The campaign for secession of the Yoruba people from Nigeria has been intensified over the past few weeks. The proponents of this agitation want an independent republic of the Yoruba nation or as they put it – Oduduwa Republic. Their agitation had been taken a step further with a recent press conference led by Sunday Igboho and Professor Banji Akintoye.
At the press conference, the duo declared secession and called on all Yoruba people living in the Northern region to return to the South-West. The duo also warned of a looming ethnic war to put their pronouncement into effect. In a show of seriousness, a proposed currency for the Oduduwa Republic was afterwards circulated on social media and publicized by sections of the mainstream media. The currency was named Fadaka – the Yoruba word for Silver.
It should be noted that the demand for an independent nation of the Yoruba people did not just start this year. It started making the rounds in the wake of annulment of the “June 12” 1993 elections won by MKO Abiola, a Yoruba billionaire. And just last year, roponents of an Oduduwa Republic called for a 1st October. But they capitulated in the face of a threat of repression by the state security services.
Yoruba secessionist agitation became muted after the 1999 return to civil rule, with a Yoruba general and former head of state, Olusgeun Obasanjo elected as president. And quite importantly as well, some of the leading voices for an Oduduwa republic, had by that time become more comfortably integrated into the structures of wealth and power.
The renewed and intensified call for a republic of the Yoruba people in recent years began with the rising cases of kidnappings and banditry in the South-West region. While the Northern region had suffered the worst cases of insecurity, terrorism, kidnappings and banditry, most parts of the South-West, especially Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and Ekiti states were also beginning to deal with similar threats but of lesser magnitude when compared to the horrors in the northern region, where women, men, girls, and boys have become easy prey in the fiery dens of bandits and terrorists. The fact that schools in Kaduna had to be closed by the state government is a testament to how much the insecurity in the North have taken a ridiculous turn of very worrisome magnitude.
Of much deeper embarrassment is how powerless and utterly incapacitated the Nigerian government appears to be in the face of such insecurity that has consumed thousands of lives, rendered thousands homeless, made many fatherless, scores motherless and more innocent children orphans.
It is conditions such as this that gave rise to Sunday Igboho and his team who appear to be volunteers committed to ridding Yorubaland of insecurity by raising arms against the forces of banditry. While their aim expresses an intention to fight kidnappings and banditry, their methods of engagement and slogans are based on ethnoreligious stereotyping directed against the Fulani people who are known for herding cattle.
While the majority of the cattle herders are Fulani, it is evident that not all Fulani cattle herders are criminals, and definitely not all Fulani are bandits. Worthy of note is the fact that despite producing more Nigerian Presidents and Heads of State, Northern Nigeria has fared worse in the regional economic indices of the country.
Millions of poor people in the north, including Fulani can barely afford chickens, let alone cattle. While there may be a handful of Fulani who own cattle in the South-West, most of the cattle being herded by poor Fulani herders are owned by some a few elites, including from the Southern region. In the event that some Fulani herders protect cattle with Ak-47 rifles, one can almost be certain that those weapons were provided by the Southern and Northern elites who own those cattle herded and protected by the poor Fulani in the South-West. This makes it clear that the “ethnicization” of insecurity within the South-Western region of Nigeria is as counterproductive as ethnicizing terrorism in the Northern region of Nigeria.
“Ritual killings” in Ijebu-Ode, child/street cultism in Lagos and street/campus cultism and the age-long kidnappings in the South-South region of the country are pointers to the fact that insecurity is not synonymous with a particular ethnic group.
Furthermore, the regime of General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) in talks, actions and inactions has proven to be completely incompetent, clueless, and largely anti-people. The presidency’s penchant for nepotism and ethnoreligious favoritism has also helped water the seeds of ethnic strife within the country. It is in the light of these that what began as a Sunday Igboho-led resistance against “killer herdsmen” has suddenly metamorphosed into a Yoruba self-determination agitation.
However, what most ethnic agitators fail to understand is that despite Buhari’s nepotism and ethnocentric politics, or “Fulanization agenda” as some secessionists would call it, millions of Fulani people have not benefited from this so-called agenda. They have in fact become worse of, much further than they ever were even under regimes headed by Nigerians from the Southern region like Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan.
On the contrary, the “Fulanization agenda” has only benefited and further empowered Buhari’s rich and powerful friends. In like manner, a “Southernization agenda” would most likely not be of any benefit to the poor Southerner but for the rich and powerful Southern elites. Just the same way Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan’s governments only benefited their Southern friends and Northern cronies. In like manner, our respective state governors and legislators from the Southern region have only represented the interests of their rich friends and not those of the poor working-class people in the Southern regions.
Before the recent calls for an independent State of the Yoruba people, there had been more strident calls for secession in other regions such as the South East and South South. And in each case, the Nigerian state has met such agitations with untoward violence and repression. The first of these happened during the administration of Major General Aguyi Ironsi, an Igbo Man from South-East Nigeria and the Nigerian Head of State as he then was. During the regime of Ironsi, Isaac Boro led a campaign for the secession of the people of the Niger Delta majorly domicile in what is now known as South-South region of Nigeria. It actually declared the establishment of a Niger Delta Republic. The Aguyi Ironsi regime crushed the movement with maximum force, smashing the republic it created in twelve days.
