Akogun Tola Adeniyi, popularly known as Aba Saheed, his pen name, is a former Chairman/Managing Director of the old Daily Times. The veteran journalist in this interview with SEGUN OLATUNJI bares his mind on the Nigerian nation. Adeniyi also does not hide his anger for the alleged marriage of convenience arranged by the British colonial masters between the Northern and the Southern parts of the country over a century ago under the amalgamation arrangement and its aftermath. What he calls the internal imperialism system, which has slowed down the country’s wheel of progress, also riles this septuagenarian prolific writer, newspaper columnist, actor, dancer and dramatist. He speaks further on sundry personal and national issues. Excerpts:
For decades, you have traversed the media sector in Nigeria like a colossus. What is the secret?
It’s a passion. I will say that Mass Communication has been part and parcel of my life. I started journalism in 1959 as a school reporter and Associate Editor of the school magazine in Ago Secondary School, called the Spartan, and the magazine in Ijebu Muslim College when I was doing my HSC, called the Scientia. I was also the Editor-in-Chief. I rented a press stand in Ago Secondary School when I was writing a column every day. I’m talking of age 14 and 15. I was writing a column every day, reporting on the school and commenting on what was going on and that has continued till today. I’ve been writing columns now since that time without stopping any moment. So, all the genres of Mass Communication are part and parcel of my nature. So, journalism just happened to be the peak, but those who knew me, when I was growing up, would testify that they thought I was going to grow more in theatre than in journalism. So, to answer your question realistically, it’s just passion. That’s what has kept me going and until I drop dead, I want to continue to write and to mould opinion, contribute to television debates and comment on contemporary issues.
You have been described by many as a pungent writer with a caustic pen. Any regret about being a journalist?
Certainly, not. If I come to this world again, which I hope to, I will be a journalist. Journalism is the most powerful, most influential and most consequential profession on earth. So, I will not do anything less than journalism. Journalism is the best profession in the world. It’s the most relevant if you want to influence the public and mold opinion.
Your popular column, Abba Saheed, in the old Daily Times, was known to have caused a lot of rumpus, even within government circles. What gave you the courage then and were you not afraid for your life?
Ago-Iwoye, where I was brought up, is noted for valour, noted for fearlessness and that has rubbed off on all Ago-Iwoye indigenes and I’m just one of them. But more than that, I hate injustice, oppression, depression, cheating and people taking advantage of others and I will fight to the last drop of my blood to protect the integrity of valour, justice, equity and so on and so forth. So, it is to that extent that I could not care less what happened to me as a person in the pursuit of justice. So, I was not afraid for myself. I believe that the most important thing in the world, especially if you want peace and progress, is justice and any environment where there is no justice, people like me will fight to the last drop of our blood to ensure that there is justice and equity. So, that was what created the fearlessness. I just believe that life is not worth living if you keep quiet in the face of injustice and wickedness.
The country is undergoing a recession. How do you see Nigeria getting out of this economic mess?
The country cannot get out of it. I’m happy you are asking that question. The problem with Nigeria is not recession, it is not Buhari, or Jonathan or the National Assembly. The problem with Nigeria is the root of Nigeria. The question journalists and Nigerians should ask is: what is the root and beginning of what is now called Nigeria? Until that national question is answered, we are just wasting our time. Recession was brought about by bad political economy. So, if it’s the result of political economy, we must first of all address the issue of political economy and you cannot address the issue of political economy unless you address the issue of politics itself – the political arrangement of any society. By political arrangement, I’m not just talking about holding elections or voting for somebody. Political election from the word ‘politicus’ is the aggregation of individuals in a society submitting their powers and privileges to a leadership. That is the way I want to define politics in this matter. And until you address that, you cannot solve the problem of Nigeria. When you have a country where a cabal sees the rest of the country as slaves, servants, you cannot get out of this situation. We must ask how it is possible for judges to steal. How is it possible for an election to be annulled in the country? How is it possible to have a governor in a state that would sell all the land of that state and will destroy the GRA? Why it is that money voted for certain things was misappropriated? Why it is that Abuja is having so much money? These are the questions we must first ask. Nigerians must first of all sit down, all the over 380 ethnic nationalities must sit down and redefine the marriage that has brought the Fulani, the Kanuri, the Izon, the Yoruba, the Ibibio and the Igbo together in a so-called country. If that is not solved, even if we get out of this recession, we are going to have a worse recession tomorrow. This recession is just a prelude to the dangers that I foresee happening to the Nigerian