Yes to Self-Determination, No to Self-Immolation---Egbe Omo Oduduwa
Our attention has been drawn to a statement issued by a coalition of 21 Yoruba self-determination groups declaring their support for the current agitation for Biafran independence. We find the declaration of support dubious in the sense that it distorted not only the history of self-determination in Nigeria in general but also the role of the Yoruba in particular.
We deem it necessary to issue this statement because many of the issues addressed by the coalition are in the public sphere and we wonder why in spite of this, they went ahead to distort history, knowing full well that their conclusions cannot stand scrutiny. If that is so, why then would they proceed on this journey? We will not pretend to know the answer to these but we will endeavor to always put the records straight so that such distortions will not lead our people into a cul-de-sac, always the end product of a-historical engagements.
We will now proceed to rebut, one by one, the positions canvassed by the coalition.
(1) The coalition stated that they “shall mobilize against a repeat of what happened in 1966 when the Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani north aligned to confront the Igbo”. This conclusion can only be valid if it corresponded with what actually happened in 1966, otherwise, it would amount to a deliberate distortion of history. Up till August 1966, the Yoruba were at the receiving end of the crisis engendered by the January 1966 coup led by first, Nzeogwu and Ifeajuna, both Igbo and later by Ironsi, another Igbo, who had been handed power in an illegal manner by the then Igbo senate president, Nwafor Orizu.
Claims by the Nzeogwu group that their intention was to release Awo from jail and either force him to rule or they will rule in his name is easily debunked by the fact that they would not go about killing all non-Igbo political and military heavyweights at that time; for the import of this would be that Awo would be held hostage by the Igbo military and political elite, once his own had been decimated. Hence, up till his release by Gowon in August 1966, the Yoruba were as much victims of the January coup as the north.
The Yoruba were not participants in the aftermath of the July 1966 counter-coup resulting in the pogroms against the Igbo in the north, rather the Yoruba people in the West ensured the safety of the Igbo as much as they could and acted as their property caretakers while the Igbo were away. The West actively participated in all the ad hoc conferences aimed at resolving the ensuing crisis, all the way to May 1967 when Awo led a delegation to the East only to be rebuffed.
A Decree 8 was promulgated by Gowon, which, for all practical purposes, provided legal backbone for the Aburi Accords agreed upon in January 1967. Ojukwu rejected the Decree and declared Biafra, upon which Gowon declared a state of emergency and divided Nigeria into Twelve States; after which Awo was invited to join his Government. With this background, how did this coalition of Yoruba self-determination groups arrive at the conclusion that the Yoruba aligned with the north to confront the Igbo in 1966?
(2) In their pandering to the Igbo, the coalition was of the opinion that the Yoruba would be “making a grave mistake to assume that having the position of the Vice President and some juicy ministerial positions will heal long standing scars and future perils occasioned by the lopsided structure of the Nigerian Federation”. The implication of what the coalition is promoting is that the quest to remove the PDP from power was useless otherwise the coalition would not state that the positions occupied do not matter; for once the PDP was defeated, positions have to be occupied.
The alternative to APC’s victory is continuation of PDP rule, which was not only anti-Yoruba in all ramifications, but as it is now being shown was engaged in full scale plunder of the country. What then are the implications of these positions? The first statement in the APC Manifesto stated that the Party will restructure the country into a True Federal System and imbibe a Federal Spirit. Hence, the Party already committed itself to restructuring.
Moreover, the state of affairs in Yorubaland, today, ensures a sure-footed approach towards restructuring in the sense that the political atmosphere is now conducive, both in Nigeria and Yorubaland, a fact attested to by the statement credited to the new Ooni of Ife, during his coronation, to the effect that he had consulted with the various crowns in Yorubaland before his coronation and they had all agreed to work towards peace and unity in the land. Coming from such a young person with a major crown, the Yoruba saying, to wit, “omode gbon, agba gbon, l’afi da Ile Ife” has come into play. His youth and the wisdom of the elders will transform the land.
These would have been impossible if the PDP had continued to control the land for our experience in their hands when they held sway was completely negative. Even if we assume, without conceding, that the Fulani are up to their usual tricks of palliatives, such that the “juicy ministerial positions” would be tantamount to baiting the Yoruba, the fact is that there is a “consciousness” permeating the entire landscape, not only in terms of the party itself but also of the political atmosphere where it is certain that Nigeria cannot be run in the usual manner. For the coalition to deny the opportunities inherent in this mix would point to their own lack of political wisdom.
(3) Both of the above would dovetail into our understanding of right to self-determination. Limiting ourselves to the period up to the Biafran war, we do know that, historically, the West/Yoruba, through the AG pursued this right while being constantly opposed by the East, through the NCNC. The AG was in the forefront of creating more Regions, totally opposed by the NCNC except when it thought it would be favored by the creation of the Mid West while opposing the creation of COR and the Middle Belt;
Biafra invaded and occupied the Mid-West and West, even when both Regions had declared their neutrality; yet, in the Mid-West, only the Igbo-speaking areas were taken into “confidence” and the Biafra-appointed Igbo Governor embarked upon wholesale massacres and oppression of the local populace; the invasion of the West was anchored on the order given to the effect that all political, military, economic and administrative decisions regarding the West would be taken in Enugu, capital of Biafra.
In other words, the West would be under complete and total occupation. History is the basis for the quest for self-determination, for it brings into focus the cumulative experience of a people thus leading to the demand and sustaining it, hence coming to terms with it must be a given.
Did this coalition ever ask Biafrans whether they have come to terms with these issues? If not, this coalition cannot even pretend to speak on behalf of Yoruba people. The right to self-determination is not pursued by self-immolation.
Shenge Rahman Akanbi; Femi Odedeyi
For and on behalf of Egbe Omo Oduduwa ( [email protected] )