Chief Jibade Oyekan recently emerged president of the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), he speaks with WALE AKINSELURE on the ideals of the Council, the stand of the YCE concerning the front runners in the presidential race and Yoruba nation, calls for restructuring, the challenge of leadership and the fate of the present generation.
Various groups are taking position regarding whom they support to be the next president. This has included even sociocultural groups as yours. This time, will the YCE be declaring the candidate it supports to be next president as we approach the elections?
YCE is a non-partisan group. If you want to be partisan, go and join another group. But, we want good for Yoruba race and Yoruba land. People have asked who the YCE suggests we choose from those vying to be president of Nigeria. We don’t take a stand but from the conversations of our members outside the meeting, I know who they support. I know who I support myself but I should not lord my own influence over the others and they should not come to meeting to preach to us regarding who to support. We are looking for someone who will continue to love the Yoruba people among all the contestants. It is politics and the water is murky, rough and dirty. You can see my palm but you don’t see my mind. Voting is personal and almost spiritual because all of you may say, outside, let us vote for candidate A and you go to the polling booth and, at the point of ticking or thumb printing, it becomes between you and God.
The YCE has a duty of projecting the Yoruba culture but there are many other Yoruba groups with different agitations. For example, the Afenifere tends to have different positions on an issue. Is it out of the jurisdiction of YCE coalescing all the various groups in pursuing one agenda from time to time?
Afenifere is a sociopolitical organisation; we are sociocultural, so, we cannot call them. We are elders; they are looking at what we are doing, we are looking at what they are doing. In a football team, during my time, you have the forward line, the half back and back men and the goalkeeper. These politicians are the forward line, we are the back men. We don’t want our culture to be bastardised, to be eroded, to die. We cannot call Afenifere to do something just like they cannot call us at all. We like them, they like us; they operate, we operate differently but I am sure we all work for the peace and sustenance of the Yoruba culture. In YCE, what we do mainly is to ensure that we retain the concept of Yoruba integrity, called Omoluabi. If there is anyone, someone highly placed doing something contrary to integrity, we call the person’s attention to it. We want decent, lively, deep minded people to inhabit Yoruba land. We are not at logger heads. In fact, there are some of our members who are Afenifere members who also attend our meeting. You can’t lord your influence over another because there is freedom of association, freedom of speech and other guaranteed freedom. But, all you do must be in line with Omoluabi ethos, you have to be development-minded, you have to be able to help one another, you have to have feel for others, you have to make sure that your environment is good for living for you and for your neighbours.
As back men, do you see the front runners in the presidential race really addressing the issues bedeviling Nigeria, in their campaigns? Does any of them show capability to turn around the fortunes of the nation?
There is none. This is because each of them looks for their personal or group interest. We haven’t reached that stage where you throw yourself open and ask men, women, children what they want but what we have is, this is what I want for my people. What our governors do is to mainly develop the capital city with skyscrapers, flyovers and others. Some go as far as making sure they have airports whereas our base in Nigeria is agriculture. This oil is a wasting asset; it will come and go; it wasn’t in existence for many generations until 1956 when it was discovered in Oloibiri. So, it will go at one time. We didn’t work for oil; you have toil, think, use your energy, mind that other people will like, buy and you make money. We need issue-based campaigns. You say, some people have come to you but I will do only five things and you mention them. One, agriculture; two, education; three, health; four, ICT; five, security. We have problem with agriculture; if any government can get agriculture right, all other things will fall in place. Then, our people cannot got to farms; some farmers used to go to the farms at 6am and return at 8pm. But, now, they peep to know if they are safe to enter their farms. Meanwhile, the roads are bad and not many people are available to help him harvest. To make things worse now, the rickety vehicle cannot get to farms because petrol is scarce or get it at exorbitant price. It is a spiral of problems. Post-harvest losses amount to about N3.7trillion annually. Pesticides, herbicides are now very expensive. When the farmer brings one-tenth of his harvest to the market, it is poor price. Agriculture is the first problem we have to solve in the federal, state, local government system. If you don’t get agriculture right, our economy cannot be straight. People are just looking for money through other means; they don’t want to look for money through agriculture. I used to buy a crate of 30 eggs for N700; it is now N2,500; I don’t buy eggs anymore because I don’t see to buy where I used to buy. This is because of feeds. Our government should send people to other countries to learn how to produce what we are buying. China is ready to sell everything you need to you so you lose your sense of production. Nigeria likes to borrow money. The federal government is borrowing money every day; we now need to borrow money to service our debt. Do you know how bad that is? The Senate, House of Representatives should stop the president from borrowing money. Let us think of producing something that we will sell also and make money.
