Akogun Tola Adeniyi is a media guru and one of the founders of Yoruba World Congress (YWC). In this interview, he spoke with MUYIWA ADEYEMI (Head, South West) on the infiltrations of politicians with intent to hijack YWC, the mission and vision of the global group, which is apolitical and why its protem leader, Prof. Banji Akintoye, was removed.
There are some issues within Yoruba World Congress (YWC) suggesting that there is crisis within the fold. What is your take on this?
WELL, there is no crisis in Yoruba World Congress. What we have is a minor misunderstanding and miscommunication; that is all. The Yoruba World Congress, a global organization, is very solid, very united and very focused. But what we do have is a collection of some organizations, which elected Professor Banji Akintoye, the former protem leader of Yoruba World Congress, as Yoruba World leader and that idea came about when Akintoye hinted that he was leaving Afenifere, which we later found not to be true. And then to give some prestige to YWC, the title ‘Yoruba Leader,’ which takes a cue from the likes of Obafemi Awolowo, Adekunle Ajasin, Abraham Adesanya that might mean something to the local population was adopted.
But you would also realise that the idea of Yoruba leader never extended beyond Ketu. In other words, Yoruba leader has always been restricted to the territory of homeland Yoruba. The Yoruba in Benin Republic, in Ivory Coast or in Sierra Leone or in Cuba or in Brazil do not come under the title of Yoruba leader; it’s just for Yoruba. When the late Chief Richard Akinjide suggested or nominated Obafemi Awolowo as Yoruba leader in the 1960s, immediately Adekunle Fajuyi was assassinated, it was just for that purpose and this did not extend to the political era. Anyway, the miscommunication I am talking about, unfortunately, to some of us who founded YWC, as far back as late 2018 and early 2019 and have been meeting regularly in Professor Akintoye’s house and in other places, did not envisage that a time would come that a collection of organizations in Ibadan would see themselves as rival to YWC. And this was because we said that YWC was open to every Yoruba person and it was going to be absolutely non-political and non-partisan. Every Yoruba person in Benin Republic, in Cuba was qualified to be a member and to that extent, we allowed some of the groups that elected Prof. Akintoye to come into YWC if they so wished and they must also register to be members.
So, that was the situation. And then Yoruba World Congress, because of its vision and because of the level of its sophistication, intellectualism, we believed that there must be ranks and hierarchy. The people who elected him leader could be useful in some areas, but certainly they did not come into the hardcore leadership of Yoruba World Congress. But we failed to make that particularly very clear and so it came to a head when Yoruba World Congress insisted, rightly, that the leadership structure must be pure and that if anybody was going to be invited to join that leadership league, the person must be vetted by the leadership itself or leader’s council which unfortunately, Prof. Akintoye, would always argue that he didn’t believe in structure, in hierarchy, in order. That means when senate in the university is meeting, even the messenger of that university has a right to attend that meeting. If editorial leaders in the newspaper were meeting, reporters and even stringers would be allowed to attend that meeting. If generals were meeting, recruits should also be allowed to be in the meeting. That has been the main bone of contention and it appeared that every effort to persuade Akintoye that leadership is not run that way, that leadership is not a popularity contest, that leadership doesn’t have to be populist, failed.
It was also clear that when we discussed YWC for Yoruba in Cuba, Benin and in Togo, the challenges they are facing are quite different from the challenges Yoruba in the homeland here are facing. And so, if YWC was meeting, the people who constitute the body that elected him leader have little or nothing to do with it because it’s just Yorubaland here. So, that mixture, that confusion, that misunderstanding came to a head when we called a meeting and contrary to all norms in the world, the former protem leader, invited people who are not bona fide members of YWC to attend the meeting without even informing anybody.
So, when we went to the meeting and he sat down for a minute, he then went downstairs to meet the people he’d invited without anybody knowing about them. So, we thought he was just going to talk to them for a few minutes and come back. For about four hours, we were waiting upstairs; he didn’t come back. But worse still, and which came to a head was that he was sending minutes of the meeting straight to the media. It is never done anywhere that university council would meet and the minutes of their meeting would be posted immediately to the media; not a press release, but the minutes of the meeting. Or that a family would meet and the minutes of their meeting would be sent verbatim to the media or army generals’ ruling a country would meet and the minutes of their meeting would be sent to the media. That was really provoking.
