The title of late Pa Hubert Ogunde’s memorable song, Yoruba Ronu (Yoruba think!), continues to haunt us Yoruba. Although many of our leaders of the 1950s and 60s, at whom the great Yoruba thespian aimed his barbed lyrics are now dead or aged, it is for those of us coming behind to pick up the gauntlet of his admonition, and think.
It is for this reason that I am writing this short opinion to stimulate Yoruba thinking over the ongoing punitive war that Israel (a Jewish nation) is waging against Hamas and by extension Palestine (a Muslim nation).
I describe the warring parties as 2 separate nations in anticipation of the eventual implementation of the 1947 UN Resolution, which proffers a two-state solution to the Israel-Arab Middle East faceoff.
I also deliberately alluded to the religious status of each warring side to emphasize their conflict’s potential to deteriorate into full-scale religious war where many nations including Nigeria will be called on to take sides formally or informally. For us Yoruba, the country of Israel wrote its name in gold in the era leading up to Independence in 1960 and the early post-colonial years.
This was when the Chief Awolowo-led, Action Group government of the day developed much of the industrial base of Western Nigeria. They partnered with the Israeli government to build many of our SW roads, bridges and Estates and laid the foundation to revolutionize our agriculture and industrial development.
Today, SW Nigeria is the industrial powerhouse of Nigeria and by extension, much of West Africa. The surplus earnings from Cocoa sales not only funded infrastructure but also paid for the free health and free education that funded the healthy start and training of many of today’s topmost Yoruba leaders.
Therefore, although Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s current prime minister, hardly compares with his founding counterpart, David Ben-Gurion of our parents’ days, whatever is going on in the Middle East, we Yoruba do not easily forget our traditional friends.
But, constitutionally Yorubaland is also a part of Nigeria, a country which has a history of robust opposition to colonial oppression throughout Africa. During the 1970s, the then federal government dared to declare Nigeria a “frontline state” in the South African and Rhodesian struggle against apartheid.
They even confronted British hubris by nationalizing British companies in Nigeria. In 1990s we also led ECOMOG to intervene in the Liberian civil war. So, in addition to our own holocaust at the hands of European and Arab slavers, Yoruba-Nigerians also know the pain of occupation and can fully empathize with oppressed people like today’s Palestinians.
And therein lies our dilemma over the ongoing war in Gaza. Our old friend Israel is oppressing our co-traveler Palestine. Added to this is Yoruba heritage of accommodating foreign cultures, which has entrenched the European’s Christianity and the Arab’s Islam in SW Nigeria in equal measure often to the detriment of our own traditional religion.
Thus, as propagandists on both sides cast this Israel-Arab conflict as an extension of the religious Crusades of the 11th and 12th centuries, Yoruba Christian, and Muslim leaders are starting to weep more than the bereaved by choosing sides for Yorubaland. But this is not the case.
The Crusades was a prolonged mission by European Christians to free Jerusalem and environs from Arab Muslims and to thereby gain spiritual control of their two worlds. Meanwhile, the ongoing Israel-Arab conflict in the Middle East is a fight over land and natural resources.
It started in 1917 with Britain’s one-sided Balfour Declaration, which gave Jews an edge over other indigenes in what was then part of Britain’s Middle East territory. Then, with American strategic and economic support, Israel today punches way above its size.
Thus, surrounded on all sides by Muslim nations that are often baying for Israel’s total obliteration, the conflict has for the little Jewish nation become existential no doubt, but very little to do with God.It is therefore within recent history of Yoruba being friends of Israel that Yoruba can make bold to admonish the leaders of Israel to end these killings.
It is too much and too indiscriminate to justify self-defense without a clear-cut commitment as to how they plan to win the peace. To Palestinians we can but warn them to keep in mind the fact that western governments historically do not hesitate to use genocide and displacement as tools to gain control over resources and to defend borders.
Fortunately, it is protests by their citizens that pressures such governments to stopFor us Yoruba, this is also a good opportunity to reappraise the strategic interest of our six SW states in Nigeria and other Yoruba communities in and outside Nigeria. Many of us clamor for “Restructuring” without really knowing what we mean.
Well, one reason is in the example of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. We need to control migration into the SW so we can plan effectively. We also need more say in choosing which foreign country best suits Yoruba strategic interests. Earlier this year the Hausa of Kano in Nigeria promptly stood up in defense of the Hausa of Niger when ECOWAS, under the leadership of a Yoruba-Nigerian president, threatened to invade Niger to restore democracy. Also how Hisbah police enforces Sharia law in some northern Nigeria states.
No ethnic group of Nigeria can any longer afford to totally subsume their heritage to the whims of a presidency that regularly breaks faith with the federal constitution that binds us together. Such a presidency could easily push us into a war that is not of our choosing.
So, as we wish Israel and Palestine a quick end to their bloody war and a permanent resolution to their disagreement, we Yoruba must also think. We urgently need a Restructuring of Nigeria that will loosen the grip of the federal government on Yoruba heritage and restore rapid development of our region of Nigeria and West Africa, which we enjoyed under the Action Group. Think