Ibadan obaship confusion: Saying it as it is, by Abimbola Lagunju

The political underpinnings and the inevitable consequences of the introduction of a new chapter in Ibadan traditional system through the installation of some 22 kings by Governor Ajimobi have been generating a wide range of emotions from outright incredulity and anger at the audacity of the action by many to chest-pumping, victory songs and satisfaction of the proponents. The governor and his aides, as well as Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes (CCII) have tried unsuccessfully to explain the rationale for this unprecedented-in-the-history of Ibadanland action. 22 kings at one blow! It looks like material for Guinness Book of Records. The rationale appears to be as difficult to explain as it is difficult to understand. There are many guesses and rumours about the political motive, they may or may not be true, but these guesses and rumours have some factual foundation. Nobody can however articulate the medium and long-term consequences.

Many are mad at Governor Ajimobi for throwing the spanners into the works of an otherwise well-structured and peaceful Olubadan ascension system. They ask, “What was the problem that necessitated the reform?” “Who complained about it?”, “Who asked for reform?” Governor Ajimobi and his aides may have answers to these questions, but they have not shared it with the public. One major reason that they have shared is that they will like to see the Olubadan surrounded by crowned kings when the aged monarch goes out on the occasional meeting with fellow Obas like Ooni, Awujale and the rest. The faults in this reasoning are multiple. Firstly, the political, social and economic importance of a city is not measured by the retinue of lesser kings that follows a paramount king to a meeting. Ibadan is such a city that does not need such glorification for its institutions. Ibadan is Ibadan, not Ijebu, not Ife, not Abeokuta; Olubadan is Olubadan, a tiger does not need to announce its tigritude, Wole Soyinka says. Secondly, each patch of Yorubaland has its publicly accepted traditions and to base decisions on others’ tradition to change Ibadan’s enviable system is tantamount to a disregard for its founding principles and an attempt to dim its prestige. Thirdly, what added value does Ibadan get from the Olubadan being accompanied by a retinue of kings to the occasional outing? Reason says this flaunted excuse is not sufficient to justify an action of this magnitude.

Some claim that the gerontocracy inherent in the Olubadan ascendancy system is a concern that warrants a reform. They will like to see a young, i-pad wielding, smart and articulate Ibadan son ascend the throne. They conveniently forget that if perchance this should happen, those in line of succession will be very old men when the king departs to join his ancestors. The question of what added value does a young king bring to Ibadan people then arises. The ascendancy system has an in-built natural, democratic, albeit morbid mechanism of change of batons between individuals in line to the throne. This system suits the temperament of Ibadan people.

In order to understand how Ibadan arrived at this quagmire, there is a need to look at the profile of some of the actors involved. What do they have in common and what divides them? Firstly, all the High Chiefs in ascendancy to the throne line as well as the Governor are all from Ibadan, and given the way all founding Ibadan families know and are linked to each other, we can assume that the Chiefs and the Governor have known each other from childhood days. Secondly, Governor Ajimobi is also a High Chief like any of the High Chiefs. He may not be in line to the throne, but he is the Aare of Ibadan. Thirdly, some of the High Chiefs and the Governor are politicians. So what brought division between them? Partisan politics! Democracy divided them! Partisan politics of democracy! And they were warned about politics!

Daily Champion of 24th July 2007 under the headline “Nigeria: Adedibu, Ladoja, Others Banned From Politics” reported that “The Olubadan-designate of Ibadanland, Oba Samuel Odulana Odugade 1 has barred 13 traditional high chiefs constituting the Olubadan-in-council from partisan politics while tasking them to choose between their traditional offices or partisan politics.” If the members of the Olubadan-in-council had heeded this warning, removed themselves from politics and assumed the role of non-partisan elders in a democracy-induced divided populace, maybe Ibadanland would have been spared this potentially flammable face-off.

Governor Ajimobi is right to have used his political office and authority to his advantage in a political turf war. Any other person would have done the same or maybe worse. Ibadan High Chiefs prepared the ground for this by ignoring the charge of the late Oba Samuel Odulana Odugade 1. The Yorubas say, “oro agba ti o ba se ni owuro, a se ni ojo ale” (the prophesy of elders will come to pass sooner or later).

Ibadan is in a situation of absence of peace. This situation will remain so, not because of Governor Ajimobi, but for as long as Olubadan as well as the High Chiefs of Ibadanland who are supposed to be unbiased fathers of all involve themselves in divisive partisan politics. Democracy is about division along party lines where the winner takes all. Our fathers should not be part of anything that divides their people.

And while at copying others, Ibadan, and by extension Oyo State will do itself a lot of good by banning Obas and High Chiefs from partisan politics just like Ghana has done. Oyo State may still earn its epithet of Pace Setter…..!


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