By Adebayo Adeyinka
My dear Asiwaju,
I am compelled to write this open letter to you because of the state of affairs of the Yoruba nation. Firstly, I wish to acknowledge that fate has put you in a prime position to determine to a large extent the direction that the Yoruba people will go. The indisputable truth is that one may quarrel with your politics but your sagacity is never in doubt. Even those who don’t see eye to eye with you agree that you are imbued with unusual native intelligence, uncommon people skills and unrivaled foresight. You, more than any other person, has been the game changer since the advent of democracy in 1999. It is for these reasons that I have chosen to direct this letter to you.
My singular purpose is to tug at the strings of your heart. I am not writing to appeal to partisan considerations but to see, if per chance, I can pour out my heart to you in a manner of speaking. God has blessed you even beyond your wildest imagination. You have installed Senators and Governors. You have removed Governors and even a President. You have also installed a President. There is nothing you have wished for or desired that you didn’t get. Fortune has smiled on you. Goodwill follows you everywhere you go. You have done very well- more than most men ever will. However, there is one area that is begging for your urgent attention. This area may well define you and all you have ever achieved.
This matter, in my opinion, is the only difference between you and the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Let me restate for the purpose of emphasis that this is the area in which the late sage and Leader of the Yorubas stand head and shoulders above you. It is the reason his name has been a constant denominator in our regional and national politics. It is the reason politicians, friends and foes invoke his name for political advantage and personal glory. It is also the reason why we can’t stop talking about him almost thirty years after his death. What will anyone say about you thirty years after you have transited?
Asiwaju Sir, you may be wondering what I’m talking about? It is the issue of legacy. According to Peter Strople, ‘Legacy is not leaving something for people, it is leaving something in people’. Legacy is building something that outlives you. Legacy is greater than currency. In the words of Leonard Sweet, ‘ What you do is your history. What you set in motion is your legacy’. You can’t live forever, Sir. No one can. But you can create something that will. Enough of speaking in parables- I shall now speak plainly.
When destiny brought you on the scene, we were enamoured because you championed the case for true federalism. It was your belief then that the Yoruba nation will fare better under a restructured arrangement than under the type of unitary government we run while pretending by calling it a federal government. Everyone knows that there is nothing federal about our government at all. If truth must be told, the Yoruba nation has fared very badly since the advent of our new democracy. And this is not about holding power at the centre.
Let me bring this home: someone passed a comment recently that he would want Biafra to become a reality because he knows the Igbo nation will survive. That comment led me to deeper introspection as I wondered if the Yorubas can truly survive. Let me cite my first example. From Oyo to Osun, Ogun to Ondo, Ekiti to Kwara and Lagos, hardly will one see any serious industry or manufacturing concern owned by a Yoruba person. I am not talking about portfolio businesses or one-man business concerns. Most industries in Oyo State are owned by the Lebanese. The native business and industry gurus who dominated the landscape- Nathaniel Idowu, Amos Adegoke, Lekan Salami, Alao Arisekola, Adeola Odutola, Jimoh Odutola, Chief Theophilus Adediran Oni and others- are all gone with no credible replacements. I’m sure you remember the tyre factory of the Odutolas and how Jimoh Odutola was even asked by the Governments of Kenya and Ghana to set up a similar factory in their countries.
Chief Theophilus Adediran Oni, popularly called T.A Oni & Sons started the first indigenous construction company in Nigeria. He willed his residence- Goodwill House, to the Oyo/Western state government, to be used as a paediatrics Hospital, which is now known as T.A Oni Memorial Children Hospital at Ring Road in Ibadan. This sprawling family Estate and residence was cited on a 15acre piece of land, 65 rooms, with modern conveniences, Olympic Swimming Pool and stable for Horses, etc.
People like Chief Bode Akindele started companies like Standard Breweries and Dr Pepper Soft drink factory at Alomaja in Ibadan. Broking House built by the late Femi Johnson, an insurance magnate, still stands glittering in the mid-day sun as an epitome to a rich history that Ibadan has. The most serious and only notable Yoruba entrepreneur we have now is Michael Adenuga. I say this quite consciously because most of the other names are oil and gas barons. Most of what stood as testaments of industry in Oyo State are gone— Exide Batteries, Leyland Autos and many others. In its place are shopping malls and road side markets but no nation develops through buying and selling alone- especially when you’re not actually producing what you’re selling.
Hypermarkets and supermarkets have taken over because of the need to feed our insatiable consumer-appetite and foreign tastes. In one instance, an ancient landmark in the form of a hotel was demolished to pave way for a mall. That is how low we have sunk. If our past is better than our present- if we always look back with nostalgia frequently, then there is a problem.
The case of other states is not different. Osun’s case is pathetic. Ditto for Ondo and Ekiti. Ogun State can boast of some factories at Sango-Otta and Agbara axis but most of them are not owned by the Yorubas. There is no significant pharmaceutical company owned by any Yoruba except for Bond Chemicals in Awe, Oyo State- and its wallet share is very insignificant. For Lagos State, more than 70% of the manufacturing concerns and major industries in the State are owned by the Igbos. If the Igbos were to stop paying tax in Lagos State, the IGR of Lagos State will reduce by over 60%.
In contrast, Sir, go to the South East and look at the manufacturing concerns in Onitsha, Aba and Nnewi. Please don’t forget those were areas ravaged by civil war a mere forty something years ago. The Igbos have certainly made tremendous progress but the Yoruba nation has regressed. I wish to state that this letter is not meant to whip up primordial considerations or ethnic sentiments but just to put things in proper perspective.
