Femi Ajayi's Outlook

We had so many upheavals in the Yoruba Nation regarding the selection of an Oba, deviating from tradition that was laid down by our great grand fathers. In the course of doing that, we ran into multitude of problems. When will it stop?
Friday, June 7, 2002

Dr. Femi Ajayi



y recent trip to Nigeria further exposed me to the indecent way we treat our Traditional Rulers, especially in the heart of Yoruba Nation. My first stop over was in Lagos; a city with waves of crime, using GMS phones to rob arrivals from outside Nigeria, ethnic intolerance, the militia's insurgent, and filthy environment. I believe that Oba Adeyimika Oyekan is still accorded his rightful place as traditional Oba of Lagos, at least for his age.

Kano was my next stop where I thought there would be better peaceful environment. Unfortunately, I ran into some religious riots, and ethnic attacks, unfortunately the airport has no functioning radar, in addition, a place with no respect for authority. Stoning the Nigerian Vice President's car is incongruous. If they respect their traditional ruler they would not think of such an act. The humbled Emir Alhaji Bayero apologized to the Vice President for the act.

My visit took me to Bama through Maiduguri where I served the nation as a member of the Nigeria Youth Service Corps. While in Bama, a brief stop over at Bama, Government Secondary School, Bama, where I thought for a year, reminded me of what President Obasanjo said to us and put it in the visitor's book, about Nigerian women. Our School hosted him for lunch, December 15th, 1977. The Shehu of Bama is still very well respected. That part of the country where only 10% of the Students population passed the West African School Certificate Exam in the 1976/77 academic year. General Obasanjo admonished our Principal, an Indian, who could hardly complete a sentence in English, that: "10% pass in School Certificate Examination is poor. I expect much better performance in the next exam. Let the female students know that in the modern world, we need educated mother to rock the cradle so that we can have a better Nigeria tomorrow. Students and Staff should pull off their codes. Report your performance in the next WASC Exam to me through the Governor". Signed by Obasanjo.

The above statement says much of Obasanjo's soft spot for Nigerian women. The statement advanced my search for Hajia Aisha Ismail, Minister for Women Affairs, the Minister for Women Affairs who was around Mubi at that time. Unfortunately I missed her. She probably took Obasanjo's advise that "…we need educated mother to rock the cradle so that we can have a better Nigeria tomorrow." Honorable Minister once indicted the Northern leaders as "parasites" that leave on government. In her own words: "We have become beggars and parasitic on public expenditure anywhere instead of being the people that somebody worked very hard to make us be."

We drove through Gwoza, where people still part of the ancient period, refreshing my Geographical expedition to Gwoza Mountain in 1978. We drove through rough roads through Biu, Mubi down to Yola where we escaped the military onslaught on innocent civilians. The call from the Royal Fathers felt into deaf ears.

In Zaria, Alhaji Idris was still operating a very tight schedule, meaning that the people still respect his role in the community. Fortunately I met my old friends in Zaria, Alhaji Abdul Fatai, the former Speaker of Kaduna House of Assembly, and his Deputy, Honorable Florence Aya.

Tradition is dying ladies and gentlemen, especially in Yoruba Nation. Nigerian Tradition has been consigned to nothingness in the country where tradition ought to have uplifted the poor image of Nigerians all over the world, and make peace with all the ethnic militias.

Our stop over in Abuja was to see the multi-million new soccer stadium in the midst of the hunger killing some Nigerians in the land of plethora. Whereas people in my town are struggling to get out from their enclave for lack of good road system, no good drinking water, coupled with poor health services, and soccer stadium is Nigeria number one priority. Billions of Naira was sunk in Abuja, with lots of garbage already pilling up on the street in some areas.

I had to go through Lokoja to pay homage to Governor Prince Audu and see his Lokoja's residence, if it is better than the ones he has in the United States and United Kingdom. The Emir of Lokoja is still in charge of the tradition, so to speak.

