There are no new truths, but only truths that have not been recognized by those who have perceived them without noticing - Mary McCarthy, US writer (1912-1989)
Like a recurring decimal, the problem of Nigeria’s structural defects came to the fore in the process of choosing a ‘northern consensus candidate’ for People’s Democratic Party (PDP) ticket for the 2011 presidential election. The attendant brouhaha and intrigues over the issue of zoning while it lasted, reminded Northern Yorubas of what some of them already knew: no Kwaran of Yoruba ethnic or linguistic stock can ever become the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria! No, this is no malediction neither is it a statement made under the influence of alcohol but it is the stark reality of a plague we are living with like the HIV infection. There is crisis of identity for this group of people who, by the ‘mistake of 1914’ are classified as Northerner when as of fact, they are historically, culturally, linguistically and politically members of Oduduwa family in the geographical south-west of Nigeria.
Political analysts were watching with keen interest when Governor Bukola Saraki, the Aremo (first male child) of the most powerful political dynasty in Nigeria, threw his hat into the ring of political contest for the position of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Paradoxically, Dr. Bukola Saraki allows history to repeat itself because he fails to learn from history by been one of the most vociferous propagandist of zoning arrangement in favour of the North in the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). This is a case of a sympathizer crying louder than the bereaved. However, he joined the race along with three others (Gens. Babangida, Gusau and Alh. Atiku) to slug it out with the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in the PDP.
By the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), Saraki or any Nigerian citizen is qualified to aspire for the office of Nigeria’s president but that is legalistic or dogo turanchi as far as the Adamu Ciromas of this world are concerned. To them, names like Sarakis, Awoniyis, Jemibewons, Adebayos, Olawoyins, Ogunniyis or Smart Adeyemis from either Kwara or Kogi have not meaning in the northern political lexicon, therefore, presidential ambition nursed by these people is not only repugnant and abominable but also incompatible with the concept of northern brotherhood. To the present crop of northern political elites (with the exception of a few), it is a joke taken too far for the likes of Alh. Yekini Alabis, Abdul-Rahoof Bellos or Alh. Lai Mohammeds from Kwara or Kogi are mere slack variables (dummies) in the political calculus and conceptual analysis of northern politics as such elements are regarded as beirebe or banza-bokwai, (people from non-Hausa/Fulani states). They are only relevant to inflate the demographic figure in order to sustain the phantom population density of the so-called ’19 northern states’ whenever the north is threatened by the south over issues such as resource control, fiscal federalism or sovereign national conference come up on the national agenda.
In fairness, there was no such dichotomy in either words or actions when Sir Ahmadu Bello – the Sardauna of Sokoto was in the saddle in the north. That was why there was no cases of religious crisis or ethnic animosity as we now witness in Jos, Bauchi, Maiduguri, Kaduna or Zango-Kataf. In the Sadauna’s north, it was one north, one people, one God, the regional ethos, which fired the patriotism in a Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, Major Theophilus Danjuma and such other military officers to stake their lives in the July 29, 1966 counter coup, which was originally intended to pull out the northern region from Nigeria. According to Amadu Kurfi, (1983:38), the original intention of the July 29 counter coup leaders was to seize the reins of government and then announce the secession of the Northern Region from the rest of the country. These days, the same middle-belters have become estranged species as they are no longer regarded as ‘core’ northerners, judging by the wide condemnation of President Olusegun Obasanjo for appointing some of them into key positions in the country. On that strength, therefore, Governor Saraki’s aspiration was/is seen as anathema, which could be likened to an atheist preaching from the pulpit of a cathedral.
