Prof. Banji Akintoye. Image via Punch
BY FEMI MAKINDE
Leader of the Yoruba World Congress, emeritus Prof Banji Akintoye, is a former Head of the Department of History, University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State. He tells FEMI MAKINDE in this interview that his organisation will work with all groups to defend Yorubaland
You were elected the leader of the Yoruba people on August 22 by some groups but it took you almost one month to respond to this offer. Why?
I had to make consultations and I consulted widely before I responded. I deeply appreciate the organisations and the leaders who met in Ibadan on August 22 and took the step of electing me. I am convinced that all of them, individually and collectively, were motivated to take this step because of the desire to see the interests of our Yoruba nation further advanced. This is more so because of the circumstances in which we Yoruba people find ourselves today in the context of Nigeria. My message to all Yoruba people now is that we need to unite. The danger facing the Yoruba nation is great. We are under invasion and we need to unite to defend Yorubaland.
How do you intend to get this done?
We intend to work with everybody who is interested in defending Yorubaland. With all of us working as a determined team through the instrumentality of a worldwide Yoruba organisation, we shall work closely and positively with, and give encouragement and assistance to the tens of organisations that are standing up for the defence of our Yoruba nation and the protection and promotion of our nation’s interests. We shall commit ourselves to all efforts to move our Yoruba people forward and upward again in the direction that would revive their vitality, enterprising character, creative energy, love of elegance, and love of sensitive, dutiful and decent leadership and governance. We shall commit to fostering and promoting ideas and agendas that will open wide doors of opportunities to our youths and our women. We shall commit ourselves to serious efforts to forge the quality of Yoruba unity and morality that will impart serious strength, confidence, sense of national oneness, and sense of duty to our people – to the Yoruba farmer on his or her farm, the Yoruba worker in his or her place of work, the Yoruba entrepreneur and businessperson creating or managing a business in the daunting terrain of Nigeria, the Yoruba teachers and their students in our educational institutions, the Yoruba trader in her trading, the Yoruba craftsman in his workshop, etc. We commit ourselves to relating and interacting positively, without discrimination, with the Yoruba politician, the elected Yoruba public official and professional bureaucrat at every level of government in Nigeria, the governments of all our Yoruba states, and the governments of our LGAs, all to the end that they will all consciously employ their positions, their power and their influence for uplifting, uniting, empowering and enriching our Yoruba nation.
What is the relationship between your group and Afenifere?
Afenifere exists as a very prominent organisation and I will respect it as such. That is all I can say.
But is your group different from Afenifere?
We are creating a worldwide Yoruba organisation. It is different from Afenifere and I am sure you know that there are many groups different from Afenifere. Afenifere is just one of the groups. We have Yoruba Assembly, ARG, Yoruba Council of Elders, Yoruba Unity Forum and others like that. But our organisation is going to be a worldwide Yoruba organisation.
What is the name of your organisation?
We are calling it Yoruba World Congress. We haven’t announced it yet but your medium might be the first to announce it.
What is your position on Ruga?
Whatever Ruga is, Yorubaland is not for a thing like that. What Ruga is Fulani settlement and when they settle there they will begin to oppress those living or farming close to their settlements.
Yorubaland is a no-go-area for Ruga. There is no land for Ruga here and that is our position, that is the position of our people. This is the time for our people to support all the governors in Yorubaland irrespective of their political parties. We are not talking politics and we want our people to support the governors to reject this because we are aware there is pressure on them. We need to support them to do the right thing and we must let them know that we are not hostile towards them in any way. We are not thinking about party affiliation and we should respect them as our elected leaders. But they must defend our Yoruba nation and we will support them in whatever they do to defend our ( Yoruba) nation. This is the time to close ranks and defend our land. They should lead and we will follow them.
South-West governors have established a security outfit to tackle insecurity in the land. How do you view this?
This is a good one. We are going to thank them for this. It is good they are thinking and working towards addressing the insecurity problem in the region. We will meet the Chairman of South-West Governors’ Forum which is the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu. We don’t know much about the outfit and we will not hesitate to offer advice if we see how they can achieve the desired result. We will work with them. Our group is populated by people with expertise and who know the terrain very well. We are building an organisation that is replete with expertise in security, economy and other areas.
