Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
THE YORUBA, NIGERIA AND THE FUTURE
culled from VANGUARD, Monday, November 01, 2004
In tackling the Yoruba issue within
the complexity of Nigeria, I propose to raise four questions:
I) WHO ARE THE YORUBA?
The Yoruba are a distinctive race
with a rich culture, highly urbanised communities, and developed political
systems hinged around centralised monarchies, which fascinated the early
European colonial masters on reaching Nigeria. In terms of occupation, the
Yoruba are largely farmers, tilling the soil for such crops as cocoa, palm
products, cassava, maize. assorted vegetables and fruits as well as some
rubber and timber. They are also traders, weavers, craftsmen and iron smelters.
Today, many of them are industrialists, professionals, educationists and
academicians. There is hardly any sphere of human endeavour in which they do
not feature, including Religion and the Public Service. Their music and works of
art are acclaimed worldwide.
II) YORUBA AND THEIR PRINCIPLES
This critical disposition has been projected to the modern times so that the Yoruba always insist that justice, due process, equality, nondiscrimination, integrity, transparency, loyalty and humaneness must be adhered to by those who run the government. This may explain why the Yoruba account for the highest number of social critics and political activists in the country in the recent past and now. Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, then Military Governor of Westem Region chose to lay down his life rather than abandon the first Military Head of State, General Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi to his abductors in 1966. Colonel Victor Banjo fought alongside the Biafrans because he believed in their cause and elected to die for it.
The likes of the late Dr Ayo Awojobi, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), the late Tai Solarin, the late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti the Afro-beat King and his brother, Dr Beko Ransome Kuti as well as Femi Falana have sustained the tradition, that inspired Lisabi to lead the liberation of the Egbas from the yoke of the Alaafin of Oyo. It was the same spirit that propelled the late Mrs Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti to mobilise the Egba women against the extortionate taxation of Egba women, which led to the brief exile of Sir Ladapo Ademola, the Alake of Egbaland in 1947 from Abeokuta to Osogbo.
It is instructive that following the over-throw of General Gowon’ s Administration in 1975, his Military Governors were subjected to an intensive probe, only two of the twelve State Governors and both of them Yoruba, Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi of Western State and Brigadier Bolaji Johnson of Lagos State, were cleared of wrong doing while their colleagues were found culpable variously for corruption, embezzlement etc.
The Yoruba obsession for what isjust and noble may well explain why the group for over four decades (1962 to 2004) maintained a relentless opposition to the Federal Authority triggered off by the perceived marginalisation of the group or the seeming victimization of their leader and hero, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo who desperately aspired to the leadership of the country, and made bold bids for it thrice (1959, 1979, 1983) but failed electorally.
If truly the Yoruba stand for great values and lofty ideals, why should the noble goal of leading the country be pursued with such desperation. Ironically, what had eluded them for so long, was thrust on them in 1999 with the election of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as President. One would have thought that the Yoruba race would feel fulfilled and contented with this gesture.
Could it be that the Yoruba have become victims of their own style of politics: Politics of principles as distinct from Politics of self aggrandizement. President Obasanjo has opted for good governance, anti-corruption; small, as distinct from big government, with far-reaching reforms embracing deregulation, liberalization, commercialization and privatization; due process etc. All these changes or reforms being pursued by Obasanjo have reduced the space for patronage, thus leaving him with little to go round for all Nigerians including his kith and kin.
Interestingly, other ethnic groups are vociferous in protesting their marginalisation, yet the Yoruba who also feel ignored face a dilemma and must look beyond 2007.
President Obasanjo has made it clear now and again that he is not a delegate of any group, not even of the Yoruba whose slot he is currently occupying. On the occasion of the commissioning of FRCN, Paramount Radio FM 94.5 Abeokuta in 2003, the President told the new PDP governors of South-West that they should not look forward to a special relationship between him and them. Although they belonged to the same party as the Federal Government, they should strive to hold their own. This stance is clearly in keeping with his politics of principles but the question arises: Would the Yoruba succeed in making Obasanjo's successors to adhere to the same principle?
Would other Nigerians be sympathetic towards the Yoruba or would they simply ask the Yoruba to shut up and wait till their next turn, which may be at least another two decades away.
Given these realities, the Yoruba must be in the forefront of the struggle for the re-structure of Nigeria so that their area could be politically strong enough to fend for its people without waiting for ‘manna' from Abuja.
III) YORUBA AND THEIR GOAL
This is in line with the Yoruba philosophy and tradition. It is equally true, however, that the Yoruba cannot benefit fully from the emerging policies if the present structure of government is retained and the centralising federal system, which some describe as unitary-federal, is maintained. In other words, in their own interest the Yoruba must insist on the return to true federalism as practiced in Nigeria pre-independence and up to immediately after independence that is. from 1954 to 1965.
A state, as a political enterprise, is a coalition of groups and interests giving rise to mutual obligations among the component units inter Se, and between them and the central body. In the case of Nigeria, we need to go the memory lane and recall that a central government was imposed on the people by the colonial masters and acquiesced in by the constituent units through discussions and decisions at the various constitutional conferences held in London in the stages leading up to the country's independence.
