While Yoruba Land Sleeps!, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
The Yoruba homeland is encircled, with its forests and major roads occupied by kidnappers and territorial expansionists because we have been sleeping! We found ourselves in this predicament because ìpọ́njú makes Us Yorùbá. The Yoruba do not unite around anything, unless they are faced with catalytic adversity. It is time to unite again!
This title is a deliberate take from John F. Kennedy’s foreboding final year dissertation at Harvard, “While England Sleeps”. Before Churchill abrasively came in, England was sleeping. The leadership of England thought that they could wish the gathering storm from Nazi Germany away through wishful thinking and a policy of appeasement. It almost destroyed their country. In a fascinating way, history is repeating itself here, as it has elsewhere. The same inertia, wishful thinking and a policy of appeasement employed by England, is in place, while the Yoruba sleeps! The invasion of Yoruba land is what the Germans call lebensraum – the search for a living space. We must not forget that the German search for a living space was a key factor in the build up to the second world war. Between 1921 and 1925, Adolf Hitler reinvented the issue that Germany required a lebensraum, a living space, to survive. This is the key issue in Nigeria; the masquerade that dares not reveal itself. How the Yoruba respond to the search by others for a living space is the issue of our time. Many non-indigenous interests are trying to overtake Yoruba land and make it their lebenstraum because our homeland is the only place that is accommodating. We must make it clear that we own our ancestral land. There are enough examples in history; and this was central to the break up of the Yugoslav federation, while the dysfunction in Ethiopia relates to the issue of the living space.
A few questions come to the mind of those of us who saw glimpses of a once promising region, which worked and produced many firsts, not only in Nigeria but in Africa. How did a people so sophisticated not see the social, economic, cultural and political threats occasioned by farmer/herdsmen clashes, artisanal mining and kidnapping for ransom in time? How did our strongest attribute as a liberal people become our greatest undoing? Why is the Yoruba the least strategic in the Nigerian federation? We have lost every strategic advantage handed to us by our late leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. From commerce to agriculture, industry and education, we are slipping in rank year on year. With pervasive insecurity in the region, we are guaranteed to face destitution, food shortages, threats to lives and property, as well as the lack of a financial reserve due to ransom payments.
The insecurity on our roads is a way to cow us into social, cultural, economic and political surrender. It is an attempt to restrict our freedoms and instill fear. Apart from infiltration by criminal elements who are driven by greed to kidnap, we should make no mistake about it, what we are confronted with is conflict over land and water resources. According to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), in 1974 the world’s fourth-billion baby was born, in 1987 the fifth-billion, and in October 1999 the sixth-billion. By 2050, the estimated population of the earth will be a staggering nine billion people. Ecological and demographic pressures are making our homeland a target; a desired lebenstraum by others!
The Yoruba homeland is encircled, with its forests and major roads occupied by kidnappers and territorial expansionists because we have been sleeping! We found ourselves in this predicament because ìpọ́njú makes Us Yorùbá. The Yoruba do not unite around anything, unless they are faced with catalytic adversity. It is time to unite again! To our credit, when we are confronted, the Yoruba have always been guided by introspection, practicality and reflection. In our best moments, we revert to the philosophical core of an envelope of restraint, understanding, tolerance and sacrifice. When faced with ìpọ́njú, we ask: Níbo ni a ti ṣìnà? Níbo ni bàtà tí ń ta wá l’ẹ́sẹ̀? Ìgbà wo ni òjò bẹ̀rẹ̀ sí ní pa wá? Where did we miss our way? Where does the shoe pinch? When did rain start beating us? Our being guided by introspection, practicality and reflection has been misconstrued as cowardice. Whoever thinks the Yoruba are cowards should be reminded that we are the only people who fought each other’s sub-ethnicities in a violent civil war for sixteen long years.
We must understand without equivocation that the herdsmen attack is resource-driven, extraction-focused and for self-enrichment. Behind the attacks is a powerful coalition whose purpose is political authority, territorial expansion, visibility and wealth. To them, the takeover of the South-West is an ecological necessity.
We are gathered at the Yoruba Security Summit because we see and feel the present threats and it is time to act! The ecological issues inducing marauding herdsmen as militias is already dislocating the prospects of the rural economy in the fertile plains of the northern parts of Oyo State. With AK47 slung on the shoulders, it is easy to make millions of naira than wait for three years for a calf to be conceived, born and raised for slaughter, only to make two hundred thousand naira from this exaction. Territorial expansion is real! We have an army of occupation and any army of occupation is naturally interwoven with local collaborators, thereby establishing its own political economy, raison d’etre and leitmotif. We must understand without equivocation that the herdsmen attack is resource-driven, extraction-focused and for self-enrichment. Behind the attacks is a powerful coalition whose purpose is political authority, territorial expansion, visibility and wealth. To them, the takeover of the South-West is an ecological necessity. Àkèré wọn ń pète ìyẹ́ ni. Ìyá olódò ni wá, a kò gbọ́dọ̀ gbà fún un.
