UNPO: First Step Towards Yoruba sovereignty?

Bola Bolawole

By  Bolanle Bolawole

turnpot@gmail.com  0705 263 1058

Last week news broke that the Yoruba nation has been admitted into the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) as its 45th member. President of the Yoruba World Congress (YMC), emeritus professor of History and African Studies, Prof. Banji Akintoye, gleefully made the announcement in a press statement.

As if in competition, the Ralph Uwazuruike-led Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) two days later also announced the admission of Biafra into the same UNPO as its 46th member, bringing into remembrance the “bad belle” in some quarters when, in 1986, Prof. Wole Soyinka, a Yoruba, became the first African to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and not the also eminently qualified Prof. Chinua Achebe, an Igbo.

The Yoruba are late comers to the “secession” business, as it were, while the Igbo have been at it for ages, enduring a bitter civil war from 1967 to 1970. Since then, they have not left off their demand for own sovereign state, fuelled by complaints of marginalization. MASSOB at some point was a rallying point for the Igbo in this regard before Kanu Nnamdi and his Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) swept MASSOB off the stage and seized the driver’s seat.

Cries for a sovereign Yoruba or Oduduwa state was muted until the advent of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) as president in 2015. From then up till now, the Yoruba have become upbeat in their demand for own sovereign state. The insufferable nepotism of the Buhari regime in favour of his tribe, region, and religion is to blame for this.

Hitherto, it had been calls for restructuring, with a return to the Independence constitution of 1960 or the Republican constitution of 1963 deemed adequate enough for the Yoruba and, indeed, the other Nigerian peoples to take their destiny in their own hands and develop at their own pace, unlike the present system where a unitary system of government masquerading as federalism shackles the so-called federating units while a cabal composed of individuals from a region, religion and tribe ride roughshod over the polity, misruling, misguiding, oppressing and pillaging its resources and people.      

Nepotism, rather than abate, has intensified – For instance, in the way palliative measures have been handed out across the country, blatantly favouring the North at the expense of the South; in the way the Coronavirus committees have been composed; and in the way good rice have been given to a section of the country in large quantities while mere trifles of contaminated rice were given to another. These among other decisions clearly betray the disposition of the powers that be.

The tribe of those who had thought we could still stay together while sorting out our differences thins out by the day. Positions are hardening and the arch-conservatives of old are becoming radicalized in their thoughts and actions. Many are they who now think the train has left the bus stop of restructuring, speeding inexorably towards the precipice of total dissolution of the State. For those who hold such views, it is no longer a question of whether as of how and when.

Last Tuesday’s press statement by the Akintoye-led Yoruba World Congress said quite emphatically that the UNPO recognition could be the “first stage towards achieving (the Yoruba’s) goal of self-determination”  

According to the statement by Maxwell Adeyemi Adeleye, the YWC’s Director of Media and Communications, and titled “YORUBA NATION GAINS UNPO MEMBERSHIP”, Akintoye said the latest development represents a very important step in the collective quest of well-meaning Yoruba people to achieve the goal of dignity and self-determination.

“…The membership of UNPO offers the Yoruba nation a solid voice on the international stage via the machinery of the international body which maintains a permanent presence before the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States of America.

“…With membership of UNPO, the Yoruba nation, just like the Catalonian people of Spain, can put forth their organs of representation – such as a people’s parliament and an indigenous people’s government, with a flag as our symbol which…are all legal.

“…The membership of UNPO affords the Yoruba nation an opportunity to participate in advocacy training, worldwide cultural festivals, election monitoring/observation, and sports activities, among the unrepresented nations.

“…UNPO, in a letter addressed to (Akintoye) through the YWC Coordinator for Europe by her Secretary-General, Ralph Bunche, expressed his gladness to welcome the Yoruba nation as a new member of the international body and that they are looking forward to working closely with the Yoruba people.

“The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) is an international membership-based organization established to empower the voices of unrepresented and marginalized peoples worldwide and to protect their fundamental human rights.

“It was formed on 11 February, 1991 in The Hague, Netherlands. Its members consist of indigenous peoples, minorities, unrecognized peoples or peoples of occupied territories.

“UNPO works to develop understanding of, and respect for, the right to self-determination, provides advice and support related to questions of international recognition and political autonomy; trains groups on how to advocate for their causes effectively, legally, devoid of violence; and directly advocates for an international response to human rights violations perpetrated against UNPO member-nations or groups…

“…Some formerly unrecognized nations who were members of UNPO but are now independent nations and members of the United Nations are the Armenia, East Timor, Estonia, Latvia, Georgia and Palau…the international body, like many others, has the capacity to help the Yoruba nation achieve her goals within the Nigerian Federation…

“The peoples represented within the UNPO membership are all united by one shared condition: they are denied their equitable level of representation and voice in the institutions of the countries to which they currently belong and in international governance.

