From conversations with Yoruba youths these days, it quickly becomes plain that most of them know disturbingly little, or even nothing, about their Yoruba nation. Because their Yoruba nation is part of a country called Nigeria and is inevitably part of the crookedness, chaos, and hopeless poverty that is Nigeria, because their Yoruba nationhas lost much of its assets and capabilities in the context of Nigeria and seriously declined with Nigeria, they go about thinking that their Yoruba nation has always been a small, weak and crooked nation. They need to know that they are wrong, very – very –wrong. They need to learn the truth.
Before we go further, I urge our youths not to take whatever I say here as truth without trying to check up from other older persons and from available writings. Most of what we will say here are available in writing. Make particular use of the worldwide social media.
The first truth you needto learn is that most of those who have been exercising authority over Nigeria since independence do not want the youths of the different nations of Nigeria to know the history of their nations, or even to speak the languages of their nations. This is why History has been subtly excluded from the curriculum of our schools for decades. It is also why education is constantly being discouraged in many subtle ways in Nigeria. It is why the high quality university which we Yoruba created at Ife (Obafemi Awolowo University) was taken away by the federal authoritiesand gradually degraded. Their belief is that, to build Nigeria, they must weaken most of the various nations of Nigeria, especially the strongest ones like the Yoruba and Igbo. They say these things explicitly from time to time. Try and find out. In the world, no other country that comprises many nations tries as hard as Nigeria to weaken its nations; what such countriescommonly do is to promote the prosperity and strength of their various nations. For a good example, read what India has been doing with its nearly 2000 nationalities.
Our second truth is that, today, our Southwest is very very poor. But what I want you to note specially is that all the poverty of our Southwest todayis new. In fact, we as a nation have never before been as poor as we are today.
For many centuries before the British came and included us in Nigeria, we Yoruba were politically very civilized and orderly in our many kingdoms, economically very productive and comfortable, socially very sophisticated and fashionable. We lived in many towns and cities, unlike almost the rest of the nations of Black Africa. Our farming was rich, our country was well supplied with food, our traders were trading far and wide in Black Africa, the products of our country (like cloths, beads, metal implements, etc) reached far and wide, and our language was the common language of trade among many nations of the coasts of West Africa. Before the British came and included us in Nigeria, we were already a considerably educated people, because of the coming of Christian missionaries – and unlike nearly all of the rest of Africa, we already had a large and growing class of university graduates (lawyers, doctors, engineers, writers, teachers, etc), and we had newspapers in some of our cities. We were very much like Japan in Asia – a nation already modernizing itself without any European colonial ruler.
At the time of Nigeria’s independence in 1960, we were the most educated nation in Nigeria and in all of Africa, and the most advanced in all aspects of modern development. We had more tarred roads than any other, more towns with pipe-borne water, the first television station in all of Africa, the first sports stadium, the first industrial estates, the first Free Education programme, many of the most productive and richest cocoa farmers in the world, rich production of food crops on our farms, modern farm settlements, extensive plantations of rubber, palm trees, teak and other valuable tropical trees, special institutions for training skilled workers (in furniture making, electrical installations, plumbing, wood work, crafts, etc), an investment corporation that was the largest collection of African-owned investment capital in all of Africa. On the whole, our Western Region was much richer than the other two Regions of Nigeria (Northern and Eastern Regions); and it generated more internal revenues than these other two Regions together. The cocoa exports of our farmers provided most of Nigeria’s foreign exchange. By 1960, we were a rich nation poised to grow richer and richer.
But we are now a poor nation. Almost all of our prosperity has, since Nigeria’s independence, been gradually destroyed.In almost every Yoruba town, there are now some Yoruba beggars in the streets. Very many of our educated young men and women cannot find jobs to do, some for years. Many continue to depend on their parents, but many parents themselves are no longer able to provide enough for themselves. Among the few educated who are fortunate to have jobs (such as teaching jobs in state schools, or other jobs in government offices), most are not sure that they will receive their salaries at the end of every month, and many don’t receive their salaries for many months. Our old and retired parents and grandparents are no longer sure if they will be paid their pensions. Many have ceased getting any pensions. Add all these together, and you will see how poverty has taken over among us.
But that is not all. One other source of poverty is that our educational system has virtually collapsed. We invested heavily in education in order to strengthen our development, but the Nigerian opposition to education has gradually destroyed our education.Most of our public schools are now wretched, dirty and ugly, and children cannot learn properly in them. Our school teachers no longer get the kind of respect that teachers get from governments and people in other countries. And then, they often don’t get paid their salaries regularly. They are demoralized and robbed of pride in their profession.All these poor conditions have also extended to our universities and colleges. Therefore, university lecturers and professors are often as discouraged as our school teachers, and they too are often on strike. And corruption has added to the destruction of all educational standards. Consequently, many of our graduates don’t really measure up to the true level of graduates any more. Many of our secondary school and university graduates these days cannot read or write – either in English or in our own Yoruba language.
What all this poor education means is that many of the graduates of our secondary schools and universities don’t have the education for getting anything done. Manycannot think up, plan, or start ventures of their own. And they do not have skills for most jobs – that is, they are unemployable. The old technical schools have perished. For many available jobs, employers often go to neighbouring countries (like Benin Republic) for skilled workers.In fact, you will oftenhear employers say that our youths don’t take skills seriously and are difficult to depend on. Again, add all these together, and you see poverty plainly – poverty in the midst of plenty.
Yet another reason for poverty among us Yoruba is that we don’t produce our own food any more. This is another way in which our general decline in Nigeria has affected us. Most of the food being sold in our markets today are not produced by us or on our land.They are brought fromsomewhere else or other. That means that most of the billions of Naira spentdaily buying foodin each of our towns does not stay in our region and circulate there; it goes to other places promptly. But even more serious is the fact that we have no control over our food supply. We have no food security. Some years ago, when food transportation from the North encountered some problem for some days, our Lagos city soon began to starve, and Lagosians had to stream to Benin Republic to buy food, including even minor items like tomato and pepper.For us, this is a very dangerous situation – the most disastrous kind of poverty imaginable.
We will continue.