WHAT Do Yoruba People Want ?
By Segun Adeniyi
Even with a mask practically covering his face, I saw the expression of surprise when I posed this question to the Osun State Governor, Adegboyega Oyetola. Seated directly in front of his desk at the Osun State Government House in Osogbo, I was observing every gesture. After a long pause, he said: “That is a very difficult question but I will answer it.” Another long pause followed during which he was apparently processing his thoughts. Then finally, the governor responded: “What Yoruba people want is a peaceful, secure and prosperous region in a just, peaceful and prosperous Nigeria that every citizen would be proud to call their country.”
The governor was candid as he explained the challenge of insecurity in the South-west, the process that led to the establishment of ‘Amotekun’, the operational guidelines and structures that are still evolving from state to state and the need not to mix security with religion or ethnicity. At the end, I left Oyetola better educated about the problem South-West governors are trying to confront and the stand of the Yoruba nation within a diverse Nigeria. The governor also explained how he was able to defuse the crisis in the Osun education sector as well as the financial engineering and alternativeproject funding that has helped the state to rid itself of the notoriety for non-payment of salaries while still embarking on a number of infrastructural projects. These of course are issues we will come back to another day.
The conversation regarding the Yoruba question took place two weeks ago in Osogbo, where I was guest of Dr Charles ‘Diji Akinola, Chief of Staff to the Governor. Akinola and I were Fellows at the Harvard Weatherhead Center for International Affairs for the 2010/2011 academic session. He never fails to remind me that we represent just two of the seven Nigerians, including Chief H.O. Davies, the late Major General Joe Garba, Ambassador Lawrence Ekpebu, Ambassador Lewu Jaiyeola and Lt General Abdulrahman Dambazau (rtd), who have passed through the 63-year old institution. The conversation on the Yoruba question continued over dinner at Akinola’s residence with Prof Niyi Akinnaso who was also visiting. Akinnaso at 78 is a respected United States-based Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics who also writes a popular column in PUNCH. Our discussion centred around the peculiar nature of the security challenge facing the South-west that some people now capitalize on to issue threats dangerous for the peaceful co-existence of our country.
Whatever may be the provocations—and there are provocations which I will also touch upon—our ‘freedom fighters’ and promoters of a phantom currency may not understand that what they are doing is akin to ‘Amunibuni’. Because they are bringing insult to Yoruba people who ordinarily prefer to win arguments by superior logic, not through the barrel of a Dane gun! ‘We will shoot politicians from behind’, ‘we will kill traditional rulers’ etc. are not our way and those who romanticize violence as a route to securing their own ethnic enclave are shortsighted. The Yoruba people have always canvassed the idea of restructuring in order to make Nigeria work for the majority of its people whether in the South or in the North. Not for a tiny elite. And if the idea now is that Nigeria be dissolved, it is not a decision that can be imposed by some hunters!
I have watched the video clip of Mr Olayemi Koiki who responded to Dr Reuben Abati’s claim on ARISE Television that what they are doing amounts to ‘treasonable felony’. While I also disagree with Reuben on the ‘treasonable felony’ bit that has become a weapon of blackmail in Abuja, I agree with him on the futility of ‘Oduduwa Republic’. He said: “I can tell you from my observation that if you put it to a vote among Yoruba people, I am not too sure that a majority will want to leave Nigeria so I don’t think we should have a heartache over whether Yoruba will secede from Nigeria”.
The question we must ask is: How did we come to this sorry pass? It is no secret that a significant bloc of the Yoruba political/media establishment helpedPresident Muhammadu Buhari to power in 2015. But today, there is a feeling they have been traded a lemon for an orange. That is why there is deafening silence in the South-west. Most people disagree with those who are hoisting the ridiculous flag of ‘Oduduwa Republic’ whose ‘Department Homeland Security’ is threatening deportation of innocent citizens. After issuing their online currency, ‘Fadaka’ which I understand has already conferred on some people more wealth than that of Alhaji Aliko Dangote and Dr Mike Adenuga (Jnr) combined, what remains is for them to begin construction of the border wall! If Yoruba people are not speaking up against these hilarious propositions, it is simply because they don’t want to go against local sentiment about insecurity and the growing frustrations arising from poor governance deficits in Abuja in terms ofjobs, poverty, inflation, devaluation etc. Nor do they want to be misconstrued as endorsing the mismanagement of our diversity which is also a sore issue fueling this agitation.
In his intervention yesterday on why ethnic profiling is a lazy tool to deal with criminal challenges, Kayode Komolafe (KK) reminds those who are pushing the ‘We versus Them’ rhetoric that insecurity is a national problem. Which is why the quit order given criminals in Ondo State forests a few weeks ago by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu is not different from the one given by Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State on behalf of his North-west colleagues. But as I have said repeatedly on this page, it is President Muhammadu Buhari who unwittingly created the climate of suspicion that now plays into the hands of ethnic entrepreneurs in a toxic political season.
