Afenifere, Yoruba Unity Forum, OPC, ONC, OLM: Many voices, one issue

Reuben Fasoranti, The late Pa Olaniwun Ajayi, Yinka Odumakin and Kunle Olajide

What do Yoruba leaders want for championing the advocacy for restructuring of Nigeria? It is common to hear such teasers from certain categories of stakeholders in the Nigerian project. It is particularly common among those who are opposed to the sustained and frenzied demand that the country should return to the cardinal principles and philosophy of federalism, as practiced in post-Independence Nigeria. KUNLE ODEREMI examines the sustained clamour and the various shades of representation. 

 

For Second Republic Presidential Adviser, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, the Yoruba are not being altruistic in their clamour and demand for restructuring of the federation. He says he is suspicious ever than before that the Yoruba leaders, who have sustained and bolstered the crusade for years are not doing so out of patriotism. He also claims that, in the course of time, they have succeeded in ‘infesting and indoctrinating’ other stakeholders with the bug and virus of restructuring. His words: “From Action Group to UPN, to NADECO to PRONACO, the agitation for restructuring is concentrated among the South-West people of southern Nigeria. The whole aggression originated from Action Group, and the intention was to deny the North the benefit of the population and land mass. It is therefore a gang up to deprive the North the benefits it is getting for been richly endowed…This agitation is not driven by patriotism, rather it’s driven by hate and envy.”

Virtually all the Yoruba leaders championing the campaign have been availing themselves of every opportunity to put the issue in a proper perspective and set the record straight. Rather than harbouring any ulterior motive which some have termed a hidden agenda, the leaders and pan-Yoruba organisations and groups spearheading the cause swear that it is in the overall interest of the country which the establishment and their civilian collaborators have turned into a unitary system thereby impeding national cohesion, stability and progress.  This thinking informs what the various groups of individuals and groups involved in the pursuit of the cause to encapsulate their demands as a collective agenda, which the Yoruba Assembly, ably led by Lt-General Alani Akinrinade (retd) itemised as including, among other fundamental issues, fiscal federalism, devolution of powers; restructured Nigeria made of a Federal Government and six regional governments, adoption of a parliamentary system as opposed to the present presidential system of government, a decentralised police comprising federal, regional and state units; establishment of a constitutional court to adjudicate inter-governmental cases and election petitions into the National Assembly, stripping the President of Nigeria and state governors of immunity over criminal cases, and creation, by the South-West states, of vigilance groups to secure life and property.

Against the backdrop of criticism by a few, who queried the justification of the Yoruba leaders to be at the vanguard of restructuring, most major stakeholders in the Nigerian project have offered explanation on the position of the Yoruba leaders. Primary of such reasons is the legacy of the iconic politician, Chief Obafemi Awolowo of formal and free education, which empowered the people in all ramifications, and which translated into infrastructural development, industrial takeoff and general human capacity building, all of which regrettably, have suffered an unmitigated reversal and disaster because of the current contraption called federation. In the views of many observers, it is no surprise that leaders from the South-West are passionate, desirous and yearning for a return to real federalism, and based on universally accepted standards.  Another plank of argument by some observers can be seen in the acts of injustices that have been inflicted on the Yoruba race in the quest for power in the country. Through sheer conspiracy, some of the best brains who sought to replicate the remarkable transformation witnessed in Yoruba land during the First Republic were denied the opportunity to lead the country. This was in spite of the acknowledgment of those individuals by the international community of their competence, potentials and capability.

Leading lights in Yoruba land in the restructuring struggle, for the umpteenth time shed light on their mission. Eminent persons like Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Dr Kunle Olajide, General Akinrinade, Dr Doyin Okupe, to mention a few, have constantly provided details about the contents, purpose and mission of the agenda of the Yoruba nation and its leaders on restructuring. He believes a few elements are indeed misconstruing the motive of the Yoruba leaders, ostensibly for selfish reasons. This is how Dr Okupe expatiated on the mission of the leaders: “We cannot but have a Yoruba agenda as long as we are in Nigeria. We must have an agenda. Some people are misinterpreting us (the Yoruba) that we want to secede; that’s why we are clamouring for restructuring, but it is not true. Yoruba believe in our hard work. In the days of Awolowo, we can see what they made of the Western Region. Till today, both state and federal governments have not matched up with that standard.

“We are clamouring for restructuring so that we can have independence to harness our sweat, hard work and intelligence for the development of our people. You can’t compare educational setting in Ibadan, Ile-Ife and other parts in the South-West with what is in practice in Maiduguri or Kano. One legislation cannot guide education throughout Nigeria; that is impossible. In our agenda, we must re-echo it that education should be the bedrock of the agenda. Whatever it will cost us, we should be ready to give it. If we say we should wait till when Nigeria is ready to determine where Yoruba is heading to, it may spell doom. The constitution of this country accepts that we are a federation. And as a federation, we have the grace to call all Yoruba nation that this is the path we wish to tread as Yoruba people.”