The story of Biafra is more well known. The Biafran struggle for secession from Nigeria precipitated into a 30-month Civil War which led to the death of two million people. The Nigerian state did not only crush the Biafra agitation with maximum force, but it also committed one of the worst genocides in the history of mankind.
Sadly, the shadows of the 20th century Biafra war, is now upon us in the 21st century with a renewed call for Biafra Republic led by Nnamdi Kanu’s Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). This is because, the socio-economic conditions that led to the struggle for Biafra in 1967 are still prevalent in 2021, but in worse dimension and in a way that has now attracted an additional campaign for the exit of the Yoruba people.
As revolutionaries, we support the right of oppressed nationalities to self-determination. But this is definitely not the same thing as fostering ethnic polarization of working-class people. We call for the unity of working people of all nationalities because it is when we, the poor masses, unite and fight that we can defeat the bosses.
Our problem as a poor people has nothing to do with the ethnicity of the persons in power. Already, South-West governors and a number of monarchs who have done nothing other than stealing from the poor people of Western Nigeria have stated their opposition to the Igboho-led agitation for Oduduwa Republic.
It was South-East governors that unanimously announced the proscription of IPOB and have on several occasions supported the killing of IPOB members and innocent Igbo bystanders by the Nigerian Army.
Sanwo-olu, a Yoruba man, was the one who invited the Nigerian Army to shoot at peaceful protesters at Lekki Tollgate during the #EndSARS protest in October 2020. These are few of the many pointers suggesting how united, consistent and unanimous the ruling elites can be when it comes to protecting their joint business venture: Nigeria.
As President, Obasanjo, a Yoruba man from Ota, Ogun state, could not construct a decent road in his hometown, Ota, let alone deliver quality governance to the people of Nigeria. Aside the Legendary corruption, maladministration and gross ineptitude of President Jonathan, his Hometown, Otueke, in Bayelsa State, boasts only of flooded roads and streets.
And as I have previously enumerated, more Presidents and Heads of State have come from Northern Nigeria, but the North is worst in all socio-economic indices with highest rate of insecurity, illiteracy, poverty, mortality, poor hygiene, lack of accessibility to clean water and least infrastructure. To be clear, while southern elites have had their fair share in exploiting the poor people of the South and the Nigerian people at large, the North however, parades the worst of the Nigerian elites. They exploit and oppress poor people in Northern regions and also try to undermine their spirit of resistance by denying them of education and imposing slavish religious indoctrination.
If we think through things objectively, it will be clear as daylight that the poor people across all ethnic groups are exploited by the rich and powerful elites organized across all ethnoreligious clusters across the country.
None of them would voluntarily submit their business concerns to either secession or a revolution. But at revolutionary periods, the ruling class would rather create a civil war situation under the guise of Secession, than to allow a revolution that puts an end to oppression of people of all ethnic groups by thieving elites from all ethnic groups.
It is audible to the deaf and visible to the blind that the enemies of the Southern masses are first the rich and powerful elites in the South, and then their rich and powerful Northern colleagues. All the governors, House of Representatives members, Senators and Local government officials of the South are Southerners.
They are directly responsible for the oppression and impoverishment of the Southern people before their Northern counterparts. These bosses, sections of whom stir hate and “tribalism” amongst us are also organized and united irrespective of their ethnoreligious differences than to.
Hence, instead of ensnaring ourselves in a civil war occasioned by ethnic agitations, it makes more sense for we, the poor people across all ethnoreligious groupings, to stand united in a revolution struggle to take power from our common oppressors – the rich few.
Meanwhile, history has proven that a civil war is more often than not inevitable with secessionist agitations. A civil war is a war, funded by rich people but which consumes the lives of poor people. Here, poor persons of different ethnic backgrounds are the ones led to slaughter, either as soldiers or innocent and often starved civilians.
Poor people fight themselves and die in a civil war that ends up benefiting the elites of the different ethnic groups, in varying proportions. Although, the Nigerian State will respond to a call for revolution with very deadly hostility and violence, but the oppressed people can be sure they are “dying” in a fight against their common oppressors, rather than killing themselves in an ethnic war imposed and funded by the rich elites of different ethnic groups.
There is a rich tradition of resistance politics in several parts of the North. Parties such as NEPU/PRP, Zamfara Commoners Party and Borno Youth Movement were oases of struggle. But the conservative arm of the elite in the region have been able to stem generalization of radical secular politics, making it more difficult for revolutionary groups to organize in these places.
Building solidarity and our collective struggle requires that revolutionaries in the South stand up against attacks on voices of dissent in the North as a cardinal part of our work. The struggles of the poor masses in every part of the country should be promoted in every way.
The division of oppressed people along ethnic lines does little or nothing to liberate the poor from the shackles of poverty, hardship, and oppression. On the contrary, it ends up strengthening the hold of the rich and powerful few over millions of poor and oppressed Nigerians. We must fight against ideas that promote such division in our ranks.
Our battle cry to working-class people irrespective of their ethnic, regional and religious affinities is and must remain: Unite & Fight!
by Sanyaolu JUWON