Finally, I found myself in my State, the Darling of Central Nigeria, Kwara State. With easy access to Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Kolapo Gambari, the visit was brief and I could notice some qualms in the Emir's face regarding the OPC incursion into the tradition of Ilorin wanting to impose an Oba in Ilorin. We all know that Ilorin needs an Oba, in effect; following the tradition would be a better idea. Even some still think that Ilorin is not part of the political north. There is nowhere an Oba would come from nowhere without going through the traditional process of selection and installation.

On my way to see my old friends in the heart of Ilorin, around Alore, Idi-Ape quarters, I ran into a nauseating, appalling clash between Oloye and the 'Road Master' supporters. Regrettably, both of them are from Ilorin. One belongs to Afonja and the other to Fulani; both had lived peacefully together for decades. What an infamy.

I was on the roads that much din has been made about. Before I knew it my dress turned red with the road master's natural paint all over me. I noticed also that the paint on the newly commissioned electricity in Ilorin had started peeling off again with some dead light bulbs. Very soon, the Governor might have to commission another electricity in Ilorin.

Driven around to see what had happened to the rural areas of Kwara State, and disappointingly it is worse than what it is in Ilorin Township. The people look doleful and have given up hope. All the cottage hospitals are filled with goats, sheep and chicken, with a couple of pigs acting as caretakers like in the 'Animal Farm'.

The traditional rulers in all these rural areas were in a fraught situation that made them a laughing stock in their communities. It was a situation they found themselves during the long period of rejection and disrespect by the Military. The Emir of Ilorin is not enjoying what his father did take pleasure in, during his reign as Emir of Ilorin.

My stop over in Okpala to see an old friend, brought me some memorable moments, during Easter, with the masquerades in Owerri, especially how the village Chief was honored. Subsequently from Okpala to Harcourt, Nchia, Bori then to Etinan. In all places visited not much is happening around the palaces, people still give some respect to their tradition so to say.

We decided to go through Ondo State to sign a contract with King Sunny Ade for a show on my wife's 40th birthday celebration. My readers and friends should watch out for their special invitation to this party in Atlanta. It will be done in Owambe style, with all Traditional Rulers in attendance, leaving their domains for a birthday party in Atlanta.

Suddenly, I found myself in the ancient City of Owo, the sleeping ancient city in Ondo State that has been eclipsed with the conflict over Owo stool. The city of the famous Gogo Festival been celebrated since 1369AD, before the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates by Lord Lugard in 1914. As I crept into the palace, I met an eloquent, learned Attorney, Oba Olagbegi. He spoke calmly, eloquently, and intelligently. The brief conversation that I had with him made me to conclude that he is a man of peace. Ondo State Government holds the peace to that ancient town of Owo. It has become a personal affair between the Governor and Owo King Makers.

Unfortunately the town that I knew to be very peaceful had turned into a battle ground within the ruling lineage. What's happening in the God given land of Owo where brothers and sisters, cousins, nieces, uncles see themselves as austere enemies in the name of traditional continuity of the Ancient City.

Tradition is dying ladies and gentlemen, especially in Yoruba Nation. Nigerian Tradition has been consigned to nothingness in the country where tradition ought to have uplifted the poor image of Nigerians all over the world, and make peace with all the ethnic militias.

Since the sortie of the white man into our culture, life in the palaces had undergone dramatic changes. The mansions being built in the early 40s during the economic boom, and the expansion of towns beyond the town walls, often in irregular directions, have caused for ethnic clashes over pieces of land. More important though is the concentration of the wealth in a small sector. As a result of the irregular growth of towns the significance of the palace has dwindled physically and religiously. Churches, Mosques and town halls have been built away from the palace. The palace itself has no major significant in terms of being a museum.

