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Beware of Yoruba tiger’s tail

By Yinka Odumakin
THE Yorubas say that you learn how to state your case not the art of fighting. The meaning of that is that he would only fight as a last resort. The depth of his philosophy tells you that he is running from a fight not because he is a coward but for the fact that he thinks through issues and knows that it is better to avoid a fight except it becomes inevitable. When eventually he is pushed to a fight, the landmarks are indelible for ages.

After the Yoruba’s reaction to series of accumulated injustices in 1965 (the NPC led Federal Government had trampled on Awo and his disciples for three years) the streets of Oodua witnessed retributive onslaughts that have not been forgotten till date. That was when the people reached “We shall take it no more” point. The greatest cultural icon of Yoruba resistance of the modern era, Hubert Ogunde, waxed it lyrically when he said “this is the time our enemies would know we don’t take nonsense.” The events that followed those earth shaking reactions marked the end of the First Republic.

Earth shaking reactions

Fast forward to 1983. The power drunk high command of the National Party of Nigeria was not satisfied with the manipulations of national elections but wanted to rub salt on a festering injury by attempting to force its way into the heart of Yoruba by rigging elections in old Oyo and Ondo states. It reached that boiling point again and the reaction was massive especially in Ondo State. Ace journalist, Dare Babarinsa has graciously documented that resistance in “House of War”, a book you read with a lot of trepidations. In three months, that republic was no more.

If Babangida had calculated the fighting spirit of the Yoruba he probably would not have annulled the June 12 elections. Babangida must have surmised that Nigerians would only fight for a few days and move on. He was partially right on that score. But he had touched the raw nerves of the Yoruba. I saw this in Ikeja the morning after Babangida  made public all the  alleged ills of Abiola that would not make him a good president. Half-clad women took to the streets of Ikeja chanting “O da koda, Abiola la fe”(Good or bad, Abiola is our choice). I knew he had stepped on it. For the next five years Babangida and his successor, Sani Abacha were engaged in a sustained warfare.

To bring a closure to the fight, Nigeria had to pick a president between Olu Obasanjo and Olu Falae in 1999 after Abacha and Abiola died. The military was humiliated out of power and till date has remained in the barracks mainly on account of that encounter with the Yoruba spirit that would fight as a last resort on a cause you cannot fault.

It is one nation where every person would do his or her own thing when communal consensus has yet to build. That will give the impression that these are a disagreeable people. But Prof. Adebayo Williams captured it so beautifully in one of his essays in those days of Abacha when he wrote that the Yoruba people would do their different things until a consensus is achieved but once that was done woe betides whoever steps out of line.

The Ile-Ife disturbance:

Why all this drift?It is on account of the recent disturbance in Ile-Ife in which precious lives were lost in the fracas between the Arewa community and the indigenes of the cradle of Yoruba civilisation.

It is a good thing that calm has returned and we pray for its sustenance. All accounts so far have pointed to the fact that the settlers were the aggressors in the dispute. They were said to have severed the head of a local which was paraded on a pole!

Again it has been proved that the Yoruba would not look for a fight either on their land or in a foreign land. More importantly on a land that is not theirs. They have a saying to the effect that when you get to the city of lepers you have to fold your fingers. It is not that they crave leprosy but just to blend with the locals so you can have your peace.

Those who live among the Yorubas must learn to embrace that spirit and avoid offending the sensibilities of the people.  Never again must Yoruba be provoked to the point it reached in 1965,1983  and 1993. No issue should degenerate to touching the tail of Yoruba tiger as its gentility does not translate into stupidity.

 


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