By Bola Bolawole
After a hectic day last Sunday, I was already hauling myself into bed early when my phone rang. I missed the first call but the second came quickly thereafter and Baba (Prof. Banji Akintoye) broke the news to me that the Yoruba Nation fighter, Chief Sunday Adeyemo aka Sunday Igboho, has been released from what many have described as “protective custody” in the Republic of Benin. Igboho was kept first at Porto Novo and later at Cotonou. Baba mandated me to craft a news story to that effect. Igboho, he said, would be boarding a flight from Benin Republic to Germany – and not Nigeria – to reunite with his family at 11.00 pm. I said very well but counselled him to wait till 11.00 pm before releasing the press statement on Igboho’s release, which came after two years of a forced sojourn in a foreign land after he was chased out of his own country by the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
A failed attempt at the assassination of Igboho when his Ibadan, Oyo State home was bombarded by security goons forced him to quickly relocate from the country. Some of his family, friends and associates, even pets, that the security goons met at Igboho’s home located in the Soka area of Ibadan were not as lucky as the Yoruba Nation freedom fighter himself. Igboho managed to reach Cotonou but his attempt to travel from there to Germany with his wife was thwarted, according to reports, by a combination of Nigerian and Beninoise security operatives. But for the vigilance and active opposition of the Yoruba population at the airport, Igboho would have been crated back to Nigeria as was the case with the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu. Like his military junta failed to “crate” Umaru Dikko from London to Nigeria, Buhari’s civilian administration also failed to have Igboho bundled from Cotonou to Abuja.
Thereafter, legal and diplomatic actions began on many fronts for and against the repatriation of Igboho from Benin Republic to Nigeria. The Nigerian government used its weight as the giant of Africa and the powerhouse of the West African (ECOWAS) sub-region to lean on its Republic of Benin counterpart to send Igboho back to Nigeria under the guise that he was a subversive element and terrorist undermining the security and territorial integrity of Nigeria. On the other hand, pro-Igboho elements led by the Yoruba Nation leader, Prof. Banji Akintoye, exerted pressure on the Beninoise government not to jeopardize Igboho’s safety by repatriating him to Nigeria. Igboho, they insisted, was a freedom fighter and nationalist activist and the peaceful agitation for a Yoruba Nation to be carved out of Nigeria is a legitimate nationalist aspiration recognized by the Charter of the United Nations Organization.
In the end, the Beninoise government bent over backward to satisfy both ends: Igboho would not be allowed to continue on his journey from Cotonou to Germany, where it was feared he could begin to torment the Buhari administration just like Simon Ekpa of IPOB has used his base in Finland, another European nation, to promote IPOB interests and activities, but he would also not be returned to Nigeria as demanded by the Buhari administration.
The Yoruba indigenous group, mostly found in the south-east and south-south, accounts for 12% of the population of Benin Republic (nearly two million people), coming after the Fon 39% and the Adja and Mina (over 12%). There are 34 Yoruba Obas in Benin Republic. When we add the population of Yoruba migrants, then, the Yoruba constitute about one-quarter of the total population of the Benin Republic. While French is the country’s official language, Fon, Yom and Yoruba have the status of national languages. A visitor to Benin Republic, and even to its neighbour, the Republic of Togo, who is unable to speak French, will have no problem if he can speak Anago, which is what they call Yoruba.
Prof. Akintoye and other Yoruba Nation leaders who have also relocated from Nigeria to the Republic of Benin leveraged on this huge population (which no political leader can ignore) to mount pressure on the Beninoise government on Igboho. After courts in the Benin Republic freed Igboho, the Benin Government kept him in a “safe house” first in Porto Novo and later in Cotonou while a flurry of diplomatic and political activities continued to determine his fate. Now that Buhari is out of the way, Igboho has finally received the green light from the Benin Government for him to proceed on his journey to Germany, two years after!
