Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Yorubas, AN Empowered People; A Mid 20th Century Perspective

Empowering the Yoruba
When the respected Dokita Okunnade told me I will speak today, my first reaction was: “Kini omoran le ri so nile ogbon?” “What can the knowledgeable say in the house of wisdom?” Our fathers have however taught us that: “Omo Akin kii ko ija” “the offspring of the brave never fears the face of battle.” So I ask you to hang with me as I try to engage with Ideas on “Empowering the Yorubas in the Diaspora.”
I honor the presence of all good people who have chosen to grace this occasion and share with us the richness of our Yoruba heritage. I especially honor our cousins from different parts. Our African people of the Diaspora deserves a sit of honor in this place, I pay my unreserved respect to them. There are also people here who are not African but have chosen to align with the Yoruba Dream, our roots may be different but our aspirations are the same. My prayer is that we will all be empowered for progress and that we will all have the freedom to pursue meaning and happiness. I do welcome you.

What is Empowerment?Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines empowerment as “giving official authority or legal power to a group,” it is also defined as promoting the self-actualization or influence of a person or a group. Psychologist talk of at least 20 dimensions of empowerment, Freire (1972), Bolton & Brookings (1996), Spreitzer (1995), Laverack & Wallerstein (2001), and Williams, Labonte and O’Brien (2003) have all done seminal work in defining and describing empowerment. I am however going to address empowerment like a family discussion rather than as a social scientist.

Clarity of Identity.
Empowerment starts when there is clarity about identity. A man or a woman without a clear identity is a dangerous man; he is like a dead person, he is a hopeless shape filling spaces that he has no capacity to conquer. A man without identity lives in fear of himself, and he lives also in fear of others around him. His fear however has no warrant in reality; he is like the child that Shakespeare wrote about who: “fears the face of a painted devil.”
Empowerment commences when we have truly defined WHO WE ARE! Think about this, we call ourselves Omo Oduduwa, but what do we mean? It should mean that we have located something positive in the person of Oduduwa and that we want to identify with it. It should mean that we identify with the heroic behavior of the founder of our race, that we identify with his diplomatic capacity; that we recognize his valiant nature, that we are grateful for his perseverance and that we desire to celebrate all of this. After all He is Odu ti O du Iwa, The Oracle or Wisdom that focuses on Good Character or the Perfect life. Is this what we mean when we claim to celebrate Oduduwa? Are we refocusing on Good Character and the Pursuit of the Perfect Life? If we are, then we are already an Empowered People!

Relevance The Second Issue with Empowerment is Relevance. A group or a person is empowered when he is considered a relevant contributor to community in which he lives. The question then is whether the Yoruba identity can relevantly contribute to Middle America of 2006. What can this community learn and benefit from the realities of our accumulated experience as Yoruba people? Can Middle America learn from the way our parents brought us up? Can we share with this community the deep wisdom of our fathers? Can we tell them about the industriousness of our people? Can we share with the people of our New Land the Yoruba commitment to history and to honoring the Ancestors? More importantly, can we show this community our mother’s passionate commitment to their children and to the future? These are issues will empower us to engage with the people of our new land. .
Language as a Preserver of Cultural Identity
Preserving our Cultural Identity is critical to thoughts on empowerment. The Yoruba community must not loose its grip on its Identity. There is no stronger measure of cultural Identity than the Use of language. I bring before us today a need to teach our children our language. The best teachers of this language are the parents that speak them. Let us not assume that speaking our language will spoil our children’s comprehension of English, let us rather learn from our own experience. Did learning English spoil our comprehension of Yoruba? Did it not rather enhance it? Studies have shown that children are capable of learning many languages in the first few years of life. For those of us who grew up in Nigeria, can you remember how the children of the missionaries and foreign teachers spoke fluent Yoruba but also spoke their parent’s languages? Let us not forget our language. Our fathers say that a stream that forgets its source will dry up. Olorun ko ni jeki odo aiye wa gbe o. The streams of life will not dry up in our families.

The Yoruba NationI want us to move a bit from these familial issues and consider the Historical perspective. What can we learn from the Yoruba Nation itself as a promoter of Empowerment? May I propose to you that this nation in which we were born in is not inferior to any in the world? Compared with the 50 plus countries of Europe, only 6 have a larger population than the Yoruba people of Nigeria, in fact only three of the 6 can be said to have a larger population than the pre-colonial Yoruba nation which today is transnational! Population wise, we are a viable nation.

