All fingers are not equal. (Yoruba proverb)
There is a Yoruba proverb, “Ika ko dogba,” meaning the fingers are not equal. The saying is typical Yoruba, underscoring our ethos of uniqueness of the individual. Yoruba mythology posits that every individual on the eve of their birth picked out their “ori” which holds their unique destiny. No person can alter the course of an individual’s destiny which they uniquely selected by themselves. Ori means head, which of course houses the brain. Ifa, traditional Yoruba religion is based on wisdom and the intellect.
How a liberal, meritocratic merry-making people that genuinely believe that all are uniquely different because “ika ko dogba” allowed itself to be held captive by a northern jihadist patriarchal prebendal autocracy representing Hausa-Fulani proxy hegemonic rule, is beyond me.
The diverse tribes in southern Nigeria delayed independence from British rule until 1960, because the northern elites claimed that they did not have enough educated and qualified technocrats and administrators to take over and run the government following the termination of colonial rule. The rest of the south obliged the northern elite, trying to allay their fears of domination by the south, because their common objective was to see the exit of the British colonialists.
The “independence fathers” (I do not call them founding fathers, since the British founded Nigeria) agreed to have a federal type of government to accommodate their ethnic, religious and regional diversity. However, just 6 years after ostensible independence from the British, the Nigerian military committed treason twice in one year eventually imposing a northern military rule which superintended a civil war and genocide against Igbos and other Biafrans and a 30-year military autocratic rule (with a 3-year profligate civilian interregnum that was again overthrown in 1983) that institutionalized corruption and entrenched mediocrity, kakistocracy and sycophancy to government big men.
All of these events established northern domination of Nigeria even with civilian rule from 1999. It did not matter that the north of Nigeria was the least economically developed and had the least educated citizens. Their instrumentality of coercion was the armed forces and the fear they propagated through their use of violence and the rule of the gun.
Over time the southern academics and educated professional cadre that had been built up under the leadership of Obafemi Awolowo’s western regional government of the fifties and sixties, suffered a massive brain-drain as Yorubas, Igbos and other educated southerners emigrated to the West, living in exile to seek socioeconomic succor which they’d been deprived of under successive repressive northern military dictatorships. All the while, the northern elites, military cabal, and corrupt civil service fleeced Nigeria’s coffers of almost one trillion dollars, while leaving their commoners, talakawa, impoverished and among the most uneducated and depressed people in the world.
Their deplorable and abject conditions in northern Nigeria became fertile grounds for the deadliest terrorist sect in the world, Boko Haram, to sprout and further terrorize Nigerians. Today, the perennial terror of kidnappers, banditry, and Boko Haram in the north has successfully shut down the education of the undereducated children in the north who were already the least educated in Nigeria.
As a practical matter, the massively uneducated and unskilled north terrorized by anti-western education jihadists are not attractive to western-education-loving southerners (especially Yorubas) to form a country with. I make no pretense of speaking for other ethnic southerners as much as a federalism encompassing southern Christian Nigerians may be attractive. However, I am Yoruba and therefore speak for many Yorubas and those who I do not speak for, I appeal to.
Northern elites and pandering politicians have routinely dismissed national clamoring in the south as “politicization” revealing the arrogant disdain for concerns of citizens. When even highly educated Yorubas subscribe to the establishment of a Yoruba nation and self-determination, the cabals fail to listen to their yearnings at the peril of anything that can be salvaged of a moribund Nigerian state.
First, on the issue of religion. While enlightened progressives are tolerant of omnistic societies we must recognize that as a practical matter many modern secular states have emerged and crystalized along religious lines. Although Americans decided to protect all religions in their eventual constitution, the Puritans escaping religious persecution in Europe with their descendants sowed the seeds of the emerging American state. While the First Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits the government from establishing or preventing the practice of any religion, Americans by far still remain largely “Christians” by identification.
In Europe, the protestant Holland separated from their catholic brothers and sisters—Belgium.
Many modern secular states still reflect a national identity predicated on a common religion while still protecting all religious views of their citizenry and other minorities. This is the case with Muslim Turkey, the Jewish State of Israel, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and even the most sophisticated countries in western Europe.
