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A Picking of Old Bones

 

The handsome young Ooni visits the Alaafin of Oyo. He also visits the Awujale of Ijebu Ode. Cheers ring out all over Yorubaland even to distant shores. They are after all the Royal sons of Oduduwa, that great ancestor of all Yorubas living today, so why the  surprised/relieved jubilation?

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The beginning- A very good place to start

The events of the last 250 years in Yoruba history  left a trail of bitterness, regret, poverty, submission, surrender, treachery, upheaval , horror, supremacy battles and intrigue as the Yoruba battled to survive   Jihadism, Slave trade , Gunpowder, Evangelism, Colonisation, incomplete decolonisation aka “independence”, military dictatorship , and a parody of democracy.

 

 

 

The relentless traumatic episodes caused a global Yoruba loss of self esteem and this was felt most keenly by the Royal fathers of the land who found themselves forced to  scramble for relevance with not only each other but also their subjects, as the British Empire and its administrators decided to elevate whomever it felt was of value to its mission, and humiliate those that weren’t. Kings across the land now owned by the Royal Niger Company Territory as it was called before it was renamed Nigeria were being stripped, exiled, forced to prostrate to British administrators, demoted, looted and left to fend for themselves in a system they no longer recognised.

 

The effect of all of above was a fragmented and exhausted Yoruba unity.When “independence” presented some narrow opportunities for Royal fathers to regain lost glory as it seemed a new political order was taking shape, they can be forgiven for climbing over each other in a battle for supremacy.   The cracks in the wall let in a few horrible lizards…..

 

Yoruba subjects took sides with monarchs according to their lineage, finances or conscience. Obas took to newspaper pages to deride one another, Royal spats became public gossip and Royal paths were very diligently not crossed.

Enter the young king, Ojaja II, Ooni Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi. In 73 years an Ooni hadn’t visited Oyo. Within months of ascending the throne, he has broken down all barriers between Oyo and Ile Ife Royal houses. The Ooni Olubuse’s differences with the Awujale Oba Sikiru Adetona sold many newspaper issues, and raised book publishers profits. Until yesterday . Humility and youthful courage has rekindled a relationship between the Ijebu royal house and the Ile Ife Royal house.

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Yorubas are hoping a renewed focus on unity will bring about a boost to the synergy required to move South West Nigeria forward into the 21st century. We don’t have one more second to waste. Yoruba unity and progress should no longer be routinely sacrificed at the altar of Nigerian politics because of Royal “sibling rivalry” and supremacy battles.

 

For those interested, below are some of the Awujale’s grouses with the Ooni Sijuade who joined his ancestors before Ooni Ogunwusi took the crown.

 

 

 

Why Ooni Betrayed MKO Abiola……

The Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade’s role in the aftermath of the annulment of the 1993 presidential election is widely thought to have been less than noble. In Awujale, the recently released autobiography of Oba Sikiru Adetona, the Awujale of Ijebuland, Sijuade’s connivance with those who annulled the election is brought into sharp focus

His position as the most revered traditional ruler in Yorubaland has not innoculated Oba Okunade Sijuade Olubuse 11, the Ooni of Ife, from public scorn. Since 1993, much of the mystique around him has been eroded, largely through the carnage sparked by the controversial annulment of the 1993 presidential election, aka June 12. Oba Sijuade came out of the annulment saga with grave reputational injuries from which he is yet to, and may not, recover, given the decision of Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, the Awujale of Ijebuland, to re-invite public attention to Sijuwade’s role in one of the most grotesque episodes in Yoruba and Nigerian history.

The medium chosen by Oba Adetona is Awujale, his recently released autobiography, in which the 11th chapter is dedicated to the annulment and the struggle for the de-annulment of the election won by the late Chief M.K.O Abiola.

In Awujale, Adetona presents what can hardly be described as a worm’s eye view. And in the book, the Ooni does not come out smelling like roses. As one of the most prominent Yoruba traditional rulers, Adetona was regularly invited to meetings with General Ibrahim Babangida, the military president that annulled the election and installed an Interim National Government, ING, headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan.