Population Versus Functionality
Someone will say, it is functionality that defines nations not population. I will answer that objection by saying, the Yoruba nation when allowed to function have proven that it is a functional nation of inventive people. Effectively, commercial radio broadcast started in America in 1921, it became public in the United Kingdom in 1927; by 1932, our fathers and mothers in Yoruba land have already started listening to their “Ero Asoro Magbesi.” It will be puerile to imagine that this feat was simply due to the benevolence of the colonialists, we must rather assume that the inventiveness of our fathers and mothers contributed. There is an unsung hero behind the scene who prompted the white man’s action and made it possible for the system to operate.

This inventiveness of the Yoruba Race was proven definitively in the matter of the Television. Television was introduced to the American public in 1941, yet a mere 17 years later, our people were watching the “Ero Amohun Maworan” in Ibadan. Now if you put into context the diffusion rate for technology in those days and you factor in the reality of a World War II, we must judge that the transference rate for this technology to the Yoruba people of Africa was lower than 5 years!
I say all this to establish a benchmark for assessing the Yoruba Nation. How do we assess the Yoruba Nation? From 1970 - 1990s we have witnessed the impact of retrogression of dictatorial military rule, do we now asses ourselves by this retrograded standards or do we assess ourselves on the complete history of our people? I want to challenge us to develop a clear picture of who we are. The Yoruba Nation must stop judging itself by the confusion of the military era. We must reach back and establish that our vibrant identity flows from a functional history, our assessment of our land must say to our children, we are a great people. Let me cite some deeds that may help with this evaluation.

Do you know that when many developed nations were still struggling with how to treat their citizens, Yoruba leaders have introduced a free health care for all their citizens? We must let it be known that as far back as January 1955, our leaders have given us Free Primary Education. Our leaders boldly committed to a budget of $10 Million when the capital and recurrent expenditure for the preceding year (1952/53) was a mere $5 Million. Our leaders believed that if there is a will, there is a way! Within three years, populations of students in primary schools topped over a Million students, population of students in secondary schools rose from 9000 to 84,374. When the Colonialists handed over to Yoruba leaders, there were 25 secondary schools, within the term of the first Yoruba government; the number of schools has increased to 159! Think about it, 124 standard Secondary Schools were established in three years on a lean budget! I challenge any other nation to show the same result and the same resolve.

It was the Yoruba people that established the first African owned conglomerate. The Oodua Company which evolved between 1955 and by 1959 had 51 companies in its holding. These include the Hotels, Banks, Insurance Companies, Textile Mills, Cement Companies, Paints Manufacturing Companies, Iron Melting Companies., Cocoa Industries, Breweries, Rubber Processing Companies/Tire Makers, Tile Producing Companies, etc. The Yoruba people started the first industrial estates in Nigeria at Ikeja and Ilupeju in 1958, they introduced the First Minimum wage law in Africa, started the first indigenously owned modern University in Africa, built the first sky crapper and did many other things that have since become models which up till today, are yet to be suppressed, or even matched by any subsequent government. We are a stock of a great people, the knowledge of our excellent past should empower.

Your Question naturally should be how is this relevant to us today in mid America? My reaction is to call you to look at two platforms. The first platform is that of instructive rumination. The Yoruba Nation must choose to Dream again. We need to lay hold on the entrepreneurial boldness of the Awolowo Era and deploy it in mid America. Maybe its deployment will become a flow that will reach back into the heartland of our people; just like it happened in 1941when a few young men got together in England and their influence flowed back into Nigeria as Egbe Omo Oduduwa. I believe that we can.

The second platform is the development of a strategic model. Can we learn from the Awolowo strategy? Can we invoke the Pan Yoruba option that Awolowo and friends mobilized to pursue a goal that was bigger than that which one man can achieve? Can we create platforms which encompasses many talented men and upon which each person can bring his own peculiar expertise and be allowed to shine?

