GANI ADAMS: HOW ABACHA AND MARWA MADE OPC SEEK NATIVE PROTECTION
It is a dry, cold Tuesday morning. A chill wind blows across Shoba Town, a rustic rural settlement off the Mile 2-Badagary Expressway in Lagos, as a clap of thunder tears through the thick cloud, indicating that it is pouring not too far away. However, the thick cloud does not deter the scores of men and women in white who mill quietly into the sprawling verandah of the big white house, aptly named as WHITE HOUSE. They speak in low tones as they, one after another, sink into the white chairs arranged like pews in a church.
Of a truth, the setting looks like a church in worship, for the congregation sings and prays before the commencement of the day's proceedings, except that there is neither lectern nor altar in front of the congregation. Just a simple table covered with a spotless white piece of cloth. A tall, dark-skinned man wearing a pair of rimless medicated glasses sits behind the table, counseling some officials.
The man behind the table is not a pastor. He is Otunba Gani Adams, the national coordinator of the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC. And the gathering is the general leadership retreat for national and regional leaders of the organisation across the country. In the convener's words, the meeting is aimed at national mobilization and reawakening of members across all the strata of the Congress.
In another five minutes, Adams, resplendent in his white sokoto and buba, calls the meeting to order, asking three people to pray in the Christian, Muslim and traditional ways.
He would tell me, when the interview finally takes off, that 'that's how we conduct our meetings in OPC. We respect all religions-Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, traditional religions, etc. because we pray to the same Almighty God, the channel may differ. In OPC, we do not condemn any religion. We view every religion with open mind.'
After that intro, the OPC leader holds nothing back as he answers every question posted to him promptly and honestly. He traces the genesis of the organisation to the beginning of the struggle for the revalidation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election that General Ibrahim Babangida's dictatorship voided, and discloses that nine men, including himself and Dr. Frederick Fasheun, founded the pan-Yoruba organisation. And the prime motivator was not even a Yoruba man! He was Ijaw, named Tony Ngurube, who advised and helped them develop a template after the Izon National Congress.
Adams recounts the deadly cat-and-mouse game that the military tried to play with him and other members during the June 12 struggle, which, he says, compelled them to bid a strategic retreat so they could go and 'prepare the traditional way' before the organization goes full blast with its campaigns.
He gives a rare insight into how OPC developed the deadly 'egg bomb' which, though small, could bring down any building in a jiffy on impact.
Bt his own admission, Adams says he has never granted an interview as comprehensive as this.
Please, enjoy it.
When you started in 1993, it was like a joke. Few people took you serious. What was it like at the time?
The agitation for the validation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, which Bashorun M.K.O.Abiola won, was something that we had passion to do then. We believed that if we didn't rise up to the issue of annulment, the powers that be then would just be toying with our destiny. We believed that M.K.O Abiola won the election, and for the person who claimed to be president and Commander-in-Chief to say that he annulled a free and fair election was beyond our understanding.
So, we thought it was our responsibility to rise up and fight for our right. We felt it was our duty to rise up and put pressure on the government in power so that Nigerians can retrieve that mandate. We believed that it was the right time for us to rise up and fight for the interest of Nigeria.
Before you rose up, what were the preparations that you made because you came up in a unique traditional way? I remember those days at Abiola Crescent, Ikeja, when you and your boys usually stormed the place, holding flags of Oodua Peoples Congress, with your amulets, juju, and all that.
Actually in 1993, there was nothing like using traditional protection to the struggle. We began to use traditional protection in 1998 when Col. Marwa (the then Military Administrator of Lagos State) instructed the Operation Sweep soldiers to attack us anywhere we were holding our meeting. And they so attacked our organisation to the extent that they killed a number of our members.
Yes, kill. They were instructed to kill our members and take away their corpses. That was what led us to the preparation, because we believed that we should prepare on the basis of self-defense, on the basis that we should not allow our lives to be wasted. Didn't you see what the Niger Delta militants were doing with their own traditional protection? And the sophisticated guns they were carrying? We didn't have the opportunity to carry arms.
You didn't have the opportunity to carry arms or you didn't want to carry arms?
We didn't want to carry arms.
Why didn't you want to carry arms?
Because we believe that our atmosphere is not conducive for Guerrilla warfare. We also believe that we can still achieve our aims through peaceful means, without violence. We believe that by having certain traditional protections, having our rallies, having peaceful protests, we should be able to get the mandate back. We believed that we should step up our preparation because of the things that the government of Sani Abacha was doing. We believed that we should prepare more than the expected. So, all these amulets you are seeing are as a result of defending the lives of the people who fought for the struggle, you have to be alive first before you talk of moving forward in anything you are doing.
