Selecting Emirs And Obas In The North And South Of Nigeria

by Dr. Wunmi Akintide

I am actually doing this piece in continuation of my series on the Deji of Akure. This should have been my Part VI of the series. I see a compelling reason to focus here on what some of you readers might see as a slight digression from the Deji’s ongoing debate, but in my mind, as the author of that debate, I see no digression at all as I will explain momentarily.

The Deji’s selection has more or less hit a brick wall like the Osemawe’s Obaship tussle in Ondo town has also hit a watershed. In the South West in particular, if not the whole of Nigeria, filling vacant positions of Obas and Bales and even Olu Ode, the Head Hunter in some communities in our country, has always generated too much controversy that we all should be concerned about. A case in point is the recent Olowu of Owu controversy in Abeokuta. Before then, there was the Olowo of Owo controversy, and then the Atta of Aiyede controversy which is still ongoing. Even in Lagos, the New York of Nigeria, Oba Rilwan Osuolale Akiolu’s selection as the Oba of Lagos is also being challenged in Court as we speak. Whether or not the plaintiffs will succeed is a different story. What is important for me is that they are in Court, and some individuals or interest groups are wasting their money hiring Senior Advocates of Nigeria to lead their Defense or make their case, instead of investing such millions of Naira to help regenerate our Economy and to keep it going.

It is a sad commentary on our country that we spend far too much money on avoidable litigations. I used to think the Urhobos were the most guilty of that virus. Not any more. The virus has spread all over the country. If you know the number of Governors that are being arrested abroad or questioned for money laundering in the UK or some other European countries, as we speak, you will appreciate the enormity of this observation and how our country is being bled to death on all fronts by pen robbers or by people just misplacing their priorities altogether. One of those wasteful fronts I dare say is over the issue of filling vacant chieftaincy and Obaship positions across our country, and what it takes to do that in man hours and wasteful spending. This problem is probably not as bad in the North of our country, as it is in the South, but the statistics there too are growing daily, thereby compelling me in this piece to explore or to do a comparative analysis of what is going on in this area of concern for readers who care to know.

The problem of filling vacancies is not that bad in the North for many reasons. The first factor is Religion because the Sultan or the Emir or the Shehu or the Etsu, to mention a few, is not jus perceived as Royalty alone, but also as the Ayatollah . If you are born a Prince in the North even to a village head, that accident of birth is widely known to all in the community, far better than it is in the South. As the Princes grow up in the North, they are invariably given some titles that are well recognized in the society. In the South West in the olden days, you don’t include the word “Ade” or crown or the name “Oba” in the name of your child, if you are in no way related or connected to Royalty. Not any more. You don’t name your child Okunade or Sijuade if you are a commoner or an Hausa Kolanut trader who happens to live at Sabongeri at Ile Ife or Sagamu. Yorubas now freely use the name “Ade” regardless of whether or not they have any linkage or affinity with Royalty. In fact there is another virus in vogue today in the South West where parents regardless of their status in life or family history, now give their children Christianity or religious oriented names. As a matter of fact, some whose names have been dictated by the circumstance of their birth, or who have been named after voodoo idols like Ogun, Oya, Esu, Oso, Ifa, are now rushing to change their names back to religious oriented names in a bid to reaffirm their new religious convictions and identity.

The current Governor of Ekiti State had made some news when he suddenly found his former name “Fayose” is no longer kosher. His new name is “Oluwayose”, and is very proud of it. I even know of southerners, Igbos and Yoruba alike, who have adopted some Hausa-sounding or Arabic names to get into the Military Academy or get some political favors in Nigeria That virus has not caught fire in the North because the average Northerners don’t believe in that. In the North, unlike the South, people readily accept who they are. If they are born “Talakawas” or “Almajeris” they accept it, and give honor to whom honor is due. They don’t spend as much time as we do in the South trying to change their identities. That too, I must admit, is changing in the North with Education and Freedom taking hold. As a matter of fact, in many parts of the North, they kind of know ahead of time, who is most likely to succeed a reigning Emir or Shehu or Etsu or Sultan. Northerners don’t waste their time fighting on such things which is good.