As the widespread anger provoked by the annulment and Babangida’s ING contraption raged, the former military president hoped to limit the damage to his reputation and that of his government, appealing to leaders from all the country’s geo-political zones, especially the South-West, which felt wounded because of Abiola.

For one of those meetings in Abuja, writes Adetona in Awujale, he arrived on a Thursday. The meeting was to hold the next day. While in his hotel room on the day of arrival, Adetona called the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, to say that there was a need for a meeting of Yoruba traditional rulers, where they could arrive at a common position to be presented at the next day’s meeting with Babangida. Adeyemi agreed. Adetona then suggested that there was also a need to inform the Ooni and asked Adeyemi to accompany him to Sijuwade’s room.

Adeyemi, however, was not keen because of the rivalry, over superiority, between him and the Ooni. Eventually, he gave in. The late Oba Adeyinka Oyekan, Oba of Lagos, was also informed. He agreed that a meeting was required, but refused to accompany them to the Ooni’s suite. However, he said he would support whatever position the meeting adopted.

In the Ooni’s suite, Adetona and Adeyemi met the Ife monarch dining with Alhaji Ado Bayero, Emir of Kano. Another Yoruba monarch, Oba Frederick Aroloye, the Owa of Idanre, writes Adetona, sat in a corner. When the two dining monarchs finished their meals, they went into the Ooni’s room for a discussion, after which the Ooni came out to meet Adetona and Adeyemi.

“When we told the Ooni the purpose of our meeting, he said he had met the Northern Emirs. Their position was the same as ours. We asked how and he said that they wanted a fresh meeting to be called of the Council of State along with us. The Council of State, as enshrined in the constitution, has powers to advise the President,” Adetona writes.

But what the Northern traditional rulers wanted was not exactly what the Yoruba monarchs wanted.

“Our mandate from the Yorubas was that the election had been concluded and our son was clearly the winner. So, all we wanted was that they should just simply release the results,” the author explains.

Adetona then insisted that if a Council of State meeting was to be called, it should be for the purpose of ensuring that the election was de-annulled and the wish of the people respected. The Ooni agreed. But the Alaafin, writes Adetona, said there was no need for another meeting because the key members of the Council had already expressed their opposition to the annulment.

When Adetona and the Alaafin left the Ooni, they went to discuss seating arrangements for the next day’s meeting with the other Yoruba traditional rulers. Apparently suspicious that the Ooni could switch positions, the monarchs agreed that they would sit in a way that would ensure that the Ife monarch was hemmed between two of them “so as to forestall any wavering of position.”

The planned sitting arrangement was foiled. As the traditional rulers walked into the venue of the meeting, they found seats that bore each attendee’s name. Babangida came in, explained the position of the government and sought reactions from his audience. The first came from Ibrahim Dasuki, then Sultan of Sokoto, who said very little apart from accusing the government of using traditional rulers to quell crises brought upon the nation by the government itself.

He suggested that Babangida should invite members of the Council of State to join the traditional rulers in the discussion of the annulment. The Ooni was the next to speak and presented the position of the Yoruba obas: declaration of Abiola as the winner.

It was something the meeting had not expected. “You could have heard a pin drop,” writes Adetona. Next was Bayero, who expressed no opposition to what the Ooni said, but called for a fresh Council of State meeting. After him spoke the Oba of Benin, who condemned the annulment and rejected calls for a Council of State meeting.

The natural rulers continued turning the heat on Babangida. According to Adetona, Gbong Gwon Jos, the late Chief Fom Bot, told the meeting that he could not return to his domain if Babangida did not to de-annul the election, as his subjects had demanded, and asked the former president to find accommodation for him in Abuja. A traditional ruler from the South-East, Adetona writes, was more dramatic, telling Babangida to quit as president. “Please go. Please go,” he shouted.

Then Babangida cut in, explaining that the decision to annul or de-annul was not solely his, but that of the military heirachy. He kept on calling on others to speak, but the obas observed that he was calling only people who sat to his right. The obas sat to his left. This drew a protest from the Alaafin, who Babangida was forced to ask to speak.

The Oyo monarch insisted that another Council of State meeting was needless because the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, a member, was out of the country, while some other key members had expressed their disapproval of the annulment in the media. Other traditional rulers told Babangida that he should save the country from a huge crisis by respecting the wishes of Nigerians.

