BULLETIN #15: Bola Tinubu and Rauf Aregbesola: May 1, 1967, Redux

By Femi Odedeyi

Chukwuemeka Ezeife, a former Governor of Anambra State, clearly stated the Igbo categorical imperative for 2023 in the following manner: “it is either the Southeast is allowed to produce the Nigeria’s next president in 2023 or the region will quit the country....... It is either we are allowed to produce the president of this country in 2023 to change the appalling narrative of continued decay, poverty, insecurity, poor governance, corruption and maladministration in Nigeria or out of it."

This statement deserves a response, especially coming on the heels of Governor Akeredolu’s presentation on the necessity for a southern president and supported by various groups and influential individuals in Yorubaland. The Yoruba Referendum Committee has already made its stand known on the issue of a “southern president” and will therefore not belabor the point.

However, we will respond directly to this Igbo diktat by presenting, in full, and unedited, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Address to the Western Leaders of Thought on May 1, 1967, at Ibadan, being the Yoruba Response to the National Question manifesting through various diktats at the time.

The Yoruba Referendum Committee believes the Address is relevant to our current realities for the following reasons:

1. The ANNEXURE to the Bill for a Referendum in Yorubaland reflects the fundamental premises of the Address, taking into consideration, the political changes that has taken place, while ensuring its fidelity to it as the Yoruba answer to the current state of the National Question in Nigeria.

2. For a background, this Igbo diktat is a replay of the failed post-Independence attempt at neutralizing Yorubaland, first through an alliance between the North and the East, followed by a unilateral attempt by the East to impose its Hegemony on the rest of the country, culminating in the Nigeria-Biafra war.

3. It must be recalled that the Gowon Military Regime issued Decree 8 on May 27, 1967, whose provisions embraced many of the demands contained in the Address. This was almost at once negated by the declaration of Biafra on May 30, 1967, which eventually led to the Nigeria-Biafra war, whose impact on Yorubaland resulted in disrupting and truncating the essence of the Address.

4. The declaration of Biafra was therefore arguably a deliberate strategy by the military authorities in the East to scuttle any progress towards True Federalism in Nigeria, more so when Ojukwu’s administration avoided consultations with political leaders of the region before the declaration was made.

5. All the political experiments and detours embarked upon since the end of the war has only reinforced the Nigerian problematic, especially given all the various national conferences since 1999, which ended up as definite political baits and which must now be reconsidered by situating our responses on the preferences of the Nationalities upon which a new and truly Federal Structure must emerge, hence, for the Yoruba, the YORUBA REFERENDUM.

6. The APC, the only political party that has formally broached the subject, is now contradicting itself on the issue: on the one hand, setting up a party Committee on True Federalism as its solution to the National Question and on the other, denying that the quest for True Federalism was part of its Manifesto.

7. Despite the SW APC’s public support for True Federalism as stated by its leaders, Gen Akinrinade, Chiefs Bisi Akande and Pius Akinyelure, it is now ignoring True Federalism as fundamental to the current narrative in Yorubaland, especially within the context of the quest for Nigeria’s presidency by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, now laced with the open rift with Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, with the 2022 Osun Governorship elections as the backdrop.

8. SW APC is now mired in internal party power plays, which are necessary within a political party but useless to the Yoruba Quest if it is not based on the fundamental demands of Yoruba people. It must be recalled that the internal crisis within the Action Group was resolved at the Jos Convention via the Split, which was informed by the Party’s fidelity to its original program, and which became the platform for the internal politics of Yorubaland, till date.

9. The Yoruba Referendum Committee recognizes the different circumstances by which the SW APC must operate because the Leadership of the APC is not concentrated in Yorubaland, as it conforms to the current dictates of the Nigerian State which ensures a controlling center thereby neutralizing any possibility of regional control.

10. Yet, this is one of the fundamental reasons for the quest for True Federalism, to wit: our right and ability to control our political processes. Therefore, Yoruba APC leaders owe it a duty to endorse and ensure a clear PATHWAY for the restoration of True Federalism in Nigeria.

11.Chiefs Obafemi Awolowo and Olusegun Obasanjo are two examples of this necessity. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, despite his massive support among the Yoruba, failed in his attempts at Nigeria’s presidency because the contradictions of the National Question prevented it, beginning with the intervention of the center (the NCNC/NPC Alliance) in Western Regional affairs, with the 1963 Constitution playing a significant role and ending with the 1979 Constitution, now replicated as the 1999 Constitution, which effectively neutralized True Federalism in Nigeria.

12.Chief Olusegun Obasanjo became president, despite his clear rejection by the Yoruba, but enabled by the same forces that truncated the Western Region, followed by the neutralization of the AD that emerged as the champion of True Federalism, and this, despite the spirited efforts of the Lagos State Government in challenging it, yet unable to prevent corralling of the various Peoples of Nigeria into a centralized and unitarized State. This alone, shows the futility of making a State the “poster child” of pursuing True Federalism.

13.It is therefore imperative that Yoruba People seize the initiative and challenge both Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola to take a stand on the YORUBA REFERENDUM, regardless of any contestations on their political alliances or loyalties, more so when both were titans in the “June12” struggle.

