The Chairman of the Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-Determination, Prof Banji Akintoye, who also heads the umbrella body for Yoruba self-determination groups, Ilana Omo Oodua, speaks to OLUFEMI OLANIYI about worsening insecurity in Nigeria, restructuring, and other sundry issues
Some Yoruba nation agitators were arrested by the police in Abeokuta nine days ago. Doesn’t this suggest that achieving your goal will be bloody?
What happened last Saturday was that a group of young men didn’t wait for their leaders to arrive and they began to do what they thought was right to do. They ought to have waited for their leaders to arrive but they were eager to go on with the rally. The police saw them and took them into custody. After that, a large crowd came and their leaders also arrived and learnt that some of their members had been arrested. So, they went there and they were released. Two things were responsible for their release by the police and the first one is that they had no weapons on them. They were not doing or saying anything violent. When the leaders arrived at the station, the police saw that they were responsible people who were not violent in any way, so they let them go. Nothing happened in Abeokuta that suggested that our future rallies will be violent.
Do you think the Nigerian government would allow the Yoruba people to form an independent nation?
There is no country where the leaders would want to lose a part of the country they govern. Also, there is no government in the world that does not recognise that every nationality or tribe has the right to self-determination. Every government in the world, including Nigeria, is a signatory to that statement. Nigeria is a signatory to that United Nations declaration – the 2007 Declaration – that every nationality or ethnic group has a right to self-determination. That right is inalienable. It is in the constitution of the United Nations, it is in the constitution of the African Union, of which Nigeria is one of the leading signatories. They know but they don’t want any part of the countries they rule to go away. They are also aware that the people have the right to secede.
For instance, in 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari was asked for his view at the United Nations on Nigerians agitating for Biafra. He told them that if people who were agitating for Biafra would organise themselves and manage their affairs peacefully, then Nigerians would have no choice but to engage in negotiations with them. That is what international law says. But if they continue to be violent and are attacking the security personnel, the Nigerian government can go after them. Buhari said their demand for Biafra was not illegal. He said Nigeria was descending on them because they were violent. He said the government had a duty to sit down with them to negotiate.
But do you think the problems confronting the Yoruba people will be solved by becoming an independent nation?
The most important problem we are facing now is the invasion of our land. Armed Fulani are coming daily to kill our people on their farms and rape our women, forcing a large number of our farmers to abandon farming. This is causing hunger because farming is the backbone of the economy of Yorubaland. This is our most important problem now. So, having our own country will be the only effective and final solution to that. The people coming to ravage our land claim that they have the right to our land because they are Nigerians. They have the right to reside anywhere in Nigeria but they are not coming peacefully. So, if we have our own country, we will stop the violence. Our forefathers told us to receive strangers well, to help them if they need help and by doing so, we would earn blessings from Olodumare (God). Our fathers told us these thousands of years ago and it has become part of the code of behaviours of the Yoruba people. But if any Fulani man or woman wants to stay in our land after we have become independent, as long as they renounce violence, the plot to take over our land, and are ready to settle down like other people, they are free to stay and our laws will protect them. But a large number of Fulani have been indoctrinated that the land of Nigeria belongs to them and their duty is to take it over by violence and exterminate the people. Those ones cannot be in our land. It’s impossible.
Are you worried that South-West governors and some politicians are not in support of the agitation for the Yoruba nation?
I am not worried. They are still part of Nigeria and there are people who still see their destinies as embedded in Nigeria. They belong to political parties and support the moral decadence in Nigeria. You can’t blame them, they are part of Nigeria. If we want our politicians to be separated from the rot in the system, the best thing is to separate from Nigeria.
Don’t you think the Federal Government will scuttle the self-determination move?
They cannot scuttle it. They will make attempts but they will fail. This is something whose time has come and it’s impossible to scuttle it.
Why are many agitations across Nigeria currently?
This is happening because they are treating Nigerians the way people should never be treated. There should never be a situation where one ethnic group, large or small, will arrogate to itself a total monopoly of authority in a country. The rest of us in Nigeria feel insulted and spited by that. Under Buhari, the Fulani have taken over and made the Nigerian government their government. It is not our government anymore. The second thing is that under the cover of the Fulanisation of the Nigerian government, Fulani people have developed a doctrine that they own Nigeria and have spread it massively among their people. Their belief is that they own every inch of Nigeria and that they can go to any part of the country to kill, maim and destroy in order to take over the land. They have said they would invite Fulani people scattered across countries in West Africa to come and join them in the act of taking over the land of other people in Nigeria. They are not just saying it, they are aggressive about it and they are trying to do it. You can see what is happening all over the country; they are serious about it and people must defend themselves. Every person must live. I am not happy when I wake up and read about killings in Oke Ogun, Yewaland, or that an Oba has been kidnapped in Ekiti, another killed in Ifon. I’m tired of reading about abductions, rape, and attacks on our people. No nation will want to live like that and nobody can say we must tolerate all those atrocities because we want to live in Nigeria. No way! Our right to live is bigger than the membership of Nigeria. These are the things causing agitation all over Nigeria now. This is not just happening in Yorubaland. We have created an alliance with the Middle Belt, the South-East, and the South-South. We call it the Nigerian Indigenous Alliance for Self-Determination. Even beyond the Middle-Belt, some Hausa people are beginning to rouse themselves.
