By Bola Bolawole
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On April, 20, 2020, the Yoruba ethnic nationality of Nigeria was admitted into the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation UNPO). The euphoria that greeted the epochal event, which ranked the Yoruba 45th amongst UNPO members, followed closely by the Igbo who were registered as the UNPO’s 46th member, is yet to die down.
The Yoruba nation’s agitation for sovereignty is led from unusual quarters – Prof. Banji Akintoye, an octogenarian emeritus professor of History and African Studies, is an avowed Awoist and top echelon leader of the pan-Yoruba leadership group known famously as Afenifere, which had been in existence pre-Independence Nigeria. Afenifere’s no less famous pioneer leader was the sage and Yoruba inimitable and indisputable leader of all times, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Until 2019 when a conglomeration of Yoruba self-determination groups elected Akintoye leader of the Yoruba, a move seen by many as dissatisfaction with the mode as well as pace of action by some other Yoruba leaders, few Yoruba citizens knew of happenings within the fold of their leaders, least of all participate in such activities. Akintoye’s style of leadership has been remarkably different.
While he is eager to avoid confrontation with the other Yoruba leaders – and even is wary to admit there is a crack anywhere – he has demonstrated the desire to open up the Yoruba World Congress (YWC) that he leads to participation by a wide spectrum of Yoruba intelligentsia and activists of all hues. That must have accounted for the waves the young YWC is making at home and abroad, rekindling the hope of better days ahead for a flustered, marginalized and crest-fallen nationality that once was primus inter pares amongst Nigerian nationalities and whose achievements even set it at pedestals higher than those of many of today’s industrialised nations.
As if bent on maintaining the tempo, the YWC followed up with what it called Town Hall Meeting last Friday, which Akintoye hosted on the Zoom platform. According to Prof. Anthony Kila, YWC’s Secretary General, there were over 1800 registered participants from 27 countries. I was busy elsewhere and could not attend.
There can be no denying the fact that Yoruba citizens across the globe are not happy with the place and fortunes of their Yoruba nationality in the scheme of things in Nigeria. That they hold Nigeria’s skewed federalism responsible for this unsavoury state of affairs is also beyond dispute.
Therefore, the battle cry of the Yoruba has been a return to the glory years of republicanism, whose other more famous name now is restructuring. The target is that the stranglehold of one section/people over the others can be loosened and that the various regions/peoples can control/develop their own resources for their own use and make assured progress at their own pace.
Unbundling the bountiful energies of the various Nigerian nationalities (including the North’s), the clamoured-for restructuring promises to be the catalyst and elixir for national development through the route of diversity as opposed to the stultifying unitarist and top-bottom approach that has impoverished everyone rather than engender development.
I have chosen to comment on this issue today for two reasons. One is that membership of the UNPO must not be seen as an end in itself but as a means to an end. While it may be appropriate to see and celebrate it as a right step in the right direction, every Yoruba self-determination group must be reminded that, with UNPO, it is not yet uhuru or freedom. Mercifully, Akintoye is a temperate person not given to any undue or infantile radicalism of hoisting empty self-determination flags or of encouraging petulant grandstanding that will bring more grief than gain.
While it is true that UNPO has been the route to sovereignty for many oppressed peoples and disenfranchised nationalities, the fact is that there are still many of such UNPO members who are yet to achieve their goal. The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), otherwise known as the Polisario Front, has fought unsuccessfully for independence from Morocco since 1973, despite many United Nations resolutions backing it up.
One achievement that the late Ken Saro-Wiwa , writer, environmentalist and rights crusader, won for his Ogoni people was getting them admitted into the UNPO as far back as on 19 January, 1993. The Ogoni Bill of Rights, which detailed the demands of the Ogoni people, was made popular all over the world by Saro-Wiwa. The contrived state murder of Saro-Wiwa on 10 November, 1995 by the brutal and murderous Sani Abacha military dictatorship and its collaborators and defenders, however, snuffed life out of the Ogoni struggle. Nevertheless, Saro-Wiwa remains a nightmare that will for ever haunt the Gambaris of this world.
So, Akintoye, YWC and other Yoruba self-determination groups and personalities must watch it!
My second reason for writing this is to warn that it must not be assumed that the Yoruba self-determination war is the only battle that must be fought. There is another battle that is not only as important but which will also aid the former’s successful execution: It is the battle to hold the feet of the Yoruba political leadership to the fire of good governance as opposed to the practice at the moment where South-west leaders as they come and go behave as Lord of the Manor.
They have generally failed to make the best use of the opportunities available even in our skewed federalism to develop the region. In other words, they have, on the whole, been rapacious, indolent, lazy and unimaginative; lacking in vision and character, they have neglected to seize on available opportunities and have abysmally failed to convert the potentials of their people and the resources of their region into the potent force that can activate the development of the region.
That skewed federalism has been our bane is true; but that bad leadership has also not helped matters is beyond dispute. Addressing one while neglecting the other will not take us far!
Akintoye is right to pursue the Yoruba nationality goal at the global level. Kudos! He cannot, however, neglect the other side of the coin, which is holding the feet of South-west political and industry leaders to the fire of good governance. We cannot pillory the Federal Government or the Fulani while excusing or hobnobbing with our own political leaders who steal us blind; waste our resources on frivolous and white elephant projects; and, like Nero, fiddle while our land is overrun from the North by truculent marauders and from the East by Shylock merchants mopping up everything in sight.
Leaders who betray and sell their own people to live the life of opulence while the self-same people they profess to lead wallow in abject poverty must henceforth be called to account. Akintoye will have to take up that assignment. It is an assignment more important, more serious, more worthwhile, more useful, and more beneficial to our people than the membership of any UNPO.
Like the lead character in Henry Rider Haggard’s 1886 novel “A history of Adventure”, our leaders behave like Hilda Rumpole: “She… who must be obeyed”. That has got to stop if the rot in the South-west must be halted; the Augean stable cleared; and the people and region hauled upon their feet to be on the match again (apologies, MKO Abiola) to turn again their captivity and unlock their decade-old arrested development.
The Yoruba nation deserves to have a National Development Plan. Letting governors act as they pleased has not been helpful. It is time the Yoruba have a region-wide – five years, ten years, etc – development plan that will serve as road map and guide for anyone who becomes governor of any of the South-west states. Key areas of interest should be agriculture, industrialization, commerce and trade, education and, of course, security.
Is it not a shame that we no longer feed ourselves? We now depend on others. And must we wait until all our land and properties are bought over by others and we become tenants and strangers on our own land before we begin to cry on that front again? The rate things are going, soon, we shall be left with nothing! We are assailed from the North and buffeted from the East but our leaders pretend all is well. Hear me again: Soon, we shall be left with nothing! That time, Hubert Ogunde’s “Yoruba Ronu” would have turned full cycle!