Yoruba: Put On Your Thinking Cap

By Bolanle Bolawole

turnpot@gmail.com 0705 263 1058

I found the piece published here today a compelling read. Titled “The Chinese and Fulani Only Need Patience with Yoruba over South-west Nigeria”, it was authored by my “egbon”, Dr. Babafemi A. Badejo. Please enjoy it!

“On December 6, 2020, Aderinwa was on my mind as I played golf at the Sadique Baba Abubakar Golf Club, Shasha, a suburb of Lagos. Aderinwa Badejo is the new addition to my family. He is my third grandchild. Since he was born outside Nigeria, he was given his name virtually on December 5, 2020. Yoruba people of whatever religion gave a child a name on the 8th day of birth. So, I thought it was a Yoruba cultural issue alone until my son read the passage that the Anglican Venerable had asked him to read.

Aderinwa’s father read the specified passage from Luke 1: 57-66. He was reading to us over Zoom, having been confined by the police instructions that we should stay off the roads of the specified Local Government Areas because of bye-elections in our Senatorial District. Why lock down about a third of Lagos from 6 am to 6 pm, for an election in which there were 1,168,790 registered voters of which only about 104,405 voted? People were unnecessarily forced off their places of work. And for all that violation of the fundamental right of movement, only 11% of the electorate felt happy enough to participate in the charade. Was this one of the “punishments of democracy” we are constantly subjected to instead of the “dividends of democracy” that others around the world talk about? Or was this just inefficiency of the police to mount an operation of policing elections in only some sections of a state that is run on the basis of a one-party system that is full of pretence to give impressions to the effect that people are really making choices?

In any case, Luke 1: 59 caught my attention as my son read it: “When the baby was eight days old, all the relatives and friends came for the circumcision ceremony. They all assumed the baby’s name would be Zacharias, after his father”. The import of this passage from the Bible was that the 8th day is not unique to Yoruba people. Did they borrow it from Christianity? That cannot be so. Islam came to Yorubaland centuries before the colonization agenda of the British was accompanied by ideological control by the Anglican Church that made the people continue to pray for a better life in the hereafter as the British sucked them dry under the claim of having a religious responsibility to civilize the “dark continent”. It is not that Islam was or is free of its own ideological control. Or how does one explain the Fulani control over the extraordinarily more populous Hausa people that continues to date, and the condoning of the enslavement of Africans? These are interesting questions!

More important, however, is the fact that, the Yoruba people of my generation and those following are fast losing the essence of being Yoruba: Professor Banji Akintoye has been constantly pointing out that, in the not too distant future, Yoruba language would become extinct if serious efforts are not undertaken to modernize the language and pass it on. Therefore, Akintoye is canvassing to have some academics at the spiritual base of the Yoruba (Ile-Ife) reverse this developing trend. However, other realities are in contention on the continued presence of Yoruba people in the Southwest of Nigeria.

Aderinwa was born outside Nigeria. Interestingly, the medical doctor who delivered Aderinwa is a Yoruba lady assisted by two nurses from other nationalities from Southern Nigeria. These experts who were trained with public subsidies at different educational levels in Nigeria have professional fulfillment with up-to-date equipment to practice with outside the country. In Nigeria, obsolete equipment is available since resources for updating equipment are normally stolen as many acquiesce these days to lootocracy a.k.a looting of national patrimony.

These diaspora Yoruba/Nigerians are jolly well expressing their freedom of migration, freedom to explore anywhere in settling down where they are more comfortable with daily living realities and running away from the drudgery of living in Nigeria. I believe the Northwest, Northeast and some portions of North-central Nigeria are under-represented in this diaspora settlement arrangement. Unlike other races around the world, the Yoruba/Southern Nigerian diaspora are not coming back to Nigeria despite the nostalgia they continue to have for home. Many Yoruba compatriots, given the high value we attach to education, sacrificed all and sent children outside to read. They imbibed western culture in-toto and are more comfortable outside. Their children do not speak the language since it is not selling at the international level, despite some interests in few places like Brazil. At the death of parents, they are selling inherited real estate and not looking back. Some are actually abandoning real estate for good and not looking back after burying their parents.

These Yoruba diaspora no longer feel anything with the culture of the Yoruba beyond food, fashion and some theatrical performances. In effect, the bond of culture is weakening as it is being attacked from many sources. When I try to protest against the crass Western individualism that I see in my family, my wife’s pertinent question tended to be if I wanted my children to be thinking Yoruba, why did I send them to America to read?

