As the world awaits the emergence of a new Ooni, BISI OLADELE examines the traditional, political and spiritual processes involved in the selection of a new king for the cradle of the Yoruba.
When the late Ooniof Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, joined his ancestors on July 28, this year, not a few people worried less about the pains which his demise brought to his immediate family but focused more on how the town would find a good or even better successor.
Clearly, the worry is not limited to observers and indigenes because kingmakers, it is believed, will be under intense pressure to throw up an acceptable candidate for the revered stool.
Aside the town being the cradle of the Yoruba race and the throne highly revered from the time immemorial, the late Oba Adesoji Aderemi brought more honour to the throne through his pedigree while his reign lasted. Oba Aderemi, who reigned from 1930 to 1980, was at a time the Governor of Western Nigeria. He worked closely with the then colonial government as well as the administration of Chiefs Obafemi Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola whose administrations succeeded that of the colonial masters after independence in 1960.
Aside being elite, his position as Governor and participation in the government of Western Nigerian Government afforded Oba Aderemi the opportunity to relate with the British Government directly. He was really distinguished and influential. Hence, Oba Aderemi was highly honoured within and outside Ile-Ife.
Largely, Aderemi can be described as the architect of the immense modern honour accorded the Ooni’s throne.
So, when Oba Sijuwade was chosen to succeed him in 1980, indigenes and most observers heaved a sigh of relief, believing that he was capable of sustaining the honour and even lift it higher within and outside Nigeria.
Oba Sijuwade did not disappoint many. In addition to sustaining the honour of the stool, the late king brought immense social and political glamour and influence to the stool of the Ooni. Being a socialite prince and businessman, who was well connected to top government functionaries in both civilian and military regimes, Oba Sijuwade succeeded in maintaining the honour of the stool throughout his 35 years reign.
He also brought some reforms to the town, including promotion of first-class chiefs to obas and modernisation of many traditional rites and festivals which had hitherto tainted Ile-Ife as a town of endless traditional sacrifices.
Now that Sijuwade has passed on, what processes are involved in the selection and enthronement of a new Ooni?
A new Ooni is usually selected from among the four ruling houses in Ife. Rotation among the four ruling houses came to stay since about 120 years ago after, at least, 46 Oonis had reigned.
The four ruling houses are Ogboru, Giesi, Lafogido and Osinkola. Rotation took firm roots since 1894 when Oba Adelekan (Olubuse 1) mounted the throne. Oba Adelekan hailed from Ogboru Ruling House.
He was succeeded by Oba Ademiluyi (Ajagun) who hailed from Lafogido. Then, Aderemi succeeded the Ajagun. Aderemi hailed from the Osinkola family.
Rotation as the first factor guiding selection of a new Ooni was re-emphasised in the 1977 and 1980 government gazettes.
According to the gazettes, the four ruling houses are arranged in the following order: Osinkola (then ruling), Ogboru, Giesi and Lafogido. Clearly, the arrangement took cognisance of the then incumbent Ooni, Oba Aderemi, who hailed from Osinkola House.
The gazette, however, stated that in the event of the death of an incumbent, the next houses on the line should produce the next Oonibut that the second next can produce the king if the candidate of the immediate next ruling house is not acceptable.
The 1976 gazette stated: “That the normal successor to this chieftaincy through the male line of the ruling house can devolve on the female line only if none of the candidates presented through the male line of the ruling house concerned is suitable and if the candidate presented through the female line possesses the necessary qualification and is acceptable to the kingmakers, otherwise selection is made from the family of the next ruling house.”
Going by the gazette, Giesi is expected to produce Oba Sijuwade’s successor, failure of which to produce a suitable candidate will allow Lafogido to do so.
The ruling houses will screen aspirants within each house. An expression of interest form has since been designed by the Giesi family for aspirants.
The houses will screen all aspirants to authenticate their origin and that of their wives after which those who scaled through would be presented to the kingmakers.