It is disturbing to note that for disclaimer over presidential slot in the north are the Yoruba ethnic groups from Kwara and Kogi States even if they can speak Hausa, the northern lingua franca. Perhaps, to avoid such embarrassment in the league of northern traditional rulers, the Emir of Ilorin, Alh. Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari quickly deleted his lovely Yoruba middle name ‘Kolapo’ shortly after he ascended the throne. Although, this was a contradiction to his forbearers’ reverend and veneration for their Yoruba name and cognomen such as Aiyelabowo, Alabi Opo, Oroganloye, Oba digi Aye, Momolosho, etc. In the same wavelength is our brother - a press dynamo from Ilorin, Modibbo ‘Lanre’ Kawu who also made a public renunciation of his popular Yoruba middle name. However, a group called Arewa Integrity Forum under the leadership of one Abdulmuminu Adamu fired the first salvo of negative sentiments to Bukola Saraki’s presidential aspiration. The forum, at a press conference in Kaduna, disowned Governor Saraki saying he was acting the script of Yoruba. His words:
Mr. Saraki was playing a script of Yoruba agenda, adding that the information available to us was that the Kwara governor is from Abeokuta, and was working on a plan hatched by a former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who is also from Abeokuta. His root is from there and we as northerners, we will not bless his aspiration, the AIF leader said. As we are all aware, Bukola is a stooge and a spoiler who will use the northern platform to achieve his political interest. We would not allow Mr. Saraki to speak on behalf of the north. The reason behind the formation of the Northern Union being led by Mr. Olusola Saraki, father of the Kwara State governor, was owing to the refusal of the Arewa Consultative Forum to allow him into their midst (See NEXT newspaper).
In the same vein, the Niger Delta Standard also reports that the North West and North East disowned Governor Saraki because “he is not northern enough.” To rub salt on Saraki’s wound, the Adamu Ciroma’s committee refuses to consider him as a core Northerner because he is said to have come from a minority ethnic group in the North (See the Nigerian Voice). It would be recalled that Bukola’s father (Dr. Olusola Saraki, the Waziri of Ilorin) had also suffered the same fate in the past but according to Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), men occasionally stumble over the truth, but they pick themselves up and continue as if nothing had happened. Before going into the anatomy of the Saraki dynasty’s politics of northern hegemony, it would be pertinent to quickly look at the historical metamorphoses of politics in Kwara State.
Where Does Kwara Belong?
What is known today as Kwara extended to the whole of the present Kogi State and it was created on May 17, 1967, the eve of the Nigerian civil war by the then Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon. The State was created from the old Ilorin and Kabba provinces of the defunct Northern Region with the name, Central West State but it was to be changed in 1968 to Kwara, which is said to be the name of a river in Kaduna State. The older generation of Kwarans is in a dilemma to satisfy the curiosity and inquisitiveness of the younger generation about the meaning of their State of origin! What is the rationale behind the change if not a strategy for internal colonization and perpetual subjugation of the Yoruba ethnic nationality in the north?
Prior to the Fulani uprising of 1831, which culminated in a palace coup against Afonja, the Yoruba Governor of Ilorin and the generalissimo of Yoruba nation, the greater parts of the territory now in Kwara and Kogi States belonged to the House of Oduduwa under the suzerainty of Alafin of Oyo. The 19th century inter-tribal wars in Yorubaland coupled with internal weakness and other factors led to the fall of Oyo Empire, leading to infiltration and adulteration of history and cultural anthropology of Yoruba nation. Even the emerging Ibadan army cannot challenge the Fulani hegemony on Igbomina, Ekiti, Ibolo, Okuns and Ogoris in the northeast of Yorubaland. That was the position recognized and maintained by the colonial masters during the various boundary delineation exercises between the North and the South (of the then geographical expression) starting from 1893 under Captain R. Bower leading to the 1914 amalgamation by Lord Luggard.
Agitation for Ilorin West-Merger
Agitations for reintegration of the Yoruba ethnic groups with their kith and kin in the West started in 1898 when a powerful delegation of Yoruba traditional heads (mostly from Igbominaland) journeyed to Ila Orangun to meet Captain Bower, the colonial Resident and Travelling Commissioner of the Interior Yoruba on the need to return them to Oyo province. In the entourage were Olomu of Omupo, Elese of Igbaja, Elesie of Esie, Oloro of Oro, Eledidi of Edidi, Alaran of Arandun, Alapa of Apa, Onirore of Rore, Olobo of Obo-Aiyegunle, Olosi of Osi, Olora of Ora, Olota of Ilota, Eleju of Igbonla, Olupako of Share and Baale of Ilala (see Isaac Adebayo, 1996:61).
