Yoruba Ancestry: What They Couldn’t See, What We Can See, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú

If we get our acts together, educate our children to global standards, we could create a Yoruba regional miracle within the continent with the rapidly growing workforce. Our fathers say the war does not affect the wise cripple. How we prepare for the coming population boom is the single most important long-term challenge we face. We have to reform the use of land.

Bí ekòló bá júbà ilè, ilè á la’nu. Bí omodé bá mo’wó wè á bá àgbà jeun. Ìbà Olorun, ìbà ènìyàn. Ìbà eyín tí Elédùmarè gbé ilé ayé lé lówó, ìbà okùnrin, ìbà obìnrin, ìbà omodé, ìbà àgbà. E jé kí ó jú mií se.

The “they” in my title refers to our ancestors. What are the things they did not see or could not have forseen? Those things that have defined us and circumscribed our destiny to this day? What are we seeing now that points to the future of the Yoruba?

I call on all to come with me on an imaginative journey to the two ends of a time spectrum – the evolution of an ethno-nationality that is over 40 million strong with majority within the Nigerian borders. The Yoruba make up 21 percent of Nigeria’s population. Our population is larger than most African states and we are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa.

What are the things our ancestors did not see that defined us? What are we seeing now that points to the future of the Yoruba? This discourse will take us from the 1800 to 2100. I will attempt to find answers to cogent questions that we must answer or prepare to face, if we must survive as a people into the next century. I will try my best possible to envision a future for us, within the limits of my imagination and knowledge. It will be an expedition into what our ancestors couldn’t see, what we can see and forecast. To be able to predict the future, we must be able to see trends and make projections thereof. On account of this, I ask: What is the role of the Yoruba in the global knowledge economy? How will social, economic, technological and political trends affect the Yoruba? What is the future of ethnic nationalities within the confines of a nation state? Can the Yoruba be the basis of a globalising agenda? How do we tackle the youth question within our ethnocultural context? What will history say of today’s youth in 100 years? Come with me!

Nisinsinyi, mo ni lati juba awon agba, agba, awon ojogbon ninu imo ijinle itan wa, Ojogbon Banji Akintoye ati Ojogbon Olutayo Adesina. Mo dupe gidigidi lowo awon ti o ka mi ye, lati duro ni agbegbe awon eniyan nla wonyi. E ku ise ilu, e ku laakaye, e ku ai s’aare. Ko ni su yin. Ko ni re yin. Oro wa o si ni su Eledumare. At this point, before I reveal my peripheral knowledge of Yoruba history, I will have to acknowledge a man whose book I have read many times, Prof. Banji Akintoye. His work, together with the immense contributions of Samuel Johnson and Prof. J.D.Y Peel have informed my deep appreciation for our history. Those of you who were in Detroit, Michigan with me last year may recall the title of my keynote lecture to the American Chapter of the Afenifere Renewal group; “Iponju Makes Me Yoruba, What Else?” I argued that the Yoruba have no collective identity. I posited that the Omoluabi ethos we espouse and hold is an individual identity. In that gathering, I called on us to embrace a collective identity, and that a Yoruba collective identity cannot be anchored on ethnoculturalism alone but also on economic and political integration. In that lecture I recommended an immutable Yoruba ideal – a YORUBA SPIRIT based on unity, character and Integrity. This is based on the notion that the idea of the Yoruba has always been linked to the pursuit of the values of Isokan, Iwa ati Otito. I maintain here yet again that other than innovation, our surival is hinged on a forceful, united, unified and purposeful identity. We must create a Yoruba Spirit, the ideals to live by that must never be broken, infringed upon or dishonoured, regardless of our political, religious, social and economic differences. Good people, you will see how this lack of a central ideal has exacted detrimental costs in our pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial life, and how we can get out of it.

Yoruba, as epitomised by the Oyo empire was at its climax in the 18th century. Its gradual disintegration was occasioned by the political struggle between Alaafin Abiodun and the Oyo Mesi over the policy thrust of peaceful diplomacy favoured by the Alaafin, as opposed to the military adventurism of the Oyo Mesi. The decline became noticeable during Alaafin Abiodun’s reign. He got rid of the notorious Basorun Gaa but it was just the beginning. He had many open confrontations with political leaders; he survived a revolt but an intractable constitutional crisis had already been created despite his military successes. The failures of his administration hastened the fall of Oyo Empire. Succession crises ravaged Oyo after the death of Alaafin Abiodun. The conspiracy and distrust bred political instability that weakened the Alaafin stool. With instability, city-states resented Oyo’s hegemony. Lisabi Agbongbogbo Akala led Egba’s revolt and quest for independence, Abomey stopped paying Ìsákólè to Alaafin in 1818. The agitation for independence among many city-states signaled the wanning of Oyo’s authority and influence.

