Bulletin #41: Open Letter to Yoruba Obas Forum

By Femi Odedeyi
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Your Royal Highnesses,
The Yoruba Referendum Committee welcomes your direct intervention in the efforts to Restructure Nigeria. The Communique at the end of your Annual General Meeting held on Monday, November 27, 2023, provides a good basis for an engagement with the aim of arriving at a practical road map that will usher in a Restructured Nigeria of our dreams.

Your Communique demanded, among others, the following from the Federal Government: (A) to have specific constitutional roles for all traditional rulers in the country as a fourth tier of the government, (B) immediately expedite action granting Local Government Autonomy to Local Government authorities (C) create a special intervention fund for security which would be administered by the traditional rulers as a way to improve on the spate of insecurity in the country.(D) to critically look into the suggestions proffered during the last Constitutional Review Conference and (E) the Local Government Authorities and Traditional rulers as well as the States to have better control of resources within their domain.

The Yoruba Referendum Committee humbly responds to your Communique as follows:

i. The Federal Government cannot be asked to have specific Constitutional roles for all traditional rulers in the country as a fourth tier of government because there is no such tier in any Federation. A Federation is a system of coordinate jurisdiction between the Center (National) and the Federating Unit(sub-national). Therefore, asking the Federal Government to make traditional rulers a fourth tier of government already neutralizes the concept of Federalism.

ii. Traditional rulership is culture specific, especially in a Multinational and Multi-cultural country like Nigeria. As Yoruba Obas, you represent a specific culture within the Nigerian context, therefore, your role in governance of Yorubaland ordinarily should have no input from the center as the Yoruba and their Obas have, over the centuries, during pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial periods, established proven relevance and authority of the Oba, in their varied good, bad, and ugly components. Hence, for the Yoruba, our political space is also a cultural space with time-honored values. This historical and contemporary reality cannot be surrendered to the Federal Government. Besides, were the Federal Government to accede to this request means already the quest for Restructuring is already defeated because it presupposes that the existing STRUCTURE is a given; that is, the question to be answered is no longer the STRUCTURE of the Federation but merely the reconfiguration of its mode of governance.

iii. Similarly, “Local Government Autonomy” is anti-Federal in the sense that the Autonomy will depend on funding from the center. The entire quest for Local Government autonomy is anchored on its separation from the State Government with the excuse that the Local Government is nearer to the people and such autonomy will advance development without being hampered by the excesses of the State Government.

iv. We know, from our experience in the Western Region, that development, local or Regional, was not a function of the distance from the people, but the result of definitive policies geared towards development, with relevant agencies by both the local and Regional Governments. Hence, the Obas played pivotal roles in the development and application of the free primary education policies, local councilors played their roles in agricultural extension services, etc. These were neutralized by the various military interventions through which Local Government Administration became centralized via the Dasuki Reform recommendations and which has now led us to where we are, today.

v. The problem created by the continuous centralization of Local Governments cannot therefore be resolved by vesting the same central Government the authority to have direct funding, and therefore control, of Local Governance. Flowing with this will be the annexation and subordination of local security by the Center because it will control the utilization of the said funding. Our contention is that if the center will disburse special intervention funds for security, it also reserves the power to interfere and intervene in the execution of any security policy that will be put in place. The institution of the Oba will become an appendage of the political forces controlling the center at any point in time thereby removing them further away from their primary cultural constituency, comprising the people they govern as Oba. This is further reinforced by your demand on the government to critically review the solutions proffered during the last Constitutional Review Conference.

vi. The Conference avoided taking any decision(s) on the most fundamental issue before it, to wit: the nature of the Federation as well as control of the resources which was shunted to another time. Incidentally, one of your demands centered on resource control by “local governments, traditional rulers and states”.

vii. Based on the above, the thrust of the message we want to pass to you is that reviewing the conference is not necessary as it negates everything related to Federalism. What is needed is another approach towards achieving a Truly Federal Nigeria.

viii. We begin by acknowledging the major roles played by Yoruba Obas in the founding and activities of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, founded by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in London, England, in 1945 and formally launched in Ile-Ife in 1947. One major reason stated at the Egbe’s formation was “the propagation of the ideal of a modern Yoruba State and Federal State of Nigeria through the agency of reliable persons who share our ideals”.

ix. Towards this end, the Egbe, through its memo to the Regional Committee on the amendment to the Richards Constitution established by the then Governor MacPherson, advocated the “grouping of Nigeria into various Autonomous States or Regions purely on ethnical basis” and that Regional Autonomy should be the prerequisite for a Central government and that if there was any area in which the colonial government wanted to experiment in giving Nigerians complete control over internal affairs, that area should be in the Regional Administration.

x. Chief Obafemi Awolowo drew extensively on the global models of shared governance between National and sub-national governments in arriving at this Federalist option. Yet, the Conference relegated this global imperative to the background in its conceptualization by denying Nationalities the freedom to choose who to speak for them at such an important meeting. This method of selecting or appointing delegates alienated most delegates from the Nationalities whose direct voice was needed on such crucial aspect of Restructuring the polity in Nigeria. None of the delegates represented any of the Peoples of Nigeria, hence were not bound to defend any imperative of the Nationality from which they were selected. Hence, the Conference could not align itself with the hopes and aspirations of the People which was supposedly the raison d’etre for organizing such Conferences in the first instance. It merely provided the ammunition to further unitarize Nigeria, thereby entrenching the country’s foundational crisis, which was against what the Yoruba had always advocated as being the basis for Federalism.

xi. The Conference did so by assuming the singularity of the geo-political space called Nigeria and all its solutions to its problems were relegated to maintaining that singularity while turning issues of Federalism into an administrative convenience even when it is obvious that the problem is exactly in that singularity. That is why the Conference promoted the ridiculous position that “states are Federating Units”. States, as we have them in Nigeria, are administrative entities, which were not even created by the residents but by military fiat. A country can have any form of administrative unit, which was why Aguiyi Ironsi replaced the Regions with “groups of provinces” which are now more or less the “states”.

xii. Every Union or Federation in the world is based on a Union of Peoples which may be administered either as states (as in the US) or Regions as in Germany. For a Federation or Union to exist, therefore, the Peoples inhabiting a geographical space must make that decision. That the Conference refused to see this point underscored the confusion in its understanding of the concept of Federalism in a post-colonial State like Nigeria.

xiii. �� When the case is made that the current states are now a reality which we cannot run away from, the short answer to that is, Yes, we can run away from it, in the sense that the political and economic circumstances that make for their creation is the root cause of Nigeria’s problems today, such that their retention or changing can only be by the Peoples affected themselves and not by fiat from the Center. Thus, the Yoruba may decide to make every Yoruba town or city an administrative center—that will be our choice based on our economic and political imperatives. While the Conference floated the idea of merging of States that may wish to, it did not prescribe the methodology for doing so and it could not have.

xiv. The above, and more, are the reasons the Yoruba Referendum Committee is proposing, for your consideration, the pursuit of a Legal, Valid and Legitimate mechanism that will aggregate Yoruba demands as the way forward. The mechanism is what we have called the “Yoruba Referendum” which will address the lack of political integration preventing the establishment of a Yoruba Regional entity and identity that will drive Yoruba economic, cultural, and social imperatives.

xv. Towards this end, the Bill for a Referendum has been submitted to the Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, and Ekiti State Houses of Assembly, to be passed into Law and conduct the Referendum.

It is our candid hope that you will throw your weight behind this endeavor.

Thank you, sirs,
Editorial Board,
Yoruba Referendum Committee