By Shina Abubakar
Since the exit of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Yoruba have never had it smooth when it comes to having a leader that would enjoy the acceptance of the entire race. In this interview with Ambassador Yemi Farounmbi, the former Nigerian envoy to the Philippines, bared his mind on why Yoruba race will always have crisis with its leadership Excerpts:
Why is it difficult for Yoruba to reach consensus over leadership issue?
It is not a matter of difficulty, but about the Yoruba structure. If you look back a bit, there has never been a Yoruba leader until 1967 when late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was elected Asiwaju of Yoruba. Even during the days of the Oyo empire, some parts of Yoruba still existed on their own. We have been more of a confederal nation, where different ethnic groups co-exist. We have the Ijebus, Ibolo, Egbas, Igbomina, Ijesa, Ekiti, all existing within the Yoruba nation which will make it difficult to have a leader to lead the different ethnic groups. In developed society, what we have is best described as separate ethnic nations than just an ethnic group.
In the midst of these differences, how did Awolowo emerge a Yoruba leader accepted by all?
Awolowo emerged a Yoruba leader because of his antecedents and his robust personality. Prior to his emergence, he had provided political leadership for the people and had done exceptionally well. Every household benefited from his education policy, he built the first television station, the first stadium, the Cocoa house, a University in the region and so many forest reserves across the region. At that time his achievements were unquantifiable and besides, his leadership acumen was second to none, hence, when the issue came up in 1967, it wasn’t a difficult decision at all. He was accepted and respected by all because he had paid his due to be a leader.
Why is it so difficult for anyone to enjoy such acceptability after Awolowo’s death?
After Awolowo’s death, no one has measured up to his standard. No one has been able to replicate what he has done for the Yoruba. Everyone who has been referred to as a Yoruba leader after Awolowo never emerged through merit like he did. Ajasin, Adesanya could best be described as the race’s spokespersons not a leader like Awolowo.
How can the Yoruba nation have a leader without crisis as it is presently?
It is going to take a very difficult process to have a leader for the Yoruba, especially now that politics and individual ambitions have pushed aside our collective interest. Many of those clamouring to be Yoruba leader are driven by personal interest than the interest of the race itself. We must always think of our common value, interest and aspiration as a nation. If someone, a politician for instance, becomes a Yoruba leader how would those in another political party react to a position that is not favourable to their party? So it would be difficult for a person with political interest and ambition to become leader of the race, he wouldn’t be acceptable to all. The Yoruba will not allow anyone to use the race to play national politics. Besides, in my view, the confederal structure of the race would do it more good than embracing some sort of unitary arrangement.
Does that mean that the Yoruba cannot have a leader?
If, along the line, the race is faced with external aggression that threatens its existence, a leader will naturally emerge. But if anyone think of some sort of arrangement to just bring up anyone as a leader, such situation would only create room for further proliferation of Yoruba organisations.
On the issue of insecurity in the southwest, how do you expect the governors in the region to tackle it?
First, I am an advocate of regional integration, hence, I commend the regional collaboration effort in tackling insecurity in the region. It is the best approach to the problem, we are a people with one culture, farming style, language and value system. A sort of network system as agreed will make it easy to police the region better and guarantee safety of lives and property. This approach will make it difficult for either armed robbers, kidnappers or other criminals to migrate to any state in the region without being caught.
What do you think should be done differently to make the regional arrangement more effective?
Governments of the collaborating states should involve local security outfits, such as the vigilante, in the arrangement, as this would make it easy to identify routes that conventional security outfits would find difficult to navigate and which may be possible get away routes for miscreants. Also, the security outfits must be adequately funded in order to avoid criminalising it. Policing equipment should be provided adequately, such as gadgets, headgear, vehicles to ease movement and also Armoured vehicles which can come in handy during cross fire with hardened criminals. Overall, it should be a homogeneous security arrangement. If policing the region is not achieved for reasons due to either funding or logistics, then achieving development would be a lot difficult in the region.