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A day at the royal court of Olugbo of Ugboland

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Olugbo of Ugboland, Oba Frederick Obateru Akinruntan

Olugbo of Ugboland, Oba Frederick Obateru Akinruntan

As a young man, while growing up and living with my paternal grandmother in Ewu in Edo State, we were taught how to acquire knowledge mainly through observation. We also learn through imitation and emulation, not through questions. In my household, questions were considered a nuisance, adults imparted information as they considered them necessary.

Customs, rituals, and taboos shaped my life and that of most Esan children from Ewu in Esan Central of Edo State, at the time.

On Friday, December 29, 2016, on the invitation of His Imperial Majesty, Oba Frederick Enitiolorunda Obateru Akinruntan, The Okoro Ajiga 1 of Ugbo Kingdom, I was at the Majestic palace of Olugbo of Ugbo Kingdom in Ondo State.

Observing the Olugbo and his court profoundly influenced my understanding of African style of leadership. I watched and learned from the tribal meetings that took place on that day in the Great Place. These were not scheduled, but were called as needed, and were held to discuss tribal matters, such as security, youth empowerment and how to improve on the environment of Ugbo land.

On this occasion, the Olugbo was surrounded by his (Iwarefa mefa and dosus) the king makers or a group of councilors of high rank, who function as the Olugbo’s parliament and judiciary. They were wise men with vast knowledge of tribal history and custom in their heads and whose opinions carried great weight like the Encyclopedia.

The Olugbo of Ugboland had earlier sent a verbal invitation, and soon the Palace became alive with important visitors and travellers from all over the places. Before the commencement of the meetings, guests were gathered in the Obamakin Osangangan Hall in the Palace. The Olugbo opened the meeting by thanking everyone for coming and explaining why he had summoned them. From that point on, he would not utter another word until the meeting was nearing its end.

Everyone who wanted to speak did so; it was democracy in action and in its purest form. There may have been a hierarchy of importance among the speakers, but everyone was heard, chiefs and subjects, warriors, pastors, if you like, call them medicine men, shopkeepers, traders, market women and men and farmers, fisher men and women, landowners and labourers were all heard. People spoke freely without interruption and the meeting lasted for many hours without acrimony. The foundation of self-government was that all men were free to voice their opinions and were equal in their value as citizens.

Later that evening, a great banquet was served. I sat quietly in a corner and watched the natives doing justice to the meals in an orderly and dignified manner.

In those meetings, I noticed how some speakers rambled and never seemed to get to the point. Like a Schoolboy in class, I grasped how others came to the matter at hand directly, and who made a set of arguments succinctly and cogently. I also noticed how some speakers used emotion and dramatic language, and tried to persuade the audience with such techniques, while other speakers were sober, frank and plain in their submissions.

At first, I was astonished by the vehemence and candor with which some people spoke in the presence of the Olugbo of Ugboland. But no matter how flagrant their charges, the Olugbo simply listened, not defending himself or any person, and showing no emotion or attachment.

The meetings continued until some kind of consensus was reached. They ended in consensus or not all. Consensus, however, might be an agreement to disagree, to wait for a more auspicious time to propose a solution. Democracy meant all men were to be heard, and a decision was taken together as a people. Only at the end of the meetings, as the sun was about to set, would the Olugbo speak, his purpose was to sum up what had been said and form some consensus among the diverse opinions. But no conclusion was forced on the people who disagreed. When no agreement was reached, another meeting was to be held. At the very end of the Olugbo-In-Council, a praise-singer or poet would deliver a panegyric to the ancient kings, and a mixture of compliments and satire on the present chiefs, and the audience, led by the Chiefs without the Olugbo, would roar with laughter.

From the above scenario, there is compelling and honest need for our lawmakers, governors and President, to pay occasional visits to Palaces, or find the time to attend some of these tribal parliaments in session; they will surely have a lot to learn about how to manage human beings. Above other considerations, they will see the beauty of African democratic system of governance not only in its purest form, but also in action.



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