14.The issue at hand being political, demands a political intervention, itself dependent on the existence or mobilization of the necessary political force(s) capable of ensuring a resolution, not only of this conflict but also the general context of the Yoruba quest for True Federalism.

15.The APC, either at the pan-Nigerian or SW levels cannot carry out this assignment since it has already failed to provide a context and a pathway towards actualization of the Yoruba Quest which would have become the standard by which every “political fight” is measured, just as it may even aim to deepen the conflict in order to pursue its permutations for power, including corralling some Yoruba/SW APC leaders into its power-seeking orbit.

16. Therefore, the Yoruba People remain the only force capable of ensuring a resolution, and necessarily in its favor, and mobilized around a PATHWAY to achieve True Federalism, and who must now flex their muscles, and drag the Houses of Assembly, kicking and screaming, to pass the Bill for a Referendum into Law, as the surest way to not only address the conflict but also provide the necessary context for the duo’s claim to Yoruba Leadership.

17. The ANNEXURE to the Bill for a Referendum will be legally binding with a “YES” vote thereby preventing anyone from negotiating Yoruba preferences away on the altar of any electoral permutation.

Editorial Board, Yoruba Referendum Committee

The aim of a leader should be the welfare of the people whom he leads. I

have used 'welfare' to denote the physical, mental, and spiritual

well-being of the people. With this aim fixed unflinchingly and

unchangeably before my eyes I consider it my duty to Yoruba people in

particular and to Nigerians in general, to place four imperatives before

you this morning. Two of them are categorical and two are conditional.

Only a peaceful solution must be found to arrest the present worsening

stalemate and restore normalcy. The Eastern Region must be encouraged to

remain part of the Federation. If the Eastern Region is allowed by acts

of omission or commission to secede from or opt out of Nigeria, then the

Western Region and Lagos must also stay out of the Federation. The people

of Western Nigeria and Lagos should participate in the ad hoc committee or

any similar body only on the basis of absolute equality with the other

regions of the Federation.
I would like to comment briefly on these four imperatives. There

has, of late, been a good deal of sabre rattling in some parts of the

country. Those who advocate the use force for the settlement of our

present problems should stop a little and reflect. I can see no vital and

abiding principle involved in any war between the North and the East. If

the East attacked the North, it would be for purpose of revenge pure and

simple. Any claim to the contrary would be untenable. If it is claimed

that such a war is being waged for the purpose of recovering the real and

personal properties left behind in the North by Easterners two insuperable

points are obvious. Firstly, the personal effects left behind by

Easterners have been wholly looted or destroyed and can no longer be

physically recovered. Secondly, since the real properties are immovable in

case of recovery of them can only be by means of forcible military

occupation of those parts of the North in which these properties are

situated. On the other hand, if the North attacked the East, it could only

be for the purpose of further strengthening and entrenching its position

of dominance in the country.
If it is claimed that an attack on the East is going to be

launched by the Federal Government and not by the North as such and that

it is designed to ensure the unity and integrity of the Federation, two

other insuperable points also become obvious. First, if a war against the

East becomes a necessity it must be agreed to unanimously by the remaining

units of the Federation. In this connection, the West, Mid- West, and Lagos

have declared their implacable opposition to the use of force in solving

the present problem. In the face of such declarations by three out of

remaining four territories of Nigeria, a war against the East could only

be a war favored by the North alone. Second, if the true purpose of such

a war is to preserve the unity and integrity of the Federation, then these

ends can be achieved by the very simple devices of implementing the

recommendation of the committee which met on August 9 1966, as reaffirmed

by a decision of the military leaders at Aburi on January 5 1967 as well

as by accepting such of the demands of the East, West, Mid-West and Lagos

as are manifestly reasonable, and essential for assuring harmonious

relationships and peaceful co-existence between them and their brothers

and sisters in the North.
Some knowledgeable persons have likened an attack on the East to

Lincoln's war against the southern states in America. Two vital factors

distinguish Lincoln's campaign from the one now being contemplated in

Nigeria. The first is that the American civil war was aimed at the

abolition of slavery - that is the liberation of millions of Negroes who

were then still being used as chattels and worse than domestic animals.

The second factor is that Lincoln and others in the northern states were

English-speaking people waging a war of good conscience and humanity

against their fellow nationals who were also English speaking. A war

against the East in which Northern soldiers are predominant, will only

unite the Easterners or the Ibos against their attackers, strengthen them

in their belief that they are not wanted by the majority of their

fellow-Nigerians, and finally push them out of the Federation.

We have been told that an act of secession on the part of the East

would be a signal, in the first instance, for the creation of the COR

state by decree, which would be backed, if need be, by the use of force.

With great respect, I have some dissenting observations to make on this

declaration. There are 11 national or linguistic groups in the COR areas

with a total population of 5.3 millions. These national groups are as

distinct from one another as the Ibos are distinct from them or from the

Yorubas or Hausas. Of the 11, the Efik/Ibibio/Annang national group are

3.2 million strong as against the Ijaws who are only about 700,000 strong.

