Rising wave of insecurity and loss of lives. Ethno-religious related upheavals. Unresolved farmers/herders clashes. An ailing economy. Increasing poverty rate among the population. Real and perceived imbalance in appointments into political and other sensitive positions. These are the key issues and complaints that have dominated the discourse when various self-determination groups and ethnic nationalities voice out their desires to secede from Nigeria.
Allegations have specifically been rife that the current administration has continued to treat alleged criminalities by his kinsmen with kids gloves just as the security agencies have been accused of failing to provide adequate security in the face of threats posed to other tribes by Fulani herdsmen.
The agitations of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) led by the British-Nigerian activist, Nnamdi Okwu Kanu, are fresh. The group pushed for the secession of the Southeast from Nigeria. But security forces were dispatched to quell the agitation while Kanu left to fight another day.
Recently, the North-Central Peoples Forum (NCPF) broke away from the umbrella body of northern Nigeria, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), triggering fears in some quarters about the unity of the north and indeed Nigeria. Concerned stakeholders hinted of the need to “do something urgently to douse the tension ragging among the ethnic nationalities.”
In floating the group, however, prominent leaders in the North Central cited security challenges in the region as key reason. This came on the heels of the emergence of a similar group, from the ACF, North East Elders Forum, NEEF, barely two months ago.
The latest rumbling of discontent is now sounding off in Southwest Nigeria. A Pan Yoruba group, O’odua Nationalist Coalition (ONAC), has called on Yoruba people to prepare for a sovereign nation, called ‘Oodua Republic.’
Reacting to the call, a chieftain of Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Pa Ayo Adebanjo lamented that many socio-cultural groups now seem tired of discussing restructuring hence the secession song. He blamed the governance style of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration for aggravation of sufferings on Nigerians.
He observed that sustained herdsmen killings, among other security concerns, recently pushed the six governors of the Southwest to establish a new security network, codenamed Amotekun, in a bid to bolster security of lives and property in the region.
Although, the development triggered different reactions across the country, with a section of the North and government seeing it as a step ahead of a possible secession plan by the southwest, the Middle Belt regarded it as a step worth emulating in securing their territories and people from the excesses of the Fulani.
Recall that the Yoruba nation has been at the forefront in the demand for restructuring and true federalism. But it may be growing weary, what with the new song of secession.
There are insinuations that the Aare Onakankanfo of Yoruba Land, Otunba Gani Adams may be part of those championing the demand for Oodua Republic following some of his recent comments. Another opinion is that Adams may be planning surreptitiously to thwart the chances of the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, currently perceived to be nursing ambition to contest the 2023 presidential election. In a recent social media video, Adams did not hide his feelings of discontent with those he accused of betraying the interest of Yoruba because of their selfish reasons and personal gains.
Leaders of O’odua Nationalist Coalition (ONAC), Oluwole Suleiman, Michael Popoola and Mrs. Aduke Fadahunsi have, however, stressed the need for the creation of a Yoruba sovereign nation, Oodua Republic became necessary in the face of lingering problems and conflict built around the national question that has stunted the growth of Nigeria for over a century.
They claimed that the conflict has again reared its head 50 years after a civil war that inflicted pain and misery on the Yoruba people, apart from distorting the development plan of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo for the Southwest.
ONAC is made up of 18 Pan Yoruba groups including the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Oodua Liberation Movement (OLM), Oodua Republic Coalition (ORC), Yoruba Revolutionary Congress (YORC), Oodua Muslim-Christian Dialogue Group (OMDG), Yoruba Students Nationalist Front (YOSNF), Oodua Hunters Union (OHUN) and 11 other groups.
ONAC maintained that going by earlier call by Northern youths asking Igbo to quit the North, the outright demand for Arewa sovereignty by the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), the legitimate demand for Biafra by Igbo, the call for a Niger-Delta Republic, it is high time Yoruba people stood up for Oodua Republic without further delay. “Yoruba people, this time, will not support any attack on self-determination. We shall mobilise the masses and prevent Yoruba people from being used for any attack on the long-suffering indigenous peoples of the Southeast and the South-South,” the group added.
But how realistic is the Oodua Republic being demanded given the division among Yoruba leaders, elders, politicians and all its socio-cultural groups? For instance, the presumed apex socio-cultural Afenifere is currently factionalised into three, with one, led by the late Pa Ayo Fasanmi and being said to be loyal to Tinubu, on the side of the Federal Government. That faction lent support to President Buhari in the 2019 general elections. The faction led by Pa Reuben Fasoranti tilted towards the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and backed the former Vice President, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku in the same election. The third group is the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) led by Wale Oshun.
The irresolvable crisis in Afenifere gave birth to Yoruba Unity Forum (YUF), which at one time claimed to be the umbrella body of all socio-cultural groups in Yoruba land but has become a shadow of itself since the death of its leader, Mrs. Hannah Awolowo, wife of former leader of Yoruba, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. In similar vein, the voice of Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) is only heard through its Secretary General, Dr. Kunle Olajide. Worst still, there is no form of cohesion among the Yoruba traditional rulers just as the newly formed Yoruba World Congress (YWC) that was formerly headed by Professor Seth Akintoye is currently hit by leadership tussle.
