South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko famously said: “The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” This was as true then for apartheid South Africa as it is for the criminal enterprise that is Nigerian politics today.
Yesterday there was a gathering of famous and infamous Yoruba “leaders” in what they called a “summit of the Yoruba nation” at the Lekan Salami Stadium Adamasingba, Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. A friend sent me the invite for the summit dated 14 August 2017 and signed by Alani Akinrinade (a retired general), Idowu Sofola, Ayo Adebanjo and Ayo Ladigbolu.
The invite claims that the “unresolved nationality question in Nigeria has taken its twist and turn and the centre cannot hold as the fault lines keep widening”. It continues: “The Yoruba nation in particular has been at a disadvantage as the Nigerian crises have halted its march of progress and with dwindling fortunes on all levels”.
The letter also complained that: “A nation that was on its way to rubbing shoulders with first world nations in the years before independence and shortly after with Saudi Royal family coming to receive medical treatment at UCH (University College Hospital) Ibadan, is today struggling under the weight of an over bloated centre that is halting our developmental strides”. It was therefore very necessary for “a summit of the Yoruba people to articulate our position for a proper and just federation”.
The letter exposes the wilful deception and inaccuracies peddled by proponents of “restructuring” Nigeria that do not stand up to the barest scrutiny. A cursory examination of the signatories to the letter should show that they were complicit in the problems of Nigerian that they are now moaning about.
It’s deeply ironic that Alani Akinrinade would sign a letter proclaiming the “dwindling fortunes” of the “Yoruba nation”. Perhaps he should first account to his “Yoruba nation” for his stewardship as Minister of Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Development (1985–1986), Minister of Industries (1988 – February 1989) and Minister of Transport (1989) under the corrupt military dictatorship of Ibrahim Babangida. Before then, he was a member of the junta (Supreme Military Council) that ruled Nigeria from 1975 -1979. Many of Nigerians problems – the failure to industrialise, the failure to diversify from oil dependence, the crumbling infrastructure, and so on, grew legs during this period when Akinrinade was a major player. It was “dwindling fortunes” for Nigeria and Yoruba people, but not for Akinrinade.
If the “Yoruba nation” is “struggling under the weight of an over bloated centre that is halting our developmental strides”, surely, Akinrinade, from his time in the SMC and Babangida’s military dictatorship contributed towards the centralisation of power at federal level. But the object of the summit is to deceive and not to inform.
The other signatory is Idowu Sofola, a former chairman of the United Bank of Africa (UBA). He signed a letter claiming “the Yoruba nation in particular has been at a disadvantage”. Maybe he should explain to Yoruba people how many SMEs his bank helped to grow, or what he achieved as chairman in terms consumer lending and mortgages that helped the “Yoruba nation” in terms of affordable homes. Incidentally, his elder brother, Kehinde, was Justice Minister during the Second Republic and part of a regime that contributed to the problems complained about in the letter.
If you move beyond the questionable records of the signatories, you are then confronted by their misrepresentation of history. Nigeria, before independence and shortly afterwards, was not “on its way to rubbing shoulders with first world nations”. It was a backward country with only a tiny fraction of the population literate. It only had one university at independence – University of Ibadan. Nigeria was a producer of primary commodities – groundnuts, cocoa and palm oil and relied on imports for manufactured goods, with little industrialisation. It was colonised by a first world country and the political economy of colonial and post-colonial rule was geared towards ensuring the country never joined the ranks of first world countries.
Attendees at the summit included Ekiti State governor Ayo Fayose, former Ogun State governor Gbenga Daniel, former Ondo State governor Olusegun Mimiko and other “dignitaries” such as, Banji Akintoye, Senator Gbenga Kaka, Olatokunbo Awolowo Dosumu, Yemi Farounbi, Olu Falae, Niyi Akintola, Femi Fani-Kayode, Senator Kofoworola Buknor-Akerele, Fredrick Fasehun, Gani Adams, Babafemi Ojudu, Senator Mojisoluwa Akinfenwa, Tunde Adeniran, S. K. Onafowokan, Micheal Ade Ojo and others.
None of these people sought the opinions of the “Yoruba nation” before getting on their soapboxes to speak for the nation. These self-appointed “leaders” owe their relevance to the pretence that they are championing the cause of their people, while in reality most of them used their time in office as a vehicle for feathering their nests at the expense of their people. Is Fayose really speaking for Yoruba people when he can’t pay salaries of state government employees? Is the structure of the country to blame for this? He may not be able to pay workers in his state but his bank accounts that were frozen by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had the equivalent of $8m in them.