Their faith condones the presumption that men are not born equal and that a commoner must defer to Royalty and upper class and honor them. They knew and we all knew, ahead of time, and more than 50 years ago that Sardauna Bello as a prince of the Caliphate was most likely to succeed Sultan Abubakar of Sokoto if he had survived the old man. Sardauna in his own world and mindset values being leader of the North than being President or Prime minister of Nigeria, and he said it loud and clear. By the same token, we knew, ahead of time, that the former Sultan Alhaji Dasuki could be Sultan any day and that the current Sultan Maccido could, one day, also become the Sultan just like my former Permanent Secretary in the Federal, Ministry of Planning, “Tripple A” Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji knew he could one day be named the Sultan if he lives long enough, and if he truly wants the title. Succession to the throne is not that predictable in the South.

People just don’t wake up in the North proclaiming themselves Princes or Princesses like we do in the South. Oluwole Awolowo and myself attended the same alma mater in Ibadan Grammar School while his father was Premier in the old West. Nobody ever knew him to be a Prince, and he never called himself one. But he has today renamed himself as a prince, and all you hear from friends and foes alike is “Ranka Dede” The only man who could possibly have frowned at the idea was his own father, Obafemi Awolowo who did not suffer fools gladly, and could possibly have challenged him. I am not knocking Prince Oluwole for not calling himself a Prince way back in his Secondary School days. He probably did not know, at the time, he was a prince. If he was born a Northerner, he should have known sooner, is all I am saying here. I have gone into this detail just to show how the situation in the North is slightly different from the South where everything goes. If some of us see a window of opportunity to be named an Oba, we grab it, whether or not we truly belong. Many of us believe the end justifies the means. Northerners, as a rule don’t buy into that stereotype, if they can help it.

The way Emirs are selected in the North and the way Obas and village heads are selected in much of the South and especially in Benin and Ibadan in particular are drastically different, and that is the subject I really want to compare and contrast in this article, with the points I have made above only as a back drop, if you are following me. If you have read any of my articles on the DejI of Akure, you will recall I did wonder aloud while some money bags and famous Akure citizens like Olukayode Olugunmoye, an Akure citizen and arguably the richest Sawmiller in Ondo State, and Chief Oluyemi Falae, the former Secretary to the Federal Government and former Presidential Candidate and former Minister of Finance, have not yet thrown their hats to the ring, and to proclaim themselves as members of the so-called Osupa Ruling House in Akure, because there has never been anything like that in Akure history until Governor Olukoya’s Government had decided to break up into two the only Asodeboyede Ruling House we all know in Akure. By doing so, the Olukoya Government had opened the floodgates for newly minted or manufactured Princes in Akure, like late lawyer Bello, the current Deji-elect, Prince Adelabu, of IIeri Oluwa fame, and so many other Johnny Just Come Princes who are growing in number by the hour as we speak, because who is going to tell them they are not princes, if they say they are one.

The king makers in Akure did, at one time, accept a kickback of 500,000 Naira from late Lawyer Bello, at one point in his attempt to make himself a candidate for the throne even though they knew all along that he was not. I will be surprised if Prince Wumi Adegbonmire also a former Secretary to the State Government is not being pressured to enter the race for the Deji’s throne in the newly constituted Osupa Ruling House which has recently named Chief Oluyemi Falae, the current Olu Abo of Ilu Abo as the new Head of the Osupa Ruling House in succession to the late Bale Aladetoyinbo, the Alayere of Ayere in Akure North Local Government. Some of our people have no qualms begging some individuals, whether related or not to Royalty, to come vie for the throne, just to bail them out, or in total desperation to legitimize their claim. If you are doubting what I am saying here, you have to wonder how come the DejI-elect, Prince Adelabu, Ileri Oluwa was able to get this far in the DejI’s stampede, even though the Family is now telling the whole world he does not belong. One of the votes that got him the nomination to the King makers, to begin with, had come from the late Head of the Osupa Family, Pa Aladetoyinbo, who on that occasion, did not even vote for his own son, who was one of the nominated candidates. Money is not just the root of all evils in our society, it is the Alfa and omega. It can turn Day light into total darkness in a heartbeat.

