Eminent Professor of African History and founder of Ilana Omo Oodua, an umbrella body for all Yoruba self-determination groups, speaks to DARE ADEKANMBI on the reason the group went to court to stop the gubernatorial elections coming up in Osun and Ekiti states, the ongoing constitution amendment, the release of Yoruba Nation agitator, Sunday Adeyemo, also known as Sunday Igboho, among others.
You and heads of other Yoruba self-determination groups have gone to court to restrain INEC from conducting guber elections in Ekiti and Osun states. Why did you take this route?
Leaders of our many Yoruba self-determination organisations decided to take INEC to court to restrain them from holding gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun States after deep considerations and widespread consultations. Our contention is that our organisations have individually and collectively declared repeatedly in the course of over one year that the 1999 Constitution is a fraud. In that position, we have been strongly supported by a large array of leading citizens and legal luminaries. Even the National Assembly has admitted this and has therefore embarked upon an effort to remedy the constitution – even though they know that they have no powers to amend the constitution. In short, the rulers of Nigeria have been treating us Nigerians as people without rights, people they can simply continue to rule even without a proper constitution. Of course, we Yoruba self-determination organisations, having made it known to the whole world that we are resolved to seize our Yoruba nation›s self-determination and establish our Yoruba nation as a sovereign country of our own in the world, decided that we would not look on as our Yoruba people continue to be treated as part of Nigerians who are being ruled as people without rights, people who are essentially slaves. To carry out our decision, we have two options – either to resort to violence to stop the elections, or to use the power of the law and the courts. We opted for the use of the power of the law and the courts, in accordance with our determined and well-known policy that our self-determination struggle shall be peaceful and law-abiding. Let it be known to all that we will pursue the court option absolutely vigorously, supported by the overwhelming majority of our Yoruba people – the overwhelming majority of Yoruba people at home and in the Diaspora, including the newer Yoruba Diaspora in most countries of the world and the older Yoruba Diaspora in countries like Brazil, Cuba, and most other countries of the Americas. We are determined to win and we shall win.
Is your demand realistic in view of the preparations that have gone into the said elections, especially by the parties, the candidates and the expectation of the peoples of the two states?
Of course our step is realistic. This question of yours is based on an assumption that Nigeria, as an entity, has the right to continue to hold elections even against the obvious refusal of Yoruba people to vote and thereby endorse the continuation of their quasi-enslavement in Nigeria. My answer is based on the fact that we Yoruba (like any people or nationality in the world) have the right to retrieve our self-determination and sovereignty from the country to which we now belong, a country that we were included without our consent, a country in which we have suffered serious losses and retrogression for over sixty years. Naturally, we sympathise with those of our Ekiti and Osun kinsmen who desire to win elections under the fraudulent and illegal system. They are our own brothers and sisters and we are not fighting them. But we have high hopes that most of them will give up the electoral chase as the court hearings progress -in order to stop wasting money, energy and intellect.
If the 1999 Constitution, which you described as fraudulent and illegal, is the problem, the National Assembly is currently working on it. In fact, a number of recommendations have been accepted as part of efforts to address the shortcomings in the document.
Most members of the National Assembly know that the National Assembly has no constitutional power to amend the constitution. Let us not forget that every newly elected National Assembly since 1999 has played around with meaningless efforts to amend the constitution, and that such efforts have never resulted in any change in the constitution. The current game playing with the constitution is no more than a cynical tactic to deceive Nigerians to hope that the constitution will be amended, and that whatever elections are conducted now and in 2023 will be validated by the amended constitution. They don’t believe that they can validly amend the constitution. As for the masses of our people in Ekiti and Osun States, they are not waiting or eager to vote in any Nigerian election; they are expecting to have their own sovereign, independent, Yoruba country soon. Their overwhelming political cry today is Yoruba Nation now! No going back!
If you think the National Assembly can’t remedy the defects in the constitution, what would you recommend as the proper thing to be done to birth a document that will be widely acceptable to all parts of the country?
We in the Yoruba self-determination struggle have nothing to recommend towards the birthing of a Nigerian constitution that will, according to you, be widely acceptable to all parts of Nigeria. If you hear us talking about a constitution, please be informed that we are not talking about a Nigerian constitution, but about the making of the right and proper constitution for our own Yoruba country that will come soon.
What do you make of some of the accepted recommendations such as electricity, railway and other times moved from the Exclusive to the Concurrent Legislative List?
Recommendations to move electricity, railways, etc, from the Exclusive to the Concurrent Legislative List are mere playing upon the mentality of Nigerians. As I said above, such amendments by the National Assembly are mere cynical jokes. The National Assembly cannot amend the constitution. Even if the constitution does get amended by some legally proper procedure and electricity and railways get moved to the Concurrent Legislative List, such changes will not measurably affect the lives of Nigerians for the better. We know (and certainly you know too) that the ethos -the purpose-of leadership and government in Nigeria is not to improve the people›s quality of life but to control the people, to maintain indifference to the people›s condition, to enrich the rulers, to force religion on the people, to relish decline, deepening poverty and degradation – all in the belief that the poorer the people become the easier it will be to control and ride rough-shod over them. In such a setting, formal constitutional changes cannot mean much in terms of the people›s quality of life.
