Poll: We’ve directed 1.3m members in Kwara, other states to vote for restructuring – Oodua group


Alhaji Maruf Olarewaju Abdulsalam is from Oke-Oyan in Ifelodun Local Government Area of Kwara State and the National President of Oodua Progressive Care Initiative (OPCI), a faction that broke away from the Gani Adams Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC). In this Interview with HEAD POLITICS, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM, he talks about the crisis that led to the break up, the forthcoming general elections and allegation that the group is sponsoring Yoruba agenda against the Emirate among others. Excerpts:

What prompted the formation of OPCI from the OPC?

There were many reasons but let me give you the background. In 2001, the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) was banned by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, which has not been lifted by any succeeding government till today. It is not wise for us to continue to struggle the legality of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) with the Federal Government because no organisation has got away with it. People use to see the OPC as an organisation of violence, thuggery and hooliganism based on how it emerged to fight for the June 12 struggle. Our oath forbids us from playing partisan politics which was the major reason for the breakaway of the Gani Adams faction from the late Fredrick Fasehun’s group, who was the original founder of OPC but was accused in 1991 to have politicised the group against its oath and allegedly using OPC to collecting money. We queue behind Gani Adams in the struggle but his coming on board made the OPC worse. After we pulled out, we consulted major leaders and stakeholders in Yoruba land and across the country and in the Diaspora and we initated the process of the registration of the OPCI in Abuja at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). That is where the idea came from. Initially, we wanted to register it as the Oodua Progressives Congress but we where told that the congress is a brand name of the NLC. OPCI was choosen because we don’t want to loose the OPC franchise and we added I.

What is the basic difference between OPC and OPCI?

The OPCI is meant to promote the Yoruba culture and assist the old and young, including men and women to uplift and improve their living standard. And unlike previously, we will not task anybody to pay any amount in the name of having festivals. Before now, we used to contribute N500 for each of the 17 festivals we have in a year. Now if only one million members out of the over six million we have pay, that is about 500 million per festival, multiply that by 17 in a year.

What is your acceptability or otherwise across Yoruba land and Nigeria generally?

We have been highly accepted beyond our expectation. We launched the OPCI in Ile-Ife September 24, 2015 with only four states of Kwara, Edo, Ondo and Osun. But we are now in nineteen states because people now see it as a legal organisation approved by the Federal Government. Just last year, the first class Oba of Odigbo Kingdom in Ondo state recognised us with a chieftaincy title of the Balogun Adimula, meaning we are highly accepted and we have been honoured in Kwara as the Jagunmolu. We don’t want to copy the OPC in our own programme and make sure we prove to people the welfarism we have preached about. The Oluwo of Iwo called just three days ago that we should continue with our lofty programmes and they are watching us.

Now that you have promised to reform the OPCI away from partisan politics, how have you been able to handle the challenge of funding? 

We trust in God and we are moving. Under the past leadership, we were force to attend meetings every Tuesday in Lagos and people will travel from Sokoto and other far places despite the inconvenience. But in OPCI, we limited our gathering to one national meeting per month and we have 11 meetings in a year. So this gave opportunity for leaders to face their various sources of livelihood unlike before.

The OPCI oath entails it will not be involve in partisan politics but you recently directed your members to vote for any candidate that is serious about restructuring. Is such statement not partisan?

Not at all, the call for the restructuring of the country began since the military regime and it is overdue. Our inability to restructure has been one of the reasons for most of the problems we are having today. If we said we will support any government that is serious about restructuring; it goes on to reinforce our former position.

Groups like Afenifere, Ndigbo, PANDEF, NEF amongst others have openly endorsed presidential candidates and parties, is anything of such in the pipeline?

We are not a partisan organisation but we will support anybody that is serious with the issue of restructuring and we have stated our position on that. That does not mean we have deviated from our aims and objectives but to practice what the constitution allows us to do. We have focus and we will not be derailed. We have Yoruba across all the political parties in the country and we are very mindful of the fact that we have to protect their interests.

What has been the challenge operating from Kwara State?

