2019 elections: When Yoruba leaders reset the compass
On Thursday, 11 October, 2018, at a workshop organised by the Yoruba Unity Forum entitled: State of the Nation: Yoruba, Where We Are We?, eminent Yoruba leaders spoke to the consciousness of the nation ahead of the epic 2019 general election. KUNLE ODEREMI and MOSES ALAO report the event.
The venue was the famous Efunyela Hall in the country home of the Awolowo dynasty in Ikenne. Though the event was slated for noon, scores of people had begun to converge on the venue very early in the morning, with lots of them immediately getting engrossed in stimulating discourse on nagging issues affecting the country in the buildup to the 2019 general election.
That was the setting on Thursday, October 11, 2018 at the residence of the political icon and sage, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, venue of a workshop organised by the Yoruba Unity Forum (YUF). The hall was filled beyond its capacity. The young and the elderly, as well as professionals and artisans, and other citizens cutting across all strata of the society and human endeavours from within and outside the country, besieged the venue wanting to be part of a historic event designed to chart a new course for the country.
The general mood among the people was infectious; with a lot of them ecstatic about the topic of the workshop: State of the Nation: Yoruba, where are we? and the timing. So, there was a great expectation from the lead discussants lined up for the sub-themes that spanned restructuring, security, good governance, Yoruba unity, need for free, fair and credible elections in 2019. Those expectations were not misplaced, going by what most of the speakers identified as the uniqueness of the Yoruba race.
In what would go down as a historic event, bringing together eminent personalities in the Yoruba nation to discuss the future of the race within the Nigerian nation and proffer immediate and long term solutions to the challenges facing it, the workshop demonstrated the capability of the race to speak with one voice when it mattered most.
The Yoruba race, which cuts across the Caribbean, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, apart from African countries, has for a long term continued to set the tone for national discourse, championing the clamour for a truly federal Nigerian state. Interestingly, the organisers of the workshop, traditional rulers and other dignitaries were conscious of the huge expectations from across the world, especially given the growing discourse on the 2019 general election and the continued well-being of the Nigerian nation. As a body comprising eminent Yoruba leaders, the Yoruba Unity Forum, founded on January 14, 2010, recognised the huge burden the forum bears in symbolising the real values of the Yoruba nation. And to underline the importance of the workshop, the roll call of the dignitaries at the event included the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi, the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola and Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Saliu Adetunji and hordes of Yoruba leaders including Archbishop Emeritus Ayo Ladigbolu, Rear Admiral Akin Aduwo, Dr Tokunbo Awolowo Dosumu, former Governor Omololu Olunloyo, Senator Femi Okurounmu, Professor Banji Akintoye, the Aare Onakakanfo of Yoruba land, Aare Gani Adams, Senator Anthony Adefuye, Dr Kunle Olajide and Mr Yinka Odumakin, to name a few.
The Yoruba Unity Forum chairman, Bishop Ladigbolu had set the tone for the general discourse in his welcome address, with a remark that the workshop could not have come at a better time, ostensibly in the light of the frenzied horse-trading ahead of a general election in the country. He expressed delight at the new spirit of understanding, cooperation and collaboration among traditional rulers in Yoruba land, citing the visit of Oba Ogunwusi to the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Adeyemi. Archbishop Ladigbolu promised the Yoruba nation would continue to sustain the country on the path of unity and stability.
“Today, our country is being ravaged by forces of terrorism, corruption and a defective constitution. We will not shy away at this critical moment of our nation’s history. We believe that the Yoruba nation could do all within its powers to sustain the unity of Nigeria and put the nation back on a stable course,” Ladigbolu said. The YUF chairman further called on Yoruba to support and vote for capable individuals who would be truthful about restructuring the country in the next political era. According to him, the prosperity, growth and sustainable development of Nigeria can only thrive on the tripod of restructuring.
The speech by Oba Ogunwusi was thought-provoking, as he harped on the need for a return to the basics by the people. He said the Yoruba were created perfect by God and given the knowledge on administration and politics, buttressing his submission to the legacy of the Old Oyo Empire in terms of democracy and order. He, however, stressed that race derailed because its people became selfish and self-conceited as individuals when they had opportunities of leadership, noting that the only way the Yoruba could return to its enviable heights in the nation is for its people to de-emphasise the self by recognising the place of others and God.