Our forefathers were handicapped. Their conceptual framework of traditional knowledge was localised. This localisation of knowledge did not prepare them for what was to come. They were unable to foresee a new political destiny, an economic destiny, a new sociocultural destiny that would shape them for the next 200 years.

If Alaafin Abiodun presided over a weakened empire, Alaafin Aole lost it. He lost it over his inability to handle Afonja, the Aare Ona Kankanfo. Aole had ordered Afonja to attack Iwere-Ile, the maternal home of Alaafin Abiodun. Afonja ignored the order and it deepened the rivalry and distrust between him and Aole. The supremacy led Afonja to attack Oyo with the help of the Fulanis, who were the new settlers in Ilorin under Alimi. Oyo was destroyed, and a new Oyo was rebuilt at Ago-Oja under Alaafin Atiba. With Ilorin firmly under Fulani control, Yoruba lost its northern outpost and its central defence system. It was a death blow, recovery proved impossible as there began a radical power shift that saw the emergence of four political powers. Ibadan gained military ascendancy with its Generals called Basorun. Prominent among them were Oluyole, Ogunmola and and many others. Kunrunmi brought Ijaye into reckoning as a military power. The geographic location of the Ijebu made them an economic hub and the Egba confederacy with its own military power. When Oyo fell between 1826 and 1827, intra-tribal wars ravaged Yoruba land until the British-led armistice treaty was signed in 1886.

Our ancestors, the 19th century Yoruba had knowledge (Ìmò), understanding (Òye), and Wisdom (Ogbón). Their political knowledge did not transcend the concept of kingship. Their intellectual inquisition did not go beyond what Òrúnmìlà left for us – the Ifa corpus. Even then and till date, the exegesis of Ifa as a body of knowledge and how it can shape contemporary thinking has never been explored. The Yoruba were strong! They had trade, diplomacy, defence, education, a unified language and dominant culture. Even though they were militarily strong and politically sophisticated, there was a limiting intellectual factor, a conceptual failure that did not prepare them for the two things that drastically changed them from kingdoms and empires. Our forefathers were handicapped. Their conceptual framework of traditional knowledge was localised. This localisation of knowledge did not prepare them for what was to come. They were unable to foresee a new political destiny, an economic destiny, a new sociocultural destiny that would shape them for the next 200 years. What was that conceptual and intellectual failure? It was their concept of AYE! The world!

Yoruba was Aye! Their conception of the world was faulty, it was not global. Aye was esoteric, material and spiritual. Aye was not geographical to the Yoruba. Their concept of Aye was too local and it informed the local nature of their traditional pedagogies, epistemology and traditional knowledge systems. Before Aye became Agbaye, Colonialism happened to them and it happened quickly. The limitations of Aye philosophy created a special Ìyà that started with colonialism, progressed into being carved along with others into Nigeria and now Federalism.

What Is the Role Of the Yoruba In the Global Knowledge Economy?

This is the first of those pertinent questions I highlighted at the beginning. By the time colonialism happened, the Yoruba’s conceptual framework expanded; Aye became Agbaye. Today, we have Agba Nla Aye and Aye Lujara as our globalisation framework. They couldn’t see it then, now we can! The future belongs to the young and educated. Do we have them? Maybe a sprinkle! We simply do not have the education to compete. The Yoruba traditional, political and economic elite can create the Yoruba of the future. I hereby call you into existence! Start today! Create it now! We created an education framework at Oshogbo under the auspices of the Development Agenda For Western Nigeria (DAWN) and hosted by the State of Osun. Please help make it a regional policy. Apart from that, there is no recommendation I can make here in terms of regional competitiveness that is not in the OneBloc document.

