The sack of the resources of the House of Oodua, or South-West, was accomplished by two sets of buccaneers, non-indigene military governors, who were first appointed by General Murtala Muhammed in 1975, and indigenous civilian governors, especially in the current Fourth Republic.
They battered its resources so much that one could say that the glory days of the South-West are way back in antiquity, even though it still remains the safest and most economically viable region in Nigeria. This saving grace is only due to the ability of the early leaders of the South-West to take advantage of its proximity to the blue economy of Lagos State.
Before General Muhammed, civilian premiers and military governors of the Western Region were Yoruba: civilians Obafemi Awolowo, Ladoke Akintola and military officers Lt. Col Adekunle Fajuyi, Col (later Major General) Adeyinka Adebayo, Brig Oluwole Rotimi and Brig Mobolaji Johnson (of Lagos State), who nursed its resources with care.
Non-indigene military governors and the rapacious, generally incompetent, indigenous governors pillaged or simply mismanaged South-West resources. They allowed some of the companies to go moribund; ran some aground; sold some and stripped the assets of others.
Some Commissioners of Agriculture reportedly turned the farm settlements, built by the governments of Awolowo and Akintola, into rendezvous for cavorting with their friends and wayward female university students.
After the Mid-Western Region, now known as Delta and Edo states, was excised in 1963, what remained of Western Region is today’s Ekiti, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo states and the Badagry, Epe, Ikeja and Ikorodu Divisions of Lagos State.
The first damage that the non-indigene military governors did against the South-West was to develop its economy along state lines so that each economy was in some kind of silo, separate and “alienated” from its coterminous neighbours.
Some argue that these military governors couldn’t have done anything differently because of the exigencies of fashioning out identities for the new states that were being carved out of Western Region. Luckily, Lagos State, under Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, recently joined the Oodua Investment group as a full-fledged member.
This paves the way for a reintegration of the economy of the South-West, which is already being organically achieved by the intensity with which the blue economy of Lagos State is expanding into Ogun State.
By planning together as one economic bloc, southwestern states can develop their territory by taking advantage of the economies of large-scale production. It can only be to the advantage of the people. Other regions of Nigeria should adopt the same template for development.
It was a matter of ecstatic joy when it was recently announced that the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria is advocating for an integrated railway system throughout the South-West. Maybe happy days will soon be here again.
Recall that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), recently assented to an Act of the National Assembly to transfer railways from the Federal Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List.
From the days of General Muhammed, hitherto well-kept secrets of the assets of the South-West were revealed to non-indigenous governors, who took advantage of the insider information to literally convert assets of the states to themselves and some indigenous cronies.
Some reportedly stole furniture, crockery, cutlery and bedsheets from Government Houses after their tour of service. It was once rumoured that General Olusegun Obasanjo turned one of such governors, who looted Ogun State House, back from the old Lagos Tollgate.
If a certain Yoruba phrase is translated into English, it will mean that those non-indigene governors are strippers of the homes of others to cover the openings of their own homes. “O ja’le onile bo tie lehin,” is another way of describing a thief in Yoruba language.
In recent times, the leasehold for a Lagos real estate granted by the colonial masters to NCOS discharged from the Second World War was renewed by a former non-indigenous governor of Lagos State because the beneficiaries were from his own neck of the woods of Nigeria.
The Federal Military Government did its own share of the stripping of the assets of the South-West. It appropriated the building that housed the Agent-General of Western Nigeria for use as Nigeria’s High Commission in London, England.
The government, under General Yakubu Gowon, used the principle of eminent domain to take over the property for a federal purpose. Yet, there are no reports that the buildings that housed the Agents-General of other regions of Nigeria were appropriated by the Federal Military Government.
It appears that while looking for an excuse to take over the well-endowed University of Ife, said to have the second biggest university campus in the world, the government of General Muhammed took over other state-owned universities, like the University of Benin, the University of Nigeria, Bayero University Kano and Ahmadu Bello University.
With the loss of the University of Ife to the Federal Government, the South-West lost its ability to steer scholarship in its region. Today’s ill-funded Lilliput state universities in the South-West cannot deliver what the University of Ife was designed to achieve.
The same fate befell Western Nigeria Television Service, the first television station in Africa, that was joined with Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation Television Service and other regional television stations, to form the .
The rapacious Federal Government went further. It took over and reduced the capability of the , Nigeria’s most successful media empire, with more than 10 titles, as well as other business interests.
To justify its acquisition of , General Mohammed’s government also took over the New Nigerian newspaper owned by the northern region. The acquisition of a bureaucratic regional government newspaper is not the same as taking over a commercial business interest.
General Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba, who succeeded General Mohammed, is fingered as the architect of government takeover of Daily Times. When you observe the care taken to nurture two newspapers currently owned by northern Nigerian interests, you will understand the voice that South-West Nigeria lost in the forced acquisition of .
Regrettably, newspaper, established by Western Nigeria Premier Akintola, was allowed to go to waste under the tenure of governors who couldn’t be bothered about the need to push the narrative of South-West Nigeria within the Nigerian space.
When you consider that Time, America’s highly successful international newsmagazine, was established the same decade as the , you will understand the extent of the loss of South-West Nigeria. Interestingly, s doesn’t appear to be pushing either the narrative of Nigeria or even that of the cultural and political interest of its new owners. That is, however, debatable.
If you witnessed how the British Broadcasting Corporation promoted the culture of Great Britain with the way it covered the burial of Queen Elizabeth II and the coronation of her successor, King Charles III, you will understand why the media must be intentional in their narratives.
This need for every country to tell its own narrative may not agree with the opinion of novelist Chimamanda Adichie against telling a single story. In the murky waters of international politics, nations have to tell their own story to their own people and to the outside world. But in all, this is no time for the South-West to get weepy, but to urgently regroup.