Ooni, who is the patron of the YUF, noted that civilisation actually started in Yoruba land before it spread to other parts of the world. In advocating self-discovery and renaissance, the monarch asserted that the Yoruba are immensely endowed but that impunity and greed among a few constituted a cog in the wheel of progress. Therefore, he said the people; especially the elite and political leadership should imbibe the slogan of brotherliness, collectivism and piety by discarding self-mentality and go basic to the basic values of Omoluabi, which encapsulate lofty virtues. The Ooni called for unity within the Yoruba nation for other nationalities in Nigeria to emulate.
Oba Ogunwusi acknowledged the prime position of the Yoruba in nation-building. His words: “I have one belief as Arole Oodua that the moment Yoruba unity is settled, Nigeria will progress. We are the light of the nation. We have allowed deception, mistrust to divide us as a nation. We should be examples for other ethnic groups in Nigeria. Until Yoruba unity is resolved before the nation can develop. Many leaders have destroyed their children’s future. The lesson we should teach ourselves is that nothing last forever, except God. Let Yoruba respect the human race. The moment our leaders begin to have consideration for the future, this nation will move forward.”
The speech of the Alaafin of Oyo, who was represented by his second-in-command and Basorun of Oyo, High Chief Yusuf Akinade, reechoed the necessity for unity among the Yoruba. Emphasising for serious retrospection, he charged the political elite to quickly retrace their steps in the overall interest of the Yoruba nation.
“All of you here should go back home and deliver the messages you hear here appropriately. Tell the political leaders that they should stop being deceptive by saying something while clamouring for votes and doing the opposite when they get to office,” he quipped.
Beyond the royal speeches, the mood at the crowded Efunyela Hall reflected the reality of the times in the Yoruba nation, with those in attendance hailing the two leading Yoruba royal fathers for showing examples of the unity, which the Yoruba nation badly needs. Of a truth, the Ooni and the representative of the Alaafin had made it abundantly clear that the royal institution would provide leadership for the Yoruba nation in its search for unity and order.
In his presentation, the keynote speaker and author of several books on Yoruba history, such as “A History of the Yoruba People,” Professor Banji Akintoye, expressed concern about the conduct of the present crop of political leaders, who he said were self-serving instead of promoting the cause of the Yoruba nation. “I do not agree that there is disunity in the Yoruba nation. What is actually wrong is that we are not producing enough politicians who stand strong in Yoruba culture and ready to protect the culture and interest of Yoruba. So, we need new leadership. The group of politicians who can protect and defend the interest of Yoruba land,” he said.
He expressed total disgust with the brand of politics in the country, which he noted was based on perverted values. By his estimation, “what is called democratic politics has taken a weird, chaotic and destructive shape in Nigeria, a monstrous concoction peculiar to Nigeria and largely unknown to most of the rest of the world. Politics has become the place to achieve easy financial success in Nigeria to get the easiest chance to share bountifully from Nigeria’s culture of corruption. Consequently, it is difficult for the typical member of the Nigerian elite to stay away from politics.”
He opined that the existing political structure was causing great havoc to the Yoruba nation, including destroying the moral fabric of the race. His words: “We Yoruba nation find ourselves enmeshed and entangled in all of the debilitating ailments of Nigeria. What Nigeria has become today is not the Yoruba kind of life and society, but we find ourselves sharing seriously in it all, and we are expressing all its devastating symptoms. Our public officials are giving us insensitive and corrupt governance. We are living in massive poverty and hopelessness, in violence and chaos, including inter-ethnic violence, in staggering criminalities, in massive unemployment, intensifying restlessness among our youths, and we are helplessly lamenting the destruction of the standards of our education, the almost total destruction of our societal and cultural norms, and the almost total loss of our unique leadership qualities. These conditions have now reached heights that are totally intolerable and unacceptable to most Yoruba people.”
