Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo
In a manner reminiscent of the demand for regional autonomy in the colonial days, some Yoruba leaders gathered in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, last week to begin a fresh campaign for regional government. The gathering which also brainstormed on issues affecting the country as well as the South-west zone, adopted a revised Yoruba Agenda which consists of its demands. Omololu Ogunmade who was there reports
For those who are familiar with the South-west politics, last Thursday’s Yoruba General Assembly, convoked in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital was merely treading a familiar terrain. At the meeting which held on the floor of Oyo State House of Assembly, the Yoruba nation which has since inception led several revolutionary moves that had shaped Nigeria, again returned to the trenches.
That the old Western Region spearheaded the agitation for independence in the colonial days remains a fact of history. Also, that it was the region that blazed the trail in regional development following the autonomy granted the existing regions at the time – West, North and East, is incontrovertible. Thus, the giant strides of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the region’s first Premier, as exemplified in aggressive development of the West culminated in a healthy rivalry among the three regions of the time and thus, put the other two regions on their toes.
The gathering of last Thursday was therefore historic in varying circumstances. First, venue of the event was the legislative chambers of the old Western House of Assembly to which Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Adegoke Adelabu also known as Penkelemes, belonged. Second, Ibadan, the city where the Yoruba nation converged was the capital of the entire Western Region prior to the 1967 creation of states by the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon (rtd).
Third, the assemblage was a replica of the gathering of Yoruba people in August 1967, in the same Ibadan with similar purpose of forging a common sense of progress and unity as was the case last Thursday. Fourth, not only did both events hold in August, both the 1967 gathering as well as the last gathering were convened by retired army generals. While General Adeyinka Adebayo, an erstwhile military governor of the defunct Western Region, convened the 1967 gathering, the August 31, 2012 Yoruba Assembly was also convened by another retired general, General Alani Akinriade (rtd).
The only discrepancy, perhaps, was that whereas the 1967 gathering ended with the election of Awolowo as its leader, issues revolving around Yoruba leadership were largely avoided at this recent gathering even though some participants asked emphatically: “Who is Yoruba leader?” Whereas, similar attempts to avoid the same question failed in 1967 as a result of the insistence of participants that Yoruba leader must emerge from the gathering, this time around, a leader failed to emerge as Akinriade, a strict and disciplined retired general did not give the demand for a Yoruba leader any consideration.
Nevertheless, the focus of the gathering was to spearhead a renewed campaign for regional autonomy in yet another determination to accelerate progress and development in the South-west and simultaneously bring back the fond memory of aggressive development superintended by Awolowo.
Awolowo’s 1955 free education programme was a landmark achievement which till date gives the region an edge over others in terms of educational development. Besides, the Western Region was the first to establish a television station in the whole of African continent. In the same vein, the Liberty Stadium established by Awolowo was also the first in West Africa, while Cocoa House, Ibadan, was adjudged the tallest building in the entire Nigeria at the time.
Therefore, irked by the alleged gradual descent of the region which was once tagged the Centre of Development in Africa into decadence, Akinriade said he was propelled to call a meeting of notable personalities in the region to deliberate on the past, present and future of the zone, with a view to rekindling its developmental pace.
Indeed, it was a gathering of who is who as notable leaders in the zone served as delegates in the conference which represented various parts of South-west. Not only was the chamber of Oyo State House of Assembly filled to capacity, various parts of the gallery were also fully packed with participants.
To underscore the degree of enthusiasm shown by Yoruba people about the event, Yoruba in the diaspora- the United States, United Kingdom and North America were also represented at the event. And back home in Nigeria, the attendance went beyond the South-west zone to include the people of Itsekiri, who historically were descendants of Oduduwa, as well as Yoruba people in Kwara and Kogi States, who were adequately represented at the event which drew participants from all walks of life irrespective of professional, educational and political backgrounds.
Despite the instruction handed down by the South-west chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), that its members should not attend the occasion, some members of the PDP still made it a date with history to participate in the event. Notable among them were former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dimeji Bankole and former governorship candidate in Osun State, Akinrogun Tunde Odanye.
The event took off with the welcome address by the convener, Akinrinade. A number of participants who had initially mistakened the assembly for a social gathering or a mere reunion of sort had their orientation swiftly altered after the convener read his incisive address, which aroused emotion and simultaneously prepared the delegates’ minds for a serious brainstorming session. Akinrinade’s presentation was often interrupted by intermittent applause and he was given a standing ovation at the conclusion of the address.
