Last week I promised I will play truant for three weeks and only reproduce my choice of the best three articles in Nigerian newspapers from the last fifteen years for their currency, beginning with last week. This week, however, I decided against absenting myself without leave as I reproduce the second article on these pages, this time by Professor Femi Osofisan in his column, Sunday Note. The article, which was entitled “Yorubaland as a riddle,” first appeared in the rested Comet-on-Sunday of December 17, 2000.
My apologies then for trying to eat my cake and still have it, that is, write today and still keep my promise of reproducing my choice pieces. This, however, has been made possible only by the grace of the editors atDaily Trust and The Nation who obliged my request for more space in their print editions.
The background to my promise last week was my tribute to Malam Abubakar Gimba, a former president of the Association of Nigerian Authors, who died on February 25. His article which I published last week was, as I said, one of the best I have read in at least the last fifteen years. It was a passionate plea to President Olusegun Obasanjo in his second full year in office to imbibe the spirit of forgiveness so that he could begin to heal the deep wounds of divisions in the nation.
Obasanjo did not heed Gimba’s plea and Nigeria became even more divided, especially along religious lines, than it was before 1999 when he returned to power as elected president. President Goodluck Jonathan, his since estranged protégé who he almost singlehandedly railroaded into power at the centre from an obscure position as deputy governor of Bayelsa, the country’s smallest state, has only made the wounds wider and deeper.
Certainly no leader has tried to use religion – and ethnicity – to hold on to power as President Jonathan. In the eyes of most Nigerians and, I am sure, to the discomfiture of most ordinary Christians and many Christian leaders, he, in cahoots with Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor as its national president, has reduced the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), once the scourge of those in authority, into the religious wing of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Again, alone among all our leaders, he has transformed the Church as a platform for policy pronouncements.
As for the use of ethnicity to hang onto power, it’s impossible, for its absurdity and inaccuracy, to beat the statement only last week by the First Lady, Patience, that whether Nigerians like it or not her husband will serve a second term because every leader before her husband had done so! Those saying her husband does not deserve a second term, she seems to say, are saying so because he is a minority Ijaw. Obviously the First Lady is completely blinded to the fact that apart from Obasanjo no elected Nigerian leader – neither Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa nor President Shehu Shagari nor President Umaru Yar’adua – had ever served two terms.
For a cynical manipulation of ethnicity to hang on to power, however, last week’s promise by the president to implement the report of the somewhat inconclusive National Conference which he convened late last year, deserves a gold medal – along with his award of multi-billion Naira contracts to Otunba Gani Adams and Dr Frederick Fasehun, the leaders of the Yoruba militia group, the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), for securing oil and gas pipelines in their region. Ditto the renewal at the same time of similar contracts to several Niger Delta ex-militants.
To begin with, the President convened the national conference in bad faith as was apparent, first, from its timing so close to this year’s general elections especially considering his long-running rejection of calls for it and, second, from its composition deliberately to put the North and the Muslim population of the country at great disadvantage. And when the crudely skewed composition failed to secure the desired agenda, a strange 102-page document authored by Raymond Dokpesi, the Chairman of Africa Independent Television (AIT), and apparently the presidency’s cat’s-paw at the conference, surfaced purporting to be the “Terms of Agreement of Six Geopolitical Zones in Nigeria.” By the way, AIT seems to have since transformed itself into the propaganda arm of the PDP, along with the NTA, which however, is not altogether surprising, the station being Federal Government owned.
Among the provisions in Dokpesi’s dubious document was the five-year, single term, presidency so dear to the president. It also contained the so-called fiscal federalism so dear to delegates from the South-West, a provision sound in principle but difficult, if not impossible, to practice in a federation like Nigeria where it is the centre that has created its constituents, at least since 1967, not the other way round as it should be.
As we all know, the attempt to sneak this dubious document into the conference nearly marred it and led to lack of conclusion on several key issues including revenue allocation, which is fiscal federalism in another guise.
It is this inconclusive report that the president has now promised to implement because he obviously thinks it is sweet music to the ears of the leadership of Afenifere, the umbrella Yoruba cultural organisation, even when he knows he lacks the capacity – on the strength of his past record of failing to honour many of his words – and the authority to do so, were he to win this month’s election.
There is, of course, some logic to the president’s promise. Of the country’s six geo-political zones, only the South-West seems open for real contest between himself and his main rival, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The North-West and North-East seem safe for Buhari just like the South-East and South-South look safe for the president, leaving North-Central a likely 50/50 between the two; Plateau, Benue and Kogi for Jonathan, and Niger, Kwara and Nasarawa for Buhari. As Professor Femi Osofisan says in his article which follows this piece and the second of the three I’ve promised the reader, Yorubaland is truly a riddle.
However, if it makes sense that the president should make his pitch for a zone, many of whose leading lights are in his support, it is the height of cynicism to promise what you know you cannot deliver. It is even more cynical to use public revenue to secure such support, as is the case with the no-bid award to OPC. This is especially so because all previous beneficiaries of such a contract had woefully failed to deliver on their side of the bargain, as is clear from the industrial scale thefts of oil and the sabotage of gas pipelines that have gone on in this country in recent years.
Yorubaland as a riddle
The Yoruba, affirm some people authoritative, are cowards. They cannot be counted upon to stand and fight.
If, at first, they seem aggressive and tough, it is only because you have not found their price. But offer them the right amount of inducement, and you take the sting out of their bite.
Cash-laden, they will be willing at once to sell their most intimate friends, agree to the readiest compromise, however humiliating, and retire to a life of miliki. Hence there is no principle, and no ideal, they can ever offer to die for.
Those who hold this opinion assure us that one does not need to try very hard to find the proof. The events of our history, they say, offer abundant evidence.
Almost at every point when their support has been crucial, they have chosen instead to recant their words, and betray their allies. The Biafran war, during which the Yoruba chose to side with the Federalists, is a case much cited by the Igbo.
But this penchant for betrayal is not limited to their conflicts with outsiders. Even among themselves, cowardice and duplicity are so entrenched, that the people are incapable of forging a united front even for some mutually beneficial cause.
The loss of Ilorin to the Hausa-Fulani by the Yoruba, as well as their repeated defeat each time they have attempted to recover the town, is a showcase both of this flaw for self-destructive intrigue, and of their readiness to scatter and run at the slightest shout of danger.