The problem is more than this. Venerable Reverend spoke about the importance of the naming ceremony to the Yoruba people. But he could not and did not perform a Yoruba naming ceremony. He performed an Anglican ceremony – the Church of birth of my wife and I, after all we were born into colonial Nigeria. In growing up, many a time I witnessed the processes involved in naming a Yoruba child. It involved blessings to the new born that used specific food items: obi (cola nut), orogbo (bitter cola), oyin (honey), omi (water), epo (palm oil), iyo (salt) etc. to pray for the child as the child is made to minimally taste the items for the first time. The child’s feet are made to touch the ground outside of the homestead hence the expression (ikomo jade) etc. We have lost all these to Christianity and Islam. The Christians say the “Blood of Jesus” has overridden all that the Yoruba used to pray and bless a new child with. This development is recent as my son and his older sisters were welcomed with all Yoruba compliments. In a dialogue with a Chief Imam and a Muslim learned friend, I am told that earlier Muslim Imams were tolerant and accepted the Yoruba cultural practices to encourage easy transition into greater acceptance of Islam. But these Yoruba practices are no longer done today. In fact, Islam is becoming more assertive and performs the naming ceremony on the 7th day even though it could also be done on the 8th day. Such tolerance on the part of Islam was also the approach of the Anglican Church that was initially more tolerant in comparison to the Catholic Church among the Yoruba. The Anglicans did not force Yoruba men to get rid of their many wives remaining with only one before they could be proper Catholics as Chinua Achebe informed us that they did with the Igbo people. Little wonder that Yoruba are more Anglican than Catholic. If we are losing the essences of naming a child, how can we continue to claim that Yoruba names have meaning?

Looks like I lost focus of my title? Not really! The Fulani came from Futa-Jallon area and in Nigeria used religion and supplanted the Hausa Kings of yore. And with indirect rule, the Fulani crowned one among themselves as Emirs and adopted Hausa as language of the Court. They kept Fulfude, their own language, to themselves. They have remained in control of the many times more populous Hausa to date. They succeeded in Ilorin as the Yoruba authority system over the town was supplanted. In 1840 the Fulani got defeated by the Yoruba as they tried to move and occupy the rest of Yorubaland. The Yoruba are convinced that the 1840 plan of the Fulani Emirate system is still afoot even today.

Furthermore, in a 2019 study: “Ethnic Disparities in Fertility and its Determinants in Nigeria”, Ayo Stephen Adebowale pointed out differentials in the fertility rates of the Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo. “The total fertility rate was 8.02, 4.91 and 4.43 among women in Hausa/Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba ethnic group respectively. The proportion of women with ≥5 children was highest among the Hausa/Fulani (40%), followed by Igbo (21.6%) and Yoruba (17.5%)”. What this means is that the Hausa/Fulani are replicating more than the Yoruba.

So, I am wondering if the Fulani can just be patient, seems to me that with time, once you continue to have the best Yoruba brains outside of Nigeria and the replication rate continues to comparatively dwindle, the Fulani elites would only have the Chinese to contend with over who owns what used to be Yorubaland. The Chinese imperative of needing more land to settle such a large population is driving them all over the world, including buying up Yoruba farms and properties. After all, they have cash. The Fulani are also settling in forest areas in Yorubaland as they are also buying rural lands. 

The fate of the Yoruba seems to be the fate of Southerners in general. The Southerners took towards the West and are getting more and more sucked into a different culture instead of building theirs to resist subjugation by any other race or ethnicity. But am I being emotional? Why should those who are happy with Western life and all it offers care about wanting to remain Yoruba? What is so special about being Yoruba?

The situation may not be as bleak as I am suggesting if appropriate answers can be provided. The Yoruba are a problem-solving people who use more of brain than brawn. Should they be swimming against the current?  If they are happy that Wally Adeyemo was nominated as Deputy Treasury Secretary in the United States, should they be worried about a Fulani aiming to be Governor in Lagos state or an Igbo or Tiv having cabinet positions in any of the Yoruba states? Yorubaland is being developed from investments from other ethnic groups. Should this be of concern? If it should be, how are they to handle the current willing buyer and willing seller arrangements? Do they set up funds that can consolidate properties in the hands of Yoruba people in the Southwest? Can such efforts boost youth employment in Yorubaland? Will focus on land lift Yoruba people out of poverty if they are remaining producers of raw products that will not go far in the artificial intelligence age? Can diaspora Yoruba help if they still have some affection of belonging to large families that make up communities and the Yoruba nation?

It seems clear that the leadership of the Yoruba people have an uphill task that is bigger than protecting the language. The ongoing generational exodus of Yoruba people to the diaspora; the resulting population share reduction in Nigeria from the exodus and birth rate as well as the steady erosion of the Yoruba culture are issues that need attention.  Can the entirety of the Yoruba race be limited to Nigeria or other Yoruba-dominated parts of the world alone? Certainly not! But some thinking is much needed on preservation and transmission of the Yoruba culture beyond borders”

Real food for thought!

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