South West: Yesterday,Today and the Challenges of 2019

By Olabode George

Sons and Daughters of Oduduwa, these are really challenging times. We are now rudderless, flung in all winds, lacking the cohesive bond and leadership of old which once put our people at the cutting edge of significant leadership in the Nigerian Union.

Alas, we seem adrift, unsure of the pivotal steadiness of old, stripped of a rallying guidance, forfeited upon a dark unknown ancient shore.

Now, where is our anchor ? Now, where is that firm footedness that once gave our ancestors the leading supremacy in all endeavors in the Nigerian Union ?

Today’s event is very significant in all ramifications. It is about the necessary contemplation of the positioning of our people in the Nigerian journey. It is about who we are. It is about what molded and shaped us as a unique, gifted people. It is about the primordial beginning of the Yoruba people . It is about our present confrontations. It is about our common expectations as the light of 2019 beckons upon all of us.

The discourse today is also about our flaws and progressions. It is about the vast etchings of the past and the poignant commonality of the present.

Personally, I believe that what enriches us much more in Yorubaland is our willingness to reflect on our beginning, to appraise the pivotal fundaments and the building blocks that shape our people.

It was the American philosopher, George Santayana who told us that “those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. “ In coming together today from all the constituents of the Yorubaland to do a frank appraisal of the land of Oduduwa and kindle a necessary historical recognition that the past is always a guide to the present and the future. And that the past cannot and must not be ignored.

The moral here is that the past cannot and must not be eclipsed in ignorant indifference lest we lose a grasp of the continuity of who we are.

In this sense, I must congratulate the organizers of this event for their commendable initiative in bringing together all the diverse elements that give our people that rare richness of culture and certitudes that define the nobility of the Yoruba entity.

It is an initiative we must all celebrate for all its inherent selflessness and instructive reminder to all of us that our history is like a torchbearer through all the tunnels, the dark turbulence, the brightening days, the challenges, the stumbles, the halts, the progressions and the necessary continuity beyond today and the generations yet to come.

My duty here today is to look critically at the various roles our people in the South-West of this nation have played in the formation of the Nigerian identity.

I speak today as a student of history bound by the factuality of scholarship to itemize the truth, to illustrate and document historical realities without embellishments, without erasures or fictional additions.

I stand here today to document the truth and analyze the burdens, the challenges, the vast, sweeping contributions of the Yoruba people to the formative essence of the Nigerian identity.

If I appear celebratory of the great attainments of our people to the Nigerian Union, it is no adornment of history. It is not a fictional recourse to elevate our people. It is the stark truth. It is a factual presentation in all epochal largeness.

Even at the risk of cultural adulation, I will be remiss as an articulator of history not to acknowledge the incredible attainments of my people in the continuity of the Nigerian journey.

The Yoruba people who occupy the South-Western corner of the Nigerian entity from the Ilorin-Afonja to the forests and the woodlands of Ondo and Ekiti, from the rivers and the streams of Osun to the undulating hills of Oyo and far into the mountains and the rocky firmness of Ogun, sweeping down to the industrial richness and the entrepreneurial modernity of the sprawling Atlantic largeness of Lagos- the Yoruba have always been daring, groundbreaking, latched to a path-finding instinctiveness. They always dare the odds, challenge the impossible, grapple with what may seem to others as herculean and unrealistic.

Culturally accommodating, friendly, eager to learn from others, intuitive in their embrace of other people’s summative identity, the Yoruba people invariably gained an edge over other constituents of the Nigerian Union in the immediate embrace of the liberating vistas of Westernization.

The Yoruba broke the grounds in Commerce , in Medicine, in Law, in Technology in the deep mines of Science and in all the known endeavors of human civilization.

They were the first not only because they were the best and the brightest but because they are eternally curious, fearless, relentless, summed up in their willingness to learn new things and accommodate new truths.

The founding fathers of the Yoruba nation worked with other ethnic groups to solidify and build a nation that we can all claim as our own. They were never distant, never etched in arrogant spatiality, never flung in aloof grandstanding of all-knowing wisdom.

Before prehistory when little was documented, when great warriors and titans like Orranmiyan, Orunmila, Alaafin Shango, Moremi, Lisabi Agbogbo-Akala, Lagelu, Olofin -Ajaiye, Aare Latosa, Obanta, Timi – Olofa ina, Bashorun Gaa and several other titans straddled the Yorubaland- we cannot forget the more modern father-and-son relationship between the multi-talented wizard of Kirsten Hall, the great Herbert Heelas Macaulay and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe; the historical duo who worked tirelessly and fought bravely for the Nigerian independence.

In and out of jail, brutalized, trampled upon, the incredible nationalists defied the power and the might of the British Empire, utilizing the tools of journalism, mass mobilization, the judiciary and public disobedience.

It was not easy. But they endured all kinds of physical intimidation, the savaging of their economic means , the near ruination of their livelihoods before they eventually triumphed.

Here the great Herbert Macaulay took Dr Azikiwe upon his shoulders as a shepherd and a guiding spirit, indifferent to cultural divisions.

Such is the Yoruba character: accommodating, cosmopolitan, stripped of belittling prejudice.

