First, I thank most profoundly The Egbe Omo Yoruba for making this nightpossible and for giving me the rare privilege of being the guest speaker. But as I look round here, there are a number of people present that I could have liked to listen to myself tonight.
Second, I take some rather serious exception to the title, "guest speaker". I have no intention of subscribing to the idea of me becoming a bye-stander (innocent or guilty) in my own cause. I am Yoruba, that is the only title that I have no means, legal or otherwise, of shedding even in my grave.
Third, I have not really been persuaded that it is a good idea to make speeches before, during, or after dinner. They merely spoil people's appetite or wish they had never made the mistake of coming in the first place. So, I will keep my remarks very short.
The central idea of the autonomy certificate is to create an instrument for rallying resources to prepare the Yoruba Nation for post military Nigeria. In the words of the sage, Chief Anthony Enahoro, post military situation in Nigeria will mean, in its clearest and simplest term, a state of affairs in which the present junta or any of its successors has withdrawn completely from governance and civilians have taken complete charge of government. The situation presupposes that the people have recovered their self-government from the military, taken control of the commanding heights of decision-making processes and are free to exercise that control. The constitution is freely negotiated by the people.
We have succeeded in reversing the situation under which the supposedly competing political parties are those inspired, approved and registered by the military junta, or any government, while all others are banned. A polity under which the junta is the only authority to register political parties, write their manifestoes, fix internal elections for their officials, disqualify aspirants to political offices without adducing reasons, disqualify winning candidates by fiat without any obligation to state any reasons for so doing, have been consigned to the scrap heap of history. What if their conventions are arranged by their military overlords and a country with 100 million politically aware people ended up with only one candidate qualified for President from five parties, and he happens to be the head of the junta?
I hear my people complaining. Isn't it true anymore that those who pay the piper reserve the right to dictate the tune? But lets suppose then that we have managed to establish a Nigeria where there is recognition of equality of rights and privileges for all our people with whatever constitutional restrictions are necessary, Will that guarantee the stability of thecommonwealth of Nigeria? I use the term commonwealth to remind us of the geo-political multi-national, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, character of our country and to further remind us of the existent of nations of different sizes with their own distinct geographic location, with long history of sovereignty and distinct language and culture.
Even with this setting, is it not quixotic to hope that a democracy of one-man one vote will be enough to guarantee the stability of the state? That in our peculiar circumstance we can create conditions under which all the component nation, small and large will feel equally at ease. For instance, universal franchise exercised between 25 million Yorubas against the possible expressed wishes of 500,000 Ogoni's may be democracy, but does it contribute to equality, justice, and fair play, and to the ultimate stability of the polity? Is it therefore not in our interest to look now beyond the military and try to find our own home grown method of creating a stable Nigeria from the ashes of the military jackboot, a nation that will endure, a nation where no man is or feel oppressed. It is in this context that the battle cry of AUTONOMY is worth our serious attention. But is it a new prescription? For me the answer is NO.
But, I was already 20 years old when I went to work as a third class clerk at the Western Secretariat in Ibadan in 1959. I could feel the vibrations of a region that was determined to catch up with the developed world in a hurry. I remember the confidence, pride, bordering on arrogance, aggressive pursuit of education, and the determination to set the pace in all facets of human endeavor showing in the people's faces. Then, I remember my first encounter with the leader when he intruded into my secondary school, in that closed, sacred North, to speak to us on a hot afternoon in the school hall.
I remember as if it were yesterday, when he told us that we were lucky to have caught the train of knowledge and that if we endured the journey we will never go hungry. I was only 14 then. At 18, in the same hall I met the leader of the North, and the school slogan thereafter changed to ‘BOYSES of today, leaders of tomorrow'. Then of course, I only knew there was the great Zik as leader in the East, but he never made it to my school. Political campaigning in the North at that time, for a Southern politician was a hazardous enterprise, and remains fairly so till today.
While the West made education its first priority, it is on record that the North as late as 1979 was still asking Awolowo on Kaduna television what he intended to give a horde of educated youths to do after educating them. Wasn't that an invitation to disorder? Still in 1979 as in 1955, his faith was that educated people do not go hungry. The East also believed in education but found it difficult to achieve the same results as the West. Problem – West has perfected the culture of urbanization, East in scattered hamlets, needed a different approach, no one suggested that they should embark on forced urbanization. The education system of the West catered for all abilities, and the economic system made provision for the use of all its products.
Between the Government, the religious organizations and the communities, enough primary, modern, secondary, and technical schools were provided. Ibadan University was supplemented by massive scholarship schemes overseas before the college of art and science became the nucleus of Ife University. The West invested heavily on Radio and television as part of its education and information system. Adult education and extra moral classes, were directed at the elderly, and my father who never smelt a classroom, started to read the Bible and Irohin Yoruba, and soon started writing to harass my live with letters, written in cursive, about my class position and general work in school. Agriculture and forestry were thriving. The technology of caging chicken had been introduced to farm-settlements. The only dual carriageway in Nigeria, led to its secretariat and the idea of a beltway round its capital is the now bastardized Ibadan ring road.
