Legunsen: My dream is to restore Ode Ule’s past glory
• Africa Is Moving To Its Destiny
• We Are Not Yoruba People
It was afternoon. The vehicle conveying this reporter to Ode Ule glided slowly through the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, while trying to avoid potholes and bumps. This reporter looked somber in his trouser and shirt with beaded sweat all over. He hadn’t eaten since morning. He was staggeringly drunk with tiredness. The traffic on the road had been heavy and vehicles practically crawled. He left Lagos early, long before sunrise, hoping to beat traffic on the road. Out of nothing to take, he drank the satchetwater in his hand.
It was 2.16pm and the driver was at the archway welcoming visitors to Ode Remo. He screeched to a halt. The driver had a clear reason to stop. He wanted to avoid any mistake having driven into another community on the last visit. A youngman, who was dressed in the sort of clothes a man wore when life hadn’t presented him with opportunities to wear more decent clothes, was standing by the roadside. The man felt an unnerving sensation when the vehicle stopped in his front.
“Eka san… bother,” the driver said in Yoruba. “Ejo, ona to losi Ode Ule la bere.” Lowering his head, so as not to look at the driver’s face, the man pointed to a winding road, which was covered with asphalt. “The road runs a long stretch until it veers into two. The left leads to Saapade, where Gateway (ICT) Polytechnic is situated and the right to Ode Remo,” the man said in Yoruba.
Located on the Southwestern part of the Remo North Council, Ode Ule is a 63-kilometre perimeter territory of plains and mild hills with elements of tropical rain forest persisting in some areas. The vegetation is that of high forest. Hence, there is good growth of timber and cash crop.
There is no month that is practically rainless, even December and January, at times, have showers of rain. Rainy season starts in March and ends in November, while harmattan begins from November to January and declines in February. Iraye and Ode Remo bind it to the East. While the West are Ogere and Obafemi Owode settlements. Ipara and Isara bind it to the North, and Iperu to the South. It has a projected population of about 65,000 people out of which about 20,000 are migratory and constantly on the move.
From the archway, the journey was less than 10 minutes to Losi Hospital, where His Royal Majesty, Oba Dr Adedayo Olusino Adekoya (Erinsiba 1), Legusen/Oba Amero Palace is in Oke Ola, Ode Ule. The car pulled up outside the palace to a waiting embrace of Isese worshippers. It was a small crowd, but a holy one, with traditional invocation renting the air. The frenzy of activities this afternoon in the king’s court was indescribable, as lovers of culture took over.
The large turnout of foreign and diasporic practitioners was an evidence of the growth of the practice.It was the yearly Ero Day ceremony, which holds from August to September 6, beginning with a 21-day recital of the holy sacred verse of ifa and prescribed prayers for the world by 201 priests, 21 times a day for 21 days.
Whatever option this writer had before now, it was narrowed to one: Waiting for the king. The king had agreed to a few minutes conversation, so, he had to wait for him. He took refuge in a shop some blocks away from the palace to avoid the unfamiliar space. He sat very close to some youngmen who were playing draught. He seemed distraught by the environment, as he watched the men use dirty words on each other. Down the street, a man in plaid shirt, a popular figure in the town, provided another must-watch episode. He was a Pentecostal pastor.
“Thus saith the Lord,” he said, toggling between the words of God. “Verily, verily I say unto you.”By now, anxiety had set in. It was already 3. 42pm. Everybody in the shop was drunk watching the drama around: Religion, paraga. Whatever. The once relaxed reporter wanted to leave the place.
Minutes later, he was invited over to the king’s palace. Admittedly, at first, the two-story building seemed a bit old and odd compared to modern hospital of similar status. But it was charmingly rich in history. It is a living monument to one of the oldest histories. It is the palace of Legunsen. The Legusen is a medical doctor and traditional medicine practitioner.
Ode Ule has a history that is as shocking as the environment it subsists. The Legunsen’s ancestors had lived in the town for centuries before colonisation changed everything.Now relaxed, the king, who was surrounded by guests, began the story of Ode Ule. The king, a historian and oral storyteller, never got tired discussing the town. He reminded his guests that destiny was being fulfilled.