The kingmakers’ stage
There are two key kingmakers in Ile-Ife. They are the Obalufe, who is the head of the right inner chiefs (Otun Ife) and Lowa, who is the head of the left inner chiefs (Osi Ife). The Otun chiefs are the heads of each of the six original quarters that combined to make Ile-Ife. They are the Obalufe, Obajio, Obaloran, Obalaaye, Akogun and Waasin. Lately, two others appear in the group – Jagunosin and Ejesi.
Osi Ife includes Lowa, Jaaran, Aguro, Arode, Isanire, Laadin and Lowa Ate. Erebese has since joined them.
Though Obalufe and Lowa are the major kingmakers, they choose in consultation with other chiefs in the two groups.
The kingmakers will re-screen the aspirants before presenting them to the Ifa diviners to determine the most suitable candidate for the throne. The kingmakers have the role of announcing the preferred aspirant who immediately becomes the candidate.
Government approval stage
The candidate will be presented to the Osun State Government for approval. If there are important reasons why the candidate should not be coronated, the state government would hold meetings with the kingmakers and find a way out. Otherwise, factors such as strong court cases filed by those who feel cheated among aspirants or ruling houses as well as mass protests against the candidate may hinder government’s approval.
Modern political influence
At both the kingmakers’ and government’s approval stages, it is believed that political influence of aspirants will play a major role. The position of Ooni is huge, even in wielding political influence in the entire state and Nigeria.
Therefore, it is believed that the government may not sit down and watch any aspirant that can upset the political system enthroned as the new king. But it is not clear if the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) at both the state and federal levels will wield its influence to determine who mounts the throne next.
Though many observers opined that only political and monetary influence will determine who wears the crown next, a source close to the kingmakers insisted that Ifa divination will be the strongest factor to throw up the new Ooni.
Pre-coronation traditional rites
First in the set of rites is to install him as Sooko, if he is not one yet. A Sooko is a distinguished prince or princess. Distinguished men and women in the four ruling houses are installed as Sookos.
After being made Sooko, traditional rites would be performed for the new Ooni-to-be in 201 shrines, according to sources within the traditional chiefs group. But it is not clear if the full rites will be performed for the new Ooni-to-be in the face of modernity.
His first port of call is the Iledi. The Iledi Ooni is made up of traditional Ogbonis who are in regular consultation with the Ooni. They regularly reveal the mind of the gods to the king on issues in the town. They are full traditionalists and the Ooni is regarded as their head.
They used to function as the Supreme Court before modernity brought judicial institutions as an element of democracy.
The candidate gets initiated into the Iledi within one week after which he moves to the shrines of gods and deities.
The period of pre-coronation rites will see the candidate introduced to at least, all the major gods and deities, including the Oodua and Obatala. The rites are performed at their shrines. He would be taught the dos and don’ts of the Ooni and would be made to take oaths that he would be loyal to the cause of Ile-Ife in all circumstances. He would pledge not to betray the people and customs of the town and seek its progress and well-being at all times.
One of the reasons, according to a reliable source, is to enable him to understand the importance of each festival and deity because he will become the head of all the deities the moment he is crowned the Ooni. The knowledge will also help him to resist pressure of issuing draconian rules against worshippers of the gods or customs known with them.
The period of completing the traditional rites is referred to as Ilofi. It lasts for about three months.
After the candidate has received blessings in all the major shrines, he would take a journey to Oke-Ora; a small remote community along Ife-Ilesa Road, where the Onpetu Ido will crown him. The Onpetu was the only king that surrendered his crown to Oduduwa and his warriors on conquering Ile-Ife and its environs at inception.
Then, the public coronation ceremony will hold on the day chosen by the kingmakers, most possibly at Enuwa Square opposite the palace. He receives the staff of office during the ceremony.
Thereafter, he will be entitled to wear the Are, a unique crown said to be only available in Ile-Ife. It was learnt that Oduduwa sometimes wore Are apart from beaded crown during his reign. But the Are is worn only occasionally. It symbolises the Oduduwa authority and is believed to carry some spiritual powers. It is believed across Ife that anyone that the Ooni curses with the Are is doomed.
The Ooni wears Are only once in a year. He wears it during the OlojoFestival, the most popular festival in the town.
*Culled from The Nation