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Oba Adetona… Making of longest reigning Ijebu monarch

By Chuks Nwanne
04 April 2020   |   2:52 am
But for the dreaded COVID-19, the entire Ijebu Kingdom would have been agog on Thursday, as the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, Ogbagba 11 clocked 60 years on the throne.

Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona

But for the dreaded COVID-19, the entire Ijebu Kingdom would have been agog on Thursday, as the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, Ogbagba 11 clocked 60 years on the throne.

Never in the history of the approximately one thousand years’ old Ijebu Kingdom did any king reign for up to 60 years. However, Oba Adetona, the paramount ruler of Ijebuland from the Anikinaiya Ruling House, has broken that record, having ascended the throne on April 2, 1960, as the custodian of their culture and tradition. So, it’s a big deal.

For sure, anybody that has witnessed the yearly Ojude Oba Festival will confirm that the people of Ijebu in Ogun State know how to throw spectacular celebrations. When it comes to parties, give it to the Ijebus; they go all out. Unfortunately, the lockdown means no show. However, don’t be surprised if this celebration holds later in the year.

Available record shows that there were 57 Awujale (Awujale Ademolu Fesogbade ascended the throne twice!) before him, starting from Awujale Olu-Iwa to his immediate predecessor on the throne, Awujale Daniel Adesanya, Gbelegbuwa II, who reigned from 1933 to 1959. He is no doubt the longest reigning first-class monarch in Nigeria and has been a major actor in the socio-cultural and political history of Nigeria since the country’s independence.

Oba Adetona’s emergence as the Awujale of Ijebuland was somehow dramatic; it was unexpected. When the news of the passage of the then reigning Awujale, Oba Gbelegbuwa II, got to 25-year-old Adetona, he had just arrived in London, trying to settle down to pursue a course in Accountancy. Becoming the Awujale of Ijebuland was never on his agenda, especially when his father and some of his uncles were still alive then.

“The news meant little to me, even though I knew it was the turn of my ruling house to present the next candidate. My father, as far as I knew then, was an obvious candidate and could therefore assume succession. Even if, for some reasons, he was not chosen, there was still his brother, Pa Adenaiya,” Oba Adetona revealed in one of his interviews with The Guardian.

To everybody’s surprise and without being consulted at all on the matter, it was his name that his father put forward as the candidate from the Anikinaiya ruling house.

“He did this probably because he himself had not gone to school and felt that his lack of education would be a serious handicap, or perhaps, he was advised by his friends to put my name forward. Anyway, whatever the motive, my father said, he would not be able to cope with the present-day challenges of Obaship and was therefore stepping down in favour of his son, currently studying in London,” he said.

Consequently, on September 7, 1959, the family met and nominated six candidates from the Anikinaiya ruling house, including young Kayode, for possible selection as the new Awujale.

“This decision was of course most unusual and probably unprecedented. By putting forward my name instead of that of one of my half-brothers or uncles, the family was obviously not following tradition or taking age into account, as they should have done. Instead, they seemed to have decided to choose someone who, in their opinion, would be best suited for the post and would carry the responsibilities attached to it. In the rapidly changing context of our modern times, they must have felt that choosing an elderly or uneducated person to become the Awujale would not be in the best interest of the Ijebu people. That was how I carried their vote.”

When the news finally reached young Adetona in England, he was both shocked and bemused. At 25, he was obviously too young to appreciate the full import of it, until when he got a letter from his parents informing him that Mr. S.O. Shonibare then, (later Chief Shonibare), was coming to London and would be getting in touch with him.

“Unknown to me, Mr. Shonibare’s visit was instigated by the Afobaje, the council of kingmakers, headed by Chief Timothy Adeola Oduntola. His mission to London was therefore, important – to meet with me and assess my suitability for the throne,” he said.

Though Shonibare himself was neither an Afobaje nor even a chief then, he was a very big shot, a prominent Ijebu son, who was concerned about the ultimate progress of the town.

“He certainly had enough clout to influence the choice of the kingmakers. When my name kept coming up and my opponents also kept objecting on the ground that I was too young to occupy such an enviable position, Mr. Shonibare, who had business interests in London, was mandated to come and see me on their behalf and give them a personal appraisal,” he recalled.

After the mandatory mourning period for the departed Oba Gbelegbuwa was over, Shonibare arrived in London and visited Adetona at his residence at 85, Portnall Road, London, West 9.

“I recalled that Mr. Christopher Atoki lived next door to me at the time, while Lawyer Adesina was four houses away and Mr. Salako, who was fond of and acted more or less like my guardian, also lived in Portnall Road, at No. 125.

“Mr. Shonibare and I met for the first time at late Chief M.S. Sowole’s house at 45A, Kensington Gardens, London. Chief Sowole was the Agent General for the Western Region. I remembered going there in a grey three-piece suit and a tie, as this was my normal mode of dressing in London.” During the meeting, Mr. Shonibare ensured the conversation was informal.

