Tuesday 16 April 2024

Onitiri-Abiola and the madness in Ibadanby.. By Suyi Ayodele

Date was Monday, August 29, 1955. Oba Isaac Babalola Akinyele, the Olubadan of Ibadanland, sat on his throne. There was an august visitor to be received by the monarch. He had in attendance some of his prominent chiefs like the Otun Olubadan, Chief Kobiowu, and the Ashipa Olubadan, Chief Akinyo. From the political class, Oba Akinyele invited the colourful Adegoke Adelabu of the Penkelemesi fame. It was an important occasion for Oba Akinyele. One of his subjects, a woman of no mean repute, had requested to see the monarch. Adunni Oluwole was not just an Ibadan indigene. She was a force among the political elite of her time. Her pint-size notwithstanding, Adunni was a political juggernaut; she had her own political party, the Nigerian Commoners Party (NCP). The clamour for independence was at its highest then. Adunni Oluwole was futuristic. She suspected that if given independence, majority of Nigerians would suffer in the hands of the few that would take over from the colonial masters. So, while others were asking for independence, Adunni was of the opinion that the British should not hand over power until the masses were bold and educated enough to confront the monsters that the political class represented. To achieve her aims, she moved from one palace to the other: from one town to another, canvassing and mobilising the people against the clamour for independence. The Yoruba called her party Egbe K’Oyinbo maitiilo. 

In the course of her crusade, Adunni wrote to Oba Akinyele, seeking the permission of the Olubadan to come and address Ibadan people on why they should not support those asking for independence. On her arrival, Adunni told Oba Akinyele and the people gathered that if the whites were chased away and the politicians took over from them, the common people would suffer untold hardship. To avoid that, she asked the Olubadan to use his influence and mobilise his subjects not to support the transfer of power from the British colonial masters to the Nigerian slave drivers. But she was not allowed to finish her message. Chief Adelabu (Penkelemesi) was reported to have interrupted her abruptly, almost to the point of physical assault before Oba Akinyele restrained him. Oba Akinyele recognised the toughness of Adunni’s resolve but nevertheless asked that Adunni should be taken out of the palace and banished her from ever entering the palace. The late Professor Kole Omotoso recorded Adunni’s encounter with Adelabu in a more dramatic form in his book, one of the most authoritative documentations of the Nigerian politics, Just Before Dawn (page 200-201). 

Omotoso called the book faction (fact and fiction). But the Adunni story is fact. Though she died before Nigeria gained independence, events after the 1955 episode have since justified Adunni’s prediction that after independence, a few would become masters and dictators over the majority.

The Yoruba political, social and cultural setup is egalitarian in nature. It is a race known to have given equal opportunities for both sexes to actualise their potential. 

In the traditional setup, the position of Iyalode (leader of the women folks), has been as prominent as that of any male chieftaincy title. In some Yoruba towns and villages, occupants of the Iyalode chieftaincy play important roles in the selection of obas. This also underscores the respect accorded women on esoteric matters because the women folk are regarded as an important part of the tripod which governs an average Yoruba community (Oba-in-council, the awos and the owners of the night- our mothers). 

It is therefore not out of place for women in Yorubaland to rise and speak whenever occasion demands. The likes of the legendary Efunsetan Aniwura, the Iyalode of Ibadan (1829-June 30, 1874), Efunroye Tinubu (1810-1887),; Iyalode Bisoye Tejuoso (1916-1996); Chief (Mrs.) Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (1900-1978); Mama Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo (1915-2015), who after the passing of her husband, Chief Obafemi Awolowo in  1987, held the Awolowo political dynasty and the entire Yorubaland intact,  and the most recent, Iyalode Alaba Lawson (1951-2023), came to mind as some Yoruba matriarchs who used their positions, positively, to project the Yoruba nation to the world.

With the rich culture of decency that the Yoruba women folk have attracted to themselves and the race, one cannot but be worried that in the 21st century, a Yoruba woman can afford to wage a senseless war against her land under the guise of fighting for an independent nation for the Yoruba race. I am talking here about the last Saturday invasion of the Oyo State Secretariat by some miscreants who claimed to be soldiers fighting for the actualisation of an independent Yoruba nation. More appalling in the whole meshugaas, is the claimed declaration of the Democratic Republic of Yoruba (DRY), by Modupe Onitiri-Abiola, one of the widows of MKO Abiola. Shortly after the invasion of the Oyo State Secretariat, Onitiri-Abiola’s video of the declaration of her fanciful DRY hit the internet.