What is the timeline set to achieve Yoruba self-determination?
Many Yoruba people want it right away. They don’t want to continue with the suffering, pain, insecurity, and poverty in Nigeria. They want their country back and build it the way they did under Chief Obafemi Awolowo. We know we have the capacity to do it. We did it before the white men came. Soon after the White men brought education in the late 19th century, we shot ahead and became the most educated in Africa. Under Chief Awolowo, we widened the gap with free education and moved our nation forward. We had a great government under Chief Awolowo, a very democratic government. That is Yoruba tradition. People now talk about so many things done under Chief Awolowo and many don’t know that Chief Awolowo spent only six years as our prime minister in the Western Region. In six years, he achieved all of which we are bragging about today. We know we can do it; it is in our genes to move forward. What our young people want is our own country so that we can do our own things and build civilisation, progress, and prosperity, and uphold democracy.
There is an opinion held by some people that the governors in the South-West now are not toeing the path of the late Awolowo. Do you agree to this?
I am hesitant to criticise our governors and the reason is that the circumstances in which they live now are not the same. Things have changed, the society is no longer the same. The government in Nigeria today is not people-oriented; it’s not democratic in any way. So, why should we expect that our governors will be exceptions? The answer to this, as I said, is to take our people out of the rubble. These men who are our governors are highly educated young men who have done commendable things in their lives before they became governors. They are people who have the basic qualifications to work, but it is Nigeria that makes it impossible for them to do what they know is right. That is all.
While you are clamouring for Yoruba independence, some prominent Yoruba politicians see Nigeria’s unity as non-negotiable. What do you say to this?
In Nigeria, politics is about the only thing you can go into and be sure to make money. That is why politics has become a personal aggrandisement venture. A large number of our people now want to go into politics because of this. Some young men don’t even have any other job asides from politics. They see politics as the only way out of poverty. But others want their own country, they don’t want to be part of this anymore. But those gathering the young people and mobilising for the 2023 elections will be surprised because the young people they think they have gathered and bribed to fight and rig for them will shock them. These young people want their own country. The more we participate in elections in Nigeria, the more we are prolonging our suffering. Students are coming out of the universities, polytechnics, and others without any provision for them. I lived in the United States for some years and almost every day, you would see a young man or woman arriving from Nigeria, mostly a Yoruba man or woman. In fact, some of our people are surprised that when you talk about these things, our rulers don’t seem to know about it. Our people leave Nigeria every day to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. That is the most terrible thing that is happening to Yoruba youths because they have lost hope in the country. Yoruba youths are always many among those going through this route and they are dying in droves. One young girl among some of those rescued from kidnappers told me that it was better to die in the desert than to die of hunger. It is that bad. They are ready to go and die in the desert than dying in poverty. They are ashamed of Nigeria.
Afenifere and the Yoruba Council of Elders are clamouring for restructuring, but you are against it. Why do you think restructuring can’t address the problems in Nigeria?
Restructuring can no longer work. Restructuring cannot stop the Fulani terrorists from coming to our land. They have been indoctrinated to go and take over the entire land in the country. So, how can restructuring stop that? Restructuring won’t stop that. I don’t want to continue to live in that type of situation. Moreover, you might sit somewhere and agree on restructuring but these people have an uncontrollable urge to dominate society. One of them, Aliu Gwarzo, wrote an article wherein he said ‘power in Nigeria belongs to us and anybody standing on our way, we will kill, maim, destroy and turn Nigeria into the greatest war zone in Africa.’ I don’t think anybody can change such an attitude with restructuring. In 1960, Sir Ahmadu Bello said only 11 days after Nigeria’s independence that ‘Nigeria shall be an extension of the state of our grandfather, Uthman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power and we will use the people of the Middle Belt as tools, and the people of the South as conquered territory. We will never let them rule over us and never let them control their territory.’ He said that on October 12, 1960 in Kaduna and there were people there. Then in 1960, Aliu Gwarzo said, ‘Allah, through the British, gave us Nigeria to rule and to do as we please and we have been doing that since 1960 and we intend to continue. If anybody tries to stop us, we shall kill, maim and destroy.’ That is their mentality. If anybody thinks that has changed, they are deceiving themselves. Restructuring can change a few things, but it cannot change the mentality of the people behind the scene.