Then, Babangida attempted one more throw of the dice. In a somewhat emotional tone, he told the meeting how close he and Abiola were. His government, he added, had paid Abiola hefty debts owed him by previous regimes. The sum, Babangida said, was about $600million. The scent of money scrambled a particular royal head–the Ooni’s.

“When he heard this piece of information, the Ooni became angry and said something to the effect that if Babangida paid him (Ooni) that much, he would be living on the Island of Capri in Italy,” Adetona writes.

Sijuade then got up to go to the toilet. Adetona followed, spewing criticisms at his fellow oba for going against what the Yoruba traditional rulers had agreed on. After the meeting, watched by Uche Chukwumerije, Information Secretary in the Interim National Government, the Ooni told journalists that he was in support of Babangida’s position that a fresh election should be held and that the obas should return to their domains and tell their people to prepare for the election.

Adetona thought he had not heard Ooni right. “To assure myself that what I heard was true, I invited one of the reporters, who was there when the Ooni was speaking to my room. This was a reporter from The Nigerian Tribune. Fortunately, the Alaafin was with me when the reporter played the tape for us. We were stunned,” the Awujale writes.

From his hotel room, the Ooni called Adetona on the intercom and announced gleefully that he had told the world (through the media) of the Yoruba position. Adetona replied that he was not sure that Sijuwade’s claim was correct. Adetona, accompanied by the Alaafin and the reporter, went over to Sijuade’s room. The Ooni repeated his claim that he presented the Yoruba position to the press.

He was instantly put to shame, when the reporter was asked to play his tape, which contained the opposite of Ooni’s claim. Adetona and the Alaafin then pressured Ooni into granting another interview, restating the position of the Yoruba. He did and the reporter was asked to take the interview to media houses for publication the next day. The interview was published by newspapers the next day, but Chukwumerije had caused the first interview to be used on the network news of the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA.

In the book, the Awujale was unsparing in his attack on former Nigerian leader, Olusegun Obasanjo. He described him as a Judas, “who would betray his people,” who lacks credibility and squandered “the enormous goodwill,” which he carried into office “with a performance that left him with a second term short of tangible achievements.”

Oba Adetona recalled an event on 24 July 2002, the late Abraham Adesanya’s 80th birthday in Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun State, when in a ride with Obasanjo to a makeshift helipad he told Obasanjo how disappointed he had become over Obasanjo’s pussy-footing on the issue of federalism. “This was the dividing line for me in our relationship,” Awujale recalled and

Adesanya’s birthday presented an opportunity for him to tell Obasanjo how he felt about him, when they rode together in a Mercedes Benz limousine, with former Ogun governor, Olusegun Osoba, as witness. “It was going to be a short trip but I had something to say and so it had to be said quickly

enough while the three of us shared some privacy. I said there was a time when I had trusted Obasanjo so much so that I could swear by his name, but that the trust was now gone. Obasanjo asked why. I answered that Obasanjo was no longer credible.” The Oba recalled further in the book, that at another time when he visited Obasanjo in Aso Rock, Obasanjo revisited their earlier conversation during which he told the Awujale, accusatorily, that he painted him a Judas. Awujale reconfirmed the labeling according to his account.

“I told him that I not only remembered but still maintained that he was a Judas who would betray his people…I had no qualms about speaking plainly to him. In high office, people who surround leaders tend to skirt around the truth,” Awujale wrote.

The Awujale was clearly not impressed by Obasanjo’s tenure as Nigeria’s leader. ‘‘Eight years in office was ample time to put electricity on a very strong footing. Eight years was enough to put down a strong foot against corruption and make a clear difference. Eight years was adequate for orderliness and the rule of law to triumph in every facet of our society. These were the basis upon which I gave my support for the office,” he submitted.

