Adetona, the original Orisa Ijebu!
There are not many people who knew the world before the era of our father, Oba Kayode Sikiru Adetona, the Awujale of Ijebu-land, Ogbagba the second who has been on the throne since 1960. For six eventful decades, Adetona has done the same job with panache and profound commitment. He is the lord of not just Ode, but of all Ijebu-land and the import of his reign would be felt for many generations to come. He is rightly eulogized by his people as the Orisa Ijebu! The COVID-19 pandemic has not allowed his grateful people to roll out the drums to celebrate the 60th anniversary of this outstanding monarch whose consistency and pride has defined Ijebu land in the post-independence Nigeria.
His significance is not just in the longevity of his reign but in his capacity to fully understand the majesty of his office and to embody its magisterial and ecclesiastical essence. His modernistic outlook and pan-Yoruba relevance have brought him both praise and opprobrium and considerable difficulties. In 1997, there was a sudden announcement that Lt. General Oladipo had been arrested along with many leading generals who were serving in the government of General Sani Abacha, then the head of the ruling military junta. Diya and his colleagues were arrested for what became known as the set-up coup. Soon traditional rulers were invited by Abacha to the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja, the lair of the dictator. The Awujale was one of them.
Adetona and the other royal fathers watched the so-called coup video in stunned silence. At the end of the show, the dictator handed over a one-page statement to the Ijebu monarch.
“Your Majesty, you will help us read this statement to the press,” the dictator told Adetona. The monarch glanced at the paper and then handed it over to the dictator declaring, dead-pan: “I am not here with my reading glasses!”
Even now, despite his age, Adetona retains the incredible capacity to think on his feet. He is cerebral, quick-witted and sagacious. He was one of the few leading monarchs who openly demonstrated support for the opposition National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, during the Abacha dictatorship. I remember one of the meetings that was to be held at the Awujale’s Palace in 1995 was disrupted by security agents. Papa Adekunle Ajasin, the leader of Afenifere, was to preside over that meeting. With the coming of democracy in 1999, Baba Awujale was rightly feted and lionized as one of the heroes of democracy. We and the Nigerian people have won, or so we thought!
After the 1999 presidential election, Chief Olu Falae, the presidential candidate of the All Peoples Party, APP and the Alliance for Democracy, AD had filed a petition against the victory of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the People’s Democratic Party. One day, Otunba Solanke Onasanya called frantically that there was a development that needed the urgent intervention of our group, the Idile Oodua, over what was happening at the tribunal. Falae’s lawyer had raised an issue that Obasanjo remained a convict (over the phantom coup of 1995) and therefore was not qualified to contest. General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, gave evidence that indeed, he was not aware of such a pardon. Onasanya believed that something was cooking as a faction of the military was not in tandem with General Abubakar over the Transition Programme. If Obasanjo was disqualified, it would truncate again the programme. This was unacceptable.
We dispatched a delegation of Idile Oodua leadership to meet Senator Abraham Adesanya at his country home in Ijebu-Igbo. From Ijebu-Igbo, our embassy detoured to Ijebu-Ode where an important meeting had been scheduled earlier with the Awujale. At the meeting were many top leaders of Afenifere including our leader, Senator Adesanya, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi and Chief Ayo Adebanjo. It was resolved that both Falae and Obasanjo be contacted immediately so that the issue can be resolved to save democracy from imminent abortion. Members of our delegation that night were the deputy leader of Idile Oodua, Engineer Bayo Adenekan, the first managing director of Capital Oil plc., and Prince Dokun Abolarin, now our father, the Orangun of Oke-Ila in Osun State.
At the meeting, Baba Adetona rose to the occasion. It was discovered that both Obasanjo and Falae were in different parts of the world. Obasanjo was on his post-election tour of different countries to renew friendship for Nigeria after the disastrous Abacha years. Falae was in London where he was a guest of Chief Harry Akande, the billionaire businessman who contributed greatly to the financing of the Falae campaign. The meeting was on a Friday night. Akande promised that he would bring Falae home by Monday with his private jet. The impasse was ultimately resolved by General Abubakar who caused his SGF to return to the tribunal brandishing a copy of Obasanjo pardon.
The Awujale is one of those who have been giving purpose and direction to Yoruba land and Nigeria since the return of democratic rule. He has always supported the restructuring of Nigeria along regional lines and has not shied away from asking for reforms even in Ijebu land. Two issues remain intractable for Baba despite his efforts. One was his clamour for the creation of Ijebu State, which had occupied his attention since the Second Republic. The second is the long and unresolved issue of the vacant throne of the Orimolusi of Ijebu-Igbo. For more than 60 years now, that town, second most populous of Ijebu towns after Ode, has not gotten a traditional ruler after the tragic death of the last Orimolusi, Oba Adeboye. Despite the intervention of many prominent citizens, that issue remain surprisingly intractable.
Another issue that could not be solved satisfactorily was the lingering disagreement between our father, the late Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II and the Awujale. Both of them were friends in their younger days when Sijuwade was a dashing prince and Adetona was a young Kabiyesi. During the Second Republic, attempt was made to depose the Awujale by the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, regime of Governor Olabisi Onabanjo, an indigene of Ijebu-Ode. The Awujale got a reprieve when the military toppled the elected regime in 1983 and leading politicians were herded into prison. General Muhammadu Buhari, the new military ruler, made Diya the governor of Ogun State and he quickly restored Adetona to his throne. However the Awujale believed that Sijuwade, who was close to the UPN leadership, especially Chief Obafemi Awolowo, did not do enough to save him from humiliation.
Few years before his death, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, invited the two royal fathers to his country home in Isara, Ogun State, to discuss the matter. The issue was extensively discussed but never fully resolved. The Ooni promised to follow-up with a visit to the Awujale in his palace. Adetona declined, perhaps because there are traditional obligations that must be done when an Ooni visit an Awujale. It is good that the present Ooni, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, has since visited the Awujale in his palace.
Baba Awujale is loving and lovable and I had enjoyed many unforgettable moments with him. I regard it as an eternal honour that he was present at the Archbishop Vining Memorial Cathedral during the thanksgiving service for my 50th birthday anniversary. He was one of the first dignitaries to arrive in the church many minutes before the service began. Baba belong to the old school, which takes punctuality very seriously.
I became closer to the Awujale when my friend, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, was the Governor of Ogun. We participated actively in helping to prepare a special publication for his 50th anniversary on the throne. No other Awujale in history has stayed so long on the throne and none has had the opportunity to achieve so much. He was there when Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa was the Prime-Minister of Nigeria. He is still there now that Muhammadu Buhari is our Chief of State. He was a very young oba. Now he is an old man of wisdom and serenity full of years and honour.
Baba Awujale is a tireless raconteur, a deep repository of Yoruba and Nigerian history and a fearless advocate for good causes. He is one of the titans with us. Future generations would regard his service as selfless and his contributions priceless. I wish him many more year of service to the great Ijebu people and the people of Nigeria.
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