Once Prof. Akintoye broke the news to me, I returned to bed. Two hours later at 10.00pm, Baba’s call woke me up again. Is the news ready? I had not even scribbled it! So, I quickly drafted a terse three-paragraph newsbreak and sent it to Baba for clearance: “Yoruba Nation activist, Chief Sunday Adeyemo aka Sunday Igboho, has been released from protective custody in the neighbouring Republic of Benin. According to the Yoruba Nation leader, Prof. Banji Akintoye, Sunday Igboho’s release came a few hours ago and he is right now on his way to Germany to be reunited with his family. Further details later” I forwarded it to Baba and Baba okayed it: “Bola, lots of thanks. It is very apt” after which I rolled it out.
The “further details” that were promised came with Sunday Igboho himself speaking on his release and the next line of action. He said: “Good day everyone. I remain myself, Chief Sunday Adeyemo aka Sunday Igboho. First of all, my sincere appreciation goes to God Almighty, the master of the universe, for making this day possible. I want to say a big ‘thank you’ to all Yoruba sons and daughters all over the world for their love and support before and after the loss of my dear mother, though she’s still being kept in the morgue, waiting for me to return and give her the befitting burial that she deserves.
“I give special thanks to President (Patrice) Talon of Benin Republic and to all the members of his cabinet. My gratitude goes to my heroic father, Professor Banji Akintoye, and to Professor Wole Soyinka for their support in the course of the struggle. May God reward you, Baba, for standing courageously for our Yoruba nation and for me! You promised to stand by me through my ordeal in the Benin Republic and you have fulfilled your promise. I will not forget to appreciate former President Olusegun Obasanjo (and) Baba Ayo Adebanjo for their role, even though only God gives freedom.
“Let me use this opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to all religious leaders, pastors, alfas and traditional worshippers for their prayer day and night. Our royal fathers, Obas and Chiefs in Yoruba land, your love and support are so well appreciated. But we need more of your support to deliver our land from the slavery of the Fulani because Yoruba land is ours. Although I have many Obas on my list, Olugbon of Orile Igbon and deputy chairman, Oyo State Council of Obas, Oba Francis Olushola Alao; Kabiyesi Oba Topson Oni Bariga of Bariga, Oba Tejuoso; Oni Kenta of Orile Kenta; Olugbo of Ugbo kingdom, Oba Frederick Akinruntan Obateru; your love is well appreciated”
Igboho said he had a long list of people and organizations to appreciate but that the list is too long for him to exhaust in this particular statement. It nevertheless includes Mega Rally, USA under Prophet Ologunloluwa and the Directorate under the leadership of Barrister Ogedengbe; Ilana Omo Oodua, Canada; Igbega Omo Oodua, USA and Canada; Chief Dele Momodu, all media outlets (internet, print and electronic); “all my brothers from the East” and many others who wanted to remain incognito. He ended with a plea to all Yoruba sons and daughters to join hands “to make Yoruba land great”
One chapter has just been closed in the Yoruba struggle for self-actualization. In the coming days and weeks, we will hear all manner of stories about the undercurrents that led to Igboho’s freedom. Who played what role and what were the conditions attached, if any? Will Igboho be free to return to Nigeria any time soon and under what conditions, if any? What role, if any, did the presidency of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu play in Igboho’s release? Has the Nigerian government reviewed its uncompromising stance on Igboho and is he no longer a terrorist and security threat? Has Tinubu himself softened his stance on Yoruba Nation and its agitation for self-determination?
Another question is whether the release of Igboho will give a new lease of life to the Yoruba struggle for self-determination. Will the street rallies, which Igboho led successfully before he was run out of town by the Buhari administration, return? Will Igboho’s release add fillip to the sagging morale of other Yoruba Nation activists and give the tottering Yoruba self-determination struggle a shot in the arm? Will activists stop the bickering over post and position; receive the impetus to resolve doctrinaire disputes and stop trading incessant accusations of financial malfeasance? Will the leadership re-dedicate itself anew to the task of rekindling the hope of millions of Yoruba Nation devotees at home and in the Diaspora? Time, as they say, will tell!
- Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.
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