AnalysesArmed Violence

Heightened Security, Panic In Southwestern Nigeria Following Yoruba Nation Coup Attempt

This is not the first time such an attack has been recorded. On the eve of the swearing-in of Nigeria’s newly elected leaders in May 2023, some Yoruba Nation agitators hijacked the airwaves of Amuludun FM 99.1 in Ibadan for more than an hour.

After seeing the viral video of some individuals who attempted to take over the government secretariat and House of Assembly in Oyo state on Saturday, April 13, Adebayo Semiu*, a Nigerian based in the United States, quickly reached out to his wives and children in Ibadan to be sure they were safe. 

Semiu, who left Nigeria in 2017, said he was scared when he heard about the gun battles between security forces and adherents of the Yoruba Nation dressed in military camouflage. His wife’s shop is located around Agodi, where the incident occurred.

“I had to quickly call my wife to be sure she was safe with the children. I told them to close immediately and return home. Since then, only my wife has been going to shop because she’s old enough to take all necessary measures in case of any unfortunate incident.” 

Many other people living in the southwestern Nigerian state and those who have families in the area are also worried that the attack may not be a one-off.

Yetunde Fasasi, a fresh graduate, told HumAngle her mother, who lives in Lagos, has warned her against night walks since the day of the incident and urged her to be very careful each time she visits the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) secretariat for community development service or monthly clearance. 

“My mum was scared by the actions of the agitators. It was more or less an attempt to overthrow the government when we weren’t in the military era. If they can make an attempt towards the secretariat, they can attack the police station.”

Yoruba nation agitation 

The Yoruba are one of Nigeria’s three major ethnic groups, and they are predominant in the South West region, which includes Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun Ondo, Osun, and Oyo states. 

For years now, agitators for a so-called Yoruba Nation have been calling for a break-up from Nigeria and demanding that a separate country called ‘Oduduwa Republic’ or ‘Democratic Republic of the Yoruba’  should be carved out.

The agitations gained public attention following insecurity in many parts of Southern Nigeria, eventually leading to the ban on open cattle grazing. Aside from strengthening the debates around ‘true federalism’ and restructuring, the incidents of herder violence also led to the creation of a regional security network called Amotekun Corps.

In a bid to achieve the break-up, a Yoruba Nation agitator, Sunday Igboho Adeyemo, illegally evicted Fulani people from Oyo villages and also threatened to disrupt the 2023 general elections in the South West. 

Though authorities frowned at his action and maintained that citizens had the right to reside wherever they chose, many argued at the time that he was filling a vacuum the government failed to fix. When agents of Nigeria’s secret police raided Adeyemo’s home in July 2021, he escaped to the neighbouring Benin Republic. 

On the eve of the swearing-in of Nigeria’s newly elected leaders in May 2023, some Yoruba Nation agitators hijacked the airwaves of Amuludun FM 99.1 in Ibadan for more than an hour before security agents arrested them. 

The Yoruba Nation is fractured like many separatist groups. There is a faction led by Dupe Onitiri-Abiola, a widow of the late M.K.O. Abiola (renowned politician and businessman), who made the declaration for a new country called “Democratic Republic of Yoruba (DRY)” in a viral video on Friday, April 12. According to her, DRY has been a sovereign nation since 2022.

Screenshot of video by Onitiri-Abiola while declaring the independence of Yoruba Nation on April 12.

Hours after she made the declaration, gunmen who were said to be Yoruba Nation soldiers invaded the Oyo State government secretariat in Ibadan in military camouflage, attempting to take over the facility. They removed the Nigerian national flag from the secretariat and replaced it with their “Oodua nation flag”. They were, however, overpowered and arrested by soldiers and police officers.

On Monday, April 15, the police paraded 21 suspects in connection with Saturday’s invasion. They were paraded alongside seized guns, ammunition, plaques with the Yoruba nation insignia, cutlasses, walkie-talkies, and other communication gadgets. They are expected to be charged with treasonable felony and terrorism. 

HumAngle learnt that the incident panicked residents and road users along Bodija, Ikolaba, and Awolowo as business owners quickly locked their shops. In fact, those who were about to open for the day’s business turned back. 

“I was on my way to visit my grandmother at the University College Hospital (UCH) when I observed masked men and women at different locations within the area. After a while, we heard gunshots, which made me change my route after I left the hospital,” narrated Titilayo Akinyemi who resides in the Adegbayi area of Ibadan.