I instinctively knew that something was cooking when in a recent interview carried by Newspapers and on the Internet where Chief Olu Falae had said, he no longer harbors any interest in the Presidency of Nigeria as his main focus is now shifted to serving his people at the local level. He had confessed what could still turn out to be a Freudian slip that he has already shifted his focus to serving at the Local Government level. Is the Chief planning to be a counselor or run as Chairman of Akure Local Government? You are fooling yourself if you believe in that crap. I can tell you that statement was the prelude to his being named as the Head of the Osupa Ruling House, which has now literarily and openly established his claim as an accredited prince in Akure, and his claim to being nominated for the title, if the Family succeeds in his coordinated and refurbished efforts to prove what I have been saying all along that a powerful window of opportunity has been opened by Olukoya Government for any Akure resident to infiltrate the Deji’s title and be crowned a Deji, if they have money and connection in the right places.

I can tell you as an Akure man and patriot that a new chapter has been opened in the DejI’s Obaship tussle with the selection of Chief Oluyemi Falae as Head of the Osupa Ruling House. Why do I say that? I say so because I know Chief Olu Falae and I like and respect him and I know him to be smarter than that He was once my teacher, and later my Permanent Secretary in the Manpower Department of the Federal Civil Service before he became the Managing Director of the Nigerian Merchant Bank, and later the Secretary to the Federal Government and Minister of Finance under Ibrahim Babangida who is on his way to becoming the next President of Nigeria whether the voters like it or not. Chief Falae, by openly admitting, he no longer wished to pursue his ambition to be President or Vice President, is surely up to something, and that something, from all I can see from my vantage point as a concerned prince in Akure, and a former Secretary to the Asodeboyede Ruling House, is the Deji’s title. You can quote me on that, make no mistake about it. Once the dust settle down, the Chief is going to come out of the closet, and make it public. If he could outwit Bola Ige in the quest for his presidency of Nigeria, this should be a cakewalk for him. Now the bombshell. You know many Akure elites including yours truly might be inclined to support him, knowing what I know today, about our traditional monarchy in the South and how it has metamorphosed. In the remaining part of this article.

I, honestly, do not know much and cannot comment at this stage on the Chief’s royal linkage to Deji Osupa t’Ado la a’s family. He may well have gotten that linkage through his father, Chief Falae fondly referred to as “Alekete” of blessed memory, and the pioneer Olu Abo of Ilu Abo, the title Chief Oluyemi Falae currently holds. I am going to research that connection and satisfy my curiosity that his claim is not based on a quick sand. But it is clear to me Chief Oluyemi Falae did not make the connection from his mother side. His mother comes from Igbaraoke. We’ll find out as the Chief’s ultimate goal unfolds. But one thing is crystal clear to me. Apart from the Presidency of Nigeria, I know that nothing else appeals to Chief Oluyemi Falae, at this stage in his life, as much as becoming a traditional ruler of the status and gravitas of the DejI of Akure, if he can make it happen without destroying his credibility.

I know the Chief will give it his best shot as a trained and certified economist and planner and as an administrator of no mean caliber who knows his goal, and how to, often, get it. He is, surely, not a big spender, he is also not a penny pincher like some penny pinchers we know in our town, but he also understands and appreciates the influence of money and politics on everything we do in our country, and he would spend money, if he thinks it is worth the effort but his name is not Ileri Oluwa, but whatever he may lack in liquid cash, he has more than made up for through his name recognition and gravitas in Nigerian Politics. The Chief coming into the picture is going to change a lot of minds, especially those of the elites like me, but it’s not going to be a cakewalk as some might imagine, because the issue has been further complicated and compounded by the intransigence of the King makers, and by the fact that the PDP is now the ruling party in Ondo State.

There is a serious wind of change blowing through our traditional methods of selecting Obas and Emirs in our country. The Institution, as I said before, has become an albatross around the neck of our people and the Government of our country. I can well see a time in the future when the institution becomes a voluntary ceremonial institutions to be left entirely to the community that wants them, and with no Government involvement in it as it is now. At that time, only candidates with enough dough and the wherewithal will be qualified to run and be selected an Oba or an Emir, or Shehu or Etsu and what have you. They are going to be prepared to spend their own money to keep up their prestige in much the same way like the Osemawe Adesanoye, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, Oba Okunade Sijuwade. Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, Oba Dapo Tejuoso, Oba Sonariwo, Oba Olasore and Oba Aromolaran, to mention a few, are doing in their various towns and communities today. That is my prediction, and when that happens there may be a greater move to consider adopting either the current practice in Benin or the current time-honored practice at Ibadan which was initially a War Camp which was also subservient to the Alafin of Oyo in those days. Ibadan used to have only Bales and not Obas as we know them today. But today the Olubadan wants to claim parity, if not superiority with the Alafin, and rightly so, because he rules over a much larger and a more modern City, and is probably more financially buoyant than the current incumbent at Oyo. I think it was Governor Jemibewon that finally decided to authorize a crown for the Olubadan by consensus, because it was becoming an aberration or an embarrassment that the Olubadan could not wear a crown while lesser Obas and village heads elsewhere are allowed to wear the crown. The Ibadans got together and using their clout and political leverage, had found some ways to get the Jemibewon Government to upgrade the Olubadan to a first class Oba by decree and that is the way it is today, and nobody is complaining.

