Is there a curse on Yoruba Nation?
By Professor Ropo Sekoni
1. One troubling myth that many Yoruba usually invoke to excuse inaction and focus on the need for the kind of change that can enable them choose the kind of Nation they want is the Myth of a Curse on the Yoruba by Aole in Old Oyo-Ile. Peddlers of this myth say that Aole cursed the Yoruba, saying that Enu won ko nii ko (unity will elude the race). Many Yoruba people at that, in Ondo, Ekiti, Eko, Kabba, Ilesa, Ijebu-Ode etc did not even know where Oyo-Ile was, because they had no reason to go that far. To me, invoking this myth is looking for excuse(s) for inaction or trying to push to the gods an ideology of self-paralysis by some articulate Yoruba men and women who prefer to benefit from whatever status quo exists, regardless of how hostile such status quo may be to Yoruba cultural, economic, political, and social interests.
2. Since the death of Aole, the Yoruba had engaged effectively in many ventures that required Unity of Purpose. They fought a joint war to repel the Fulani from conquering Osogbo and using that as a point of entry to Yorubaland to do to the Yoruba what they did to Hausa States at the time of Uthman dan Fodio. The Yoruba Region (old Western Region under Chief Awolowo) was able to establish Free Primary Education in the region while other Regions could not and despite opposition from some Yoruba political influencers. What was important then was unity of purpose. The Yoruba are traditionally believers in Plurality of Perspectives on issues, but also of People with capacity to organize the best policy option after long and sometimes rancorous debates. This is a cultural trait that is suitable for democracy and democratic governance and one that should not be taken as a weakness. Sequel to the 1993 presidential election of MKO Abiola and its annulment, the Yoruba organized around NADECO to fight the annulment, even when a few individuals had no problem with Abacha’s rule. No successful democratic society insists on total unity; democracy requires unity of purpose, and the Yoruba have shown this several times in their history. Democracy has no use for any form of absolutism; it thrives in spaces that have respect for dissent.
3. Another misconception that still exists among members of the typical Yoruba socio-cultural organization in the 21st century is the search for TOTAL UNITY as the only surety for the Yoruba to realize their potential to the fullest within the framework of Nigeria’s multinational federation. Such expectation is antithetical to Yoruba cultural foundation. Yoruba myth of origin is about plurality including many gods to worship, in order to reach Olodumare (the High God) and creation of a federation of 16 kingdoms long before the arrival of British colonialism. One most cited Yoruba proverb is that Omode gbon agba gbon ni a fi da Ile Ife while another Yoruba proverb says Gbogbo wa ko le sun, ka ko ori si ibikan naa. Both axioms remind us of Yoruba respect for plurality of perspectives as the basis of pursuing a unity of purpose. What is important to the average Yoruba is the relevance of a dominant ideology to the improvement of the quality of life of the largest number of people. Since the era of Awolowo, Social Democratic values have been important to majority of Yoruba people. This explains why the Yoruba voted for Action Group, SDP, AD, AC, ACN, and most recently APC when it presented a more progressive party than PDP. Even when majority of Yoruba people voted for all these parties, there were some Yoruba people in all the other political parties, and this situation did not constitute an anomaly to Yoruba people who chose to belong to political parties they considered closest to the type of polity and society they believe to be the best.
4. Another misconception is that the problem with Nigeria is that people pay attention to their ethnic identity. This is another defeatist philosophy. The country that created Nigeria, Great Britain, has English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish Nationalities in the United Kingdom, and each Nationality is free to define itself within Britain’s informal federation. Belgium has many national groups and that does not diminish the country’s chances of becoming a successful modern Multi-National State. The same goes for Switzerland, Canada, the United States, etc. If other Nationalities in Nigeria believe that their cultures are inadequate, the Yoruba do not need to internalize such self-debasement. Existence of ethnic diversity and identity politics does not justify any form of domination by any group over another, as things have been in Nigeria since 1960. The country’s problem since 1962 is the failure of Nigeria’s political leaders to manage a culturally diverse polity and society with equity, equality, justice, and tolerance of otherness that a plural society calls for. Anybody complaining that all Nationalities should erase their cultural identities so that Nigeria can be united should desist from such irrational thought. Even when the Soviet Union was one country, all the new Nations that became independent after Glasnost and Perestroika in 1985 had their cultures intact. If any Nationality feels cheated by others in Nigeria, the reason cannot be because there are many Nationalities; it should be because some Nationalities prefer or desire to dominate others. And the solution should not be self-erasure by any of the Nationalities, but for each Nationality to insist on a proper governance structure and Constitution that will make domination of one Nationality by another unacceptable, barring which each Nationality should invoke the right to self-determination.
5. The values of majority of Yoruba people make it unacceptable for them to castigate others for being in another political party or having a different perspective on anything. What the Yoruba find acceptable is any system that allows the choice of its majority to emerge. This explains why the Yoruba value free and fair election, and preferably, a free and fair REFERENDUM. There is no basis in Yoruba tradition for anyone to find excuses for any form of domination from other Nationalities. People who do not aspire to dominate other Nationalities should not accept to be dominated by Nationality. This explains why our ancestors took active part in demanding Self-government from the British in 1957 and for Independence for the whole country in 1960. Activists for transformation should never exercise any diffidence. Lack of cultural confidence can diminish resolve. Peddling or accepting any misconception capable of diminishing the confidence of a people is a disadvantage to people seeking change.