Ostensibly, the remaining nine national group number 1.4 millions. But

when you have subtracted the Ibo inhabitants from among them, what is left

ranges from the Ngennis who number only 8,000 to the Ogonis who are

220,000 strong. A decree creating a COR state without a plebiscite to

ascertain the wishes of the peoples in the area, would only amount to

subordinating the minority national groups in the state to the dominance

of the Efik/Ibibio/Annang national group. It would be perfectly in order

to create a Calabar state or a Rivers state by decree, and without a

plebiscite. Each is a homogeneous national unit. But before you lump

distinct and diverse national units together in one state, the consent of

each of them is indispensable. Otherwise, the seed of social disequilibrium

in the new state would have been sown.
On the other hand, if the COR State is created by decree after the

Eastern Region shall have made its severance from Nigeria effective, we

should then be waging an unjust war against a foreign state. It would be

an unjust war, because the purpose of it would be to remove 10 minorities

in the East from the dominance of the Ibos only to subordinate them to the

dominance of the Efik/Ibibio/Annang national group. I think I have said

enough to demonstrate that any war against the East, or vice versa, on any

count whatsoever, would be an unholy crusade, for which it would be most

unjustifiable to shed a drop of Nigerian blood. Therefore, only a peaceful

solution must be found, and quickly too to arrest the present rapidly

deteriorating stalemate and restore normalcy.
With regard to the second categorical imperative, it is my

considered view that whilst some of the demands of the East are excessive

within the context of a Nigerian union, most of such demands are not only

well-founded, but are designed for smooth and steady association amongst

the various national units of Nigeria.
The dependence of the Federal Government on financial

contributions from the regions? These and other such like demands I do not

support. Demands such as these, if accepted, will lead surely to the

complete disintegration of the Federation which is not in the interest of

our people. But I wholeheartedly support the following demands among

others, which we consider reasonable and most of which are already

embodied in our memoranda to the Ad Hoc Committee....

·That revenue should be allocated strictly on the basis of

derivation; that is to say after the Federal Government has deducted its

own share for its own services the rest should be allocated to the regions

to which they are attributable.
·That the existing public debt of the Federation should become the

responsibility of the regions on the basis of the location of the projects

in respect of each debt whether internal or external.

·That each region should have and control its own

militia and police force.
·That, with immediate effect, all military personnel should be

posted to their regions of origin....

If we are to live in harmony one with another as Nigerians it is

imperative that these demands and others which are not related, should be

met without further delay by those who have hitherto resisted them. To

those who may argue that the acceptance of these demands will amount to

transforming Nigeria into a federation with a weak central government, my

comment is that any link however tenuous, which keeps the East in the

Nigerian union, is better in my view than no link at all.

Before the Western delegates went to Lagos to attend the meetings

of the ad hoc committee, they were given a clear mandate that if any

region should opt out of the Federation of Nigeria, then the Federation

should be considered to be at an end, and that the Western Region and

Lagos should also opt out of it. It would then be up to Western Nigeria

and Lagos as an independent sovereign state to enter into association with

any of the Nigerian units of its own choosing, and on terms mutually

acceptable to them. I see no reason for departing from this mandate. If

any region in Nigeria considers itself strong enough to compel us to enter

into association with it on its own terms, I would only wish such a region

luck. But such luck, I must warn, will, in the long run be no better than

that which has attended the doings of all colonial powers down the ages.

This much I must say in addition, on this point. We have neither military

might nor the overwhelming advantage of numbers here in Western Nigeria

and Lagos. But we have justice of a noble and imperishable cause on our

side, namely: the right of a people to unfettered self-determination. If

this is so, then God is on our side, and if God is with us then we have

nothing whatsoever in this world to fear.
The fourth imperative, and the second conditional one has been

fully dealt with in my recent letter to the Military Governor of Western

Nigeria, Col. Robert Adebayo, and in the representation which your

deputation made last year to the head of the Federal Military Government,

Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon. As a matter of fact, as far back as November last

year a smaller meeting of leaders of thought in this Region decided that

unless certain things were done, we would no longer participate in the

meeting of the ad hoc committee. But since then, not even one of our

legitimate requests has been granted. I will, therefore, take no more of

your time in making further comments on a point with which you are well

familiar. As soon as our humble and earnest requests are met, I shall be

ready to take my place on the ad hoc committee. But certainly, not before.

In closing, I have this piece of advice to give. In order to resolve

amiably and in the best interests of all Nigerians certain attributes are

required on the part of Nigerian leaders, military as well as non-military

leaders alike, namely: vision, realism and unselfishness. But above all,

what will keep Nigerian leaders in the North and East unwaveringly in the

path of wisdom, realism and moderation is courage and steadfastness on the

part of Yoruba people in the course of what they sincerely believe to be

right, equitable and just. In the past five years we in the West and Lagos

have shown that we possess these qualities in a large measure. If we

demonstrate them again as we did in the past, calmly and heroically, we

will save Nigeria from further bloodshed and imminent wreck and, at the

same time, preserve our freedom and self-respect into the bargain.

May God rule and guide our deliberations here, and endow all the

Nigerian leaders with the vision, realism, and unselfishness as well as

courage and steadfastness in the course of truth, which the present

circumstances demand.