Before now, the OPC has very serious challenge with the people of Ilorin, especially the Alfas and the emirate simply because nobody could explain better our stand. The past two leaders of the OPC came from Lagos and do not understand what is in operation here in Ilorin and what the people want. When I was the Kwara State coordinator in 2006, I have to move from house-to-House explaining to people in detail what OPCI mean and what we stood for.
You were once alleged to be involve in the plot to remove the traditional ruler of Ganmo…
That was the Gamno crisis in October 14, 2001 when the OPC was accused that they wanted to come and overthrow the Oba of Ganmo. But when I came in, we have to change the perception of the way people see us and I promised that such thing will never happen again and it has remained so. Then, if the police arrest any OPC member, they associate them with the outlawed organisation and we moved that out of the way with the registration of OPCI. We have been having our meetings on a weekly basis across Ilorin whereby we explained what we stand for and we have been accepted and better understood to the extent that representatives of the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari like Daudus and Magajis have represented the royal father in our meetings.

Many have accused your organisation of pursuing an agenda to relegate and overthrow the Emirate?  

That is OPC and not OPCI, though we may pull out from the former but we are a different organisation entirely. OPCI stands for peace and harmony and are the progressives minded working tirelessly for the progress of our people.

Most of your members are lowly educated except few elites that are leaders of the organisation, what are you doing to address this?

In the new OPCI, you can’t become a state coordinator if you are not a graduate and that is why we have given the opportunity for the members interested to go back to school because we don’t want people to continue to see us as some set of hooligans or thugs. We have sponsored over 120 students abroad for various fields of studies to promote education

How will OPCI partner with the security agencies for the forthcoming elections now that the police has said it will not allow local security outfit to wear uniform in the guise of providing security?

We are not a political organisation or affiliated with anyone or even an agent of any law enforcement agencies. We are citizens of the country and it is our civic responsibility to go out and exercise our franchise during the elections then leave the polling unit. No OPCI member will put on his or her uniform at the poling unit

What is your membership strength in Kwara State?

Over twenty-two thousand members in Kwara State alone and about 1.3 million across the country
Your critics have said you are in this to amass wealth and also have control over people…
I should expect that as a leader and until they are proven wrong. Some of them have indicated interest to come back to us and just few days ago, we receive a list of about 120 people wanting to come back. About five local governments came to us when we held our national meeting recently at the Kwara State stadium complex. If they fail to criticise us today, we may not put more efforts to what we are doing.

You openly identify with Islam, Christianity and traditionalists, what is the concept of the OPCI in terms of religion?

You see, we have culture and also religion which are quite different. Religion has to do with the way we communicate with the Almighty God of which we believe in and we have Muslims, Christians and traditionalists among us. We came together under the OPCI platform with the aims of promoting the peace, harmony and culture of the Yoruba nation and defend it. As for me, I am a devoted Muslim and just went to perform hajj last year. We have rooms for all the religions because they all operate in Yoruba land.

Is it true that you are being sponsored? 

Well, they have accused us of being sponsored by some politicians but none of them can substantiate it. For us, we are on our own but if the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, Asiwaju Tinubu or any other person extend assistance to us, we will accept it.

Do you use and believe in charm as OPCI leader?

I have La hawla Wala quwatta, Ila billahi and I don’t have charm than Almighty God. I observe by regular five daily prayers and other necessary supplication. But for Yorubas, which is in our culture and tradition, we have it (charms) and if anybody demand for it, he will get it.

What do you make of the statement of MC Oluomo that he will invade Ilorin over Saraki’s dominance? 

That is uncalled for. If he is operating in Lagos with violence, he should just remain there because Kwara State has never been an extension of Lagos and has its own autonomy. We will not allow that because nobody has a monopoly of violence. He should be very conscious of his statement. Kwara State is not a battle field and we know how we resolve our issue.

You message 

Every political party should play the game according to the rules. What we are experiencing in Kwara State is totally uncalled for because politics is only a game of numbers and there are bound to be winners and losers. It’s not a do-or-die affair. I am appealing to them not to turn Kwara to a state of anarchy or battle field.

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