PROFESSOR Banji Akintoye is the leader of a self-determination movement agitating for the actualization of Yoruba Nation. Akintoye, an Emeritus Professor of History, is also the Alana of Ilana Omo Oodua of the Yoruba self-determination movement. The historian fled Nigeria and sought refuge in Benin Republic over alleged attempts on his life. In this interview with select journalists in Cotonou, Benin Republic, Akintoye speaks on issues ranging from his fleeing Nigeria, how they secured bail for Yoruba Nation activist, Chief Sunday Adeyemo, fondly called Sunday Igboho and why he will not drop the agitation for Yoruba Nation.
By Dapo Akinrefon
You have been in the struggle for a while, how has the journey been so far?
As one would expect Yoruba land to be a nation, it cannot be easy and it has not being easy.
Personally, for me and the people closest to me like Professor Wale Adeniran, who is my deputy, it has been dangerous at times.
We were not scared and we knew from the beginning that we could get killed in this struggle. The question is: do we hold on to our lives and let our people continue to suffer the way they are suffering and let the Yoruba Nation perish if there is no intervention?
When it seemed as if the people, who are inclined and used to killing began to threaten us directly, we decided that for this struggle to continue, we must put a distance between ourselves and them.
So, that was how we came to Benin Republic and in Benin Republic, we are among families, kinsmen and friends. It is no strange environment at all.
There were reports after the government went after Sunday Adeyemo that you left the country when your life was being threatened. Are you on asylum in Benin Republic?
Yes, they were after our lives and we got the information that they were after our lives. What they did to Sunday Igboho in his home is what they wanted to do to Professor Adeniran and I.
What we were told is that officials and non-official elements were ready to come to my house, kill me, and my wife in my bed, cut us to pieces and do the same to Professor Adeniran, my deputy.
The persons who brought the categorical and specific information told us that we were okay on that night but that if we tried to sleep in our house the following day we will not wake up in it the day after.
My wife is 86, while I am 87. So we decided that the best thing is to leave. It took us a few hours to pack and leave; the next morning, we were on our way to Benin Republic.
Why Benin Republic?
It is part of Yoruba land but it is protected from the fact that it is ruled by another government. That is all.
The seeming belief back in Nigeria is that agitation for Yoruba Nation is going down…
It is speeding up because we have reached the point of popular mobiisation. We have moved beyond that point. We have moved to the point of getting the world interested in what we are doing. In the modern world, you cannot take your country out of another country on your own. It is not going to happen.
There are international conventions and relationships set up in modern time, which make it necessary for you to have the support of a wider world. That is what we have been spending most of our time on in recent times and it is succeeding. Thank God for whom we are. The Yoruba Nation is famous and so, fighting for the Yoruba Nation is considerably easy.
We were famous before the British came, we were the foremost civilization and urban civilization. We are an intellectually agile nation.
Do you think other Yoruba groups are on the same page with you regarding your agitation? For instance, Afenifere is insisting on restructuring…
You know we are a large nation. Some people say 50 million, others say 60 million but we do not know exactly. When we have our country, we will do a proper census. It is not surprising that some people will think otherwise and our experiences are different.
What is not acceptable is the fate of the younger generation and that is my particular interest in the struggle. You have to understand that all my adult life, I have done only one job.
I graduated with my PhD from UI in 1966 and I went to teach in the University of Ife then and all through the rest of my life, I did no other job except for the four years I spent in the Nigerian Senate. Our younger generations have lost hope. After graduation, you see some of them roaming the streets. It is not easy for me to accept that. I see them and it brings tears down my cheeks because I see them wasting away.
Are you aware that a large number of our youths are fleeing from the shame of being in a country filled with hopelessness? There are people at home who do not care but I care and it means a lot to me.
So, the Yoruba people must have a country of their own which we can run properly and to give our young people opportunities they see in other countries. It is what you know that tends to determine the way you react.
I cannot stand the Yoruba Nation gradually perishing the way it is gradually perishing in Nigeria. We have to do something about it.
Tell us the story that led to the release of Sunday Igboho from detention. How tough was it and how many days did he spend in detention?
