Afenifere leaders are liars

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Afenifere leaders are liars –Bishop Gbonigi

By FEMI ADEOTI
femotadeoti@yahoo.com
Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The no-nonsense retired Anglican Bishop of Akure Diocese, Bishop Emmanuel Bolanle Gbonigi, has taken leaders of the Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, to the cleaners.

The retired Bishop did not mince words when he described some of them as liars.

Speaking on the various efforts to reconcile the factions within the group, he described his experience as bitter, concluding, “it is frustrating.”

Recalling an instance of such disappointing conducts, Gbonigi told Daily Sun of a particular meeting his committee held with Afenifere leaders at the Conference Centre, University of Ibadan, Oyo State, on August 31, 2006: “That day, I was so disappointed because I could see people telling lies.

Some of them (Afenifere leaders) tell lies. People with their educational backgrounds, experiences and positions and yet they tell lies! How can they sit so comfortable and yet, tell those lies? And they quarrel over what is not worth to quarrel about.”
He also spoke on other issues including the Niger Delta crisis, Jos riots, the Yar’Adua Government and global economic meltdown.
Excerpts.

Afenifere leadership

It is a very complex situation and what makes it complex is the human factor – Selfishness! Greed! Now we have Ayo Fasoranti as Afenifere leader – not Yoruba leader but Afenifere leader. Some people don’t even want to hear anybody calling anybody Yoruba leader. Their question is where did the Yoruba meet to elect a leader for the whole of the Yoruba? When they were saying that during the time of Senator Abraham Adesanya, after making some noise with it, people just said well we would keep quiet, they will know that we did not elect a Yoruba leader.

Now that he has gone, in order to give Fasoranti peace of mind, let us just see him and address him as Afenifere leader, at least to start with. But Afenifere is not together; they still have the factions intact, and all that we have done over the years to reconcile them have been futile. I was on the matter in 2006. Series of meetings between people, different groups, here in Akure, Ibadan, Lagos, and why is it that it was not possible to reconcile them? Greed.

And the way I put it is that people are looking for positions in order to get possessions. It is frustrating, but you see when one is alive, and one is given an assignment to do, he has to thank God. I had to thank God that the people gave the assignment to me themselves. They invited me to come and reconcile them. Who am I? There were thousands of people they could have approached to do it, but they approached me. They told me with their own mouth that ‘you are the only one we know, who, if you invite these people, they will respond’, and indeed, they responded.

They came here. Chief Bisi Akande and his group came, Chief Fasoranti with his group, Senator Ayo Fasanmi came with his group, and others. They all came. I was now considering who am I that people now repose such confidence in me. The meetings went on until August 31, 2006 when we called a meeting to be held at the conference centre at University of Ibadan.

That day, I was so disappointed because I could see people telling lies. Some of them tell lies. There people, with their educational backgrounds, experiences, positions, and yet in politics, they tell lies. How can they sit comfortable and tell lies? And they quarrel over what is not worth to quarrel about.

Because if it is service and I want to be there to serve the common people, we wouldn’t quarrel. For most of them it is not service. At least, 95 percent of Nigerians, who go into politics, go to politics to loot the treasury, not to serve. Look at the way they are doing it in Abuja, Senators and members of House of Representatives, the kind of cars they want to ride – Bullet-proof cars, Lexus, etc. Why should any legislator want to ride bulletproof car? N6 million something million for each of them. And yet you see millions of our youths with no jobs and have taken to crime; and are being killed.

Look at a committee in the health sector that cornered N10 million, and they said they wanted to go and hold a consultation and they said it has to be in Ghana. What is it that you want to discuss that you can’t discuss in Nigeria? And you need N10 million to go to Ghana? Even recently they said a committee set up to review the constitution is preparing to go to England. They have denied it, but I know they were planning it. I know it was because they were hearing people say aha! That made them deny it.
It is because politicians opt to serve for selfish reasons and that is why they can never be sincere. That is why it has been difficult to reconcile the two factions of Afenifere.

