BEVERLY HILLS, May 16, (THEWILL) – The Yoruba may have found themselves at a historic crossroads. This is despite the fact that they have been foremost and consistent in calling for the restructuring of Nigeria as a true federation. Their desire, for long, had been to see Nigeria emerge as a country in which the federating units develop according to their capacity and live in mutual self-respect and interdependence. But that’s not the case anymore. Now, there is a major division in the house of Oduduwa as the voices of dissent are rising every day.
There is no doubt that the general state of insecurity in the country has assumed a frightening dimension, even as poverty and unemployment are hitting an all-time high. The call for self-determination, however, is gaining more grounds and winning adherents at home and abroad.
Credible sources confided in THEWILL that the Yoruba in the Diaspora have taken it upon themselves to do much of the work to actualise self-determination for the South-West.
“As at the last time, some professors have been detailed to work on the passport, money and anthem of an Oduduwa Republic, three powerful symbols that define a country,” said one of the sources, who craved anonymity.
Reminded that what was coming was not self-determination but secession which could go violent and thereby become treasonable, according to the extant laws of Nigeria, the source sounded magisterial: “The laws are meant for the living. Life is about challenges and responses,” he said, adding, “Anyway, we have registered with the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation.”
According to THEWILL’s findings, “The Belgium-based UNPO is an international membership-based organisation established to empower the voices of unrepresented and marginalised peoples worldwide and to protect their fundamental human rights.”
SHIFTING ALLIANCES AND ALLEGIANCE
The main blow to the once unified aspiration for restructuring is the perceived helplessness of the Federal Government in dealing a deadly blow to insecurity and its agents: Boko Haram insurgents, bandits, kidnappers and killer-herdsmen. That helplessness has aided self-help entities at the personal and state level, such as Amotekun, Civilian JTF, Ebube AGU and Sunday Adeyemo, alias Igboho, which have further created the impression of independence.
“It is the fault of security chiefs who have failed in their responsibilities to protect citizens, that is why people are agitating for the creation of Oduduwa Republic. If the security forces join hands together with the citizens, we will be assured of strong security.
“There are many activists around the world who say they want the Oduduwa Republic. Never will I be the enemy of the Yoruba. We do our virtual meetings and it is obvious that our people want an independent Oduduwa nation,” said the Aare-Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Iba Gani Adams, a former unapologetic advocate of restructuring, in a recent BBC interview.
Adams further explained in a viral video that when the virtual meeting of the Yoruba at home and in the Diaspora was held, 800 out of the 1,000 participants voted for self-determination. Among them were renowned scholars, entrepreneurs and politicians.
“Whatever they want is what I also want,” he quipped.
Alongside Adams are Prof Banji Akitoye, the Oodua Peoples Congress and Sunday Adeyemo. While Akitoye is a popular historian, a Senator who was in the National Assembly between 1979 and 1983, as well as an activist, Adeyemo cut several videos to propagate the views that “this is not the time to discuss issues surrounding restructuring, resource control or a new constitution but rather to secede from Nigeria peacefully, without violence or war.” The OPC has of late become swayed by the tide.
On his election as President of OPC, a fortnight ago, Otunba Wasiu Afolabi, said what Dr Frederick Fasehun fought for before his death and which the OPC will continue to pursue is the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference to restructure the country from a pseudo-federalism that it is currently practising.
He said, “What Dr Fasehun was concerned about was for Nigeria to hold a Sovereign National Conference. Baba preached the gospel of restructuring, in which the state or regions would enjoy devolution of power and resource control. He believed that the current 1999 constitution did not give any hope for an equitable, just and progressive Nigeria. But Dr Fasehun never, ever spoke about an Oduduwaa Republic.
“Like our great founder fought for all his lifetime, OPC stands for the convening of a Sovereign National Conference that will give Nigeria a truly Federal Constitution. We need to have a Constitution that will guarantee equity and justice for all parts of the country. Once that happens, Yoruba will be content to remain in one Nigeria.”
The group, however, shifted its position while speaking with THEWILL in a recent chat.
According to Afolabi, “There is no fire without smoke and no true Yoruba person is comfortable with the current situation in Nigeria today. Agitations whether for Biafra or Oduduwa Republic are being fueled by the rising scale of insecurity, the unhindered killings by Fulani herdsmen, kidnapping and poverty. OPC will not go against the wishes, aspirations and decisions of the Yoruba on the matter.”