Akinriade who said Yoruba people have lived in the region for over 1,000 years, explained that the aim of the gathering was to allow people of the race across social, political and sub-ethnic strata to rob minds together “about the future of our own corner of Nigeria.”
He submitted that before the coming of colonial enterprise in 1880s, “the Yoruba had already established one of the most complex federal or confederate networks of kingdoms in the world. This was centuries before Switzerland or Belgium created a system of government that gave constituent parts of each country, simultaneously, the freedom to progress as equals and the responsibility to co-operate with each other for advancement of common goals.”
The retired general argued that long before the advent of colonialism, the Yoruba had already patterned their polity after the structure of true federalism, arguing that most Yoruba men and women who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s would recall with nolstalgia that the quality of an average Yoruba man was far much better than it is today.
He added that as a result of prevalent frustration in the system, young Yoruba men and women now flee the country in droves in expression of the pervading frustration in the land. “Those who have no means of escaping from the country have become frustrated and would do just about anything to survive.”
While enumerating reasons Yoruba must wake up, fight for their rights and regain their pride of place, Akinriade said all the laudable achievements of the region between the mid-50s and early 60s were not achieved through “petro-dollars” but rather through agricultural resources. He expressed regrets that “the cruel irony of all these is that the region is now almost fully dependent on revenue from oil and handouts from Abuja,” noting that: “At independence in 1960, the Federal Government was taking loans of substantial amounts from the government of Western Nigeria.”
He said the Yoruba nation must become aggressive by leading the campaign for regional autonomy and submitted that Nigeria, despite being the sixth largest producer of oil in the world, has remained one of the poorest countries in the world which he said is only better than Togo and Bangladesh in term of corruption.
While stressing that everything in Nigeria including its unity is negotiable, he said in the face of continued resistance to national dialogue among ethnic Nigerian nationalities, Yoruba have opted “to turn to civility” but with this caveat: “Perhaps, we should remember that all the apostles of non-negotiability in defunct Yugoslavia, Rwanda et cet era, have either died in jail or are serving long terms of imprisonment or still facing trials.” Akinriade supposed that that should be a food for thought for Nigerian leaders.
Amid the seeming endless crisis facing the country, Akinrinade explained why he called the assembly in strong terms. “Today’s family assembly is therefore convened, to think together on how to ensure that our children do not remain unfed; that our roads are safe for our people to move around and for business, that our streets are safe for our citizens and residents and that generally, our region does not remain underdeveloped.”
An essential feature of the conference was the presentation entitled in Yoruba language: “Ibi a Wi Lade Yi,” meaning “here we are at last,” by a member of Akinrinade’s think tank, Mr. Dipo Famakinwa, who said Yoruba was in motion and argued that the race sought the creation of Yoruba as an autonomous entity which according to him, will present the people of the region with the opportunity to enhance their collective endowment, promote healthy practice, re-invent accessibility to healthcare for all and sundry and as well ensure security of lives and property.
He also said granting Yoruba the desired autonomy would provide them with the opportunity to undertake educational resurgence and as well foster probity and accountability with the threat that the race would deploy every power within its reach to achieve this.
“We will fight it internally and it will happen,” he said. He described the region as one that is largely urbanised with sophisticated political culture and capability in industry and agriculture adding that the need for Yoruba nation to secure her autonomy has become compelling, because “Nigeria has become our limiting factor.” He also insinuated that the ongoing civil rule is always under threat.
He alleged that the presidential system of government being practised by Nigeria is too expensive- a factor he said enabled the system to breed corruption. Further, he said the Federal Government took more than half of the total revenue earned by the country only to dole the remnant to the entire 36 states and 774 local governments. He therefore submitted that the system was designed to deliver poverty and squalor to the citizenry as a result of insufficient funding of the component units.
Famakinwa also advocated the evolvement of a new constitution as well as the restructuring of the country, which according to him, has become the only imminent sine qua-non for progress and development, disclosing that the region will communicate its position to other ethnic groups in the country with a view to also prompting them to taking a cue from South-west’s push for regional autonomy and join the struggle.