When the herdsmen madness started, the federal government sent out conflicting messages, even in the face of a clear erosion of its sovereign legitimacy.Experts have always argued that there are three classes of Fulani herders in Nigeria. The first are those who settle near communities and you find them in several states across the country. They pose no problem to their neighbours. The second group are Nigerian nomads who roam the forests and often engage in confrontation with farmers when crops are destroyed. The challenges arising from these frictions are also manageable. The third category belongs to foreign invaders who areactually responsible for most of the havoc being committed in the country. They represent the ‘Amunibuni’ for the entire Fulani. The problem is that rather than go after them, government officials make excuses for the atrocities they commit.
In January 2018, then Defence Minister, Mansur Dan-Ali said: “Since the nation’s Independence, we know there used to be a route whereby the cattle rearers take because they are all over the nation. If those routes are blocked what do you expect will happen?” Despite public reaction to what was clearly an irresponsible justification of the killings by a high-ranking cabinet member, PresidentBuhari did not sanction Dan-Ali. Nor did he reprimand any of the other officials who became spokesmen for violent herdsmen with jejune arguments that there are no national boundaries for Fulanis. Then we were told that cattle could graze freely anywhere in the country and that herdsmen have a right to carry AK-47’s while roaming. Those responsible for killing, kidnapping, raping and maiming rural dwellers were also canonized with ‘reparation’ demands made for them, resulting in criminality being coloured in identity politics.
With time, some public officials, politicians and ethnic champions became ‘Amunibuni’ for Buhari since people were using their rhetoric to judge the president. To compound the challenge, it seems this government does not trust people from some ethnic groups or religious persuasion when it comes to certain critical appointments, especially within the security apparatus and the commanding heights of the economy. I will be dealing with this issue another day, but the tweet last week by Ms Amina Ado sums everything up by putting a lie to the dubious statistics on critical appointments being peddled by some propagadists. And she should know. Until recently, Amina Ado was a Senior Special Assistant to thepresident in the office of the Chief of Staff and being a northerner, she cannot be accused of promoting an ethnic agenda. That making strategic concessions is beyond this administration is an embarrassment, even for many northerners. That is because they are also aware that the appointments being cornered by a tiny clique is not to promote any ‘Northern agenda’ (whatever that may mean) but rather in pursuit of the personal interest by those who nominate these individuals. This explains why they go for their in-laws, kinsmen, friends and the like. Yet nepotism in critical appointments engenders collective insults in the manner of ‘Abunibuni’.
This then brings me to the real meaning of the word. Yoruba loses its flavour when you translate into English but ‘Amunibuni’ is better explained in the complete idiom: “Amunibuni ewure ibiye. Ibiye f’oju otun, ewure re fo t’osi”. Crudely interpreted, it means if a goat is blind on the left eye and its owner is blind on the right eye, any discussion about the goat would always bring into focus the condition of the owner. As one scholar expanded on the idiom, the real message is in the ambiguity that could come from describing the goat as ‘ẹran olójú kan’ which could be interpreted either as a ‘one-eyed goat’ or ‘the goat of a one-eyed person’. Both definitions are correct but the latter brings the owner into the conversation. Today, any discussion about killings by ‘herdsmen’ brings attention to the inequity in the distribution of opportunities in Abuja. The result is that when you encounter cows on the highway, you look at the poor herder just trying to eke out a living and you blame him for all the problems of Nigeria!
For a president in his second and final term, Buhari should be concerned about the legacy he intends to bequeath Nigeria. Railways and infrastructural developments are good but what people remember are intangibles (hearts and minds issues). And that is where he is failing miserably. Beyond the optics of nepotistic appointments and insecurity challenges, is the perennial question of President Buhari’s body language. For instance, if he had responded the way he did last week to the attempt on Governor Sam Ortom to the killings in Benue State when 70 coffins were displayed on a single day in 2019, the situation could have been different. Fortunately, the president still has an opportunity to change the course of affairs and with that, the perception of his stewardship.
Meanwhile, at a time when emotions run high and reason seems to have taken flight, it is important for critical stakeholders in Yorubaland to help checkmate all appeals to hate, ethno-religious profiling and guilt by association. There is an urgent need for the Yoruba elite to take charge of the narrative so as not to unleash a chain of actions that will make the zone worse off or make it another front of instability in the country. We should do everything to restrain those who wittingly or unwittingly sow seeds of reprisal killings that could begin a train of events nobody can predict.
Striving to build a modern nation on the foundation of primordial tribal instincts will not take Nigeria forward. And I do not believe that is what the Yoruba people seek. As Governor Oyetola explained, and I have heard from several other stakeholders, what Yoruba people demand is a peaceful and secure Nigeria that works for all citizens and where there is equity and justice in the distribution of opportunities.