Osun Defenders Newspaper

 

A REVIEW OF THE AWUJALE’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY

THAT every man has a story to tell is a notorious fact. The Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba S.K. Adetona has now told his own in an autobiography, Awujale (275 pp) which was launched in Ijebu Ode on Saturday, June 26, 2010 to coincide with his 50th coronation anniversary. The Oba rejected a commissioned biography about ten years ago, saying “I knew it was not my story”. And then one night he had a dream, and “I saw the book, my book with the title and the various chapters, I woke up in the morning and I started to write the book. Here is the book”, the Awujale is quoted as saying. If this is a way of whetting the readers’ appetite, I think it is quite smart.

The Awujale of Ijebuland is one of those few obas in his category whose opinions are respected because they can be trusted to be forthright even when they are wrong. He gives the impression in this book that only he, and a few of his friends including the Oba of Benin, Erediauwa II, the Akija of Ikija, Oba Adekoya, and Alaafin of Oyo, Lamidi Adeyemi III have demonstrated exemplary integrity in the face of pressures. This may be debatable but the truth is that since 1960 when the present Awujale ascended the throne of his forefathers, so much has happened to discredit the traditional institution.

Many traditional rulers have become notorious for their lack of decorum, victims of the politicization of the traditional institution, the collapse of values, and the transition from a tradition to modernity, and of course, their own hubris. As recently as last month, one oba in Akure, one fellow formerly known as the Deji of Akure, threw his crown into the gutter when he went to the home of an estranged wife to take the law into his own hands and behaved like a thug. There have been reports of traditional rulers who have been found to be patrons of armed robbery gangs, traditional rulers who were caught pants down with the wives of their subjects or were struck down by thunderbolt, what the Yorubas call magun, that is “don’t climb,” a traditional voodoo method of eliminating male adulterers. In his account, Oba Adetona offers additional instances of traditional rulers turning themselves into “boys” under military rule, and of the same so-called highnesses and royal majesties betraying their people in order to be accepted by the politicians or soldiers in power. Awujale is a strong defender of the traditional institution and its continuing relevance, and of the need to modernize it and for its principal figures to be upright.

His account of (a) the sycophancy of his colleagues on the Western State Council of Traditional Rulers under Col Oluwole Rotimi (as he then was), and in other instances (b) of the Ooni of Ife, Olubuse II and the Alaafin of Oyo refusing to pay him a courtesy call when they attended former Governor Olabisi Onabanjo’s daughter’s wedding a stone throw from the Awujale palace, just because Onabanjo had deposed him; of the Ooni, he says “he took pleasure in my distress” (p.109) (c) his documentation of what he presents as the Ooni’s duplicitous role in the June 12 saga, and (d) all the pressures that the conflict between tradition and modernity impose on traditional rulers, serve as a backdrop for his assessment of the traditional institution in Nigerian politics. With regard to his acclaimed forthrightness, the Awujale does not disappoint, and this is perhaps what is bound to make this book controversial. He wants the myths around the enthronement and burial of kings exposed, he insists on the modernization of the institution in relation to ancient practices. Some of the people he criticizes in this book are dead, but he shouldn’t be surprised if their descendants insist on other versions of the story!

It is a book that should be read also by any aspiring or future traditional ruler, and students of the traditional kingship system in contemporary Nigeria. Awujale Adetona offers an assessment of the institution from the colonial era to the present. Being one of the longest serving traditional rulers alive today, having assumed office, six months before Nigeria’s independence in April 1960, he is also able to offer a panoramic review of the some of the highlights and personalities in Nigerian history during the period. In the traditional setting of old, for example, traditional rulers never lacked because they got a percentage of every harvest within the kingdom,, tradition ensured that even when a hunter killed an elephant, he had to deposit the tusks with the Awujale! Oba Adetona demonstrates how colonial rule, military rule and democratic rule changed all that. This is a book about changing power patterns in Nigeria and the implications for the traditional institution. British colonialism truncated the growth of the traditional institution as the British intervened in the power system for their own purposes. In the new dispensation, the children of slaves, of the lower class, suddenly became the new elite, united with the colonialists by education, religion and language. This new class soon assumed political authority, and its first task was to dismantle all structures of old. The social dynamics also changed. Citizens no longer felt obliged to serve the palace. Traditional rulers found themselves placed under the authority of soldiers and politicians who put them on a pay roll and became the new masters with appropriated divine authority.

