I was born on October 16, 1960 and consequently I celebrated my 53rd birthday last Wednesday. It was a quiet low-key affair in which, as is customary with me, I spent most of the day in fasting, prayer and sober reflection, surrounded by my loved ones, thanking the Lord for granting me yet another year of life and for delivering me from the hands of my numerous detractors and enemies.
I also took the time to thank my dear wife and soul mate, Regina, for standing by me through thick and thin and for being such a blessing and my darling children who have had to put up with a father that is fast becoming one of the most controversial, misrepresented and misunderstood figures in Nigerian modern history- a title which I neither crave nor relish.
It is because it is my birthday that I decided to share a few home truths today that will gladden the hearts of some but that may sadden others. Yet the truth must be spoken and even if my voice is drowned by the cacophony of dissent and rancour that sometimes trail such literary interventions, let it be on record that on this day the seed of truth and liberation was planted and the idea of a new beginning for a people that I have come to love more than life itself, my people, the Yoruba people of south western Nigeria, was berthed. And for these views, these ideas, these contributions and these philosophies, as disagreeable as they may be to some, I offer no apology. One of the basic truisms of nationhood is that we as a people must appreciate our roots.
We cannot despise our roots and set them aside and expect to flourish. We cannot deny our family and claim to be a responsible member of the wider society. Yes we are Nigerians but every Nigerian has a foundation and a root out of which he sprouted.
There is no such thing as a Nigerian who did not come from somewhere or who did not come out of a nationality that is a constituent and vital part of the wider nation. Nigeria is blessed with many proud, strong, distinct, noble, enlightened and sophisticated nationalities that make up the whole and each of them brings something or other to the table.
From the Fulani to the Hausa, to the Nupe, to the Bini, to the Ijaw, to the Igbo, to the Kanuri, to the Idoma, to the Tiv, to the Urhobo, to the Itsekiri, to the Bacahama, to the Ishan, to the Igbira, to the Igalla, to the Efik, to the Ibibio, to the Isoko, to the Shuwa arab, to the Kataf, to the Kwale, to the Jaba, to the Zuru, to the Kilba, to the Kalabari, to the Ikwere, to the Gula, to the Gwari, to the Margui and so on and so forth, we all have something to offer and we all have a sense of self-worth and self-respect which was established and cultivated many years before Nigeria even came into existence. None of us must ever forget that beautiful root from whence we came for without it we become worthless.
For Nigeria to be great each, and every one of its nationalities must first flourish and they must all be in a position to achieve their full potentials. I am a Yoruba man and I take immense pride in that. And contrary to the views of many, the Yoruba, like all the other wonderful nationalities that reside in the Nigerian space, are not a mere tribe.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of not being properly educated is the fact that those that suffer from that affliction often accept everything that their slave and colonial masters and ethnic overlords tell them and, without thinking, they swallow the fables and labels hook, line and sinker. When a supposedly educated person insists on labelling a nation of highly advanced people, who have existed for thousands of years as a distinct race, who have had their own empires, who are the most educationally and culturally advanced on the African continent, who have a single language with approximately 20 different dialects within them, who have contributed more to the industrial, commercial and intellectual growth of Nigeria than any other, who have a rich and illustrious history and heritage which few in Africa can match, who number at least 50 million in Nigeria alone and who constitute the largest number of African people living in the diaspora on earth, whose people have spread all over the world and have strong historical, cultural, religious and ethnic roots in Benin Republic, Ghana, Togo, Haiti, Brazil, Cuba and many other places, whose people have settled into and legitimately lay claim to Ilorin, Kabba, Akoko Edo and other parts of northern and mid-western Nigeria, whose offspring and progenitor established many kingdoms including the Bini Kingdom, whose pantheon of gods and traditional religion of ifa is respected and practised in many parts of the world, whose historical, philosophical, religious and cultural contributions to Ancient Egypt are well known and well documented, whose level of sophistication and exposure to the knowledge of western education is second to none and whose sense of liberalism, justice, decency, hospitality and fairness is not understood, appreciated or reciprocated by any other ethnic group or nationality in Nigeria and so much more and that supposedly educated person still insists on calling such people, despite their sheer numbers and their homogenous geographical setting, a mere “tribe”, then you know that that person is truly misguided.
You may call others a tribe if you so choose but not the Yoruba. We number as many people as almost the whole of the UK or France and far many more than three quarters of the countries on the European continent and our history dates back as far as that of the Celts, the Normans, the Vikings, the Romans, the Greeks, the Egyptians and the Anglo-Saxons. Our forefathers are amongst those that went to the best institutions of higher learning and citadels of excellence in the world like Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Durham universities as far back as the early 1800s and they became the first lawyers, doctors, scientists, intellectuals, poets, writers, journalists, philosophers, priests and free thinkers on the African continent. Little wonder that our former colonial masters resolved in their hearts that we must never be allowed to take power at the centre because they saw us as their equals as opposed to being their serfs. We were right at the top whilst others were still living in villages in the deepest and darkest parts of the African forest. We forged and built great empires that we nurtured and protected with all that we had.