What amazes me is that our youth is loosing touch with the Tradition, with no respect for their elders and for the tradition? Unfortunately the Military incursion into the system worsened the situation with the Traditional Rulers. The military subjected them to oblivion in the community. Politicized the grading and presentation of the Staff of office to the traditional rulers. The government took the traditional rulers as an extension of their employees. They are at the mercy of the government. Even to the selection of the Traditional Ruler, the government is sniffing its nose where they should not. I hope that the tropical red pepper would not obstruct the nerves of the government that does that. Once the King Makers made its selection, it is naturally expected of the government to accept the inclination of the people.

The traditional title is about the only conceit left for us today, especially the so-called elites and Nigerians in Diaspora. We love to go about with our staff of office, the ostrich feathers, red hats, beads, and walking sticks. Yet we do not respect that tradition that we cherish so much. Who is going to bail us out this time around?

Across the Black community all over the world, lack of respect for the tradition and elders might have been responsible for the problems facing us as a race. Aretha Franklin went wild on the subject of RESPECT in one of her songs. King Sunny Ade echoed same thing and stated that lack of respect for our elders is responsible for most of the world problems. It is heightened when we disrespect the people's tradition.

Which Government is going to kill the tradition? Unfortunately the modern day politicians want to play game with the tradition, subjecting Traditional Rulers to the level of getting body waste like that of an house dog. Could that be one of the reasons for Yorubas fragmentation, since we do not belief in tradition, we do not respect Chiefs, Obas, Kings, or ourselves. Are we forgetting what our forefathers, our great grand fathers taught us, that is, to respect ourselves and preserve our tradition? Great Britain, inspite of the incursion of other nationals into the country, it still respects and preserves its tradition, and gives the Queen of England her due respect.

In the Northern part of the country as well as in the South, people still respect and honor their traditional rulers, the Ezes, Chiefs, Obis. The tradition keeps them somehow united especially in the North, more than in the Yoruba Nation.

The Igbo with their Chiefs and Ezes or Obis, do not joke with their tradition. Anywhere there is an Igbo function kola nut is used as a symbol of friendship. They pour libation, which is conducted by the eldest male in the gathering. They make statements in Igbo language, regardless who is present at the function, having excused themselves from those that do not speak Igbo language. They keep their tradition alive and well.

The opposite is what we witness in Yoruba Nation where we seem to be above the tradition of what made up Yoruba. We have slivered our tradition to the point of making ourselves a laughing stock by the whole world. The 'evil genius' himself used the weapon very well during his eight-year dribbling of Nigerians, using the Yorubas. Late Chief Ogunde warned Yoruba of making ourselves a soccer ball for the whole world to kick around. "Yoruba Ronu". Literarily interpreted, 'Yoruba think'.

Could that had come from Aole's cause on the Yoruba. According to His Highness, Oba Folagbade Olateru Olagbegi "we would continue to pray that Aole's course on Yoruba should not happen during our time".

We had so many upheavals in the Yoruba Nation regarding the selection of an Oba, deviating from tradition that was laid down by our great grand fathers. In the course of doing that, we ran into multitude of problems. When will it stop? There is the traditional lineage of succession to the throne, which was established in the earliest days of civilization. Little do people realize that changing the course of tradition could bring some glaring consequences?

I remember growing up in the little town of Obbo-Aiyegunle, Ekiti Local Government, Kwara State. The late Owa Lobbo of Obboland, Oba Fagbemi, the 4th in rank of Ekiti Obas, was considered second to God. I believe that is one of the reasons Yoruba refer to our Obas as 'Igbakeji Orisa', Second to Heavenly God. In African traditional society, religion is a rallying factor, and whoever is the paramount ruler is both a political ruler of his community as well as the chief priest. This practice is particularly noticeable among the Yoruba, where the Oba is referred to as "Igbakeji Orisa" (next in rank to God), and he is also "Olori Awon Aworo" (leader among the priests). This suggests that the Oba is both a political head and a religious leader; therefore in this dual capacity the Oba keeps the community together.

This practice is not peculiar to the Yoruba alone. The rituals performed by the Yoruba and Benin Obas, the Sarakuna of Hausaland, the Okpara, Obi or Eze of the Igbo, the Amakosuowei or Amayanabo of the Ijaw, the Ivie or Ekpko of the Urhobo and Isoko are essential ingredients in the maintenance of political order and stability, and the promotion of the peoples' moral code.