Well, if they were, but had not been heard.According to him, “Africa is gradually moving to the height of destiny as predicted some five thousand years ago, when the great Empress Sugbo came back from the land of King Solomon to the Delta creeks of Ethiope River formed by a combination of the Niger and Benue rivers from that confluence into Atlantic Ocean spreading its contents through the costal regions from as far as the Volta to Congo where they all meet after the long traverse from the land of the mountains and hills to the depth of seas and oceans.”
He said, “Empress Sugbo left her only son for King Solomon in the Eastern mountains of her empire now called Abyssinia, came back to the Western parts on the Atlantic, in the creeks of Ethiope River for a very long period. She died peacefully and was buried in the royal tomb at Oke Eri, part of the ancient capital of Ugbo land of Usen people, that is, Ode Ule, the international headquarters of the worldwide Isese Agbaye community.”
Adjusting his seating position, the traditional ruler pursed his lips. He opened and closed them. No sound came out. He nodded when he was asked why Ode Ule’s history was not in public space.“Ode Ule was once the headquarters of Usen land, which stretched over a part of black Africa,” claimed the traditional ruler.“Usen people were coastal people. Everybody in the tropical rainforest, from Ghana to Angola, was Usen person. There was no Yoruba,” he said.
The traditional ruler, who is President/Founder, Dimef Institute, insisted, “I’m not a Yoruba man, as a matter of fact. I’m an Usen man. Do you know how the word Yoruba came about?” He said, “Yoruba was the word used by Malians, who tried to encroach on Usen land when Oranmiyan was sent to the Northwest region to defend it. So, whenever they wanted to come in, he repelled them. That was when old Oyo Ile was the garrison. The Malians now said, Yaribawa. Yar is daughter in Arabic. When Oranmiyan married Bawa they now said Yaribawa, daughter of Bawa. It was used honourably, because Oranmiyan people were very active and didn’t allow the Malians in. Usen had been before that. That’s why you’d find Usen everywhere, here, in Edo, Delta, Ondo etc. They were the first people created by God. Usen people are just the same with nature, people of the land. We have everything with nature we are just natural here. That’s the thing that’s very unique about us. In other words, go to any indigenous shrine in the world, you’re going to meet something that is very common, that is a stone, meteorite that came from the sky. You are also going to find a container; are we not the same people? We are speaking the variance of the same language; that is Usen language.”
He said people who lived in Yorubaland, at least, by the seventh century BC, were not initially known as Yoruba, although they shared a common ethnical and language group: A member of the Volta Niger branch of the Niger Congo. He added, “we speak the same language, but we seem not to recognise this. We’re speaking Usen language. Go and write Igbo language in Yoruba alphabet, you will understand it pure and simple. In Igbo language, when you say nti (ear in Igbo language) that is eti (ear in Yoruba language), when you say imi (nose) in Igbo language) that is Imun (nose in Yoruba language), onu (mouth in Igbo language) that is enu (mouth in Yoruba language), tell me, what is the difference? Ewure in Yoruba is goat, while in Igbo it is ewu.”
What’s the relationship between Ode Remo and Ode Ule? And the connection with Ijebu? He drew a long smile. “We are not Remo people. The British lorded Ode Remo over us through their indirect rule system.” He explained: “What Ijebu is? Ije-ibu, that is, people who know how to manoeuvre the creeks, the ibu, water. Usen people are actually the Ije-ibu people. What makes the ijebu more popular now was the description by the Awujale. When they came in the 14th century, they first stopped at Ijebu Igbo, or Ugbo. When they came, messages were sent to my ancestors that some people had come and with lot of people. My ancestors said they’d consulted the oracle, which predicted they’d come. They were now asked to be taken to Oju Olode, where Ijebu Ode, is currently.”
Though, he became fully crowned in 2005, he has been the Legunsen since 1991. “My people were here and had been subsisting on the land that is called Remo land now, but the Europeans suppressed them. Others had opportunity to come out like Iraye in 1948, Isara, in 1952; we only got our freedom in 2005. We kept the chieftaincy going until the opportunity came, in 2005,” he said. “We’re no longer subservient to anybody.”
The Legunsen said, “My dream is to restore Ode Ule to its past glory.”He revealed, “you see; there are still some communities that are forced to be under some others, because of the arrangement of the British. As colonial masters, any community that did not agree with them was destroyed or suppressed. Now, it took a long time to get out of the suppression. That’s why many communities are just getting crowned obas, now because of their ancient history.”