We also remember the collaboration of the great Pan Africanist Mallam Duse Mohammed Ali with Sir Adeyemo Alakija, Ernest Ikoli, Chief Titcombe, as they all utilized the platform of the old and feisty Daily Times of Nigeria, not to promote partisan ends but to galvanize the dawn of a new nation.

And who can forget Professor Ayodele Awojobi, professor Saburi Biobaku , Professor Eni Njoku, Professor Kenneth Onwuka Dike, Chief Ozumba Mbadiwe and many others as they contributed to scholarship In Yorubaland. They were able to prosper because the Yorubaland bore no malice !

Chief Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, the pioneering transporter and business mogul, spawned his business adventurism on the rich accommodating soil of Yorubaland as he rubbed shoulders with the entrepreneurial acumen of the Odutola brothers, Seidu Olowo, C.O. Blaize, Ekundayo Phillips, James George, Mabinuori Dawodu, Ali Oloko, M.D. Da Rochas, Ali Oloko, Taiwo Olowo, and so many others too numerous to mention.

My argument here is clear and simple: No single tribe in the Nigerian Union can do it alone. We must cooperate with each other. We must love one another. We must cultivate a strong, unbreakable bond of brotherhood which our founding fathers forged to eradicate the British imperialism.

Without the cooperation of the historical troika of the Sardauna of Sokoto Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Nigerian nation perhaps wouldn’t have emerged today even with all our flaws. Our independence would have been definitely delayed and abrupted.

We must learn that nations are not built on fears or on ethnic or sectarian provincialism. We must respect each other’s differences as well as tolerate our dissenting views.

Nations are never built on forced uniformity of ideals. Nations are built on the round-table of debate wherein consensus invariably emerges after series of duelling of conflicting visions and colliding disagreements.

The resort to violence and ethnic divisiveness does not augur well for the growth and progressive development of our nation.

The hideous scourge of Boko Haram, the dark strain of evangelical extremism are primitive aberrations.

Without necessarily chest-beating, I want to affirm here and now that the Yoruba people are perhaps the most religiously tolerant people on Earth. There is hardly any Yoruba family wherein the three basic religions – namely Christianity, Islam and the traditional practices do not cohabit, without malice, without rancor. All commingle with amity.

On a personal note, my own senior sister is a Muslim while I am of course a Christian. And equally my junior brother who is a Christian is married to a Muslim . His wife is now a pastor ! This may be puzzling to others but not so to the constituents of Yorubaland whose total idealism is defined by tolerance, respect and even engaging felicity towards other people regardless of cultural, partisan or sectarian differences.

My summative position here is that this nation needs to be deepened in more mutual tolerance for the seeds of amity and progress to enrich our soil.

Let us dismantle the politics of hate and bitterness which diminish all of us. Let us remove the ogre of sectarian malice that distorts our collective humanity.

All our ethnic constituents are naturally peace-loving, caring and wiling to live among themselves in harmony. Let the leaders demonstrate genuine, unbiased, unprejudiced leadership.

This is what we must encourage. This is what we must preach in our mosques and in our churches and in our traditional gatherings.

We have remained as a nation for 104 years now. That itself is a great achievement. Let us now build further on the path of progression and pacific relationship. Let us continue to condemn and stamp out the primitive ideology of hatred and division.

We have been brought together by the unfathomable hands of fate. Our strength is in our plurality. Our significance is in the depths of our multifarious identities.

Let us sustain this diversity through dignity, through sincerity , through genuineness of purpose and through the abiding trust in the guidance of God.

As we grapple with the dawning challenges of 2019, naturally like all other ethnic groups, the Yoruba people want to ensure that they do have an important seat at the table when the dividends of democracy are being apportioned. We do not ask for more than what is fair and just. We do not ask for more than what is equitable and balanced in proportion.

The Yoruba people will never negotiate on the purity of Restructuring. This federation as presently constituted is skewed, disproportionately unfair in the distribution of the national wealth.
We insist on a balanced, equitable expanse where every section of the Nigerian society will be free and unhindered in the cultivation of their natural resources.

As it is now, the center is wielding too much power to the detriment of those who produce the abundance of the wealth of the Nigerian nation.

This is unfair, untoward, destabilizing, anchored on a wobbly totality. Such drunkenly leaning apparatus cannot long endure. It will invariably tumble into chaotic abyss and self -destruct.

We must move away from this ruinous precipice immediately by ensuring that this nation is structured on equity and anchored upon democratic legitimacy.
The Yoruba people who once broke grounds on all possible fields of human endeavors cannot and must not play a peripheral role in the Nigerian Union. We must never be flung into inconsequential characterization while others grab the biggest chunk of the national cake.

Our vision is about a nation that is free, liberal, truly democratic, without bias, without bigotry, accommodating to all, predicated on merit and justice.

I must rest here ! But the Yoruba journey continues amid the vastness of the Nigerian Union.

Oduduwa a gbe gbogbo wa o !

• Chief Olabode Ibiyinka George
• Atona Odua of Yorubaland
Being a Speech delivered at Muson Center at the South West Forum Colloquium.
Monday December 3rd 2018

Sent from my iPhone

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