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Awujale at 86: A flawed last battle?

By Bisi Olawunmi
01 June 2020   |   3:24 am
Alaiyeluwa, His Imperial Majesty, the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, had two major celebrations within two months - his 60th anniversary on the throne of his ancestors in April...

Alaiyeluwa, His Imperial Majesty, the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, had two major celebrations within two months – his 60th anniversary on the throne of his ancestors in April and his 86th birthday on 10th May 2020. Both celebrations attracted eulogies for this charming king.

Some of the riveting celebrative write ups include those by Tunde Oladunjoye, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress in Ogun state, Mr. Dare Babarinsa, a crusading, eminent journalist (as a journalist myself, I reject the tag ‘veteran journalist’) and Dr. Fassy Yusuf, a former Commissioner of Information in Ogun state and an Ijebu-Ode ‘son of the soil’. They all extolled the virtues, the integrity and doggedness of this warrior king. I have not read any tribute from Chief Duro Onabule, the Jagunmolu of Ijebuland and a committed foot soldier in defence of the Awujale in his battle with state power in the attempt to depose him by then Governor of Ogun state, Chief Bisi Onabanjo, also an indigene of Ijebu-Ode. Chief Onabule, another eminent journalist, was in the trenches during that epic battle and got his chieftaincy title, Jagunmolu – the victorious warrior – from that encounter.

As is expected of such celebrative write-ups, they were not critiques and as such, a sticking issue associated with the Awujale, a Bill before the Ogun State House of Assembly on the Installation and Burial of Traditional Rulers, was glossed over by all the writers. The Bill, titled : ‘Ogun State Traditional Rulers (Installation and Burial Rites) Bill 2020, sponsored by Mr. Akeem Balogun, representing Ogun Waterside constituency and co-sponsored by Mr. Akeem Amosun, representing Ewekoro constituency had been rushed through for second reading on May 5, 2020 without recourse to public hearing. The Bill seeks to strip traditional religion worshippers of their primary roles in the installation and burial rites of traditional rulers and prescribing that such rulers can choose to be installed and buried according to their religion. Oba Adetona, has been crusading for this reform of the rites of installation and passage of traditional rulers conducted by the traditional worshippers headed by the ‘Osugbo’ who perform some rites prior to installation of a traditional ruler and also take control of the body of an Oba when he joins his ancestors. There are rumours that parts of the bodies of deceased kings are taken out and preserved for the successor king, on the assumption that the heart of a demised king lives on in the successor. But this has remained a rumour, perhaps a myth, as no one has presented evidence of such act. Even where there is some credence to such act, that aspect can be expunged without stripping the traditional religionists the right to conduct burial of a traditional ruler. With regards to installation rites in Ijebuland, an Oba-elect goes into seclusion for three months during which he is tutored in the history and traditional practices associated with the revered throne he is about to ascend. He is also fortified by powerful traditional medicine men to literally become invincible to any evil machinations; he thus becomes an ‘Orisha’ a demi-god, by virtue of that fortification. Short circuiting this process is said to explain why some ‘Westernised Obas’, not authentic traditional rulers, have become cheap preys for kidnappers and been visited by all manner of indignities. It pains that the highly revered Awujale leads this battle that apparently diminishes the traditional institution Obas are expected to defend and project. Perhaps, at age 86, and getting to time up, the refrain, nearer to thee Allah, nearer to thee, has apparently become troubling to Oba S.K. Adetona, hence the urgency of this LAST STAND, prompting a corralling of the force of law to actualize his reform agenda in the Battle of Burial Rites. I take pride in being an Ijebu son and in the sustenance of the dignity of the Awujale throne by Oba Adetona. This respect informed my leading a Voice of Nigeria (VON) team, as Assistant Director of News, to the palace in Ijebu-Ode to interview the Awujale in year 2000 on the occasion of his 40th anniversary on the throne. I also belong to royalty. My great Uncle, Oba Thomas Olaitan Oduntan, Erebineyin Joye 11, the Mogosu of Ibido-Ogbo, near Ijebu-Ode, who crowned the Awujale in 1960, was my grandmother’s younger brother and as a child, I followed my grandmother to that coronation. Oba Oduntan reigned for 48 years (1960-2008) I also grew up in the palace of Ilamuren of Okelamuren, also near Ijebu-Ode, Oba Julius Adebambo, and was the Town Crier in my primary school days until I got admission to Ijebu-Ode Grammar School in 1962. I followed the Ilamuren to ‘Iledi’ and used to carry the royal umbrella of the Ilamuren on his visits to the old Awujale palace during the reign of Oba Daniel Adesanya, Gbelegbuwa 11. Oba Adetona has since turned the old structure to a world class palace that is the pride of Ijebus. Oba Adetona, as a unifying father, achieved the landmark of turning the Ojude Oba festival into an iconic ALL IJEBU affair, irrespective of religious affiliation, even though it has a Muslim origin. The current campaign of religious identification risks diminishing this legacy.

As a royalist, I see this Bill as inimical to the institution of traditional rulership in Ijebuland and by extension, the entire Yoruba land. Governments and politicians in Nigeria are the biggest enemies of the traditional ruler-ship institution, and have tried to reduce traditional rulers to foot-mats to be trampled upon. It is bad enough that a power drunk state governor can engineer the dethronement of an Oba on flimsy charges. The crusade, therefore, should be getting governments and politicians off the back of Obas, and not for an Oba to seek intervention of a state institution, like the House of Assembly, to neutralize a traditional institution like the Osugbo.

Traditional rulers are custodians of traditional culture and religion. A situation, as being proposed in the Bill, where a Christian or Muslim Oba-in-waiting is installed in a church or mosque makes a mockery of the title: Traditional Ruler. A traditional ruler belongs to all religions but with traditional religion his primary constituency once he ascends the traditional throne.

Ultimately, anyone aspiring to the exalted position of a traditional ruler must be ready to abide by traditional norms or decline the position. Period. Some so-called born-again Obas refuse to host traditional festivals or perform certain rights, thereby engendering crisis, with some of them getting chased out of their domains by irate indigenes. Such rulers, averse to observance of tradition, have an option: ABDICATION.

The Awujale, Oba S.K. Adetona, has been a pride of Ijebuland. This last proxy battle with traditionalists, via state law, is an over kill. It should not be the epitaph to a long, illustrious reign.

Dr. Bisi Olawunmi, a communications, is former Washington correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria.