Obaship in Ibadanland Three-a-Kobo?

Image: Babyspagetti1 via Wikimedia

“Listen! We have done this and we have done it! That’s it! Nothing is going to happen! All that you are seeing right now…all those people shouting all over social media and the radio are just wasting their time! We have done it! You all can sit here drinking all night and pontificating about this! Your complaints will not go past this place! The governor has done what he said he would do! And 13 Ladojas or 13 Olubadans cannot reverse this!”

That was a member of Governor Isiaka Ajimobi’s cabinet getting all worked up during a spirited conversation that a handful of us had on Friday 1st 2017 at a clubhouse in Ibadan.

He was not done: “Look! Siddon there! We are now in Damage Control mode! We anticipated this hoopla! Before embarking on this, we considered the second, third and fourth order effects. We knew people like you would try to make us look bad. But how long do agitations last in Nigeria? In a couple of weeks, every hungry person will go back to looking for food and the Olubadan will be by himself.”

If you are angry at Governor Abiola Ajimobi because of the dramatic and far-reaching “reform” he carried out on the Olubadan obaship ascension system and the elevation of some Baales to Obas in some Ibadan outlying villages and towms , you need to look beyond the governor for places to hang your blame. I, too, was blaming him and only him in the most vitriolic way until I started digging for contexts and reasons beyond what was readily available to those of us on the streets and compounds of Ibadan.

Contrary to what Chief Yemi Soladoye, President-General of the Central Council of Ibadan Indegenes (CCII) reportedly said (he has since denied that he said “90%”), Ajimobi did not have the support of “90% of Ibadan indegenes” for his action. But he had the overwhelming support of Ibadan elites who belong to influential Ibadan socio-cultural groups such as the CCII, Ibadan Progressive Union (IPU) and Ibadan Elders Forum (IEF). The latter is of particular importance and relevance on this matter because, if majority of its members had opposed the elevation of the Baales of Ijaye, Iroko, Ikereku, Olodo, Egbeda, Ido, Akufo, Okelade-Okin, Awotan, Ofa, Aba-Nla and Akanran, Ajimobi would have had significant problems going ahead with the exercise. Members of the IEF would have been able to directly influence the leadership of the CCII, IPU and other groups to frustrate Ajimobi if he wanted to defy them and go ahead anyway.

Those who have vehemently opposed Ajimobi on this issue are the over 300 Mogajis in Ibadanland. The Mogajis are the family heads who eventually, by automatic and successive promotion, become members of the Olubadan-in-Council and who eventually become Olubadan if they live long enough. They are the ones closest to the grassroots. They usually reside in their domains or visit there regularly to conduct customary and family issues. They are usually appointed Mogajis based on age and availability to serve. But recently, many families, including mine, are beginning to consider education, wealth and gravitas in selecting their Mogajis. The Mogajis met with Olubadan Adetunji last week and issued a solidarity statement in which they excoriated the CCII for constituting itself into an organization speaking for the generality of Ibadan people.

The idea of elevating the aforementioned Baales predates the current governor and Olubadan. The original proponents had cited the lean beaded crowns in the Olubadan entourage whenever he was on a function that other Obas like the Awujale, Ooni and Oba of Lagos attended. Those Obas often came with other “lesser” beaded crown Obas who, by traditional and official protocol, were accorded more respect than these Baales even though they ruled over similar or even smaller communities. These “lesser” Obas arrived with police orderlies, staff of office, drummers and other appurtenances of obaship and these Baales had to rise to their feet and remain standing until Kabiyesi was seated. Whether they were elevated to Obas or not, these Baales would never have been eligible for the Olubadan throne at all. So, elevating them to obas seemed a reasonable idea to most people, except perhaps the Olubadan who, if small-minded, would be concerned about losing the homage (no more prostration from these new Obas as an Oba does not prostrate for another Oba) rendered by these former Baales. But he would gain more status as his retinue would consist of beaded crown Obas.

What did not seem (and still does not seem) reasonable to me is the elevation of 11 High Chiefs of Ibadan who are members of the Olubadan-in-Council to beaded crown/coronet-wearing Obas. The Olubadan-in-Council is the age-long traditional and official supreme advisory body to the Olubadan. Its members are also directly in succession queue for the Olubadan throne. If you didn’t know, there are two tracks to the Olubadan throne – the Egbe Agba (Civil) or the Balogun (Military) tracks. Each track in the Olubadan-in-Council consists of six positions, prime on each track being the Otun Olubadan (Civil) and Balogun respectively. The Otun Olubadan is followed in rank by the Osi Olubadan, Ashipa Olubadan, Ekerin Olubadan and Ekarun Olubadan while the Balogun is followed by Otun Balogun, Osi Balogun, Ashipa Balogun, Ekerin Balogun and Ekarun Balogun.

The beauty of this system is that it is interchangeably rotational. On the demise of an Olubadan who was appointed from one track, the next track produces the next Olubadan who, unless he rejects the appointment, must be the highest-ranking person – the Otun Olubadan or Balogun. There are no ifs and buts about it. There would be no squabbles about it. No consulting of the Ifa oracle. No lobbying of the governor or Commissioner for Local Government and Chiftaincy Affairs. No paying of bribes to kingmakers. None of that nonsense. If the current Olubadan, Oba Saliu Adetunji, who is 87 or 88 years old now were to die today (may he live long and in good health), having risen through the Balogun track, the next Olubadan would be Chief Lekan Balogun – the current Otun Olubadan. Oba Adetunji knows that. Chief Lekan Balogun knows that. Oba Adetunji’s sons know that we don’t have princes in Ibadan who will immediately succeed their father. All of us from Ibadan know that.

What then is the wisdom in elevating Chief Lekan Balogun and the 10 other High Chiefs to Obas right now? The Justice Boade Commission of Enquiry which Ajimobi set up argued that since the Baales which were traditionally inferior/subordinate to the current High Chiefs were now going to be upgraded to Obas and would carry the title of “His Royal Highness”, the High Chiefs too should be upgraded to Obas and they should carry the superior title of “His Royal Majesty” that reflects their seniority. The Olubadan would now carry the title of “His Imperial Majesty”. It is such nonsensical dissipation of energy and the muddling up of a hitherto peaceful system that has caused consternation in Ibadanland.

What was Ajimobi trying to achieve with this? Why this and why now? Could this have been engineered, in part, by those High Chiefs who couldn’t wait for their natural turn to become the Olubadan because of the high “attrition” rate amongst members of the Olubadan-in-Council? By design, most of them are well into their 60s and 70s before becoming members of the Olubadan-in-Council. So, if an Olubadan reigns for anything around 10 years like the immediate past one, Oba Samuel Odugade, who reigned from 2007-2016, some in the Olubadan-in-Council would never become Oba. A case in point is that of High Chief Dr. Olufemi Olaifa who was the Otun Balogun until he died 72 hours before the mass elevation that Ajimobi conducted, paving the way for High Chief Dr. Lekan Balogun to be the potential next Olubadan. But if our Olubadans reign like Olubadan Akere (1946), Olubadan Oyetunde (1946) and Olubadan Ali-Iwo (1952) who each reigned for less than one year, most in the Olubadan-in-Council can morbidly expect to become Olubadan. To placate these High Chiefs and help them achieve their life-long ambition of becoming an Oba, Ajimobi included them in the coronation jamboree.

I found some evidence of the acquiescence of some of the High Chiefs, if not outright connivance with Ajimobi, during the Sallah break. A few of them were spotted going in and out of Ajimobi’s residence and in good spirit. None has come out to make statement of opposing the move. In fact, one or two of them have come out in public to support the move. Only Ladoja and the Olubadan, along with most Mogajis have publicly opposed the change.

Some have also suggested that since the ascension to the throne of the Ooni of Ife and the Oniwo of Iwo – two young, handsome and virile Obas – Ibadan elites wanted to change the Olubadan ascension system to reflect the trend of younger people having better opportunities to get to the throne. Ibadan too would then be able to boast of a “modern”, educated Oba who will connect the Ibadan to the New Age and bring development to the city. This is such a warped reasoning. Apart from the little he has been able to bring to Ife from his own personal purse, the current Ooni has not done anything for the people of Ife. The current Oluwo has not done anything for Iwo other than abusing and cursing Chief Abiola Ogundokun and dancing “naked” in the streets. I do not know what youthful Oba Adeyemi of Oyo and Oba Sikiru Adetona brought to Oyo and Ijebu-Ode respectively when they ascended the thrones in their 30s that they could not have done much better in their 60s and 70s. And both Obas are educated with Adetona having lived in the UK before coming home to ascend the throne.

Some of the issues against the Olubadan are that he is not educated; he is daft; unable to articulate himself well even in Yoruba. His traducers cite an outing at which he was required to give a speech, but because he could not speak in English and could really not put his thoughts together intelligibly, another Oba from Osun state spoke on his behalf. Some have even gone as far as saying he is “stupid”. Yes, I actually heard the word “ode” (stupid) uttered by one of those who had influence over the fate of the Oba. He said he and his group wouldn’t have been able to execute this proliferation of crowns in the Olubadan-in-Council were Oba Odulana still on the throne. Also, Oba Adetunji is reported to have suffered a stroke in the past and thus has limited ambulatory capacity. And one High Chief told me that the Olubadan got on the wrong side of Ajimobi when he pitched himself against the governor in partisan politics. Even if this is true, why make such a fundamental change because of one man? Why cut off the nose to spite the face?

The Mogajis and others that I spoke to dismiss these issues as elitist propaganda being spewed by members of the CCII and the High Chiefs who are beneficiaries of the new upgrade. They accuse members of these prominent groups of having fallen prey to Ajimobi’s grand design to make his in-law an Oba. High Chief Abiodun Kola-Daisi (the father of his daughter’s husband) is the current Ekerin Olubadan. They accuse Ajimobi of injecting politics into the obaship by cleverly advancing High Chief Rashidi Ladoja, the current Osi Olubadan, to the position of Oba, knowing full well that he would then be barred from participating in politics. (Ladoja, we all know, still greedily and foolishly wants to contest the governorship in 2019.) And they ask the same question that Ladoja has asked: What sort of Oba would the High Chiefs be if they have no real palace and no subjects over whom they would reign?

For me, as a Shon-of-the-Shoil, I find it curious that Ajimobi had the “wisdom”, the political bravery and the political capital to “solve” the “problem” of Olubadan ascension while Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) has remained shut down for years and its students roaming the streets…without any solution in sight. A friend’s son who is a medical student at that institution is still there, 10 years after admission, when he has never failed a course. I find it curious that more than six years into his administration, he has not found the political courage to hold Local Government elections in the state. I go to the state-owned Adeoyo Hospital and it is an eyesore. I was hoping that with his exposure, he would have partnered with Oyo State indegenes who are practicing medicine abroad and set up a specialist hospital somewhere in the state, or assist local ones to turn one hospital into a specialized medical center. Oyo State could use a hospital specialized in cancer treatment or obstetrics. I am a farmer, but I have not heard what my governor has articulated as the state’s plan to improve farming. Like many governors before him, he has had no idea how to bring potable water into our homes. Everybody must now have a well or borehole. Water Corporation remains moribund.

And I find it curious that the CCII, the IPU, the IEF and such other groups never mounted this kind of public pressure on Ajimobi and governors before him. These are the issues that directly affect the ordinary people of Oyo State. The Olubadan will be fine, no matter what. Ajimobi will be fine. And most of the elites in those socio-cultural groups will be fine.

True, I live in the Oluyole/Apata area of Ibadan and I can tell you that we now have wider and more aesthetically appealing roads which help ease peak-time traffic; what about other parts of the state? There is still no good road linking Oke-Ogun, the food basket of Oyo State, with Ibadan, the capital. That Oke-Ogun bridge remains a death trap and an embarrassment to all decent human beings. Yes, Ajimobi has reportedly paid salaries up to July (this is September) and there is no more National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) thuggery in Ibadan. He has tried, albeit marginally, to improve the state’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and he curbed the excesses of the YES-O staff. But there should be no kudos to him for any of that. He is the elected governor and chief security officer of the state. It is his statutory responsibility to improve infrastructure, pay salaries on time and enforce security in the state.

I find it nauseating to hear some his aides and supporters in the CCII and the beneficiary High Chiefs boasting that they have, through Ajimobi, succeeded in changing the system, and regardless of the uproar it may be generating among the Mogajis and the ordinary people, they, the elites, are going to prevail. They have strategically embarked on a surreptitious damage control plan which includes buying off as many Mogajis as possible so that the Olubadan and Ladoja would be isolated.

And I ask: What did Ajimobi stand to gain in stirring this hornets’ nest? 2019 baby. Ajimobi can count on the support of the newly elevated Obas for whoever he (Ajimobi) puts forward as his successor for governor in 2019. In fact, he would also be able to influence elections into the Senate, House of Representatives and the State House of Assembly as the new Obas would now owe him. The question is: where in the southwest do people vote based on what a monarch says?


Image: Babyspagetti1 via Wikimedia

Written by
Abiodun Ladepo
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