I was exposed to real tradition when my cousin, the current Owa Lobbo of Obboland was going to be installed in the late 1970s. My cousin, a civil servant in Sokoto State, turned down the offer, people thought that I was too young to be considered. Before we knew it he was the choice of the King Makers. The rest contestants threw in the towel and paid homage to him after his coronation. We never thought he would be the choice, because he lost touch with home. He lived and behaved like a Hausa person. Today educated people are beginning to occupy the traditional seats of their forefathers. That is the memory of tradition that the current trend of politicians must respect, without necessarily jeopardizing the selection and installation process in Yoruba Nation.

This brought me to the case of Owo traditional tussle, which should never happen at all. The King makers unanimously picked the people's choice to be the next King in Owo. I believe the bastardization of the tradition came from the Government endorsement with the Staff of office. Nonetheless, once the traditional process has been completed, the government has no choice rather than to respect people's wish. It is wrong for any government not to respect people's choice because the individual chosen does not belong to the political camp of the incumbent government. The traditional rulers should never be dragged into partisan politics. They should be the storehouse of wisdom. It is unwise for any government to declare a traditional stool vacant when or after the Kingmakers had fulfilled their responsibilities of selecting someone to rule his subjects. It makes mockery of the tradition that we are supposed to respect.

Owo situation is a demonstration of what political interference on tradition could do to a peaceful community. Recently (June 2002), Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar had warned the Yoruba not to allow themselves to be deceived by the chieftains of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) who "fraudulently used the name of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo to win peoples votes in Yorubaland." He advised them to "come to the mainstream of the nation's politics" and added that AD has been cajoling people with the name of the late sage "as a strategy to fool them into winning elections." According to him: "If they are indeed Awoists, why is it that they did not complete the Dideolu Specialist Hospital in Ikenne. Why are they not doing what Awolowo could have done to improve the lots of the masses? If Awolowo was still alive, he would have quit the gathering of people engaged in politics of deceits and joined the PDP". I believe the remnants and fake Awo loyalists are using that to fuel Owo crisis.

We need to forget the past and start a new leaf for the sake of our future generation. In the first Republic, Sir Olateru Olagbegi pitched his political tent with Chief Ladoke Akintola who had fallen out of favor with Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his Action Group Party. The action of his Highness, Sir Olagbegi was a dishonor to Chief Awolowo, which caused Olateru's dethronement in 1968.

After 25 years, (1993) Governor Bamidele Olumila disagreed with Chief Adekunle Ajasin, a stunt Awo supporter, Olateru regained his throne. Chief Adekunle Ajasin, from same Owo, became the Ondo State Governor under Unity Party of Nigeria, an offshoot of Action Group. In 1998 the legendary Sir Olateru Olagbegi passed on. Before his death he advised his children to pursue their individual professional careers of their choice.

To sum up Sir Olagbegi was installed in 1941, dethroned in 1968, reinstated in 1993, and passed on in 1998. Thereafter the throne was vacant and Owo Kingmakers unanimously selected Prince David Victor Folagbade Olateru-Olagbegi as a successor to his father. Whatever happened between 1968 and 1993 should be left for the King Makers to ponder with. We should give the Owo King Makers the benefit of doubt in their selection process.

Meanwhile, the three ruling family lineages are the Olagbegi, the Ajike, and the Ogunoye. The problem arose from the use of the designation after their names; the First (I), the Second (II) and so on borrowed from the West. History has it that Owo had Olagbegi I, and II; Ogunoye has I and II, but Ajike had only I. Therefore Ajike felt that its lineage should have the title "the Second".