Also in the 50s, another conscious effort was made by the Action Group Party which entered into an alliance with the Ilorin Talaka Parapo (Ilorin Commoner’s Party) to get the Yorubas out of Ilorin and Bida/Lafiagi Emirates in the North. By 1957, according to Bola Ige (1995:110), Ilorin town was safely in the clutches of the NPC but ASA, MORO, OFFA, ERIN, IGBOMINA AND EKITI areas remained pro-Awolowo and his party but the victory of the alliance in the 1956 Northern Regional elections, wining the four seats in Ilorin was anchored on ‘An re West’ (we are going to West) political slogan. The allies also won elections into the Ilorin Native Authority Council and a majority of the district councils throughout the province. ‘Those local bodies then passed resolutions favoring transfer to the Western Region, with the elected members from the alliance outvoting the elected NPC members and the traditional members nominated by the Emir’ (Schwartz, F. A. O, 1965:92).
Earlier, the Offa Descendant Union had hosted the meeting of Egbe Ibile Yoruba in 1950 and the agitation for boundary review was one of the resolutions passed at the meeting was forwarded to the colonial Governor Sir John Stuart Macpherson who made a pledge to address the issue at the Legislative Council meeting in 1951(Adisa Onikoko). The matter also came up at the 1957 Constitutional Conference in London and pursuant to this, Henry Willink Minority Commission of enquiry was set up and it visited Ilorin in February 1958 to hear evidence from interested parties, including the political groups i.e. AG/ITP and the Northern People’s Congress (NPC). The Willink Minority Commission recommended, among others, that a plebiscite be held in the Ilorin and Kabba divisions. In such a plebiscite, if 60 percent voted for transfer, the transfer should be made. The report, which was published on August 18, 1958 states:
…… If no solution is found to this dispute, we fear that the Northern Region may continue to find Ilorin an embarrassment rather than an asset and relations within the Federation may be embittered for some time to come. We see no prospect of a solution that would ease the tension except by means of plebiscite in which there is general acquiescence and by the result of which all have agreed to abide (Ojiako, J. O. O. 1981:43).
Surreptitiously, the NPC succeeded in resisting the holding of any such plebiscite and thus, the area remains part of the North until today (See Mobolaji Aluko). This is patently one of the perfidious plans by the British for the independent Nigeria to fail.
On March 30, 2005, at the National Political Reform Conference held at Ilorin, the issue of identity crisis also came up through a memorandum signed by 24 elders and leaders of thought from Kwara South, consisting of Ifelodun, Irepodun, Oyun, Offa, Isin, Ekiti and Oke-Ero Local Government Areas of Kwara State. They highlighted the social and political effects of “the forced dismemberment of the various groups in Kwara from their kith and kin in the South West of Nigeria, which the British carried out in 1906 and by force of that circumstance made the Yoruba ethnic groups become minorities in the North.” Therefore, they demanded for a separate state for the Yorubas in the present Kwara and Kogi States to be known as Oke-Oodua, which is made up of Igbomina, Ibolo, Ekiti and Okuns. They stated that:
Culturally, we are Yoruba and we share same aspirations with our kith and kin in the South West. However, in addition to our other Yoruba groups, we are grouped in the same state with other tribes, such as Baruba, Nupe, Hausa and Fulani who naturally share the same aspiration with their own people in the North. We are also zoned to the North and therefore we are regarded as Northerners. The unanticipated and perhaps unplanned consequence of the forced association has been the gradual erosion of our culture and identity. Our dilemma has been and still is this, in which direction do we look? We have a problem of identity in the name of either Kwara or when it comes to aspiring for national political office. Kwara has no meaning or identification. We cannot aspire for any position slated for the Yoruba because we are treated as "Northerners" Neither can we aspire for that slated for the North because we are regarded as "Yoruba.”
