From OLUSEYE OJO and CHARITY OKORIE, Ibadan
THE Yoruba were once considered the leading group in several aspects of community life in Nigeria. They achieved the enviable feat based on visionary leadership and unity.
Under the leadership of the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as Premier of the Western Region, Yoruba have unbeatable records of being the first to institute free education, have the first university – University of Ibadan – have the first television station in Africa – Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), – built the first skyscraper in the country – Cocoa House, among others.
After the demise of Awolowo, others illustrious sons and daughters of Yoruba also played pivotal roles for unity. They included former governor of old Ondo State, Chief Adekunle Ajasin and former leader of Yoruba pan-political and cultural organisation, Afenifere, the late Chief Abraham Adesanya.
Tragically today, there is no acceptable common leader and there is a crying need for unity. The search for acceptable leader and unity has been on the card for a while, having realised that it would be difficult to have such a leader without unity.
A new group, Association of Yoruba Professionals, has now emerged as a Yoruba Think-Tank, championing the unity of Yoruba nation. Recently, the group brought dozens of Yoruba leaders from all walks of life, irrespective of their political leanings, to Ibadan, Oyo State, to develop a roadmap for unity of the race.
Leaders of different groups such as the Afenifere, Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Yoruba Unity Forum (YUF), Yoruba Assembly, and Save Nigeria Group (SNG) were among the participants at the well-attended event. The fulcrum of the programme is the urgent need for Yoruba to close ranks and fight on a common front as a nation. The leaders agreed that it is high time they focused on the unity of Yoruba rather than on what can divide them.
The occasion was the golden remembrance lecture for the first Military Governor of the old Western Region, Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi. He was assassinated in a counter-coup of July 29, 1966, along with the visiting Head of State, Major-Gen. Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi. It was held at the International Conference Centre, University of Ibadan.
The multiple award-winning, world-class literary icon, Professor Niyi Osundare, delivered a lecture entitled: “Adekunle Fajuyi and the Politics of Remembrance.”
The participants identified revival of Yoruba culture in all strata as one of the sure paths to unity, saying the Yoruba renaissance would be difficult to achieve without re-enacting the indigenous cultural heritage of the people.
Osundare said: “Without a shred of doubt, there is so much in the life and legacy of Adekunle Fajuyi, the great man, whose memory we celebrate, that speaks to the inward-rooted, outward-looking philosophy, the plural, tolerant, accommodating ‘Omoluabism’ that is the core and guiding principle of Yoruba culture and science of being; that amplitude of spirit, that unstinting magnanimity that has always lifted our gaze beyond the parapets of jingoism and ethnic chauvinism.
“These are the virtues that have seen us through the turbulent upheavals of the past; they are the sure path to our ability to survive – and thrive – in the future.”
Osundare, who called for the restructuring of the country, further said the Yoruba strand of the national question narrative deserves a thorough, hard-nosed, and visionary appraisal. He added that those who call for a relative autonomy that would allow Nigeria’s federating units appreciable room to develop their on way have their fingers right on top of the problem.
“For that, indeed, is the substance, soul and spirit of true federalism. But we need to find a way of doing this without allowing it to degenerate into a good-we versus bad-they; civilised-we versus primitive-they; advanced-we versus backward-they mechanism that ends up trumpeting the false superiority of one ethnic group and the assumed inferiority of the other or others.
“In other words, we must make sure that our ‘Yoruba Agenda’ does not bottom out as ‘Yoruba Exceptionalism’ with its attendant triumphalist provincialism and hubristic extremisms.”
It has been argued that the separate “Yoruba Nation” being canvassed in certain quarters can never be a nation of angels. There is hardly any virtue or vice in the larger Nigerian body politics that is not in the Yoruba part of it. The Yoruba have their own fair share of virtuous nation-builders and vicious nation-wreckers, consumate democrats and unrepentant ballot-riggers, conscientious citizens and conscienceless cesspools of corruption.
Ondo State Governor Olusegun Mimiko, who also supported restructuring of the country, noted that the Yoruba should have common front and the same goal, irrespective of their political and religious affiliation. He disclosed that restructuring of the country is an idea whose time has come and which cannot be wished away.
He contended that the Yoruba are good supporters but have not been negotiating well for what is in it for them when the cause the support comes to reality. He called for a change of attitude and firmness.
