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Why Yorubas cannot secede from Nigeria (I)

In the past few weeks, there has been an uptick in the efforts by different Yoruba groups to press for the secession of the Yorubas…

In the past few weeks, there has been an uptick in the efforts by different Yoruba groups to press for the secession of the Yorubas of the southwestern region from Nigeria.

First, it was Sunday Igboho, the freelance leader of one of the groups who, during an occasion in Ibadan, reiterated his call for the idea, which he has been canvassing for some time now.

Then another motley group purportedly led by Mrs Onitiri Abiola, who claimed she was the wife of late Chief M.K.O Abiola of blessed memory. The group apparently acting under her instructions from her American abode raided Mapo Hall in Ibadan and foisted a flag of the putative Oduduwa Republic.

Then Professor Banji Akintoye, whose books on Nigerian history I read in my ‘A’ level, sent a letter to President Tinubu asking the president to hasten and open negotiations with his group for their demand on behalf of the Yoruba for their quest to exit from Nigeria.  

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From my formative years as a youngster in Ilorin in the late sixties to date, I have developed deep knowledge and connections to the Yoruba and I want to state without equivocation that Yoruba secession from Nigeria, as presently promoted cannot and will not fly. And this iron-clad conviction is borne out by my understanding of Yoruba history and psyche and also by the objective realities of present-day Nigeria.

Our point of departure in this regard is the 19th-century Kiriji wars in Yoruba land and the terms of the peace treaty that followed it. The Kiriji wars were mainly a consequence of the collapse of the Oyo Empire and the chaos and uncertainty that followed it in Yoruba land. It pitted the other Yoruba sub-groups like Ekiti, Ijesha, Ijebu and Egba against Ibadan the successor state to Oyo. The peace treaty of the Kiriji wars included some covenants that bound the Yoruba to observe and prevent a repeat of another Kiriji type of war in the future.

Any attempt by the Yoruba to secede from Nigeria under the present circumstances, will certainly lead to another Kiriji-type war and will go contrary to the letter and spirit of the peace settlement of September 23, 1886, in Imesi-ile that ended the 16-year Kiriji war, wreaked untold havoc on Yoruba land.

The Kiriji war which lasted from 1877 to 1893, depopulated Yoruba land, leading to the destruction of many towns and disrupted the lives and livelihoods of millions of the Yoruba the effect of which are still being felt to this day by Yorubas and their descendants all over the world. It was without doubt one of the longest and most destructive civil wars in world history and those who had knowledge of that dark chapter of Yoruba history would never wish even a scintilla of it again.

At the signing of the peace treaty following the end of the war, representatives from various Yoruba sub-groups that fought the war – Oyo-ile, Ibadan, Ijesha, Ekiti, Egba and Ijebu – pledged never to wage war again in Yoruba land. But an important detail of that peace settlement which has been less mentioned has to do with the prophesy of a high priest who admonished leaders of the various Yoruba groups, that although he saw a new era of peace, prosperity and progress coming to Yoruba land it can only come if they chose to sheathe their swords to enable the good tidings to come to Yoruba land.

This insight I gleaned from my oral interview with Papa Omolaja of Ikorodu in Ikorodu, Lagos when I was doing research on the Kiriji war for a presentation some few years ago. (According to Papa Omolaja both his grandfather and grand uncle were participants in the war on the Ijebu side). Pa Omolaja expanded that the Kirija war was a consequence of a curse placed on Yoruba land by Alafin Aole of the Oyo Empire having been ousted by intrigues of the Oyo–Mesi the Alafin in council. Before his execution, Alafin Aole had declared that as a consequence of what was done to him unjustly, Yoruba land was going to experience years of untold upheaval.

The high priest, who presided over the spiritual side of the Kiriji peace treaty, further told the Yoruba leaders who consulted him before the Kiriji peace treaty was signed that should they and their future generation resort to war in Yoruba land at any time in the future or allow war to let loose in the land they will become accursed forever with all manner of pestilence and afflictions far worse than what obtained during the Kiriji war.

Now, whether indeed this bit about the priest was true or not, it is, however, a documented fact that a peace treaty was signed in Imesi-ile, an ancient Ijesha town now situated in Obokun Local Government Area in Osun State brokered by the colonial Governor of Lagos, Alfred Moloney and the various protagonists in the war. As for the priest and his prophecies (Pa Omoloja swore that it was his grandfather and Uncle who told him so and he had no reason to doubt them), we do know that it is a practice by Yoruba, as with other African societies which exist to this day, to consult oracles, priests and clairvoyants when contemplating or embarking on very important actions, like going to war or stopping it. In light of this, it was indeed highly within the realm of possibility that a priest was consulted in the circumstances of the cessation of the Kiriji war in order to lift the course of Alafin Aole on Yoruba land.

Having enjoyed the peace and prosperity prophesied, which has made Yoruba land the highest beneficiary of the modern Nigerian state through the years, it will amount to profound miscalculation were the Yoruba to attempt to secede from Nigeria. At the moment, the agitations are limited to effusions in the media and laughable, quixotic attention-seeking actions of the type that happened recently in Mapo Hall, Ibadan.  

When, however, Professor Akintoye and Igboho decide to force the issue through military confrontation, they will then inevitably come face to face with a laundry list of issues which will compel them to retreat from their actions ignominiously. (To be continued)


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