We have lost almost two generations to miseducation. They are lost! We can embark on a salvage mission but the best effort of the current youth demographic can only produce semi-skilled labour. If we must exist as a competitive ethnonationality in the next 100 years, we must start planning for a child that will be conceived tonight. We must teach them that our culture, language and values can coexist with openness and cosmopolitanism. Yoruba of the future can only exist if we tie our ethnocultural and ethnonational identity that is shaping how we live and will be living in the next 200 years to innovation. We must understand that the innovations of hypermodernity projects and embeds the culture and values of their creators. With all the hypermodernity of Dubai, has anyone referred to the gulf state as the West? Dubai is about Arabian ethnonationality. If you have any modicum of doubt about how innovation diffuses the culture of its creators, take a look at Twitter. Twitter epitomises the practicality of the American. It is the best reference to the American drive-thru culture. It is the philosophy of Òrò púpò iró ló nmú wá. Twitter sucks you into the adoption of the cultural tastes of American ethnonationalism. What is the Yoruba taste? Yorubaland is the emerging hub of technological innovation in Nigeria, how are we defining it? A Yoruba man owns Nairaland, what can we identify as Yoruba in the ontology of Nairaland? What Yoruba philosophy drives it? My people! Innovation is not neutral! It carries culture and its associations. Innovation is a distinctive purveyor of ethnonationalism. While we disdain our culture and cultural products, globalisation has continued to take Western colourations. The spread of global cultural products, popular culture, and the diffusion of knowledge and ideas is predominantly Western. While we face the crisis of legitimation, many of our cultural traditions and products are undergoing the globalising influence of innovative packaging and free markets where they are commodified and marketed as “ethnic” or “organic” with a premium price tag.

How Will Social, Economic, Technological and Political Trends Affect the Yoruba?

Land resources, technology and human capital have always been the determinants of national power. Every successful nation has used these three factors to defeat their enemies for centuries. The way we can stem the tide and turn the corner as a region and become successful is to jumpstart innovation, and embrace advance cultural philosophy. I will deal with this much more later. It took China only 66 years of focused determination and hard work to becomed an economic powerhouse with enough millitary and politidal clout to scare the West. What we need now is an educated population, land reform to boost productivity, and the institutions to support the emergence of free markets. Good leadership across the states in the region and institutional reforms are capable of changing the face of the Yoruba in just a generation.

The post-colonial state can pretend it is absolute, it is not. People are transcending it, bypassing it, subverting it and renegotiating their existence in it or their exit. The most enduring is the ethnonational model of contestation. We should ask ourselves; on what basis can the Yoruba exist within or without Nigeria? Is the Yoruba going to be an economic, cultural or social ethnonationality?

What Is the Future Of Ethnic Nationalities Within the Confines Of A Nation State?

Colonialism was a state. It was absolute. Our people did not forsee it; it happened to them. They had no choice, it defined them violently. Nigeria is a post-colonial state. Its flag and all it stands for defines its constituent parts. The post-colonial state can pretend it is absolute, it is not. People are transcending it, bypassing it, subverting it and renegotiating their existence in it or their exit. The most enduring is the ethnonational model of contestation. We should ask ourselves; on what basis can the Yoruba exist within or without Nigeria? Is the Yoruba going to be an economic, cultural or social ethnonationality? The French is projecting their sociocultural influence through Alliance Francais, the German, with the Gothe Institut, the British have the British Council, the Chinese have their Confucius Institute that is pushing Mandarin as a language of choice across the world, and the United States have USAID. What do we have?

Can the Yoruba Be the Basis Of A Globalising Agenda?

China’s globalising agenda was packaged as food – they gave us the fast cooking noodle. The West ate Sushi before they got hooked on electronics from Japan. Iwonba ni eni ti o je epo eni, ti o je iyo eni, le ba’ni s’ota mo. The Indians are doing same with their curry and biryani. Why can’t we do same with the all conquering jollof rice and moinmoin? Culture is a war front. It is easier to win cultural wars. Take a look at our party culture, the music, the decor, the coolers of jollof rice, the gorgeous dresses. It is catching on across Nigeria and West Africa, we own it, we should codify and globalise it.

How Do We Tackle the Youth Question Within Our Ethnocultural Context?

The youths of other cultures are globalising their cultures. Here, our youths do not understand that ethnic identity is the CURRENCY of globalisation. They hold the erroneous impression that ethnic identity and cosmopolitanism are incompatible. With active connivance of their parents, we are seeing millions of Yoruba youths who cannot speak, read nor write in their native language. We have a situation where education alienates our youths from their own cultures with accompanying unrealistic expectations of the state. Our youths cannot find jobs, they are unable to take entrepreneurial risks neither are they able to or willing to farm.

