Re: Bulletin #24: On “Yoruba Nation Now” (2)

By Femi Odedeyi

“Yoruba Nation Now” is part of the tendency opposed to the 2023 elections. While they all claim to reject the 1999 Constitution, their solutions revolve around seeking a “doctrine of necessity” to impose an “Interim or transitional government” which will thereafter mandate a new Constitutional order, while the “Yoruba Nation Now” is advocating “boycotting” the elections by the Yoruba, in Yorubaland, as its route towards “Yoruba Sovereignty”.

The Yoruba Referendum Committee posits that both are designed to disenfranchise the various Nationalities and strengthen Unitarism in Nigeria. For the Yoruba, they are a direct negation of our historical engagement with the Nigerian State, pre and post-Independence.

Operating outside the historical context makes the land vulnerable to intended or unintended consequences, either of which will make Yorubaland become fish out of water.

Hence, the Yoruba Referendum Committee opposes both propositions for the following reasons:

(i) Their angst against the Nigerian State is anchored mainly on the singular question of “Amalgamation” and its effect on the Nationalities. Yet, Nigeria was not the only colony amalgamated by the British. In 1840, Upper Canada was amalgamated with Lower Canada into a Unitary Canada, just as the Northern and Southern Protectorates in Nigeria were amalgamated into a Unitary Nigeria in 1914. In lower Canada, the French-speaking Quebec’s animus against the English-speaking people led to a quest for Autonomy which eventually led to Canada introducing a Federal Constitution in 1867 and which has subsisted till date.

(ii) Canada’s Federalist System became the avenue to launch the Quebecois Independence/Sovereignty attempt, which was resolved through a Referendum in 1995, with a “No” vote becoming victorious. Current recourse to making a scapegoat out of the 1914 Amalgamation as a major reason for “Yoruba Sovereignty” denies this historical reality. As it was in Canada, so it was in Nigeria- Federalism was the driving Constitutional Imperative and for “sovereignty” of any Nationality to thrive, Federalism must be formally defeated.

(iii) In Nigeria, Federalism was the preferred option of the political parties, with a recommendation of three Regions (North, East and West) and the municipality of Lagos. The three Regions correspond largely with the three major Nationalities. A series of Constitutional Conferences were held in 1953/54, which succeeded in ending the push for a Confederation and 1957/58, which became the Conference for Independence, with a Regionally based Federal Constitution.

(iv) Since then, there has been a continuous contest for dominance and power between the Unitarist and Federalist forces and which is yet to come to a head, despite the apparent advantage currently enjoyed by the Unitarist forces. The contest was anchored by Ahmadu Bello’s “One North” Policy which became dominant because of its affinity with the East on Unitarism as the only vehicle for dominance, hence their alliance against the West, which was the main promoter and bastion of Federalism.

(v) The eventual collapse of the alliance, through their competing militaries, eventually led to the creation of states, which, aside from the imperatives of the civil war, was supposedly aimed at neutralizing Regional Hegemonies by substituting them with states functioning as “Federating Units”. A recourse to “One North” is now back on the table, now that the “state” option is no longer tenable because of the overwhelming dependence of the states on the center.

(vi) Despite the detours of the 1966 Military coups and the subsequent civil war, “Yoruba Sovereignty” came into consideration only within the context of “Sovereignty for all”, as affirmed by Awo’s Address to the Western Leaders of Thought on May 1, 1967. In the Second Republic, the UPN replicated Action Group’s electoral victory in the LOOBO States (Lagos, Ondo, Oyo, Bendel and Ogun States) just as the AD did in the 1999 elections.

(vii) In none of these instances was “Yoruba Sovereignty” an issue, even after the 1983 Military coup. During the military interregnum, where questions on the Nigerian State came to the fore with demands for Sovereign National Conference and the various Conferences conducted by both military and civilian administrations, the question of why and how Federalism lost or is losing out, was not addressed, such that, now, “Yoruba Sovereignty” has become the redeeming feature.

(viii) The Yoruba Referendum Committee posits that the reliance on the various Presidencies to provide the solution through the various Conferences via “Zonal Consultations” but whose conclusions were not Legitimized and Validated by “Zonal Referendums” to which the central Government would be bound, enabled the central Governments to ignore those conclusions.

(ix) Today’s electoral atmosphere has formally reintroduced the contest between Federalism and Unitarism into the equation. This was at the instance of the Northern Elder’s Forum’s engagement with the major presidential contenders, in the form of a throwback to the “One North” policy, executed by the Northern People’s Congress through which the various Nationalities in the North were subsumed under Fulani Hegemony. Northern Elders were and still are, more concerned with protecting and projecting Northern Interests thereby seeking a candidate who will promote such. Atiku Abubakar stepped forward as the Northerner who will reactivate the “One North” policy.

