87-year-old leader of Yoruba self-determination group, Ilana Omo Oodua, Prof Banji Akintoye, moved from Nigeria to Benin Republic shortly before the arrest and detention of a leading arrowhead of the Yoruba Nation campaign, Sunday Adeyemo, alias Sunday Igboho, in the francophone country.
Kayode Oyero met with the octogenarian in Porto Novo, where he shares his views on the struggle of his group and the state of the Nigerian nation
How has your group’s struggle for self-determination of the Yoruba been so far?
It has been as one would expect because we are trying to take a nation out of another and it cannot be easy and it has not been easy. Personally, for me and the people closest to me, like Prof Wale Adeniran, who is my deputy in Ilana Omo Oodua, it has been dangerous at times because we are dealing with a cultural setting in which killing people is commonplace. We knew from the beginning that we could get killed in this struggle but the question is: do we hold onto our lives and let our people continue to get killed the way they are being killed and let the Yoruba Nation perish the way it is likely to perish, if no intervention occurs? So, we decided to risk everything and when the people who are inclined and used to killings decided to threaten us directly, we decided that for this struggle to continue, we must leave.
We got very categorical information that they were after our lives and what they did to Sunday Igboho in his home was exactly what they planned to do to us (Akintoye and Adeniran). We got information that they would kill me and my wife and cut us to pieces. I couldn’t just imagine that Yoruba people will wake up one morning and hear that Professor Akintoye has been shredded to pieces. So, we left Nigeria and came to Benin Republic to be among families, kinsmen and friends.
Does your leaving Nigeria mean that your group has slowed down on the struggle for Yoruba Nation, perhaps to restrategise?
No, it is speeding up because we have reached the point of popular mobilisation. We have moved into getting the world to know what we are doing, to have the support of the wider world. The Yoruba people must have a country of their own which we can run properly and in which our young people, when they graduate from university, can get jobs and have opportunities that other people have in other countries.
You’ve painted a fanciful picture of your dream Yoruba Nation. But given your age and your own admission that it is not going to be easy to realise, do you think you can see the struggle through?
I am just leading a revolution and when it is done, I will go and sit in my house and watch the young generation give us the best government in the world.
Do you have anyone you are looking to succeed you?
The home of the Yoruba Nation is all over the world now and I have people like Prof (Wale) Adeniran, my deputy in Ilana Omo Oodua; Chief Banji Ayiloge, and a host of young people everywhere.
There are feelers that the candidacy of the All Progressives Congress presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, will whittle down the agitation for Yoruba Nation agitation. How would you react to this?
That is understandable; he is one of us and we have people who think, ‘Let’s try this one, whether he would perform; let’s see whether this one would bring some good results’. Naturally, we expected that, but we were also able to look in-depth at a level that an ordinary citizen will not be able to look. For instance, why did the northern governors suddenly around turn to say they were supporting Tinubu? They turned around after Atiku (Abubakar) emerged as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party. Up to that point, they were saying they didn’t recognise rotational presidency and there was nothing like rotational presidency but when Atiku was nominated, the next hour, they said they supported a southern candidate – Tinubu. So, there is something hidden in that. A lot of people don’t know it but when we looked at it, we know that the interest of northern governors in Tinubu’s candidacy is not genuine; it is not honest. What they have decided to do is to give him (Tinubu) the nomination, and then support their brother (Atiku) in the PDP. That is where they will migrate to and give him (Atiku) the victory and that is what is going to happen. So, it is not worth giving up the (Yoruba Nation) struggle for.
Does Tinubu have any relationship with your group? Does he reach out to you?
No. I think Tinubu knows me; he knows I am an unusually focused person. I took that from my upbringing and I took it from (the late) Chief (Obafemi) Awolowo. I am focused on the quality of life of our people and I have come to the conclusion that leaving Nigeria and building a separate country of our own is the only way to protect the quality of lives of our people. I have no problem with Bola Tinubu. No issues. He is my younger brother and I am his elder.
Do you support his presidential ambition?
No; I don’t support his politics now but if the times were okay and I was asked to bring somebody from Yorubaland to be President of Nigeria, of course, I would go for Bola Tinubu; but the time is not right. People are killing our people in large numbers. People were killed in a church in Owo, Ondo State and people were being killed in Ekiti, Igangan, Ibarapa and so on. And then President? Is that the next thing in that kind of circumstance?
What should be the next thing?
The next thing is to defend our people and he (Tinubu) cannot condemn them (killers) because he wants to be President of Nigeria and it pains people like me that my own brother, whom I trust, is doing that to our people.
What condition will make you support any party in the 2023 elections?
Nothing; the only party I will support is the group of young people running around for Yoruba Nation.
If what is happening on the social media is anything to go by, young people seem to be rooting for the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi. How would you react to the burgeoning ‘Obident Movement’?
