The killing of the street evangelist, Mrs Eunice Elisha, two weekends ago in Kubwa, Abuja was the final point that made me conclude that something strange and inexplicable has happened to the Yoruba in the past one year.
Two Saturdays ago, The Punch broke the news that Mrs Elisha, wife of Pastor Olawale Elisha of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, left her home around 5.30 a.m. with a megaphone to preach in her neighbourhood, as she did every morning. But she never came back.
At first, the report claimed that the killers cut off her head and placed it on top of her copy of the Holy Bible. Later, the police said that she was killed, not decapitated.
The entire nation received the news with shock, especially coming a month after a woman in Kano State and a man in Niger State were killed for religious reasons.
But the greater surprise came from the South-West. The Yoruba seemed to have reached an understanding not to discuss the killing of Mrs Elisha, their kinswoman, in the Northern city of Abuja. Posts and radio comments about her death were systematically avoided by many people. Instead, most people in the South-West were busy discussing Cristiano Ronaldo and Euro trophy or the trial of Senate President, Bukola Saraki. By midweek, the focus shifted to Senators Dino Melaye and Oluremi Tinubu and the transition in the United Kingdom.
Before Elisha’s murder, similar things had happened that surprised me. First, it was the 22nd anniversary of the aborted June 12 election. I was in the South-East and Port Harcourt during that period. So I could not gauge the way the event was marked in the South-West. But I read the papers, watched the TV and monitored the online media. It was clear to me that there was a lull in the remembrance. But, coming about two weeks after the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari, I felt that the South-West was still engulfed in the euphoria of being instrumental to the emergence of the new government.
However, when the June 12 event came this year and went by without any fanfare in the South-West, I was puzzled. Since 1999 when democracy returned in Nigeria, there had been an argument, championed by the Yoruba, that June 12 ,rather than May 29, should be observed as Democracy Day because it was the same day in 1993 when “true democracy” was instituted in Nigeria. All South-West states declared June 12 a public holiday and held elaborate rallies and parades. Also, they made memorable speeches about June 12, democracy and the sacrifice of Chief Moshood Abiola.
As if that was not enough, on July 7, 2016, which was the anniversary of Abiola’s death, there was deafening silence. Unlike in the past, what I saw was a team led by Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu and Dr Joe Odumakin, laying a wreath on Abiola’s grave. During the anniversary of the killing of Kudirat Abiola on June 7, the same attitude prevailed. None of the leaders of the South-West identified with the ceremony.
That was not all.
In March, there was an ethnic clash between the Yoruba and Northerners at the popular Mile 12 market in Lagos. The incident also got the same treatment of silence.
In May it was reported that some herdsmen had invaded a village in Ekiti State and killed two people. Again, there was silence in the South-West.
The region, however, found its voice when, a day after the killings, Governor Ayo Fayose, in his exuberant and dramatic fashion, addressed the hunters in the state and urged them to shoot anybody who tried to attack the people again. Many people descended on Fayose – the same fellows who kept quiet when a Southwestern state was invaded and fellow Yoruba people were killed!
The same scenario has played out on the lopsided appointments made by Buhari. In private discussions, you could hear the anger of the people from the South-West over the skewed appointments, but there seems to be an unwritten code not to raise it in public discussions.
However, the most prominent is the issue of restructuring Nigeria. For many decades, especially since the callous annulment of the June 12, 1993 election by General Ibrahim Babangida (Rtd), supported by late General Sani Abacha, the battle cry from the South-West has been “restructuring and true federalism”. Till they died, Chief Michael Ajasin sang it, Chief Abraham Adesanya chanted and shouted it, and Chief Bola Ige amplified it. When democracy returned in 1999, Chief Bola Tinubu never made any speech without mentioning restructuring. Mr Babatunde Fashola, Mr Rauf Aregbesola, Dr Kayode Fayemi, Prof Yemi Osinbajo and others from the South-West said repeatedly that without restructuring, Nigeria would not progress. I agreed with them.
On May 29, 2015, Buhari and Osinbajo were sworn in as President and Vice President, respectively, with Fashola and Fayemi as ministers, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila as Majority Leader at the House of Representatives and Aregbesola and others as state governors. The issue of restructuring has met with silence from the leaders of the South-West and their followers, especially in the ruling All Progressives Congress. Only the voices of members of the Afenifere like Mr Yinka Odumakin, Senator Femi Okurounmu, Chief Ayo Adebanjo are still heard consistently asking for restructuring of the federation or implementation of the decisions of the 2014 National Conference.
One would think that, having come into power, the South-West leaders of the All Progressives Congress would be in a vantage position to initiate the process of restructuring the federation, given that it is in the manifesto of the political party. But the new argument now is that restructuring is not the most pressing issue now; that the country needs to be stabilised first. What a lame excuse! Before now, the argument was that the country was unstable because of lack of restructuring.
What is difficult to understand is what led to this new belief in the South-West that complaining about the killing of a fellow Yoruba is tantamount to opposing the government led by Buhari and Osinbajo. Definitely, there is no connection between the two. It is said that only a very close person can tell you that you have mouth odour. It should not be interpreted as hatred or opposition.
Nigeria has been ruled from Independence by people with a hearing problem. You need to shout before they can hear you. When about 500 residents of Agatu in Benue State were killed in February, the government said nothing. But when Ukpabi-Nimbo in Enugu was invaded in April, there was an uproar. And for the first time, the presidency commented on the menace of the Fulani herdsmen.
Similarly in late May, four people were killed in Niger State for allegedly blaspheming against Islam. Not much was said about it. A few days later an Igbo woman was killed in Kano in similar circumstances and hell was raised. The Presidency, Kano State government and the police reacted, announcing that the perpetrators had been arrested.
In addition, many girls had been reportedly abducted and forcefully converted to Islam. It was when Ese Oruru’s case was raised to a high pitch in March that she was released to her parents. Other girls in the same condition were also released.
These issues did not show any opposition to Buhari, Islam or the North. Such uproar was raised when a political billboard that read “Bring Back Our Goodluck” appeared in Abuja: a parody of the BringBackOurGirls movement. Dr Goodluck Jonathan ordered the board to be brought down. Hell was also raised when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo seized the official vehicles of his estranged Vice President Atiku Abubakar. The vehicles were immediately released.
The Yoruba are not known to keep quiet in the face of injustice or aberration. I don’t know what has happened in the South-West. If anybody knows, please let him enlighten me.