Professor Akintoye is saddened that despite this frightening scenario about the future of the country, the Yoruba nation was not building the necessary human capacity to reposition itself thus holding it down. “The Yoruba nation does not have active political leaders with innate Yoruba level of statesmanship, the proper kind of orientation, and the sufficient intellectual and spiritual perception, to help the Yoruba nation to navigate through the storm to survival, to recovery, to self-determination, and ultimately to prosperity. Traditional Yoruba progressivism remains strong among the masses of Yoruba people, but most members of the current generation of Yoruba politicians choose to belong to Nigeria’s low and corrupt standards of leadership and governance.”
Nonetheless, Professor Akintoye offered a number of suggestions on the current quagmire. One of his propositions is that the Yoruba nation should embark on an initiative that will “generate a new Yoruba elite that will respect and value the Yoruba Nation’s tradition of leadership—and to promote a Yoruba leadership that is proudly enterprising, that is sensitive to the needs and expectations of Yoruba people, that is respectful of the Yoruba people, that is spiteful of corrupt and immoral conduct in business, employment, politics, and governance; that strongly stands in defence and promotion of Yoruba interests, and that dutifully promotes a sense of national unity and pride among us Yoruba.”
In her well-researched and stimulating paper, Dr Awolowo Dosumu shared with the audience the seamless form of participatory democracy that existed in Yoruba land dating back to pre-colonial era, as she established that the people had indeed “built a formidable consensus as to how to organise their societies and with what calibre of leaders to entrust the administration of those societies.”
Quoting some authorities, she added: “From pre-colonial, through colonial and some of the post-colonial years, the Yoruba demonstrated unequivocal unity of purpose in their choices in this regard. First of all, pre-colonial Yoruba communities were fastidious about the criteria for choosing leaders, for example, with regard to membership of the most powerful of their civic institutions, the Ogboni or Oṣugbo, the equivalent of the modern-day parliament, whose role was to balance the authority of the Oba.
“Research shows that great emphasis was placed by communities on ‘personal convictions and concerns about morality, honour and truth in the political process… even to the detriment of their economic and other ambitions’. In other words, Yoruba shunned financial inducements in choosing their leaders. The ‘general cultural politics (in those days, was characterised by)… an ethic of enlightenment, accountability and duty to the community.”
Besides, she asserted that self-help was not the veritable tool for resolving crisis then. Criteria for leadership, according to her, excluded the uncouth and the process of selection would, most certainly, not degenerate into street fights or gang warfare. Selfless service was the credo, not the pecuniary benefits of office, she said.
Dr Awolowo Dosumu said the February 2019 general election offered the country “another golden opportunity to reset our compass and choose our direction, and therefore our leaders, wisely.” She added: “There are many reasons why we should pursue this course of action,” she said, citing restructuring and the imperative for unity in the Yoruba nation ahead of the 2019 election, among others.
To underpin her position on the need for restructuring, Awolowo Dosumu, who was a former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Netherlands, repeated a quote by her father, Chief Awolowo: “The Nigerian Federation…will succeed and survive not by the wishful and thoroughly unscientific thinking of some Nigerians, but only to the extent to which we are able, through rationally thought-out constitutional arrangements, to contain the centrifugal forces at work and subordinate them permanently to the cohesive and centripetal influences of politico-economic union and togetherness.”
“Clearly, then, we owe it to ourselves to engage political aspirants at all levels on their view vis-a-vis restructuring and make sure we vote for only those committed to the idea, because the process should commence without further delay,” she said.
Speaking on the imperative of Yoruba unity ahead of the 2019 elections, Awolowo Dosumu said the populace, within and outside the Yoruba nation, absolutely must unite to win in the 2019 elections. “We must make our voices heard and our votes count. And in making our choices, we must be guided by the realisation that our decision is likely to make the difference between breakthrough and breakdown for our nation.”
“The task ahead is so enormous that we absolutely have to amend our constitution to reflect a truly federal system of governance. Only then can we hope to deliver national progress and development more efficiently and more appropriately.
“Candidates for elections at all levels have already been named so the die is cast in that regard. Nevertheless, as voters, it is still possible for us to interrogate those who aspire to lead us before the elections, in order to properly identify those of them who share our aspirations and who are prepared to serve our interests now, as well as build a solid foundation for future progress and development.
