Dare Babarinsa is a big name in Journalism. He is a historian, columnist and author. Dare Babarinsa was one of the founders of Tell Magazine where he served as Executive Director for 15 years until his retirement in 2005. He was the Editor-in-Chief/MD of The Westerner news magazine until March 1, 2011. He is now the Chairman and Chief Executive of his own outfit called Gaskia Media Ltd. Lagos.
He also delved into Politics when he ran for the governorship of Ekiti State on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD). Babarinsa is a force to reckon with in the media space. He has shaped many of the government decisions through his timely columns and articles on different media platforms.
A lover of history, Dare Babarinsa was recently a guest on the popular City People Instagram Live Chat where he made some eye-opening revelations about the Yoruba nation and the way to build a better Nigeria.
Read excerpts from the engaging discussion below.
How do you see the nation today sir?
Well the nation is divided as we speak. The political divide is there, while the young people are now asking for a new Nigeria. But on their own, things are becoming steady but I think they are not yet very steady at the moment.
How did you take the last 60 years of Nigeria’s independence?
(Laughs…) there is a lot to celebrate, we survived the Civil War. We have a democratic experiment but we also have an army of the largest unemployed people all over the world. So that’s something to make us sober.
How did you see the whole thing in terms of progress and all of that, do you think it’s worth celebrating?
At least we have learnt some things unlike in the past when the government believes that it can take control of everything. The era of government omniscient is past where the government is in total control of the economy, the economy can no longer be driven by only the government. So that is one sobering fact. None the less, there is no denying the fact that we have done so less than our potential could deliver for us.
Talking about the Nigerian state, a lot of the various ethnic groups have been calling for a difference in the way the country is being run. The Yorubas have also become very agitated in terms of what they want from the government. How do you see the move and the place of the Yorubas in all of these?
We all know that the Yoruba people constitute one of the legs of the tripod of the Nigerian federation. Ordinarily, they need not complain because they are one of the major beneficiaries of the Nigerian system. But there is a lot wrong with the Nigerian system and that is what is gingering a lot of people to complain. Luckily, most of what the Yoruba are complaining about are things that they can handle on their own without any federal government interference. If they can put their house together, they should go ahead and actualize what they are demanding from the government.
What they are demanding if I get them right is Restructuring The Federating units of the country. I don’t know whether you agree with their view?
There are two views. Some people believe that Nigeria is ok as it is with 36 states. I am one of those who believe that 36 states is too many and for the Yoruba people, we don’t need more than one region. Now, who is stopping the Yoruba people from merging their states? Who is stopping Lagos from merging with Ogun? Or who is stopping Oyo from merging with Osun? If they want a merger, let them take the steps of carrying it out. I am not a lawyer but I don’t think the Constitution of Nigeria forbids states from merging. And the way the oil price is crashing, some states will soon become insolvent. So there is no way the whole thing can survive as it is and there is no way things can keep going on in this present condition. People are not satisfied but if you are not satisfied, take steps for yourself and don’t blame others for what you should do for yourself.
But merging the southwestern states might not be as easy as you put it…
Why should great and important things be easy? Why? They should start. In the 20th century, we have seen new states, new countries rising up. So what is so difficult in that? We need statesmanship on the part of our leaders so that they take steps about what people are asking for. When people are talking about restructuring, they want people in Abuja to come and do for them, what they should do themselves. It might not be easy and it cannot be easy because it is a historical move. It is like the move to gain independence for Nigeria, that was not an easy move. The move to take Nigeria from the military rule was not an easy move, so those who want restructuring should take steps and not just clamour for it. Take practical steps to actualize it and establish it. It is not a call for the dissolution of Nigeria, it is not an anti-Nigeria movement but when some parts of Nigeria are strong then the whole of Nigeria will be stronger.
What is your own template for how the Yorubas can realize their own Yoruba Nation?
The Yoruba nation is already there, the only thing is that it is just divided. For example, when you talk about the Arab nation, it has about 16 countries. So the Yoruba nation is already there, though it is divided. The political leadership is divided and it is a self-indulgent leadership; if they are serious and want a Yoruba region, then go ahead and create regional institutions, create regional road making institutions, create regional employment opportunities for your region, create regional opportunities for the farmers, create regional road networks from Lagos to Akure that will connect all the capital states. Create things that will make people feel that this is a different region and that the people are the same. But to continue to lament and do nothing about it is a disservice to yourself. I believe those who are serious should take action and stop lamentation.
If you are asked to talk about the biggest challenge the country is faced with, what would you say it is?
Well, I think it has to do with the leadership of the country. Many of our leaders don’t want to do anything new, they just want to follow the old pattern. Everybody is complaining about the huge salaries the lawmakers are earning but nobody wants to do anything about it. They just want to leave it as it is. It appears as if the leadership is intimidated, they don’t want to take initiative and they are afraid of losing the next election.
Secondly, in this explosion of young people in their 20s, 30s and even 40s that we are having who are badly educated or possibly mis-educated and therefore parading ignorance. We are in a country where young people are not educated about what they should do and they don’t acquire the correct skills. And when young people cannot acquire the correct skills needed, such a country cannot move forward or be sustained. You have the third crisis which is the crisis of unemployment. In a country of 200 million people, the largest market in the world, that country is importing food when there are that can grow food in Nigeria and the land is good for farming. Every single automobile item from tyre to thyroid and every other part is imported when it can be done with simple technology in this country. We have left things that could create employment for our people. Almost 80 percent of Nigerians now wear imported rags from Asia and Europe, they call it second hand clothes including bra and pants. So you cannot clothe yourself, feed yourself and many other things that you are supposed to do for yourself, you can’t; yet you are complaining of unemployment. Then who is to be blamed? We have ourselves to blame and no one else. Luckily, there is nobody to rescue us so we are in it all by ourselves. I could see some young people demonstrating in London and New York calling for the intervention of other countries, that is not going to happen because Nigeria is too important for other countries to come and interfere. They know that we should be able to take care of ourselves. If we are complaining, what should a tiny country like the Gambia do?
