In the unfortunate history of Nigeria, nothing has brought the diversity of the nation to the front burner more than the present hegemonic administration of General Muhammadu Buhari. Often, Buhari promotes only his Fulani stock. The agglutination of his primordial attitude and the naked arrogance of his Fulani stock stands at the roots of the recent agitations for self-determination by the various nationalities in Nigeria. Interestingly, the Yoruba nation joined the fray for the first time since 1914 when the self-serving British Government imposed the unequal yoke of amalgamation upon Southern Nigeria. Today, the Yoruba stock is at the forefront of the implosive calls for self-determination. The rally in Osogbo and the similar rally in Ibadan, about some month ago, are events that should get Buhari genuinely worried. The inorganic state of his presidency has incapacitated the administration from addressing the issues. The situation became combustible with the inaugural meeting of the 17 governors from southern Nigeria in Asaba, to chart a new course for the region. The response from Buhari’s Fulani brothers was expectedly repulsive. One of their best brains, a certain Professor Usman Yusuf, former Executive Secretary, NHIS, surmmarised the disdain of the North for the South in its raw element. He blamed the Southern Nigeria Governors for not consulting the Fulani leaders before they made their demands at the Asaba meeting. Yusuf, a professor, thinker and philosopher, posited: “Southern governors must provide land for Fulani herders to graze their cattle if they want to ban open grazing”. He added the Fulani usual insolence: “Gathering in one hotel and giving a blanket ban is irresponsible”. What Yusuf is saying in essence is that the Fulani hold the power of life and death over every southern Nigerian; that every man down South needs the approval of the Fulani before he can go into the “other room” for the due benevolence with his wife. Again, Buhari gave his approval for that rudeness with his intuitive taciturnity whenever the country is on fire! With remarks like that of Yusuf, nobody needs another Herbert Macaulay to begin another nationalist movement.
Thus, the recent declaration of Oodua Anthem as a symbol of Yoruba nationality by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State is the most audacious move for self-actualisation by any ethnic group in Nigeria. Akeredolu shocked the nation with his February 18 adoption of the Yoruba Indigenous Anthem at the State Executive Council meeting. At the meeting, he caused the state’s cultural troupe to render the lyrics and all the State Executive Council members to learn it by rote. Thereafter, he mandated that henceforth, at official and public functions in the state, the anthem must be sung immediately after the National Anthem. The four-stanza Anthem, composed in Yoruba language, is emblematic of the Yoruba, nay African core values and philosophies. For instance, stanza one: “Ise wa fun ile wa Fun ile ibi wa. Ka’gbega ka’gbega ka’gbega f’aye ri” reminds citizens of the state of the enormity of the workload ahead of them and the need for collective efforts. Stanza two: “Igbagbo wa ni’pe; Ba’ti b’eru la b’omo;Ka’sise ka’sise ka’sise kajola” is an affirmation of the fundamental human rights that all are born equal and all must work and be prosperous. The third stanza :”Isokan at’ominira; Ni k’eje ka’ma lepa; Tesiwaju f’opo ire; At’ohun to dara” enjoins everyone to pursue unity and independence; progress and common good. The last stanza: “Omo Odua dide; Bo’si ipo eto re; Iwo ni imole; Gbogbo adulawo” is a specific call on the Yoruba race, the children of Oduduwa, “to rise to their rightful place as the light of the entire Black Race”. The texts of the anthem, to the best of my understanding, pose no problem; much so that the instruction is to the effect that it would go alongside the National Anthem. However, the anthem became problematic on May 6, when Akeredolu mandated it to be rendered in all secondary schools in the state. In a circular titled ‘Adoption of Oduduwa Anthem in the Public Secondary Schools Across Ondo State’, the Permanent Secretary, Ondo State Teaching Service Commission, Tolu Adeyemi, wrote: “The present administration of Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN) has adopted Oduduwa Anthem as part of the civic responsibility of all residents in the state. To this end, the singing of the Oduduwa Anthem has become mandatory at all functions in all public secondary schools in the state. Therefore, all school principals and other top functionaries in the public secondary schools are enjoined to adopt, teach and encourage the singing of Oduduwa Anthem at all functions, especially at the morning assembly in all schools. The copy of the song is hereby attached. “Kindly internalise and externalise the contents of this circular…”.
