BY LEKE BAIYEWU
An ex-member of the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Chief Omotayo Banwo, in this interview with LEKE BAIYEWU, narrates his experience in the post-June 12, 1993 struggle
How would you describe your experience in politics so far?
I’m a politician; I’ve been in politics for 40 years in Lagos State. While in the Social Democratic Party (in the Third Republic), I was the Lagos State electoral officer in the 1993 general election that supervised the conduct of Senator Bola Tinubu’s senatorial election; as well as Senator Anthony Adefuye, who emerged from Lagos-East Senatorial District and Senator Kofoworola Bucknor from Lagos-Central. Tinubu was from Lagos-West.
How would you react to the allegation by Sen. Anthony Adefuye that some leaders of the National Democratic Coalition at a meeting with the then Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, to negotiate the release of the winner of the 1993 presidential election, the late Chief MKO Abiola, from incarceration were compromised?
First, the allegation was not made by Sen. Adefuye; it was al-Mustapha (former Chief Security Officer to ex-military dictator, late Gen. Sani Abacha) who first revealed that our leaders came to Abuja and collected some money from the then military Head of State. I read the entire interview; he only said ‘some’ leaders of Afenifere. Talking about the meeting they held with Abubakar, the mistake our leaders in Afenifere made then was that we, the followers, expected them to insist on the release of Abiola as a precondition for having discussions with them (the military). They shouldn’t have had discussions with them when Abiola had yet to regain freedom. According to Abiola, ‘you cannot shave my head behind me.’ They were trying to dispute that proverb by attempting to shave Abiola’s head behind him. Everybody expected them to have demanded his release because that was what we were anxious about. For not doing that, whatever efforts they made that day, people did not like it; we are not happy about it.
But the NADECO General-Secretary, Chief Ayo Opadokun, and the spokesperson for the Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, have argued that they raised the issue at the first meeting and were to conclude discussions about Abiola’s release at the second meeting, which the military aborted.
I will still blame them because, in their reports, it was not made a precondition for any meeting at all. We would have expected them to insist on the release of Abiola, even before the first meeting was held. I would have expected them to insist that Abiola must be released so that whatever discussions there were going to have would be based on the fact that they were coming for Abiola’s release. Abiola could have been released before the meeting to encourage them to attend the meeting.
What if the leaders had actually made these demands but the military were adamant, during the meeting that was held behind closed doors?
Everybody would have known; we would have read it in their report. Even, the media would have heard it and we would have been aware. But that was never the case.
The events at the meeting still remain a mystery, so how could the public and the media have known?
From what they have said, they did not insist on Abiola’s release. It was just mentioned in a passive manner. At least, we would have known they insisted. If they had insisted, we would have known by now that they threatened to boycott any subsequent meetings.
What about the allegation that they were compromised during the visit?
That was the allegation; but, at least, we trusted some of these leaders. We’re all taken aback. We were surprised because they were tested leaders; we never expected them to have done that. Only God Knows. Al-Mustapha said he had a video clip of that event; let him make it public so that the world can see. It was that Al-Mustapha’s allegation that Adefuye referred to.
Is the allegation true that Adefuye was with Abiola while the going was good but left him for the military rulers when the going got tough?
To the best of my knowledge, I never knew any time that Adefuye betrayed Abiola. During Abacha’s regime, people saw Adefuye as somebody who was against Abacha. I remember there was a time a petition was written to Abacha, alleging that Adefuye, late Engr. Funso Williams, late Chief Adebowale and Chief Opagun of Onward Paper Mills were part of those who planned to overthrow the government. Based on that, people were witch hunting Adefuye, being the most popular politician among them. We had meetings in his house and all the candidates whose names he submitted for elections were disqualified; I was one of those disqualified. Adefuye himself was to run for the Senate but he was disqualified.
Later, on two occasions, there were bomb blasts in his compound where we usually met. The compound was bombed two times. I remember an occasion in which his mother’s car was damaged beyond repairs.
Who was responsible for the attacks?
We don’t know. We only know it was government agents that came. During the Abacha regime, there were bombings here and there. During our meetings, there was usually helicopter surveillance in the air, monitoring us. It got to a stage where most of us decided to back off, as we were no longer safe. I’m sure if Adefuye was with Abacha, all these things wouldn’t have been happening. He would have been spared from all these embarrassments. I don’t think Adefuye worked for Abacha. Not only that, when we were in his house during the period, his mother died. The initial impression we had was that her burial would be postponed. Later, we were told that Adefuye went to sell his property in Ikeja to finance the burial. So, it was more or less having no job then. He was not given contracts. If actually he was on Abacha’s list, he would have been given contracts.
Are you aware if he was a military contractor before he became broke?
He was never a military contractor; he was only a contractor to the Lagos State Government. He was constructing roads during the Lateef Jakande regime. He never worked for the military.
How true is it that Adefuye was out of the country, while Yoruba leaders were fighting for Abiola?
Adefuye never left the country. Throughout the period, he was here with us. He never left Nigeria. We were together all through. There was a time myself and some people were apprehended by the men of Elere Police Station in Agege for distributing (anti) Abacha posters. We were apprehended and detained. It was Adefuye who came to secure our release. If he was not around, we wouldn’t have contacted him. We were all struggling, relying on him for our bailout. If there was any financial implication, he got the money for us. As far as I’m concerned. If he had benefitted from military contracts, most of us would have benefitted too because we are very close to him.
How was his relationship with Abiola?
Adefuye was one of his agents during the Jos Convention. He was one of those who solicited for votes for Abiola. He was very close to him. And when Abiola was in detention, he was very close to his family. I usually accompanied him to late Chief Kudirat Abiola’s residence in Ikeja. She also came to Akoka, where Adefuye lived.
If truly he was close to Abiola, why then did some youths attack him when he paid a condolence visit to his house after Kudirat was killed?
The incident of that day was very unfortunate. When Adefuye heard about the incident, he decided to visit the family. The house was surrounded by youths. If he had told us he was going, we would have mobilised and follow him, and there would have been a pandemonium. Heads would have rolled; many people would have died that day. But as a peace-loving man that he was, he never told us. He went there peacefully and what followed was the attack. We heard about it and were not happy at all.
Was that not enough sign that their relationship was not rosy?
Abiola never knew about it. He did not send them; he did not instigate those boys.
Do you think the attackers were sponsored?
We were told that NADECO or Afenifere leaders were meeting inside Abiola’s house that day. Opadokun had admitted that he was in Abiola’s house, when the boys attacked Adefuye.
Why would anybody have done that?
I don’t know. It was part of the disagreements between them. We were all in Afenifere. I was a member too. I’m now in the Yoruba Unity Forum under the leadership of Mama HID Awolowo.
Is the cold war all about the split in Afenifere or are there’s more to it?
Once the leadership is divided, the followership will be divided. I’m sure it’s as a result of the disagreement between them that extended to us, the followers.