The emergence of Prof Banji Akintoye as the new leader of the Yoruba could not have come as a surprise to many. The Second Republic Senator, who cut his teeth under the tutelage of the late Chief Obefemi Awolowo, has been known to be a great champion of socio-economic development of the Yoruba nation. In this interview, the renowned historian promised to work together with the various tendencies in the Southwest Region for the ultimate aim of transforming the education, economic and security architecture of the Yoruba land and Nigeria as a whole.
Unity of the Yoruba is a very paramount issue among the stakeholders in the Southwest. With you as the new Yoruba leader, how would you sustain the unity of the Yoruba?
It is often said that Yoruba people are disunited, and so on, but it is not true. I have always said that Yoruba people are one of the most united nationalities in the world. Yoruba people love their culture, they love their history, they love their accomplishments in history passionately, and they are very proud of it all. In spite of our religious differences, we are one people in the world that can sit together. We are one people in the world who for better-for-worse will welcome foreigners into our land and treat them well in our land. And we are very proud to do so. Even when it hurts us, we still do it. How can you say we are disunited? We are a large nation; a nation with a very long history. We disagree among ourselves over some issues from time to time. But it is not issue of some people being traitors or anything, it is just division over how best we can move the nation forward. Yoruba people are very eager for development. One London Professor said: “Among the peoples of the world, the Yoruba are unique in their fixation on development and progress. They call it Ilosiwaju, Itesiwaju or whatever name, but they want progress.” So, we are a very strong united nation even though we can divide from time to time about what to do and how to do it, what way to work and what way not to work and so on. That is not division; that is positive, active unity for progress.
But there is no pretending the fact that there are other groups like Yoruba Council of Elders, Afenifere, Oodua Liberation Movement and so on. How are you going to bring all of these together under one umbrella with a focus to develop the Yoruba nation as you have said?
One thing you will find with every one of these organizations is that they are working for what they believe to be the good of the Yoruba nation. So, they are united in that goal. What each is trying to do is to approach development of Yoruba nation in its own way. And there is no need to destroy the way of any particular group. All whoever leads the Yoruba needs to do is to encourage these groups to do best what they are trying to do for the Yoruba nation.
You are also not unaware that before your emergence as Yoruba leader, some people were already thrusting themselves as leaders either politically or otherwise. How do you strike a balance in the circumstance?
Why not? A man who creates a church and has close to two million members coming to that church to listen to his words every day more or less, is that not a leader among the people? A man who is the leader of a political party that wins an election and controls of the states of the Yoruba nation, is that not a leader of the Yoruba people? You talk of a man whose political party controls five or six states of the Yoruba nation, how can you say that man is not the leader of the Yoruba nation? Yoruba people have traditional rulers, and our traditional rulers sometimes argue among themselves. But the truth of the matter is that each of them is a father of the Yoruba nation. It is a complex ancient civilization. And the world had better accept us as such. Why did Yoruba break into a large number of organizations? My answer is historically that is the way we have always behaved. When the Yoruba people notice
Why did Yoruba break into a large number of organizations? My answer is historically that is the way we have always behaved. When the Yoruba people notice a need in their nation or there is a crisis or threat to their nation, they tend to form various groups to address the problem. That we are doing so now does not mean we are disunited.
You have been known to be very passionate about the cause of Yoruba. And, of course, one of the issues in the front burner now is how to accelerate development of the Southwest region, which was why some governors made a move in the recent past towards economic integration. As someone who has imbibed the ethos and philosophy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, how would you be able to bring all of these governors together to achieve this laudable goal?