The unanimous selection of Prince David Victor Folagbade Olateru-Olagbegi by the Kingmakers drew the vitriol of a fellow contestant, Prince Adu Jacob Ajike, who challenged the appointment in court. It was on the basis of this court challenge that the last Military Administrator of Ondo State, Col. Moses Fasanya chose to withhold recognition of the Olowo-elect. Unfortunately, Col. Fasanya did not mention the selection of Olagbegi in his handling over notes to Chief Adefarati. Incidentally, Chief Adefarati belong to Alliance for Democracy, Ajasin (UPN), and Awo's (AG) camp. Apparently, Ajike family took the advantage of Ondo State Government declaring the Owo stool vacant to renew its efforts to challenge the selection. The Kingmakers and the Omo Olowos insisted that Olagbegi was dully elected. That was the situation when Adefarati government came in, after which Ajike withdrew his suit.

Meanwhile Oba Folagbade Olateru-Olagbegi is seeking Court injunction for the government to recognize his selection as the Olowo of Owo.

What the people of Owo needs is for the Governor to respect people's choice of Oba Olagbegi and allow the tradition to reign over politics on the Owo Traditional Stool. We need peace to reign in Owo, which Governor Adefarati is withholding.

His Highness has apologized to the people that he might have offended during the conflict. What else does the Government expect from the peace loving Oba Olagbegi. He pleaded for forgiveness from whomsoever he might have offended in the course of the struggle for the throne of his ancestors. What else do we want from him? Though many lives were lost during this period, that does not meant that His Highness does not sympathize with the families that lost their loved ones. According to him, "to err is human, to forgive is divine." He is not imposing himself on his people from all indications. What prevents the Governor from accepting the will of the people of Owo at least Majority of Owo people?

We need not change the tradition for any political gains. We should not use Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida's yardstick as a barometer in treating our Traditional Rulers. This is not a soccer pole that we have to move from place to place to score a point. The Governor's declaration that "He [Prince Folagbade Olateru Olagbegi] can remain in the palace and call himself the Olowo, but as far as we [not acting alone] know there is no Olowo…except perhaps he decides to do what we ask him to do", speaks well of the desire of the Ondo State government to politicize Owo situation. That is like making a mockery of the Kingmakers that unanimously selected Prince Olagbegi, and making their efforts a fruitless venture. Let us hope that good wisdom will "bring the whole thing to a peaceful settlement." according to Ondo State Governor, who is a Chief also. The Governor should respect the wish of the people and the advice given by those that have intervened in Owo issue.

The Senate, the Highest law making body in Nigeria, after a fact finding mission to Owo situation, through its ad hoc committee on National Security and Intelligence, led by Senator Nuhu Aliyu, advised Governor Adefarati to respect the desire of the people of Owo. In addition the Senate admonished Chief Adefarati to no longer interfere in traditional affairs of the State especially on Owo crisis for peace to reign. The Senate went further to offer the establishment of a reconciliation committee to restore peace. Among other recommendations, the Senate suggested for a Committee of experts to be constituted to estimate losses for the State government to recognize the supremacy of the will of the majority of Owo people over the installation of Olagbegi as Olowo; for injured police to be given adequate medical attention, and for the supply of adequate relief materials to the people. In conclusion the Senate upheld the appointment of Prince Folagbade Olateru Olagbegi as the legitimate Olowo-elect.

The PDP in Ondo State advised Chief Adefarati to "set up a panel of inquiry to probe the Owo debacle with a view to getting to the root of the matter and urged the Governor not to allow the people of Owo to live in perpetual fear".

Yoruba Leaders Forum urged the feuding parties in Owo to sheath their swords in the interest of peace and progress of the Yoruba Nation. The group described the killings in Owo as barbaric and senseless and queried why turning Yoruba land into a battleground. The Yoruba leaders went further and advised the Governor "to reflect on our last, mediate on the current position Yoruba found ourselves and put our heads together on how to forge ahead as a people, it is sad that some of our people cannot read between lines." I belief Yoruba Leaders Forum was referring to Aole's curse and the brutal killing of Chief Bola Ige, the Attorney General of the Federation.