economy. In January this year, I wrote that 2016 is going to be rough and tough and I said that by the end of 2016, anybody who still has his wife living with him, must thank his stars. I saw this in January that things were going to go haywire and there is something that Nigerians must also solve. This question of no-go area. Nigerians have been shying away from talking about religion and the terrible effect that religion has played in Nigerian politics. We shy away from talking about the Fulani domination of Nigeria because they say don’t talk about it, don’t incite people. But we must talk about it, about why it is possible for some armed people, herdsmen from Fulani sub-culture to be terrorising the whole of the country. And why would we not talk about it? Who is arming them? Who is supplying them with AK-47? And to rub insult on injury, some people are saying they are not Fulani from Nigeria. Is that not an insult on our customs, our immigration and security apparati? An average Fulani person or Kanuri person sees himself more as an Arab descendant than a Nigerian and that is the problem. I have so many friends amongst the Fulani. I can say that the Sultan is my friend. We exchange correspondence on phone and e-mails. So, I have good number of friends among the Fulani. It has nothing to do with my friends amongst the Fulani. And I also want to make this point clear: when we are talking about Fulani, we are talking about the Fulani leadership. The Fulani that are terrorising Nigeria are less than 1,000 members of that population. So, we are not talking about the Fulani population. We are talking about those amongst them who believe that they are superior to the rest of the country and have cornered the leadership of their people and are using that weapon to do what they are doing by following the British advice that they should arm a section of themselves or arm those that they have conquered – the Hausa, the Jukun, the Tivs and they left their language, but made sure Hausa remains the lingua franca instead of Fufulde, which is the language of the Fulani. So, it’s all these political ploys that Nigerians must open their eyes and minds to from now on. And let me tell you, this thing is not just starting today. Joseph Takar saw it and he used arms, thinking he could challenge internal colonialism, but he failed. Josiah Olawoyin in Ilorin tried it; he didn’t use much of the arms but he collected some rabble-rousers. He also failed. Adaka Boro used guns to challenge this domination, this internal imperialism; he also failed. Then, the Igbos tried with Biafra and now we have the Avengers. And like I said at Tunji Braithwaite’s remembrance lecture, even if you are able to overcome the Avengers or you are able to destroy them, one million Avengers will emerge tomorrow, as long as you do not solve this issue of national question. The people are tired of being slaves in their country. That is the simple truth. You cannot be taking the resources of the South to spoon-feed a section of the country. They created 774 local government areas and they are sharing revenue based on local governments. Kano has about 47 LGAs, but Lagos, which has over 22 million population, according to the World Bank, is having just 20 LGAs. What kind of country is that? And you expect peace and you expect that there will be no recession and you expect that the economy will be right. So, when you base sharing of revenue on local government areas, you base it on population, which we all know is all bogus, you base it on all sorts of land, which is barren, then you are creating a land filled with mines. Nigeria, which is not yet a country, and can never be a nation in the next 200 years, is sitting on a keg of gunpowder and that is why people like us are crying.
But we had the opportunity to do that with some of the past national conferences…
(Cuts in) Except the last one that Jonathan brokered, national conferences are just a sham. Because when you say you have national conference, what is its composition? You still have the preponderance of the people coming for the national conference from a section of the country. When you say that you are creating an amalgamation and you make one part of the country the wife, which is the south, just about a quarter of the country the husband, which is the North. So, when it comes to debating issues, the North will always carry it. That is why if we have the prime minister system today, the North will always have it. If we have the presidential system, they will always have it, because they allocated so many seats to themselves based on wrong census conducted under wrong premises. Nigeria is the only country on earth where the North is more populated than the South. There is no any other country anywhere in the world where the North of that country has larger population than the South because population moves with fertile areas. They have never conducted any credible census in this country and the evidence has come out from several documents that even the 1952 census conducted by the British was doctored. They said it themselves. We have many documents all over the place in libraries in UK and in Nigeria that it was a sham and just to deliberately give larger population to the North. Why should the North extend to Ilorin? Why should we be having emir in Ilorin, which is a Yoruba town? Why should we have emir in Ajaokuta? Ajaokuta is a Yoruba word or in Lokeoja, which is Lokoja, a Yoruba town? All these anomalies must be corrected before you can talk about recession, the economy, peace and stability in Nigeria. As long as we sweep all these under the carpet, we are just going nowhere. Nigerians must talk about all these.
