“Chairman Mao Zedong said “Let a hundred flowers blossom; let a hundred schools of thought contend…”Chinua Achebe added “…Let the kite perch and let the egret perch too. If one says no to the other, let his wing break!” Aseee!!!”
By Bola Bolawole
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Last Saturday, February 29, 2020, activists from all walks of life gathered at the International Secretariat of the Yoruba World Congress (YWC) located at the Magodo area of Lagos to deliberate on matters of interest to the Yoruba nation.
Delegates came from Venezuela, the USA, the UK, Spain, Cuba, Mexico, Brazil and the Republic of Benin. Goodwill messages came from even remote corners of the world as far away as Papua New Guinea. The occasion was described as the “First General Assembly of the Yoruba nation beyond the Nigerian borders” by YWC’s Director, Contacts and Mobilization, Comrade Victor Taiwo; YWC’s Nigerian chapter is led by Prof. Emeritus of History and African Studies, Pa Stephen Adebanji Akintoye.
Recall that bombshell was dropped last year at Ibadan on the 22nd of August when about 39 Yoruba organizations elected Akintoye as “Yoruba Leader” What becomes of the Afenifere which, historically, have been the authentic leaders of the Yoruba? The dust raised by the Ibadan event is yet to settle but that has not deterred Akintoye from forging ahead with the mandate bestowed on him as “the 4th Yoruba Leader”, as Taiwo described it.
Of course, feathers were ruffled; Afenifere and its sympathizers questioned the locus, as lawyers would say, of the groups that elected Akintoye as well as Akintoye’s own credentials to parade as Yoruba Leader. To add to the jig-saw puzzle, Akintoye, an Awoist like the other Afenifere leaders, remains a member of Afenifere, even chairing (?) of one of its committees.
Akintoye appears unwilling to engage in any supremacy battle with Afenifere; thus, he is careful not to brazenly don the toga of “Yoruba Leader” bestowed on him at Ibadan. He seems pleased to see himself simply as one of many Yoruba leaders – which, eminently, he is – pursuing the same Yoruba agenda from a perspective different from Afenifere’s. Ona’kan o w’oja! Oh yes! A market has more than one entry point. Last Saturday, Akintoye welcomed delegates “…on behalf of the Nigerian chapter of the Yoruba World Congress and on behalf of the whole Yoruba nation in Nigeria…” Well; time, as they say, will tell!
It bears repeating that Yoruba leadership is forged in the crucible of struggle. Leaders emerge in times of crisis to lead their people. Moses, David, Gideon, Jephthah emerged in dire circumstances to led biblical Israel. As for the Yoruba, Awo paid the price. Adekunle Ajasin led the Yoruba during one of its most critical periods in recent history and Abraham Adesanya, who took the baton from Ajasin, ran the race to the finishing line of return to democratic rule. The current Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, is a contemporary of Akintoye and both, according to reports, remain friends despite the raging controversy over Yoruba leadership.
Has Afenifere been up to the task of recent? Opinions are divided! Whereas some still see the Afenifere as safe, experienced and trusted hands, others are of the opinion that new hands and fresh ideas are sorely needed to pilot Yoruba affairs in perilous times such as the Yoruba find themselves today under the nepotistic, incompetent and rudderless Muhammadu Buhari regime that endangers the Yoruba as individuals and as a nation.
Nothing demonstrates this more than the embarrassing lack of action from Afenifere when the very daughter of their own very leader was gruesomely murdered by suspected Fulani herdsmen. I personally was sad when I contacted one Afenifere leader to find out about their plan of action that everyone else could key into – and there was none! Only speeches and grand-standing which, in the end, amounted to nothing! All sounds and fury signifying nothing, says William Shakespeare! If that could happen to the very leader of Afenifere, who, then, is safe? If Afenifere will not – could not – fight for its own, who else will it fight for?
But every disappointment, as they say, is a blessing. The fear of Fulani herdsmen has become, for the Yoruba, the beginning of wisdom; hence Amotekun, the Yoruba regional security outfit which, though still in the works, has radically united the Yoruba in an unprecedented manner. The Yoruba rose like one man to stoutly resist efforts to kill Amotekun. Taiwo said it was the fear that the Fulani would overrun, decimate, conquer, annex and oppress Yoruba land that propelled the Ibadan episode of filling what they saw as a yawning leadership vacuum in Yoruba land.