Kwara and the Saraki’s Northern PoliticsPolitically, the Saraki’s phenomenon did not come to the consciousness of Kwarans until 1974 when the London trained medical doctor Abubakar Olusola Saraki was conferred with the honourary chieftaincy title of Turaki of Ilorin by Alh. Sulukarinaini Gambari (Aiyelabowo V), the Emir of Ilorin (1959-1992) for his philanthropist activities in the Ilorin metropolis. He had earlier in 1964 contested election into the Federal House of Representative as an independent candidate but lost to one Alh. Babatunde Gada, an NPC candidate because Dr. Saraki’s personality and claim of indigeneship of the ancient city was translucent and shrouded with obscurity. However, he beat a retreat only to relaunch in the early seventies, when there was a vacuum of leadership in the Ilorin political turf, which required a well-to-do personality to fill when the military eventually disengaged and return Nigeria to civil rule as promised. Ilorin, like the Biblical Israelites, needed a political leader, a torchbearer and a personality to fill the vacuum created by the demise of Alh. Yusuf Amuda Gobir, the first Ilorin indigene to be appointed a Federal Permanent Secretary in 1962. Late Amuda Gobir was a jewel of inestimable value to the people of Ilorin Emirate. A renowned author, L. A. K. Jimoh, (1994:305) had these words to describe him:
Amuda Gobir was an amiable personality and readily helpful at all times not only to individuals no matter their place of origin but also to communities, organizations and societies. Through his efforts, silently in most cases, several Ilorin indigenes, in particular, and Nigerians generally, secured Federal appointments and were, with his encouragement, able to make impressive advancements in the Federal Public Service. He also obtained for several other people various forms of public patronage, including contract awards in different sectors of the economy.
Unfortunately, the man died in a ghastly road accident while holidaying in Spain in 1975, his premature death left Ilorin with no choice than to look up to Dr. Olusola Saraki who had started making generous donations towards execution of community projects in every nook and cranny of Ilorin. Dr. Olusola Saraki saddled himself with the followings communal services:
• tarring of Ilorin township roads;
• sinking of boreholes to mitigate the acute water problems in Ilorin;
• establishing bakery industry;
• establishing a cinema house close to the Emir’s Palace;
• feeding indigents in his house at Agbaji and later at Ile-Loke (GRA)
• dolling out money with textile materials (Ankara) to women.
Taking the advantage of the prevailing poverty in the land, Dr. Saraki wove his political philosophy on the theory of ‘give them the fish and not the hook’ so that they can continue to look up to you, therefore, he started by giving out N20, later increased with inflationary trends to N50, and to N200, and then to N500 but currently stands at N1000 to whoever cares to attend the political night vigil at his Ile-Loke residence whenever the ‘Oloye’ was in town. This ‘generosity’ was the magic wand that has warmed him into the hearts of the people in Ilorin and even beyond, hence, he took another bite at the political apple in 1976 when he contested and won election into the Constitutional Conference. In 1979, he contested and won election into the Senate on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) where he was elected the Senate Leader. Ever since, Saraki’s political profile has been on the rise until becoming a political godfather in Kwara State. He assumed this stardom with the tremendous support he enjoyed from the House of Alimi, which he exploit to launch himself into political relevance in the northern political calculations. In reciprocity, the Emir also needs the political machinery of Dr. Olusola Saraki for the sustenance of Fulani hegemony to ward off the incessant hostilities from the Afonja family, Balogun Alanamu, Balogun Ajikobi who are senior members of the Emirate Council, and the entire Yoruba ethnic nationality in the State.
Therefore, for Dr. Olusola Saraki to remain a lone tree that makes a political forest in Kwara State he must be seen to be championing northern interest and in some cases, to prove to be more northerner than even the Sultan of Sokoto, otherwise, the northern cabal will move the federal might against him and his dominance of the political firmament in the State shall become history. That is why he had to move from Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) over irreconcilable differences, which could not be far from his inability to speak Hausa, to form his own group called the Northern Union (NU) rather than joining the Afenifere or the Yoruba Council of Elders where he rightly belongs, if some facts of history are anything to go by. For instance, Mallam Muktar his father was not buried in Ilorin, otherwise his mother should have been buried the same place with her husband instead of Iseyin, her hometown in accordance with Islamic injunction. Therefore, those who insinuate that Olusola Saraki is from Southwest might not be too far from the truth. Nevertheless, the patriarch of the ruling dynasty in Kwara State would not associate with Yoruba because he needs the north more than he was needed in the north for the survival of his prebendal politics of ‘eba and wazo’. The flawed electoral system in Nigeria gives victory at the polls not to the most popular candidates but the candidates anointed by some godfathers. In most cases, election results in Nigeria are usually not in favour of the contestants who polled majority of lawful votes by eligible voters but cooked by the electoral umpire acting on the scripts of the northern military and political cabal who see ruling Nigeria as their birthright. Thank goodness, President Goodluck Jonathan has promised the international community that 2011 elections in Nigeria shall be different in that votes shall start to count and shall be counted; That there would be internal democracy in the political parties and that multiple voting and ballot-box snatching has become banished into the dustbin of history. He also promised that political corruption through the practice of godfathrism is taking a flight out of this great country. But behold! Vigilance is the eternal price for liberty. We get our fingers crossed.