Your group and other advocates of a restructured Nigeria appear to be on a lone path. Activities for the 2023 elections are already kicking in and everybody is already looking forward to the elections. They won’t listen to you or groups like yours.
No, we in the self-determination struggle are not on a lonely path at all. You are wrong in your belief that, because the 2023 elections are approaching, our people will not listen to our message. They are engaged with our message very massively and they are increasingly doing so. The Yoruba people have chosen their destiny and nothing can divert them away from it. Remember something that our father, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, once said about the Yoruba people. He wrote: «The truth about the Yoruba people is that they are sufficiently enlightened and bold to refuse to be led by the nose by any person, however sophisticated such a person or group may be. They are slow to anger robust on contentions, alert to their rights, and will fearlessly resist and combat evil, whenever and wherever they discern it, with all their might.” Our Yoruba people have no doubt that evil dominates Nigeria and that the evil has been waxing strong and strong for over sixty years. They are deeply saddened that the evil is ruining the quality of their lives and destroying everything that they hold dear. Therefore, no amount of propaganda, no small bribes from the enormous wealth that politicians have stolen from Nigeria›s purse, no other kind of enticements can now make our Yoruba people choose to uphold and sustain the horrible evil that they know so painfully.
Could you tell us how much effort went into securing the temporary release of Yoruba Nation agitator, Sunday Adeyemo, also known as Sunday Igboho? Was Professor Wole Soyinka part of the eminent people who intervened to get him out of jail? Who are who are also involved apart from you?
Why do you say “temporary release”? Sunday is not under any temporary release. He has been released, period. Because he has wisely chosen to keep his choices to himself for now, some people have been engaging in various kinds of fanciful theories. Those who wished that he should never be released are now telling the world that he has not been released, or that he has only been partly released, or that he has been released because of sickness, etc. The truth is that he has been released. This Sunday is a phenomenal giant of a man. When he makes his next steps known, Yoruba people will jump for joy.
Yes, it took a lot of effort for those of us who stayed close to him to secure his release. The two of us engaged in the effort were my humble self and my deputy, Professor Wale Adeniran. Professor Adeniran is a wonderful asset to our team because of his unwavering loyalty and his mastery of the French language which is the official language of Benin Republic. Minutes after Sunday was arrested at the Cotonou Airport and we got the information, we moved immediately into action. Though it was night, we managed to secure the services of a good lawyer to handle the case. We learned that some people wanted to take Sunday to Nigeria that night, but we were determined that, that would not happen. Our lawyer was very helpful throughout that sleepless night. By entering his presence as Sunday’s lawyer, he preempted any step of taking Sunday to Nigeria. Then followed the court appearances, our hiring of more lawyers, our frequent efforts to stop great crowds of Yoruba youths from coming over the borders from Nigeria to storm Cotonou, our travels round parts of Benin Republic to seek the assistance of prominent traditional rulers. By November, we were at last in direct contact with significant personalities in the top ranks of government. High level negotiations followed. It was always just our two-man team of Akintoye and Adeniran, with God upholding us and fructifying our efforts. But I must not forget that one former student of Prof Adeniran was often by our side to render various kinds of assistance, and those two Yoruba youths from Nigeria and resident in Cotonou came to help from time to time.
Professor Adeniran and I just fortunately happened to be in Benin Republic the day Sunday was arrested and detained. I solemnly vowed that day that I would not leave Benin until he was released. I am grateful to God that the ordeal is now over. Throughout his incarceration, majority of Yoruba people at home and abroad were constantly urging me to get him released, constantly praying for him. He deserves it all. I must let all our people know that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the president and government of Benin Republic. Theirs is a civilized modern government and it is impossible to get them to assist any savage, murderous, agenda.
Currently Nigerians are agonising over the rising cost of food and industries are hurting from the skyrocketing price of diesel consequent upon very poor power supply. Do you see Nigerians reflecting their conditions in the way they will vote in 2023?
Yes, Nigerians are suffering in every way again. The lives of more and more Nigerians are becoming tales of sordid poverty, of depredation, of blood-curdling violence, of sudden mad deaths. Some international agencies have proclaimed that Nigerians are the poorest today in the world in access to electricity, clean water, adequate and good quality food, good roads, quality administrative services, decent and responsive government, reliable judicial services, basic personal security, etc. These agencies predict that if Nigeria continues in its present ways, 50 per cent of the world›s poorest people by 2030 will be Nigerians. As things stand today, 80 per cent of the world›s poorest belong to Nigeria and Nigeria is rated as the extreme poverty capital of the world. And the poverty is being compounded by the blood-soaked insecurity that is expanding viciously. It is very saddening that our journalists rate coming elections as the most pressing development on the lives of our people. What has happened to that high concern for the wellbeing of our people that propelled a young man of 36 to initiate Egbe Omo Oduduwa in 1945, and to be, in years that followed, the highest prophet and warrior in Africa for the good quality of life for people?