Why have the yawning religious disparities of northern (predominantly Muslim) and southern (predominantly Christian) Nigerians been casually dismissed? It is injudicious to do so, especially among a people known to be very religious. The 19th century was marked by religious wars and jihads throughout northern Nigeria, which saw the establishment of the Fulani theocratic emirate system which was used by the British to administer indirect colonial rule. The 19th century Fulani religious wars even saw a disruption in Yorubaland and the establishment of the Ilorin emirate in northern Yorubaland with the decimation of the old Oyo empire—the most powerful Yoruba city state in precolonial Yorubaland. Till this day the Fulani emirate system remains a unifying feature of northern Nigerian identity. Unfortunately, it is polarizing for Yorubas and other southern Nigerians. It is problematic that a theocratic system established by jihads appears unruffled but co-exists by the modern jihadism of Boko Haram terrorists that ravage the resources of Nigeria.
Northern Nigeria’s emirate system is a quasi-theocratic state with apparent Islamist aspirations. The system has even inspired state governments enforcing Sharia laws. The Arabization of northern Nigeria remains alien to Yorubas and a predominantly Christian southern Nigeria. This cannot be reconciled with progressive Yoruba ideals. Liberal, progressive Yorubas (mainly Christians) have neither a place nor the desire to be in such a state. Even our Muslim Yorubas are tolerant and have no desire for a quasi-theocratic government.
Furthermore, another reason that Yorubas cannot practically be united in a country with northern Nigeria mired by Islamist terrorism and anti-western militancy is the massive depletion of limited resources diverted to fight an unending war against a jihadist malaise limited to northern Nigeria. Plowing more scarce resources into a military mainly employing northern Muslim Nigerians (Arewa, Hausa-Fulani-Kanuri, etc.) in which Yorubas hardly constitute a factor, is not to the benefit of Yorubas. It means money that would have gone into educating Yoruba children, investing in businesses, industries and infrastructure to employ Yorubas, is diverted to fund an allegedly corrupt and apparently unending war against Boko Haram and other Islamists in the north. Islamists which–according to a former minister of defense and chief of army (General T.Y. Danjuma)–have been denounced as being supported by a corrupt military sympathizing with those who attack innocent law-abiding Nigerian citizens.
Continued union of Yorubas with northern Nigeria will only further the underdevelopment of Yorubaland. Being submerged in a penurious Nigerian state exacerbated by the northern condition is not an enviable prospect.
Yorubas delayed their independence, waiting for the north, agreeing we should all move and develop together at the same pace—equally. Continuing to delay Yoruba progress for Nigerian unity and development (that will never come) is a mistake. Yorubas have been longsuffering enough. Even to the detriment of maintaining our zeitgeist of uniqueness of the destiny of the individual and of every people. The goodwill Yorubas showed the northern Hausa-Fulani elites in waiting for the north to “catch up” has only resulted in the subjugation of Yorubas to a Nigerian state ironically dominated and controlled by northerners.
No good deed goes unpunished.
Yoruba goodwill was abused as Yoruba leaders were targeted, criminalized, and killed by the treacherous and sectarian Nigerian state. Obafemi Awolowo was jailed in the sixties, accused of treason; and after apparently winning the heart of Nigerians of all stripes in what even his military enemies called the freest and fairest elections, another Yoruba leader, MKO Abiola would lose his life in captivity to the Hausa-Fulani-Kanuri northern military cabal that ruled Nigeria. Unfortunately, they took Nigeria to a new low and depravity as they assassinated his activist wife, Kudirat Abiola.
Yorubas and Hausa-Fulanis or any other tribe in Nigeria have never developed “equally.” The entrenchment of de facto northern rule through military dictators dominated by northerners established grave inequities and socioeconomic disparities in Nigeria as northerners came to dominate southerners in government, the armed forces, and control of resources. The fact that Nigeria does not operate a federal system like America does (the inspiration and origin of our supposed federal aspirations) is another issue.