The Yoruba leaders took part in those events fully and actively. It was clear from the various speeches and writings that they endorsed the sovereign and independent State of Nigeria to which all Nigerian groups including the Yoruba were ready and willing to belong, and play an active role. Nigerians-opted for a federal system of government: a constitutional state in which political and civil rights were recognised, protected and guaranteed. These rights and freedoms would be enforceable in the courts of law manned by qualified, independent and impartial judges. There would be the rule of law and leaders of government at all levels would be elected in free and fair elections. The Nigerian Independence Constitution provided for all these and was reaffirmed in the Republican Constitution of 1963.
By 1962 however, things had begun to fall apart leading to the declaration of a State of Emergency in the Western Region, the Yoruba heartland. The Federal Government assumed direct administration of the Region, which prided itself as the most active and efficient government in the federation. That emergency heralded the political trouble from which the nation has never fully recovered, and was to lead to a military coup d'etat and civil war. The break-up of the country was averted but the oft-repeated states creation exercise resulted in the atomisation of the Yoruba region, which is now made up of six states.
The historic June 12, 1993 presidential election victory of Chief M.K.O. Abiola, of blessed memory and an illustrious Yoruba son, was annulled by the military under President Ibrahim Babangida thus preventing him from being sworn in as President of Nigeria. The maximum dictator, General Sanni Abacha came on the scene, with NADECO emerging to battle him to a standstill.
The Pro-democracy groups won their struggle. Abacha, through divine intervention, disappeared from the scene in June 1998, but so did Abiola most lamentably in July 1998. The military was left with no option but to retreat to the barracks, thus paving the way for the enthronement of civil rule in May 1999 with Obasanjo becoming President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
This development however, still fell short of Yorubá aspirations. They still long for genuine democracy, true federalism, credible protection of political, social and economic rights.
Here, the six Zones, which have received partial constitutional recognition. should become full-fledged units of government, standing below the Federal Government from which they would take on many matters now placed on the federal List. In other words the Zonal (Regional) Government should now become the focus of power with the Federal Government only vested with a few functions and such powers as would enable it to conduct defence and foreign affairs as well as coordinate the national economy.
The Yoruba must be resolute in demanding these arrangements, which would bring all the states with Yoruba population together under one regional or Zonal government. They should vigorously canvass for true federalism, democracy, justice, resource control, rapid economic development, social welfare, and the pursuit of peace and harmony through religious tolerance and inter-ethnic understanding and cooperation.
With this constitutional arrangement in place, the Yoruba area would become a formidable and autonomous entity in Nigcria just as California is to the United States, Bavaria to Germany, New South Wales to Australia and Ontario to Canada: strong and self reliant.
IV) ACCOMPLISHING THE GOAL
As long as Afenifere sees itself as a socio-cultural wing of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), regarding both organisations as siamese twins, it will continue to compromise its unifying mission and would increasingly lose the confidence of non-AD politicians and some AD politicians as well. For the sake of total Yoruba unity and solidarity, a new Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation should be formed bringing together all other Yoruba bodies including some that have sprung up seeking to replace Afenifere. The new organisation would take a new name and must be all-inclusive, embracing all Yoruba leaders and youths.
The Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) would join as well as the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC). BUL the latter would henceforth function as a civil volunteer corps and a cultural rather than a militant ~itfit. It is this new body that would speak for the Yoruba and negotiate with other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria when the time comes to discuss the future of this country.
On the economic plane, the Yoruba would need to rapidly build on what now obtains lest they lose their pride of place as leading players in the Nigerian economy. In this regard. the Lagos State must be brought into Odua Investment Company, the Yoruba conglomerate. This is not to say that the latter should shun privatization, rather the Company should carry out the privatization exercise in phases while at the same time taking on other economic challenges, which may call for bigger investments as it has recently done with Odua Telecommunication Company (Odua-Tel). Common approaches would also be needed to tackle education and other social matters.
Be that as it may, politics would remain the central and dominant issue. We have seen that given Obasanjo*s policies and style of administration, it would be idle to expect him to do anything spectacular for the Yoruba race. To do so might smack of nepotism, which would negate his anti-corruption stance. I believe most Yoruba people would understand the situation since it is not in their character to court favoritism.
Pending the desired changes advocated in this Pa the Yoruba would necessarily demand a fair treatment, that they be given what they deserve, and therefore due to them. Obasanjo’s Politics of Principles should therefore be applied justly and across the board. It would be eminently unfair to take the position that the Yoruba had had a head start and must therefore wait for others to catch up before they would be accorded what they really merit. For this reason, therefore, the Yoruba must insist on a review of many of the current policies, some of which had been accorded constitutional status such as Quota System and the application of the Principle of Federal Character, which compromises merit and discourages competition. By the same token the Yoruba must insist on the full reign of democracy. Practices that tend to abridge democracy should be jettisoned, such as power shift and rotational presidency. The political space must be open to all. People should stop seci rug the Office of the Presidency as solely a platform for patronage or prestige, but rather as a serious call to service. Perhaps if our earlier suggestion that the Federal Government should be downsized is upheld, then the mad race for the presidency would subside and attention would then be centered on the office of the Chief Executive of the six Zonal Governments.
