Brazil, Cuba and many other places, whose people have settled into and legitimately lay claim to Ilorin, Kaaba, Akoko
Edo and other parts of northern and mid-western Nigeria, whose offspring and progenitor established many kingdoms including the Bini Kingdom, whose pantheon of gods and traditional religion of ifa is respected and practised in many parts of the world, whose historical, philosophical, religious and cultural contributions to Ancient Egypt are well known and well documented, whose level of sophistication and exposure to the knowledge of western education is second to none and whose sense of liberalism, justice, decency, hospitality and fairness is not understood, appreciated or reciprocated by any other ethnic group or nationality in Nigeria and so much more and that supposedly educated person still insists on calling such people, despite their sheer numbers and their homogenous geographical setting, a mere “tribe”, then you know that that person is truly misguided.
You may call others a tribe if you so choose but not the Yoruba. We number as many people as almost the whole of the UK or France and far many more than three quarters of the countries on the European continent and our history dates back as far as that of the Celts, the
Normans, the Vikings, the Romans, the Greeks, the Egyptians and the Anglo-Saxons. Our forefathers are amongst those that went to the best institutions of higher learning and citadels of excellence in the
world like Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Durham universities as far back as the early 1800s and they became the first lawyers, doctors, scientists, intellectuals, poets, writers, journalists, philosophers, priests and free thinkers on the African continent. Little wonder that our former colonial masters resolved in their hearts that we must never be allowed to take power at the centre because they saw us as their equals as opposed to being their serfs. We were right at the top whilst others were still living in villages in the deepest and darkest parts of the African forest. We forged and built great empires that we nurtured and protected with all that we had.
Ours was not a primitive inheritance but a noble and righteous one that was established by the Living God and the hard work of our forefathers. And it is the memory of those great and powerful forefathers that I invoke today when I ask how far has our noble heritage taken us in the contraption called Nigeria? How have we fared as a people? For better or for worse? Our children ask us, ”Was it always like this” and who ”were” the Yoruba? They no longer ask who ”ARE” the Yoruba but who ”WERE” the Yoruba? Sadly that is our plight today- a people whose children regard them as ”once were” and no longer ”are”.
We are still who and what we once were and it shall always be so no matter what Nigeria and the world does to us. We are a nation, not a tribe. And we are a nation that is craving for recognition and nationhood. A nation borne out of centuries of sacrifice, hard work, perseverance and diligence and whose foundation is unsullied, noble and pure. We are a nation within a nation that is beginning to berth and that is eagerly waiting to be born.
Today we invoke the spirits and rekindle the memories of our forefathers and we weep for our people. What do we tell them about how we fared after they left us and went into eternity? This struggle belongs to our generation yet the question needs to be asked- have we lived up to expectation as they did? Have we asked the relevant questions, provided the appropiate answers and fought the good and noble fight as they once did? We remember with great pride, great men and women of Yoruba stock that have passed on and we reflect on their noble struggle through the ages.
Men and women that stood up when it mattered the most and made a difference like Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Sapara Williams, Richard Akinwande-Savage, Kitoye Ajasa, Cissie Obasa, Eric Moore, Herbert Macauly, Joseph Egerton-Shyngle, Curtis Adeniyi-Jones, Adeyemo Alakija, Theophilius Adebayo Doherty, Victor Adedapo Kayode, Akinola Maja, Joseph Akanni Doherty, Kofo Abayomi, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Wuraola Esan, J.C Vaughan, H.O. Davis, Adegoke Adelabu,
Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, Remilekun Adetokunbo Fani-Kayode, Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams, Bode Thomas, Adesoji Aderemi, Odeleye Fadahunsi, Oduola Osuntokun, Emmanuel Okunsanya Okunowo, Moses Majekodunmi, Adetokunbo Adegboyega Ademola, Benjamin Oluwakayode Osuntokun, Josiah Olawoyin, S.L. Edu, Samuel Shonibare, Matthew Abonmagbe-Okupe, Dauda Adegbenro, S.O.Gbadamosi, Adeniran Ogunsanya, T.O.S Benson, Augustus Meredith Adisa Akinloye, Adekunle Fajuyi, Samuel Ademulegun, R.A. Shodeinde, Olusola Saraki, MKO Abiola, Bola Ige, Micheal Ajasin, Abraham Adesanya, Ganiyu Dawodu, Adewale Thompson, Solanke Onasanya, Kudirat Abiola, Emmanuel Omotehinwa and dozens of others that are too numerous to mention.
These names shall never be forgotten and those who bear them should hold their heads up high for theirs is a noble lineage. Yet many ask what is next for this great and illustrious nationality and this berthing nation called the Yoruba? How do we achieve our full potentials and become that which God has ordained us to be? Can this be done within the confines of the Nigerian state? Some have argued, quite rightly, that the way out is to have a Sovereign National Conference that will renegotiate the terms of our unity and revisit
the very question of our existence as a nation. Yet the truth is that the forces that control the centre in Nigeria and that have controlled it since 1914 will never allow that to happen without a fight.
It is their intention and desire to keep us together as one in a flawed and failed unitary state with it’s federal facade in perpetuity regardless of the grave damage that such a venture has wrought upon our people over the last 99 years. Successive President’s in the last few decades have offered government-sponsored national conferences none of which are sovereign and each of which could not possibly solve our fundamental problems or properly answer our nationality question.
The mantra has always been that the unity of Nigeria is ”not negotiable” and our resolutions were always subject to their approval or the approval of some unrepresentative and questionable National Assembly which hardly represented the interests and views of the numerous nationalities in our country. We have one year to go before we achieve 100 years of being together as one entity and I believe that it is time for us to have a rethink and determine how we want the next 100 years to be. It is time for us to question all these so-called ”settled issues”, ”no-go areas”, ”non-negotiables” and ”givens”.
We can no longer be satisfied and content with the failed answers and ideas of a vain and fanciful unity that exists only in our minds and in our imaginations. An illusionary unity that our fathers and forefathers held so dear and even fought a civil war to maintain and uphold. Given the nature of those that control the centre today and their unholy intentions for the rest of the country we must revisit that question of unity and we must ask ourselves ”at what price?”
The world is not static- it is dynamic and it is changing fast. Kingdoms come and kingdoms go. Empires fall and empires rise. Nations break and new nations are formed. The world is changing and the great people and numerous nationalities that make up Nigeria must espouse that change, accept it and not be left behind. What was good for yesterday may not be good for today. And what is good for today may not have been good for yesterday.
That is where we are today- on the threshold of change. And I believe that the time for that change is now. It is a new dawn, a new day and a new era. And I fervently believe that the God of heaven and He who sits above the circles of the earth is about to do something new, something refreshing and something very dramatic. Why? Because we are a nation, not a tribe