The Council of Senior Omo Olowo cautioned Ondo State Government against interference in the tradition and customs of Owo, which had been with them since the early C18th. It reinstated that Oba Olateru Olagbegi had been on the throne since February 9, 1999, and he's the choice of the Senior Omo Olowos, the Kingmakers, and the entire people of Owo. Declaring his stool vacant and order for his arrest does not augur well for the peace in Owo. The Omo Olowos strongly belief that Oba Victor David Olateru-Olagbegi III is the reigning Olowo of Owo and there is nothing an elected government of limited time could do about that.

President Obasanjo advised Chief Adefarati that he needed a lot of wisdom to resolve the crisis over the Olowo stool in Ondo State. He reminded Governor Adefarati as one of the old generation, a septuagenarian, and politician in the South West, having been part of the old Action Group (AG), as well as Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), and now Alliance for Democracy, AD.

What other appeal or advise does Chief Adefarati needs to allow peace and tradition to take precedence in the selection of an Oba in Ondo State. He should remember that his term as the Governor is limited and the tradition would continue forever. According to tradition, Oba never dies in Yoruba, Oba Waja, he is in the attic, and that is to say that the tradition continues, it never dies. Chief Adefarati should do the right thing and move on.

Chief Adefarati is coming back to the tradition after his temporary stay in the State House. The vacuum created by the past Military Administrator in Ondo State, Colonel Moses Fasanya (rtd), either by design, accident, or otherwise, with no reference to the Olowo's situation in his handling over note, could be corrected and should never be used as an opportunity for a personal vendetta, and give the people their choice. Let us hope that Chief Adefarati's situation would not be like brother tortoise' fruitless journey that was advised to stop and remarked that he would not until he has been disgraced. A new election is around the corner.

Meanwhile, the traditional rulers should be kept out of partisan politics. They are considered and should remain the Fathers of the Nation. They are members of all political parties. In a community where there are factions, as it should be expected, Tradition Rulers partisanship will further divide the village, town, and city, while the national unity and progress Nigerians yearn for will be like building a castle in the sky. Nigeria unity and progress (political, ethnic, economic, social, and religious) should begin in the Nigerian diversified communities under the firm control of the Traditional Rulers as unbiased umpire.

Nigerian would agree with me that Traditional Ruler's role should be limited to customary duties and the Fathers of the nation. Bringing the traditional Rulers into politics would mean reducing them to the ranks of errand boys in the hands of politicians and political actors. Traditional Rulers should be kept out of partisan politics.

In Nigeria, there have been military coups, which brought changes to most facets of the political scene in Nigeria, but the only institution that has sustained the corporate existence in Nigeria has been the traditional Rule. The institution is getting better and more enlightened as prominent politicians, professionals, and military personnel are abandoning their careers to occupy the throne of their ancestors. Prominent Nigerians have abandoned their professional titles in favor of being addressed as Chief Adaramola instead of Dr. Adaramola. Some go to the extent of using the title as their prefix: Otunba Ayeni, Prince Ajayi.

Nonetheless, Traditional Rulers should be enhanced through a system whereby its rulers would serve as constitutional monarchs. They should be brought close and into active association through consultation with the Government on certain sensitive local, State, and National issues and execution of programs.

The council of Traditional Rulers should be taken into confidence on certain issues, especially on security, but only in an advisory capacity. On a final note, the Traditional Rulers should respect the institutions they represent and the positions they occupy, keeping in mind that when the younger ones are cutting trees, the elders always watch where the trees would fall.

I do not subscribe to violence in resolving conflicts. Violence begets another violence. Governor Adefarati should use all the wisdom God gave him to resolve the issue and let people's choice be acceptable to him. Younger generation is looking forward to occupy the Government House very soon to seal the old wounds and move forward.

On a final note if any of the Traditional Rulers know of the '419' perpetrators, they should kick them out. Tradition does not endorse or harbor evildoers in their domain, so that the wrath of gods would not descend on the village, town or city.

Odu'a yi o gbe wa o!

Thank you.