Nigeria dragging Yoruba nation down, says Akintoye
Emeritus professor of history, Senator Banji Akintoye is the leader of Yoruba World Congress (YWC). He spoke with ENIOLA DANIEL at the first General Assembly of ‘Yoruba Nations Beyond the Nigerian Border’, which had as theme, ‘Networking The Yoruba Nations for Prosperity and Development.’ He spoke about the readiness of Yoruba to address security challenges, economy, among others.
What is the reason for this congress?
Yoruba World Congress is founded to address the problems and the expectations and aspirations of the Yoruba nation worldwide. People look at us as if we are just another Nigerian people; we are not. We are a very large and powerful nation in the world. Yoruba nation today is a very powerful nation in many countries of the world, and even in far distant places countries like Brazil, people are making arrangements now to give official recognition to the Yoruba language and to teach it in Brazilian schools. That shows that they know that the language is important to Brazil. But in Nigeria, we have been treated as if we are just a small people.
Now from all parts of the world, there is a greater surge of Yoruba consciousness. The Yoruba nation worldwide seems to be stepping into an era of Yoruba resurgence, Yoruba importance, Yoruba influence, Yoruba intellectual power, Yoruba technological and investment explosion, Yoruba business power, and Yoruba prosperity all over the world. The trend is manifesting from various directions. From the Yoruba region in Nigeria, the Ooni and the Alaafin are intensely engaged in contacts with the Yoruba family worldwide. Many Yoruba patriotic organisations have been springing up, each offering its own kind of response to the multiple challenges facing Yoruba people in the context of Nigeria.
In recent weeks, this search for united solutions has created for the Yoruba people of Nigeria a spectacularly uniting structure named Amotekun. In the face of near collapse of security in Nigeria, and in the face of massive and relentless importation of insecurity into Yorubaland from some other regions of Nigeria, Amotekun was created to defend all parts of Yorubaland and to restore to all Yoruba persons the peace and freedom that they need for productive lives.
In another part of Yoruba homeland in West Africa, in the Republic of Benin, significant steps are being taken in Yoruba solidarity. In January 2019, the Yoruba elite, the Yoruba traditional rulers, and the Yoruba people of this country came together in a large conference and inaugurated a Yoruba national organisation with the name Egbe Omo Oduduwa or lsokan Yoruba. From the Yoruba of Nigeria, representatives and messages came from the Ooni and the Alaafin, and from the only living Yoruba former President of Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo. Some Nigerian Yoruba intellectuals and professionals also came and some served as keynote speakers.
In the countries of the New World (North, Central and South America and the Caribbean Islands), similar developments in Yoruba consciousness, Yoruba culture, and Yoruba solidarity have been growing by leaps and bounds. In particular, Yoruba religion has been growing phenomenally in these countries and spreading from there to parts of the world. In responding to all this growing upsurge of Yoruba consciousness, solidarity, power and influence in the world, some among the Yoruba elite from various countries embarked on creating a worldwide Yoruba national movement, Yoruba World Congress, through which the collective energy of the Yoruba nation will be crystallized into dynamic power, prosperity and influence in the world.
We have reached a point in which the image of the Yoruba nation has been so degraded in Nigeria that even our own young mothers and telling their children do not to speak Yoruba language, because the Yoruba language has become like the language of a depressed people in Nigeria. We are not a depressed and it is time that we began to make that known, and so, part of the reason for creating the Yoruba World Congress is a tell the world that the Yoruba nation is a great nation on earth. And that we in Nigeria are a big part of that nation. It is also to gather the collective energies of the Yoruba nations worldwide towards the development and elevation of the Yoruba people in all parts of the world. So, we bring all the intellectuals, the business people, the politicians, political leaders, artists, professionals from all over the world to concretize and elevate Yoruba culture, Yoruba image, Yoruba power and Yoruba influence wherever Yoruba people live.
What’s your advice to Southwest governors regarding this move?