But the most appealing thing to me about Ibadan, is their rotational system in picking who will become the next Olubadan. It is a man made initiative which has stood the test of time, and has proved to be very effective and dynamic, given the realities of today in our country. And because it is working so well, it is the kind of model the rest of our country could learn something from and copy, if it will end the logjam on chieftaincy disputes throughout the length and breadth of our country.

Don’t tell me such a move may undermine our different cultures because culture like religion and Politics is local as eloquently argued by Remi Oyeyemi in his piece on Religion and Pythagoras. It usually starts locally as a group or individual idea or philosophy, then becomes ethnically and tribally accepted before the dynamics of human society kicks in to extend its horizon. The Ibadan model of selecting an Oba is worthy of emulation by the rest of the country, especially now that we know the position of traditional rulers is unsustainable given our priorities in a democratic Government.

Having as many Obas and Emirs as we have today is indefensible unless the Institution becomes as I am suggesting here, a purely ceremonial affair left to the whim and caprices of the communities wanting to have them. If you don’t have education, money and connection today, becoming an Oba is a total waste of your time. We see that, all over our country including the North. His Royal Highness Olowo Folagbade Olateru-Olagbegi is a Graduate in Law and very well to do. Ado Bayero, the great Emir of Kano a former Ambassador of our country. The Late Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Ndayako was a Federal Permanent Secretary. So is the Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Erudiawa, So is the Osemawe of Ondo. So is the Asagba of Asaba, Professor Edozien. So is the Alake of Abeokuta, the Awujale of Ijebu Ode, The Akarigbo of Ijebu Remo, the Owa Obokun of Ijesha, the Laloko of Iloko, the Osile of Oke Ona, Oba Dapo Tejuosho, the Ewi of Ado Ekiti, The Ajero of Ijero, the Elekole of Ikole, and the current Alara of Ilara Mokin and the current Olujare of Ijare, and so many others that time will not permit me to mention. That has been the trend in our country, if you are paying attention like I do.

In fact I can tell you a new formula is emerging in some of our neighborhoods and communities around our country that many of us are not aware of. There is a town formerly called Egosi in Ekiti State made up of two communities of Eseta and Egosi. The people of the two contingent communities just got together and decided to change their name to Ilupeju, and they decided to change the name of their Oba to Apeju of Ilupeju. But that is not all. They decided to select their Oba in rotation from the two communities. The present Apeju is from the section formerly called Egosi and his second-in-command is from Eseta. Next time the Oba would come from Eseta, while the second-in-command will be picked from Egosi. The situation in Aiyetoro, Ilaje Ese Odo is even more profound and significant. The People just got together to start their own religious community situated on Ilaje Waterside, and founded on some communist dogma with one of them named as Oba, Ogeloyinbo the First. I was a guest of the Ogeloyinbo the Second and his community in my capacity as the pioneer Director of Rural Development in Ondo State, and I came to know them and their system, in ways that very few people can really get to talk about. The Ogeloyinbo that hosted me and my wife, on that trip, was a graduate, a qualified Engineer from Europe. I am telling this story to tell you how things can change if we want them changed. Why? Because we as human beings created in God’s message are very creative by nature, and we don’t have to put ourselves in a box.

Now to the situation in Benin which is very similar to the practice in Britain where a crown prince is born and not selected. If you are the first son of an Oba of Benin, you automatically become the heir to the throne. No questions asked. It is not like the situation in much of the South West where you can be king only if you have what it takes to be king in our community. If the situation is as fluid as it is in the South West today, I think we might as well start thinking of better alternatives to picking who will become an Oba in our various towns and villages. That is why the comparison with the selection process in the North, and at Ibadan and in Benin and even in Ilupeju and Aiyetoro have become relevant and worthy of emulation where we can.