The change of position, as an insider in the organisation told this newspaper, was caused by the need to play safe under the cloud of uncertainty hovering over the country.
“People have told them they cannot swim against the tide,” the source said.
This shifting of alliances while hanging on to former allegiances is supported by the need to close ranks against a perceived common enemy.
Take, for instance, the immediate reaction of Yoruba activists to the alarm raised by the Lagos Command of the Nigeria Police Force in its Monday, May 9, 2021 statement on the imminent attack by members of the proscribed Indigenous Peoples of Biafra.
Nine Yoruba organisations signed a statement in condemnation of the statement by the Commissioner of Police, Lagos Police Command, Hakeem Odumosu.
They are Femi Ajibola of Oodua Nationalist Coalition; Dr Kunle Oshodi, Agbekoya; Alhaji Taofik Adeyemi of Oodua Peoples Congress (Reformed); Chief Diran Obalola of Oodua Liberation Movement; Mr Femi Agbana of Yoruba World Congress, Lagos State Chapter; Mr Rasaq Arogundade of Oodua Peoples Congress (Reformed); Mrs Eunice Okunola of Oodua Women Coalition; Pastor Goke Otunla of Network for Yoruba Alliance and Ahmed Korede of Apapo Oodua Koya.
They said, “We are deeply concerned that the Police publicly declared allegation tempts the prospect of setting Yoruba in the South-West against Igbo. This is very unfortunate at a time that state institutions are increasingly being turned to instruments for pursuing primordial ethnic interests. The Yoruba will work never to allow this to happen
“We are concerned that terrorists and armed herdsmen of Fulani extraction have openly been attacking, kidnapping, raping and killing the Yoruba in the South- West, but at no time did the police call a press conference to announce such plan after, before or after each horrendous killing. There was also never a time the police linked such attacks to any ethnic group.
“Only recently, Yoruba in Mile 2 were attacked by these people, the police did not make any attempt to speak about the ethnic identities of the perpetrators, yet we know they are largely from a section of the North.”
They however concluded on a popular note: “On the rumoured plan by the police to attack agitators for Yoruba expressing their desire for self-determination, we urge the police to have respect for international laws and should signify the basic democratic principle which is the right of a people to debate their political and economic future.”
Despite the growing agitation among different ethnic groups for self-determination, there is no visible template to consummate the demands which appear unclear and confusing. For instance, the composition of the proposed Oduduwa Republic looks weird. Apart from the six Yoruba-dominated states in the South-West, Kogi, Kwara and Edo States, which have significant proportions of the Yoruba or their linguistic descendants, are being considered as part of the envisaged Oduduwa Republic, prompting reactions from pundits that it would amount to imposition to cobble persons who did not agitate to leave their enclave for a new ‘republic’.
CLAMOUR FOR SELF-DETERMINATION LEGITIMATE – FALANA
Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, insists there is nothing wrong in embarking on self-determination by any group in Nigeria, but it must be done democratically. He told THEWILL that things should be done democratically to conduct a referendum among the people so as to know whether they support the self-determination plan, as has often been done in civilised countries of the world, such as Canada over the Quebec question and the United Kingdom during Scotland’s quest for independence.
“But I can tell you that some Yoruba groups are trying to conduct a referendum online,” he confirmed.
Moreover, prominent politicians and revered monarchs in the South-West have been silent on the clamour for self-determination and would rather support restructuring to devolve power to the units with some financial and administrative autonomy.
Aare Adams disclosed that much in the BBC interview when he said, “We are supposed to ask where our kings, leaders and politicians are going because I also want the Oduduwa nation. We have written letters to all the Obas in Yorubaland, and I signed the letters alongside members of the Oodua Peoples Congress.”
Besides, it is unclear whether all the groups share a common vision. The source, who confided in THEWILL about the seeming change in position by the OPC, said: “They have not joined the bandwagon, but they are fine-tuning the rhetoric to say they will flow with majority Yoruba decision. But they will not be led by the nose, neither will they head the agitation also.”
A PIPE DREAM?
Given the persistent crisis in the country, there is no guarantee that agitation for self-determination will stop soon.
According to Falana, since Nigeria has domesticated Article 20 of the African Charter on Human Rights, the government cannot refuse the people their rights to self-determination.
“That is why I insist that the government has to enter into dialogue with the IPOB and Yoruba groups and try to convince them why they should remain part of Nigeria,” he said.
When asked if the call for secession was not against the law of the land, he asked rhetorically, “What is secession? At the level of campaign, it is not an offence. It is only when you take up arms to dismember the state.”