For someone like you, a well-known writer, historian and media practitioner, you’ve been talking about a lot of issues concerning Nigeria for years but we’ve not seen an improvement or a solution to some of the challenges. How does it feel when the issues you have written about in the 80s and 90s are still prevalent now?
Not really… Although it could be depressing at times but it is interesting to know that the young people in their hundreds and thousands in some places are now agitating and speaking up. If only they can read up more about the country for more knowledge so that their intervention can be more meaningful. In all the countries where they are making progress, young people are reading. In our country, young people don’t read. If you enter any bus, you will find young people with their phones trading rumors. If you look at other countries that made tremendous progress in the 20th century like South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, you will find out that young people are engrossed in the pursuit of knowledge and that is the problem of Nigeria right now. It is a greater problem to this country in the future that our young people are presently not pursuing knowledge. The country is at greater risk from the epidemic of ignorance than that of COVID-19.
Did you ever see this coming? The pervasive ignorance, lack of reading, love for social media and all that…
I’m not a prophet, I’m not too sure I could have seen anything like that but generally, let me say that because the country has not been led by those who have the passion to control the inertia of the populace. People naturally don’t like to change so you need a leader who will push the populace. Let me site an example of what I mean by the reluctance of the leaders to push the people out of ignorance. During the second republic, Nigerians fell in love with rice and more and more people consuming rice and the president at that time, Alhaji Shehu Shagari instead of force us to grow more rice set up a presidential task force on the importation of rice and appointed a very powerful minister, Alhaji Umar Dikko to head it. So our leaders love to indulge instead of doing the right things. Did you know that we were making our own cars in this country in the 80s? and during the second republic it was almost a law that all Nigerian Governors and ministers must ride a made-in-Nigeria car but suddenly, starting with the president, they started indulging themselves because the president said he cannot ride in a Peugeot car, they started riding Mercedez Benz. We have been indulging ourselves since then and this indulgence has been made possible because we have been collecting rents from the oil companies. If the rents had not been there, maybe we would have been more frugal with our attitudes with public life and our public spending would have been different. During the second republic, each minister had two official cars, I don’t know if we have a minister today that has less than 10 official cars. When our ministers had two official cars, the country was far richer than and was making those cars herself. Today, we are importing all of those 10 cars in the minister’s convoy. You could see how twisted we have become.
I have noticed over a period of time sir that you seem to love history. Is it important for journalists or media practitioners to embrace history and how is that going to affect their practice of the job?
I love to write, especially since I became a magazine journalist when we started Newswatch in 1985. You have to background your story and I love to do historical backgrounding. Also, I love to read biographies and historical works and this has impacted a lot on my writings. Not that I am a history student. I read Mass Communication at the University of Lagos, that’s basically my training but I love to read history, especially the history of Africans and more especially, the history of Yoruba people. If I see any history book on any Yoruba community, I love to read it.
What is the problem the Yoruba people are faced with in terms of development?
Shita Tony Noro said and I quote: “the Yorubas in politics, as well as other religions, prefer to worship many gods.” If I can slightly delve into history, the Yoruba people have been divided since the Yoruba civil war of the 19 century. It started around 1820 and was not concluded until 1886, one of the longest civil wars in history, Prof. Ade Ajayi called it revolutionary years because that led to a lot of things like the development of Ibadan, Oyo, Abeokuta, Lagos Island, etc. were all part of the outcome of that war. But the fact is because that war was not concluded with a proper conference but by an intervention of the British colonial government, the Yoruba people have since then lacked the ability to sit down and solve their own problem. After the war, the major crisis that occurred was that of the Action Group in 1961 and you can see that the Yoruba people basically messed it up because there was no institution to intervene and find a way to solve the problem. The crisis was resolved by the federal government through the intervention of the NPC, a political party dominated by the Fulani and its Hausa subjects. The narrative is not different today, we still have not been able to create an institution for proper leadership recruitment and proper conflict resolution, we have not been able to do so. And if you see what has happened since 1999 during this era of the civilian government, you will not be too impressed.
How did you also see what happened a few years ago when history was taken out of our school curriculum, do you think it affected us negatively?
Even if history was taken away, should that stop us from reading our own history? Yea, it was a bad thing that history was taken away from our school curriculum but more importantly, it is the inability of those in political power to understand the critical nature of the press in building cultural resilience especially in Yorubaland. You cannot neglect the media, which is a critical aspect of the national power and think it will go well for the people. In spite of removing history from the education curriculum, the media could have waved in but the media has been further weakened by the hostility of the political class.
What do you have to say about our already weakened institution and nation-building like education, police and others?
When we had three regions, we had stronger institutions. You claimed that the federal government will create a tarred road between Shagamu and Ikorodu but the federal government is so far away. So we need to create regional institutions, we need to take steps. The era of lamenting is past but you now see that Nigerians like to blame others, if we don’t take steps to strengthen the institutions, they will become weaker and Nigerians will become poorer.
What’s your message to the Yoruba people in terms of how to move forward on their agitations?
We should stop lamenting and take action. We want a Yoruba region, create institutions that will unite us for example, we can have a regional institution on farming that will be regulated, make people go back to the farm and enrich the region. Look at the issue of timber trade, our timber is the best in the world and yet we are importing furniture from China that is not a timber planting nation; can you imagine how ridiculous that is? We are the ones weakening ourselves and if we want to be strong, we have to look inwards.