Pa Reuben Fasoranti is the national leader of Afenifere, a pan-Yoruba Socio-political organisation. In this Interview with YOMI AYELESO, the 94-year-old spoke on the 2019 general election, militarisation of the poll, vote buying and selling. He also talked about President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election, inconclusive elections, desperation of politicians, restructuring, factionalisation of Afenifere, among other issues. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of the just concluded 2019 general election?
If what we saw here in Ondo State is anything to go by, there was no election. Elections where vote buying was very prominent, we cannot call that an election. When people have to buy votes openly to change opinions, it is not election; it is a sham. The reports we got across the country is the same. It is the same thing on a larger scale.
If that’s the case, what is the way out?
The way out is to be honest and be sure that you don’t sell your vote. Nigerians should be allowed to choose their leaders. All those influencing the electorate to vote contrary to their conscience should stop because it will soon backfire. This is a dangerous trend in the history of this country. Our people have been impoverished and the politicians believe once they can settle them on the day of election they would vote for them. They perverted their conscience with money before they cast their votes. That is absolutely wrong. People must start to work hard and earn a legitimate wage rather than sell their vote which is for a short time, and the reality is almost immediate. The moment Nigerians continued to vote for the highest bidder during elections not minding the candidate’s ability to perform and deliver, then it spells doom for the country and the Forth Republic, and the electorate would have no moral ground to question or call those voted to power through the use of money to order whenever they are off the track. The current economic hardship and lust for money have made our people, especially our youths, to decide to embrace vote buying and selling.
Should there be a penalty for those who are involved in vote buying and selling?
Those politicians inducing the electorate with money should be apprehended and made to face the law. They should be taken to court and get sentenced or sanctioned. That is going to be a long process. The best thing is not to allow it to happen. It was not like this before in the days of Awolowo. People went to the polling centres to vote for candidates of their choice according to their ability to perform and deliver, not to sell their votes and elect those that would not be accountable to them. But what is happening now is the direct opposite. It’s like a joke to me.
What would you say about the apparent desperation of politicians to occupy political offices in this country?
They know there is money there; that is why they are desperate. If they’re going there to serve the people it shouldn’t have been bad as that. The desperation is alarming and if nothing was done to make elective positions less lucrative, it would get to a boiling point that it would burst and will not augur well for the nation’s democracy.
How do we stop this trend?
We should elect people of great character. Elective positions should not be lucrative. When people win elections, they should not earn much money; make it less lucrative. If it is possible, make it part time, we have been advocating for this before and the legislators should handle it. When I was a councilor long time ago, I was principal of a school then. I only take allowances and sometimes, I refused to take the allowances and people work harder then but now they do less and earn bogus allowances and salaries. If this continues, the desperation would continue. Our so-called politicians are more interested in what they can get in office than the service to the country and those who elected them.
What is your take on the militarisation of election across the country?
It is wrong. People should be allowed to vote their own way without being intimidated. It is a sham. It is not the proper thing to do. What’s the business of the military in the conduct of election. Once again, this is a dangerous trend in our democracy. Militarising the election is a disgrace to this country. This should stop in subsequent elections for it to be credible. We are not in a war situation so why do we deploy soldiers to the streets to intimidate voters and also assist in compromising the election. It’s not only the military but other security operatives. They should allow people to vote according to their conscience. They shouldn’t be intimidated or coerced by anybody in uniform acting on the directive of a particular political party.
Now that President Muhammadu Buhari has been re-elected what would be your reaction and what would you want him to do differently in the next four years?
Re-electing President Muhammadu Buhari for another four years is a disaster because his first four years is nothing to write home about. Corruption is high, dishonesty all over. There is indiscipline everywhere. My advice is that if we can change the leadership to a better one, it will be good for Nigeria. He has failed to deliver on his fight against corruption, insecurity and the economy. He has failed and he has not done anything. The last four years is a waste. He should wake up now that he has been re-elected and tackle corruption more frontally and also those people who are around him that are corrupt should be dealt with. The double standard should be stopped. The economy has not improved; there is hunger all over the place. He should tackle that, so that Nigerians can see that he is working.
How do we change him now having secured the second term?
We have to endure this one and wait for the end of his term. Nigerians should just be patient and continue to endure. There is light at the end of the tunnel. The maximum is eight years. I will appeal to Nigerians to keep praying to God for good leaders that would bring succour and smiles to their faces. The suffering is too much but it is for a short time. God will intervene in the affairs of this nation. He has done it before and he would still intervene to bring back the lost glory of this country and make it a cynosure of all eyes in the comity of nations.
The PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar has gone to the tribunal but some Nigerians are asking him to allow the sleeping dog lie?
Why are they discouraging him not to exercise his democratic and constitutional rights to seek redress if he felt cheated? Let the tribunal do its job. He has seen the level of irregularities and that is why he is not happy with it. So, let the tribunal decide and we shall all see if they are going to be partial. We shall all see. Nigerians are waiting for the commencement of the tribunal proceedings. It is going to be a celebrated case going by what the PDP candidate said he possesses as regards the results of the elections.
Do you think that those advising PDP Presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar not to seek redress at the Election Tribunal are saying the right thing?