WE’LL QUASH ANY ATTEMPT WITH FORCE – Yakassai
Elder statesman and first republic politician, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, thinks the call for self-determination, particularly by the South-West, is selfish, warning that any attempt to violently push it would be resisted by Nigerians.
“Everybody, whether in the South-West, South-East, South-South, North-West, North-East or North- Central, needs Nigeria. I know the South-West is one of the richest parts of the country. If, indeed, it is the richest part of Nigeria today, it owes its wealth to all Nigerians. Some of the people want to carry the riches and run away. We will stay here together and rebuild this country. Let’s come together and build a country where we can live together peacefully,” he told THEWILL in an interview.
He also supports the use of violence to put down any attempt to secede.
“You and I know what happened when some people tried to secede from this country. The majority of Nigerians want to stay together and they will join forces to fight whoever that wants to secede from Nigeria. You know history, nobody can destroy Nigeria peacefully. When anybody is thinking of secession, he is thinking of war. Such a person should know that the whole country will come together to fight him in the same way the whole country came together to fight Ojukwu when he wanted to secede. I can assure them that that is what is going to happen. If they don’t believe me, let them try it,” he stated.
Yakassai, though, may have sounded reductionist in his view. The circumstances and conditions that prompted the 30-month civil war in the 1960s when every Nigerian was struggling for a place under the sun are now magnifying in the 2020s when everybody is looking for a shade to rest from the serial crises created by years of broken promises by manipulative politicians, corrupt and unaccountable leadership.
That was the point Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu made in his interview with Arise TV late Wednesday night when he revealed the fears of his counterpart from the South-East. He spoke on behalf of all 17 governors of southern Nigeria who met in Asaba, the Delta State capital to harmonise positions on the insecurity in the region.
While fielding questions at the event, he revealed some of the fears expressed by his counterparts from the South-East. IPOB, he said, had become a major headache for the governors in the region because Nnamdi Kanu’s “daily broadcast from his hiding every day continues to pull the youths to his message of self-determination. Virtually every part of southern Nigeria is under attack and that is why we have decided to come together to chart a way forward.”
FG SHOULD ACT NOW – Farounbi
The current situation is so precarious that, in the absence of stabilising impersonal institutions and rule of law, anything can go wrong.
But former Nigerian Ambassador to the Philippines, broadcaster and politician, Yomi Farounbi, thinks otherwise.
According to him, an understanding of the current dynamics in modern Nigeria ought to guide the government in handling the crisis in the country.
He told THEWILL, “I expect those who are ruling Nigeria t to ask why the Yoruba are agitating for Oduduwa Republic. They have been the most accommodating set of people. If a group of people who accommodated the sabos and gaas and Fulani herdsmen and have many parts of their cities inhabited by the Igbo begin to ask for separation, then those who are ruling Nigeria ought to know that they have been pushed the goat to the wall and the goat is about to turn and bite them. So action has to be taken because tomorrow may be too late.”
The Federal Government, in coming to terms with the gravity of the situation in the country, appears to be taking concrete steps to put the country on the right course. Apart from many security meetings that President Muhammadu Buhari has held with service chiefs and continued restatement of the unity of the country, the government is also considering acting on far reaching measures that may end up pulling the country from the brink.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in a meeting with journalists in Lagos on Tuesday, said the National Executive Council, comprising all the 36 state governors and presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was considering a 10-point agenda, which was taken at a town hall meeting on April 8, 2021 in Kaduna. The agenda, the minister added, comprised issues on political restructuring, state policing, rule of law, decentralisation of the judiciary through constitutional amendment, free, qualitative and compulsory primary education, promotion of inter-marriage among Nigerians by traditional rulers, setting up of ranches to avert farmer/ herder conflict, local government autonomy and the training and equipping of security personnel, etc.
“The stakeholders who attended included all the service chiefs, members of the legislative and executive arms of government, civil society organisations, traditional and religious leaders, women and youth groups as well as labour,” the minister said, adding that the resolutions had been forwarded to the National Economic Council, chaired by His Excellency the Vice President, and which also includes all the state governors.
“As a prelude to adopting the recommendations, the NEC has directed all state governors to organise state-wide consultation on them and then revert to the council in its next meeting,” he said.
The coming days will, however, see if these measures will be implemented to douse the tension in the land before the prevalent crisis degenerates to a point of no return and the self-determination groups make good their bid.