About 123 northern youths entering into Lagos State were recently intercepted and questioned by security agents and released. Are you satisfied with this?
That is a danger. Some days before those boys were arrested, our organisation got information that 40 vehicles would bring some youths to the South-West. Those ones that were questioned were just some of them. They could not arrest them because they are Fulani and that the Federal Government of Nigeria is protecting them. That the Federal Government is protecting Fulani people against our people even right here in Yorubaland is obvious. There are people that were attacked by Fulani people in their farms and they ran to the police but the police said they could not do anything against the Fulani people because the government is backing them. They will lose their jobs if they arrest Fulani people no matter what they do. There have been cases where Yoruba farmers arrested Fulani herdsmen destroying their farms and who were engaged in other criminal activities, they took them to the police but the police said they didn’t have the authority to arrest them. That is what is happening and that was why Gen. Theophilus Danjuma said the military were colluding with the Fulani herdsmen killing his people. Danjuma is correct because he spoke from the position of knowledge. He saw the happening and he interviewed some of the troops. Most of the rich people traveling to Ondo and Ekiti states now go by air from Lagos and when they land in Akure Airport, they hire security personnel to escort them to their various towns. We are a people under an invasion, we are under siege
Why do you think Nigerians are always attacked in South Africa and other parts of the world?
Nigerians are always attacked because our image is horrible. We are seen as highly corrupt, immoral and destructive people. People in some countries don’t want us anymore. The impunity here- some of our people want to carry them abroad.
But it is surprising that South Africans could be killing Nigerians and destroying their legitimate businesses. We don’t deserve this at all. Even if some of our people are bad, they are not supposed to be killed and maimed by South Africans considering the role Nigeria and Nigerians played when they were fighting for their freedom. Nigeria played a major role and this was one of the reasons they eventually became free. We supported them massively, we gave them financial support, diplomatic support and all kinds of support. Killing Nigerians in South Africa is very wrong. But their economy will suffer if they succeed in chasing Nigerians and other Africans out of their country. Their reputation in the world will also suffer.
The governments of Nigeria and South Africa should investigate what led to the brutal attacks against Nigerians. I think there is the need to investigate this. Even if they say Nigerians are bad and are into drugs, I am sure that not all Nigerians there are bad. From the stories that we have heard, South African policemen join their youths to attack Nigerians and ask them to leave their country. That is why the two governments need to investigate this thing. They sent a delegation led by Oliver Thambo to Nigeria in 1980 when apartheid was growing stronger and we (Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs) made recommendations to President Shehu Shagari that we needed to support South Africa.
There are claims that many Nigerians are trooping out of the country because of the poor economic situation in the country. Is this true?
That is correct. The poor economic situation is driving many abroad to seek greener pastures but Nigerians are not running overseas because of the economy alone, insecurity is driving many away from the country as well. Nigerian youths are lining up day and night in front of embassies begging for visas to travel out of the country. Those who can’t afford that are helping themselves by traveling across the Sahara Desert sailing in rickety boats across the Mediterranean to get to Europe. Many of them die regularly in their bid to get to Europe.
Has your view on restructuring changed?
Restructuring is absolutely necessary for the survival of Nigeria. If Nigeria does not restructure itself, it will have to accept the dissolution of itself. If we delay to restructure any much longer, then there may be no Nigeria to talk about.
There are claims that the South-East has overtaken the South-West in the area of educational development. What is the reason for this?
No, this is not true. South-East has not overtaken us. The cumulative effect of our earlier start in education will for a long time put the South-West ahead of any part of Africa not only Nigeria. Educational standard has gone down all over Nigeria and that is what the people controlling government at the centre want. In the midst of their efforts to devalue education, some may be claiming to have overtaken the South-West.
Are you saying those controlling government at the centre are deliberately doing this or what?
The reason is that the Fulani controllers of the Federal Government who the British handed over the control of the country to at independence are afraid of education. This is not because of Islam but because of their ethnic interest. If Hausa kids are flooding to school the way Yoruba kids and Igbo kids and others have been doing, what do you think will happen to the Fulani tiny population in the country? The Fulani are about six million while the Hausa people are about 47 million. This small number of people hold the position in Hausaland. They developed the almajiri system to make sure Hausa kids do not go to school. Rather than creating schools for children, they get Quranic teachers who may have 500 kids or more. At times, the teachers may use the kids for farming and even send them out to go and fend for themselves.