The north will never operate a true federal system with the diverse peoples of Nigeria. You only need to look to their history of circumventing federalism over the past 60 years of Nigerian independence. If the northern hegemony has scuttled federalism for the past sixty years, what is going to make it change now?
A true federal system like in America has the states exercising full control of their resources. Nigeria practices a unitary system, which enables the north, Hausa-Fulani hegemony to dominate the south and exploit their resources. The purported claim is to share the resources in the Nigerian state and develop equally together. Unfortunately, Nigeria is now severely underdeveloped because of this exploitative and sectarian system of rule.
Ika ko dogba.
None of my parents’ children have developed “equally” or in the same path. We have each grown differently, taking different paths regardless of our common origin, shared environment and mutual access to our parents’ resources. Ours is not a unique situation. Even children of the same mother when given the same resources in the same environment, grow and develop differently. We all have different capabilities that inevitably inform our divergent paths. It is irrational and a red herring when the Nigerian state avers to seek the “equal” development of the diverse groups (with variegated interests, capacities, values and goals) in Nigeria.
Subjugation under the less developed, nepotistic, and reactionary northern Nigerian hegemon has stymied the development of the progressive southern Nigerians, including the Yorubas. The stifling effect northern Nigeria has on southerners is notably evidenced in the mammoth Nigerian diaspora, the most skilled set of Nigerians. A guestimate indicates that 90 percent of the Nigerian diaspora are of southern extraction. These sons and daughters of southern Nigeria have found creative expression that has garnered tremendous success in the advanced countries of the West.
Thus, Yoruba youths are inspired by the success stories of their kinsmen in America such as Adebayo Ogunlesi, the chairman of the private equity firm, Global Infrastructure Partners and former vice chairman of Credit Suisse (Ogunlesi was also the first foreign-born person to clerk for a U.S. Supreme Court Justice); Professor John Dabiri, winner of the MacArthur Fellowship popularly called the “genius grant”; and recently Nigerian-born Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo, who became the number two person in the United States Treasury Department at under 40 years old.
But all Yoruba youths cannot emigrate to America to seek their opportunities to succeed. They must change the narrative in Nigeria. They must change the story of despair that has left them undereducated, ravaged their schools and left their institutions decrepit and incapable of training globally competitive students skilled to succeed in the 21st century global village. They must seek freedom from a nation that has rendered them unemployed, even as Nigerian leaders continue to create an underclass of unemployable youths in the north.
Fairness is what is key and will be demonstrated when each region and people take control of their resources and rule themselves, to develop at their own unique pace, consistent with their values and aspirations. Taking the resources originated from one section of the country such as the Niger-Delta, from localities that have not oppressed their brethren to arbitrarily gift others in another locality is oppressive and unjust. Yorubas appear to be living under a second occupation this time not under the British colonial “masters”, but under the Islamist-northern hegemony in the guise of federalism.
Nigeria’s different tribes and regions will never develop together or “equally.” That does not even happen in the most democratic state which is the father of modern federalism—America. Alabama develops at its own pace using its own resources, and its citizens do not care what New Yorkers are doing. No state in America waits to receive handouts from a central government that expropriates state resources. It just does not happen in a co-sovereign democratic government. The feudal unitary system of the Nigerian federal government has retarded the development of states in Yorubaland, even as the less developed northern states remain backward. What in the world is open grazing in the 21st century?
In America’s democracy, state governments operate virtually like a country, control their regional resources, retain the power to tax and most confer on local governments and counties, the power to generate revenue locally—they are autonomous. A federal government should not be an overcentralized fiefdom like Nigeria is.
It is not for me, a Yoruba man, to opine on what southern Nigerians must do for their own freedom and progress. However, as a Yoruba person who wants all Nigerians to do well, I unreservedly declare that a necessary step for Yoruba progress is the independence of a Yoruba nation in which its enterprising citizens control their own resources and free Yoruba children choose their own destiny. Free Yorubas and the future of their children from the oppression and yoke of the Nigerian state, a proxy for Islamist-northern-Hausa-Fulani-Kanuri hegemony bankrupting the future of all Nigerians.
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