Comparing the present with the past leaders

The reconciliation group led by Justice Kayode Eso. This man, about 84, was resting and they went and invited him to say please come and reconcile us. That was Afenifere. They held a service in Ikene and I think it was towards the end of 2006, or early March in 2007. They held the service in memory of late Chief Awolowo.

And the man who is the Prelate of the Methodist Church in Nigeria, Prelate Makinde, preached and challenged them saying, ‘here you are, you call yourselves Awoists. Tell me, are you like Awolowo?’ Do you behave like Awolowo? do you talk like Awolowo? Do you work like Awolowo? Are you serving the needs of the people like Awolowo did? And he said, ‘the answer is no. So why do you call yourselves Awoists?’ He challenged them so powerfully. I was not there, but some of the people told me. So, after the service as they were going to eat, some of them came together and said ‘how can we hear this kind of truth about us and go and eat and drink?’

We thank God for that kind of conscience. We should not go and eat and drink. Lets sit down and think of what to do. Do we just hear this challenge which is true and then just put on our agbada and go away? They said no. So they decided that they should approach some credible Yoruba people who are neutral, who don’t belong to any political party and who are respectable Yoruba indigenes? Men, as well as women. They were going to ask them to please go into the business of reconciling the Afenifere. It just happened that my name came up, Prof. Bolanle Awe, Bishop Ladigbolu, Prof. Majekodunmi in Lagos and so many.

When one of them who was made the secretary, called me to invite me, I said no that I am not coming. I said I have spent enough time with Afenifere and AD and the rest of them. I said, now with my age I am tired, I want to rest. Let other people do it. There are people who are younger than I am and still have the energy. But he appealed to me and he came along with two people. They came here and we talked. Finally, they were able to persuade me to participate as a member of this reconciliation group, but I said I wouldn’t be chairman.

And I told them that there are credible Yoruba people that no one could buy, people who are older than I am. And I mentioned Justice Kayode Eso, to be the chairman. And they said they already have his name on the list. I told them to beg him so that he can accept to be chairman, because I said anybody who hears his name would know that this is a credible group. So, they went to him. Out of his concern for the welfare of the Yoruba and the whole country, he agreed. I now pity him. I am sorry to say that. We held meetings with past governors in Justice Kayode Eso’s house in Ibadan. There was a meeting we held and I shook my head.

A day before the meeting, towards evening, I saw him on television he was in Abuja, in connection with the Niger-Delta issue. And I said this Papa is in Abuja and we are holding this meeting at his house tomorrow at 11 o’clock. By the time I got to his house at about 20 minutes to 11 o’clock, he was there. And I said how did you do it, he said he flew in the evening yesterday. Woke up very early and travelled by land from Lagos to Ibadan.

The last meeting we called they didn’t come.

It was to be held in Ibadan at Justice Kayode Eso’s house. The meeting was for this year. No single one of them came. We were surprised. Before then we saw in newspapers that some of them were interviewed. Infact one of them said, “well I attended meetings in Justice Kayode Eso’s house and enjoyed eating his food. But I know nothing important will come out of the meeting.” They are just not serious. They are looking for money.

Is it possible for Yoruba to have a credible leader?

Oh yes, we are going to have credible leader. You are going to see it. When God decides He acts and changes things for the better for the sake of the common people. He will push aside all of us. He will push us aside completely, and raise up younger leaders for the Yoruba, so that all the young people who are unemployed will follow him. And people will forget these old hands that think they are small lords and small gods.

For person like me, I might have died, but people like you will still be alive. You will see it. You may be one of them, if you have the right attitude – and if you have the right moral qualification, because, our primary problem is lack of moral qualification. We have Yoruba moral values, the summary of which is Omoluabi. They don’t behave like Omoluabi. You can’t trust them. Let’s call a meeting, they won’t come.