After the coronation in 2005, there were a series of tussles between Ode Ule and Ode Remo, but the contentious issues were resolved legally. “Whenever they took us to court, we’ve always won.” There was a time when the crisis was at its peak, “I was thinking I should just go back. In fact, there was a day we came back from the court and I was just thinking of all the nonsense they were talking. I remembered somebody I supported, an elder, who went to court to say that he didn’t know me at all.”
The Legunsen, who is also the custodian of the Amero crown, a pan-Yoruba Sesefun Obatala beaded crown, pointed out that he brought back his ancestors’ crown 222 years after it was taken to Ile Ife.“It was while I was working for Isese people that Sese Eefun crown that was taken to Ife, in 1792, was returned. The crown was taken for sanctification, because 140 people died, which were too much. They were supposed to do the sanctification for a maximum of 21 days and return the crown, but I don’t know why they didn’t bring it back, and since that time, Ode Ule had its crown at Obatala shrine (Obatala is the creator of human bodies, which were brought to life by the smooth breath of Olodumare. The mortal Obatala served as a king of Ife during its classical period. His throne was lost to the lineage of rival Oduduwa) in Ile Ife,” he retorted.
While admitting that the Sese Efun crown that went to Ife was the one he brought back as Oba Amero in 2005, revealed, “between 1792 and 2005, the thing was there. I didn’t know.” The king teaches and graduates people in professional courses and vocations, as well as organises retraining programmes for medical doctors, nurses and financial experts. He also collaborates with institutions and persons abroad and directing reseach fellows from all other parts of world interested in African practices, culture and medicines.
His greatest joy since becoming king is the development that has taken place in the land. As a medical doctor, he has practically touched the lives of people in Remo North, where Ode Ule is located.
“After working, I started Losi Clinic, I later went to Germany. I worked in the best hospitals in the Western Europe. By the time I came back, I stayed at Ode Remo, back then the whole place was in a shambles, I felt concerned, because by virtue of my training at Ife, I’m supposed to be an instrument of social change. So, in the whole of this area right now, there is no place that does not have its own health centre or comprehensive health centre because I engineered a lot of things,” he said.
According to him, “what I was doing was just ‘sacrificial philanthropy’, sacrificing my time, my everything. I was supposed to start my practice in Lagos, but I just said there was no hospital in Ode, the nearest was 40 kilometres away, the General Hospital at Shagamu. I just said I had to go for it. I came here and started it, by the time I spent 10 years, I had seen more than 250,000 patients. I now found out that pushing myself to do all that thing was not enough that I had to make sure we created the infrastructure people would come in to use and with Isese people supporting me, I was able to do all these.”He has worked in the smallest unit of health delivery as a one-man clinic to a health centre, general hospital and a teaching hospital.
Now, the king is pushing the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) beyond the imagined. The scheme was kick started in 2005 by Chie fOlusegun Obasanjo’s administration to help the country achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC).Unfortunately, after about 14 years, less than five million Nigerians are registered with the scheme. These numbers are mostly Nigerians in the Federal Civil Service. The overarching idea behind a health insurance scheme is to improve the health of all Nigerians at an affordable cost.
Recently, the Legunsen signed a Memorandum of Understanding with an insurance firm to cover the whole or a part of the risk of a person incurring medical expenses, spreading the risk over a large number of persons. By estimating the overall risk of health care and health system expenses over the risk pool, an insurer can develop a routine finance structure, such as a monthly premium or payroll tax, to provide the money to pay for the health care benefits specified in the insurance agreement.
“You know, in insurance agencies, they don’t pay salaries, they pay based on commission. That’s what we are talking about. By the time that you know that you, doctor xyz treats 50 patients a day, you make N50,000, and then the day you treat three you get N3,000 and so on, you can’t say you want to go on strike,” he said. “Anybody who subscribes to the scheme will be treated anywhere. All that is needed is prompt communication.”
He does not even mind if the person uses traditional medicine practitioner. “We know the standards, so, by the time we roll out, people will know what to do and what not. By the time people know, it’s they who will say this is person I know can treat me. What government is trying to is to we should have standard. It’s the subscribers’ choice to determine where they go for treatment.”