“He was nice to me and informed me very frankly that he had come to meet me because my name was being mentioned at home as one of the candidates for the position of the next Awujale. He confessed that he had been asked by the Afobaje to come and assess me to find out if I was really suitable for the position. I thanked him for coming, but since I was in the UK and not looking for any position or job, I was completely neutral throughout our conversation.”

He continued: “Mr. Shonibare was a gentleman, however, and from the first meeting, a warm relationship later blossomed between us. He eventually left for Nigeria to report his findings and the battle at home continued. Although a lot of footwork was going on, on my behalf, all of it honestly meant little to me from that distance.”

You can well imagine Adetona’s surprise when eventually, on October 26, 1959, the Afobaje, the kingmakers met and unanimously decided on him as their final choice.

“Even then, the significance of the fact that my selection by the Afobaje was unanimous still did not strike me in any way.”

Adetona’s second meeting with Mr. Shonibare was markedly different from the first. This time, he congratulated him and arranged for his homeward journ 14ey to fatherland.

“Because he was an older person and so nice to me, I respected him very much and listened to all the advice he gave me. My friendship with Mr. Shonibare was very fruitful and rewarding. In fact, it gave me the opportunity to drink from his enormous fountain of experience. I have never forgotten two of the things he said to me, and they have affected my life and attitude in office till today.”

Shonibare had advised that, as the Awujale, young Adetona must know how to relate with the elderly people. Secondly, he suggested that the custom of Obas greeting their subjects with the horsetail had become outdated and I should consider discarding it. Instead of that, he suggested he should shake hands with people.

“This is why I do not use a horsetail today,” he revealed.

After conveying the good news, Mr. Shonibare left again for home. It was after his departure that the implication began to dawn on him that he was going back home, no longer as an ordinary citizen, but as the next Awujale of Ijebuland!

The official confirmation of his selection as the next Awujale came in December 1959, and he began his preparations to come back home.

“I collected my ticket from Mr. Alistair Stuart of Thompsons Press in the UK. The Thompsons had a business relationship with the Daily Express Group of newspapers headed by Mr. Shonibare. I travelled back home unaccompanied. Since only a few people knew I was arriving, there was no reception or any ceremony at all. Only Mr. Shonibare, accompanied by Mr. Muri Badmus and Tunde Amuwo, came to meet me and they drove me straight to the former’s estate at Maryland, Lagos. They left me there after arranging to send my meals regularly from Mr. Shonibare’s house at Spencer Street, Yaba.”

The trio also arranged, in preparation for his presentation and installation, for photographs of him with which to run stories in the popular Sunday Express.

“As I had always worn suits and English attire, I now needed traditional outfits, especially for the press photos. These were made for me by my parents, collected by Mr. Shonibare and delivered to me by Mr. Timothy Olu Adebanjo, the editor of the Sunday Express and an Ijebu son.’ All this while, nobody else knew where Adetona was.

“In fact, probably the only occasion I remembered going out while I was still staying at the estate, was when Chris Ogunbajo’s relation, Olaseni Aiyeola, a friend and a lawyer, came over to take me out one night in Ogunbajo’s wife car. Unfortunately, after he dropped me back at the Estate at the end of our outing, he crashed the car on his way home! That was the end of my outings,” he noted.

On January 4, 1960, Adetona’s nomination was finally announced officially on radio and in the gazette and set the pace for a new set of activities to commence. Even at that, only Mr. Muri Badmus, Mr. Shonibare and Mr. Adebanjo were still allowed access to him; not even his parents.

“When I moved to Ijebu-Ode, and while waiting for the coronation, I did not go home because I never ever had a room at my parents’ house. Instead, I stayed with Pa Ignatius Osilaja, the Madasa of Ijebuland, at his house in Oliworo quarters. The man proved to be not only a great host but also a great supporter, financially and emotionally. He put his entire household at my disposal and I came to learn that he had been one of my staunch supporters when the contest for the position of the next Awujale of Ijebuland was still raging in my absence. Yet, this was a man, whom I never knew at all, whom I had in fact never met, until I came back to Nigeria.”

It was indeed, a new dawn in the annals of Ijebu people. The king-elect thereafter, proceeded to undergo the traditional seclusion at the Odo for three months.

On Tuesday, April 5, 1960, newly crowned Oba Adetona, took his seat as a member of the defunct Western Region House of Chiefs, after a formal introduction. And, as if confirming the aphorism that a golden fish had no hiding place, the new Awujale was appointed by the Western Region Government as a Minister and Member of the Region’s Executive Council.

This position he occupied until the outbreak of the Western Region’s political crisis in 1962. With the declaration of a State of Emergency in the Western Region by the then Federal Government led by the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the late Dr. Majekodunmi who was appointed the Administrator of the region found the services of the young Awujale indispensable. He was thus made a Commissioner during the Emergency period.

Since 1960, Oba Adetona has succeeded in raising the status and reckoning of his Ijebu people. He is known and perceived as one of the country’s greatest monarchs, dead or alive. A philosopher and social scientist, his fame and popularity extend beyond the shores of Nigeria.