INTERVIEW: My Experiences In Prisons Under Obasanjo Horrible –Gani Adams
The Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland and founding member of the Oodua Peoples Congress, Iba Gani Adams, speaks to TOBI AWORINDE on some landmark moments in his life and the importance of his position in Yorubaland
Can you tell us about your childhood and education?
I was born on April 30, 1970 in Arigidi Akoko (Ondo State). I went to Army Children’s School in Otukpo (Benue State). My parents relocated from Otukpo to Lagos State and they had to keep me with my grandmother in Erusu Akoko, very close to Arigidi Akoko. I then attended St. Thomas Primary School to the stage of Primary 3. At Primary 4, they brought me to Municipal Primary School, now Adeniji Primary School, in Obele Odan, Lagos State. I went to Ansar Ud Deen Secondary School. I attended the International School of Aviation in Tema, Ghana and obtained a Diploma in Tourism Management. I later went to the Lagos State University for a diploma in International Affairs and Strategic Studies. Later, I completed my Political Science programme five years ago.
What did your parents do for a living?
My father was a transporter and my mother was a retail seller. She sold provisions. We lost her in 1993 and my father three years ago.
Were you a star student in school?
It depends. In terms of popularity in secondary school, I was very popular. They called me ‘Ganga.’ When I was in Primary 4, there was a teacher in my school, Mr Salami. On the first day he came to our class, he asked for our names and made sure he gave every person a nickname. So, when he said, ‘What’s your name?’ I said, ‘Gani.’ He said, ‘Gani Ganga.’ Since then till I finished my secondary school, people didn’t even call me ‘Gani.’ I was quite popular in Ansar Ud Deen Secondary School. In my tertiary institutions, I was so quiet. As a part-time student, I wasn’t even involved in school activities. I just came in for lectures and rushed out immediately after.
How did your activism begin?
It began in 1993, a month after the annulment of the June 12 presidential election. I joined the Campaign for Democracy and from there we formed the Oodua Youth Movement in 1994. In April 1994, an Ijaw man advised us, saying youth organisations could not help the entire Yoruba and that we must form a broad-based organisation that would involve youths and elderly people, both male and female. That was what led to the formation of the Oodua Peoples Congress on August 29, 1994 in the chambers of Opeyemi Bamidele, who is now a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We held our first meeting there. Two names were suggested, ‘Oodua National Congress’ and ‘OPC.’ Seven of us voted for ‘OPC’ and two others voted for ‘ONC.’ That was how OPC came about. Since then, I have been involved in different groups. I, as the chief promoter, founded the Olokun Festival Foundation, which is the main cultural promotional organ of our group. When you trace the history, you will realise that our cultural evangelism has awoken Yorubaland to modern cultural promotion.
In the early 2000s, the Federal Government accused the OPC of violence and you were arrested. How did that affect you?
There is no group in the world that makes a landmark without having a turbulent time. For you to be a (prominent) figure, and for a group to be prominent, nationally and globally, you must pay your dues and make sacrifices. When you read books and you’re a student of history, something like that should not weigh you down in the process and after the process. I’ve already made up my mind that no matter the victimisation, I’m ready to pay the price. I do not see it as something that affected me, although the first and second arrests affected my livelihood, especially when (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo was in power and I was detained for 14 months. Everything in my house, including my cars, was destroyed. I had to start afresh when I came back in December 2006.
In 2001, I was detained for another three and a half months, so it affected a lot of things. But the 14-month detention affected everything I had. So, I had to start to rebuild everything I had in my life. But it has become history today. I think the sacrifices I made are part of the reasons the Yoruba leaders and obas accorded me the prestigious title, Aare Ona Kakanfo, because if you don’t pay your dues, they can’t give you that position. Your antecedents matter. Somebody who passed through all these challenges and did not give up definitely ought to be given a title to defend the Yoruba race.
Can you describe your experience in prison?
Both experiences in prison were horrible. I don’t see Nigerian prisons as correctional centres, although the Minister of Interior has renamed the prisons as correctional centres. I think Nigeria should build more prisons. You don’t keep prisoners in one place without building capacity, especially those awaiting trial. When you go to the prison, you will realise that those that are convicted are not up to 10 to 15 per cent of the inmates. I think they have to be engaged. We have a lot of forests where we can create more prisons and that is why we are talking about restructuring.