Is it correct to say that almajiri system is contributing to insecurity in the northern part of the country?
Yes it is. When you have a huge population of the youth with no education, no skills roaming around, it is a time bomb. The problem will even spread to other parts of the country later. So, it is a big problem.
What is your reaction to the state of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway?
The road is no doubt the busiest in the country and work has been going on it for so many years. The people in power are not really interested in doing it and it is the same thing with the road that leads to Apapa where the nation is making so much money. The road that leads to the port where we make so much money is so bad just like the roads that lead to Badagry. The roads were allowed to deteriorate despite their importance to the economy of our country. They were allowed to deteriorate because they ate in the South-West. There are other roads that are also very bad all over the South-West. There is no road between Akure and Ado-Ekiti. The last time I traveled to Ado-Ekiti from Akure instead of 25 miles the driver took me through Igbara which was about 70 kilometers to Ado-Ekiti.
Are you saying they would not have allowed it to deteriorate if the road was not in the South-West?
If it was in the North, it would have been done long ago. They would not even have allowed it to deteriorate. Nobody would have been suffering on these roads if they were in the North.
The Federal Government has started making efforts to fight insecurity in the South-West. How do you view this?
The Federal Government is not interested in fighting insecurity caused by Fulani herdsmen anywhere in the country and not just the insecurity in the South West. I was in Benue State as part of the delegation of the South-West, South-East, South-South and the Middle Belt to commiserate with the people of the state after the massacre and the massive destruction of property by herdsmen in Benue in January 2018. Governor Samuel Ortom said the attackers, herdsmen, gave them a notice before they struck. He also read a letter written to the state by herdsmen after the attack notifying them of another attack which promised to be more brutal than the previous ones. They wrote in the letter that the land not only in Benue State but land all over Nigeria belongs to the Fulani and that they had mobilised Fulani people from all over West Africa to reclaim their land. They said they had accumulated weapons and money to carry out this and that the Federal Government could not stop them. We southerners have been superficial in our understanding of this matter. There is a well coordinated plan to conquer the peoples of Nigeria. There is a programme of ethnic cleansing going on in front of us and we are not rising up to stop this. This is not politics, this is war.
Do you mean Fulani people are behind this plan to conquer the entire country?
Yes, they are.
Are Yoruba people prepared to defend their land?
They are not but I pray they will be. More and more Yoruba people are waking up to this reality that the land is under siege. The only thing is that Yoruba nation is potentially powerful to defend itself.
Are you making efforts to bring the Oodua People’s Congress which are in different factions together?
Really, what I knew before I returned to Nigeria was the OPC under Gani Adams who is now our Aare Ona Kakanfo, we invited him and he came to America and we were impressed by what he said. But when I came back I realised that there are factions. In the interest of the Yoruba nation, we need to beg them to come together and work for the interest of our land.
Are you working with other Yoruba organisations?
There are many Yoruba organisations that are doing well. There are many of them that are doing well, they may not have huge resources but the little they have, they are doing well with it. We are working with all of them, we need to encourage everybody.
There are claims that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is the leader of Yoruba nation. Does this affect you in any way?
I don’t think anybody is making that claim. I have never heard of it. That is what I can say.
But will you work with prominent Yoruba leaders like Tinubu and others?
It is duty of the Yoruba leadership of today to be totally non-partisan, to see Yoruba nation as a family and not to interfere in partisan politics. This is how we are going to do it. In 2015, I led a delegation of Oodua Foundation and we visited every important Yoruba political leader and the Obas and leaders of major civic organisations. We visited Chief Olu Falae, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Chief Bode George. We visited them in their homes and when the All Progressives Congress won the election and our plea to them was that Yoruba people should close ranks because Tinubu had been able to achieve to his aim and we all should work to see how our nation would benefit from it. We appealed to them to stop attacking him and Chief Bode George was gracious enough and said he would no longer attack Tinubu politically. He made the promise. That is my attitude and I am too old to play partisan politics and Yoruba nation needs a non-partisan leadership.
Will you want presidency to be zoned to the South-West in 2023?
I want Yoruba people to have the best in 2023 .
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