Chief Richard Akinjide was Minister of Education in the First Republic and Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation in the Second Republic. The Senior Advocate of Nigeria talks about Olubadan of Ibadanland, the Peoples Democratic Party, President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-graft campaign and the 1966 coup d’├ętat in this interview with LEKE BAIYEWU

As an Ibadan chief, how did you feel when you heard about the demise of Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Odulana Odugade?

It was very unfortunate and sad. I am a member of the Olubadan family. The Olubadan’s parents and my father’s mother come from the same family. Olubadan was extremely dear to me and I pray that he rests in peace. I had wished that he would still be there (on the throne) for a longer period. What has happened (his demise) affects my family and I have to take part (in his burial) as a member of his family and not as an outsider. I wish that he rests in peace and God bless all the members of our family.

Ibadan is known to have a very strong traditional institution, where the successor of any king is automatically known. However, the current disagreement between two high chiefs over who will succeed Oba Odulana seems like an imminent clash. How do you feel about this?

I don’t see any imminent clash and I don’t know all the details. If there was any misunderstanding, I assure you, the elders and the kingmakers in Ibadan will resolve it. I don’t think that should worry anybody; it does not worry me at all. All sides in Ibadan are honourable; they are men and women of peace. And we will settle everything amicably.

How many ruling houses are there in Ibadan?

Normally, there are two and one goes (becomes king) after the other; that has been the tradition for a very long time. But if anybody wants to increase it to three, I don’t know the basis. I have not seen any court judgement over it; I don’t know what it is and I don’t want to offend anybody. We must obey the rules, traditions and history of Ibadan. Ibadan is known as a place where we don’t quarrel over chieftaincy at all and I wish we remain like that.

The recent visit by the new Ooni of Ife to the Alaafin of Oyo surprised many people. How did you feel about visit?

It was excellent and many people in Yorubaland liked it. The Ooni comes from Osun State and the Alaafin comes from Oyo State. These are two different states and each state has its own chieftaincy laws. In any event, if you look into history, there should be no misunderstanding between the two institutions. We are all members of the same family and we know that the Alaafin of Oyo is very ancient. Ooni of Ife too is an ancient institution. There should be no misunderstanding between them at all. We are all members of the same system. I respect the Alaafin very much and I respect Ooni very much too, and I will always continue to respect them.

But during the reign of the last Ooni, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, the rivalry was seen in the sense of the state-governmental structure but Yoruba traditional structure, hence the formation of the Yoruba Obas Conflict Resolution Committee being chaired by Olugbo of Ugboland, Oba Fredrick Obateru Akinruntan.

All those have been settled and there is 100 per cent peace now; there is no misunderstanding again.

How would you rate the hierarchy of the Alaafin and the Ooni?

I don’t think anybody should talk about superiority. Ife has got a very long history; the Oyo has also got a very long history; Ibadan too has got a very long history. Ibadan is the capital of Yorubaland; there is no doubt about that. These are very great parts of Yorubaland and the less we raise the issue of misunderstanding between them, the better. I went to school at the Oduduwa College in Ile Ife, which I enjoyed very much. I am also part and parcel of Oyo, and I respect the Alaafin of Oyo very much. He is very great and we adore him, just as we adore the Ooni of Ife too. All are members of the same family and there should be no misunderstanding between them.

As a founding leader of the Peoples Democratic Party and a member of its Board of Trustees, how do you feel about the state of the party today after losing the 2015 general elections?

Losing election is not anything new. In America, sometimes one party loses and one party wins; the same thing in England, sometimes the Conservatives lose and the Labour wins or vice versa; the same thing with France and Germany. When you talk of wins and lose, don’t look at it as something odious; it is something normal and I am not surprised. The PDP was in power and another one (party) has come to power. The one in power will lose one day too and the PDP will come back. Don’t let that worry anybody at all, it does not worry me.

What some people are worried about is that since the party lost, a lot of people have defected from the party to another, while those who have remained there have not been able to revive the party. Is this not enough to be worried about?

