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The Yorubas

By Patrick Dele Cole

THE Yoruba town of Ibadan is largest native market in Africa. The Yorubas engage in the business of planting and trading in Cocoa, Palm produce, timber, rubber, and kola nuts, apart from their normal food crops. They are good businessmen and women, some of whom dealt in timber, cocoa, kola nuts, trading from Lagos to Bathurst (now Banjul), in The Gambia, and South Congo; whist the Ijebus, Ijesha and the Oyo speaking Yorubas deal in general merchandise.

They have high entrepreneurial ability; and they are also the leaders in the professions, such as Law, Insurance, Banking, Medicine, Accountancy, Architecture, Engineering, etc. The Yorubas are in International Businesses – Ogunlesi, Doherty, Odutola, Bank – Anthony, Harry Akande, Adenuga, Otudeko etc.

They again equally excel in Arts and Drama. Wole Soyinka, Bobby Benson, Victor Olaiya, Hubert Ogunde, Ojo Ladipo, Titiola, Dapo Adelugba, Ola Rotimi, to mention just a few, are of the Yoruba stock. They were also front runners in the News and Entertainment Media in Nigeria. Examples abound in the Publications of the Akede Eko, Daily Times, Punch, Nigerian Tribune, Daily Sketch, etc.; whilst the Western Nigerian Television (WNTV) was the first Television Service in Africa;, which was supplemented by the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service (WNBS), with the Radio Service.

They are, yet again, trend setters in fashion; and are well ahead in Education; having started with Free Primary Education in 1955 under Western Region Government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, which gave them an edge as regards mass education, thereby creating a gap between Yorubas and the rest of Nigeria, that is still yet to be bridged.

The Ph.Ds of Ekitis are well known, and they far outstrip other Nigerian groups in higher education, and their rate of female education far outstrips the respective rates of the other groups, particularly at that tertiary level.

Large scale prosperity had made it possible for Yorubas to have a major say in the development of Nigeria. They have abundance in political willingness, political astuteness, and incredibly ambitious/enterprising. The combination of the above qualities has led them three times to the Leadership/Presidency of Nigeria, and the 4th MKO Moshood Abiola’s presidency was aborted by the Babangida military administration, which declared its annulment. The Yorubas have managed to live more harmoniously with the other groups, as well as among themselves. In fact, religion-wise, the Yorubas are heterogeneous, as one Yorubas family may have all the three religions within the same one family fold, namely, Christianity, Islam, and Traditional Religion.

The Yorubas seem to have a deeper social life than others, regardless of the degree of outward manifestation of Westernization. They are culture enthusiasts. Yorubas are well cultured people, and even, those of them who do not speak the language, just like the majority who speak the language, understand the custom, etc, learning at an early age how to kneel down, prostrate, etc., at all levels. The Yorubas have a greeting for all occasions : For example, for walking, standing, selling, travelling, working, resting, etc.

The Lagos Yorubas (the Lagosians), who were the least educated of the Yoruba race, missed out on the 1956 Awolowo Free Universal Primary Education (FUPE). I had a friend, Mr. Lamikanran, who was my boss in BP. He told me a story which reinforces the wisdom that the best form of defence is attack. The office had 10 Yorubas. One retired and was replaced by an Ibo.

The remaining nine held a meeting to complain about the onslaught of tribalism in BP!! The Yorubas have no fear of succeeding in Nigeria; are prepared to go it alone – so confident are they that will make it. No other ethnic group in Nigeria, are prepared to accept a break up, the Yorubas would be happy to go it alone, and are confident of success.

There are some who was argue that paragraph is clearly a misrepresentation of the Yoruba character and national aspirations. As regards the first issue, the BP tale, certainly does correctly portray the true Yoruba trait. They are not an exclusive/selfish people, like some of the other ethnic groups of Nigeria. As regards the second issue, of the three (3) major ethnic groups of Nigeria, only the Yorubas have not threatened the corporate existence of Nigeria.

At its inception, the Second Military Coup Leader declared that: There was no basis for unity; whilst another ethnic group attempted to secede from Nigeria, which led to the Biafrian War. Despite all the vicissitudes the Yorubas suffered during the NADECO period of the Abacha Regime, it is on record that the Yorubas never expressed any secessionist view.

Rather, they kept on demanding for a Sovereign National Conference which would enable the Nigerian people truly determine the form and nature of their association with one another within the Nigerian national entity. Where then is the evidence of the Yorubas wanting to go it alone apart from the other ether ethnic groups? They remain, as of today, the only one of the three major ethnic groups that has not threatened the unity and corporate existence of Nigeria.

The Yorubas have their own Traditional clothing Industry, at which they produce the Adire and Aso Oke cloths, etc

Awolowo’s Yorubas legacy remains enduring. He pushed the ethnic group forward, to become second to none in all areas of human endeavour. Chief Awolowo was not universally liked by all Yorubas, and several fought him to the death. But his influence on them remains pervasive.

The Yorubas in the Diaspora

The Yorubas in London took early advantage to buy houses originally allocated to them for having children in the U.K. Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s tightened the regulations allowing people born in England or of English parentage to claim domiciliary status and citizenship.   She also introduced selling of Council accommodation to those who occupied them.

Nigerians in the U.K. bought the Council flats they lived in; and since then have been able to transport members of their families to the U.K. on the basis of house ownership and British citizenship. Moreover, the Yorubas are the majority of those having houses in the U.K., they were serious minded and worked hard.


Continues tomorrow

  • Dr. Cole, a former ambassador, wrote from Lagos.


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