I can tell you that the APC are even afraid. The evidences are overwhelming here and there. He must have a case and that is why he is bold enough to go to the tribunal. He has some things to tender to the tribunal. They should stop all this propaganda; let them also go to the tribunal and present their own case instead of advising him not to go or that he has no case. Both parties should proceed to the tribunal with their evidences and let the tribunal decide and Nigerians would then know what really happened in the last Presidential election in this country.
What is your take on inconclusiveness of elections in the country?
That is very bad. When elections are held, people should get the results. There should be no doubt who the people voted for. They should be sure that votes are cast, counted and the winner declared immediately. But a new vista has been introduced that people after they cast their votes, the votes are counted, the results are awaited and at the end of the day, there are manipulations. It is very obvious, that is why people are complaining.
People argued that the introduction of inconclusiveness in the political lexicon by INEC was meant to favour a particular party. Do you subscribe to that?
I agree with them. It is very obvious and we know what happens. It is unfortunate. When do we start this issue of inconclusive election? It’s a ploy to manipulate elections in states and constituencies where a particular party was not doing well. Nobody is deceived by this ploy. Nigerians can see and read between the lines. It’s really a pity we have descended to this level in our democracy.
How important is restructuring to Nigeria?
There will be no progress. If we restructure for instance, Ondo State will be able to tap its mineral resources. At the moment, you can’t touch it. Apart from that, if we restructure, we will have our own police, which will help in quick dispensation of justice. These are the things that will automatically take place when we restructure the polity. Nigerians are complaining that nothing is moving; it’s because those in government have decided not to do the right thing. It’s a statement of fact that the future is bleak without restructuring.
What is your opinion on former governors going to the Senate?
They find it lucrative and they are desperate, that is why they are going back to the Senate. They find it lucrative, they find it alluring. The bottom line is that elective positions are becoming more and more attractive. Those in government after tasting the perquisites do not want to leave. For instance, in Oyo State, there is this act of desperation on the part of the outgoing governor accusing the incoming governor of plans to expose him. When the governors complete their terms in office, they should go; what have they forgotten in the office? They aren’t going to the Senate to serve. It is not for service, it is the money and the continued relevance in the political scene that’s their driving force.
You are 94 now, where do you want to see Nigeria in the next 10 years?
My dream is that the country should be able to produce honest people, hardworking people, young men who will be forward looking to build a great and virile nation. But as it is now, there is nothing to write home about and most of our dreams have not come into being. When I was a councilor, I was a principal and I did not take anything from the council. I was doing it for free because I had a job. I will do it part time and I was serving the people. There was passion to serve the people. But suddenly, when I left, the whole thing changed; monetisation of everything began, and you see somebody earning fat allowances. They even take bribes. It appears money has taken a lot of control and there is nothing we could do about it except miracle happens.
What is your reaction to the factionalisation of Afenifere?
It is unfortunate. Afenifere was one before but my friend, Ayo Fasanmi decided to set up a rival group, which is very unfortunate. Afenifere we used to know was one and we spoke with one voice, but as it is now I don’t know what he really wants. No doubt, we are friends, but I don’t know what he really wants. Maybe, some people are prompting him; maybe, he has his own personal ambition but for a long time now, l have not heard about him until recently. But I guess some people are prompting him to set up a rival organisation to give an impression of a divided house. It is very unfortunate.
What do you think is the role of leaders like Bola Tinubu in this matter?
Tinubu does not belong to us. He is a Yoruba man and a member of the APC and waiting to become leader. He is encouraging some sections of us to start agitating as a rival group. He is with Ayo Fasanmi and recently I saw them taking pictures together. I don’t really know what he wants.
Few weeks ago, the Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, announced that some schools would be named after some Afenifere leaders, including Ayo Fasanmi. What is your take?
Government has begun to name schools after me- The Akure High School. I think it is the reward for hard work and selflessness. If that is the way they look at it, it is okay. When I founded Akure High School, I gave it to government; they did not ask of it and I did not ask of any money. I think now they said they want to reward me. I was doing it then to serve the people.
Do you read any political undertone in the proposed renaming of schools after the other factional leader of Afenifere, Ayo Fasanmi, and others by the Ekiti State government?
I don’t know but I think Fayemi thinks the people should be compensated for their hard work.
Now, the big question agitating the minds of the Yorubas: Who is the Yoruba leader now?
It all depends on what you mean by that, but for instance I am the leader of Afenifere; that does not mean I am the leader of Yoruba. If Yoruba wants a leader, they have to sit down and think of ramifications- cultural, social and historical. If for instance people name me as Yoruba leader, some people will say ‘look that’s not right, Afenifere is not an all embracing organisation’. Afenifere is representing a section of the Yoruba people; so that is it.
When Awolowo was alive, he was referred to as Yoruba leader likewise Ajasin; why is it difficult to have a Yoruba leader after the above mentioned?
There is so much awareness now. People are looking at it from a sectional view. The Muslims will say no, the Christians will say no; the political leaders will say no. So, there is factionalisation. In the times of Awolowo, it was easy to get the people together for leadership; it was like that for some time before things fell apart.