And we thought that for several other reasons, that his position, the man being protem leader of Yoruba World Congress, needed to be reviewed. But the YWC of which I am a founder-member, not a foundation member, because there is a difference between foundation member and founder-member, I am saying that the YWC is intact. It’s not in crisis; it’s not fighting anybody. It has no problem with anybody and the vision for the Yoruba nation in Nigeria is on, the vision for the Yoruba people worldwide is on.
Are you saying that the leadership style of Akintoye is not in tandem with the vision and mission of YWC?
Certainly not, because the minutes of the meeting being sent to non-members and inviting non-members to the meeting…
Don’t you have constitution that spells out those functions?
A constitution was written by an 82-year-old veteran who is very vast in liberation struggles, very vast in how associations should be run, being a former university don and corporate guru.
Who is the person?
I am trying not to mention leaders of our organization because Nigeria is in crisis. We are in a house where you have one husband and one thousand wives. Every wife would not reasonably be discussing what she and her children are doing, but it is Dr. Amos Arogundade Akingba, who is one of the leading founders; he was NADECO veteran. He wrote the constitution, which we approved but as we speak, Akintoye didn’t abide by it. We set up an organogram; he didn’t want to work with it, because he keeps saying he doesn’t believe in hierarchy. He doesn’t believe in order and we reminded him that even in heaven, God has archangels and also angels. In Rome, you have the Pope and the Cardinals and others.
Is this misunderstanding the reason why some exco members resigned, like Otunba Osinbogun and the recent ones?
Well, I am very careful in discussing or mentioning personalities. I am sure you may want to ask Otunba Osinbogun, who is one of the pillars of Yoruba World Congress, who has contributed immensely to the execution of the mission and vision of Yoruba World Congress. But if you want to know why he left, I think I should advise you look for him, approach him and ask for his views.
How would you react to the allegation that YWC has been hijacked by politicians?
If any group was hijacked by politicians, it would certainly be Akintoye. I don’t know any group that was hijacked by the politicians. Certainly, the Yoruba World Congress has not, cannot and will not be hijacked by politicians, because we are above politicians. We believe politicians are the greatest problem of Nigeria. Politicians are the greatest problem of the Yoruba nation, because many bad things have been happening to the Yoruba nation and our politicians, who we believe are mercenaries and commercial agents, have kept mute. So, strong members of Yoruba World Congress or any sane member of YWC will not touch politicians, even with the longest poll. While we recognise their existence, while we recognise that any Yoruba, who has political ambition and is pursuing political ambition has a right to do so, we recognise that as far as Nigeria remains, any Yoruba person has aspiration to be whatever he likes in that contraption, the stand of Yoruba World Congress is that it will never be associated with anything political. As a matter of fact, our leadership has a goal, that even if your son or relations is in active politics, you cannot be in the leadership of Yoruba World Congress.
The Yoruba World Congress that I belong to as a proud founder-member, has not been hijacked. When you see people in a video dancing, singing and jumping up like people in a political rally, then that may be a pointer to the kind of people who are in politics and can be hijacked by politicians, especially the multi-crowd that elected Akintoye as leader in Ibadan.
Many see Akintoye as the face of Yoruba…He is not the face of Yoruba World Congress. He is more comfortable being called Yoruba leader and being the leader of associations, about 60 or so of them, who elected him Yoruba leader, but if you see all the rally he is doing, you can hardly count 20 or 30 people there. I don’t want to be derogatory or talk down anybody, but Yoruba people are not fools. Yoruba people are sophisticated and enlightened. When they see the quality of a leader, they recognise it. So, it is not for me to say and to describe the kind of people that Akintoye is comfortable with and who appear to have even hijacked him and now want to use him to hijack Yoruba World Congress, which they, the hijackers, have nothing to do with YWC or any investment in it.