Are you suggesting there should be another national conference?
I’m not talking about national conference. Buhari is a great leader and person. He should be able to say that I want 20 or 10 Yoruba, Igbos, Hausa and others. They can base it on provincial representation or follow the footsteps of Abacha, who tried to create six geopolitical zones. So, just say from North East, 10 people, from North West, 10 people, from South West, 10 people, from South South, 10 people. That will be equal representation. So, the six zones will have 60 representatives and the 60 people should discuss. But when you still say local governments should produce representatives, you are just wasting your time because you’ll always have this disproportionate and faulty grounds of composition. Those are the two options we have before us. I believe those reading this interview will challenge their minds and see which option is better for the people of Nigeria, our women, our children, who are going to become widows and orphans in the event of bloodshed. But it cannot continue like this.
From what you have said so far, will I be right to say that you don’t have faith in the Nigerian arrangement?
There is no Nigeria! What we have is Northern protectorate and Southern protectorate that pretend to be living together. And where the Northern protectorate has been so pampered. Where we have a country that is well organised and all of us agree on its definition, on its existence or co-existence, then we begin to believe that there is a country. You cannot be proud of something that does not exist. How can you be nationalistic when there is no nation? You are an Ibo, Yoruba, Efik, Izon and so on. So, if you are going to be nationalistic, you can only be a nationalistic Izon, Yoruba or Fulani. We must create a country which will then evolve into a nation, before you can talk about being nationalistic. But we don’t have that yet. So, that model of internal imperialism, as it applies in Britain , internal colonialism, as it obtained in Sudan , cannot work in Nigeria. It has been so for 102 years and people are now beginning to ask why it should continue to be so. And we must solve that problem before we can move forward. If we don’t solve it, forget about Nigeria or the future of this country.
Is lack of visionary leadership the problem with Nigeria?
We had visionary leaders. Aminu Kano, Obafemi Awolowo, Adelabu and Zik were all visionary leaders. We’ve always had visionary leaders. But they can only function effectively in an atmosphere of freedom, equity and justice. We do not have that. If not because we had regional arrangement before 1960 or up till 1966, Awolowo would not have been able to achieve anything. Jakande wanted to build a railway system in Lagos, he was not allowed because at that time the military had messed up everything. The military had nullified federalism and had reduced it to unitarism and we’ve been having that unitary system up till now. And when we talk about the military that did it, it’s the military wing of the Fulani colonial masters. Ahmadu Bello deliberately swelled the rank and file of the military in preparation for the future subjugation of the rest of the country. That is a historical fact. We don’t have a Nigerian Army. We have Northern soldiers.
Yes! Unfortunately for Buhari or whoever is ruling the country, the military is not the same as we had before the civil war. There is no cohesion now. No Langtang man would be committed as the Langtang man of 40 years ago. No Yoruba in the Army would be as committed as Yoruba in the Army in the 1960s. No Igbo man in the Army would be as committed as the Igbo man in the 1960s. Because people are beginning to question this internal colonialism. Before now, it was the Tiv and the Middle Belt that were used to stage coups for the Fulani leadership to take over. Even when they make a Gwari man the Head of State, he still has to bow to the Fulani leadership. All these things must now be discussed. Nigerians have been shying away from talking about these matters and that is why we are in this mess. Nigerians must question internal colonialism, internal imperialism and why Abuja is collecting so much money. Nigerians must begin to question the unitary system of government we are running in Nigeria and to whose advantage. Nigerians must begin to question why the Federal Government is dealing with primary education and feeding primary school children. Primary school education is a preserve of the local government anywhere in the world. Nigeria cannot continue to be policed from Abuja. So, bring Buhari, Jonathan and Obasanjo to run this country, as long as we have this unitary system with the kind of bogus military system we are running, they will fail, they will be corrupted. Anybody who runs the government of Nigeria from Abuja will be stealing and plundering the resources of the country because Abuja doesn’t belong to anybody.
. The interview was first published by The Point.