When I told my 27-year-old son that I used monthly bus pass to commute to my work at Ibadan secretariat in 1959, he fell off the chair laughing. For a change, he caught his father not just spreading rumors, but lying. Rural roads, virile farmers cooperatives, free but efficient public health, first modern stadium in Africa, massive effort at rural electrification and clean water, industrial parks and housing estates were being built successfully.
Let me stop this reminiscing. But things once worked in Nigeria until the reactionary forces, using their military front destroyed the basis of the federation and substituted unitary government. I have gone on this tour d'horizon because:
1. We often overlook the fact that some three and half to four generations of our people never partook in our experience with regional self-government.They are therefore not in position to see the efficacy of regional autonomy. They have lived only through military era of unitary government and are not privileged to see any purposeful civilian government in action. They did notexperience the healthy diversity in regional approach to governance.
2. To remind our people that Yoruba autonomy is neither irredentism nor secession. We simply want the space, the free space, which is our birthright, to develop at our own pace without let or hindrance.
But then they are entitled to ask, why not regional instead of Yoruba autonomy? Let me borrow again from the sage, who was there during and after independence, Chief Anthony Enahoro. He said inter alia: "All through the struggle we never lost sight of the fact that Nigeria is a nation of nationalities, some for unbroken centuries, having their own internal sovereignty, their own countries with distinct boundaries, their own cultural values, their own political systems and values, and even their own gods. In 1960 we secured a constitution which provided for each nationality to protect that which was most precious to it and for each nationality to obtain its own statehood within Nigeria by popular referendum. That was how the Midwestern State was created. No matter what our differences were, the hope was that discussion, compromise, consensus and mutual respect would govern our approach to our problems.
Unity in diversity was our common national motto". It was under that constitution, that the Western Region was able to pursue its ruling party's vision of ‘Freedom for All and Life more Abundant,' which I described earlier. Even then the creation of Midwest State was necessary to give full expression to the yearnings of the minorities that inhabited the region even though they were mostly cousins of the Yorubas. So, Western State ended up being a Yoruba State, and became a target for envy and fear by the caliphate to its North.
All autonomy means is a speedy return to 1960 constitution with necessary modifications to safeguard the peculiarities of each constituent nationality or each to its own tents.With what I have stated so far, perhaps the question will now be raised, why Nigeria in the first place? Yes, less than a century and half ago, various parts of Nigeria were independent empires, kingdoms and republican territories, some of them many centuries old and having treaties and diplomatic relations with European countries, at least since the advent of the Portuguese in West Africa in 1450.
In the 19th Century the British, German, and Spanish invaded West Africa and partitioned the territories among themselves. Wherever the colonial adventurers met and had a stalemate, battle lines were drawn and new and separate countries were named and proclaimed. Let's listen to Nicholson in his 1969 book on the ‘Administration of Nigeria' After 1870 France looked to Africa for rehabilitation, Germany looked to Africa for raw material, Britain feared that Germany and France were about to appropriate the hinterlands of British sphere of influence, thus ruining British trade. The Berlin conference laid down two bases for validation of colonial authority: one was the test of effective military occupation under which Southern Nigeria was occupied. The other was the ‘hinterland theory' under which each power can claim authority over an indefinite distance inland from the sea or its established outpost.
So France claimed Northern Nigeria as the hinterland of the Mediterranean while Britain claimed it as the hinterland of West Africa. The resolution of these preposterous claims ultimately decided the boundaries of present day Nigeria. You will notice that the interest of the Africans did not at any time enter the equation and no regard was paid to the existing boundaries of historic African countries. Thus the Hausa nation was split between England and France, and now between Nigeria and Niger. The Yoruba nation was split between England and France, now between Nigeria and Dahomey now renamed Benin Republic. The Kanuri nation was split between England and France now between Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon. Nigeria, indeed all African countries were created in the image of the European colonizers. This legacy is at the heart of our problems and unless we face it squarely it is most unlikely that Africa will acquire the stability that is necessary to make a renaissance and match progressively in the 21st century. Or name one African country South of the Sahara that has reached appreciable degree of its potential for development since independence. They have mostly been overtaken by unhealthy rivalries between their constituent nations for political control. Because of different values, corruption, Nepotism, favoritism, ethnic and religious divisions, and election rigging resulting in outright tyranny have plagued them. Should we therefore work out a realistic prescription so that we can move forward? Must we wait until we are overtaken by the inevitable tide of history?
I wish to summit therefore that The Yorubas should
- divert their energies to finding freedom and space to
- conduct their own affairs the way the Yoruba people may choose within orwithout of the Federation of Nigeria.