In the spirit of the quest for regional autonomy, Famakinwa said the region would control its resources, collect value added tax (VAT), personal income tax as well as company income tax and merely remit what is due to the Federal Government. He also said in this quest for regional autonomy, the Federal Government would be made to remit 25 per cent of oil revenue to oil producing states.
Other issues he rolled out were the push for state police, public officers being stripped of immunity in the new constitution especially on criminal matters; election petitions exhausted before the swearing in of newly elected officers and the right to free education incorporated in the new constitution.
In its presentation, the Itsekiri group, which was represented by Pa Isaac Jemide and Chief Fred Agbeyegbe, harped on the convocation of Sovereign National Conference (SNC) as the only forum that can guarantee peaceful co-existence among varying ethnic nationalities in the country.
Jemide warned against the current move by Ijaw ethnic group to exploit the opportunity of an Ijaw man at the helms of affairs to create an Ijaw state to be known as Toru-Ebe State, which he said would give Ijaw the power to take over Itsekiri and Isoko communities.
Agbeyegbe, on his part, also warned against such attempt, arguing that it will be sheer injustice for such attempt to be made since Itsekiri lands constitute 68 per cent of the entire Delta State. He said such attempt would breach the agreement entered into by the Nigerian State as well as international communities with the Itsekiri that their lands and resources must not by any means be encroached. He cited articles 3, 4, 5 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to back up his argument.
In the same vein, the representative of Yoruba in Kwara and Kogi States, Ayo Abereoran, lamented their separation from their fellow kinsmen in Yoruba land and demanded the creation of a separate state for Yoruba people in both states. He disclosed that Yoruba constitute 12 of the 16 local governments of Kwara and seven in Kogi States and that the new state should be part and parcel of the South-west.
“Grouping with the North has separated Yoruba in Kwara and Kogi from their kith and kin in the South-west and this has retarded the progress and development of Yoruba in those states. State creation has made theYoruba in Kogi and Yoruba in Kwara to become more weakened, despite the fact that Yoruba occupy 12 councils and have the largest population in Kwara State.
“Willinkson Commission recommended that the people of Kabba and Ilorin Provinces can decide whether they can remain in the North or become part of the West. They said they wanted to become part of the West but it was not implemented. We want self-determination and correction to the geographical imbalance and erroneous boundaries created by Lord Lugard,” Abereoran said.
Speaking on behalf of South-west governors, Oyo State Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, restated the call for state police, restructuring and decentralisation of the railway operations. While dismissing insinuations that creation of state police will be abused governors, he asked: “Isn’t the Federal Government misusing police?” and therefore suggested that if such fears exist, a law should be put in place to serve as checks against such abuse.
But Bankole, former speaker of the House of Representatives opposed the agitation for state police. He said Nigeria is not mature yet to handle it and recalled how a former governor in the region shut the state legislature for one year despite a huge cry against it. “If you give state police to such a person, what will he do?” he asked.
However, he threw his weight behind South-west integration agenda, emphasising that it will not lead to disintegration of Nigeria.
In his submission, former Senate Deputy Minority Leader, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, reiterated the call for effective federalism. He also advocated the constitution of a Constituent Assembly comprising representatives of the people to be saddled with the task of producing a new constitution for the country.
Also speaking, legal practitioner, Mr. Niyi Akintola (SAN), who described himself as a Yoruba and Ibadan irredentist, called for the restoration of Yoruba values as encapsulated in the concept of Omoluabi.
“We must return to Omoluabi concept. It is no more in existence in Yoruba land. It must be revived. A Yoruba man was President, but he deferred to nobody. He did not succeed. The marginalisation of Yoruba is real. Yoruba have lost out in the banking and power sectors. What is happening today could not have happened in the days of Chiefs Michael Ajasin and Bola Ige. How many Yoruba are in the Court of Appeal? Our governors are sleeping. They should ask for statistics. Balarabe Musa and Shehu Sani even cried out that Yoruba is marginalised.
“Yoruba must not see politics as a profession but vocation to serve Yoruba land. We need to encourage people like Gani Adams. We need them. On constitution review, we must insist that derivation and Value Added Tax must be revisited. As we prepare for constitution review, we must also know that our states in Yoruba land have diversities and different needs. States in the South-west should have synergy. They should put heads together to construct the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and Benin-Ore road.”
