The Yoruba were a once proud people with a great history, sound spiritual and moral philosophies, rich language and cultural heritage. They were one of the most urbanized ethnic groups in Africa, living in well structured urban centers organized around powerful city-states.
Of all the subsequent city-states that would be formed across Yoruba land, Ile Ife was the nucleus, it was there life as we know it began for the Yoruba. A brief summary of the Yoruba creation story goes as follows; In the beginning, there was only the sky above, water and marshlands below. Olorun\Olodumare ruled the sky and Olokun ruled the sea, Obatala pondered to himself and decided that the world needed land and life so he asked Olorun\Olodumare for permission to create land his request was granted, he then sought the council of Orunmila the oldest child of Olorun\Olodumare and the orisa of prophecy who then told Obatala that he would need a chain long enough to reach below, a snail shell filled with sand, a hen and a palm nut. After he acquired the items he hung the chain from the corner of the sky and began to climb down, until he reached the bottom he then took the snail shell full of sand and threw it down, he threw down the hen immediately after. The hen began to scratch and scatter the sand in all directions forming the land on which Ile Ife would be built.
By the 8th century BCE, Ile Ife had become home to a powerful Yoruba kingdom with Oduduwa who is regarded as the progenitor of the Yoruba race, being the first Ooni of Ife. And by the 11th century Ile Ife was a thriving city with the people pioneering in fields such as medicine, metallurgy and sculpting, Ile Ife was renowned for their naturalistic bronze, stone and terracotta sculptures;
Ile Ife was the preeminent Yoruba city-state from 1100–1600 before its eventual decline and the rise of the Oyo empire. The various Yoruba city-states ran a type of republican monarchy of sorts, where in they had councils of elders or the most prominent and well respected members of the community to deliberate on policies, in some cases elect a new monarch and to prevent the monopolization of power by a monarch; Commander Frederick Forbes, a representative of the British Crown writing an account of his visit to the city of Abẹokuta in the Church Military Intelligencer (1853), described Abẹokuta as having “four presidents”, and the system of government as having “840 principal rulers or ‘House of Lords,’ 2800 secondary chiefs or ‘House of Commons,’ 140 principal military ones and 280 secondary ones.” He described Abẹokuta and its system of government as “the most extraordinary republic in the world.
One of the most important cornerstones of Yoruba society was morality, good scruples, integrity and moral uprightness were encoded in Yoruba doctrine from time immemorial, individuals that went against the doctrines of morality were excommunicated from the community. the Yoruba value system was second to none. The philosophical and cultural concept of Omoluwabi was the summation of this, the term was used to describe a person that was a paragon of morality and good character, it is an adjectival Yoruba phrase that comprise of the words Omo-ti-Olu-iwa- bi which when translated literally to english means the child that the chief or master of good character gave birth to. An Omoluwabi exhibits Iwa pele which means gentle character, the basis of moral conduct in Yoruba culture and a defining attribute of an Omoluwabi. The tenets of Omoluwabi are as follows;
- Oro Siso (Spoken word, the Yoruba accord great respect for intelligent and expert use of language)
- Iteriba (Respect)
- Inu Rere (Good will, Having a good mind towards others)
- Otito (Truth)
- Iwa (Character\virtue)
- Akinkanju (Bravery)
- Ise (Hardwork)
- Opolo Pipe (Intelligence)
- Suuru (patience)
Yoruba civilization thrived on the aforementioned structure, concepts and ideals for many years until the scramble of western European nations for African land and scarce natural resources and geo-political power over one another, of all the western powers, France had acquired and colonized vast area of the north and west of Africa. The British empire in a bid to safeguard its interests and to combat the growing influence of the French in Africa. They arrived on the shores of Yoruba land in 1851 looking to gain a foothold in the lucrative coastal Yoruba city of Eko and in ten short years Eko had become a part of the British empire, they then sought to consolidate and expand their new colony, and thus began the conquest of the Yoruba and every other ethnic group within their purview. The subjugation of the Yoruba people was in full swing, the British imperial invaders resorted to all sorts psychological manipulation tactics to dominate the people of the colony, tactics that included but were not limited to; distortion of Yoruba history, demonization of the spiritual system, destroying the image of self, eroding Yoruba culture and debasing the language. As British imperialism and influence spread across Yoruba land so did the erosion of the way of life, the introduction of radical individualism which is a by-product of capitalism to a society where collectivism was an integral part of life, ruined the fabric of Yoruba society; ubuntu “I am because we are” working in the best interest of and for the greater good of the community. The introduction of radical individualism created competition among people of once harmonious communities and made enemies of kinsmen.
By the early part of 20th century all Yoruba land and all neighboring lands and ethnic nationalities had come under British domination, they perfected a system of indirect rule of the colony by removing monarchs that refused to play by their rules and replacing them with obsequious ones that would rule under British supervision and do as they were told. The British crown did with their colony as they saw fit, they exploited their subjects and scarce resources, when the colony had expanded and had become to big and to expensive to be administered in separate parts the colonizers decided join all the parts together to form one easier to manage colonial contraption, and in 1914 an administrative colonial entity designated as Nigeria was created for more effective and efficient exploitation and plunder. Completely taking away the fundamental right of the Yoruba to self actualization and self determination, the boundaries of this new colonial entity were drawn without any consideration for the already existing natural boundaries therefore separating people of the same ethnic groups, this entity consisted and was made up of disparate and different ethnic groups that did not share the same language, history, culture, philosophies, ways of life and value systems. The Yoruba were subsumed by this colonial entity designed to strip them of their identity and replace it with a new artificial one, the disparate, multi ethnic and heterogeneous nature of the contraption meant that it required a unique form of administration one in which each group was allowed a level autonomy to manage and develop their respective regions, it was so right through to the movement of independence after the weakening of European influence in Africa as a result of which many nations got independence from their European colonizers including the entity called Nigeria in 1960.
Under the system of autonomous self rule, the Yoruba western region flourished under the astute, visionary leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo who was the Premier of the region he implemented a brand of democratic socialism, he introduced free primary education and free health care, established the first television service in Africa, established a highly lucrative cocoa export industry which became the mainstay of the region’s economy. The prosperity of the region would attract people from the other regions and from neighboring countries. However, this was short lived because of political unrest brought about by a disgruntled section of the entity which led to military takeover of the government, cancellation of autonomous self rule and a brutal civil war all between 1966–1970. After the civil war ended the military and political elite decided to carry on with the new system of over centralized federal power, they then proceeded to write a series of decrees vesting all powers solely on the president of the contraption and made it so that any one not approved by them could not be president.
Under this new system of over centralization, the colonial entity began on a path of deterioration, as the years went by things got progressively worse, to the detriment of all the various peoples within the entity, none more so than the Yoruba. Unemployment was rife, corruption brought about by prebendalism was the order of the day, neglect and infrastructural decay was commonplace and complete developmental stagnation. It was a dire situation, out of desperation people engaged in all sorts of criminality and debauchery, this entity began to corrode the culture and way of life of the Yoruba.
The Yoruba a once proud people with a great history, sound spiritual and moral philosophies, rich language and cultural heritage and a thriving civilization, now find themselves in a most deplorable state, longing for what once was.