You see, what is happening, and I have to be blunt about it, is that Yoruba, even in the homeland, Nigeria, have serious challenges. And we say, when you look at our status within the country, our leadership has always been the topmost. When you look at the people in the North, all the emirs in the North, either retired generals, retired professors, retired Comptroller of Customs, retired ambassadors and so on, you can hardly find any emir today in the Northern region that is not a university graduate. When you look at this, researcher-journalist and eminent columnist, Martins Oloja, did a research and told the world that the people in Buhari’s kitchen cabinet, directing the country at the moment, have at least two or three Masters degrees and they don’t make noise about it. Yoruba leadership should emulate that. Now, we have crises all over the country, nobody is talking; nobody is saying who sent them. We have people carrying riffle all over the country and invading communities and people in the bush. They carry motorcycle and when you look at these people, they can’t even buy the tyre of motorcycle. So, it means some people are driving them with ideas.
What makes the Yoruba World Congress fundamentally different from Afenifere, Yoruba Council of Elders and the likes?
What makes it fundamentally different is that all these organisations, especially Afenifere, which is peopled by most respected Yoruba leaders, would sometimes say they are also political. They will say they are the fathers of Alliance for Democracy (AD) or they will say they are supporting a presidential candidate, but Yoruba World Congress is not interested in that way. Our focus is Yoruba and when we say Yoruba leader in Yoruba World Congress, we are talking of Wale Adenuga; he is a leader in the corporate world. When we mention Jide Kosoko, he is a leader in the entertainment business in Nigeria. Yoruba leadership in our own culture is not limited to politicians. That you are a president or governor is not our own concept of leadership in the Yoruba World Congress. We recognise that when we are talking of leadership, we see Eleganza boss, Okoya; we see Otunba Subomi Balogun; we see late Emeritus Prof. Akinkugbe; we see Prof. (Mrs.) Felicia Adetowun Ogunseye, the first female professor in Africa.
These are leaders and that’s our orientation. Why we respect and adore the likes of the late Pa Ayo Fasanmi, Papa Reuben Fasoranti and the never-say-die Papa Ayo Adebanjo is that we see their limitless vision for Yoruba homeland. That is the difference. They are critical to the emancipation of the Yoruba people. They have been leading us since generations.
If you look at most Yoruba groups, there are cracks, factions, and divisions. Can we blame this on outsiders’ infiltration, politicians or plain inability to speak with one voice?
Well, sometimes politicians, because that is what they live on. So, if they see any organised structure that may probably disturb their own selfish and greedy interests, they consider infiltration as one of the weapons they have. But having said that, I can also say that there is greed in probably every human being and that can be exploited, especially when money is the person’s second god. But I will say that we shouldn’t consider the fact that they are not speaking with one voice or they are not together, because there are so many organisations without division. No. Most Yoruba, I can say with emphasis at my disposal, that 99 per cent of Yoruba believe that Nigeria is not treating them well, just the way Nigeria is not treating almost every section of the country well.
Nigeria is not even treating the Fulani well. If Nigeria is treating the Fulani well, they will not be dragging cattle from Sokoto to Lagos on foot. If Nigeria were a well-managed and well-run country, there would be no herdsmen walking through all the bushes till now.
You won’t find any Maasai in South Africa running after cattle in the bush. But if the Maasai were in Nigeria today, they would still be in the bush running after cattle; they would still be roaming the streets. Nigeria has not been treating anybody well, because of the terrible structure it is. Nigeria has encouraged people to be laid back. It is Nigeria that will tell you that if you have three per cent, you can get admission to university and somebody who has 80 per cent from a section of the country would not get admission to the same university. It is Nigeria that killed the competitive spirit that people had all along before this ugly structure came in. So, we are saying that 99 per cent of Nigerians believe that Nigeria has not treated them well and therefore they are united in that extent in finding solution that would free them from the yoke of this horrible structure.
Many Nigerians, including Yoruba, have advocated for restructuring as a solution to some of the problems you highlighted but in the recent times, not much has been heard from them about it. Why?