In three generations from now, current projections shows that our population will skyrocket by an astounding factor of eight! For an ethnonationality that cannot take care of its people right now, how will we respond when the demand on energy, hospitals, schools, roads, social services and many other resources increases by a factor of eight?

Projections Into the Future

Our lives in the next 50-100 years will be almost unrecognisable from what it is today. The Internet has changed and democratised communication, learning and how we control our lives and socialise. 20 years ago when I started graduate school in America, smart phones were inconceivable and there wasn’t the faintest idea of the Internet of Things. We did not even have graphics. The Internet was just text! Today, strides in technology lets us monitor, control and secure our living spaces with the touch of a smartphone. With the mapping of the human genome, we are going to live longer, healthier lives with our medical information embedded in chips on our arms. With genetic testing, we can anticipate diseases before they strike and prevent it. There will seismic shifts in the next 50-100 years in the way we live and interact with our surroundings. In his book, The Age of Em, Robin Hanson predicts the deveopment of computers that will emulate human brains in the next 100 years. Projections from the current growth rates shows Africa will quadruple its population in 90 years. This astonishingly rapid growth rate will make Africa more important than ever and influence the political and social dynamics within constituent African states. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and it will remain so for the next 200 years. By 2100, Nigeria will be poised to overtake China in population because over a billion people will occupy the geographic space called Nigeria. Without planning, that is a frightening possibility because Nigeria is roughly the size of the state of Texas in the United States. With planning it is an asset.

What does this mean for the Yoruba? The meaning of this is that in 100 years, we will have one of the most most rapid population boom the world has ever seen. In three generations from now, current projections shows that our population will skyrocket by an astounding factor of eight! For an ethnonationality that cannot take care of its people right now, how will we respond when the demand on energy, hospitals, schools, roads, social services and many other resources increases by a factor of eight? That is the tragedy of Africa by extension and the misfortune of the Yoruba by deduction. We can get out of this if we think and do what is best in the interest of future generations. If we get our acts together, educate our children to global standards, we could create a Yoruba regional miracle within the continent with the rapidly growing workforce. Our fathers say the war does not affect the wise cripple. How we prepare for the coming population boom is the single most important long-term challenge we face. We have to reform the use of land. Land will become scare and housing will present unprecedented crisis. I am a farmer, much of our arable land are in the hands of foreign nationals, especially the Chinese. They are buying off our land from villagers outrightly. I should know because they are my neighbours in the Ogun State Agric corridor. We are the only homogenous ethnonationality in Nigeria with a secure homeland with littoral states.

Awa ló l’okun, losa, awa lo Olorun fun.
Okun o se gbé ló kaakiri
Osa o o se gbé ló kaakiri

That should count for something with far reaching foresight and planning.

My Predictions
Religion will be irrelevant.
Employing humans will be like having pets, it will be some kind of exotic pastime.
Machine intelligence will outpace human intelligence.
Yoruba language will be extinct, it is not spoken enough and books are not been written in it.
Most of our cultural products, culture and traditions will only be seen as exhibits in museums.

What Will History Say Of Today’s Youth In 100 Years?

Through the course of this lecture, I have assessed our ancestors and chronicled their limitations. In 100 years, history will write of Mark Zukerberg, Noah Glass and other co-founders of Twitter, Larry Page and Sergey Brin as great preservers of Western civilisation. Are the Yoruba youths who insert undesirable alien consonants into their Yoruba names to Anglicise it, who regard their mother tongue uncool, who deride and disdain their culture with active collaboration of their parents be the preservers of Yoruba? Yoruba ronu!

We have work to do. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me to sing the anthem of the Afenifere Renewal Group, which I find fitting as a charge to greatness and our right of place.

1.Ise wa fun ‘le wa
Fun ile ibi wa
Ka gbe e ga (2x)
Ka gbe e gaF’aye ri

2. Igbagbo wa ni pe
Ba ti b’eru
La b’omo
Ka sise (2x)
Ka siseKa jo la

3. Isokan at’ominira
Ni e je ka maa lepa
‘Tesiwaju f’opo ire
At’ohun to dara

4. Omo Odua, dide
Bo sipo eto re
Iwo ni
Imole Gbogbo Adulawo

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú, a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column – “Bamidele Upfront” for the Premium Times. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo

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