Do you think the new Ministry of the Niger Delta will solve the problem of the region?
It should help to solve the problem to a considerable extent if we can take care of the human factor in it. The human factor is the fact that people who are even there, their own people, people from the region, who we are fighting for, people whose interest we are fighting for, whose interest we are trying to protect, if you put some of them there in charge to make sure that they do things in a way that will benefit all their people, they are greedy, they are selfish, they are looting.

That is why we have so many people in the region who have taken to kidnapping. Even the governors of the region, what did they do with the money they got for eight years? Even the 13 percent. The 13 percent derivation fund they were receiving was a lot of money. What did they do with it? That is why some people were saying at the conference in Abuja that what have they been doing with all the money they have been receiving. Well, my answer to them is: “that is not your business.”

What belongs to them belongs to them, let us see that we give it to them. Then the next step to take is to tell them that now that we are giving you your rights, we are giving you what is just, you must use your resources judiciously, and we are going to monitor it. Make sure you use it on the people of the grassroots, the common people. It must not be business as usual, where the governors, the commissioners and what have you, eating the thing. Then we can go to the National Assembly to float a bill to have a body that will monitor how each state uses the money. To ensure that it is used properly for the benefit of the people. We shouldn’t give them anything less than 25 percent.

Jos riots

It is a pity that we have that experience. What has happened in Jos these past years, particularly, the one that happened in 2001, which was very, very serious, and which took away so many lives, was regrettable. People, unaware of what was going on, were killed that year. That of this year was also terrible. I hope that the body that was set up to find out why we have had it this way would take time to look at it critically and go into the history behind it.

The historical background of the crises is very important. The little I know is that the one important reason we have been having this unfortunate situation in Jos is that, I don’t know how long ago, some Hausa, I understand, moved from part of present Kaduna, Zaria and other parts of the North to Plateau. So, they are not indigenes of Plateau State.

They moved there for whatever thing they were doing – cattle rearing, trading and so on. Unfortunately as time went on, they took over from the indigenes and dominated the people who were born and bred in that place and as someone has put it, they made the indigenes slaves in their own home, as the Fulani have been doing in Ilorin. Kwara State is a Yoruba land.

During the inter-tribal wars, the Fulani moved down with the Jihad and all sorts. And for whatever reason, they dominated the indigenes to the extent that they have made the Yoruba, the people God created to settle on that land, just as God created them and put them in their own land, they made these people slaves in their own homes. That is the big problem in Jos. You know that we had similar problem in Zango Kataf, which is not far from Southern Kaduna and you remember that we had terrible experience there during the military era. So, that is the basis of this incessant problem.

The indigenes are saying, “let us adopt the policy of live and let’s live. Let us all live in the land that God created for us all. You have come from your own land to join us to live on our own land. Fine! We accommodate you, but don’t come and say you must dominate us. You must not think that we must be your servants or remain your slaves. No!” It is this domination that the natives are resisting. Justice demands that we listen to the natives because they are not going to give up hope until justice is done for them. They won’t just fold their arms and allow strangers to take their lands and make them slaves.

They are bound to resist. Justice is against that and God is a God of Justice. God is the God of righteousness and God of justice. So, when that happened in Jos in 2001 and it was quelled. A state of emergency was declared but it ended, and apparently, the natives resolve, “okay, so long as these strangers are here, and are from other parts of our country, and they take over from us the natives, there can be no peace in this place.” So, what has happened shows very clearly that they only hid this motive under the local government election.

It was not a spontaneous thing, but planned. One important factor that showed very clearly that it was planned was that they recruited mercenaries from Niger Republic and Chad and they were already there. Even if the results of the election went the other way, there would still have been crisis, because a group to retaliate or do whatever had already planned it.