While speaking on behalf of the people of Lagos, former South-west Vice Chairman, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Prince Tajudeen Olusi, said Lagos was part and parcel of the region, revealing that Lagos indigenes originally came from Ile Ife.
“Those of us from Lagos are descendants of Obalufon from Ile-Ife. Lagos will always follow the South-west. Oba Adeniji-Adele said Lagos State belongs to the West. We will always belong to Yoruba. Yoruba has an agenda. The federal structure is oppressing other component units. Yoruba can truly develop under a truly federal Nigeria. That was how Awolowo was able to bring progress to the South-west,” Olusi said.
Osun State Deputy Governor, Mrs. Titilayo Laoye-Tomori said: “We have neglected agriculture in the South-west. That is why the North is threatening not to bring food to the South-west. We must return to the farm.”
Businessman and legal practitioner, Mr. Bisi Adegbuyi, said: “What Yoruba need is self-determination. When a Yoruba man was president, did he reconstruct Lagos/Ibadan Expressway? Nigeria must revert to the structures at independence with minor modifications. We either get Nigeria restructured or ruptured.
“Awolowo succeeded because of the constitutional framework. We want derivation, state police and autonomy. If some people say that they don’t want state police, those of us who want it should have it,” Adegbuyi added.
At the end of the event, the assembly adopted a revised version of “Yoruba Agenda,” which contains South-west’s fresh demands from Nigeria and also resolved to constitute a South-west Constitutional Commission with the responsibility of collecting and coordinating memoranda from various people and groups in the region. It also demanded the evolvement of a new Nigeria consisting of a federal government, six regional governments and affirmed the commitment of the South-west zone to the unity of Nigeria.
The gathering also demanded the creation of a single legislative list consisting of functions ceded to the Federal Government, the adoption of a model of Westminster parliamentary system of government, a regional and state police structure, establishment of a constitutional court with jurisdiction over inter-governmental cases and election petitions to the National Assembly; creation of South-west vigilante groups to protect lives and property, stripping of public officers of immunity over cases bordering on crimes as well as design and production of a common flag and anthem for the region.
Present at the meeting were Ajimobi, his Osun State counterpart, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, Ogun State Deputy Governor, Segun Adesegun, Oyo State Deputy Governor, Chief Alake Adeyemo, National Chairman of ACN, Chief Bisi Akande, former Ogun State Governor Olusegun Osoba, his Ekiti State counterpart, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, Gen. Olufemi Olutoye (rtd.) and his wife, Prof. Olutoye and former military governor, Gen. David Jemibewon.
Also present were former old Ondo State Deputy Governor, Musa Ayeni, Gen. Tajudeen Olanrewaju, Olusi, Chief Wumi Adegbonmire, Chief Dele Ajomale, Pa Adebayo Faleti, Babafemi Ojudu, and Mudashiru Hussein; ACN governorship candidate in Ondo State, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), Pa Olola Kasunmu, Dr. Amos Akingba, Chairman, Elizade Motors, Chief Michael Ade-Ojo, Niyi Akintola and National Publicity Secretary of ACN, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
Others were founder of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Dr. Fredrick Fasehun, Dr. Dejo Raimi who represented Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo (rtd) of the Yoruba Council of Elders, former Chairman of The Punch, Chief Ajibola Ogunsola, Speaker of Ekiti State House of Assembly, Dr. Femi Omirin, his Oyo State counterpart, Mrs. monsurat sunmonu, Chairman of Afenifere Renewal Group, Mr. Olawale Oshun, Prof. Ropo Sekoni, Mr. Tokunbo Ajasin, Mrs. Jumoke Anifowose, Mrs. Rita Lori-Ogiebor, Prof. Aderibigbe, Mr. Niyi Afuye and Prof. Siyan Oyeweso, Mojeeb Alabi, Vice Chancellor of Ekiti State University, Akinola Awodeyi-Akinsehinwa, Chief Tunde Odanye and Ayo Afolabi.
Traditional rulers who were at the meeting included Aholu Whenu Toyi I, the Akran of Badagry, Deji of Akure, Oba Adebiyi Adesida, Owa Ajero of Ijero, Oba Adebayo Adewole, Elekole of Ikole, Oba Fashiku and Ogbolu of Ita-Ogbolu, Oba Idowu Faboro, among others.