Many of the people defecting are people without principles or for monetary reasons or to hide something. I don’t want to comment deeper on that. When you see people jumping from party to party all the time, people don’t respect them. It is not honourable. If you lose, you have lost; walk back to win again. And for such people, I have no regards for them.

Why have PDP leaders, who have remained in the party, yet to come to terms with what has happened to the party?

When they reach agreements, they don’t have to publish them in the newspapers.

But they come on the pages of newspapers to make claims and counterclaims.

I assure you that they are working very hard to make sure that the party wins the next election and that is going to happen.

Do you agree with those who feel the PDP made a mistake by fielding former President Goodluck Jonathan as its candidate in the 2015 election against the zoning formula of the party?

I won’t say so. They have lost, we have lost and another one (candidate) will win. I am not worried about it at all.

Do you think the zoning formula of the PDP should be dumped by now?

That is a matter for the internal structure of the party. The party will take the right decision.

A fact-finding committee chaired by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, which was by set up by the PDP’s National Working Committee to investigate why the PDP lost in the election, was reported to have blamed the party’s defeat on the dumping of its zoning formula and the choice of Jonathan. Can you fault the committee’s findings?

I won’t like to debate such on the pages of the newspaper. These are matters for the internal discourse of the party and I am sure the elders of the party will look at it and take the right decisions. And I won’t like to comment on it until they take the decisions.

Now that an APC-led Federal Government is in power, how has the country faired under the new administration?

With the collapse of the naira and the economy, the country is not better off. The state of the naira now is the worst in the history of the currency; it has never happened before. The naira is now one-quarter of what it used to be. I don’t know why that should be so. Yes, we depend a lot on oil and gas but why should we, when we have a lot of palm kernel, cocoa, kola nut, rubber and a lot of other things we should use to develop our economy? There is no excuse for the state of our roads, which are very bad now. There is no excuse for the power, which is still bad; and water supply, and many other things. I think Nigeria should be a great leader in the whole of Africa. When they talk of Europe or America or Asia, they should be talking about Nigeria too in Africa. I hope all these things will change for the better.

Many people believe the PDP had the 16-year opportunity to turn Nigeria around and put the country on the global map. Would you blame the party for not making this happen?

I don’t see any blame. If you are in power for 16 years and you leave office, it is part of democracy. And the PDP will come back again. Nobody should want to be in power for ever; that is not democratic.

Are you saying the PDP did all its best without any blame for the woes of the country today?

I won’t say there were no mistakes; there were some mistakes and it applies to all political parties. There were times in England when Labour was in power and when it lost. It does not mean Labour didn’t make mistakes. There were times when the Conservatives were in power and sometimes they lose election. It is the same thing in America. One party wins and one party loses. There is going to be an election in America soon and nobody knows who is going to be the next president. That is democracy. Winning and losing is part of democracy. Nobody should look at defeat as a disaster, it is not; it is part of democratic norms. The economy is bad now all over the world. The dollar is strong now and the naira is very weak but they will reverse and things will improve.

The current government has alleged that the current bad state of the economy is largely caused by the last administration led by the PDP due to the large-scale corruption in the system. Do you agree?

That is rubbish! The collapse of oil (prices) applies globally – to every part of the world. Will anybody say that is the fault of the last government of the PDP? The strength of (the) dollar has helped the American economy. Can we say it is the vice or virtue of America that made it so? Look at the economy of Europe; the European economy is not very good now. For the British Government, the economy is not the best; the (pound) sterling is weak. The euro too is not the best. Although the German economy is very strong, if you look at the economy of Greece, Spain or Portugal, they are not the best. The French economy is not good. So, it is a game of wins and losses; sometime you win, sometime you lose. I am not unhappy with the state of the economy but what you should do is to spread your economy in the right direction. And we should not depend on oil alone; that is one of the biggest lessons we should learn. We should develop our agriculture, tourism, airline and shipping and other matters. I believe Nigeria has some of the finest brains in the world. We should develop them.