The Alani of Idoani, Ondo State, General Olufemi Olutoye (retd), who chaired the programme, noted that Fajuyi laid down his life for the core values of the Yoruba for the unity of Nigeria, describing him as a worthy ambassador of the Yoruba race and the country.
The convener of Save Nigeria Group (SNG) and General Overseer of Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare, examined the import of the heroism of Adekunle Fajuyi as gift of Yoruba people to the Nigerian nation in three braid strokes. First, Fajuyi ought to be a rallying point in the search for a common national identity in the country. Second, in the Fajuyi sacrifice, the nation could find a compass as it navigates the lingering structural change.
Third, the current leaders must find courage in the heroic deed of Adekunle Fajuyi to restructure, reconcile aggrieved sections within the nation, and re-integrate into united nationhood the diverse interest groups in the Nigerian nation:
“Adekunle Fajuyi served in the government that put the true Federal Republic of Nigeria to death. In the search for unity after the January 1966 coup, the Aguiyi-Ironsi led government, through the Unification Decree of May 24, 1966, abrogated the federal structure and instituted a unitary system.
“To this say, Nigeria has not recovered from the structural anomaly that resulted from that action which, ultimately, was a major contributory factor to the death of Aguiyi- Ironsi and Fajuyi.”
Bakare noted that again and again, the Yoruba have lost illustrious sons and daughters to the black hole of the national question such as the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, MKO Abiola, and his wife, Kudirat, former Minister of Power and Steel, Chief Bola Ige; and so on. He particularly noted that the sacrifice of Fajuyi for a united nationhood has been forgotten.
Chairman of Ohanaeze Ndigbo for African Region, Sir Oliver Akubueze, who represented the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, Chief Gary Enwo Igariwey, also presented a goodwill message on the occasion. According to him, “In the hall of fame of heroes and knights is Col Adekunle Fajuyi, who fell on July 29, 1966.
“I join our brothers of the Yoruba nation once again on behalf of Fajuyi, your son, our brother, a professional soldier par excellence, who by the nobility of his life and death rose to become one of the greatest Nigerians that ever lived, by demonstrating absolute loyalty to the class of his calling, sacrificing his life in the defence of his commander-in-chief, showing respect for the tight Yoruba culture of moral decency and equality.
“While many of us may not be able to match his attendance in life, the least we can do and the debts we owe his memory is to always remember and to celebrate him with reverence and dignity.
“You will all recall that on May 12, 2001, the Ndigbo honoured Col. Fajuyi with the traditional title of Eze Enyigbo, a very good friend of Ndigbo. On that occasion, his son, Chief Adebayo Fajuyi, then a local government chairman received the award on his behalf.”
However, in a four-point communique, signed by retired General Olutoye, issued at the end of the programme, the Yoruba leaders expressed unhappiness with the damage done to their cultural and economic life by the unitary governance structure which was said to have been foisted on Nigeria gradually since independence, and which has drastically limited and constrained the civilisation of the race:
“Many young Yoruba people below 30 years of age have either faint or no idea of historical figures like Fajuyi because Nigeria has stopped the teaching of History in our schools, thereby repressing our culture. There is nothing Nigeria can offer us that can compensate for the relentless erosion of our rich culture which we are proud of and which deserves to be cherished eternally.”
Towards repairing the perceived damage, the leaders resolved the state governments in the South West should restore the teaching of History in primary and secondary schools, adding that government should conduct regional examinations, and issue certificates, on it for the students.
“Yoruba Language should be a compulsory subject in our schools, and our Houses of Assembly should use it as is now done in the Lagos State House of Assembly.”
The leaders also resolved that the Yoruba renaissance would be difficult to achieve without re-enacting the indigenous cultural heritage of the people. Participants resolved that Yoruba Language be made the language of instruction in all subjects in all public and private primary and secondary schools in Yoruba territories. The communique stated that the entire South West should in the next 10 years work to ensure that Yoruba Language becomes the grand norm in cultural, political and economic relations in all Yoruba States.
The Yoruba leaders frowned 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 also “frown at 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 resolved to set up a committee of representatives of the states of Oyo, Ogun, Lagos, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Kwara, Kogi, as well as other states where Yoruba people are located. The committee is expected to work on the objectives set by the Yoruba leaders at the meeting and matters ancillary to them in search of unity in Yorubaland.
The roll call of dignitaries included General Alani Akinrinade, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, Chief Supo Shonibare, Dr Kunle Olajide, Emeritus Professor Ayo Bamgbose, and Chief Seinde Arogbofa.