I am sure, very sure, that the rank and file of Akure people at home abroad may, for the same reason, have some mixed feelings on the situation that is unfolding in Akure as we speak. Just as you might, one day, see Olusegun Obasanjo making a case to be crowned the Olowu of Owu, after his national assignment, you might well see Chief Oluyemi Falae wanting to dump his title as the Olu Abo of Ilu Abo, a hamlet in Akure North Local Government, and seriously having his eyes fixed on being named the Deji of Akure in his twilight years. Such a move will be considered a huge quantum leap for the Olu Abo who appreciates that if you cannot be a mountain by becoming President, you can at least be a molten hill if you make history by becoming the first Olu Abo to ever accomplish such a feat in Akure history. And he will be the second Deji to ever come from Ilado to ascend the Deji’s throne. Kabiyesi Afunbiowo was the first to do that, and he had the distinction of having the hamlet named “Arodoye” to remind him and the people it was the place from where he waited while waiting for his turn to ascend throne. Knowing Olu Falae as I do, I know he will like that for sure, as a man of destiny and as a man who never fail to see the import of History in the affairs of men. Surely if Olasore can do it, as the Kabiyesi Aloko of Iloko in Ijesha Local Government, so can Chief Falae as he turns 70 in a few years. Getting the title would surely be seen by Falae as the icing on the cake to an epoch-making career.and life. I am sure that Chief Oluyemi would clearly remember the long time prediction of late Pa Olaofe Kumuyi of Ijero-Ekiti more than 25 years ago. This could be it, Chief. You never know. The Chief will remember what I am talking about, if he ever sees this article, but many of you reading this, may wonder what I am talking about here. You have a right to wonder, and I have a right not to say more.

Don’t be surprised if Chief Falae becomes another Dick Cheney for a George Bush. In the Deji’s title search. Dick Cheney had started out as the point man for George Bush in looking for who is best to serve as Vice President, but he had ended up filling the vacant slot himself. I won’t be surprised if Chief Falae does the same thing for the Osupa Family in the fullness of time, because the odds are all in his favor as the amorphous or disorganized Osupa family, now on life support, needs a candidate, prince or no prince, as visible and as well connected as Chief Falae to lead the effort to reestablish the Family’s claim to the throne, in much the same way like Osemawe Aroworayi Osungbedenola’s family had rallied round Oba Festus Adesanoye to fight and win their battle for them, 13 years ago.

In the normal scheme of things, if all things are normal, I figure it out that Dr. Adebimpe Ige Ogunleye-Aladejana, the Bajimo of Akure Omowas, the man who had fought the most, to have the Ruling House created, to begin with, should have been the obvious choice to succeed late Pa Aladetoyinbo. If wishes were horses every one will ride. Life is everything but fair That Chief Falae has gotten the nod speaks volumes on what is going on right now in the Deji’s Chieftaincy stalemate at Akure. The realignment of forces tell me something profound and powerful. Is happening. Stay tuned.

I rest my case.

Dr. Wunmi Akintide

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DELE October 23, 2008 - 3:49 pm

I commend your effort i will share this with my kids—-dele atlanta ga

Anonymous December 6, 2005 - 6:46 pm

Dr w.akintide,

Your effort in shedding light on the issue of obas and obaship as an institution of governance through the system of palace admnistration, is commendable. i believe the above article has been submitted as a draft and posted for general review and comments from your readers.please, note that the palace admnistrative system of governance particularly in yoruba land and kingdominion, predate the british and islamic colonial admnistration in nigeria; so, this is an area i believe nigerian scholars can reseach and write for academic consumption. you have said in above article that ibadan rotational system of selection of olubadan is worth emulating yet you did not discuss the rotational selection for your readers to see if it is worthy of the salt. your commentaries presented in this article in regard to the institutions of obas, sarkins and the islamic emirs open up further debates on the importance of these institutions. greetings!

kola ajayi-esho.


Anonymous November 1, 2005 - 6:41 pm

Lacking in originalityforesight and honesty. The is a crazed idea an assault to Yoruba authenticiy. Shame on you revisinists


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