Opinion: The Yoruba people, Ijaws and true federalism

by Shenge Rahman Akanbi

The recent meeting between some Yoruba politicians in old and new Afenifere and some leaders of the Ijaw Nation has once again brought to the fore the limitations of the strategies being deployed in the quest for True Federalism in Nigeria; a major consequence of which is the reduction of the pursuit to what was known as a “southern alliance” and now a Yoruba-Ijaw Alliance as if conspiracy/alliance of two or more against one or more of the Constituent Nationalities is the talisman that will conjure a new union into being.

The Yoruba politicians who attended this meeting once threatened to secede from Nigeria if the atrocities committed by Fulani herdsmen are not curtailed, when one of their own was attacked. Yet, this meeting with the Ijaw Nation treated the attacks carried out on Yorubaland by Ijaw terrorists with levity, as if the Yoruba lives lost to Ijaw terrorists are inferior to those lost to Fulani terrorists. The best the Yoruba at the meeting could say about this horrific event is to call the murders unfortunate.

This self-immolating indulgence of Afenifere amounts to making peace with Ijaw murderers on the graves of fellow Yoruba. An alliance that is not on the basis of equality and mutuality of interest is perfidy of the first waters! The meeting’s communique made it clear that Afenifere wants to drag the Yoruba into an alliance that presses our people into service as cannon fodder in the struggle for power and influence by leaders of another Nationality.

In our view, the call by this alliance on the Buhari Administration to implement what they described as “relevant recommendations of the Jonathan Conference” is an attempt at dressing a sell-out in the attractive garb of high minded advocacy for True Federalism. A genuine quest for Federalism and/or Restructuring will only be meaningful when it is driven by the determination of each and every one to “develop at their own pace” and not by an unequal yoking of one’s interests in a grand conspiracy with others, especially when the conference recommendations they are gustily promoting are arguably the most anti-Federalist in the recent history of constitutional parleys and initiatives in Nigeria.

The outcomes of a conference that did not involve constituent nationalities beyond a few hours of town meetings in six geopolitical centers cannot be promoted as an inevitable document to get Nigeria out of the mess it has been put by military dictators that de-federalized Nigeria for their own reasons and in the belief that Nigeria’s petroleum was capable of funding states without internally generated revenue to meet their obligations to their citizens.

Their Conference recommendations which parried resource control to technical committees of the government, the increase in the number of States to 54, their perfunctory review of a judicial system that has been denuded of state jurisdictional autonomy in respect of state crimes as well as optionality of state police and subjection of all functions on the concurrent list to federal legislative supremacy in total disregard of full fiscal autonomy of the states all speak eloquently to their surrender to the military-induced de-Federalization of Nigeria.

Real and aspiring Awoists should feel embarrassed to conspire with any nationality to promote a conference of handpicked delegates as the best Nigeria can have, after several decades of failed governance in the country on account of a flawed political structure.

To all intents and purposes therefore, an alliance between the Ijaw and the Yoruba and /or another favorite of theirs, a “southern alliance”, is a continuation of their previous capitulation to Ijaws’ desperate bid to retain control of the center – a bid which if successful would have been more beneficial to the Ijaw elites who saw nothing wrong with the structure of Nigeria while the Jonathan party lasted.
For Nigerian Nationalities in general, advancing the quest for True Federalism demands a simultaneous engagement with the centralized post-colonial State structure as well as paying greater attention to the internal political trajectory of each Nationality. This is what we commend to the Yoruba Nation at this historical juncture.

We have been there before. Since the realization that Federalism is the necessary form of State for a multi-lingual, multi-national and multi-cultural society, its political expression in Yorubaland was found through the Action Group which made it the platform for its anti-colonial advocacy.

When President Buhari alluded to the progress achieved during the First Republic in his Inaugural Speech and indeed mentioned those responsible for the progress, the question that needs to be asked is how Nigeria derailed and deviated from that path of progress into this deep pit of underdevelopment. The obvious answer to the question is the gradual efforts of the central government of the time to negate the Federalism that ushered in Nigeria’s Independence, up to the point of not only taking over the process for its own purposes but also trying to destroy the Action Group which ultimately led to the collapse of the Republic. Since then, all efforts to be liberated from this centralization has become the central focus of political praxis in the country.

Challenges to this centralization had almost always been based on the good intentions of whoever is in power which has led to various outcomes largely determined by the preferences or idiosyncrasies of the central power structure, resulting in yet more demands for Restructuring and True Federalism, which, for Afenifere, also became an after-thought to be pressed into service whenever they are out of political relevance only to be jettisoned the moment some semblance of relevance appeared in the horizon for their principal members. This tendency was demonstrated clearly during the Jonathan years where the organization was favored with some appointments after some loud noises about “marginalization” of Yorubaland.

Yet, the Yoruba Nation had never lacked participation at the highest levels of Nigeria’s centralist administration; a situation which saw to the emergence of not only a Yoruba as President, but also having some Yoruba in important political positions which made nonsense of the cries of “marginalization” and which was the reason why these Yoruba were unable to push the quest for Federalism to any appreciable extent while also demonstrating, in a clear manner, the fundamental limitations inherent in Afenifere’s supplications for crumbs from the power that be at the center.

This is further exhibited in very recent times, when Dr. Femi Okuorunmu, acting a script written by Afenifere, publicly proposed lining up behind Abubakar Atiku simply on account of Atiku’s well-advertised conversion to the Federalist mantra even when the latter has no roadmap towards accomplishing it, beyond preparing for the 2019 presidential elections with the hope of having the same Yoruba people who supported Jonathan behind his own presidential ambition.

All these, alongside the move towards an alliance with the Ijaw show a deliberate disempowerment of the People in the sense that True Federalism, as an existential imperative, is now being taken away from the People and reduced to elite negotiations with the Ijaw without any reference to the generality of Yoruba people.

What then is left for the Yoruba Nation and People in this circumstance? It is imperative for Yoruba People to utilize the opportunity provided by the commitment of the APC to True Federalism in its Manifesto by engaging APC on its own self-declared terms by ensuring that the SW(Yoruba) APC becomes faithful to Yoruba philosophical/ideological praxis developed in the course of our historical journey all through the pre-colonial era to the anti-colonial activism and the post-colonial phase. That way the generality of our People and not just a few members of the elite will take ownership of the struggle for True Federalism through a process of self-activity that will ensure its attainment. Above all, this will also ensure that the struggle for True Federalism becomes a key component of our electoral engagement as is being done in Scotland and Catalonia.
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Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Written by Shenge Rahman Akanbi, Femi Odedeyi for and on behalf of Egbe Omo Oduduwa
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