Do you think Nigeria could have done better for itself if the revenue generated when the oil prices were high was utilised judiciously?

The cost (price) of oil affects all the continents of the world, it is not Nigeria alone. It affects the United States of America, Europe, China, Russia and even Australia. Don’t limit oil to Nigeria alone; relate it to the economy of the world as a whole.

But why did the Nigerian government fail to prepare for a rainy day when the oil prices were high and the country generated huge revenue as a result?

Does the price of oil apply to Nigeria alone? It applies to all the continents of the world. If we did not make the best use of our oil money, we should learn a big lesson from that. Maybe there are some arguments in that but in some areas we made a very good use of our oil money, while in some areas we did not.

…In which areas?

I don’t want to go into details now but I can assure you that some of the people who managed our oil resources were very good in financial matters and they did their best. I believe that if Nigeria gives another chance and the PDP comes into power again, we should have learnt a great lesson from what has happened and we will do better.

Do you think corruption has any contribution to the current bad state of the economy?

Because there are court cases over that, I won’t like to comment on that.

The question is not about current corruption cases in court, it is about the level of corruption in the polity, particularly in government.

I don’t want prejudice court cases, either potential or those that have already been filed. I have to be very careful in the way I speak on that.

Without naming names or mentioning specific cases here, how much do you think corruption has contributed to the current state of the economy?

Because a lot of those cases are pending with the Police or in court, I won’t like to comment on them.

Some people see the ongoing anti-corruption campaign of the new government as selective while others believe it is not. How would you describe it?

It is both. In some areas, it is in order, in some areas it is not. But, at least, they are doing something and I praise them for that.

…Praise them for what exactly?

…For fighting corruption. We should back them for fighting corruption. I back them 100 per cent and we should back them. But let us wait for the results; those charged to court might be free and they might not be free. Don’t let us make any judgments in advance.

You support the anti-graft war…
(Cuts in) I do.

But you also said it is selective in a way…

(Cuts in) I didn’t say it is selective, I said it could. I can’t give final verdict until judgments have been delivered by courts.

Do you think the anti-graft campaign is all against the PDP as some of your party men have claimed?

I believe the new campaign – I won’t use the word ‘old’ – is against corruption; I don’t think it is against PDP or parties which are not PDP. I support the fight against corruption 100 per cent and we all should support the government in that respect.

As a very senior legal practitioner, what do you see to the criticisms against the Federal Government over alleged disobedient to court orders in the ongoing trials of a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), and a pro-Biafra leader, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu?

I don’t know the details of the cases but I accept that court orders must be respected. It is against the rule of law for any government to disobey any court order. I will not do it. If you do that, that is contempt of court.

The anti-graft war seems to have divided the leadership of the PDP, with some national executives dissociating the party from their colleagues on trial. Should the party identify with or dissociate itself from its leaders being tried?

Once a matter is in court, we should wait for the judgment; the question of supporting who or not supporting who does not arise. The court is a very great institution and we should wait for the judgment. Those charged to court might be free or they might be convicted. Don’t let us start making judgments on cases not decided yet.

Recently, some protesters rose up in some parts of the country to call for Biafra. What is your take on the new call for secession?

Calling for Biafra now is a big joke and it is senseless. Biafra resulted in a three-year war, which Nigeria fought and won. Nobody can bring it back. Anybody talking of Biafra now must be having a big fun; that person is not serious.

Some are alleging marginalisation and exclusion from government. What do you think could have made a section of the country to rise up for secession?

If you are excluded or you are marginalised, you can sort it out in elections. Vote in accordance with your conscience. That does not mean Biafra, which is dead and buried, should be brought back. I don’t see Nigeria supporting Biafra again. We have created states and those who supported and fought for Biafra have been in government, why do you want it to come back? I have met a lot of people who supported Biafra and are against Biafra now; they won’t support it. Overwhelming (number of) Nigerians – 90 per cent, if not 95 – will not support it, which is nonsense.