Last Saturday’s YWC assembly was, however, riddled with organisational and administrative lapses; some of which were said to be due to the fact the just-acquired YWC headquarters was “work in progress” YWC already has two offices, the one in Lagos and another in Ibadan. It not only has a bank account but also aims to establish a Yoruba Fund, fashioned after the Jewish Fund, to promote and protect Yoruba interests worldwide.
The YWC will not operate like a medieval age guild or Volkwagen’s “Currywurst” sausages whose secret formula are closely guarded but has flung open its doors to willing Yoruba citizens, home and abroad. It plans to open offices all over the world as well as set up world-class Yoruba think-tanks. Apart from south-west Nigeria (up to some parts of Kogi and Edo/Delta states), the Yoruba are to be found in most parts of the south-eastern and middle belt regions of the republics of Benin and Togo as well as in south-eastern Ghana.
The Berlin conference of 1884/85 so cavalierly partitioned Africa that the Yoruba nation was fragmented and tucked into four different countries in West Africa; in addition, the Yoruba Diaspora are to be found in appreciable numbers in Sierra Leone, Cote D’Ivoire, Mali, Liberia, the Gambia, Sudan, South Sudan, and central and southern Africa.
Arising from the Slave Trade, Yoruba populations thrive in Brazil, Cuba, Columbia, Suriname, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Jamaica, Grenada, Barbados, St. Kitts, St. Vincent, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, Bahamas and the USA. Arising also from the more recent search for greener pastures and migration from harsh economic realities at home, Yoruba people can now be found in practically all the nooks and crannies of the world.
Added together, the Yoruba qualify as one of the largest ethnic groups in the world – at about 300 million people. According to Akintoye, there are about 56 million Yoruba in Nigeria, six million in Benin and Togo combined (not to talk of those in Ghana and other West African countries), three million in Sudan and South Sudan, 60 million in Brazil (where efforts are on to make Yoruba one of the national languages), seven million in the US, eight million in Haiti, four million in Cuba, five million in Mexico and about eight million in Britain and the other countries of Europe.
Another eye-opener at the meeting was the disclosure that the Yoruba traditional religion is one of the world’s most influential religions and the fastest growing. The Yoruba are also said to possess the oldest DNA in the world. Many of the foreign delegates who attended the meeting were Yoruba religion devotees and they all answered Yoruba names. The recitation of “Odu Ifa” by some of them was simply astounding. Ironically, this is the same religion that is treated as scum back home. Nothing speaks better to this anomaly than the fact that Akintoye himself is “Stephen” and the comrade Contacts person, “Victor”!
Like Yoruba religion, the Yoruba language itself has fallen on bad times. Speakers lamented that the language may become extinct down the line. In how many Yoruba homes is Yoruba still being spoken by the younger generations? Blame the Yoruba’s one-way craze for Western education! To reverse the ugly trend, we may have to revert to the old educational philosophy where children did not attend school until their right hand, passed over their head, touched the left ear (usually age six). Let every child below six years stay at home and learn the language, customs and traditions of their own people!
I remember one of my mates at Ife, Adeeko, who studied Yoruba; we used to ask him what he was doing in the university! Such perceptions must change; opportunities must be created for those who study Yoruba; and, most importantly, the all-round resurgence and cultural renaissance that the YWC promised must take off the ground for appropriate value to be added to all things Yoruba.
That is the task before the Yoruba nation. And it is the assignment for anyone who craves Yoruba leadership. It is what will determine, in the long run, the authentic and true Yoruba Leader. In the meantime and as Christ counselled, let the wheat and the thorn grow together until the day of harvest which, I dare to say, is nigh. The more, the merrier, as they say! Apart from Afenirere, YWC, Afenifere Renewal Group, Yoruba Elders Council, etc. there are many other Yoruba self-determination groups such as Yoruba Agbaiye, Alajobi and Egbe Omo Oduduwa.
Chairman Mao Zedong said “Let a hundred flowers blossom; let a hundred schools of thought contend…”Chinua Achebe added “…Let the kite perch and let the egret perch too. If one says no to the other, let his wing break!” Aseee!!!