I want to correct a story making the rounds where some people say that they were the ones that invited Sunday Igboho to join the struggle. It is a lie, they are just concocting stories of things that never happened.
What happened is that in late 2019, Sunday made a video and up to that point, I have never known him, I had heard the name faintly but I never knew him.
His bravery impressed me. I invited him to my house in Magodo where he told me how I changed the vision of most Yoruba people. He told me that he regarded me as his father and I also told him that I regard him as my son. That is how he entered the struggle.
I needed to tell that story because some people having been going round telling stories that they did not know.
And then, Sunday burst upon the scene in 2020 in a mighty way, went to Igagan with thousands of young men and drove the Seriki Fulani from the place because the Seriki Fulani had turned the North-West part of that area to hell for the people. They were kidnapping and killing people and raping women.
It was at that point that Sunday Igboho said he had to do something and that was the point at which he entered full blast into the struggle. Sunday Igboho is not a criminal, he has no criminal mind.
Some people in the service of Nigeria, paid by Nigerian taxpayers, decided that, in the interest of the Fulani, Sunday must be killed. You know what they went to do in his house on June 1, 2021.
Sunday left Nigeria and was going back to Germany, where he has legal residence and where he was raising his family, when as a result of some manipulation of the system by the Nigerian government, he was arrested. He was not arrested because he committed an offence here. There was a lot of story at the time that the documents with which he entered Benin Republic were illegal. It is not true.
He did not enter Benin Republic with any forged documents; he had proper documentation and proper Nigerian passport. He has ECOWAS passport which enables you to come without a visa. So he didn’t break any law of Benin Republic.
The moment he was arrested, within five minutes of his arrest, somebody had called us.
Were you in Benin Republic when he was arrested?
It was fortunate. We were not coming to be in Port Novo or Cotonou, we were going to some other place. We were just fortunate to be in Port Novo, the night of his arrest. It was coincidental.
So, we had to abandon whatever we were doing and zeroed in on the Sunday issue. Immediately, we called some friends and some lawyers, the lawyers agreed to do the work; we agreed with them on their legal fees and they went on to find out where Sunday was kept.
We heard reliably on the night of his arrest, there was a helicopter, from Nigeria, waiting to whisk him to Abuja.
The Yoruba self-determination movement and the move to actualize Yoruba Nation are not tea party. How are you getting moral and financial support?
The moral encouragement is enormous because the moment we started, it was like wild fire. The moral support was huge. I expected that there will be arguments because the Yoruba people are mentally and intellectually agile people.
As regards finance, unfortunately, most of the young people running around don’t have money and I, their father, unfortunately, have never done business. So, I don’t have money.
All that we depend on is occasional gifts for particular purposes like when there was agitation for a secretariat in Lagos. We all agreed but how does one get a secretariat in Lagos? It involves a lot of money. Things are not cheap in Lagos. It was God’s intervention as one young man called me one morning and said he just got back from the USA and that he was so impressed with what we were doing. He said he wanted to see me and he offered to give us money to start a secretariat. We were able to pay for three years on the building that we finally found.
When Sunday Igboho was arrested and we started negotiating with our lawyers, the amount was huge. At the end, we had to pay the lawyer CFA9.3million and the CFA is equivalent to the Naira now.
They gathered the money, mostly from the USA and Canada, to pay for legal fees. That’s how we have been getting money.
During this struggle, I have regretted a few times that why didn’t I go into business? That is our situation.
Despite this, some of your critics believe you are profiting from the struggle…
We have lost materials things as a result of the struggle. I have used my pension to fund the struggle. My medication ran out on Friday, I was told to go and buy it, when I got to the bank there was no money to buy the medication. This is a medication I must use daily; that scared me a little because I knew I could fall serious sick.
If Bola Tinubu becomes president of Nigeria will you, Igboho and others abandon the Yoruba nation agitation?
No way. We are an intellectually well informed group, at least, at the top. We know that one Yoruba person becoming the president of Nigeria for four or eight years will add nothing.
No Tinubu or Olusegun Obasanjo can change the system because the system has been entrenched.