With the meeting of the Yoruba race in Ibadan on August 30, 2012, under the banner of the Yoruba National Assembly, convened by General Alani Akinrinade there is the reason to be hopeful that a new vision on how to resolve the protracted Nigerian socio-political problems of transition is in the horizon.
The Yoruba convocation came out with a number of straight forward resolutions which when implemented will guarantee the Yoruba a place to feel safe, confident and comfortable living in Nigeria. They include; Regional autonomy, Regional state police, abolition of the land use decree; Adoption of the Parliamentary system; regional constitution; role for tradition rulers; a sovereign national conference and more.
What was instructive about the Ibadan meeting according to observers who monitored the events is the fact that over 85 percent of those in attendance were enthusiastic youths below the age of 40. As the gods say, “when youths are engaged in a battle, the war shrines should be prepared for a prolonged duel”.
It is hoped that the Yoruba people will come up soon with a detailed programme that will spell out methods and mechanisms of how to actualize the heart searching ideas in a work plan.
The stage is set, other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria should embrace the reality on ground, that only a decentralized Nigeria where the federating nations have the right to self-determination, autonomy and self-rule will ensure the country’s survival and stability.
In the immediate years leading to the Nigerian independence in 1960, while casting around for a country whose geo-political model to adopt, the late elder statesman, Chief Anthony Enahoro, said, three of them, namely: lawyer Egbuna from the East, Ahmadu Kano, not related to Aminu Kano from the North and his humble self from the West visited Washington as delegates from Nigeria to understudy the United States model. They were told point-blank at the State Department that the US will be a wrong model for Nigeria.
The United State of America, they were told, is made up of over 90 percent immigrant settlers with less than 10 percent native Americans compared with Nigeria with over 95 percent indigenous population and less than five percent settler inhabitants. The countries to look up to, they were advised, could be Britain, India or Switzerland. The Indian federation, more especially, because like Nigeria, India, a former British colony is a land of diverse culture and a motley of ethnic nationalities. Virtually, all the Nigerian prominent political leaders, including the three regional premiers, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello before and immediately after independence visited India to study how their system works. The system that was strictly followed by the post independence leaders was abandoned by the military regimes on coming to power, for the untested and unfamiliar American presidential system
At the peak of the debates at the United Nations for the adoption of the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the government of India had always maintained that it will continue to build up a society that respects the rights of self determination to the federating nationalities, rooted in land reforms and sustainable democracy. It should be remembered that Nigeria was not created to serve the interest of the tribes now inhabiting the territory but to serve the socio-economic interest of Europe that established the country.
By 1960, the number of educational institutions in the Western region alone were more than all the educational institutions in the East and Northern regions put together. Yet, it was the legislators drawn from the two less developed zones that voted to disrupt the dynamic civilization that was unfolding in the Western region against the ruling of the Privy Council, the then highest court in the land that the declaration of a state of emergency on May 29, 1962 in the West was ill advised, unconstitutional, null and avoid.
It was solemn on August 30 in Ibadan seeing speaker after speaker reeling out tablets of lamentations over past injustices but high in the spirit of hope for a better and new Yoruba race. Said, Dipo Famakinwa, a member of the planning committee, we have the advantage of early exposure to education. Though Yoruba are just 24 percent of Nigeria population, they have according to some estimates about 50 percent of Nigerian university graduates, over 60 percent holders of Ph.D degrees and widely thought to be the most literate people on the African continent.”
Without mincing words, General Akinrinade, convener of the talk shop, said, “the Yoruba are at cross roads in a country facing perilous times amidst the multiplicity of the unresolved crisis of development and nation building. The region now thirsts for the return of the Awolowo era when it took the lead in all sectors.” It is interesting that the present generations of the Yoruba race are getting conscious about the mistakes made by the founding nationalists, the mistakes which shut their eyes and mind against the obvious differences among the distinct nationalities during the nationalist struggles. General Alani Akinrinade is not a stranger to the Nigeria tragedy cum comedy politics of unending transition. He fought in the Nigeria- Biafra war from 1967-1970. He retired from the service of the Nigeria Military as the Chief of Army Staff, with the rank of a General.
I first met General Akinrinade, 45 years ago, in 1967, then a major in the Nigeria Army Second Division Command at Asaba, after the liberation of the Midwest, now Edo and Delta States from the Biafra occupation. I was a war correspondent for the Allied Newspapers, publishers of the Tribune and the defunct, Midwest Echo.
He moved to the Third Marine Commando before Port Harcourt was liberated in September 1968. He was one of the pro-democracy thinkers, intellectuals and activists in NADECO who fought on the side of justice which the battle against the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by Chief M.K.O Abiola represented. He joined other NADECO compatriots in exile to fight for the return of democracy to Nigeria. I met him in London on many occasions, during the NADECO days where he participated in so many meetings including those organized by the World Coordinating Council of Indigenous Peoples and International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests, advocating for the adoption of both the United Nations. Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the rights of peoples to self-determination in heterogeneous states.
General Akinrinade speaks from the point of knowledge and information. He was one of the prominent Nigerians who encouraged and supported the late elder statesman, Chief Anthony Enahoro, to lead the organization of a people’s national conference under the Pro-national Conference Organisation (PRONACO), from October 1, 2005 to August 5, 2007. The conference came out with a draft constitution for a new Nigeria. Sometimes, he and Dr. Amos Akingba of the Movement for Yoruba Autonomy (MOYA) will stay with the Chief at his Ikeja GRA residence until the late hours of the night, discussing the basis of a future Nigeria. When leaders of General Akinrinade’s pedigree speak in any nation, their views are given serious thought and consideration. There has been endorsement of the principles of internal self determination by all the resourceful countries including the U.S, Britain, Russia, China, Brazil, India, Spain, South Africa and others within the United Nations systems.
The reason why political scientists and activists are railing against centrally controlled administrations in nation states may be the fear of geo-political domination. It is much more than that. A large population of the world opinion feels it will be too dangerous to concentrate the management of the affairs of hundreds of diverse nationalities with different languages, cultures, customs, traditions, pedigrees, nuances, life-styles, histories and heritages in few hands. There in also the fear that a few cranks may force themselves to power by any means, democratic or undemocratic and hang on to power for generations, giving millions of humankind a great hell of trouble, torment, turmoil and torture without any outlet for redress.
A situation in which the few super rich elite want to perpetuate themselves in power for their own interest and the interest of their children and children’s children is frightening. Those who are insisting on retaining the present ailing status quo are afraid that they and their offspring may lose their present privileges. They should be educated and assisted to know that they will lose nothing but have more to benefit in a restructured Nigeria of equal opportunities for all.
Alfred Ilenre is Secretary General, Ethnic, Minority and Indigenous Rights Organisation of Africa (EMIROAF).
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