Our experience under Abacha and Marwa by then was such that many of our members were being killed in their meeting places without any excuse. There was one person called Col. Manima, he was the one that held Operation Sweep together then. He told some of the people that were close to him that he was given instruction that OPC members should be killed on sight. That any member that was arrested should not be taken to court but executed once they establish that he is a member of the organisation. That information led us to the traditional preparations that we did to defend ourselves. We resolved to defend ourselves with anything at our disposal.
How old were you when you joined the struggle?
I joined the struggle at the age of 23 years. I was 23 years in 1993.
What were you doing then?
I was into interior decoration. When June 12 came, I resigned from the company I was working with, Stabilini Visinoni, an Italian construction company, to begin the agitation.
What were you doing in the company?
Interior decoration. I worked in the cabinet department of the construction company.
Did you train as a carpenter?
I trained as an interior decorator. When I graduated as an interior decorator, I went to Stablini Visinoni to work. I was with them for three years. I resigned in 1992, and now established my owned company, Gason Interior Decorator. And I was getting contracts from people based on my experience in interior construction from Stabilini Visinoni. When the struggle came in 1993, I was doing the struggle part-time. But by 1994, I couldn't combine the struggle with my job any more. So, I had to reduce my active involvement in my own company, because we were having nothing less than eight different meetings in a week.
Not youths. I joined the struggle through the Campaign For Democracy not OPC. I started under Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti. We were having nothing less than four meetings in Mushin alone in a week. There were meetings in Campaign For Democracy Headquarters in Anthony. And I was so active that most of the leaders in Campaign For Democracy would normally call me that I should attend so, so meeting. On August 25, 1994, OPC was formed.
Who formed it?
It was formed by nine of us.
Who were they?
Dr Frederick Fasheun…
Who was the leader?
Who was the convener, you mean? We called him convener by then….And we had Otunba Gani Adams, Tony Ngurube, Ibrahim Atanda, Silas Atanda, Idowu Adebowale, Ibrahim Abobanawo, Olumide Adeniji and Wole Adeniyi. We were nine people that founded OPC. If you want to talk about who is the founder, it's those people who agreed that the name of this organisation should be called OPC. Initially, we picked two names-Oodua National Congress and Oodua People's Congress- at our meetings. So, we put the two names to vote. Seven of us voted for OPC, two voted for Oodua National congress, Tony Ngurube and Ibrahim Atanda. Toni Ngurube, though an Ijaw man, speaks Yoruba very fluently…
If truly OPC is all about the Yoruba nation, how come Tony Ngurube, who is not a Yoruba man, is a foundation member?
Yes, he is the one that motivated us to found the group.
How did he motivate you?
Initially, we were members of Oodua Youth Movement, which was formed in April 1994. So, Tony now encouraged us. Because he is very close to Yoruba, he speaks Yoruba very fluently. Hardly will you notice that he is an Ijaw man. He is one of the people that fought for Nigeria's Independence. Pa Michael Imoudu and one Shola, secretary to Pa Imoudu, trained him. He was the one that said, you must form a group that goes beyond the youth, both male and female, because youth cannot do it alone. And he gave us an example of a group in Ijawland, called Izon National Congress.
He gave us that example and advised that we had to form a group that is all-embracing. He advised that youths couldn't do it alone, that we had to incorporate the elders, we had to bring in the mature people to help us know the struggle into shape. That was what led to the formation of OPC. He was part and parcel of the meeting. As a matter of fact, he, not Fasheu, was the motivator. He was the one who motivated Dr. Frederick Fasheun, and convinced him that we should form the group together. He was in the meeting. Unfortunately, he died six months later, after the formation of the group.
How did he die?
He died of a slight sickness. He was having a migraine, serious headache, and by the time they took him to the hospital, we lost him. So, we formed the organisation in 1994 with the aim to champion the cause of the Yoruba people, fight for the restructuring of Nigeria, and make sure that the precedent dream laid down by Chief Obafemi Awolowo does not perish but is strictly followed
And most importantly the revalidation of annulled June 12 election?
Of course, that the annulled June 12 election should be revalidated. The June 12 struggle was very important to us but we couldn't put it in our aims and objectives.
Because we had to be tactical. If we started talking about annulment straight away, the government will beam its searchlight on us. But in majority of our press statements, we talked about getting the mandate of June 12 back to Chief M.K.O Abiola but we didn't reflect in our aims and objectives. Our main aims and objectives include: restructuring of the Nigerian polity, sponsoring a sovereign national conference, bringing unity to the Yoruba all over the world, and making sure that we are self-reliant and we have self-government like what we had in Western Region under Chief Obafemi Awolowo. We also believe in the parliamentary system of government. Part of the aims and objectives is to promote our cultural heritage.