Governor Bukola Saraki’s attempt at ruling this country suffers the same fate like that of his father because of his identity crisis but ironically, he fails to learn from history. In 1983, Dr. Olusola Saraki made a frantic effort to contest for the presidency on the platform of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) but was told that the incumbent President Shehu Shagari was to go for second term but he was not satisfied because President Shagari was a reluctant candidate. The fallout of the power game led to a grand conspiracy and discrimination against the elder Saraki, which led him to seek a political asylum with the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). To take his pound of flesh from the NPN, he directed his supporters to vote for the UPN’s gubernatorial candidate Senator C. O. Adebayo. Another attempt was made by him under the Social Democratic Party but had to chicken out for a more formidable power blocs formed by the late Chief M. K. O. Abiola and late Gen. Shehu Yar’Adua. Again, in 1998 when the presidency was zoned to the southwest to compensate for the injustice done to Chief M. K. O. Abiola, Dr. Saraki attempted the APP ticket but got disappointed by the northern cabal in the party who preferred to go into alliance with the AD for the 1999 presidential elections. How else does Dr. Olusola Saraki want to be told that he has overstayed is welcome in the north? If your religion cannot change you, then change your religion.
In this piece, Dr. Olusola Saraki is used as a case study but no one should delude him/herself by thinking that other Kwarans are immune against this discrimination arising from identity crisis, which makes the presidency a no-go area for them despite assurance provided by Sec. 42(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). Today dies and tomorrow buries it, what kill today is coming to kill tomorrow. In the Nigerian primordial politics, how do you explain a situation whereby a a Olubukola Saraki, Smart Adeyemi or my good brother from Ipee Rev. John Dara should succeed President Olusegun Obasanjo after the expiration of his statutory second term in office? On the contrast, is it justifiable for a Belore, a Kawu or Serah Jubril to have succeeded late President Umoru Yar’Adua if he had completed his mandatory two terms in office? This is a time bomb waiting to explode!
The Way Out
Through legislation or political approach, the following measures should be taken as a matter of deliberate policy by the federal government:
➢ Convoke a constitutional conference of various ethnic nationalities to determine the Nigerian union along true federalism
➢ Redraw the boundaries of the component units of Nigeria to make it reflect historical and cultural homogeneity
➢ Insert a specific clause in the Nigerian Constitution to make it justiciable for the Yoruba ethnic groups in Kwara and Kogi State against any form of discrimination on the basis of their ethnic origin
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
30th November 2010
Abdul-Rahoof Adebayo Bello, an academic staff of the National Open University of Nigeria hails from Omupo, Kwara State.
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Adisa-Onikoko, A. T. (1992), A History of Ilorin Emirate, Ilorin, Atoto Press Ltd.
Aluko, M., in Ilorin Irredentism and the Burden Of Internal Colonization, Burtonsville, MD, USA http://www.nigerdeltacongress.com/iarticles, visited 28/11/10
Ige, B. (1995), People, Politics and Politicians of Nigeria (1940 - 1979), Ibadan, Heinemann Educational Books (Nigeria) Plc.
Jimoh, L. A. K. (1994): Ilorin: The Journey So Far, Ilorin, Atoto Press Ltd.
Kurfi, A., (1983), The Nigerian General Elections 1959 and 1979 and the aftermath, Lagos, MacMillan Nigerian Publishers Ltd
Ojiako, J. O. O. (1981), NIGERIA: Yesterday, Today, And …… ?, Onisha, Africana Educational Publishers (Nig.) Ltd.
Schwarz, F. A. O. (1965), Nigeria: The Tribes, the Nation or the Race. The Politics of Independence, Cambridge, Mass, MIT Press.
NEXT newspaper, Tuesday, September 16, 2010
Niger Delta Standard of Monday, November 1, 2010
The Nigerian Voice, Tuesday, November 23, 2010