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This is exactly where the problem lies. One recurrent decimal in Nigeria’s struggle for independence is the fear of domination by the minority tribes. The fear remains indelible like the fecal matter from a chameleon, 61 years after independence. The rasping noise of domination by the so-called “Big Three” has throttled the minority ethnic nationalities such that we do not hear them again. In “The Willink Minority Commission and Minority Rights in Nigeria”, published by Ekpoma Journal of Theatre and Media Arts, EJTMAS, Vol.5, No1-2 (2015), Lexiton Izuagie, says: “Ethnic and minority rights issues coloured early nationalist politics and thus shaped Nigeria’s decolonization. Ethnic criteria determined the evolution of political parties in the 1950s, thereby complicating the polarization of national and regional politics”. The development, he noted, led to the political parties of that era to harmonize and jointly dialogue with the British colonial authorities over constitutional reforms that culminated in independence. Regional divergences, however persisted as “leaders of minority ethnic groups agitated for their own different states with the imminence of independence”. The minority groups, in the alternative, demanded for constitutional safeguards as guarantees against their potential domination by the majority ethnic groups. That fear birthed the 1957 Willink Minority Commission, which failed to address the issue of separate states for the minorities, but sadly recommended that a “Bill of Rights, patterned along the European Convention on Human Rights be incorporated into the independence constitution as a way of guaranteeing minority rights through national integration”. Vernon Van Dyke, a professor of Political Philosophy, at The University of Iowa, in a similar paper, ‘Self-Determination and Minority rights’, published by Oxford University Press, in 1969, stated that while the Charter of the United Nations mentions the principle of self-determination, it gives the principle little emphasis. It also fails completely to mention minority rights at all. “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says nothing about either subject”, Dyke noted; even when, “self-determination has become one of the emotion-laden slogans in the field of human rights, a shibboleth that all pronounce to identify themselves with the virtuous”. The political philosopher submitted that “most of the champions of self-determination would be happiest if the question of minority rights never came up”;not minding that they ‘implicitly” raised it themselves in the quest for self-determination.
Making a Yoruba indigenous anthem compulsory in a multi-ethnic state like Ondo State gives life to Dyke’s postulation above. It is, in my view, a very insensitive state policy. While the first three stanzas of the Oodua Anthem are universal affirmations that every right-thinking individual will not interrogate, the last stanza is purely hegemonic. The anthem, we shouldn’t forget, is a child of circumstance; a response to the arrogance of the Fulani. I fully support anything that challenges the parochial thinking of the Fulani that other Nigerians are slaves. The anthem is a clear message to the Fulani feudal lords that every ethnic group has the capacity to hold its destiny in its hands. It demonstrates, unambiguously, the resolve and determination of the Yoruba people and shows that their silence, over the years, is not cowardice. Still water runs deep and can also be infested by deadly reptiles. Akeredolu, in all fairness, has etched his name in gold in the present struggle for the emancipation of Yorubaland. His valorous move on killer herdsmen in Ondo State’s forests will be recorded on the right side of history. Taking such a decision at a time he had cases in courts over his second term victory, is a clear testimony of his selflessness. He has demonstrated the very essence of Omoluabi. But that is where it stops for him! Asking an Ijaw child from Ese Odo Local Government Area of the state to sing: “Omo Odua dide; Bosi ipo eto re; Iwo ni imole; Gbogbo adulawo” is vile. The Ijaw are not descendants of Oduduwa. Forcing their children to pledge Yoruba affinity is nothing but colonisation. Asking non-Yoruba children to sing in Yoruba language is oppressive. Such kills their essence as a distinct ethnic group. The size of Ijaw in Ondo State is immaterial, culturally, they don’t share anything in common with the Owo, the Ondo, the Akoko, or the Akure people. Calling their local government area as “Ese-Odo” is itself a misnomer. The Yoruba race cannot be singing: “Igbagbo wa nipe; Ba’ti b’eru la b’omo”- it is our affirmation that both the slave and the son of the slave master are born equal- and at the same time be asking Ijaw children to affirm that they are descendants of Oduduwa. If the struggles for self-determination become a reality, it will be absolutely wrong for the “Oduduwa Republic”, for instance, to force Itsekiri or Urhobo or Isoko or Benin nations to join the Republic. That can only happen if these nationalities, on their own, decide to be part of the envisaged “Oduduwa Republic”. Doing otherwise is an unpardonable contravention of Article 15 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to a nationality”. That is justice. That is fairness. That is equity. Akeredolu is not just a governor, but a SAN; former National President of the NBA. He knows the laws; he practises the law. He has a pedigree of fighting on the side of the oppressed Nigerians. He cannot now be seen to be championing the oppression of the minority Ijaw nation in Ondo State. Rendering the anthem in Yoruba language and asking Ijaw to do same is equal to Yusuf asking Akeredolu to take permission from the Fulani before he can have a bedroom tete-a-tete with Mrs. Betty Akeredolu. Arakunrin cannot serve the Ijaw, or Ilaje, or Ikale in Ondo State the same poison he is rejecting from the Fulani lords of the manor. He, as a high priest in the temple of justice, is familiar with the ancient legal maxim: “Equity delights to do justice and not by halves”. He should practise that by abolishing the compulsion of Oodua Anthem in the secondary schools in Ijaw enclave of Ese Odo Local Government Area of Ondo State and other places dominated by people who have no inheritance in Oduduwa. “He who comes into equity must come with clean hands”. Akeredolu can’t be otherwise.
Suyi Ayodele is a seasoned journalist cum columnist, Regional Editor, South-South, South-East, Nigerian Tribune. 08078475400 (SMS ONLY)