The Rise And Rise Of Ethnic Champions, By Zainab Suleiman Okino

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There must be something in us that accommodates and promotes the dregs of the society as heroes. We might criticise and condemn them but our innermost spirits and attachment to our community appear to accept them. Thus the nationalist fervour that fired the pre-independence struggle has since given way to ethnic inclination such that everyone thinks of his ethnic group, religion and such forces of retrogression before his state and even the Nigerian state.

If heroism means great acts of bravery, ethnic champions who defend their own can be classified as one, but in the context of a federation like Nigeria, an ethnic hero is likely to serve a nuisance role or irritate the rest members of the federation. However, because such exploits open the door for the elite to climb the ladder of success, politically speaking, and sometimes position them for leadership at the centre, such people are hailed as heroes, worshipped and adored and are sometimes compensated with titles for their ‘valour’ and for being the symbol of their struggle. That is why people like Nnamdi Kanu, Arewa youth leaders, followed in the footsteps of Niger Delta ex-militants like Tompolo, Ateke Tom, Asari Dokubo, Gani Adams etc. They were condoned until their activities ballooned and almost conflagrated the nation. Before then, these men that should be treated with disdain, for lack of patriotism had been given red-carpet treatment by governors and senators of their regions perhaps for championing their cause or speaking their minds.

Chief Gani Adams, the National Coordinator of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), who has just  been appointed the Aare Onakakanfo of Yoruba land by the Aalafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi belongs in this category of regional/ethnic irredentists now regarded as “worthy representatives” and being rewarded for championing the ’cause’ of their people. Aare Onakakanfo, the generalissimo, in the old Oyo empire tales, was the war general who led battles, fought wars, mobilised and trained soldiers and conquered the enemies, and was expected to die with any lost battle. This might be ancient history but the new Aare Ona kakanfo did lead the Yoruba to a battle with his factional OPC.

The OPC, a Yoruba socio-cultural group was formed in August 1994 by Dr Fredrick Fasheun to promote and protect the interest of the Yoruba people, after the annulment of the 1993 June 12 election unarguably won by Moshood Abiola, a Yoruba man, who, though got a national mandate in the elections was prevented from taking office by the military government of the time, perceived as doing the biddings of Northern elite. In no time, division broke out between the mainstream/ moderate and a more militant group now led by Gani Adams. There are fundamental differences in the two groups’ ethos. While Dr Faseun’s group’s objectives were “to gather all descendants of Oduduwa to profoundly embrace,  unite  and identify with historical and cultural origin with a view of re-reliving the glory of our past for the purpose of posterity; to educate and mobilise and integrate the aspirations and values of all the descendants of Oduduwa into a collective platform of an Oodua entity” among other lofty ideals. However the Gani Adams’ breakaway group from the onset was militant in nature. The faction’s goals include “self-determination and social emancipation for the Yoruba, regional autonomy, self-government and self-management, economic reconstruction and control, reconstructed, reconstituted and genuine federal Nigerian union, reunion of all Yoruba in Kwara and Kogi states with their kith and kin in the southwest, an independent army, police and judiciary, and sovereign national conference.” So, what started as pro-democracy activism to redress perceived injustice (of June 12) against the Yoruba soon nosedived into militancy. In the course of this struggle, OPC’s atrocious activities—killing, maiming and abduction which are still etched in people’s memory also brought political gains to the people who saw in Gani Adams a saviour and emancipator.

In no time other groups like MASSOB, Niger Delta, MEND, Arewa groups emerged with the purpose of fighting for political power, and perks for their own people. The recent case of Arewa youths and IPOB are not new. OPC and co. are historical antecedents and precursor to theirs. I’m not sure Gani Adams was ever seriously reprimanded or tried for any criminal offence against the Nigerian state. His appointment by a foremost Yoruba monach as a generalissimo of Yorubaland is a vindication of his ugly past and evidence that we embrace the notorious bad eggs among us as long as they defend our supposed interests.  It is also a reflection of people degenerating into ethnic cocoons as against the vision of our founding fathers, who were nationalistic in orientation.

There is however the moral conjecture of a pervert fitting into the big shoes of Abiola and by extension the former premier of Western region, Ladoke Akintola. Nevertheless, looking at what the Yoruba have got since then in mainstream government, including the Obasanjo presidency and now vice president Osinbajo, it is safe to say that Adams was vindicated and validated, just like the Niger Delta struggle that produced the Jonathan presidency. The grave-yard silence that followed the new appointment, the tacit support that Adams had received and still does, the absence of opposition to his nomination as Aare Onakankafo among a people so learned and exposed, are indications that we all indirectly want to have the Adams, Tompolos, Asari Dokubos and Kanus in our neighbourhood, family and region to agitate and fight for spoils from the centre for us. Therefore the case of Kanu is not in isolation; it is a trend perpetuated by group interests to blackmail the rest of us and for the federal government to acquiesce to their demands. And unless we elect foresighted leaders who view Nigeria as one constituency, ethnic champions will become common place in no time, as ethnic nationalism continues to form the basis of the struggle for self or regional identity, to undermine the collective national outlook.

And if my little knowledge of history serves me well, maybe the Aalafin was right to have nominated Otunba Gani Adams, a straw man for Yoruba interest and not the likes of Obasanjo, the statesman after all. The man defended and fought for the Yoruba cause like the historical Aare Onakakanfo who defended the Oyo Empire against external aggression.  Ironically,   Adams is taking over from the late Abiola, whose botched election victory and perceived marginalisation of Yoruba engendered the formation of OPC. What a way to rise to the top in our clime.

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