Prisons should not be a federal affair. They should be a state affair because majority of crimes are state and local issues. So, it’s supposed to be a state and local government issue. States and local governments should have their prisons. Most of the forests that the criminals have taken as their abode should be used to construct prison sites, and they would have the land and opportunity to farm and help the country with food security. When the figures of people in various detention facilities in Nigeria were released, it was about 70,000. That workforce alone can give food to about seven states out of the 36 states. Apart from the issue of agriculture, they can produce most of the benches and desks used in the schools. In most developed countries, they (prisoners) get stipends. So, if you spend about a year in detention while awaiting trial before you get your freedom, every month, you should be paid at least N10,000 to N15,000 per month. If you spend one year, you can come out with your salary. You can then use that money to start a new life.
But we keep them in prison, giving them food that is not reasonable and the price budgeted for their food is not spent for their feeding. Some criminals come out to perpetrate more serious crimes and constitute a nuisance to society. So, I think we should rethink our prison system to recreate new prisons in the forest. Create roads and put in enough security for them and some of them should work even three to four hours, not hard labour as being pronounced in prison, so that they can contribute to society. Even the money used to run the prisons can be generated from the prisons, to reduce the budget for prisons from the federal purse.
There are some who see the OPC in a negative light due to the reputation as a violent organisation. Do you have any regrets about the approach of the group?
Tell me any group that is popular without being given a bad reputation by the government that deprives it of its needs. It has been on record that any government that deprives the common people their rights and living would give any group that is sincere a bad name so that it can destroy that group. Most of the figures we celebrate in Nigeria today were part and parcel of the National Democratic Coalition in the June 12 struggle. But now, you call them ‘Your Excellency’ and ‘former governor.’ But then, they were being called terrorists by the (late Gen. Sani) Abacha-led government. I remember vividly that a few of us at home carried a stigma as products of NADECO. But when democracy arose in 1999, history changed. Some of them contested elections and became senators, presidential candidates and governors. Even Lam (Adesina), who was in an underground prison, became ‘Mr Governor’ of Oyo State. Bola Tinubu became governor of Lagos. A lot of them that had sacrificed became leaders that were being reckoned with. South Africa’s (experience) was the worst in history. What bad name didn’t they give to the African National Congress? (Nelson) Mandela was called a terrorist and was even in jail for 27 years. His house was disorganised and some of them were killed in the process. There was a law that the black man must not stay out beyond 6pm in Pretoria. So, racial discrimination was so high. You couldn’t mention that you were a member of the ANC or hold meetings in South Africa. But today, the ANC is the ruling party in South Africa.
Also, you can imagine what the Irish Republican Army passed through in the history of Ireland. But it is part and parcel of the people that are in power in the Republic of Ireland now. So, anybody who has a record of the history of struggle from the bourgeois knows that tyrants will call you names because they have the resources to blacklist any reliable organisation. They have the state power and mechanism and the authority to call groups different names. But at the end of the day, those who, because of their self-interests, blacklist genuine organisations, will be blacklisted in history.
Do you see the OPC as a forerunner to the Indigenous People of Biafra and others today?
I don’t know what you mean by ‘forerunner.’ We are distinct in our aims and objectives. We fight for the interests of our people. We fight for the restructuring of this country. We promote the culture of the Yoruba race and we make sure that the Yoruba are liberated. And we have been doing it technically for some of our grateful politicians. When the chips are down and there is a problem, the OPC will come out. Some of them will say, ‘Don’t join politics o.’ But they won’t empower you without joining politics. They say, ‘OPC is not a political organisation o.’ When they are sharing anything that will be an advantage to anybody among us, they won’t remember the OPC.