His view on the agenda of the Yoruba agenda is amply corroborated by Dr Kunle Olajide, who says the Yoruba people are hugely endowed with a projected population of 50 million in Nigeria and another 50 million in the Diaspora. Accordingly, he said the leaders were only out to set the “Yoruba nation agenda in the context of a stable, prosperous and progressive Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is not a separatist or secessionist agenda. Yoruba nation agenda is not exclusively for the people alone to the exclusion of the other nationalists that make up Nigeria. The Yoruba nation demands a new order for Nigeria. The existing order is unacceptable to most Nigerians as evidenced by the various agitation and state of insecurity, virtually enveloping the country.”

Chief Ayo Adebanjo, a veteran of the nationalist struggle that culminated in Nigeria’s independence from Britain in 1960, is miffed that a senior citizen like Yakassai should misconstrue the demand for restructuring by the Yoruba leaders for any untoward reason. He queried: “How can he now say that restructuring is a Yoruba agenda? Is it Yoruba agenda that we used in the First Republic and the Action Group won all the elections in the minority areas in the north and in the east? That made us the only national party although our opponents continue to say that we are tribalistic but we are the only party that won elections in the legislative arm in the First Republic. It is on record. We were the leader of the opposition in the east led by Ikokwu, in the north by Alhaji Maito from Ilorin and by the government of the west led by Chief Awolowo. How can a party be more national? That is the constitution we have been advocating since then. You can see how ridiculous and mischievous to make that statement and I am very disappointed that Tanko Yakassai should talk like that in this age.

“Yakassai sees the restructuring as a gang up against the north. If he says restructuring is a gang up, is it a gang up if we say let each region have its own autonomy? Is that a gang up? Don’t you know that the call by MASSOB, the Niger Delta Avengers are calls for restructuring, as they promised to lay down their arms? He should remember that the question of restructuring came up after the army had destroyed Nigeria in 1966. I challenge Tanko Yakassai and Maitama Sule, because they are products of the First Republic, to deny if all the agitations that have been made in the First Republic, were not based on the creation of more states and on the minorities having their own states. What do you then call restructuring? Except he is ignorant of what restructuring is all about.”

Chief Adebanjo dismissed insinuations that restructuring was a euphemism for the disintegration of the federation. “How can you equate restructuring to breaking up of the country? All we are saying is that we must have a proper federation and our own federation is patterned after the United States of America…I ask Tanko Yakassai again, is this the constitution that Awolowo. Azikiwe and Sardauna gave us at independence? Is that what we agreed upon in London? Or what are we advocating that is different from that? It is unfortunate that a leader like him is misleading the country and his people. Or is it because the military had changed the constitution to favour their people, which the army did in 1966 of which we are now opposing that is making it a Yoruba agenda? If it is a Yoruba agenda that we don’t want to be dictated to or oppressed, I agree. We are in the vanguard of a united Nigeria, under a peaceful arrangement known as federalism,” Chief Adebanjo said.

For the greater part of this year, the leaders have met in major cities in the South-west in their efforts to further galvanise public support for the restructuring agenda and other related issues concerning the progress of Yoruba land and the country at large. Some of the meetings and consultations culminated in general assembly, one of which the 50th remembrance anniversary of the great martyr, Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, held at the International Conference Centre, University of Ibadan. It attracted both the high and the low, as well as scholars from within and outside the shores of the country. It afforded the leaders yet another opportunity to expatiate on the Yoruba agenda. At the end of the session, the leaders declared: “Yoruba people frown at the terrible poverty that has become the lot of millions of our people as a result of the crisis of Nigeria’s structural defects which have made it impossible for most of our states to meet their obligations to their citizens or even to pay basic salaries to their state workers.” They equally “frown upon other effects of the unitary economy, especially its assault on Nigeria’s federalism which has now created the absurd situation whereby the Federal Government treats the states like beggars, and doles bailouts to them with stringent conditions from the resources which actually belong to them but which the Federal Government uses its unitary fiat to corner away from them”

“We particularly reject the situation whereby our Yoruba nation’s welfare ideology has become practically impossible to implement in the context of the terminal crisis that Nigeria has now plunged into economically. To get out of this crisis, we insist on the restructuring of the Nigerian federation so that the federating units would be able to develop and harvest their resources to revive development and economic prosperity for our people,” they stressed.

“Yoruba people express unhappiness with the damage that has been done to our cultural and economic life by the unitary governance structure which has been foisted on Nigeria gradually since independence, and which has drastically limited and constrained our civilization,” they stated.

On the other hand, the focus of the Yoruba Assembly, under the leadership of Gen. Akinrinade is not shrouded in secrecy, as its leaders shed light on its primary goal and objectives. For example, they recently reiterated that.