We are reaching all our governors, traditional rulers and others. We must now stop letting Nigeria drag us down. Nigeria has been dragging the Yoruba nation down; that has to stop now. The fact that we are in Nigeria does not make it compulsory for us to follow Nigeria downward. No, we don’t have to follow Nigerian downward. We don’t have to follow the destruction of culture in Nigeria, the disrespect for culture in Nigeria; we do not have to follow the poor political culture of Nigeria. We do not have to follow Nigeria’s poor quality of governance. We do not have to follow the disintegration and decline of Nigerian economy. We do not have to leave our children to go to school and come out of school unattended to, because that is how Nigeria treats its children. We Yoruba don’t have to treat our children like that. We are a people who are used to civilization building; we are creators of the largest and most successful brands on the African continent.
We do not have to surrender ourselves to disintegration and decline. So, we are calling upon the Yoruba people and the rulers and the governors to begin to attend to the needs of the Yoruba nation in spite of the fact that we are part of Nigeria.
Do the recent moves by the Yoruba nation mean that Nigeria is moving towards disintegration?
People always ask that question, but I don’t know. We at Yoruba World Congress are out to wake up the Yoruba nation, to tell the Yoruba nation: ‘you don’t have to surrender to the weaknesses of Nigeria; you don’t have to decline with Nigeria. You don’t have to live in poverty like Nigeria; you can build your own economy. You can build your own society; you can build your own culture, even though you’re part of Nigeria.’ That is what we’re doing. So, if that is going to lead ultimately to the disintegration of Nigeria, we don’t know, but we are doing the task that we think God wants us to do today.
The message of Nigerian Chapter of Yoruba World Congress to Yoruba people of Nigeria has been a message of bold self-reliance. It is that being part of Nigeria does not make it incumbent on the Yoruba people to keep surrendering themselves to Nigeria’s abysmally low standards of politics and governance, to Nigeria’s chosen moral and material retrogression and decline, to Nigeria’s horrid unemployment and hopeless poverty, to Nigeria’s all-pervading culture of corruption, and to Nigeria’s descent into rampant insecurity and anarchy. It is that we Yoruba people command the cultural assets and the human and management capabilities to raise ourselves and our nation up to any height in the word, even in the context of Nigeria. It is a call to Yoruba people to wake up and strike boldly forward to revive their true destiny as a civilization bui|ding nation in the world. It is an assurance that the large and prestigious world wide Yoruba nation is already beginning to pull itself together, and that help therein will be available to the Yoruba of any country in the world.
It is a particularly loud message of hope and struggle to today’s generally neglected and suffering youths of the Yoruba nation in Nigeria.
What is your message to parents not teaching their children to speak Yoruba?
The message is going to come out very big and soon. We are putting together a programme for that. Yoruba parents who are telling their children not to speak Yoruba, they believe they are right. They believe that there is no need for anybody to teach or speak Yoruba, but they are wrong. And they think that the best thing for any child in Nigeria is to speak English; they are wrong. And they think that if a child speaks Yoruba, he or she will not be able to speak English well; they are wrong.
People who studied the development of language in children tell us that the brain of the child is so wired by God that he or she can learn at least six languages together at the same time without confusion, and that the more languages he or she learns, the better he or she gets with each of the languages. So, when you are telling your child not to speak a particular language to which he’s exposed to ordinarily, you are interfering with the God-given talent of the child to learn as many languages without difficulty.
And so you will find that the English that our children are learning today or writing today is inferior to the English that their parents speak and write. Part of the reason is that their parents have been interfering with their thinking about language. The parents should let the children learn language freely.
In fact, if you are a parent and your child is living in your house and the next house is a family speaking Igbo language and your child is able to go there and speak Igbo with the children, let him speak the Igbo language with the children. It can only help him to speak languages very well. If there is a Chinese family across the road and they have children and they are speaking the Chinese language and your child comes home trying to speak Chinese language, let him speak it, because then you are helping your child to strengthen his knowledge of languages in the world, as his or her appreciation of language. So telling your child not to speak your language is destroying your child; it is not helping the child.