Opinion: Yoruba elders, security challenges, and Fulani herdsmen – By TUNJI AJIBADE
The Yoruba people in Nigeria’s South-West held a conference recently. There they discussed how best to tackle security challenges in the region. This is a national issue, but Yoruba elders choose to adopt an approach which focuses on a homegrown solution that suits their locality. I had this in mind at the time someone wrote petitions to the British MPs, making allegations against the Nigerian government about security challenges in their locality. That time, I wrote thus on this page: “…they should play roles expected of elders by promoting dialogue and reconciliation in a local feud that the locals themselves are better placed than government to resolve.” (The PUNCH, July 12, 2019). I shall return to this point because just as some sent me insults for expressing that view, others are insulting Yoruba elders for the latest action they’ve taken.
Yoruba traditional rulers were in attendance at the said conference in the South-West. There were other stakeholders, as well as the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu. This initiative is what I know the elders would do in a situation such as the one in which we find ourselves in the country. I know Yoruba elders wouldn’t act irrational, making militant hate-filled comments that don’t resolve the problem. They wouldn’t demonise political leadership made up of humans like themselves that they could engage in rational discussions in order to get their concerns attended to. They wouldn’t experience security challenges as we all do but take the outrageous and irrational step of accusing Nigeria’s political leadership of propping up Boko Haram and headsmen to kill their people. Yoruba elders are more circumspect than that. I’ll return to this point too, and state my reasons.
Now, before the conference in the South-West happened, I had pointed out a few remarks made by Yoruba elders regarding the security situation in the country. One was what Kabiyesi, Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III, said regarding the excellent relationship that had existed for centuries between the Yoruba and people of Fulani origin. Although he expressed his displeasure over the criminal activity of a few elements, he didn’t blame an entire ethnic nationality. I suppose he takes this position because he, as elder and father to all who come under his umbrella (irrespective of tribe or religion), gives careful thought to a few issues that other people don’t. For me, it’s how an elder and father should approach issues, rather than the narrow-minded, hate-filled and ethnic-oriented interventions that we get in the public space.
Not long after Alaafin Adeyemi made his comment, the national leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, also pointed out that the nation indeed faced several security challenges. But he said no one should use this excuse to demonise any ethnic nationality and cause division among our peoples. Shortly after, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi, visited President Muhammadu Buhari. Thereafter, Oba Ogunwusi said he informed the President about the security situation in the South-West of the country. The media reported that he told the President to fish out the bad eggs among the Fulani headsmen, some of whom had been counted among criminal elements operating in the South-West.
I was gratified that the visit happened, and that Oba Ogunwusi spoke to the President on behalf of other Yoruba Obas. As I watched him take the lone long walk to the President’s office that time, it occurred to me this was the kind of step I knew Yoruba elders would take. They did exactly what I had imagined they would do under the current circumstances, and I was elated. Why? On a normal day, what a well-brought up Yoruba person would do is predictable. For the Yoruba have certain values that the well-informed person about the culture knows about and appreciates. For this reason, I could almost predict what Yoruba elders would say once they gather to deliberate on an issue. They definitely won’t decide to write letters over security challenges to some British MPs and make wild allegations that would leave people scratching their heads. Yoruba elders are more introspective than that. If it happens that they take a less than sublime decision, I would suspect something isn’t what it should be.
So, that time, Yoruba elders got organised, as the omoluabi (person of sound upbringing) in the typical Yoruba man would make him do, and spoke with one voice. They mandated Oba Ogunwusi to inform the President what they thought about the security situation in the South-West. I paid attention when not long after this visit, the Ooni again went along with a larger group of Obas to see the President. They made their views known in more details and the President promised that with regard to security situation in the region for which they visited him, he would certainly act on the requests they presented.
I also took note that, a few days later, another Yoruba elder and respected technocrat, Dr Christopher Kolade, spoke regarding security challenges in the nation. At a media briefing, Kolade said no one should add to the tension that threatens the unity of this nation by making hate-filled comments about fellow Nigerians. How can we fault this kind of approach in a situation where nerves are frayed and more tension could put our nation in serious trouble? How can we fault a situation in which Yoruba elders took a wholistic look at the challenges confronting the nation and they chose to act as catalysts to bridge division rather than enlarge it? I mean, what are elders for? Are elders meant to join the younger ones who call for chaos in a country that experienced chaos and pains in the recent past? For me, that time, Yoruba elders were correct in saying there were security challenges, but one ethnic group wasn’t responsible for them all, so one ethnic group shouldn’t be blamed. Instead, they say every factor that has collectively contributed should be looked at. I reckon that if one Yoruba elder had sounded different and made comments unbecoming of an elder that time, others would have quietly advised him that it was not the Yoruba way of doing things, and he would have fallen in line. Well-bred Yoruba persons understand this and the reasons behind it.
This point about how Yoruba do things makes me recall an incident in the early days of the current democratic dispensation. There was that negotiation between politicians from the South-West and the group that later became the nucleus of the Peoples Democratic Party. At the head of the group from the South-West was Pa Abraham Adesanya. One of the scheduled meetings had ended and the South-West group standing outside the venue to respond to pressmen. Adesanya took the questions. But members of the press also wanted to hear from Chief Bola Ige (who later became a chieftain of the Alliance for Democracy). To the very first question he was asked, Ige said, “My leader has spoken,” indicating Pa Adesanya. I recall nodding that very moment because it was what any well-bred Yoruba person would do. He wouldn’t seek relevance to the point of dishonourng his elder. The Yoruba respect their elders, listen to their counsel, and would often follow them even when, sometimes, it’s not convenient. More often than not, the most rascally youth would also do this, a reason the Yoruba say that even a mad dog recognises its owner.
Yoruba elders didn’t start using a common-front approach today. They exhibited the trait at the time Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the Premier of Western Region in the 1950s. For this reason, some accused Awolowo and the reputable Yoruba people around him in the Action Group of running the party like a cult. Meanwhile, this erroneous interpretation is actually an eloquent attestation to how well the Yoruba could put forth a common front especially on a national issue. At the risk of sounding immodest, I can state that I could tell correctly what the response of elders of Yoruba people would be on a national issue. For Yoruba elders that I know (with a few exceptions) are culturally inclined to be circumspect, reasonable, and tactful. They give careful thought to issues before they speak, rather than say things that would make reasonable people ask: “How can any responsible person say such a thing?” Punch
To be concluded next week.