Do you think if the 2014 national confab report had been implemented, it would have resolved some of these issues?

You cannot implement it overnight; it has to be in stages. I moved the final motion adopting that conference. The Jonathan-led government did that very well and he should be praised for that – I doff my hat to Jonathan for convoking the conference. I have reasons to believe that the present government will implement that report.

With your experience at the confab, do you think the solution to the country’s problems is majorly restructuring as several Yoruba leaders often claim?

We should do what we have recommended in the report. Once that is done, we will be better off.

Should there be special courts for corruption trial?

No. I don’t believe that there should be special courts. If you say there should be special courts, it means you have passed a vote of no confidence on the present courts we have. I don’t accept that. The present courts are excellent. What you should do is to make sure that people there (judges) are doing their duty and they are not corrupt.

The argument of those calling for special courts for corruption trial is that cases will be dispensed more quickly like electoral cases at the tribunals.

They (cases) can be done quickly with the machinery we have now. What we need is machinery with computers, verbatim reporting and to appoint more judges where necessary. And make sure that those (judges) who are there are people with the highest integrity – honest people.

There is a wide belief that the Nigerian judiciary must first be purged of corruption before the anti-graft war can be successful. Do you agree that the judiciary is also corrupt?

If you think that there is corruption (in the judiciary), give the evidence to the Police or to the government and they will deal with it. But don’t make statements about corruption without providing evidence to support it. They (those found guilty) could be retired; they could be dismissed and could be dealt with in other ways. There are so many ways of dealing with them. Nigerian judiciary has been excellent. We’ve provided the chief justice for Uganda before, so for Gambia, Botswana and several East African countries and we had a judge at the International Court of Justice (World Court) at The Hague. Even in England, we have people who are on the bench and in the bar. When it comes to the judiciary and the legal profession, we have one of the best in the world. I will not join those who are running down the judiciary in this country; they are excellent and should be respected.

Some people are also blaming the bar due to the way lawyers allegedly frustrate corruption cases by seeking injunctions that protect corrupt people or by delaying cases?

I don’t see how a lawyer can delay a case. The judge controls the proceedings. I believe that the Nigerian bar is one of the best in the world, and certainly one of the best in the Commonwealth. That is why other countries come to us to get lawyers as judges – to get lawyers to argue cases. When it comes to the judiciary, I doff my hat to Nigeria. It is doing extremely well.

The infamous 1966 military coup clocked 50 years on January 15. Some people believe that Nigeria’s problems started with the mass murder of prominent Nigerians by the soldiers.

The 1966 coup is one of the worst eras in the history of this country because some of the finest statesmen were killed; some of the finest military officers were killed; some of the finest civilians were murdered. It is a history that should never be repeated in this country. Those who took part in it should know that they committed a terrible crime against humanity and against history. At the time the first one (coup) occurred, I was in the cabinet – I was the Federal Minister of Education. I don’t want to remember it again. When the second one occurred (in July) too, I was in the cabinet. I hope people have learnt their lessons and they will never do it again.

What are the lessons to be learnt from the coups?

One, we should obey the rule of law. Two, we should obey democracy. Three, we should not be tribal in our politics; we should be nationalistic and that is what I believe in. After 56 years of independence, we are no more European or American; we should be African, we should be Nigerian and respect our leaders.

How come the inter-tribal suspicions are still in the polity since then?
What about Switzerland, which consists of French-speaking, Italian-speaking and German-speaking (people)? And it is a country that is extremely strong. They keep money for other people. They manufacture some of the best wristwatches in the world and some of the best textiles in the world. International conferences are held in Geneva, Lausanne and Zurich. There is no malady in Switzerland which is not also in other parts f the world. What are critical are character and education; those are the things we should learn. We have very fine Nigerians and very good universities. We should cut our coat in accordance with our cloth. And when you are in a hole and you continue digging the hole, you are making your situation worse. We should stop doing that.

Source: PUNCH

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