Ours was not a primitive inheritance but a noble and righteous one that was established by the Living God and the hard work of our forefathers. And it is the memory of those great and powerful forefathers that I invoke today when I ask how far has our noble heritage taken us in the contraption called Nigeria? How have we fared as a people? For better or for worse? Our children ask us, ”Was it always like this” and who ”were” the Yoruba? They no longer ask who ”ARE” the Yoruba but who ”WERE” the Yoruba? Sadly that is our plight today- a people whose children regard them as ”once were” and no longer ”are”.
We are still who and what we once were and it shall always be so no matter what Nigeria and the world does to us. We are a nation, not a tribe. And we are a nation that is craving for recognition and nationhood. A nation borne out of centuries of sacrifice, hard work, perseverance and diligence and whose foundation is unsullied, noble and pure. We are a nation within a nation that is beginning to berth and that is eagerly waiting to be born.
Today we invoke the spirits and rekindle the memories of our forefathers and we weep for our people. What do we tell them about how we fared after they left us and went into eternity? This struggle belongs to our generation yet the question needs to be asked- have we lived up to expectation as they did? Have we asked the relevant questions, provided the appropiate answers and fought the good and noble fight as they once did? We remember with great pride, great men and women of Yoruba stock that have passed on and we reflect on their noble struggle through the ages.
Men and women that stood up when it mattered the most and made a difference like Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Sapara Williams, Richard Akinwande-Savage, Kitoye Ajasa, Cissie Obasa, Eric Moore, Herbert Macauly, Joseph Egerton-Shyngle, Curtis Adeniyi-Jones, Adeyemo Alakija, Theophilius Adebayo Doherty, Victor Adedapo Kayode, Akinola Maja, Joseph Akanni Doherty, Kofo Abayomi, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Wuraola Esan, J.C Vaughan, H.O. Davis, Adegoke Adelabu, Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, Remilekun Adetokunbo Fani-Kayode, Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams, Bode Thomas, Adesoji Aderemi, Odeleye Fadahunsi, Oduola Osuntokun, Emmanuel Okunsanya Okunowo, Moses Majekodunmi, Adetokunbo Adegboyega Ademola, Benjamin Oluwakayode Osuntokun, Josiah Olawoyin, S.L. Edu, Samuel Shonibare, Matthew Abonmagbe-Okupe, Dauda Adegbenro, S.O.Gbadamosi, Adeniran Ogunsanya, T.O.S Benson, Augustus Meredith Adisa Akinloye, Adekunle Fajuyi, Samuel Ademulegun, R.A. Shodeinde, Olusola Saraki, MKO Abiola, Bola Ige, Micheal Ajasin, Abraham Adesanya, Ganiyu Dawodu, Adewale Thompson, Solanke Onasanya, Kudirat Abiola, Emmanuel Omotehinwa and dozens of others that are too numerous to mention.
These names shall never be forgotten and those who bear them should hold their heads up high for theirs is a noble lineage. Yet many ask what is next for this great and illustrious nationality and this berthing nation called the Yoruba? How do we achieve our full potentials and become that which God has ordained us to be? Can this be done within the confines of the Nigerian state? Some have argued, quite rightly, that the way out is to have a Sovereign National Conference that will renegotiate the terms of our unity and revisit the very question of our existence as a nation. Yet the truth is that the forces that control the centre in Nigeria and that have controlled it since 1914 will never allow that to happen without a fight.
It is their intention and desire to keep us together as one in a flawed and failed unitary state with it’s federal facade in perpetuity regardless of the grave damage that such a venture has wrought upon our people over the last 99 years. Successive President’s in the last few decades have offered government-sponsored national conferences none of which are sovereign and each of which could not possibly solve our fundamental problems or properly answer our nationality question.
The mantra has always been that the unity of Nigeria is ”not negotiable” and our resolutions were always subject to their approval or the approval of some unrepresentative and questionable National Assembly which hardly represented the interests and views of the numerous nationalities in our country. We have one year to go before we achieve 100 years of being together as one entity and I believe that it is time for us to have a rethink and determine how we want the next 100 years to be. It is time for us to question all these so-called ”settled issues”, ”no-go areas”, ”non-negotiables” and ”givens”.
We can no longer be satisfied and content with the failed answers and ideas of a vain and fanciful unity that exists only in our minds and in our imaginations. An illusionary unity that our fathers and forefathers held so dear and even fought a civil war to maintain and uphold. Given the nature of those that control the centre today and their unholy intentions for the rest of the country we must revisit that question of unity and we must ask ourselves ”at what price?”
The world is not static – it is dynamic and it is changing fast. Kingdoms come and kingdoms go. Empires fall and empires rise. Nations break and new nations are formed. The world is changing and the great people and numerous nationalities that make up Nigeria must espouse that change, accept it and not be left behind. What was good for yesterday may not be good for today. And what is good for today may not have been good for yesterday.
That is where we are today- on the threshold of change. And I believe that the time for that change is now. It is a new dawn, a new day and a new era. And I fervently believe that the God of heaven and He who sits above the circles of the earth is about to do something new, something refreshing and something very dramatic. Why? Because we are a nation, not a tribe.