Examining the workability of secession in the face of highlighted challenges, scholars, political leaders and elder statesmen called for caution and warned against the likely consequences of an idea they termed ‘untimely.’
Majority of the voices that spoke said it was imperative of necessary stakeholders in the region to act swiftly and not allow some militia groups to put the Yoruba nation against other ethnic nationalities in the country. They also warned against the serious consequences inherent in such move not just for Yoruba race but the country.
In a reaction, titled: ‘Looming Oodua secessionist tragedy – Southwest rulers, governors and people’s honour at stake,’ a Professor of Communication in the Department of English, University of Abuja, Taofiq Adesina Azeez said “to describe the ongoing agitation for Oodua Republic as a tragic commentary on the assumed integrity, intelligence and enlightenment of the people of the region is, for want of better words to describe the distasteful drama.”
The don said it was unthinkable that a race reputed as the most educated in this contraption called Nigeria will choose miscreants to fight their cause, appoint an erudite Professor as Prime Minister before asking for the republic through rallies. While the miscreants can be forgiven for not knowing that a project such as this is a mirage, the professor and the elite cannot be pardoned.
He noted that the demand is a mirage for two reasons. “One, it is ill-timed and, therefore, ill-fated. Two, it is in violent clash with enlightened procedures, which the educated people of the region should know even if the miscreants could not learn from the recent experience of fellow Nigerians.”
He added: “We cannot afford to divide before a battle with our enemies. Not now that our political structure is at the weakest and our politicians are most vulnerable. Not now that some great minds are beginning to objectively appraise the merit of true Federalism and the value of unemotional restructuring. Not now.”
Professor Azeez said it required two methods to create a Republic from an existing one: “Universal Referendum procedure, which may take several years and ‘Unilateral Declaration,’ otherwise known as secession. Either way, nothing good will come to the Southwest. The first one will take our time, energy and resources while the rest of the World will carry on ignoring our grumblings. The second option will be suicidal. The remaining part of the country will jump at the opportunity to crush the arrogant but envied race. They have done it before.
“They will want to “Keep Nigeria One” as usual and, in the process, move over and level the region. At the end of the day, the rich miscreants and their sponsors would run away to their masters and leave the poor masses to sulk as they often do.”
Azeez added that the foreign powers would pretend they are officiating/mediating while they sell their weapons. And that may be the end of the race. “The biggest setback would be if there is counter rally on October 1 and we are further divided along sectarian sentiments. If the traditional rulers, the governments and the enlightened people of the Southwest are not in support of this imminent bloodbath and self-annihilation, they should speak up now or declare their supports so that ordinary people will know who to hold responsible.
“We are watching and while doing so, we would hold our rulers and governors responsible for every drop of the precious blood of our people from this moment on,” he said.
President, Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Aare Prince Osibote, who succeeded the founder of the group, the late Dr. Fredrick Fasehun, said secession song is not what Yoruba need for now.
Osibote said not even at a time when the sincerity of leaders, elders and political practitioners of the region to the demand for restructuring is still questionable. “It is unthinkable that some groups of Yoruba are now imagining Oodua Republic seceding from Nigeria.”
Osibote said if up till now, our leaders and elders are yet to tell us the actual story behind our failure to actualise June 12, 1993 Presidential mandate of the late Chief M.K.O Abiola, acclaimed winner of the election, then we should question the credibility of those behind the agitation for Oodua Republic.
He warned those championing what he described as totally ignorant secession demand to remember that Southwest region is at its lowest ebb and is being confronted with numerous internal challenges, which are yet to be addressed. “To add secession to it, we will just turn ourselves into laughing stock before other regions. Such agitation, as good as it sounds, is ill-timed and cannot be achieved now.”
He warned the six governors of the region to realise that such a big issue could not be left for ‘nonentities’ or those in the Diaspora to champion for us, saying, the orchestrators should either be ignored or called to order and be educated on the danger involved. “We also need to know whether those behind the agenda are doing so genuinely or because of what they intend to get as reward,” he added.
The OPC chief said there was nothing wrong in Yoruba contesting the presidency in the 2023 election as long as whoever is going to get there will perform and move the country out of the woods. “The present government is not doing well and the democracy we are practicing today is not what we fought for. But the issue on ground requires wisdom. Yoruba elders must purge themselves and allow mutual trust to reign in their midst.”
A second republic lawmaker, who pleaded anonymity, said there were better ways to address the issues confronting Nigeria than calling for secession or Oodua Republic. The octogenarian, appealed to the indulgence of Yoruba youths behind the agitation to rest the call for Oodua Republic and embrace better options to resolve the Nigerian questions. “I don’t blame our youths for what they are doing. The state of the nation calls for desperation but secession would not bring the solution,” he said.