You said you have to retreat and prepare to also defend yourself-when the person heading Operation Sweep, Col. Manima gave the instruction that they should shoot on sight…
Different type of protection…
What kind of protection did you do and how did you do it?
From the history of Yoruba land, Yoruba has a way of protecting themselves.
You went back to your elders?
I can't tell you a specific place we went to. Everybody went to different places to go and look for protection.
What kind of protection?
The traditional protection. Yoruba protection.
Specifically, I can't tell because it's in different ways. I am not an herbalist, but when you look inward, most of the armies in the world, they have a way of protecting themselves, traditionally, apart from the rifles and the machine guns they hold. Have you read the history of Benjamin Adekunle, Black Scorpion? His invincibility at war? We have the history of great warriors, how they fought the war, and we do know that it's not about military experience alone. I am a Yoruba man, and we, the Yoruba, have our own ways of protection. Even, I learnt that most of the people fighting in the Niger Delta came to Yorubaland to secure spiritual protection. We are blessed with that. I am not canvassing that the people should be involved in traditional protection or traditional issues. But I am saying this is part of what we use.
It's not as if we didn't have some paramilitary tactics by then. Of course, we did. But we believe that we should secure our lives first before we can continue the struggle because majority of the leaders of NADECO and other Yoruba leaders that fought for June 12 had fled the country. We had only a few staying behind. Most of us that were on ground were grassroots leaders. And the government had beamed its searchlight on us by then, looking for us by all means. So, we had to think twice, and say, for us to go on with the struggle, we need to go for extra protection, irrespective of the religion you believe in.
But some of these protections are not compatible with the Christian and Islamic beliefs. Or are they?
We don't need to deceive ourselves. Are you telling me that the gun that soldiers hold, is it an instrument of God? Anything that kills, anything that destroys human life is not an instrument of God. It's negative. So, what of the army that uses all these bullet proofs? What of the police that use bullet proof? When you touch a bullet roof vest, it is very soft. It is western protection. It is western form of spiritual protection because when you look deeper into a bullet proof, you will see powder inside it.
It's the powder that would not allow bullets to penetrate your body. So, I don't know how long it will take us, Africans, to appreciate what they have. Why should we allow the West to continue to deceive us that what we have is devilish and it's not acceptable, when they are selling bullet proof vests all over the world, supplying them to many countries, making billions of dollars? And the substance inside that bullet proof is white powder? What is the evil in developing our own traditional bullet proof? Why won't you be selling it and bringing foreign currency into your country? If we develop the many things we have in Yoruba land, are you sure most of the peacekeepers all over the world will not be coming to buy them to protect their lives? If we put what have into practice, it would reduce terrorism in this country and all over the world.
How will it reduce terrorism?
Yoruba have a lot. I am not going to go in to details because I am not an herbalist. I am not a religion leader, but I am telling you from the experience we had in the struggle. A lot of things happened that we couldn't even explain. Some people that you never knew could be powerful, we saw them with powerful objects when the struggle was so hot. They put on these things on the excuse that they wanted to protect themselves. Even some people that we believe that are so holy, so powerful in other religions, they had a lot these things by then. Some will even tell you, 'my brother, we have this one o, despite the fact that we go to church. We see some of these people that pray five times in a day in the mosque, they come out with different things. Let's not deceive ourselves, the Yoruba way is very deep. What about the oral message that comes out of the Yoruba mouth without putting it in an object?
You said something about the Yoruba having the power to confront terrorism. Yes.
Ok, what kind of power do Yoruba have that can confront Boko Haram, for instance?
I will not talk about Boko Haram. But when you are talking about Yoruba having power to curtail terrorism, I can ell you this, for instance, Yoruba have power to know the mind of people without getting information that you can classify as intelligence. It is native intelligence. Before the coming of telecommunication, mobile or landline, before the coming of GSM, if somebody was in the farm, and the Yoruba was at home and wanted him home now, now, the Yoruba had word that they would say that the man would run home in a matter of minutes. The Yoruba would stay at home and say: 'Lagbaja, Omo Lagbaja, where re you? We are calling you. Come back home now.' The person will drop his cutlass or hoe, and say: 'Ah, my ear pinches; they are calling me. I have to go back home.' The person will call it a day and go back home. That is how powerful Yoruba is. Before the advent of railways and cars, most of our forefathers had something they called 'Kanako' (a juju device that shortens distance). They can trek from here to Kaduna without getting tired in two hours using Kanako. But civilization came and we couldn't research into all these things any more. Most of the people that held this power, some of them have died and we didn't appreciate them when they were alive.