Is it such a hopeless situation? Have you lost hope in Nigeria?
I have lost hope for the present because getting things on track cannot yield any immediate result. And that is why we are looking at the future. Though the future is bleak, you don’t want to make it non-existent. Leadership is very important to any group even in a group of five people let alone local, state, federal government. To get everything right, you need a good leader. A good leader must be able to have insight into things, must be able to think, must be able to harvest ideas from nice people who are close to him or buy the idea from anywhere. Here, we don’t have people who will sit down and look for people who are development minded to help them. I don’t have hope in improving the present. Who do you want to improve? These kids that are doing Yahoo! We will need other people with inspiration who will think outside the box, narrow their minds to achieving certain things for Nigeria.
Do you think the system we operate can throw up the kind of inspirational leaders you talk about?
The system is hinged on our political orientation.
Are calls for restructuring, therefore, in order?
Restructuring will scatter and improve. What is restructuring? Your own definition of restructuring is different from mine. People have called for a return to the regional system. If you go back to that system, we have to unlearn what we have learnt from the 36 states structure. How many governors will be thrown off? Will they allow it? Instead of 36 governors, we will have about four governors. You mean His Excellency will no more be His Excellency and will now go to the farm! If we go back to four-region structure, we will start with another set of complex problems, some we left years ago. If you believe in God, you just have to throw everything to God. If you can get some good men within the community to zero in on producing certain things, it will be good coupled with prayer. If you don’t do that and leave everything to politicians, they will continue to divide us, devalue us, wreck us, tamper with our destinies. We have to genuinely call on God, when work alongside the prayer. You lock up some professionals, task them to come up with feasible solutions and determine how it will be achieved. There has to be a lot of sacrifices, lure some of the Nigerians that have left for abroad. There are some professionals still year not keen on going abroad because they believe such is living on another man’s sweat. If God gives us someone like the late leader of Singapore to tell us what to do, then lieutenants that will agree with him and do his bidding.
Former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku said the forthcoming election will be a watershed in the nation’s history. Do you share in such view?
Precisely! This is so because we are having the election amid people burning INEC offices with equipment that will improve our standard of election, Boko Haram in the North-East, bandits in the North-West, herdsmen issues all over the country, kidnappers in the South-West, and gunmen in the South-East. In the last election in Anambra, only 10 percent of eligible voters showed up. Does that represent the entire voting public? And that is what will happen, if at all we vote in this country. It is someone with devil in his mind that burns INEC offices. If you ruin a thing in INEC office, you are ruining the whole of Nigeria. If the election goes right, Nigeria will be back on its feet, only to a little extent though because many of the materials we have on display are not worth voting for. It is also incomprehensible that people are selling their Permanent Voter Card (PVC).
That is a baby of a very respected person, Professor Banji Akintoye. Yoruba nation could have been an offshoot of restructuring, pulling the old western region out of Nigeria. We, in YCE, like to say because of these problems in Nigeria, in the East, West, North, South and with the temerity with which we are handling our own situation in the West, we will like to stand alone. But, the international law, headquartered in the United Nations, say they see that the Yoruba nation is suffering killing, maiming every day, but asked us to put it to writing. As a result, Professor Banji Akintoye and his group wrote to the United Nations Secretary General and he acknowledged receiving the letter but stated that the United Nations will work on the request to secede from Nigeria. But, the UN secretary general has so many requests and maybe ours is number 45 on his table. It is when he gets there that he will treat it. When he gets there, he will present it to the United Nations General Assembly and that might not happen in two, three years. When he presents it, the General Assembly has to debate it, we don’t know how long that will take. If it passes, it has to go to the Security Council. It is the Security Council that has the last word on it and we don’t know how long that will take. We may eventually have the Yoruba nation but I don’t think it will materialize automatically, quickly as we are being made to believe. If it comes today, it will be bloody because no President will like to divide his dominion.