Ancient and modern in Sokoto
Last week, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi visited the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Saad Abubakar III. It was indeed a historic visit and the Ooni used the opportunity to attend the convocation of Usmanu Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto, named after the Sultan ancestor, cleric, revolutionary and leader of the Sokoto Jihad of the 19th Century.
The aftermath of that revolution was to trigger off seismic reactions in many parts of the Western Sudan, especially in Yorubaland. Now history has moved full circle and the prince sitting on the throne of Oduduwa, the progenitor of the Yoruba nation, is in a warm embrace with the descendant of Dan Fodiyo, the primary agent of the chaos that convulsed the land of Oduduwa for almost a century.
In Sokoto, the Ooni in the company of his new queen, Olori Wuraola, witnessed the conferment of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu with an honourary degree by the University and the investiture of Rilwan Akinolu, the Oba of Lagos, as the new chancellor of the university. That Akinolu is now the Chancellor of Dan Fodiyo University epitomises how much Nigeria has changed. In the spirit of the new change, the Ooni preached unity with enthusiasm. He prophesied that Nigeria has come to stay forever and urged Nigerians to have faith in the future of their country. I dare say, preaching is good for princes.
The two thrones of the Ooni and that of the Sultan have been central to the Nigerian project and the unease and sometimes open hostilities that have characterised the course of our history since the amalgamation of 1914. By the time the amalgamation was effected, the Yoruba and the Fulani with their Hausa subjects have been at war for almost a century.
After the Fulani have seized power in the Hausa states in 1804 and beyond, destroying the old dynasties, they expanded southward to Nupe territories and the highlands of Bauchi and some parts of Adamawa until they were checkmated by the formidable army of the Kanuri.
It was in the wake of this that a Fulani cleric led a bloody coup against the old order in Ilorin, an Oyo Empire outpost, and toppled its ruler, Afonja, who was also the Are Ona Kakanfo, the Alaafin most senior general. Afonja was then in an open revolt against his overlord, the Alaafin. In their march south, they were finally halted at the battle of Osogbo where Ibadan forces inflected a crushing defeat on the jihadists
It is time we put knowledge into action in solving our country’s problem. It would be good if the Ooni and the Sultan could lead this new crusade.
All attempt to regain Ilorin by the Alaafin forces from the Fulani only led to greater disaster until the capital city of Oyo-Ile itself was lost, the Alaafin killed in battle and his people trooping south to take refuge among their fellow citizens. At the height of its power, the Oyo Empire was the greatest of the Yoruba states, extending from the River Niger in the North and with a foothold to the Atlantic in the South. Its ruler, the Alaafin, was the most powerful of the Oduduwa princes. So mighty was he in the imagination of the people that they refer to Olodumare (God Almighty) as the Alaafin Ode Orun (the Alaafin of heaven).
The people of the empire and the soldierly class moved south and created a new capital in the present Oyo and installed Atiba, a prince of the old dynasty, as the new Alaafin. He never made any attempt to regain his old capital which was now in ruin. By time of the amalgamation, the Yoruba Civil War had ended with the colonization by the British. A Peace Treaty had been signed under the auspices of the governor of Lagos Colony and priests of the Church Missionary Society, CMS, which forced the combatants to disarm under the threat of sanctions.
The Yoruba had responded to what Jacob Ade-Ajayi called the Years of Revolution with the building of new towns like Ibadan and Abeokuta. Ilorin transformed into a Yoruba city ruled by an aristocracy of Fulani descent. Even the ancient capital of the Yoruba, Ile-Ife, was not immune from the crisis of the 19th Century as the Ooni was forced into exile in Oke-Igbo and the city’s sacred groves trampled upon by Ibadan republican warriors and their Oyo allies living in the new town of Modakeke originally as the guests of the Ooni.
The creation of Nigeria provided a new field of engagement for the Yoruba and the Fulani beyond the tableau of the battlefield. When Obafemi Awolowo emerged the Leader of Government Business and later Premier in the 1950s, it was the first time a Yoruba person was ruling most of Yorubaland since the dawn of time when Oduduwa established his dynasty in Ile-Ife.
The European partition of Africa had put a substantial part of Yorubaland outside Nigeria and important kingdoms like Ketu, Ajase (Port Novo) and Pobe are now in Benin Republic. (Alaketu, the traditional ruler of Ketu, is regarded as one of original seven sons of Oduduwa).
Importantly too, a large part of Yorubaland, including Ilorin, Kabba, Offa, Isanlu, Oro, Yagba, Gbede were all ceded to Northern Nigeria by the colonial authorities. Today, the scenario is different. We now have both Kwara and Kogi States where the Yoruba of the old North are participating in the affairs of their states.
So apart from homilies about Nigerian unity, what else did the Ooni and the Sultan discussed? During his installation ceremony last year, the Sultan was in Ile-Ife for several days. He came at the head of a delegation of top Fulani princes. When the Ooni visited Sokoto, he also had many obas in his entourage.
What does this public show connotes for Nigeria between two old foes and modern allies? Under the present constitution, the two men are invested with prestige but no extant power. Both are said to be spiritual leaders with the Sultan addressed as His Eminence, the Commander of the Faithful. The Ooni, though addressed as His Imperial Majesty, is actually regarded as the African Pope in charge of the Yoruba national shrine, presiding over the temple of Oduduwa and supplicating and communing with the deities in the Yoruba pantheon.
But beyond the sacerdotal functions, this relationship needs to bring practical benefits to the people. One thing that is troubling many people now is the occasional tempest engineered by the itinerant herdsmen who are mostly Fulani. If President Muhammadu Buhari is the leader of Nigeria, there is no doubt that the Sultan is the leader of the Fulani. No longer are the Fulani horse riders threatening the city gates of Offa or vowing to dip the Koran into the sea, but their sword is still hanging over the polity of Nigeria. The herdsmen are here because we love beef so much.
They may not be destroying old dynasties or instigating revolutions in the name of their faith, but they still instill fear in the hearts of many Nigerians. The massacre in Agatu local government of Benue State is a gory reminder to us of the menacing shadow of the Fulani herdsmen. We cannot wish them away, but not to seek understanding and deep knowledge about this army of the night is to become a nation of intellectual almajiri.
So let the Ooni and his new friend help us solve this one problem, then we would be reassured that we are witnessing a roaring romance that may last beyond the next general elections. During the 1953 constitutional crisis precipitated by the Self-Government motion by Chief Anthony Enahoro at the House of Representatives in Lagos, Nigeria’s pre-eminent nationalist and journalist, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, advised: “Let us forget our differences.” His counterpart, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, also a member of the House, admonished however: “Let us understand our differences.”
This new romance between the two royal fathers should be modulated by our effort at understanding what makes us different from our neighbours and then seek accommodation in view of that knowledge. It is time we put knowledge into action in solving our country’s problem. It would be good if the Ooni and the Sultan could lead this new crusade.