Communal Wealth?
My question goes a bit farther, it touches on dangerously strategic horizons; can we consciously decide to create communal wealth and well being! It is strategic because the present day Yoruba needs to be careful not to confuse what our fathers clearly delineated. We should not think that because we have good jobs and great credits we have attained Olà (Non Material Wealth defined by Intangibles, True riches that go beyond material possession). We should remember that access to Owó (money) is not access to Olá (material wealth), and access to Olá is not a proof of Olà. No wonder our fathers aimed for Olà. Do you realize that there is a mystery of Olà, it is this, that no man gets Olà by power, that Olà is possible only by communal acclaim! To tightly secure our tomorrow, to guarantee a truly meaningful life for our children; to be at rest concerning Òla (tomorrow) we need to pay attention to Olà! How do we create Olà in the Yoruba community in Diaspora? This will be the epitome of Empowerment.

I am therefore throwing a challenge that we begin again to consciously create large platforms from which our people can shine. I am challenging us to pursue Olà, to take actions that will lead to communal acclaim, to chose pathways that will create a common-wealth, a common-health; that we consciously reject the barrack mentality of the military era that we go back to 1956 and pick up the thread of dreams; that we gather together that which was shattered by the Wettie upheaval of 1963/64?

The classic entrepreneurial tendencies of our people have shined and have been transmitted only when we have formed great platforms. The excellence of the Action Group was not an Awolowo excellence per se, it was team effort. Action Group was a functional platform of highly motivated people. They got together and strategize for over a year, each person wrote papers on his area of expertise, and they developed a common vision of what is possible for the people. They implemented it; the rest is history.

Developing Yoruba Industrial Systems in Mid AmericaMy challenge is this, can we have dreamers arise who will create effective platforms for the Yoruba people to conquer Mid-West America? Can we have platforms for work, industrial systems that will provide job for the new immigrants? Can we develop high standards of rigorous excellence – standards like Papa Awolowo demanded? Can we employ each other, pay good wages, but can we also ask for serious hard work – can we demand this up front! If we can, the proverbs of our fathers will come to pass “Agbajo Owo la fi nso aya.” It is when we put our hands together that we truly can beat our chest.

Thinking further about industrial systems, the missionaries attested to the fact that Efunsetan Aniwura employed 2000 plus people on her farm in 1840s and that the great General Ajayi Ogboriefon fielded over 6000 “Baba ni nmasa” in a single morning of battles. Ogedengbe and Fabunmi of the Fiery Swords – my great Uncle – mobilized a mighty force that stopped the great War Machine of the Ibadan Empire for 15 Years. Awolowo mobilized a whole region and paid them the highest wage in Africa of his days. We are the successors to these feats, we can develop entrepreneurial systems in mid America that will involve thousands of people and create platforms for employing the Yorubas in the Diaspora. A people that develop industrial systems is a people that will possess the land that they occupy.

Residual Income Let me touch briefly on the issue of Residual Income. An Empowered people must not depend solely on what they get as salary. What will happen on the day your salary stops? Then you start spending your savings. What will happen when savings get depleted, then Ile ola a wa di ahoro! The great house becomes impoverished!! An empowered people must have strategic plans for residual income. A Residual Income is that income that in which you do the work once but the money keeps coming in for the rest of your life.

The Yoruba people in the Diaspora must develop a culture focused on owning a portion of the great American society. I owe much of the thought in this section to our cousin, Mr. Sam Aihe a great Bini man, the former Vice President of Citi Bank. Sam advised us to start considering this concept of ownership from an individualistic perspective. Think of what you use on a daily basis, who is the manufacturer; strategically base your investment on what you consume. Remember however that investing is like planting an orchard, it is very different from planting a corn. Even though you will not get a quick fix result, on a long term you are the winner. Remember the people who invested in Microsoft twenty years ago are all millionaires today. If you invest $50.00 a month in a few years it would have grown tremendously…. Please invest and allow your money to work for you.

Strength From the Inner Life I will like to end this discussion by talking about the Inner Life. What was it that made people like Awolowo so successful? It is a personal discipline that will not submit to traditional indulgence. Awolowo paid close attention to the use of sex (he largely abstained), food (he did not eat much), alcoholic beverage (he refused to abuse it); Awolowo became something of a legend in this regards. To be truly empowered we must discipline our base instincts. We must channel our energy to achieve God’s best for our lives.

Summary Please let us be clear about who we are, let us honor our identity; let us set goals worthy only of Dreamers, let us work hard at attaining them, our people will be empowered in the process.

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