“As Yoruba, we are, and have never been intimidated by power or pretenses thereto. We have a culture of boldness and of speaking truth to power. I trust that we can do ourselves the favour of ensuring that only the best make it into those hallowed chambers and corridors of power next year. And we can only succeed by unifying, if not around individuals, at least around those noble ideals of selfless public service that the Yoruba nation has always preferred and always been renowned for,” Awolowo Dosumu said.
Speaking on the advantages the Yoruba nation already have regarding the huge task ahead, Awolowo Dosumu identified that the nation already ticks the boxes in the area of its ability to forge a consensus on several important issues, including the absolute necessity for rapid development, as well as the centrality of education to the process, saying: “We must, however, rally round these noble ideals as we approach the next elections. We are not looking for saints. We are, however, looking for trustworthy and selfless leaders. Sounds like a tall order, I know. Even as I write this, I can almost hear the sounds of dismissal from cynics, who are convinced that this is a vain hope. Maybe… But, to persist along our current reckless trajectory is to continue to play Russian roulette with our future and, more importantly, the future of coming generations. We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”
Speaking on the topic, “Security of Yorubaland,” Mogaji Gboyega Adejumo, dilated on the threats being faced by Yoruba people in Nigeria today, chief among which he identified as the herdsmen terrorism. Going down history lane, Adejumo exposited on how the Yoruba had always been united on the issue of security, citing how Aare Ona Kakanfo of the past were deployed for war by the Alaafin and how they would go to receive prayers from the Ooni. Interestingly, the incumbent Aare Ona Kakanfo, Adams, he said, followed the same path. Adejumo called on the Yoruba to wake up from their slumber regarding their security, pointing out that Adams, like many other leaders of Yoruba extraction, had great roles to play.
In his contribution, the National Publicity Secretary of the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, Mr Yinka Odumakin, who spoke on topic “The Yoruba Consensus on Restructuring,” broke down the Yoruba’s stance on the restructuring of Nigeria. He explained that the restructuring the Yoruba nation demands is not to balkanise the country or limit the opportunities of any region or people, explaining that the Yoruba consensus on restructuring is that all regions should be allowed to develop at their pace. Citing how Chief Awolowo, as premier of Wester Region, was able to establish the Western Nigeria Television Authority (WNTA) now Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) at a time France did not have a television station, Odumakin said that the restructuring Yoruba nation is calling for is to allow every section of the country to take development initiatives rather than being slowed down by the Federal Government.
He added that the Yoruba consensus on restructuring also entails devolution of powers to states, which would allow states to control of their destiny, saying: “When we talk about restructuring, we are not calling for the balkanisation of Nigeria. What we are calling for is that sections should be allowed to grow at their pace. What is happening in Nigeria today is that those making progress are being held down for others behind them instead of encouraging those behind to catch up with those making progress.”
In one of the major highlights of the workshop, the presence of representatives of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, led by the Grand Patron of the orgnaisation in Lagos State, Chief Guy Ikeokwu, demonstrated the growing need for the unity of Southern Nigeria, which the Yoruba Unity Forum has championed since its inception. Ikeokwu was to later electrifie the workshop with sound rhetorics on how the Yoruba and Igbo are one and why they would work together in 2019.
According to Ikeokwu, the Igbo could not be afford to be neutral in the charge being led by the Yoruba nation on restructuring and the repositioning of the Nigerian nation.
Extending a national discourse
The primary responsibility of a government or a state (country) is the welfare of the citizens. In normal climes, deliberate and sustained efforts are made to establish and sustain institutions that translate the provisions in the constitution under the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy as contained in Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. The chapter underscores the core obligations of the government to include that sovereignty belongs to the people; that the state shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power, guarantee planned and balanced economic development, institute social order based on ideals of rights, freedom, equality and justice. It also provides that the State shall direct its policy towards ensuring that all citizens, without discrimination on any group whatsoever, have opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood, as well as adequate opportunity to secure suitable employment.
However, these benefits are denial in the Nigerian project, whereas they constituted gains of the citizens under the defunct Western Region in the First Republic through cardinal programmes that focus on the building of human capacity and institutions.