By Bolanle Bolawole
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Nigeria appears to have turned the corner and her fate no longer rests with those protecting their oil wells or those nostalgic about their Civil War scars or even those hallucinating about 2023. Truth be told, these same people – those bent on protecting their advantage as well as those sentimental about the so-called non-negotiability of Nigeria’s ‘unity’ – are the very people that have brought this country to its present sorry pass. As the bitter truth stares everyone in the face, the time to face reality has come. Whichever choice that is made eventually will depend on the kind of leaders that will be called upon to decide the future of Nigeria and their bargaining power. Being from the South-west, my consideration at the moment is the kind of leaders that will emerge to represent the region. The region must get it right at this very critical juncture or else, the mistakes of the past will be repeated with catastrophic consequences.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo remains one stand out leader that the Yoruba have had. His achievements as premier of the region (1 October, 1954 – 1 October, 1960) commanded the attention and appreciation of the people, thereby cementing Awo’s place in the pantheon of Yoruba gods and goddesses. To date, none has equalled Awo, not to talk of surpassing him. Yet, the Yoruba have had a surfeit of ‘leaders’ since the demise of Awo on May 9, 1987 at 78 years. The Yoruba have produced giants in military uniforms and there have been leaders in business as well. The Yoruba have also produced academic giants that can rub shoulders with the best from any part of the world. Still, the groundswell of opinion is that when it comes to the quality of political leadership that can uplift the Yoruba, the South-west has been most unfortunate with the succeeding generations of leaders after Awo. The farther we moved away from the Awo years, the more, it seems, we have regressed in the quality of leadership available to the region.
The tell-tale signs of degeneration in political leadership were already apparent during the Second Republic, in the days of the UPN when Awo himself was still alive. The long period of military rule from 1966 to 1979 had ruined many of Awo’s legacies, which the UPN governors were unable to reclaim and restore. The time they had was short, though (1979 to 1983) before another military putsch brought another set of wanton troopers to consolidate on the destruction of Awo’s legacies while systematically and deliberately turning the tide against the South as a whole and giving the advantage to the North.
Yakubu Gowon was the chief beneficiary of the counter-coup of July 1966 that killed the then military Head of State, Gen. JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi, and the Western Region governor, Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, going ahead to subvert the seniority structure in the military and setting the North on its vice-like grip on the military. Every government headed by a Northerner since then has given the advantage to the North and has short-changed the South. In the creation of states; in the number of local governments; in the population figures; in moving the capital from Lagos to Abuja; in the revenue sharing formula; in appointments into sensitive positions; in the siting of critical national infrastructure, more so military installations and institutions, etc, they have one step after another marginalized the South and given the North ascendancy.
Olusegun Obasanjo as military head of state did nothing to redress the imbalance. Instead, he reinforced and accentuated it. Returning as an elected civilian president, Obasanjo performed even more woefully. Just as he handed over his military government to Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (a Fulani), so also did he do as civilian President, abdicating authority to Atiku Abubakar (another Fulani) in his first term in office. Have you come across the post on social media asking: “Who handed over Nigeria to the Fulani”? Goodluck Jonathan can best be described as someone who sleep-walked through his presidency. What advantage did his close to six years in office give his own kinsmen? He could not deliver on the East-West road or the second Niger Bridge; just like Obasanjo neither delivered on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway nor on the road to his Abeokuta hometown!
The South in general has been unfortunate with its leaders! They have been myopic and have demonstrated a warped understanding of the politics of Nigeria. They have supported and promoted the Fulani agenda, enunciated by the Fulani as far back as the early 19th century; despite that the same agenda has gradually reduced them and their people (the South and Middle Belt) to second class citizens in their own country. When TY Danjuma cries Fulanization today, ask him who handed over Nigeria to the Fulani! His roles beginning with July 1966 are in the public domain. When Gowon prays all over the country today, ask him who handed over the country to the Fulani!
But have the South learnt their lessons? Are they now sufficiently apprised of the Fulani agenda that has set this country on fire? Will they unite and stop the Fulani in their tracks? Many have reasoned that the Yoruba must accept the blame for the plague called Muhammadu Buhari. I dare to say, for good reasons! Buhari tried thrice but his fabled 12 million Northern votes could not land him the presidency – until on his fourth attempt when the South-west gave him their votes. So, the South-west, and not the North or Fulani, handed over the country to Buhari – and inadvertently to the Fulani! If we can excuse 2015 as a “mistake”, how about 2019 when Buhari’s hideous agenda was already clearly in the open? So now that the same South-west reels under the weight of Fulani banditry and murderous Fulani herdsmen’s bestiality, we can safely say that we are the architects of our own destruction. Who cobbled together the APC alliance? Whoever takes credit for that must equally accept responsibility for the tragedy of today!