A don and Fellow, Nigerian Academy of Letters, Department of History & Strategic Studies, University of Lagos, Professor Ayo Olukoju said his reading of media reports and online discussions has led him to some uncomfortable observations and hunches. “It appears that the clamour in the Southwest reflects a growing disenchantment by a cross section of Nigerian citizens with how the country is run. First, the lopsidedness in appointments at the federal level since 2015 has exacerbated feelings of alienation and exclusion. It is ironic that the same section of the country that enjoys affirmative action (Quota Admissions into federal schools) is violating the Federal Character Principle, designed, like the Quota Policy, to give all Nigerians a sense of belonging.
“Nigerians have never seen such brazen nepotism and violation of the Federal Character Principle in federal appointments as is the case since 2015. It has simply polarised the country into first and second class citizens! Second, the insecurity occasioned by kidnapping and rapings perpetrated by criminal herdsmen in the deep South, has bred resentment as it appears that the federal security agencies, headed by persons from the same geopolitical zone as the marauders, have been indulgent in dealing with the criminals. Such an attitude has driven the victimized populations into their primordial shells. Third, the stridency of the agitations by IPOB (and MASSOB before it) and the suppression of the separatist movement have rather motivated similar movements elsewhere.
“Fourth, the apparent calculated onslaught against minority communities in certain parts of the North has alarmed others who feel it might be their turn once the northern minorities are subjugated. Obviously, the crises across the country differ from place to place. It appears that increasing loss of confidence in the ability of the federal authorities to guarantee security, economic development and social justice has led to the recent agitations, especially in the face of worsening economic conditions on the one hand, and, on the other, reports of profligacy and mismanagement of public funds by politicians across parties.”
Olukoju said as for the Southwest, there are feelings that it has been badly treated by its Northern partners in the APC government that could not have won elections in 2015 and 2019 without its support. “The feeling of having been used and dumped appears to lie behind the fresh separatist agitation there. An additional cause is the disappointment that the region’s longstanding demand for restructuring for regional autonomy in economic development and security has been jettisoned by its partners. The federal government hostility to the Amotekun, the new security initiative is a case in point.”
But the professor of history noted that the disparate voices championing the Yoruba cause and such fractiousness cannot produce results. According to him, “Without disrespecting the organisers and promoters, the infusion of a group of sober and objective intellectuals to complement their raw enthusiasm with organisational and policy solidity is essential. Formation of a regional movement or sub-national government should be well thought out. Sloganeering or sentimental declarations cannot replace hardheaded policy and governance.”
A former Editorial Board member of The Guardian and one time Lagos State governorship aspirant under the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD), Utman Shodipe described the call for the Oodua Republic as largely a disavowal and a disapproval of the deepening imbalances in the Nigerian state. “It is a rejection of the observable skewed indices in a distorted federation.”
According to him, “Having acknowledged the deepening wrongs and the aberrations on the ground, do you merely declare some kind of angry, unreflective separatist agenda? Absolutely no. It is true that there are innumerable anomalies in the constituents of the Nigerian state. The polity is skewed. The leadership is stripped of visionary candor. There is no serious attempt to weld together an equitable, embracing, accommodating largeness. But jumping from one wrong in some tempestuous, radical reaction in the guise of rectifying what is not just and right is basically doubling up on the widening conflicts. Oodua Republic is definitely not the answer now.”
He added: “Of course the Yoruba youths are angry and justifiably feel alienated from this polity. But there are better ways than the recourse to dramatic and aggressive withdrawal to the construct of a separate state. I believe in moderating gradualism. You do not quell a seething storm with a whirlwind. We must steer ourselves to the thoughtfulness and calm reasonableness of the peace table where the national vision and ideals should be renegotiated in a sincere, genuine, workable definitions of a new deal. By this, I subscribe to a total re-evaluation and overhaul of the present aberrations with the determined fixity to rebuild a more equitable nation where there is respect for and deference to our disparate identities and values.”
Spokesman of Yoruba socio cultural organisation, Afenifere, Mr Yinka Odumakin said the growing calls for self-determination in Yorubaland is a fallout of the increasing mismanagement and frustration with the overt divisiveness in Nigeria.”
The Director General, Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN), Mr. Seye Oyeleye said nation building requires consensus. “It means great nations are forged in the crucible of constant negotiations. So, we shouldn’t talk about whether the call of the agitators should be yesterday or now, or tomorrow. What we should talk about is the response to the agitations.”
He said the protest for Oodua Republic cannot be singled out, as “there are many agitations in Nigeria that demand critical attention and deliberation. Our leaders, particularly at the National Assembly, should be proactive in putting these issues on the front burner before such snowballs into public protest.
“On its implications for the southwest, there can be nothing negative. This is because our leaders are responsive to such issues and a lot of engagements are ongoing in that direction. We can only be better for it as a country when all views, thoughts and agitations are thrown into the mixer and from it comes a better and progressive country.”