“Many people were scared and shops were closed quickly.  I was thrown into a dilemma, just like many people who did not expect the gunshots. We saw police and soldiers’ vehicles also running to the scene. I feel they were prompt enough. If not, the situation would have been sad.”

Uniform of Yoruba Nation soldiers. Photo: Twitter/@OyoPoliceNG. 

‘We’re not involved’ 

Reacting to the attack, Adeyemo and Banji Akintoye, a professor of history and prominent Yoruba Nation activist, denied involvement in the invasion of the Oyo secretariat.

“I know nothing about it, and I don’t know those behind it. If we want to organise a rally or any Yoruba Nation activity, we usually make an announcement beforehand. Any person that said he is agitating for Yoruba Nation and is going to attack government facilities, that person or group is on his own. I don’t know anything about it,” Adeyemo said in a statement shared by his media aide, Olayemi Koiki. 

Akintoye, a former leader of Ilana Omo Oodua, said people loyal to the struggle do not “act in that manner”. 

He had similarly condemned the attack on the radio station last year, describing their campaign as peaceful and law-abiding.

“The attention of the Yoruba Self Determination Movement has been drawn to the activities of a group led by a woman that has claimed to be running a totally different agenda for Yoruba emancipation and that has been engaging again and again in criminal activity. The group has been warned repeatedly, but has refused to change,” he had observed after the previous incident.

Afenifere, a pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, also condemned last weekend’s invasion and said those behind the incident did not act in the interest of the Yoruba whom they claimed to be representing. Afenifere spokesperson Jare Ajayi stated on Sunday that the Yoruba people are an important component of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and there cannot be a sovereign republic within an extant sovereign republic.

“How can a person or group of persons think that invading a State House of Assembly is tantamount to the creation of a Federal Republic? Genuine Yorubas normally think things through before they take actions, especially a fundamental action such as forming or declaring a nation. Yorubas don’t act that way,” he said.

“Rather, they apply wisdom and intellectualism in major steps they want to take. They apply tact. They demonstrate finesse and shun violence as much as possible. Examples of this attitude abound – going by their reactions to some major issues that occurred in the country in recent times.”

An ex-military governor in South West, Bode George, blamed the attack on a lack of adequate policing and intelligence gathering to enhance Nigeria’s security.

George, who spoke during an interview with Arise News on Monday, said Nigeria needs to urgently establish state police to enable information gathering at the grassroots level. He added that agitations for the Yoruba Nation happen as a result of government failures. “You just don’t go, arrange for people to take arms against your government. It is treason.”

Group of men seated on the ground with soldiers standing, surrounded by clothes, shoes, and numerous red ammunition cartridges.
Some of the arrested separatists who invaded Oyo State House of Assembly. Photo: Nigerian Army 

Security tightened across region

HumAngle learnt that law enforcement agencies in the South West states have tightened security around government secretariats across the region to ensure there’s no further breakdown of law and order.

Governor Ademola Adeleke of Osun State has directed reinforcement of security around government structures and the headquarters of the state broadcasting corporation to frustrate any plan by suspected Yoruba Nation activists to disrupt public peace. 

In Ekiti, residents told HumAngle there has been an increase in the presence of security personnel at key government offices. Security vans were also observed patrolling major streets within Ado Ekiti metropolis, with personnel from the Police, Nigerian Army, and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps. 

Also, the spokesperson for the Ondo State Police Command, Funmilayo Odunlami, told our reporter they are even more focused on protecting lives and properties “in case of any security breach”.

On his part, Ogun State Commissioner of Police, Abiodun Alamutu, warned Yoruba Nation agitators against obstructing “the reign of peace”. He added that all police divisions in the state have been told to be ready to combat all forms of violence.

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Adejumo Kabir

Kabir works at HumAngle as the Editor of Southern Operations. He is interested in community development reporting, human rights, social justice, and press freedom. He was a finalist in the student category of the African Fact-checking Award in 2018, a 2019 recipient of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, and a 2020 recipient of the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award. He was also nominated in the journalism category of The Future Awards Africa in 2020. He has been selected for various fellowships, including the 2020 Civic Media Lab Criminal Justice Reporting Fellowship and 2022 International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) 'In The Name of Religion' Fellowship.

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