President Bola Tinubu, particularly the fuel subsidy removal, and how it has affected Nigerians?
I’ve said that I won’t be commenting on this administration until the end of the election process. I don’t want to be accused of inconsistency.
The election tribunal will be giving its verdict on the petitions by the People’s Democratic Party, Labour Party and the Allied People’s Movement against the victory of President Bola Tinubu. What are your thoughts on the proceedings so far? Has it gone to your satisfaction?
Very much to my satisfaction and I pray the judiciary will do the needful if they will go by the evidence before them. I have confidence in the judiciary but we know that the public don’t have such confidence. But I’m very sure that with the abundance of evidence before them, I have no doubt that the judiciary will perform.
There have been renewed calls that serving judges shouldn’t be appointed for the election petition tribunals but retired judges because many cases are usually left pending for months due to this. Do you agree with this submission?
That recommendation should be after this election. By the time we are doing revision, we can make the adjustments in the next electoral law.
The report by the European Union caused rumbles in the APC. Supporters of the president went to protest at the EU office, saying their report was biased, that they had no right to criticize the electoral process, and that their duty was only to observe the election. What’s your take on the action by these youths?
They’re a disgrace to the country. What has the EU said that hasn’t been said in this country? What is contained in that report that people have been saying in this country, even by groups locally that’s not there? Don’t let them play on you with propaganda; we want progress in this country.
“There’s no doubt that people in the government are conniving to steal our oil. Let the authorities, if they are serious, go after the oil thieves in the Niger Delta. We want solutions; we don’t want to be playing on words now”
Let’s ask them to look to the future for the progress of this country. What the EU has done was only to confirm that what the local people have been saying was the same things they saw. What’s the problem with that?
You can’t live in isolation, they’re telling you that you didn’t follow the standard of this election, why should you go and disturb them? It’s unfortunate, I don’t approve of their action to go against the good will and the integrity of the country.
Tinubu’s campaign spokespersons said that the EU report was sponsored, adding that they covered only few polling units in the country, and that it wasn’t enough for them to judge that the election wasn’t credible, and that they’d rather accept the submissions of organisation in the country like the NBA and few others who say the election was credible. How do you respond to that?
I’ve not read the report where the NBA said the election was credible. The spokesman of the NBA only said that they hoped that the judiciary will live up to the standard, that’s what they said. So don’t let what all these people say bother you. I’m an elder statesman; I want the best for this country. Those ones are just trying to be relevant, they just want to show off, call attention.
I’m looking at the future of the country and the youths.
After the EU report and few others identified flaws in the 2023 elections, the Labour Party on Thursday called for the sack of the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu. INEC also replied saying it’s baseless for the party to rely on those reports to demand for Mahmood’s sack. Are you toeing the line of the LP in this regard?
The Labour Party has their opinion, same goes for Tinubu, and it depends on which side of the divide you are. The whole trouble of this election was committed by the INEC chair that made the law but refused to obey it. Who is in control of the BIVAS, but was altering the BIVAS? Those who manufactured the BIVAS know that there was no breakdown of the BIVAS machines on that day. I just pray that the judiciary do the right thing and let us forget all these shenanigans.
Weeks ago, upon his return from the Presidential Villa, a former Niger Delta warlord, Asari Dokubo, brandished a rifle and threatened Igbos. But till now, he hasn’t been warned, let alone arrested, not even for hate speech. What are your thoughts on this particular action of his?
It’s unfortunate that Asari Dokubo will go that far. This is not the time for him to be saying all these. There’s no doubt that people in the government are conniving to steal our oil. Let the authorities, if they are serious, go after the oil thieves in the Niger Delta. We want solutions; we don’t want to be playing on words now.
Under this new administration, especially after the appointment of new Service Chiefs, what’s your verdict on the security situation of this country so far?
It’s very obvious that it has not improved. I only hope the security people will rise up. There’s no improvement yet. Haven’t you read about the killings and destruction up till now? Is that an improvement? Let’s give the new Service Chiefs a chance but let them all brace up.
They should know how to brace up and stop the killings, and demonstrate to us within the next few weeks that there’s a change. If there’s a change, everybody will know. Were they not already there when there were killings in Plateau? Was it not after their appointment? What about the one in Benue? Let them do their work and give peace a chance.
Sunday Igboho is still in detention in Benin Republic. As the leader of Afenifere, and with the new administration of Bola Tinubu, what’s the situation with him?
What I would expect was that the new administration would believe in the rule of law. All actions that are against the rule of law, let them stop them, then we’ll know they’re serious, no more, no less. The man took the government to court of competent jurisdiction after they invaded his house at midnight, committed murder there.
They were asked to pay damages, but they didn’t. What’s the difference between that and dictatorship? Look at IPOB, the court said they should release Kanu, but you said no.
Some people thought Buhari was serious; I condemned them when they went to Buhari to ask for his release. I said the man won’t release him because Buhari is a prejudiced man. The Fulanis and the school of thought of Buhari are prejudiced against the Igbos.
It’s just for the new administration to say that that’s not the view of the APC. As far as that is concerned, there’s no doubt about it. We’re under a dictatorship which is against the rule of law, we’re talking about the insurgency in the North East, so that shouldn’t surprise anyone.
When the people peacefully appealed to the court, you said you won’t obey it, when you make peaceful change impossible, then you’ll make violent change inevitable.
There’s no other place they can go, the only place they can go is the judiciary which they say is the last hope of the common man. They went there, they said release him but you said no, so what do you expect them to do? And you’re saying there’s violence. Call a spade a spade.
Is there any hope about his release anytime soon?
We’re expecting the government of the day, whatever they do about the freedom fighters, they should do to him, and they should release everybody because the court of competent jurisdiction has declared that they’ve committed no offence, particularly Igboho’s case.
Governor ‘Seyi Makinde of Oyo State was said to have tried making reconciliation efforts between you and your predecessor, Pa Reuben Fasoranti. What’s the update on that? Has there been a resolution finally?
I’ve told him to keep off from interfering in matters that he doesn’t know. I have no quarrel with Baba Fasoranti. That’s where I stand. You want to find what doesn’t exist? Who told him there’s a quarrel between me and him, he shouldn’t involve me. Don’t forget, I’m 95. All these babies, they don’t know what happened before we got independence, all because they want an appointment; they’re now doing all that.