(x) Therefore, seeking a “doctrine of necessity”, an “interim government” or “no elections in Yorubaland” without the commanding forces of achieving any of these ensures that its implementation will surely rest with the current Unitarist forces in control of Nigeria who have the means for its introduction and enforcement, with the various Peoples subjected to an almost perpetual Unitarist domination.

(xi) This is because the slow and steady pace of truncating Federalism in Nigeria is now at its apogee hence the importance of the 2023 elections, which will either sustain and strengthen the Unitarist forces or reiterate and reinforce the Federalist forces in a terminal battle for supremacy. For the Yoruba therefore, canvassing for “No election” will be akin to shooting ourselves in the foot and render Yorubaland prostrate to any force, political or military, which is able to take advantage of this would-be self-inflicted wound. Unless, of course, “Yoruba Nation Now” can muster a countervailing force.

(xii) Barring such a factor, the only Pathway towards defeating the Unitarists is by way of the Nationality Referendums which will confer Legitimacy and validity to our political choices. Referendums derive directly from the political exigencies of the moment, aimed at resolving extant political dispute(s) arising from the contest and politics of balance of power/forces whose result it will either validate or negate.

(xiii) Referendums are part of the democratic, and therefore electoral process just as the 2023 elections are. Thus, “No elections in Yorubaland in 2023” and simultaneously seeking a “Referendum on Sovereignty” through the instrumentality of the United Nations, any international agency or “powerful countries”, becomes self-defeating because neither the UN, the international agency nor the “powerful countries” will be an accessory to the termination of an electoral process.

(xiv) The history of UN intervention all over the world shows that its remedy to any collapse of order is the democratic or electoral process; “powerful countries” embark on overt and covert destabilization of “opposition” countries in such a manner that protects whatever is considered their interests and not necessarily for the benefit of the people concerned. This has happened over and over. Combatting global terrorism in its geo-political dimensions, especially in Africa, already precluded endorsement of “sovereignty” by these “powerful countries' '. The “Yoruba Question” cannot therefore be an exception.

(xv) More importantly, the proposition absolves Yoruba elected officials from their responsibility to Yoruba people thereby subverting the entire concept of Self-determination or even Sovereignty it purports to project, just as it farms out the quest for Autonomy away from Yoruba people as direct beneficiaries, turning them into hapless victims of any conflicting global order.

(xvi) Political parties which were more or less representative of the various Nationalities were active participants in the pre-Independence Constitutional conferences just as they have been in the post-Independence era. Therefore, they cannot be wished away. These parties participated in the British attempt at addressing the question of Minorities through the Willink Commission, tasked with recommending appropriate measures for resolution. Its major recommendation was conducting Plebiscites/Referendum among the various Minorities to ascertain their wish for or against their own Regions.

(xvii) This recommendation was scuttled by the NPC(North) and the NCNC(East). This was how, for example, the Yoruba in Ilorin and Kabba provinces were forced to remain in the North and how the Minorities in the North were denied their identities as Nationalities. The resistance by the Tiv to this enforcement led to the “Tiv Riots” and the establishment of the “Mobile Police Force” (Kill and Go) to suppress them. All of these occurred despite the formidable opposition mounted by the Action Group. What could have happened to the Yoruba without the Action Group can therefore be left to the imagination. This is the intended or unintended outcome of “No elections in 2023”.

(xviii) The Yoruba Referendum Committee does not begrudge either the Northern elders or Atiku Abubakar. They have simply reiterated the need for other Regions or Nationalities to protect and project their own interests. In general, no Nationality needs any other Nationality to protect and project its interest. This is why the Yoruba Referendum Committee proposed Re- Federalizing Nigeria as a Multi-National State. This is the real essence of Self-determination.

(xix) For the Yoruba, the SW APC now has history to contend with, as stated in the Petition to the Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, and Ekiti Houses of Assembly, to pass the Bill for Referendum into law and conduct the Referendum. Similarly, Yoruba people have a duty to compel the Houses of Assembly to act on the Petition before them. “Yoruba Nation Now” has already placed itself outside this history.

(xx) The above is important considering the state of affairs of Nationalities, not only in Nigeria, but also on the Continent where contests for power revolve around the balance of power or forces between various Nationalities within the same Nation-State. This mandates a resolution located somewhere on the Continent. Nigeria fits the bill. Perfectly.

Editorial Board
Yoruba Referendum Committee