Yet has the Yoruba political leadership not learnt their lessons! Yet have they not retraced their footsteps! Rather, for whatever reasons, they appear stuck with Buhari; like the fleas that follow the corpse to the grave, they seem oblivious of the peril that lies in wait! Are these, then, the same leaders who will represent the Yoruba to renegotiate Nigeria? Leaders whose tongues are tied and who cannot speak up for their people in their hours of need are not those who will speak forthrightly, courageously, and boldly on their behalf on the negotiation table. They lack the guts! They lack sincerity! They lack the confidence! They lack honesty! They lack the Omoluabi ethos of the Yoruba! They lack the commitment! They lack the understanding! They are selfish! They are self-centred! They are corrupt! They represent only their own stomach! They cannot be trusted! They have not sufficiently defended Yoruba interests – and cannot be expected to do so! They are mostly traders, dealers and free wheelers and not leaders cast in Awo’s mode! Like biblical Esau, they will sell not just their own birthright but that of the entire Yoruba nation for a mess of pottage! It is time to begin to ponder seriously on who leads the Yoruba in these dire times!
The Yoruba need leaders who will galvanize them to act and speak as ONE. Unity of purpose and of action is the critical requirement of the moment. Unfortunately, the Yoruba landscape is littered with one-man riot squads who will rather lead in Hell than be a distinguished follower in Heaven. Yet, the time has come for the various Yoruba groups to “come together as one”, if we must quote the musicians of the “We are the world…” fame. For the Yoruba to realise their own “lebensraum” (dream nation/living space), they must begin to act as a nation. Can the Afenifere walk it alone? It cannot! Yes, the Afenifere has history behind it and its leaders have the pedigree but the time has come for it to borrow a leaf from Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika. Afenifere stands in a pole position but must rally the other self-determination groups to speak with one voice. Jethro admonished his son-in-law, Moses: “Thou canst do it alone” Let the Afenifere take heed and act!
In 2019 when various Yoruba self-determination groups converged on Ibadan and chose Prof. Banji Akintoye as “Yoruba Leader” under the auspices of the Yoruba World Congress (YWC), the decision reverberated at home and abroad. The YWC grew in leaps and bounds within a short time. Unfortunately, like Ayi Kwei Armah’s man-child in “The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born”, the YWC floundered ever before it gained maturity! Did anyone curse them, as some have suggested? Akintoye moved on to another platform, Ilana Omo Oodua, which is not doing badly, home and abroad, but, I dare to say, Akintoye and Ilana cannot do it alone. Believe you me! There are no ideological differences between Afenifere and Ilana that cannot be sorted out in the interest of the Yoruba nation.
In closing, I commit two Marxist slogans to the Yoruba self-determination groups: The first is “Workers of all countries, unite!” and the second is “Organize!” Let the Yoruba of all countries unite! God emphasized the importance of unity in the biblical story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11: 1-9). It is unity that has served the Fulani well in Nigeria, despite that they are a minority group. Yoruba wisdom says “osusu owo” (bunch of broomsticks) is hard to break.
Then, the Yoruba must organize effectively in the areas of their strength, the first being the Diaspora. Akintoye’s Ilana has done some work in this area but, collectively, we can do far better. Note that it was the Israeli Diaspora, and not the Israelis at home in Palestine, that made the formation of an Israeli state possible. Secondly, when push becomes shoving you need military fire-power. Some deride the Yoruba as cowards but contemporary Nigerian history teaches that the gallant soldiers that gave Nigeria victory in the Civil War of 1967 – 1970 had a full complement of Yoruba officers and men. Are they all sitting down in retirement and folding their arms? They must organise! Our Yoruba fatherland beckons! It is a call to duty!
And, of course, money answereth all things, says the scripture. Money is needed to prosecute any enterprise, the self-determination struggle inclusive! Money says no one should broach any idea when he (money) is not at home! Whatever anyone may say, it was the economic wizardry of Awo that made the prosecution of the civil war possible without the country borrowing a dime! But witness how, under Fulani managers, the country has drowned in indebtedness! The economic wizardry and financial fire-power of the Yoruba must be galvanized for the task ahead.
Finally, organise the army of Yoruba youths doing “twale” and “alright sir” all over the place to become indispensable in the self-determination struggle. They, too, have a critical role to play. It is because of the mad man that may invade from outside that you station your own mad man within. And have we not been invaded by mad men already? Yoruba, UNITE! Yoruba, ORGANISE!!
Published in the”Treasures” column in the Sunday Tribune newspaper of Sunday, May 9, 2021.