KANMI ADEMILUYI states that Yorubas’ are losing their once vaunted positions across all endeavours; this has to be confronted.
It has now become the conventional wisdom that the Yoruba are losing their once vaunted positions across all endeavours. This is most poignant in view of our current economic dire straits and a demographic time bomb in commerce and industries. It has been a long time coming. Its effects are hardly hidden, massive youth unemployment goes hand in glove with unfair labour practices. A guess estimate is that not up to 10% of those who have finished NYSC in the Southwest are guaranteed of any form of sustainable employment.
It is strange that the Southwest is so hard hit. A perusal of the “Red Book of West Africa” first published in 1925 and now sadly out of print, presents a solid excursion into economic history’, this magnificent work is a testimony of just how far ahead the Yorubas were. They were dominant in every profession and in commerce, their entrepreneurial imprints and nifty commercial savvy implanted right across West Africa. Mainly operating outside of the established Anglo-Saxon banking framework [or more precisely locked out of it], they used and modernised indigenous ways of raising credit. With the exception of the Gold Coast [Ghana] and Sierra Leone there were no other comparable outbursts of entrepreneurship in colonial Africa. Even in those countries, the contributions of the Yoruba were prominent and resonate till today.
In the sorry state we are in today, the issue of what went wrong is interwoven with what is to be done. Lamentations won’t help either. It has been observed in some quarters that the Yoruba have been relegated from the front line, “It is therefore very imperative that we re- invent ourselves”.
All very well and good but where is the beef? No roadmap is presented here as to the way forward or out of the quagmire. All very pious good intentions. It is very sensible though to hearken to the wise counsel of the Italian poet and philosopher Dante Alighieri, that, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Sanctimonious sermons and homilies from the bully pulpit are not going to provide the urgently needed solutions. In addition, there is really no need to reinvent the wheel as we hearken to the call to “re-invent ourselves “.
The fault of course lies not just in the debilitating consequences of the post first republic quasi-federalism, it lies in the leadership of the Yoruba race. A key element here is that after the euphoria over the marginal gains of the indigenisation exercise in the 1970s, the political establishment and the economic elite in the Southwest took their eyes completely off the ball. The issue of both social and economic capital was no longer on the front burner and dangerously the value of land and properties in the Lagos metropolis in particular, was mistaken as the key assessment and interpretation of capital. Hand-in-glove, the consequences of the deprivation of economic value and the seizure of title through Obasanjo’s Land Use Act was not taking seriously at all. Unfortunately, there is an intrinsic link connecting the absence of title with poverty. If we seek to examine the structure of rural poverty and the continuing undermining of the rural economy in the Southwest today, we must re-examine the consequences of the land use act.
The structure of capital in the Southwest must also be re-examined. Regional integration and integrative mechanisms such as the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria are very laudable; nevertheless, the issue of capital is decisive. The pivotal figures in Yoruba land who drove the modernisation process were keenly aware of this. National and Agbonmagbe banks as well as later on, the Cooperative Bank and the Development finance providers came into being in response to a vital need. This is that with the erosion of the communal ways of credit aggregation, there must be an alternative to the Anglo-Saxon banking system which was largely closed to indigenous entrepreneurs. Where it was available, its shortermism was a debilitating bugbear.
That the competitiveness of the entrepreneurial class in Yoruba land has been eroded is understandable. The paucity of long term finance since the heyday of the long-term development institutions is painfully obvious. Whatever it stands for, today’s Odua Corporation cannot be equated with the Western Nigeria Development Corporation or The Western Nigeria Finance Corporation. Mercifully, the ongoing recapitalisation of Odua will help it to regain its competitiveness, mission and sense of direction.
The solution however, is in the direction of putting together a massive DAWN investment Bank, which will incorporate aspects of a private equity initiative to act as the provider of long term capital in Yoruba land working in tandem with the pension funds as providers of capital for infrastructure financing, prioritizing agro-industrials and renewable energy. The development of renewable energy through private-public partnerships vital and providers of long-term capital is a vital ingredient. Depending on fossils and feed stock from the Niger Delta will be suicidal. Agriculture has to be modernized, moving from subsistence to commercial farming. There is no need to reinvent the wheel here; it has been done before with positive results. We must bring back the efficacies of the past, such as – minimum guaranteed farm gate prices [which ensures risk stability, provides a hedge and elevates living standards in the rural economy], Commodities boards and exchanges [to ensure the provision of storage facilities and coordination of marketing] Cooperatives (so deeply rooted in Yoruba culture) in tandem. These initiatives will induce employment generating cottage industries amongst other structures. The vital goal will not just be food self-sufficiency in the region, but an initiative to turn Yoruba land into an agro industrial exporting power house.
We must completely repudiate the destructive effects of the Structural Adjustments Program. The specter of the paucity of social and economic capital haunts Yoruba land today and is a break on sustainable development, it must be confronted.
- Kanmi Ademiluyi.writes from Osogbo.