Other characters at the summit such as Gbenga Daniel was governor of Ogun State for eight years with little “developmental strides” achieved, while the EFCC alleged in 2011 that he may have defrauded his state of about $160m. Femi Fani-Kayode, the former Aviation Minister is being prosecuted for money laundering and diversion of public funds worth $12m.
From these examples, it is clear that what is “halting the development strides” of the “Yoruba nation” is the corruption of several of those gathered at the “Yoruba summit”. What they were doing at the summit was playing what the late history professor Yusufu Bala Usman called “the politics of ignorance”.
He wrote in April 2001: “Right now, in Nigeria, the freedom of political association and the exercise of the democratic right to choose freely in all elections is being denied to tens of millions by ethnic, sub-ethnic, regional, and sectarian religious organisations. They are loudly insisting that Nigeria is made up of ethnic, regional and religious groups which are monolithic and all those who belong to them have a common interest and have to act politically together, making all those who do not agree with this type fascist politics, traitors, who are liable to be ostracised and violently dealt with.
“This politics is built on the dissemination of ignorance about how Nigeria and its people have come into being. It is the Yoruba Race, the Ijaw Nation, the Igbo Nation, the Urhobo Nation, the Hausa-Fulani Nation, etc, etc, who are said to be the original building blocks which are said to have agreed to come together to form Nigeria.
“But all this is only politically potent because it is based on ignorance and the entrenchment of hostility to knowledge, which has come to riddle Nigerian politics and allow racist and fascist politics, deeply hostile to democracy, to flourish”.
A communique signed at the end of the summit disseminating ignorance claimed: “Summit recalls with nostalgia, the great strides made by the Yoruba nation in the years of self- government up until the abrogation of the federal constitution in 1966 evident in mass literacy, novel infrastructural strides and giant leaps in all spheres of human development.
“Summit noted that the crisis of over-centralisation has led to mass misery in across the country with poverty levels at 72 per cent, unemployment rate at 65 per cent internal immigration and internal displacement, security threat in form of Boko Haram, herdsmen and organised crime.
“Summit convinced that Nigeria is careering dangerously to the edge of the slope except urgent steps are taken to restructure Nigeria from a unitary constitution to a federal constitution as negotiated by our founding fathers at independence in 1960, it was resolved as follows:
“That Yoruba are clear that restructuring does not mean different things to different people other than that a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria can only know real peace and development if it is run ONLY along federal lines.
“That the greatest imperatives of restructuring Nigeria is to move from a rent-seeking and money sharing anti-development economy to productivity by ensuring that the federating units are free to own and develop their resources. They should pay agreed sums to the federation purse to implement central services.
“That the federating units- whether states, zones or regions must themselves be governed by written constitution to curb impunity at all levels. Nigeria shall be a federation comprised of six regions and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
“The Federal Government shall make laws and only have powers in relation to items specified on the legislative list contained in the constitution of the Federation. The Regions shall in turn be composed as states.
“Each Region shall have its own constitution containing enumerated exclusive and
concurrent legislative lists regarding matters upon which the regions and the states may act or legislate.
“Contiguous territories, ethnic nationalities or settlement shall be at liberty through a plebiscite, to elect to be part of any contiguous region other than the region in which the current geo-political zone or state boundaries places them.
“The power to create states shall be within the exclusive powers of the region which shall be obliged to create a state provided a plebiscite is conducted, following a request by an agreed percentage of the residents of the ethnic nationality within a state.
“The procedure for conducting a plebiscite and the percentage of any ethnic nationality shall be out in the regional constitution. The power to create local governments and assign functions to them shall be vested in the states.
“That these agreed positions of the Yoruba taken today shall form the basis of negotiations with our partners in the Nigerian project for a United Nigeria based on Justice, peace and fair play,” the communiqué said among others.”
This call for a return to some form of regional government is clearly ignorant of Nigeria’s history of failure under that structure. As Naijiant.com demonstrated here:
The conveners and attendees of the summit are proponents of what Usman called “bankrupt politics”. Several of them have bankrupted their states. Many of them have made fortunes from looting the public treasury. Those who were/are governors have done very little for the “Yoruba nation” from the power already devolved under the current Nigerian constitution. Yet they claim that devolving more powers to looters of public funds is a viable solution.
Their claims are another dubious attempt to deflect attention from their own major roles in the misery of their people. In the words of Usman: “The blind confronts the blind and the country’s politics sinks into a welter of baseless tribalist and racist claims”. The people at the forefront of this summit are clearly part of the problem and not part of the solution.