“The Yoruba nation is and has always been in thought-leading position on nationhood and we will continue with this leadership behaviour, especially at times like this. Hence we will not condone, nor engage with any recklessness that is against our core values and essence as a people. We reiterate the need for restructuring of Nigeria’s governance structure as our minimum demand. In our view, restructuring is desirable and currently inevitable. This must be restructuring on the terms that are attractive to all ethnic nationalities and if necessary, fought for.”

 

Amalgam of groups

At varying period, the leaders of the Yoruba nation produced what model of what a draft constitution on what the people want. For instance, in their memorandum produced by obas, chiefs and leaders of thought  in Yoruba land in 1994, it included a draft of such constitution tailored along the regional system of government of the First Republic.  Part of Article 1 of the document read: “Yoruba land, existing as an autonomous nation in a Union of the Nigerian constituent Nationalities, shall be known and styled as Oduduwa Region; that “The central government of the Union shall have no power to interfere in the affairs of the Oduduwa Region, save as shall be agreed to by the three quarters of the members of the Region’s Parliament; that “The land description of the Yoruba Nation corresponds to the present states of Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo and all Yoruba land in Kwara, Kogi, Edo and Delta states, and that “There shall be a Division of the Federal Armed Forces in the region, 80 per cent of which personnel shall be indigenes of the Region. The Divisional Commander shall be an indigene of Oduduwa Region.” This political arrangement, which is predicated on the post-independence system, factored in the desirability of the Yoruba nation to again undertake an unprecedented wealth creation process, as well as the building of institutions designed to accelerate the development and economic growth as well as creating a conducive environment for the people to claim ownership of their destiny and their fatherland.

The plurality of the Yoruba society sometimes makes the people look like a people perpetually in conflict and controversy with one another. The amalgam of groups that have continued to emerge claiming to be purveyor of restructuring seems to have created the impression of discordant tunes, which some of the it was the hallmark of democracy-right of people to assert their fundamental freedoms. However, the leaders claimed the major pressure groups have been able to harmonise their positions resulting in the collective agenda for the Yoruba nation.  Apart from Afenifere, Yoruba Unity Forum, a lot of groups have been formed in recent times to propagate the restructuring struggle. The Yoruba Assembly alone is an amalgam of Afenifere Renewal Group, O’dua Liberation Movement, Yoruba Council of Youth, Coalition of O’dua Self-determination Groups, O’dua Nationalist Coalition, Oodua Peoples Congress (Reformed); O’dua National Congress (ONC) and Agbekoya Reformed Society, among others. There is the recent group called the Yoruba Leadership and Peace Initiative. Another coalition is the O’odua Nationalist Coalition (ONAC), which consists of 18 organisations such as the Oodua Peoples Congress, (OPC), Oodua Liberation Movement, (OLM), Oodua Republic Coalition (ORC), Yoruba Revolutionary Congress (YORC), Oodua Muslim-Christian Dialogue Group (OMDG), oruba Students Nationalist Front, (YOSNF), Oodua Hunters Union, (OHUN), and so on. But the leaders of the groups appear to have evolved a synergy to work together seamlessly on what they considered as the Yoruba agenda, which is to take the country back to the ethnic nationalities making the federation.

One of the foremost Nigerian politicians, Chief Olaniwun, died some time ago. He made one of the most profound statements about the existing Nigerian federalism: “The bane and chain-down to the progress and development of Nigeria are political power imbalance. Unless and until this is righted by way of proper federalism, Nigeria may not know peace, nor progress nor stability, maybe rather, implosion or explosion as in Yugoslavia.”

Evidence abound to buttress the position of the Yoruba leaders that the demand for restructuring is not indeed a South-West agenda. Dating back to the pre-Independence era, majority of the ethnic nationalities in the country have been agitating for a structure that guarantees a sense of belonging to all. This was evident in the struggle by the Minorities in the North, especially in the Middle Belt and the South-South, particularly the Ogoja Division in the First Republic. The agitations in the Middle Belt have not only been sustained for decades but also hinged on restructuring. The story of the sweet-bitter experience of the Tiv and other tribes in the area remains fresh in the memories of most Nigerians. It is edifying to note that former Vice President, AlhajiAtikuAbubakar, did not key into the demand for restructuring today, as his contribution to the debate have been sustained and profound. The imperative of the exercise was furthered underscored when former military leader, General Ibrahim Babangida, unequivocally threw his weight behind the demand for restructuring. His action was most remarkable, having declared some issues ‘no-do area’ when his administration embarked on a constitutional process that preceded the political transition programme of his regime. The frenzied campaign for restructuring in the South-South and South-East also attest to the fact that it was not a regional agenda but a collective wish of majority of the components of the federation. Ethnic nationalities like the Ijaw, Itshekiri, Urhobo, and others have issues with the present unitary structure.

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