In the four minutes and forty-two seconds video (the version I got), the woman said among other things, in plain Yoruba Language: “We are indigenous people. We are sovereign people; we are ethnic nationalists. We have decided to secede from Nigeria on November 20, 2022. And today, April 12, 2024, we decided to finally leave Nigeria. I, Modupe Onitiri-Abiola, proclaimed the sovereignty of the Democratic Republic of Yoruba today, Friday, April 14, 2024. From today henceforth, Yorubaland has commenced its own republic. By that virtue, it is now become the newest nation in the world…” 

The video was obviously recorded a day before the invasion of the secretariat. After watching the video, I have been trying to situate what actually prompted her and her backers to embark on such a mission at this point. I have been trying to fathom which Yoruba nation she was talking about. I checked her pedigree; the only thing I could get is her conjugal relationship with the late MKO.

No doubt about the fact that Nigeria, as it is composed now, needs restructuring. Nobody, especially anyone who has been following the political trajectory of Nigeria since the collapse of the First Republic on January 15, 1966, will be comfortable with the way things are in the country. The current political dispensation, has, since its inception on May 29, 1999, foregrounded, more than any administration before it (civilian or military), those things that divide us more that any hope of unity.

As much as we agree that we don’t have the best of structures at the moment, it is unthinkable that the solution will be a broad day-light secession! The truth is that the last set of nationalists that have ever traversed the Nigerian political landscape were those lofty politicians of the last five years of colonial rule and the first three years after independence in 1960. Before the January 15, 1966, coup led by the late Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu, it was obvious to all discerning minds that Nigeria was “a mere geographical expression”, as espoused by Chief Awolowo in 1947. There is nothing to show that the country has grown into nationhood. Fifty-four years after we fought a needless civil war that claimed over two million lives from both sides, all in a bid to “keep Nigeria one” in spite of the glamourous insertions in our various constitutions- the affirmative cliche of Nigeria being “one indivisible and indissoluble Sovereign State”- we have demonstrated that we have not learnt anything from our history.

Every person of good conscience will agree that Nigeria cannot continue the way it is now. Something must be done to address the various agitations across the nation. When a Fulani man is at the centre, the Yoruba man is not happy. When it is the turn of the Yoruba man, the man up north feels that he is being short-changed. Yet, the third leg of the tripod, the Igbo race, is left in the cold to suffer its fate. We fought a war for 30 months. We ended the war and affirmed that: “there is no victor; there is no vanquished”. Over five decades after the ‘affirmation’, we still see the Igbo as “those who attempted to break away’, and as such, not fit to be number one in the country. This is the kind of feeling that emboldened last Saturday’s thoughtless action. However, we cannot but caution Onitiri-Abiola that this is not how to be a heroine. She could read more about how Mrs. Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti led the Egba women on October 5, 1946, and how Nwanyereuwa, led the November 18, 1929, Aba women’s riots. Those were great women in their own right.

My greatest concern in the current matter is that it happened in Yorubaland. With our sophistication, cosmopolitan outlook and enlightenment, it beats one’s imagination that a group of people would wake up, arm themselves and march to the Oyo State secretariat to “take over” the place. One of the things that came to my mind is that if, for instance, those DRY ‘soldiers’ had succeeded in taking over the Oyo State Secretariat, what follows? Would that have meant that their gang members in Ekiti, Ondo, Osun, Ogun and Lagos States would replicate the same? How many men do they have? What is the size of the arsenals? What a joke! But who do we blame for this charade? How long have we been asking that the Yoruba elders should put their house in order? How long have we been clamouring that Afenifere should detach itself from the apron of Yoruba political marauders- the very ones who believed in restructuring before they got to power but would not touch the same ideology with a 10-foot pole while in government?

Above all, the last Saturday incident in Ibadan is a wake-up call to the nation’s leadership. They should be worried that that type of thing can happen in Yorubaland. Whether it resembles ‘gate’, or it does not resemble it, one is advised to set a trap for it (Ó jo gàté kò jo gàté àwòn laa dee de). Who knows who has copied the template? How many of us in Yorubaland ever thought that something close to that could happen in our backyard? When the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) started its agitations, what name did we not call them? The nation must do something before we have a conflagration in our hands. Beyond punishing those behind the Ibadan saga -, and I think they should be thoroughly punished- we must address the factors that are responsible for such a reprehensive behaviour. It should not be dismissed as one of those things. It is obvious that Nigeria needs restructuring in all aspects. Any further delay will bring more of Onitiri-Abiola’s type of ‘proclamation’. Truth is, many are waiting in the wings to follow suit. It was the Igbo the other time. It is Yoruba now. Who knows who is next?


No comments:

Post a Comment