Spokesman for the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Mr Yinka Odumakin, tells ALEXANDER OKERE why the South is opposed to the resolutions made at a recent meeting of northern leaders, Inspector General of Police, etc. in Kaduna State
Some leaders from the North, including governors, serving members of the regime of the President, Major General Muhamadu Buhari (retd.); and traditional rulers met in Kaduna State on November 2, 2020, and, among other things, described the recent #EndSARS protest as one that was subversive and had a separatist agenda. What is your reaction to that?
The whole idea of the meeting is divisive, diversionary and an attempt to maintain that Nigerian protectorate. We are not fools. You can see the way Buhari has northernised power in the country and now sits on the rest of us and begins to teach us about how Nigeria is indissoluble, indivisible and all that kind of nonsense. That they could not even see anything wrong in holding that meeting the way they held it shows that we have a great problem as the people we call fellow countrymen are not on the same page with us at all.
Look at the way the #EndSARS protest was carried out. It is not unusual that the protest was stronger in the South because southern youths were the victims of profiling by the (disbanded) SARS operatives. SARS was led by mostly northern officers who came into a different culture. SARS operatives were not doing any serious investigation; they would just profile you and say because you wore earrings or had a kind of hairstyle, you must be a fraudster because their own (northern) youths dress differently, which does not mean that they are better.
But if they were people with an idea of how to build a modern society and who believe in inclusiveness, there was no way they would have held that kind of meeting at this period in time or call a meeting of governors, traditional rulers and bring all the northern mafias in the Federal Government, and take them to Kaduna. In 1999, when Afenifere invited Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as a president for a meeting in Lagos, I was surprised that when Obasanjo came, the people that came with him were Fulani people. I saw it that he would not want to be accused of holding secret meetings with Afenifere. But we have a President who cannot see that it is wrong and it is an assault on our unity for top government officials to go and sit in Kaduna on a Monday morning for a sectional meeting. Even in their communiqué, they left a space for the Federal Executive Council to have nominees in their committees as if they are the ones to run the country and the rest of us would just fall in.
It was reported that the meeting was also attended by the Inspector General of Police. What impression did that create for you?
It is all clear that they don’t care about the rest of us. They need the rest of us to go and put our thumbprints on ballot papers for them. But once they have power, they take this country as their own – ‘our power’. The rest of the people are just instruments to be used. They don’t see other Nigerians as equal partners. If they did, they would have more respect for us and not do such a thing.
That is why it is important for us to get to the bottom of the Lekki killings to know those who are responsible and where they are from. You kill human beings and think you don’t owe us any explanation. They didn’t have a word of condolence for those who died; they were only abusing them.
The northern leaders condemned what they described as the ‘subversive actions of the #EndSARS protests’, adding that ‘other change-regime actions outside the ballot box soon took advantage of the peaceful protests to push for their separatist agenda’. Why do you think they were strongly concerned about preventing a change of government at the federal level?
It is all about this ‘our power’ concept. They are talking about their conquest of Nigeria. Look at what Buhari has been doing in the last five years. Look at all the appointments in security, finance – all northerners. Now, they are saying that they are ready for a census. Why? When the Council of State met and approved somebody as the chairman of the National Population Commission, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation announced the person – a man from Nasarawa. But on national news at 10, the man the Council of State approved was changed to a Muslim man. Now, they are saying we are due for a census.
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders, in a communiqué in reaction to the Kaduna meeting, wondered where Nigeria would be if they (SMBL) decided to call their own meeting with southern governors and top government officials. But based on the current political alignment of most of the governors, do you think you will get the needed support from them?
We just mentioned this, but it does not make sense for us to go and behave in an irrational way because some people are not behaving rationally. Holding such kinds of meetings now means we are getting to the end of the road. We have made tremendous sacrifices to keep this country together. Those who are calling for an indivisible Nigeria now were the ones who were killing people in Kano when the motion for independence was moved. Today, because they are reaping all the benefits to the exclusion of others, they can sing songs of indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria. When they are talking about the indivisibility of Nigeria, what they mean is the conquest of Nigeria. That is what they are celebrating, not unity.
But does it not appear to you that most of the southern governors may not align with your objectives if they clash with their political interests?