If you are asking me as Tola Adeniyi, many sections of the contraption called Nigeria really don’t believe that restructuring will be allowed to take place. And if it ever took place, it is not likely to solve any problem in the sense that either you restructure to create a confederation or create a normal federal system, having killed the federation since 1966. Since we still have one territory, you cannot stop anybody, say from Port Harcourt, going to Maiduguri to defile their women, rape and kill and maim, because they will tell you that I am in Nigeria and there is freedom of movement, and I can do whatever I like, as long as I am in Nigeria. If you are from Sokoto, nothing stops you from living in the bushes of Iperu or Umukuruyi, and say, ‘well, I am a Nigerian and I have the right to erect tents in Bayelsa and do whatever I like there and ruin their culture, interfere with their ways of life and impose my own culture on them.’
As it is today, no nomad running after cattle can run across from Ketu into Benin Republic, because they will tell you, ‘this is not your land; you don’t belong to this country.’ And no kidnapper from Benin Republic would be allowed to just enter Lagos and be misbehaving. So, all these things won’t happen if Yoruba is a country or Igbo, or if the Fulani or Kanuri have their own country.
What is the solution to the crisis in Yoruba World Congress?
The solution is very simple. Well, let me tell you again that there is no crack in YWC. No crack. If there is any misunderstanding that appears like a crack, it is that some people that appointed or elected Akintoye as their leader were desperate to hijack the leadership of Yoruba World Congress. And so, that may be the thing and that we, in the leadership of the Yoruba World Congress, did not, unfortunately, make it clear enough that Yoruba World Congress did not appoint Akintoye. Like I keep telling you, Akintoye was elected, as Yoruba leader in the homeland and it does not extend to Cuba or any other part outside Nigeria.
Who then is the leader of Yoruba World Congress?
You mean today?
What we have is collective leadership.
Before Akintoye was elected by these groups, who was the leader of Yoruba World Congress?
Akintoye was named Protem leader and he is no more.
In Nigeria today, who is the voice, the face of Yoruba people?
Who is the face of the Fulani? Who is the face of Igbo? Who is the face of the English people in the European Union? You see, this is the thing; we tend to be living in old times. We believe there must be a Mr. so so, who is the leader of so so. In liberation struggle, in proper leadership, it is collective. Who was the leader of the Jews that built them to be one of the most powerful people on earth? It was collective. Did Moses consult anybody before he moved the Israelites out of Egypt? Did he have meeting with anybody? The approach to solving Nigeria’s problems should not be rooted in the past.
Like I say to people: now, because of the brain power in the Northern establishment, they did not wait to do Jihad the way Dan Fodio led all of them up to Osogbo. What they did was that they already planted all those who are going to fight all over the place. So, if the Yoruba also want to free themselves, they shouldn’t be talking of Fabunmi in Ekiti, or Ogedengbe or Ogunmola or Lisabi of Egba, because the world has advanced beyond that kind of tradition and approach. The world has become digital and this is what we keep telling Yoruba elite; that they should stop thinking in the past. They should stop going about and singing ‘Baba o Baba o Baba o, Oluwa da Baba si funwa…’ and all sorts of pedestal approach to leadership.
Ideas drive the world. You go to a village in Ibadan and you find youth from a section of the country with 3,000 motorcycles; you must know that somebody bought those motorcycles for them. Did you hear any name mentioned? It is Yoruba that will say, ‘I have to be celebrated, people should dance around me. I want people to see that I am Baba…’
No! If there are things that have not been making all of these organisations to perform, it is this noisemaking and unnecessary braggadocio and grandstanding. The way forward, the solution, I told you there is no crack in Yoruba World Congress: Professor Akintoye is an eminent professor of History. He may have challenges about leadership style, but we also believe that he is a prominent Yoruba man and he has a lot to contribute.
And he remains the protem chairman?
No, no, no! He is no longer the protem chairman. His leadership style is at variance with the mission and vision of Yoruba World Congress. Yoruba World Congress believes in leadership structure. Yoruba World Congress believes that leadership is not a tea party. Leadership is not a populist contest, that I want to be popular and people should be calling me Baba Baba, no!
We removed him because we found out he will not lead us anywhere with his leadership style.