Assuming we appreciated our ways, we would have invented a lot of things from them. One of the problems is that there are no written documents on some of these things. Some of them wrote documents, but by the time they did, their children had turned to other religions, and did not believe in them. Some even burnt them. So, we are losing valuable assets. We are losing research. We are losing technologies. How can you see a plane just flying from down to up, you call it technology without having some spiritual undertone? Before that technology, something will drive from spiritual to a technology. You can invent something through the spiritual path. You can have a very good technology through spiritual part of life. But if you are not spiritual, no matter how educated you are, you will just be talking on the surface. Intellectual rubbish, oratory garbage, delivering lectures without backing them up with practicals. You see some researchers or professors delivering lectures but they can't practicalise what they are saying. Whereas, you can see some people, they can practicalise what they are saying without even having the oral aspect or the documentary aspect of it because they are communicating with the spirit that is beyond human understanding.
Why did you say that you wouldn't talk about Boko Haram?
I wouldn't talk about Boko Haram because the issue of Boko Haram did not arise with what we are saying. Besides, I'm not a government agent. The only thing I am interested in his my own jurisdiction. We are in the African First Ladies Peace Mission. We don't discuss security. If you don't invite me properly about your security, you can't expect me to be dropping my brain for you on the pages of newspapers, when you are getting billions. The NSA is getting billions to fight terrorism. The SSS is getting billions. Police is getting billions, other religions, other expert consultants are getting billions. I was not called upon to consult for them, so, you can't expect me to be talking about the solution. If they need me, they know where to find me. I am less interested about it; I am more interested in the protection of my people. That is the allegiance I signed with Yoruba land; that I should protect Yoruba land.
You should be sufficiently interested in this, because suppose Boko Haram comes to Lagos, which is under your jurisdiction?
The issue of coming to the west, we have over flogged that. And we are working on that. Our strategy should not be something we should purge out on the pages of newspapers. We have a lot of plans on ground.
Plans to counter the Boko Haram's offensive?
I am not talking about any counter-offensive.
We are working towards that, but certainly not counter, not preventive.
If I heard you right, you said earlier that when you people launched out as OPC, you went for some paramilitary training?
It's not paramilitary training per se. We call it something for self-defense.
That looks like paramilitary training…
(Cuts in…) No, it's common sense! Because when the issue of Abacha was becoming hot, and the polity was becoming too hostile, we were thinking that, 'will it not lead to war?' So, psychologically, we started talking to our people. If there is shooting, you have to do this. Just a minor lecture within our level, not para-military training. We are less interested in that because most of the retired soldiers are betrayals. They can infiltrate you at any time.
Even Yoruba retired military men?
Most of them. They are still loyal to their corps. So, we limited the trust we had in them. You can read many revolutions' books and know ways to defend yourself, to defend your territory. We were giving all these lectures to different categories of members, always telling them that we should prepare for any eventuality. Fortunately for Nigeria, Abacha died in the process. If Abacha had not died, I can assure you that before 2001, Nigeria could have found itself at war because a lot of people were becoming so hostile, so hostile that people were openly talking about engaging in one form of militancy or another to face the government. Everything was at a standstill. There were sanctions from international community. Nobody wanted to have anything to do with us, and we didn't have freedom of expression. Even journalists were killed. People were being pushed to the wall. That was why when Abacha died, there was jubilation across the nation, not only in the west.
But before then, we had started preparing orally, giving lectures about what to do if anything happens. A good Yoruba man will always prepare for eventuality. There were three radio stations, set up, sending messages into the country - Freedom Radio, OOdua Radio, and Kudirat Abiola Radio. So, the information coming from the radios was becoming inciting that we should prepare, anything can happen. We prepared that if a voice could be coming from nowhere, the authority would not know the base of the radio and cannot stop this information. In Yoruba adage, you start your war through music and communication. So, we were preparing.
How far did you go in your preparation, because you were just 23 when June 12 broke out…
I was 28 in 1998.
How far did you go?
Before 28, we had mobilized majority of the citizens in Yoruba land and by time I was 30 years old, there was no city in Yoruba land that we didn't have OPC. The organisation had been very popular. I remember that one South African ambassador (diplomat) who came and said that OPC did, within five years, what ANC could not do in 100 years. That was in 1998. I think the level of awareness, the level of popularity, the level of organisation, was so high the world could not but notice us.
There was a point in time when OPC was reported as having developed a bomb in the form of an egg, which was capable of bringing down a building in a jiffy when you hurl it against the target.