The freedom to form new associations of nations that are contiguous, compatible and manageable seems worth exploring. Could that in fact be the task facing Africa as a whole? Or how do we envision future harmonious living between HUTUS and TUTSIS. What is the root cause of the genocide that has led to the macabre drama of firing squads in Rwanda as we are gathered here. The result of Eritrea becoming independent is a stronger Ethiopia, never mind a 30 years war, wasting lives, resources and opportunities. Now that Ethiopia has enacted a loose Federal constitution, permitting secession, no nationality within it has avail itself of that right. If the world had accepted redefining of boundaries and the regrouping of Nationalities as a norm, the war crime tribunal in The Hague will not be trying people for genocide, rape, arson etc now. Yugoslavia could have been spared the destruction that we all witnessed and is still ongoing. Genocide has started all over in KOSOVO.
Was it not clear before the time of George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man that the Croats and the Serbs were strange bedfellows? Or why is it that as we dine here tonight, most Bosnians are still unable to return to their homes, never mind the pervasive presence of NATO peace keeping troops. Similarly, inspite of ‘no victors no vanquished' the IBOS in Nigeria are still battling with abandoned properties with their immediate neighbors some 28 years after the civil war. We must thank our stars for being spared the horrors that could have been brought into our homes by television if the Soviet Union did not disintegrate peacefully. The Czechs and the Slovaks are making unprecedented political and economic progress and commanding the respect of the world.
Why on earth do we insist that Africa must be different? Why must the decision of some conference in Berlin, meant to keep the African off balance, become sacrosanct? Some of our people raise the question of viably of such a state. Please allow me to give a little statistics. Yorubaland has a definable landmass, fertile with abundant fresh water and luxurious vegetation. (248,574, square miles, larger than 12 African countries.) It has a virile, productive, confident, educated, and elegant population. (25, 996,182 by 1991 census, more populous than 11 of the 54 African countries). Access to the sea and all its resources. Friendly and accommodating neighbors. Gold, Tar sand, Timber, Palm-produce, Cocoa, even Oil in the Mahin, Epe and Badagry peninsular. My friends, perhaps we should divorce our selves from those idlers who only see oil as the only means of obtaining sustainable development. It is now a world where science, mathematics, technology and super computers have made nations, without any appreciable natural resource, great, and OIL, is it BLACK GOLD, has become a source of indolence, corruption and destruction.
Our nation, the Yoruba nation is undeservedly under siege. It had survived physical assaults before from the Hausa/Fulani jihadists. It had survived and been strengthened by its own internal wars, Adubi, Ijaiye, Egba, Kiriji. We have always single-handedly fought oppression in Nigeria. It was Yoruba lawyers who went to Kano to defend those who rose against political and ethnic oppression in the 1950's. They did the same for Shugaba in the 80's. The wet e and Agbekoya uprising were all skirmishes against oppression and lack of freedom. Even as we gather here tonight many of our people are being killed on the streets of Ibadan for daring to protest peacefully against military dictatorship.
While this is ongoing I hear people complain about collaborators or is it traitors in our mist. They have a right to complain, but, the situation is replete with similarities in history. There was war of independence here sometime ago. Were there not apologists for the British imperialists and native collaborators for the sole purpose of personal gain? Hitler pursued a damnable and obnoxious agenda but he was not short of palace jesters, ruthless killers, exterminators, and propagandists, including the notorious Lord Haw-haw, a Briton. Apartheid had black collaborators and its perpetrators probably still have, after its demise. The clown called Idi Amin ate human flesh for breakfast when he was president of Uganda and yet had a lobbyist on Capitol Hill pleading his cause for respectability, so why not Abacha.
So, why do we expect the cause of Nigeria's, or indeed, Yoruba struggle to be different? Why must our spirit be dampened simply because of the activities of black legs? Our people are back at the barricades and I suspect that if the barricades stand the invaders for a while, a lot more people will join in the fighting so they can be entitled to a share of the glory. It is in that believe that I do not think the complaints of those who blame those at the barricades that they haven't made enough efforts at recruitment of their kinsmen for this struggle is valid. Our people often say that ‘you do not need to persuade a blind man that the market has closed'.
Those of us that have not been touched by ethnic cleansing going on in Yorubaland will soon take our turn, if it is allowed to persist. But those who want to fiddle like the damnable Nero have a right to go down in history as Nero did. Let me conclude by quoting from a letter faxed to me as I was typing this. "We must either rise up now and fight with whatever means we have for our dignity and survival or forever we hold our peace. The sanctimonious living room analysis and pontificating over groundnut and drinks, which go on ad nauseam, must give way to concrete, hard-nosed willingness to make a difference.'
As we live here we must let those at the barricades know that we approve of their resistance by contributing generously to their well-being. Civil disobedience, the lowest spectrum of resistance has become an expensive operation to run for those at home. A regime that is bent on impoverishing its people, and staves them to submission has closed the door for extra resources for resistance. A courier from Ibadan to Ado-Ekiti requires more than 5000 Naira for transport, food, excluding lodging if his errand will take him a couple of days just for illustration. I am certain that your contributions will reach the appropriate quarters where it is needed to further the struggle. The Autonomy certificate will be a verifiable answer to our children when they ask "Dad what did you do when Yorubaland came under siege"?