That is why it is highly necessary to go back into history and look at this factor of people coming into a place and taking over. So, when that kind of situation is allowed to happen, the kind of thing that happened cannot but happen. Look at for instance, the killing of innocent people, youth corpers, who were not even on the streets. Do you see that kind of spirit? So, it had nothing to do with election; it was just a deliberate plan to kill Christians. They know that the youth corpers from the South are mostly Christians, so they kill them. In our church here in Akure, we lost 15 people in that mayhem. They went for a wedding service in Jos.

They had the wedding, went for the reception and were in a bus, coming back home and suddenly they ran into the riot. Immediately, they recognized that they were people from the south; they just killed them and burnt them to ashes. None of them could even be brought back home for burial. So, this crisis has to be looked at thoroughly, without sentiment, but very carefully, facing the truth of the matter and the historical background and dealing with it honestly, in order to put an end to this kind of thing, not only in Jos but throughout Nigeria.

The entity called Nigeria

We have been saying it; Nigeria is not one country. Well, yes, I know that, but I have been trying to say, since Lord Lugard in 1914 amalgamated us, and we have gone thus far, let us try to make it work, so that we can continue together. But with what happened in Jos in 2001 and the most recent one, I have my doubts that Nigeria is one. So, if we want to continue as one geographical entity, called Nigeria, then we have to change our present system of government completely.

This presidential system cannot work. Except, you can make it true federalism; if there is anything like that. Let each region have its own government. PRONACO, to which I belong, has looked at that critically and we have it set out in a map. We have identified 18 known regions in Nigeria. Let each region have its own administration and let us have, may be six ministries that would bind us together because of our dealings with the outside world, like Military, internal security and others.

When we gained independence in 1960, we had federal system that was working and there were three regions – North, West and East. That was why the West was able to develop at such a fast pace under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and others. Because each region had considerable autonomy, and the mineral resources were controlled by the regions, not the Federal Government. At that time, the people of the Niger-Delta had 50 percent of the derivation funds. The military people cut it down to 7 per cent and now it is 13 per cent. It is unjust and unfair.

Ironically, in 2003, we had a conference in Abuja when Obasanjo was still there and we knew nothing positive was going to come out of that conference. And it was so. That was why PRONACO did not participate in it… they said yes, it cannot be called sovereign conference. We said, okay, let us take away the adjective, sovereign, and whatever came out of it, let us give it to the House of Representatives and the Senate and make sure that they act on it.

Nothing has come out of it and the National Assembly knows that it had very little potential. That was why when Obasanjo asked that money be appropriated to it; they refused to give any money to do it. And he said that if they didn’t appropriate money for it, he would find money from somewhere. He said he got money from somewhere, N1 billion. Is it from his farm? It was our money.

He must have taken the money from Central Bank or somewhere. But they spent more than N1 billion on it. What have we gained from it? Nothing! So, we just have to go back to regional set up or whatever we choose to call it and let us have a true federal system that will give considerable autonomy to each region so that we can live together in peace. I feel that would be better. Some people even say everybody should go back to their homes and forget about federalism.

Well, it would not be easy because of boundary disputes and things like that. So, let us still remain a country, and not a nation. We are not a nation. Nigeria is not a nation. It is a country, made up of many nations. The Yoruba is a nation. The Hausa is a nation. The Fulani is a nation. The Gwari is a nation. The Edo is a nation. The Igbo is a nation – so many nations! But when they put all of us together; we become a country, made up of many nations.

The Yar’Adua government

People have different opinions, as we listen and as we react. But personally, as a citizen of Nigeria, as an individual, I am convinced that President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has very good intention. Then of course we would say well, good intention is not enough. We need something more than that to convince us that he is working hard to go beyond intention to action.

He has his 7- point agenda, which is the other name for manifesto by the political parties, meaning that he has definite programme for the total welfare of this country. One of my friends, who came to see me recently said the man doesn’t seem to have the stamina. I don’t think it is as bad as that. I see him as a quiet worker. And I hope I am right. And a brother Bishop of the Church of Nigeria who served in Katsina has confirmed my feelings about him – that when he was Katsina State governor for eight years, he knew him very well.

