2023 and lesson of history for the Yoruba

By Jide Oluwajuyitan

And what happened when we were united? We got to the zenith, to the envy of all. But the moment we departed from the source of our strength – truth and righteousness as espoused by Orunmila, our illustrious forebear, we were infiltrated by those operating below the level of ‘Afenifere’ worldview which celebrates egalitarianism.

Oliver Stanley reminded our compatriots living in denial in 1920 that Nigeria is “a collection of self-contained and mutually independent native state separated by difference of history and tradition and by ethnological, racial, tribal political social and religious barriers”. A few of the groups identified by Hugh Clifford, Nigeria’s colonial Governor General, include ‘the anti-social Mumuye of Muri Province, the unfriendly inhabitants of the Mama Hills and ‘the naked warriors of the jungle’ and the ‘Hausas of Zaria who he said are different from the Bantu tribesmen of the valley of the Benue’, just as the Scandinavians in the Baltic are different from the Slavs of Bulgaria”.

Hugh Clifford in in his address to the Nigerian Council on December 1920, therefore articulated a British policy designed to produce a ‘regional government that secures for each separate people, the right to maintain its identity, its individuality and its nationality and its own chosen form of government which have been evolved for it by the wisdom and by the accumulated experiences of generation of its fore-bearers’.

At the Lancaster House Conference, while the North wanted a loose federation and the East, a unitary system, the West insisted on a federal arrangement which guarantees ‘individual and group rights defined in form of language, culture, and religion or socio-economic status’. They presented a road map “Nigeria Path to freedom”.

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To bring out the heuristic value of the work with self-government in 1952, they embarked on policies woven around our culture such as Yoruba communalism. Some of the dividends of their investments include the Western Nigerian Television Service (WNTV), the first in Africa launched on October 31, 1959, Liberty Stadium, free education programme, which today makes the region one of the most educated part of Africa, Water Corporation, Housing Corporation, Cocoa House, the first skyscraper in Nigeria etc.


The travails of the Yoruba however started the moment our Afenifere leaders decided it was time to extend what they believed was good for the west to the rest of the country. The effort was unfortunately misinterpreted by leaders of the north and east as imposition of Yoruba values by Yoruba arrogant leaders.

Akintola‘s first attempt at mobilising Kano youths was not without disastrous consequences with about 44 mostly Igbo traders killed by misdirected Kano youths. Not even self-evident facts presented by Awo that “the Action Group government in the West was spending nine and a quarter million pounds on education with over one and half million in schools as against three million pound of NPC in the North with a quarter million students” impressed his audience.

Ahmadu Bello, whose law was order, was infuriated that he was forced out to address those he and his other northern ruling oligarchy regarded as serfs and for this, they swore never to forgive Awolowo for his audacity. He was so confident of victory without campaigning that the Sunday Express of December 20, 1959 at page 2 reported him as saying “I shall divide Nigeria into two and hand them over to my lieutenants just as Dan Fodio divided the conquered north among his two sons.”

In Sokoto, Awo’s helicopter was not allowed to land in any public space. When the helicopter shared leaflets from the air because his campaign permit was cancelled, he was accused of desecrating the Emirs’ palace.

In Onitsha, he had to seek the help of the Governor General, Sir James Robertson before his helicopter could land under police protection. When he could not campaign and decided to distribute campaign leaflets from the air, the NCNC members claimed he was ‘shitting on Igbo heads”.

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After the election, Balewa got the Holy Quran as Sardauna’s lieutenant in the north and Zik, a horse as the one that held sway for the Sardauna in the south. As for vanquished Awo and his AG, they were slated for destruction.

In November 1960, barely a month after independence, for opposing the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact during a debate in the house, Minister of defence, Mohammed Ribadu had asked the Balewa to take note that “unless this man Awolowo is put in gaol the country will not have peace”, to which the prime minister answered “I understand”. Ribadu later added – “There is a limit to the function of criticizing and when it is used as an excuse to introduce subversion, then it has certainly gone beyond reasonable limits and borders on treasonable action”.

By April 16, 1961, the idea of introducing a preventive detention system, undoubtedly with Awo as the target was mooted by Balewa, Okpara and Ahmadu Bello at a meeting which had Akintola in attendance. Dr Okpara later made the decision public claiming “Subversion was prevalent, weapons were being smuggled into the country; the nation must be able to defend itself”.

There was also the move to illegally take over the National Bank which they believed funded Awo’s campaign. Again, Akintola stood up for his principal protesting through the Daily Times that “it was a reprisal against the government of the Western Region for no other reason other than it is controlled by the AG”.

Then Ahmadu Bello and Zik changed tactics. Akintola, the instrument Awo used to fight the north and the colonial masters into a standstill must be captured. Balewa had resisted his return to the Council of Ministers because he had nothing but contempt for the north. He had derailed the Council of Ministers meeting for three months because Awo said he had no replacement for him and indeed no other Yoruba man was ready to take over from Akintola. For Fulani leaders that capture victims through marriage, business or political office, capturing Akintola who was imposed without election and sending Awo to detention camp was fair game.

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With his public presentation of a ceremonial sword during his visit to the Niger Canoe regatta at Pategi, by Ahmadu Bello, Akintola replaced Dr Azikiwe as the leader holding southern half of the country in sway for him.

Attorney General Teslim Elias, prepared ground for the declaration of state of emergency and detention of Awo. Educating parliament that Section 60 and sub section 80 of the constitution empowered them to decide what constituted breakdown of law and order, Balewa and Zik’s parliament agreed throwing of chairs by some lawmakers was ‘break down of constitutional authority’ while an insurrection in the north suppressed by the military was not.

What goes round comes around. In 1964, Okpara could not campaign in Ogbomosho. In Bauchi, he was forced to hold a meeting outside Bauchi town mud-walls. He got to Kaduna’s Hamdala hotel where he had made payment only to be told the hotel was filled up.

Zik, outwitted by title of head of state with Bello declaring “he will oppose head of state possessing any real power if that person might be southerner” (Trevor Clark page 594) lamented “what is happening in Nigeria today does not inspire me to be optimistic that we shall survive as one nation”.

As it is often with powerful Yoruba leaders accused of treachery against the people, Akintola literarily committed suicide confronting armed soldiers that invaded the government house in 1966.

Sadly, despite our past hero’s heroic failures, our current actors have been unable to match the legacies of our 1952-82 teams especially in the west. Little relief is coming from youths whose today’s battle cry is “crucify elders and banish tribes” without understanding that the two world wars in Europe were tribal wars, the reason every nationality, no matter how small, is today a nation state in Europe.

Jide Oluwajuyitan ,writes from Lagos

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Musa Tanimu Nasidi
the authorMusa Tanimu Nasidi