I used to advocate restructuring. I wrote tons of articles published in newspapers on it. But one must react to situations as they are. Restructuring cannot solve the problems at hand now. People say I am Awolowo’s son and that Chief Awolowo would not have wanted Yoruba to go away from Nigeria. I told them that Chief Awolowo reacted to the situation he met at that time. He did not see all these ravaging and destructions going on now. There are tears everywhere now. Papa Awo did not see a woman who was raped and her eyes gorged out. Papa didn’t see where a Yoruba Oba was killed and another abducted. Papa didn’t see Chief Olu Falae beaten and battered by Fulani. I have seen all these. I saw Chief Falae with wounds inflicted from swords and knives and I was horrified. Chief Falae is one of the most intelligent persons God has given to the Yoruba people. He held one of the highest positions in the country in our time and he was treated that way. Chief Awolowo did not see all these, but we are seeing them. Our father was not the kind of person that would see a problem and evade it. I am sure that where he is today, he is happy that I am doing what I am doing. I am resisting oppression. I am resisting the brutalisation and killing of our people.
What is the role of Chief Sunday Igboho in your agitation?
People misjudge that young man. If you listen to that man talk, you will be moved to tears. He said the Oke-Ogun part of Yorubaland used to be very peaceful and farming was prosperous there. That place was an ‘open country.’ In the hot season, families could sleep in front of their houses and nothing would happen to them. He said his people could travel in the dark and nothing would happen to them. But that area has now turned into a place where Fulani people kill, kidnap and rape women. The people are tired of the mess and more and more Yoruba youths are becoming like Sunday Igboho and returning to defend their land. Sunday Igboho’s violence is ‘orderly violence.’ His violence is to stop abominable cruelty unleashed on men by fellow human beings. Millions of Yoruba people are particularly thankful to him and emulating him to defend their land.
Why do you think insecurity is getting worse?
Where there is insecurity, it is because there is poverty, though, in the case of Nigeria, poverty is not the only cause. The main thing is that some people in Nigeria have decided that Nigeria belongs to them and they want to take it by force. They have spread out and some people are also resisting them. On January 1, 2018, Fulani people went and killed a large number of people in Benue State. That was on New Year’s Day and some of us across Nigeria said that was too much and we decided to go and commiserate with the people of Benue State. The governor of Benue State gathered a large number of people to receive us. We sympathised with them and the governor said the people wrote a letter to them in December 2017 that they were going to attack them and they did. The authorities in Nigeria did not do anything to prevent the attack. At least, 80 people were killed that night. We were shocked and asked him what again would come after that. He then brought out a letter and read it to us. The letter read, ‘We see that you are doing a mass burial but what happened to you is only a tip of what will happen. We are coming back to kill and maim more people. Your offence is that the ethnic groups in your state think the land on which they live in is their own because they have lived there for thousands of years. No, they are wrong, the land belongs to us Fulani because Allah has given it to us and we have arisen to take it. We have asked all our people across West Africa to come and join us to take the land. We are not talking of the ethnic groups in Benue State alone but we are talking of all ethnic groups in Nigeria, including Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw, and Efik. We have arisen to take the land because Allah has given it to us. If you think your Federal Government can save you, you are deceiving yourself.’ This is what is happening!
What solution would you suggest to end insecurity in the country?
Nigeria has ceased to be a country and it is us the people that are deceiving ourselves. When members of an ethnic group go around killing and maiming others and the government is not ready to do anything about it, it shows that the country is over and the best thing to do is to come together with the objective of peacefully dissolving it.
Some people believe Buhari has failed and are calling for his removal. What’s your opinion?
That is an understatement. To say he has failed is an understatement. We elected him to rule Nigeria but he is not ruling Nigeria. My answer is that it is an understatement that he has failed.
Do you now support the call for his removal?
I don’t think he should be removed. If you remove him, what do you do? Some are saying there should be a coup but I am not in support of that and I know Yoruba people will not support that. I don’t want any military coup. If they go on and remove him through a coup, we Yoruba will definitely protect ourselves. If you remove him by coup, you will start another trouble again because these people are going to do everything to hold on to power. What we want now is that the international community should begin to intervene seriously in the bid to get Nigeria to come to terms that it has failed and the right thing to do in the interest of humanity is to put it to an end.
But do you think the majority of Yoruba people will vote ‘Yes’ if there is a referendum on whether Yoruba should be independent or stay with Nigeria?
I have no doubt that they will vote ‘Yes.’ But we need to wait till we get the message to more and more of our people in the rural areas.
Have you mapped out the territory of the Yoruba nation, the flag, and the currency?
One thing that most people don’t know is that the Yoruba nation is a powerful nation in the world. We have produced many intellectually sound people. It will be presumptuous of anybody to say we already have a flag and currency. Yoruba people are not like that. When we have our country, we will set up a body that will compose our national anthem design, coat of arms, national flag, currency, and others. Nobody must dictate to the Yoruba people because we are democratic.