“As a consequence, their opportunity to participate on the national or international stage is limited and unfair, and they struggle against difficulties in their effort to realize their rights to civil and political participation and to control their own economic, social and cultural development.

“In many cases, they live under pressure of the worst forms of violence and repression, such as is being perpetrated by armed Fulani herdsmen and Fulani militias, as well as by terrorist Boko Haram, against many peoples of Nigeria, including our Yoruba nation; which violence and repression are being adroitly and surreptitiously supported by the government of Nigeria. In some cases, members of UNPO need serious help because they   live in countries and under governments that actively resist their progress and destroy their achievements, as our Yoruba nation lives in Nigeria.

“The UNPO is able to address issues that often remain hidden because UNPO has the freedom to raise issues that others cannot raise due to political or funding constraints…

“Having identified ourselves as an indigenous nation, the UNPO recognition is the first stage towards achieving our goal of self-determination, and this is permissible and lawful under existing laws and international instruments.

“The United Nations Conventions and Proclamation of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (September 15, 2007) grants indigenous peoples and nations the rights to self-determination.

“Membership in UNPO gives our Yoruba nation the privilege of having UNPO work for the protection and advancement of our rights as an indigenous people in Nigeria. And that empowers us to form our Customary Law Indigenous Government for organizing our struggle for self-determination, and for serving   as our sole representative in the United Nations where we shall seek for the retrieval and restoration of our sovereignty.

“Article 20 of African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) provide that ‘Colonized or oppressed peoples shall have the right to free themselves from the bonds of domination by resorting to any means recognized by the international community…’

“In the light of the foregoing, the Yoruba World Congress hereby joyfully congratulates all Yoruba citizens of Nigeria at home and abroad, all Yoruba elders,  all Yoruba religious, political, business, professional and community leaders, and all Yoruba youths and children.

“We Yoruba have hereby secured a very important support for all peaceful and lawful actions by our patriots, organizations and activists in the struggle to defend, protect and advance Yoruba interests and Yoruba self-determination. 

“It is the right and duty of all of us to evolve together our nation’s use of this wonderful gift, and the Yoruba World Congress offers its brotherly hand of love, cooperation and collaboration to all persons, leaders, rulers and organizations in the Yoruba family”

That was the statement! Prof. Akintoye grabbed the limelight on August 22, 2019 when various Yoruba organizations gathered in Ibadan, the political capital of the Yoruba, elected him Yoruba leader.  The announcement did not go down well with some.

While Afenifere maintained studied silence, PRONACO derided the election. Akintoye has trudged on nonetheless. Some factors have worked in his favour. First is that there had been a lacuna in Yoruba leadership – and nature abhors a vacuum. Since stepping in to fill the void, Akintoye has sought to do things differently, bringing in fresh breath of life. He has been more open; more receptive to other people’s ideas; has been more at home gathering together anyone willing to make contributions, especially the younger elements; and has sought to advance the Yoruba cause in more innovative and result-oriented ways, such as this UNPO.      

Wednesday, March 4th this year, I ran “Akintoye: Giving Afenifere a run for its money” in my “Treasures “column on the back page of the New Telegraph newspaper, where I  described events at the Saturday, February 29th colloquium of the YMC titled “First General Assembly of the Yoruba Nation Beyond the Nigerian borders” with participants of Yoruba nationalities coming from across the world, as well as eminent Yoruba personalities from all walks of life, many of them driving or travelling long hours to make the event.  

With UNPO, Akintoye’s YMC gathers more momentum and gains more relevance and traction. Internationalizing the deprivations and sufferings of the Yoruba in Nigeria has become an urgent business. The Igbo, who have shouted the loudest, control Nigeria’s commerce and have virtually bought over all of Yoruba land; tell me what the Yoruba command or dominate in the Nigeria of today! The Yoruba do not even command its own space anymore!

It is interesting, though, that both the Yoruba and Igbo became members of the UNPO one after the other, with the latter closely trailing the former. In 1967, attention was focused on the Igbo in the quest “to keep Nigeria one” to quote Yakubu Gowon’s battle – and rallying – cry! Now that two fronts (Yoruba and Igbo) appeared to have been opened at one and same time, it is important to learn from history and avoid the mistakes of Adolf Hitler. In what he codenamed Operation Barbarossa, Hitler started the Axis Powers’ invasion of the Soviet Union on Sunday, 22 June, 1941, during the World War 2, in addition to his on-going invasion of France, Britain, etc. The rest, as they say, is history!

Need I say more!

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