First, the beginning of any effort is to make oneself accessible to all various leaders of the Yoruba nation. And that means you must be very obviously and manifestly non-partisan. You must not be a member of any political party; you must respect every politician and every political leader in his own right so that you will be able to enter into every office or home in Yoruba land without any inhibition, so that you will be able to discuss with every person in Yoruba land about how to move the Yoruba nation forward. That is the beginning. The other thing is that you must be somebody who is ready to give considerable thought to the way to move the Yoruba nation forward today. The Yoruba nation is very rich in ideas and it can grow to become a very powerful nation in the world. You must be somebody who can harness those ideas and use them for the good of the Yoruba nation. And you must be open. You must not get yourself irritated by criticism by your own people. It is the nature of Yoruba society to criticize anybody in the public and we are used to being criticized by others. We are used to criticizing even our closest friends if we think they are wrong in any way. And we are used to tolerating criticism. So, the Yoruba people are headed for great things in the world. It is true that at a time an attempt was made to bring the governors of our six states together by one of our groups called Afenifere Renewal Group. It is still in existence. They wrote a magnificent proposal for the development of the Yoruba nation which we called a dawn document. A dawn document is imperishable, it can never die. And from it we are still going to harvest a great deal of wisdom to develop our nation. Besides that, there are a lot of younger people, economists, development experts, strategists and so on who have looked at the Yoruba nation and whose ideas we can use to develop our nation. We only need the blessing of God to be able to achieve it.
Good enough, you are a renowned scholar, an educationist and historian. What is your agenda to reviving the decaying educational sector in the Southwest?
I agree; that’s a big crisis. The disintegration in the quality of education in the country generally is a big problem. But it is a bigger problem for the Yoruba nation because that is what we love most. Therefore, it is critically important to us that schools should impact a great deal of values to our children. That is not happening now because of interference with our educational system. The military came and interfered with our educational system. They took away our schools from the people who built them, began to meddle with them and destroyed them. It is difficult, but we are going to give serious attention to it because it is the only way forward. We will work with the governors; we will set up processes and institutions by which we can influence the improvement in the quality of education in our region. We will also make sure that some things that have been removed from our educational system by the people who ruled Nigeria will now be returned to our schools like history of our nation. We are great nation with a great history. We must impart that pride to our children in our schools. We must also now reinforce very powerfully the teaching of our Yoruba language. Universities all over the world are setting up department of Yoruba Language and we back home are no longer speaking Yoruba to our children. We must initiate powerful new programme whereby you encourage parents and adults to speak Yoruba Language to our children. Speaking Yoruba Language to their children does not mean they will be bad in English Language. Scientists who studied language development in children have found out that the mind of every child is so wired that it can learn at least six languages at the same time without confusion. So, the fact that your child is speaking Yoruba does not mean he won’t speak English very well. In fact, when you interfere with the natural capability of the child to learn as many as six languages, you may be damaging his ability to learn any language at all. So, it is important we make this known to our parents and our elders.
Agitation for power shift has already started ahead of 2023. What is the agenda of the Yoruba in the larger picture of the Nigeria project?
I must confess to you, the agenda of the Yoruba towards 2023 has not fully evolved, but I know most Yoruba will like to have the presidency back in 2023. That is something we still have to work upon. But that cannot be the agenda of the Yoruba vis-a-vis Nigeria. The question of presidency should not be the top agenda of the Yoruba people. The big agenda of the Yoruba is about our position in this country. Are we prepared to continue to live under the influence of the Federal Government which is controlling everything? Is that the way a nation of 55 million Yoruba people should be living? Is that the way the Igbo, the Ijaw, the Middle Belt should be living? Is that the way the people of the South-south should be living? It doesn’t matter who becomes the president, without correcting this, the Yoruba nation will always suffer, the Igbo nation will always suffer, the other nations will always suffer. Some people will always have the capability to manipulate and maneuver things to come to power at the centre and we will continue to shout. Even if we the Yoruba agree among ourselves 100 per cent that we are going to produce just one candidate, how are we sure that we will be able to push in to the presidency in 2023? As a matter of fact, we Yoruba don’t particularly care about who is the president. We have been the one people who can remain in opposition and do our own things and prosper in Nigeria. So, the presidency is important to us we Yoruba, but it is not the most important thing. The most important thing is how we are allowed constitutionally to be in Nigeria and have security in our land. We have been beset by annihilation and ethnic cleansing invasion in the past four years. Are we going to continue to live like this until 2023? That is more important than 2023. We have to get rid of this invasion. Those are the more important agenda for the Yoruba nation.