The Awujale served in the Western House of Obas, he has been Chairman of the Ogun State Council of Traditional Rulers, he has served as special envoy to South Africa, also as member of the Political Reform Assembly and as Chancellor of a Federal University, his book also shows that at many critical moments in Nigerian history he has been privileged to exercise influence, offer advice and guide the new leaders, but nonetheless, he laments the violation of the traditional institution by ambitious arrivistes as the root cause of the Nigerian crisis, even as he points out the opportunism of the traditional ruling elite.

His book is a wake-up call for present and future traditional rulers. He offers in Chapter 17, three guidelines as to how a traditional ruler can maintain his integrity, and rediscover the veneration of ancient times. A traditional ruler must have an independent means of livelihood, and not be vulnerable to the “caprice of the politicians in power.” A traditional ruler must also be neutral in political matters. Three, he must be “stubborn and unwavering in his refusal to compromise the truth or the integrity of the Obaship institution, whatever the occasion.” The entire book is devoted to an illustration of these three prescriptions. Realising very early the fact of his indigence and economic vulnerability, because he was paid a paltry sum as salary, the Awujale narrates in Chapter Five, how he had to set up businesses to maintain himself and his family. In no time, he had become a major entrepreneur, owning as many as 50 trailers involved in haulage and transportation and he was able to train his siblings and set up his mother as a major distributor of beer and soft drinks. His business commitments were strongly criticized among the people, but Awujale had become a modernizing Oba willing to take on the challenges of an institution in transition.

His financial independence offered him an opportunity to be assertive against every attempt by military and political leaders to use his office for their own ends or denigrate it. But what comes across clearly in his story is that leadership is a matter of character. There are interesting passages about Awujale’s encounters and conflicts with other power centres determined by age, wealth or political authority. His relationship with Chief Obafemi Awolowo and other members of his political movement, Col Oluwole Rotimi as Governor of the Western Region, Chief Bisi Onabanjo as Governor of Ogun State, General Ibrahim Babangida, Chief Ernest Shonekan, General Sani Abacha, and President Olusegun Obasanjo are potentially explosive episodes in this narrative. The Awujale comes across as a man who is acutely aware of the traditional sovereignty of his office and is willing to protect it. The conflict between traditional and modern authority as a central theme in his narrative should be of further research interest.

In describing the travails of the traditional institution, he makes a strong case for its continuing relevance. Through his own example and that of others, Awujale demonstrates how traditional rulers can serve as agents of political stability. He however opposes the idea of a National Council of Traditional Rulers, recommending that a special bureaucracy is not necessary. I agree. Throughout, he use the word “aafin” instead of palace, and he insists that he is neither a Royal majesty or Highness but “Alaiyeluwa- a conservative radical to the core. This is a cleverly written book, in which the author takes time out to settle scores, to set records straight from his own perspective and to write testimonials on historical personages. He portrays the two Odutola brothers as misers, Awolowo as arrogant and inflexible, Olabisi Onabanjo as an ingrate, twice Obasanjo is described as a Judas (p. 174 and p. 181), MKO Abiola as vain (p. 130), Oladipo Diya as a prodigal, Awujale says “he was an Ijebu man” (p. 127) but in subsequent pages, he balances it all out by identifying the positive sides of the same persons that he had dismissed, almost in the same measure in which he carefully identifies all the Ijebu sons and daughters and his own relations who have supported his obaship in the last 50 years. The author tries to be the father of all as his office requires, but although he says he avoids partisan politics, it is obvious enough that this is a monarch who enjoys politicking, and who does not forget a hurt easily. He wants the Yewa to be Ogun Governor, and he wants an Ijebu state too! His prejudices are not so cleverly disguised after all especially in his commentaries on the Odutola brothers, Olabisi Onabanjo, Awolowo and Obasanjo/Mike Adenuga; the good news is that his damning submissions will be hard to ignore.

The insights he offers into traditional administration and in particular the organized nature of the Ijebu traditional system, and his argument about how this is a superior form of democracy is most refreshing and informative. He is totally frank about his private life, documenting his affinities and differences with his own brother, Supo Adetona openly, his health problems, his relationships. He also admits: “I think I am a better grandfather than a father

Full review found here

 

 

 

 

 

 

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