A lot of the people we call governors here are their (northerners’) agents in our midst. They remain governors here and are exploited to be their agents, not to serve. Like you said, if we call for our own southern meeting, many of them (governors) will give excuses not to come because their masters are up there. That is what we are mindful of; we have said that we have got to a point where we are not ready to go for any other national election except we restructure this country. Hold a million elections under this system and you will have the same result, nothing will change.
Northerners are concerned with the conquest of Nigeria and see southern leaders as their tools. Yes, of course. If they see us as equal partners, how can the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria behave like the President of a section of the North? Look at the meeting the northern leaders held where they could not even show compassion for all the young people on whom money was spent for training were killed like fowls. These are political leaders who keep their cows better than human beings. Are there any herdsmen on trial today for all the atrocities that they have committed? They are shielding them. They are now criminalising young people who had genuine protests, labelling them and urinating on their graves as if they were not human beings.
The Arewa Consultative Forum faulted your allegations, saying that every section of Nigeria had the freedom to express itself in a democratic setting. What is your reaction to that?
We don’t take them seriously. The ACF is the mouthpiece of the oppression we are fighting against in Nigeria. So, when such a group makes such a statement, responding to them dignifies them.
Many Nigerians see the move to regulate the social media, as supported by the northern leaders at the Kaduna meeting, as a priority of the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government which claims it is used to promote hate speech. What do you think about that?
They want us to talk about hate speech when we know what led to the killings in the North in 2011. It did not come from social media but from inciting speeches made by political leaders at political grounds. We know the number of corps members that lost their lives. Nobody has been brought to justice. When they wanted power in 2015, what did they not say? They want to take us to the dark ages, talking about regulating the social media as if we are in some emirate in the 16th Century. This government is preparing the stage for #EndSARS II, with the way they are behaving. Instead of looking for ways to alleviate the problems and douse tension, they are still bringing out the things that can cause crisis because they don’t know any other way to behave. That is in their DNA. They cannot also run a modern society. That is why anybody can say in this age that they want to ban social media because they don’t belong to this age. Many of them behave like medieval men.
What implications will a bill regulating the social media have on Nigeria’s democracy, if passed by the National Assembly?
There is no democracy; we are just deceiving ourselves. It is autocracy that we have. It will only further strengthen autocracy and reduce the democratic space. They are closing the society; they are averse to open society. So, Nigeria will cease to be an open society. But they should know the implications of what they are doing. When Boko Haram started, it was an open organisation. When they did what they did against them in 2010, they went underground to acquire weapons. It is Nigeria now that is begging them with amnesty. So, when you tell young people who have different views about their country that the Boko Haram way is the way to go, what will be the end of the country? The proponents of social media regulation are enemies of open society and agents of fascism and dictatorship.
The managers of the Lekki Tollgate said their closed circuit television cameras did not capture the shooting and some Nigerians have expressed doubt in getting justice for the victims through the judicial panel set up by the Lagos State Government. What is your opinion on that?
I know that they are trying to cover up what happened. What happened in Lekki was a deliberate, wilful murder of young people. So, with respect to the panel, what they want to achieve is the ‘unknown soldier’ (a situation whereby the government will say it doesn’t know the soldiers who committed a crime) kind of situation. That is why from the beginning, we the southerners have asked for an international enquiry. We have asked for the International Criminal Court to look into this because we have no faith in these people. All they are trying to do is to cover up crimes.
Are you saying that only a panel of enquiry can give the victims justice?
Of course! Members of the panel of enquiry wanted access to the military mortuary but soldiers said they couldn’t see it or summon them. So, what enquiry are you doing? You heard the attorney general of the federation saying the protesters could have been killed by hoodlums who wore military uniforms. He is supposed to resign if under him, someone can get military uniforms and shoot protesters like that. And you say this is a government? What kind of government is this?
For Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, I expect a more robust rebuttal of the statement of the army that he was the one that invited them to come and kill people, than the neither-here-nor-there civil defences. The army indicted him in a way. But its inability to come out clearly shows that the Lagos State Government has some complicity in the crime that occurred at the Lekki Tollgate. The former Lagos State governor (Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu) said those who died had cases to answer. Let him go and exhume them from their graves and take them to Igbosere Magistrates’ Court.