It was not a bomb, it was part of the traditional and native protection I talked about.
You throw an egg at a building and it comes down…
It happened in some parts, I wouldn't deceive you. If there were no crisis, if there was no war, you would not know the level of power the Yoruba have. You could underrate a Yoruba man if there is no crisis. And you may not know the powerful man in Yoruba if there is no crisis because Yoruba don't prepare for war. They react to war.
How can you react to war without preparing for war?
From our own history, most of the things that happened to us, we reacted. When Abiola was going for election, nobody thought they would annul the election. He just had only one plan: Plan A, without Plan B-that if this election is annulled, we should form a group to confront the military. You will remember when Babangida annulled the election on June 23, 1993, it took NADECO almost eight months to be formed. Because they were negotiations, they did not prepare that the election would be annulled. NADECO was formed in April 1994. Babangida annulled the election on June 23, 1993. So, it's about nine months. Assuming they had a plan B, immediately the election was annulled, the group would have swung into action.
When Awolowo was arrested in 1961, '62, it took Yoruba time to organise through the leadership of the Action Group. The struggle of Agbekoya was took place between 1967 and 1969. They now organised themselves to face the struggle squarely. But Akintola was in charge, suppressing them. At the end of the day, the coup came on January 15, 1966, and they killed him. We can go on and on, down memory lane. Like the issue of Boko Haram now, Yoruba did not prepare that something like Boko Haram will arise. What is happening in the Niger Delta, if you don't have a serious group on ground, how do you counter it? Until when they realized that Boko Haram had bombed UN House, that was when they called a Yoruba Conference in Ikenne.
You will see that we will always react to issue, we don't prepare. But I realised only recently that the reason Yoruba don't normally prepare is that we have a lot of betrayals. If you want to form a group without any issue on ground, they will go and divulge the information to the authority, to our enemies. And all the intelligence of the meetings will be revealed to intelligence agencies… But with the other ethnic groups, this is not so. Our own is quite different. Sometimes, we don't trust one another until when an issue arises, then, everybody will be serious. Even when we were preparing, during the time of Radio Kudirat and Freedom Radio, it was because we were just a group, not the entire Yoruba people. We were just few people in OPC by then. But when you talk of all the entire Yoruba people, most of the contractors will sell you out, most of the political harlots will sell out. Even some royal fathers will sell you out. So, you have to be very careful.
I mentioned something about that 'egg bomb', if you permit me. How did OPC develop it?
It's possible, more than possible. This is not new to OPC. You remember the crisis of Omoboriowo in the old Ondo State in 1983? The egg was used to bomb houses at that time. And I remember vividly that an egg was used to bomb our palace in Arigidi (Ekiti State) in 1967. So, coming to OPC, it's not a new thing. We have more powers than that. If not because of religion, the people of Idanre, if they talk to a leaf, the leaf will tear immediately. They can command a tree to fall and it will be so. But now, because of religion, all those powers have been suppressed. Those who have the powers cannot even bring them out again. But if there is a crisis or anything against the Yoruba, they will come out with it.
That's why any government that toys with the interest of Yoruba, will fall in Nigeria. I laugh each time I remember that Yoruba has been relegated to the background in Nigeria. It's just like a snake that sleeps, and you go and step on its tail. That is how Yoruba normally is.
It's impossible to suppress one of the most organised groups in Nigeria, relegate the race to no 11 position, and you think you will run a government that would be successful. Yoruba is not the kind of race you can just push to the background. Even for Abacha to succeed up to a point, he first brought Diya as his second-in-command to consolidate his government. When he was sure that he had consolidated his government, he brought Aminu Saleh as is SFG, before setting up Diya (on a phantom coup) and removed him. And you realise that Abacha started having problems when he set Diya up and brought Bamaiyi as a shadow vice president. He was only using Bamaiyi as a shadow vice president, while Aminu Saleh was the secretary to the federal government. By then, the government started crumbling until he lost his life at the end of the day.
What capabilities do the Yoruba have to shield the region from attacks?
Until we get there, we cross the bridge. We have issued a lot of statements; we have warned Boko Haram that it should not attack Yoruba land. Yoruba land is secular region. We have Christian, Muslim and traditional religions co-existing without any crises, without acrimony. So, we have already warned them to stay clear of Yoruba land. We are not encouraging them to bomb anywhere in Nigeria but our major interest is Yoruba land. I am defending Yoruba land. I believe in justice in Nigeria, but at the same time, we are telling them to stay away from Yoruba land. My primary concern is Yoruba land because I am first of all an Arigidi person before being an Ondo person, and from there a Yoruba man. I am a Yoruba first before becoming a Nigerian.