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Endless journey of the Aare

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Last Saturday, September 26, His Imperial Majesty, Oba Adeyeye Eniitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, the Ooni of Ife, performed the sacred pilgrimage to Oke’Mogun in Ile-Ife with the ancient Aare crown on his head.

By the reckoning of Ife people, he would be the 51st Ooni to take them once a year trip with the crown. The Aare is the oldest and most sacred crown in Yoruba land. The Yoruba also believes it is the oldest crown in the world; the father of all crowns. Taking the about one kilometer walk to Oke’Mogun is the climax of the Ooni’s many ecclesiastical duties. It is the Aare that gives him legitimacy and authority. It is the one crown that makes him the Ooni and Arole Oduduwa.

The Ooni and his Aare crown are central to the Olojo (Owner of the Day) festival, which is celebrated yearly to memorialise the day Olodumare created the earth. Among the Yoruba people, especially the denizens of the ancient city of Ife, the Ooni is both man and deity. When an Ooni joins his ancestors and a new prince is elected to succeed him, the new king must perform the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to the sacred forest at Ifewara where he would be handed over the sacred Aare crown. If he fails to get it, then he cannot be Ooni. With the Aare in his hand, his election is confirmed and other ambitious princes would know that the contest for the throne has ended.

The Aare is central to the unwritten Constitution that governed the Yoruba country in the pre-colonial era. It is the belief that Oduduwa brought this crown from heaven and because of this, he and his descendants have the divine right to rule. Therefore, at the dawn of time, after Oduduwa had established his kingdom in Ile-Ife, he dispatched his children and grandchildren to other parts of the country to establish their own kingdoms. The most prominent among these princes was Oranmiyan who established the kingship of Oyo and that of Benin. Therefore, his descendants in Oyo were mandated to defend the country from the North and West. His descendants in Benin were mandated to defend the country from the East.

These stories, sometimes fiercely disputed, have guided ancient protocols among the Yoruba people. Each oba, who brought his crown from Ile-Ife, is regarded as an Arole (representative) of the first prince. The Ooni is the father because he is the Arole of Oduduwa. All those direct princes are regarded as co-eval whatever fortune may throw their ways. They are expected to see themselves as brothers and allow filial love to dominate relationships. Therefore, if a prince contested for the throne in Oyo and he failed, he can move his entire family to another kingdom, say Ilesha, and he would be received and accommodated as befitted his status. Thus movements and resettlements were common and it is only through the family panegyrics, oriki, that you can trace the migratory stories of most families in Yorubaland today.

People often blamed the seizure of Ilorin by mostly Fulani elements and their Yoruba supporters as the deciding factors in the more than 50 years of wars and revolutions that descended on Yorubaland in the 19th Century. This is not so. The Fulani merely took advantage of an existing anomalous situation.

By the end of the 18th Century, many of the princes were not eager to keep their oaths of office. Yorubaland became the theatre of internecine wars often engineered by ambitious princes and generals who were bent on slave-raiding for the ultimate benefits of American and European slave markets. The first major conflict was the Owu War. The Olowu, Lord of Owu Kingdom and regarded as the first among the Oduduwa princes, sent his troops to sack Apomu, one of the towns in the territory of the Ooni, a direct repudiation of his oath of office. The other princes responded that the Olowu must pay compensation to the Ooni, apologize, and make sacrifices of atonement. The Olowu refused. In the ensuing conflict, the Ifes were joined by the Ijebu, the Oyo, the Ijesha, and the Igbomina to subdue the recalcitrant Owu. In the end, the Owu were defeated and their king, captured and executed. Their capital was burnt to the ground and placed under interdiction. The remaining Owu were allowed to migrate to Abeokuta, the new town built by the Egba who had supported them during the war.

The Owu War virtually put an end to the old Ife protocols among princes and led to the rise of the warrior class with its devastating consequences. The first to challenge the power of the princes was Afonja who proclaimed the independence of Ilorin from the Oyo Empire. Soon after, Afonja was toppled and killed in a bloody coup which brought his old friend, Alimi, to power. The Alaafin, in an attempt to bring back the rebellious Ilorin, rallied to take on the new resurgent Ilorin forces but were defeated. After the Alaafin was slain in battle and the army fled in disarray, the generals saw new opportunities for personal aggrandizement and accumulation of wealth. These were the hallmarks of new polities like Ibadan, dominated by the likes of Lagelu, Oluyole, Ibikunle, and Akintola, Ijaiye, dominated by the mighty marshal, Kurumi, and Iju, near Akure, where Ogedengbe, the great Ijesha general, originally had his base.

In retrospect, it was clear that the Yoruba had enough military resources not to allow British conquest of their fatherland and they could have uprooted the illegal kingship of the Ilorin Fulani emir if only they acted with singleness of purpose. But Oluyole and later Latoosa and other Ibadan generals saw the travails of the Alaafin as an opportunity to turn Ibadan into the centre of Yoruba power. They invaded the Ijesha and the Ekiti countries, trying to bring them into subjection. The Ijesha and the Ekiti, as well as the Igbomina and the Ibolo, in other to curb Ibadan ambition, formed an alliance with the Ilorin and sent troops to the Offa front during the devastating 16-year Ekitiparapo War.

When the British came and imposed Pax Britannica, the Ilorin deceived them claiming that most of the territories of their allies, especially the Ekiti and the Igbomina kingdoms, were part of the emirate. These areas were thus balkanized to be part of the defunct Northern Region. Till today, the Igbomina and the Ekiti of Kwara as well as the Okun of Kogi have been part of the North and succeeding states despite their periodic protests that they would like to be part of their kith and kins of the old Western Region.

It is disturbing that in the current dispensation, most members of the Yoruba political class are still behaving like the military class of the 19th Century. They prefer to superimpose their personal ambitions and personal interests on the collective desire of the Yoruba people and Nigeria. When the Ooni takes his annual ritual march to Oke’Mogun, he is also sending a message to this class of leaders. They need to understand that the circle of life is endless like the journey of the Aare crown. It is what you do during your own tenure that would be recorded for you by posterity. Every tenure, no matter how long, is temporary. Only the Aare endures down the generations.

As Nigeria marks the 60th anniversary of its independence from the United Kingdom, it is necessary to ponder on what we have wrought with the estate Lugard built. Some young Nigerians have become so misguided and misinformed that they think there is a simple solution to the problems of their country. Break up the country, the clamour, and we shall live happily ever after!

Statecraft is a complex science. The late Chief Bola Ige, the first elected Governor of old Oyo State, said at a public lecture at the University of Ibadan in 1997, that there are two questions about Nigeria’s future. One; do we want to live together as one country? Two, if the answer to the first question is yes, how do we live together to ensure peace, justice, and equity? We are still grappling with the second question until today. We don’t know whether Kabiyesi Ooni brought any answer for us during the recent ritual trip of the Aare to Oke’Mogun.


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