They are not rooting for Peter Obi – not Yoruba boys. They (those rooting for Peter Obi) are mostly Igbo boys.
If you have an opportunity to meet with the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), face-to-face, what would you tell him?
Well, I will tell him, “My brother, you and I grew up in the same generation in this country. It was a time of growth, productivity, progress and coming beauty. We lived in the hope that our country was going to be a prosperous nation in the world. You are a boy and I was a boy; I was born only a few years before you. You went to school when I was going to school too. But look at what has happened to our country: Nigeria is now the home of extreme poverty in the world. Nigeria is spending 92 per cent of its annual income on debt servicing and the International Monetary Fund is threatening a 100 per cent, at which (point) there would essentially be no country. That is what our country has become. And then one people, among the many people of Nigeria, are claiming that it is their duty and their mandate from God to conquer and subjugate the other people of Nigeria; take their land and so on. And they are bringing their kinsmen from other West African countries to help them in doing so; they are allowing terrorists to build cells all over the country because they think that is going to help them. And you are still calling this a country, my brother, Buhari? Does that sound like a country to you?” That is what I will tell Buhari.
Has the Buhari government made any overtures to you?
I guess they know me too well that making overtures to me won’t yield any result. Yes, there was a time one of the highest leaders in government invited me to Abuja and he was talking about we Yoruba trying to benefit from the good thing Buhari is doing and I got angry.
When was that?
That was 2018 or 2019. I took with me two people – General (Alani) Akinrinade (retd.) and Wale Osun.
Who is the government official?
The Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo. He talked about what the governors of the North were benefitting from the Federal Government and said I should tell the governors in the South-West to come and benefit from it. I got angry and told him, ‘You are insulting the Yoruba people’. He saw that I was very angry. For us to come cap-in-hand to the Federal Government? We don’t need the Federal Government; what we need is to be given the freedom to manage our own lives!
You left Nigeria in May 2021 after you got wind that the government was coming after you. Will you return to Nigeria after the Buhari regime in May 2023?
Not after Buhari leaves. I will return to Nigeria when the Yoruba people are dancing in the street, having got their own sovereign country.
Can you put a date to that?
I can put a date to it but it is nothing to share now.
You spoke about the Vice-President earlier. What are your thoughts about his failed presidential ambition?
Frankly, I was surprised. For better, for worse, Osinbajo is one of our most educated men. He is a professor of Law and when he was Attorney General in Lagos State, he performed wonders; took the Federal Government to court more than 15 times and won many times.
You were surprised that he lost or he contested?
I was surprised that he wanted to be President of Nigeria. I was shocked. I knew he would lose and I am not surprised. I do not rejoice at his loss but I am not surprised that he lost. The equations were heavily stacked against him. When they were saying northerners support Osinbajo, I was laughing. They were putting him out there as an alternative to Tinubu. I knew he (Osinbajo) doesn’t have the stamina of Tinubu. Tinubu is our most capable politician in Yorubaland.
How would you react to the agitation by southeasterners for Igbo presidency?
They have the right to agitate for it and I wish them luck.
Do you think the struggle for Yoruba Nation will speed up theirs?
It is speeding it up already, iron is sharpening iron.
What is the status of the court case against one of your men, Sunday Adeyemo, aka Sunday Igboho, in Benin Republic?
He has been released completely. He has won the hearts of the people here for his strength of character. They brought money to this young man; how many of our young men will do that? Former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, came to him in the prison, promising him billions of naira if he would just sign a paper that Buratai brought.
What was the content of the paper?
That he (Igboho) should say he had renounced the Yoruba Nation struggle, that he didn’t want the Yoruba Nation struggle anymore, that he had opted out of it.
Do you have any evidence to back your claim?
Nobody will give me such a paper except Buratai himself but Sunday saw the paper. Buratai took it away.
Are you threatened in any way that Buratai, being Nigeria’s envoy in Benin Republic, is Buhari’s eye in this country where you fled to?
Not at all, Buratai was the Nigerian ambassador to Benin Republic but he has been removed.
Terrorists opened fire on worshippers and desecrated St Francis Catholic Church in Owo on June 5, 2022. Do you see this type of incident ending soon?
I am proud that the Yoruba people are multi-religious people but we are in a country where we don’t belong. More people will still be killed in Yorubaland. It is not ending; in fact, it is escalating.
How does your wife cope with your struggle for Yoruba Nation?
My wife is just a year younger than myself. I was born in 1935, she was born in 1936. We were in this struggle together when we were young. When we founded the Action Group Student Association at the University College in Ibadan, she was our Woman Leader. She is a very courageous person.
Do you have a Permanent Voter Card?
What is a PVC? No, I don’t want to vote in Nigeria.