In remembering the scholarship of foremost historian, the late Professor J.A. Atanda, scholars, traditional rulers and other stakeholders led by celebrated academic, Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities, University of Texas, Austin, Professor Toyin Falola have called for the devolution of power in Nigeria, while also stressing the need for the appreciation of Yoruba culture and society.
Falola made these remarks at the opening ceremony of The Sixth J.A. Atanda Lectures and Conference, with the theme ‘Yoruba Culture and Society,’ which commenced yesterday at the Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State.
According to him, “without Yoruba culture, there won’t be foundation for the current secessionist movements. It is that culture traced to Oduduwa, the ancestor of the people, which created what we call the Yoruba identity. It is that identity that is turned into a political map; it is that identity that is allowing them to compare themselves with other identities in the country; it is that identity that is allowing them to think that they could do better if the federal system is either reorganized or they have their own country. Autonomy, self determination, restructuring and independence, sometimes can be confusing. One is to say you want to create your own country and you can see there have been many secessionist movements in Africa. But by and large only a few have been successful: Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan. The boundaries of Africa inherited after the colonial rule have remained. In the case of Nigeria, Biafra started it and did not succeed. A name, a new boundary, a new map. But you can have devolution of powers, decentralization which means you remain in Nigeria but the centre transfers power to the various regions. That is what we had in the First Republic when Awolowo was premier. We had regionalism: Northern states, Western states, Eastern states, each region controlling its own resources, with some limitation on foreign policy and the army. The military during the civil war centralized power and now we have overcentralisation of power, and so the federalism is not working well.”
Sharing same argument, Professor Olutayo Adesina, head, Department of History, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, called for caution. “The agitations are agitations. It does not mean that they are well placed or that those who are pushing the agitations are the right people. We are really now in a state of flux because if you study the environment very well, one must carry out a cost, benefit analysis. If we agitate and we try to secede or move away, what would be the benefits for us? What would be the cost of taking the Yoruba people out of Nigeria? Is it going to be done peacefully? These things must be carried out clinically and the parameters must be gotten right. If it is not going to be peaceful, what will be the cost for us as a people and as a society? What will be the cost of this to our infrastructure? Are we going to be launched back to the 13th century like Syria? A lot of things must be done carefully and well calibrated. Yoruba land is urbane, highly educated and sophisticated. We can’t be rabble-rousers.”
In his submission, the distinguished father of the day, the Oragun of Oke-Ila, Osun State, Oba Abolarin Adedokun stated that care should be taken in addressing the various issues confronting the country. According to him, “Part of the Yoruba culture is patience. Whatever one is facing is only a phase, a period. This period in which Nigeria is shall pass. That is what democracy is all about. There is nothing in democracy that our forbears did not internalize. The supremacy of the people must be centralized. Power lies with the people. We must be courageous to face our problems through dialogue. If we behave as though we are not deep thinkers, the repercussions would be dire.”
On the relevance of the event, Professor Falola stated that the idea is “to remember the scholarship of Professor J.A. Atanda who worked for many years in the Department of History, University of Ibadan. He was also commissioner for local government in the Old Oyo State.”
While appreciating the conveners of the event, the honoree’s representative and daughter, Dr. Ajoke Fatunde, said that her father’s legacy has remained an inspiration for the family.
Other dignitaries at the event included former deputy governor of Ogun State, Alhaja Salimot Badru, Ogun State commissioner for culture and tourism, Dr. Olwatoyin Emmanuel Taiwo, the Olofin of Ilisan-Remo, Oba Michael Mojeed Sonuga, foremost private art collector, Yemisi Shyllon, among many others.
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