Here’s what she found
“save for my guide; I would have been beaten to a pulp by a group of yet agitated Hausa youths and my camera, confiscated.”
Hadi, I later learnt to call him, came to my rescue and took me through the what was left of a once boisterous Sabo in Ile-Ife. I had gone on a mission to monitor the progress of the gradual return of sanity to the area but the Hausa people were yet licking their sores and counting their loses. No one was calm enough to communicate with me except Hadi who explained that the Sheriki was hospitalized and they were overwhelmed by the event.
The sun retired and so did I. Other crumbs would be found in the morning…
So, early the next day, off I went to the Waasin Olumogbe’s compound at Ilare to see the chief, Waasin. I needed to talk to the Ife people, it was necessary to birth a balanced report but the Waasin’s compound was empty. From its corner, I sighted an old woman and made my enquires. Mama said the Waasin couldn’t be home at such time, he would be at the palace as all the other chiefs of Ife, it was court day. I had no idea what court day meant but off I went to the palace of the Ooni of Ife. The guard at the gate pointed the court out; it was beside the Police Station at the Ooni’s palace and in its surrounding, was packed several cars with branded number plates.
I stood by the police station and observed my surrounding; there was a lot of hustle and bustle. While observing, a woman in white buba, yellow gele and Ipele, stepped out of the court and started walking towards the car park. She looked royal; she had traditional red beads on her neck, wrists and ankles. I couldn’t help but notice the defiance with which she strutted and I knew she would be able to tell me where I could find the Waasin and the Obalufe. So, I approached her, she was the Otun Iyalode of Ife as I later got to know. She smiled, took my hand and led me towards the court, at the entrance, she stopped briefly and pointed to a man on the podium, “that is the Obalufe, Waasin is yet to arrive” and nudged me to go while she continued into the court with her royal gait.
The podium looked very traditional, about four men, who happened to be all chiefs of Ife, appareled in flowing agbada, beads and caps were seated. I wavered, though an Ijaw lady in the traditional court within the Ooni’s palace on official duties, my better judgment told me it would be traditionally out of place to approach the Obalufe on that exalted stage without disdaining the deities, so I stood back.
People perched by the windows and door to watch the traditional court proceeding and so I joined the lot. I could savour some entertainment while I waited for my story, I thought and so the first minutes into a long 5-hour wait that further entrenched the reality of monarchy, chiefs and subjects despite civilisation ensued. I was awed to see indigenes bringing their complaints to the traditional court with solid belief in its justice system and embracing whole heartedly whatever verdict was pronounced by the chiefs. I peeped into the court through the window like the other observers; it had the setting of a coliseum. The seats were arranged in a circular fashion and a huge space, like the arena gladiators fought, stood in the middle. The high chiefs took the seats on the podium while other chiefs occupied the other seats. There was a golden bell on the podium as well which was occasionally rang to perhaps instill decorum and time consciousness on the subjects. Three older female spectators, clad in the same manner like the Otun Iyalode but who didn’t have her elegance, sat at the back. They were the only female chiefs in the courts. All the others were male.
The next case was called by a chief on the podium and a female subject rushed to the centre, immediately falling on her knees. From the podium, a chief screamed at her, “Where is your husband?” but just as she began muttering gibberish, she was sent out of the court to fetch her head and another group of subjects took her place.
From where I stood, I could tell that it was a family grievance mostly fuelled by polygamy. A man had died and his son, who was born by his younger wife, had cornered all his property. Large chunks of millions were being mentioned amidst the lodged complaints and cars as well. The chiefs took turns to react to the cases, expressing their perspectives but I didn’t notice any of the female chiefs contributing on a case. (Perhaps they did when I scurried away to get succor from the pangs of the sun’s ray as it moved in the sky). The son in question was asked to talk. He began making his case but half way into it was accused of not speaking the whole truth. The other family members, therefore, insisted that he took off his shoes to go any further. I watched in confusion as people repeatedly took off their shoes before expressing themselves in the traditional court. I later got to learn that it was a form of oath, taken in the presence of the deities, to tell the truth by standing on bare feet. “Whoever lies in that position, according to tradition, would be dealt with by the Irumole,” one man told me.
Eventually, the woman who was sent out to get her husband, returned. It was a case of battery and a police officer, fondly called Mutiu, by the people was summoned. The husband was made to sign an undertaking at the police station never to lay his hands on his wife again. However, the woman was warned that the undertaking wasn’t a divorce paper and if she felt she didn’t want to be married anymore, she could legally divorce him but if they could both decide to live happily again, the undertaking would be nullified.
Several cases ranging from inheritance issues to domestic violence, land matters and other disagreements were tried. Some were concluded, some adjourned and in some other cases, people who were absent were fiercely summoned and given minutes to appear in the court. It went on and on, for hours but gradually, the company of chiefs began to dwindle and in the evening, just the Obalufe and the Jaran remained in the courtroom. By the cool of the evening, the last chiefs standing had got rid of their ‘agbadas’ and it was time for the physically challenged subjects to table their cases. They didn’t stay in the court for long, theirs was more of welfare issues than dissensions or arguments. They left the court smiling, looking really satisfied. By then, the sun’s intensity had drastically reduced. As a matter of fact, it had begun its homebound journey so the moon could shine. The Obalufe, magnanimously apologized for keeping me waiting for so long. The subjects had to be taken care of and I understood. However, he had no response for the questions I laid before him. All the Ife people were after was to move back to sanity after the crisis, he said. They didn’t want to rehash the sad past; they only wanted to move forward from the unfortunate crisis so peace would return to the land.
Though I left the Ooni’s palace with a myriad of unanswered questions about the Ile-Ife crisis, I smiled at the enduring cultural heritage I had witnessed firsthand. Surely, I had related with the source in its fantastically raw and pure form. The beautiful memories of that engagement would not be obliterated in a hurry.
Vera Onana wrote for tribuneonlineng.com