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State of the Nation: Yoruba and their political agenda

By Adisa Adeleye

During the Olusegun Obasanjo years before his re-election in 2003, there were cries of marginalization from Arewa and Igbo quarters and attempts were made to impeach President Obasanjo.

The main reason, though superficial, was essential.  President Obasanjo won the 1999 elections without the support of his Yoruba race.  Those who supported him then would want to be repaid in terms of developments in their areas.

Of recent, some Yoruba leaders under a Forum joined the chorus of, we too are being marginalized.  But for their illustrious names, one would have questioned their motive and conclude that they represent only their selfish interests.

In my book, “The Agenda”, published in 2002, I noted that, “The children of Oduduwa, known and recognized as Yoruba race are according to Mrs. Anna Hinderer (the wife of a white missionary in Ibadan in the 1850s) inhabit the Yoruba country with a population estimated at about three million, speaking one language, but comprising many separate tribes, occupies a region stretching inwards from the Bight of Benin to within forty miles of the Niger, and bordered on the West by the Kingdom of Dahomey”.

An accurate description of the Yoruba race today will include the Yoruba people of Kwara and Kogi States with a total population of about 20 million. Simply put, the Yoruba predominate in Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Lagos, part of Kwara and part of Kogi States in the present political set-up.

The Yoruba belong to one of the most sophisticated communities in West Africa with a fine tradition and recognized fine custom. Early contacts with Europeans afforded that race the opportunities of copious Western education that it could boast of an impressive list of professionals like doctors, lawyers, historians, surveyors and priests at the beginning of the 20th century when many parts of this country were in total darkness, educationally.

The modern Yoruba still love their education which had been further influenced by Chief Awolowo‘s ‘Free Primary Education Policy‘ in the Old Western Region in the 1950s, they still cherish their custom and traditional activities which are sometimes wasteful.

Their mode of dressing is picturesque except that embroidered Agbada (aso-oke) is now consigned to traditional festivities. In the new millennium, the “lace culture” has returned with a bang, while the Senegalese long dress is fast replacing the smarter Kaftans of the earlier period.  The female hair style of the Yoruba is unique and is still popular in the country.

The Yoruba, because of early Western education and the notion of easy life (manifesting itself in dancing, conspicuous consumption of imported products and lavish parties), held other non-Yoruba tribes in absolute contempt during the pre-independence era.  That pride, borne out of palpable ignorance had perhaps been responsible for the poor performance of the race in the national political dispensation since Independence in 1960.

The Yoruba, in their unguarded moment of pride, often forget that Western education, as admirable as it is, may not be the only superior culture in the world.

An Arabic scholar is as much exposed to the various cultures of the world like his Western trained mind.

It is an admirable fact that the Lagos Yoruba were more politically conscious than their counterparts from other parts of the country before 1960.  Politics in Lagos had always been dominated by principle rather than ethnicity or primordial feelings.  In the heydays of NYM (Nigerian Youth Movement), late Ernest Ikoli, an Ijaw candidate defeated Akinsanya (late Odemo of Ishara), an Ijebu Yoruba for a legislative council seat for Lagos in the Legislative Council of the 1940s.

Paradoxically, late Dr. Azikiwe an Ibo supported Akinsanya (a Yoruba) while late H. O. Davies (a Yoruba) supported Ikoli (an Ijaw).  Dr. Azikiwe once represented Lagos in the old Legislative Council and Western House of Assembly, while the late Mazi Mbonu Ojike (an Ibo) was once a Deputy Mayor of Lagos in the1950s. Even in the 1950s and early 1960s when the NCNC was regarded as an ‘Ibo‘ organization, the party won elections in the core Yoruba urban centres of Lagos, Ibadan, Oyo, Abeokuta, Iseyin, Oshogbo, Akure, Ado-Ekiti and Ondo.

Political sophistry
In spite of the fine record of sound education and assumed political sophistry, what could have been responsible for the dismal political performance in the past decades?  Could the answer be attributed to poor leadership based on pride and comical misunderstanding of the political chemistry of the time? Yes and no. The First Republic saw the disintegration of the Action Group and the imprisonment of its leader, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

The proud children of Oduduwa were in total disarray, completely routed and became politically comatose in the early1960, principally because of envy, mistrust and misunderstanding of other political gladiators and tribes.

The Yoruba leaders of the second republic (1979-1983,) like the French Bourbons, appeared to have ‘learnt nothing and forgot nothing‘ about the collapse of the earlier experiment.

The scattered children of Oduduwa in different political parties saw themselves as mortal enemies in the political area which had been reduced to a jungle war.

Their participation in the federal government was minimal and they cared less”.  However, the political rivalry between Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had tilted in favour of Chief Awolowo‘s party (UPN) which was ahead of Dr. Azikiwe‘s party (APP) in the 1979 and  1983 Federal elections.

The period between 1984 and 1998 (being military era) was a cooling period for active political activities except for the rise and fall of late Moshood Kashimawo Abiola (MKO) who was supported by majority of Yoruba people for the position of president under the platform of Social Democratic Party (SDP).

Sadly, the victory of Abiola was crudely annulled by the Military President at the time, General Babangida. The return of democracy in 1999 saw the election of a Yoruba, General Olusegun Obasanjo with the full support of other tribes except the Yoruba. At present, majority of the Yoruba find themselves in the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) Party under the leadership of Ashiwaju Bola Tinubu.

That party itself is in a merger arrangement with other parties to form, All Progressive Congress (APC).  Whether this represents the interest of the Yoruba is a moot question.That the Yoruba race is an object of admiration by many and envy by others is natural.  Certainly, there is no question of marginalization of a race that has produced the President of a country without begging for it.

The Yoruba, like some others, remain good hosts even if others appear to be bad guests.


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