BY CHARLES ADINGUPU
Just recently the Yoruba people converged at the political headquarters of the South West region, in Ibadan to re-echo what have been articulated over five decades ago. But political pundits were of the opinion that the gathering was an attempt to further bulkanise the Yoruba nation as the Afenifere still remains the sole voice of the Yoruba race. Excerpt:
Again, the Yoruba people marched out in their large numbers to their political capital, Ibadan penultimate Thursday to articulate once more, decades of what they considered to be an agenda for their race. The gathering which appeared more of traditional jamboree witnessed display of rich cultural heritage as expressed in the flown agbada, beads and other traditional costumes worn by the delegates from the different states that make up the South West region.
Apart from the core Yoruba in the South West, the gathering also attracted Yoruba from Kogi, Kwara and itsekiri whose long standing political affinity to the Yoruba people begun in the time of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
One after the other, each of the representatives mount the podium to articulate an agenda on the way forward for the Yoruba people.
The Assembly convener, former Chief of Defence Staff, General Alani Akinrinade summarised the essence of the gathering thus: “The Yoruba were at a crossroads in a country facing perilous times amid the multiplicity of the unresolved crises.”
The army general lamented that the tremendous progress achieved by the Awolowo era in the South West had been rubbished following prolong military rule.
Against this backdrop, the convener insisted that for Nigeria to remain as one federating unit, there must be an urgent need to address once and for all the creation of regional and state police, restructuring of the polity, abolition of Land Use Decree, regional constitution and autonomy within a united federation.
The Assembly noted in dismay that virtually all late Chief Awolowo’s achievements which include Cocoa House Ibadan, first television in Africa, free education and relics of farm settlement have been nationalised. This development, according to General Akinrinade has left the region with no option but to depend fully on revenue from oil and hand outs from Abuja.
“At independence in 1960, the federal government was obtaining loans of substantial amount from the government of Western Nigeria. Unfortunately today, the truth is that apart from Lagos State, our region waits endlessly for limited dropping from the table of the federal government in Abuja,” he said.
Accordingly, the development, Dr. Dejo Remi a Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain said led to the introduction of strange values as fraud, street begging, gangsterism and other unethical vices into the culture of the people. “That’s why we are clamouring for regional autonomy to reposition our region for excellence in order to imbibe once again the concept of omolabi, handwork, honesty, patriotism, merit and standard,” said Dipo Famakinwa, a member of the planning committee.
The Itsekiri who were represented by renowned playwright, Chief Fred Agbeyegbe and Elder Isaac Jemide stated that the convocation of the Sovereign National Conference (SNC) remains the only panacea to our co-existence as a federation as it will help to define how each of the regions will administer its resources.But the Yoruba from Kogi and Kwara lamented that the geographical arrangement of the country has ostracized them from their fellow brothers in the South West.
Their spokesperson, Ayo Abereoran insisted that they would want an arrangement that would unite them with their fellow compatriot of the South West rather than being referred to as Yoruba from the north.
Knocks on the Assembly
Although, the gathering was reported to have defied political and religious leaning but report had it that South West leaders of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) advised members against attending the meeting.
Beyond this, political pundits mainly from the South West region have described the Assembly as merely a conglomeration of birds of the same feathers.
An elderstatesman from the South West who would not want his name in print described the Assembly as another Action Congress of Nigeria’s (ACN) conference but not a Yoruba Assembly.
Which agenda are they trying to articulate for the Yoruba race?,” he queries, “they are all ACN members who are only trying to seek relevance.
Apart from one or two sycophants who are not members of ACN, tell me who else was present in the gathering? Those who represented the Yoruba in Kogi and Kwara what was their nomenclature in their respective states. For the representatives in Delta, they are confirmed ACN members.”
However a perusal on the list of delegates showed that some prominent Yoruba elderstatesmen were not present at the all touted Yoruba National Assembly (YNA).
Additionally, some Norther leaders as former Kaduna State governor, Alhaji Lawal Kaita and past Minister of Defence, Dr. Bellow Haliru Mohammed jointly described the agitations of the Yoruba people as an aberration.
“Regional autonomy and parliamentary system of government can no longer serve a complex society like Nigeria and our founding fathers were wise enough to jettison the system and adopt the present presidential system which to all intent and purposes, remains the best for a country like ours,” Kaita posited.
For Mohammed, a return to the old order where the big three, Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo will operate a regional government means, that other minority groups would be marginalised.
Crack in Awo’s Camp
From all intent and purposes, core members of the present Awolowo’s camp seemed to have shunned the Assembly ostensibly for reasons yet to be known.
Although, the over all essence of the gathering was to re-echo the Awolowo’s long held ideology of parliamentary system of government but true members of the Afenifere were unavoidably absent at the meeting which they tagged the Yoruba National Assembly.
The past and current leaders of the Afenifere probably refused to honour the gathering with their presence. The current National Chairman and even executive members of Afenifere, Chief Reuben Fasoranti were absent.
Other personalities who were absent include former secretary general of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Opadokun, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, Chief Olu Falae, former Minister of Finance, former governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande among others.
Political pundits described the Assembly as an attempt by some Yoruba people seeking relevance to create a paralleled body of the Afenifere.
Former Finance Minister, Chief Olu Falea admitted this much in an interview with the Saturday Vanguardwhen he retorted to a question put forward to him over the Yoruba National Assembly.
“Did you see me there? What happened in Ibadan could have been a joint thing so that all of us can speak with one voice. But some people still want to have their own forum in order to have their own show. It is unfortunate. In fact, they would have come to Ikenne and said we want these changes. At the end of the day, we would have spoken with one voice. But they chose to speak in their own voice which is not different at all from what we have been saying in the past 25 years.”
The former minister lamented that the Yoruba National Assembly is only an attempt by some people in the race to create a parallel organisation to Afenifere, adding that those group of persons have refused to accept Afenifere leadership as the leader of the Yoruba people.
“We have a leader, Baba Reuben Fasoranti is one of the original Action Group members of Pa Awolowo. He was in detention with Pa Ajasin. Since 1951, he has never changed his party. He’s a role model and a man of integrity, that is our leader. Those are the attributes the Yorubas saw in their leaders,” he stated.
Since the demise of Pa Ibrahim Adesanya, the Yoruba people have been enmeshed in leadership tussle. The oversized shoes left by Pa Awolowo and subsequently Pa Abraham Adesanya seems to put the Yoruba in disarray.
For political observances, what is currently happening to the leadership stool of the Yoruba race may be the hand of Jacob but the voice of Esau as notable men as Alhaji Ahmed Bola Tinubu strive to provide leadership for the Yoruba people.