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A king on the new road

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After only five years on the throne, Oba Abdulrasheed Adewale Akanbi, the Oluwo of Iwo in Osun State, has succeeded in attracting to himself a lot of wrong attention.

He is an excitable fellow, garrulous in a beer-parlor way and full of wrong knowledge. He was popular among the youths of the town when his nomination was announced in 2015 but his ascension alarms the elderly ones who viewed his lack of decorum with evident unease. Akanbi was procured from the wintry recess of Canada by the king makers and the power that be. It seems now they have the wrong product.

Few weeks ago, Akanbi was accused of beaten-up one of his royal colleagues when a peace-meeting called by the police became violent. Oba Akanbi proved that he cannot only dance, he can also deliver a powerful punch. His royal target was rushed to the hospital and has since retreated to his palace to recuperate.

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The Assistant Inspector-General of Police who witnessed the fit scuff rightly decided to de-escalate the situation. He did not order any arrest. Governor Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State also decided to take the path of peace. When the State traditional council presided over by the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, decided to suspend the truculent Oluwo from its meetings for six months, it must have been with a nod from the governor.

Despite the soft rebuke, Akanbi was not sober. He soon posted a video on the internet questioning the basis for the entire Yoruba obaship system. The Yoruba obaship system originated from Ile-Ife where Oduduwa, the progenitor of the nation, was said to be the first king. Therefore, most oba in Yorubaland traces their origin to the House of Oduduwa in Ile-Ife. In the 18th and the 19th Century, some scholars, perhaps influenced by the Hamitic Theory, posited that the Oduduwa phenomenon was of foreign origin. Most Yoruba do not accept this interpretation as they see it as an attempt by European and Arab scholars to denigrate the capacity of Africans to develop sophisticated societies.

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At the core of the obaship system is the Arole Credo. This states that every oba inhabits all the power and substance of all past obas. He is especially representing the first oba for which he serves as Arole (heir or representative). Therefore when President Olusegun Obasanjo prostrated for the young Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, he was also prostrating for the first occupant of the Ife throne, Oduduwa. Every oba inhabits the full import of this mystery and to them, the ancestors are alive. Therefore when you talk of the Alaafin or the Orangun, you are not necessarily referring to the present occupants of those thrones, you are talking about the first occupants and their successors. Therefore in Yorubaland, precedence among the obas is measured according to when you received your crown from the House of Oduduwa. The first set of seven kings regards themselves, and they are so regarded by the Yoruba, as occupying a special pedestal.

But this excitable fellow calls himself Arole Olodumare! Such blasphemous arrogance could only have been the result of deep-seated ignorance. Among the Yoruba people, the Obas are regarded as second only to the Orishas, those eternal beings who witnessed the beginning of creation. They are messengers of Olodumare, the Supreme God, and when Oduduwa was descending through the celestial chain, they followed him to the sacred land of Ile-Ife. They are to serve the descendants of Oduduwa forever as intermediaries between his descendants and the Almighty. Suddenly now the Oluwo says he is the Arole Olodumare. Even Oduduwa was never given that title. None of the orishas was considered so big that he or she could be compared to Almighty God.

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It became evident early that something must be wrong with this new king. His lifestyle and pronouncements undermine the majesty of his office. He treats his office with levity and condescending licentiousness. He placed the ancient crown of Iwo people which their ancestors brought from Ile-Ife on the head of his foreign wife. He named his son Oduduwa, to emphasize the fact that he is now the father of Oduduwa. Among the Yoruba people, Oduduwa is divine. He can only be worshiped in his temple in Ile-Ife. I am not sure any other person has ever named his or her child Oduduwa. But then this Kabiyesi from Canada and he has a lot learn.

Akanbi’s shenanigans have again brought into the fore the problem of leadership recruitment in Yorubaland and Nigeria. Anyone can be called to service in Nigeria once he has the right power backing him or her. How do we explain that political parties are so porous that the academic qualifications of aspirants to high officers are never properly scrutinized? How come that the court and not the ballot-box has now become the last decider of electoral combats? Selection into high traditional offices is now routinely rigged by politicians to the extent that the unsuited and blatantly unsuitable find themselves occupying the thrones of our forefathers. Akanbi has confessed several times that he was not chosen by Ifa, but by the governor. He may not have attended the mandatory Ipebi tutelage nor take the sacred oath that binds Yoruba royalty to the majesty of their sacred offices. How can the Iwo kingmakers be so cheap?

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Iwo is an important town in Yorubaland and not just in Osun State. The town’s first ruler and founder was an Ife prince and the Oluwo was one of the principal subordinate princes under the Alaafin in the days of the empire. Like the Alaafin himself, he brought his crown from Ile-Ife and he is treated with the dignity and honour that his history bestowed.

Even if all precautions have been taken in making him oba, errors can still be made. This brings to mind the turbulent career of King Saud bin Abdul-Aziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia who ascended the throne in 1953. He was flamboyant, reckless and extravagance and lived the highlife to the consternations of his subjects and the royal family. He loved the company of women and luxury and the opulence of the jet set. By the time he was forced to abdicate 1964 he had fathered 108 children and ran his country into debt. He had only three official wives. He was succeeded by his brother, the ascetic King Faisal who succeeded in restoring the solemn majesty of the throne.

It is that solemnity now that the Iwo Kingmakers and Obas-in-Council must insist on their excitable monarch. His banishment from the gathering of fellow royals for six months must be seen as a wake-up call for Iwo people. They cannot afford a king who does not know how to be kingly. Akanbi needs to go back to school to learn more, to see more, to listen more and to talk less. His reign has just begun and therefore has a duty to his people and posterity to make it less turbulent and more productive and peaceful. He needs to retrace his steps from the wrong road.

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