For instance, Christmas is coming. The politicians would say, ‘You are out to defend us. Continue defending us.’ They distribute rice to their own political associates, but they won’t remember the OPC. When they are building houses and giving out contracts, they won’t remember any member of the OPC. So, we have our distinct aims and objectives – restructure Nigeria. If the ethnic nationalities all want Nigeria to restructure, I think we should determine our future as a new nation because we don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel if Nigeria is not restructured. There is no way Nigeria can move forward. Our groups were formed before all these groups came out. So, comparison is not the basis of discussion now.
OPC members are believed to possess some supernatural powers. Is this true?
I don’t understand what you mean by ‘supernatural power.’ All the OPC knows is that they would prepare themselves for self-defence, which is one of the most important laws in heaven. Even in the military and paramilitary, self-defence is one of the most important laws. As a Yoruba person, we are entitled to our own self-defence. On the warfront, anyone that does not prepare himself for self-defence is risking his existence. So, when you are talking of criminals, or in terms of war, you have to know your way.
You obtained the title of Aare Ona Kakanfo, which was last held by the late Chief Moshood Abiola until his death in 1998. Did you have any relationship with him while he was alive?
I was so young when MKO Abiola was alive and I was in a low cadre of the struggle then. Our leader, who had access to Chief MKO Abiola was Dr Frederick Fasehun. So, we didn’t have access to him, but we had access to his house. Aare MKO Abiola was a grassroots person; there was no barrier between his status and the grassroots. So, when he was arrested, we had access to his house. When he died, we had access to the house. Even sometimes, we would hold meetings at the level of the grassroots in his compound. But I can tell you categorically, I was just 23 years old (in 1993), and I hadn’t made my name by then. And I wasn’t a politician; assuming I was a politician, I could have had certain access to him by proxy. But I didn’t have access to him before his demise. He was arrested in 1994; I don’t think I had turned 24 then. However, I am very close to the family. God always pays you back for anything you do in this life – the OPC was the group that started the June 12 programme as a lecture, even before the Lagos State Government joined us. The Lagos State Government joined us two years later. If you go and check our records with Excellence Hotel, the OPC has held nothing less than 18 editions there. So, when many people did not even see the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to acknowledging June 12, we always did it without even getting money. I believe my cause on June 12, my cause for the Yoruba people and my sacrifice for the remembrance of June 12 were some of the things that led me to that title.
Recently, there was a reported reconciliation between you and former President Olusegun Obasanjo….
I don’t want to talk about that.
Are you happy with the pace at which Amotekun is moving in tackling insecurity in the South-West?
Gradually, they will get their bearing. I just appeal to Lagos and Ogun states to start their recruitments because security is the heart of governance. For you to govern any area without adequate security is the beginning of failure. So, I would appeal to the governors of Lagos and Ogun states to start their recruitment because other governors are trying their best, especially that of Oyo State. Ondo State is trying its best, but its recruitment is not enough – just 500. I’m from Ondo State; it’s too big (for 500 Amotekun personnel). In Ifon, where the Oba was killed by some criminals, they have only seven Amotekun officers in that (Ose) local government area. It should be nothing less than 30 to 70. So, I would appeal to the Ondo government to increase its recruitment. The Ekiti and Osun state governments should also increase their recruitments.
If the Sultan of Sokoto can come out boldly to tell Nigerians that bandits have taken over the North, every zone must be very careful. If about 340 pupils can be abducted in the North-West, one of the most peaceful regions 10 years ago, other regions must be conscious of their security situation. So, if we’re talking of the North-West and North Central now, the remaining zones should be prepared that the wave of insecurity will be coming. And even if the wave is not coming, criminals always look at what happens nearby as a reference; they can repeat something that has happened somewhere else in their own area too. It may not even be an intruder; it may be people belonging to that region. So, I think in the South-West region we should prepare ourselves so that the wave will not consume us at the end of the day.
What are your thoughts on the #EndSARS protests and the way the government handled the situation?
I think Nigerians are entitled to engage in peaceful protests. But we don’t want violent ones, either caused by the government or any individual who pretends to be a protester and loots. With what happened in the last protest, we can put some of the fault on the people in power for instigating some thugs to attack the protesters, and we can say what happened in Lekki was an ugly incident. But I can tell you authoritatively that in a democratic setting, you can’t stop protests. If you try to stop protests, you are becoming a dictator.