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Atanda: When 200 scholars converged to explore old ‘Yoruba State’

From Laide Raheem, Abeokuta


Historically, Yoruba people are renowned for being repository of indigenous knowledge and reservoir of native intelligence. Before the advent of the Europeans, and later the colonialists, the Oyo Empire, which symbolised the strength and influence of the Yoruba people, flourished politically and economically.

The empire, which reached its apogee in the 16th century via its political sagacity and strong military, expanded its territory as far as the present day Togo. It was not surprising when over 200 Yoruba scholars and 500 delegates, converged on the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, from Monday, October 9 to Wednesday, October 11, 2017 at an international conference, organised to explore the political and economic template of the old Yoruba State, with the aim of finding panacea to the various socio-political and economic challenges being faced by the race in the contemporary Nigeria.

The conference themed: “The Yoruba Nation and Politics Since the 19th Century,” was also to honour a great Yoruba historian, the late Prof. Joseph Adebowale Atanda, for his scholarly contribution to Yoruba development.

The three-day conference, declared open by the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi 111, had in attendance, Eleruwa of Eruwa, Oba Samuel Adegbola; Orangun of Ila Orangun, Oba Abdulwahab Oyedotun; acting Vice Chancellor of OOU, Prof. Ganiyu Olatunde; Prof. Toyin Falola, Prof. Anthony Asiwaju, Prof. Ayo Olukotun, Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), the only daughter of late Prof.  Atanda, Professor  and her brothers, Prof. Banjo Akintoye among others.

The historian who died 20 years ago was described as a thorough, dedicated and highly committed international scholar and a Pan-African historian, a foremost Yoruba historian, whose works and legacy have become increasingly relevant, especially, because they tend to provide veritable clues to many challenges the Yoruba nation is currently contending with in Nigeria.

The initiative to hold the commemorative conference was credited to Professor Toyin Falola of the Department of History, University of Texas, Austin, USA, in conjunction with OOU and sponsored by the immediate family of the late African historiographer.

Apart from being organized to sustain Atanda’s legacy, the scholarly forum was also meant to stimulate younger academics to emulate Atanda’s sterling qualities as a globally renowned academic.

As Nigeria is undergoing the challenges on all fronts – political, economic, educational, security and what have you – the conference, was therefore, an avenue to explore the possibility of engaging Atanda’s numerous and seminal scholarly publications in order to dissect the challenges and prospects of the Yoruba nation in the present Nigeria for the purpose of finding an enduring solution to them.

Oba Adeyemi, said a careful reading of the Yoruba intellectual traditions would reveal the extent and ramifications of the Yoruba system of knowledge, which if properly studied, would reveal an uncommon commitment to inquiry, research, investigation and functional application of knowledge in solving human existential problems.

He added that a perspective understanding and appreciation of developments in Yorubaland since 19th century would no doubt, put the race in a better stead, to negotiate from the point of advantage and strength and to preserve the legacies of the forebears.

The monarch, however, implored Yoruba scholars at the event to go beyond the limited requirements of paper presentation and be moved by a patriotic zeal to proffer solutions to the problems facing the Yorubaland today and which the race could face tomorrow:

“As we brainstorm on Yorubaland and politics since the 19th century, it is equally right to identify the basic ingredients of nation and empire building which for many centuries before the 19th century, demonstrated the robust contributions of our race to human civilization.”

In his keynote address entitled, “Yoruba Nation: (Dis)unity, National Politics and the Republican Spirit.” Executive Vice Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy, Dr. Tunji Olaopa, stated that the attempts at unity of a “nation” had played out within the volatile political economy of the post-colonial Nigerian state with the implication that “the Yorùbá nation” is so terribly fractured as to lack a prerequisite solid national front to engage the dynamics of nationalist politics in Nigeria.

He highlighted the challenges of nationalism and nation building since the amalgamation of 1914, the national question, agitation for restructuring and secession and the position Yoruba are expected to take in such national debates:

“The idea of restructuring, fundamentally, harks back to the ongoing struggle to facilitate the establishment of a federal Nigeria. And which other ethnic group in Nigeria has been at the forefront of the agitation for a structural rethinking of the Nigerian state along a genuine federal restructuring more than the Yoruba?

“We have the usual bickering amongst the Yoruba kings, we have the fractious involvement of the Yoruba elite and politicians in Nigeria’s national politics. These translate into a weak framework for understanding where the Yoruba stand in the national politics of post-colonial Nigeria. How then can a fractious “nation” engage a fractious state seeking nationhood?”

At the end, the communique committee, comprising Professor Ademola Dasylva, Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, Dr. Bola Dauda, retired Professor of Public Administration, Professor O. Olubomehin, Dean, Faculty of Arts, OOU, Olaopa,  Dr. (Mrs.) O. T. Olayemi and Dr. (Mrs.) Olajumole Yacob-Haliso, recommended:

“Yoruba nation, especially leaders and scholars, should engage by way of interrogating Professor Atanda’s scholarly publications with a view to resolving the current myriads of challenges facing the Yoruba in the present Nigeria;

“There must be a vigorous set of policies in place to promote and strengthen Yoruba language, art, culture and history;

“Continuous efforts must be made to discourage religious and ethnic intolerance among Nigerians, participants called on the present generation of Yoruba to stop the hate and hostility sayings and propaganda as a way of discouraging the Yoruba heritage of peaceful coexistence of religious groups in Nigeria;

“Participants called for the expansion of the frontier of Yoruba studies to include the history of technology, biographical studies of Yoruba heroes and heroines on which little or nothing is currently known, history of Yoruba patterns of settlements and architecture, etc;

“The delegates supported the various calls for restructuring the political basis of the country. The calls require the clarification of the meaning of restructuring by every stakeholder.  What is meant by restructuring?

“Restructuring of the minds to accept Nigeria as a united Federal Republic?

“Fragmentation of Nigeria into various countries?

“Recognition of the rights to secede?

“The return to the regionalism of the First Republic?

“Economic Federalism to allow each region to control most of the resources they generate?”

The communiqué then submitted that the commemorative international conference, should be organised annually and the hosting should move from university to university, in order to sustain the legacies of the erudite Professor Atanda.


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