There is another Bishop in Minna who knew him, and who spoke with me that this man is a quiet worker, and that he was a no-nonsense governor. And definitely, he is a no-nonsense man. And that we are going to see that he is a no-nonsense president. I think when Obasanjo forced him on PDP to be their candidate for presidency, he most likely thought he would be his stooge. Certainly, Obasanjo must have been disappointed now. His emphasis on rule of law is honest. There are some people who have only heard or read about him and they feel that he is not honest about it. But he is completely honest about the rule of law. And that is tied to justice and equity. Look at what he did in respect to the withheld Lagos funds.

He became president, not long after that, he ordered that it should be released. He has done a lot of things that normally Obasanjo would not expect him to do without clearing with him. But he is not a man who will go to Obasanjo and clear with him before he does anything. I also see him as a man who is full of compassion for the common people. His concern for them is not verbal but active concern.
He is working hard to bring the common man relief. His efforts to see that we have adequate and regular supply of electricity can not be over emphasised. He wants the best for this country.

They talk about his health. Yes. His health is not particularly good but we have it in the Bible that God uses the weak to do what the strong cannot do. St. Paul laid so much emphasis on that in his Epistle to the Romans. He says God uses the foolish to shame the wise and He uses the weak to defeat the strong. I have a feeling that Yar’Adua is a man like that. And people are complaining that he is slow. They say, ‘yes, we can see he is trying to do something, but he is slow.’

Then I say, “ha! A situation that took so long to get to where it is, as bad at it is, you think anybody can come and correct it overnight? It is not possible. It will take time in order to correct it.” So, we have to be patient with the man. And I see him as a man who is adopting the policy of what we call ‘slow and steady wins the race’. He is slow, he is steady, but he is winning the race. He plans very well before he comes out. So, he is my man.

Spiritual solution to the global economic crisis?

Yes there is a spiritual solution to everything. The economic situation of Nigeria is as bad as it is because of human factor – greed, selfishness, avarice among the people who happen to be up there. Putting the collective belongings in their pockets, in their accounts, both local and foreign, while the people who own the money are suffering. There is spiritual solution, which is to pray about it; be prophetic about it. What do I mean by being prophetic? Telling the people this is what God says. If you continue to exploit the people and oppress them and make them suffer.

I will judge you. It is there in the Bible. And if you read the Books of Prophet Isaiah, Hosiah, Amos in particular, and the rest of them, you will see what God said. He says, “Because you are highly placed and you make life miserable for the people by looting the treasury. You will build houses but you will not live in it. You will plant vineyard, that you will not eat out of the fruit of the tree.” God said that to Israel in those days and He is saying it today.

Those who are stealing our money and they think they are enjoying, haa! I pity them. God is already judging them, unknown to us. Some of them are suffering from diseases that even the money they have stolen cannot take care of them. They are suffering God’s judgement. That is why whenever they are caught by EFCC, and taken the court. They usually say they want their passports because they want to go to overseas for treatment. Why is it that they all go overseas for treatment? God is already punishing them, and that is a sign as a warning, that they should desist from their evil ways.

Gbonigi – What does it means?

Legend has it that it is oruko Abiku. Because in those days the rate of child’ mortality was very high, primarily because of poor hygiene and sanitation. It is from the same brook that people fetch water that they wash their bodies and also drink. And there is a saying in Yoruba that the dirt in the water doesn’t kill.

That was their belief. But God has His own way of saving them from cholera and other terrible diseases. One of the reasons God was protecting them was ignorance. He knew they were ignorant. If we do that today, oh, we will all die, because God will say you know that it is wrong. So, at that time, those who survived were given different names. Like Kokumo, Gbedi, so Gbonigi is one of them, but it is not that common. In fact, I do not know any family that bears the name now. It is Igbonigi, that is, the forest is full of so many trees, and so there is no more space to bury dead children.

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