There is also the need to have a re-think on the Presidential System of Government, which is too expensive to run, and tends to encourage authoritarianism as we are beginning to see in the emerging Imperial.
Presidency and Governorship in the states, in the present political dispensation. Nigeria must return to the Parliamentary System of r government, which the country inherited at independence.
Perhaps the current fuel price hike crisis would not have taken this form, if we had been operating a Parliamentary System of Government. The fear of the Legislative arm of government passing a vote of no confidence on the incumbent prime minister, or by whatever name he is called, would most likely have made him to succumb to the overwhelming public opinion on the matter. Otherwise if the no confidence resolution is passed, the government would have to pack and go, and the development may even necessitate a fresh general election.
There is an overwhelming case and the pressure is mounting, which also calls for the unequivocal support of the Yoruba on the matter, that a National Constitutional Conference must be convened before 2007 when the time of the present Administration would expire. The argument being canvassed in some quarters that desirable changes in the 1999 Constitution should be effected by the National Assembly and the Presidency cannot hold. Nigeria did not elect those currently at the helm of affairs with a mandate to give them a new Constitution. Rather they were to rule on the basis of the 1999 Constitution, which by all accounts is today a discredited document. Nigerians desire a total replacement of that Constitution with a popular Constitution, conceived, debated and adopted by all Nigerians through a National Conference and a referendum.
It would be political arrogance and an undemocratic posture for the National Assembly to claim a higher authority than the people who elected them to enact laws but not to give them a Constitution. Nigerians must have a popular Constitution for the first time. Previous Constitutions have been either Colonial or Military. The time has come to have a truly People’s Constitution.
I am not excluding a role for the National Assembly in the proposed constitution- making exercise. To call for a Sovereign National Conference, as some are doing would be a misnomer. The ideal approach would be for the National Assembly to enact a Bill that would provide the machinery for convoking the National Conference including an indication as to what should be done with the draft Constitution that would emanate from the Conference. In this regard the National Assembly would either agree to adopt the draft without an amendment when it is tabled for its ratification or a provision would be. made in the law for the submission of the Constitution to a referendum for adoption by the Nigerian electorate.
As for the fear that mischief makers may hijack the National Conference and insert a secession clause in the Constitution or move a resolution during the Conference to dissolve the federation, such an unpatriotic move should be forestalled by inserting a provision in the law convening the Conference, namely that the dismemberment of the corporate entity known as Nigeria, shall not be discussed. Nor could a provision to that effect be inserted in the final draft Constitution.
This discussion now takes me to the gathering political storms in the country. Already we are beginning to hear ethnic murmuring of threat of secession. The Yoruba must never be part of this untoward development. They must declare their total commitment to the survival of a united and indivisible Nigeria. There should be no equivocation on this matter and no ambiguity that could give rise to a debate as to the true stand of the Yoruba, which we witnessed in the events leading to the illegal declaration of Biafra State in 1967.
I must repeat that this is the time when the Yoruba must stand united. They should not allow, differences of any kind to dilute the Yoruba unity. The lingering internal squabbling among the leading Yoruba monarchs on such issues as precedence and paramountcy must end forthwith. Subethnic rivalry found here and there must be subdued.
The Yoruba are noted for their religious tolerance, an attribute, which could well, be a legacy from them to the rest of the country. When the Yoruba say their Oba has no religion, what in fact they mean is that the Oba belongs to all religions being practiced within his domain. In other words, Obaship is a multi-religious institution as the Nigerian State ought to be. It would therefore be out of character for some Yoruba elements to seek to drive a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims by seeking to stand in the way of the former, exercising their religious rights fully. Thus, the Yoruba Muslims should be encouraged, not hindered, in the full practice of their faith including the observance of Sharia, which is basic to Islam. Non-Muslims have nothing to lose in the enforcement of Sharia on the Muslims only, and in the provision of the necessary facilities by Government in this regard, since courts are public not private establishments.
In this paper, I have put forward a thesis that the future of Nigeria would only be secured if the country is restructured. I also stressed that Yoruba aspirations could not be realised in Nigeria unless they collaborate with other groups in the country to establish a true federation of which the Yoruba be an autonomous unit.
We are all custodians of the Yoruba heritage and we have a serious obligation to preserve it and continue to enrich it. But we must also go beyond talking and talking. We should institute a credible machinery for the translation of our laudable ideals and ideas into practice. In this regard, I suggest that a high power committee should be constituted to look into this matter with the utmost urgency. I undertake to take a follow-up initiative on the issue. You will all hear further from me in sha Allah in this regard and in the nearest future on this.
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