Asiwaju, I will like to also talk about the state of education in the Yoruba nation. Our education has gone to the dogs. We have a bunch of mis-educated and ill-educated young men and women roaming the streets. Ibadan, for instance, had the first University in Nigeria and the first set of research centres in Nigeria ( The Forestry Research Institute, the Cocoa Research Institute (CRIN), The Nigerian Cereal Research Institute Moor Plantation (NCRI), the NIHORT (Nigerian Institute of Horticultural Research), the NISER (Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research), IAR&T (Institute of Agriculture, Research and Training), amongst several others). Ibadan was the bastion of scholarship with people like Wole Soyinka, JP Clark, D.O Fagunwa and Amos Tutuola as residents. In the May/June 2015 West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination, Abia came tops. Anambra came 2nd while Edo was 3rd. Lagos placed 6th while Osun and Oyo was 29th and 26th. Ekiti was 11th, Ondo State was 13th and Ogun State was 19th. In 2013 WASSCE, only Lagos and Ogun States were the Yoruba States above the national average. If we do an analysis of how Lagos placed 6th in 2015, you will discover that it was substantially because of other nationalities resident in Lagos.
For proof, please look no further than the winners of the Spelling Bee competition which has produced One-Day Governors in Lagos State. Since inception in 2001, other nationalities have won the competition six times (Ebuka Anisiobi in 2001, Ovuwhore Etiti in 2002, Abundance Ikechukwu in 2006, Daniel Osunbor in 2008, Akpakpan Iniodu Jones in 2011 and Lilian Ogbuefi in 2012). Sir, there is something seriously wrong about our state of education. From the vintage times of Obafemi Awolowo who initiated ‘free education’, we have regressed into a most parlous state.
Let me talk about roads, housing and infrastructure . The first dualized road in Nigeria, the Queen Elizabeth road from Mokola to Agodi in Ibadan was formally commissioned by Queen Elizabeth in 1956. The first Housing Estate in Nigeria is Bodija Housing Estate (also in Ibadan) which was built in 1958. The state of roads in the Yoruba nation has become pathetic. Our hinterland are still largely rural. Even some state capitals like Osogbo and Ado-Ekiti are big villages when you compare them to towns in the South East. How many new estates have been built over the last decade? Even Ajoda New Town lies in ruins.
We have abandoned the farm settlement strategy of the Western Region and only pay lip service to agriculture. Instead of feeding others like we once did, others now feed us. We plant no tomatoes, no pepper and the basic food that we require. The Indians have bought the large expanse of water body that we have in Onigambari village. The water body in Oke Ogun of Oyo State can provide enough fish to feed the whole of the South West. From being a major cocoa exporter many years ago, one can point to just a few vestiges of factories that still deal with Cocoa in the Yoruba nation. 80% of Cocoa processing industries in the South West have been shut down. The Chinese have taken over the cashew belt at Ogbomoso in Oyo State. They have even edged out the indigenes as brokers.
They now come to the cashew belt to buy from the local farmers, sell on the spot to other Chinese exporters who now process the cashew nuts and import them back into Nigeria at a premium. Sir, there are only 7 major cashew processing plants in Nigeria and you can check out the ownership. The glory has departed from the Yoruba nation.
Apart from Asejire, Ede, Ikere Gorge and Oyan dams built ages ago, where are the new dams to cater for increased population and water capacity for the Yoruba nation? How have we improved on what our heroes past left us? Maybe apart from certain areas in Lagos State, others can’t even supply their citizens with pipe-borne water.
Our youth which we used to take pride in are largely a mass of unemployed and unemployable people. Have you noticed the abundance of street urchins, area boys, touts and ‘agberos’ that we now have all across the Yoruba nation? Have you noticed the swell in the ranks of NURTW (I mean no disrespect to an otherwise noble union)? Have you noticed the increase in the number of Yoruba beggars? There was a time that it was taboo for a Yoruba man to beg- but no more. The spirit of apprenticeship is dead. There was a time that people who learn vocational skills celebrate what we referred to as ‘freedom’. While that is largely moribund now in the Yoruba nation, the Igbos still practice it with great success.
The only thing we can boldly say the Yoruba nation controls is the information machinery- the press. We own largely the newspapers- the Nation, Punch, Nigerian Tribune, TV Continental and a few others. It is because of our control of this information machinery that we have rewritten the narrative in the country with the misguided self-belief that things are normal and we are making progress. A look beyond the surface will prove that this is so untrue.
We are largely divided. For the first time in the history of the Yoruba nation, religion is about to divide us further- and it is starting from Osun State. You are married to a Christian. My own father-in-law is an Alhaji. That is how we have peacefully co-existed but the fabrics are about to be torn to shreds because of poor management of issues. Afenifere has been reduced to a shadow of itself.
OPC that once defended Yoruba interests has gone into oblivion. Yoruba elders have been vilified in the name of politics and partisanship. It is no longer news to see teenagers throwing stones at their elders because of their political indoctrination. Even under the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Yorubas never belonged to just a single party- yet our unity was without blemish. Now, our values have gone down the drain.
Asiwaju, I believe I have said enough. The task is Herculean but I believe Providence has brought you here for such a time like this. It is time for the Yoruba nation to clean up its acts. What do we really want? How can we quickly right the wrongs? The Yoruba nation is in a state of arrested development. The Yoruba nation is gasping for breath and crying for help. Will you rise up to the occasion? I am aware you understand that all politics is local and charity begins at home. Our fathers gave us a proverb: ‘Bi o’ode o dun, bi igbe ni’gboro ri’. I know there are no quick fixes but I also know that if there is anyone who has the capacity to do something about our current situation, that person is you. This should be the legacy you should think of. Your legacy is our future.
Yours Very Sincerely,
By Adebayo Adeyinka