It is time for our governors to lead us in taking our region back. We need to take back our pride of place. Our region is a key part of what is essentially a coalition government, but what demands are we making on the coalition? In relation to national politics, it is not just good enough to have secured the post of speaker of the House of Representatives, the real issue is a legislative programme. What is at stake is a legislative agenda that should be negotiated to take at least a third of the 68 items out of the exclusive legislative list. Security and the devolution of the policing system should top the list. Sharing of political offices must not be allowed to overshadow the quest for long term structural change.
Also, political correctness should not foreclose a serious discourse on the criminal complicity of some community leaders in undermining the security framework in the South-West. The Ife and Ijesa zones have become armed camps, with Tuaregs and other militia camped in the forests with ominous sleeper cells of informants and coordinators in the rural areas and urban settlements. We must stop issuing leases of land to those involved in illegal extractive mining activities. Since this is interwoven with criminal activities protected by armed militias, the consequences are predictably life threatening. There are now known areas where it is suicidal to travel after 4 p.m. With the mouth-watering quality of the minerals in Ijesa and Ifetedo, inaction and lethargic response means we are looking to replicate the mayhem of the California gold rush and the horrors of blood diamonds in Sierra Leone and the perennial dysfunction of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zaire since 1960. If we make this a jamboree without the strategic implementation of recommendations, the worst is yet to come. If we fail to act after this Summit, we will blame ourselves for failing to create a defined action plan. If we fail, people will naturally defend themselves and they will easily yield to a narrow particularistic thinking driven by anger, hunger, fear, and it will severely impact the sociopolitical leadership and economic dynamics of the South-West and Nigeria, because each locality will be manned by a militia and governed by a warlord.
What Is To Be Done?
In his attempt to answer this eternal dilemma after the failed putsch of 1905, Vladimir IIyich Lenin came up with a clear strategic framework for the Soviet Union and, in the process, he changed the course of history. A determined leadership in the South-West must develop a clear strategic imperative in the same way to save the zone from subjugation.
The entire informal and formal security frameworks and mechanisms in the South-West must now be united into a centralised organisation funded by the states. Intelligence networks must be built up in the local governments feeding the centralised command. An example must be made of saboteurs and collaborators; those who consider themselves untouchable.
The entire informal and formal security frameworks and mechanisms in the South-West must now be united into a centralised organisation funded by the states. Intelligence networks must be built up in the local governments feeding the centralised command. An example must be made of saboteurs and collaborators; those who consider themselves untouchable. To our governors, our people have been waiting for you to act. You have the backing of your people to deal with anyone who is working against the security and well-being of the Yoruba. Henceforth, clear guidelines must now be given on the leasing of land to the non-Yoruba. In the Swiss confederation land ownership rights to non-indigenes and foreigners varies from canton to canton. We should examine the Swiss model as a matter of urgency.
The deteriorating security situation in the South-West goes hand-in-glove with the steady erosion of our economic capability. A two-pronged counter attack is essential to start with, if the rural economy is to be saved and reinvigorated. We have to recognise the grave danger posed by the exodus of youth from the rural areas. Economic deterioration of the rural areas is the biggest enabler of an army of occupation game plan. Under armed supervision, public/private or wholly private commodities exchanges must be immediately set up across the zone. The positive effect of this in Ethiopia is turning the country into an agro-industrial powerhouse that has been widely acknowledged and should be adapted. The revitalisation of the rural economies as a buffer against marauding herdsmen will be ensured through minimum guaranteed farm produce pricing, storage facilities, offtakers and the reinvigorating of the cooperatives movement for which we were once famed. Jobs and cottage industries will be created and induced, leading to a repopulation of the rural economy as a security buffer zone.
We need forest rangers in each state. The South-West state governments must work out a regional framework to train, equip and fund this ecological task force. Forest Rangers have been so effective in America, Canada, Australia, etc. We can negotiate technical assistance with Canada. The forests are the battleground, requiring special forces to police and route out the marauders. The South-West states can enact laws prohibiting poaching, illegal hunting and vagrancy within state forests. The forest rangers will enforce these laws and ensure that no other crimes are committed. Crimes within our borders will include trespassing, solicitation or vandalism. More far-reaching use of the rangers will be to protect our forest from ecological devastation through timber cutting and the dumping of hazardous waste.
This gathering must not be a talk shop or a jamboree for empty posturing. We must emerge from this Summit with a strategic plan to save us from strangulation and systematic displacement. The legislators from the South-West must be mandated to draw up a legislative agenda to devolve the policing system and give the state governments operational control. This will be within safeguards, after all the president of the USA can “federalise” the state police as President Dwight Eisenhower did in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1958. They should work out a floor plan to get tactical alliances across the six geopolitical zones to get speedy passage of the legislation. It is both an issue of political will and focus.
Stay “woke”! Jí, ma sùn…