In defence of Oba Akiolu
October 20, 2020, was a day to remember for Lagos and its traditional institutions as hoodlums and thugs invaded the 350 years old Iga Idungaran, the official residence of the incumbent Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Babatunde Osuolale Akiolu carting away in the process, the staff of office and other valuables. The edifice was also burnt.
The palace which was built in 1670 for Oba Gabaro is no stranger to skirmishes and intrigues from within and without its enclaves but what was unique in the year 2020 attack is that the intention to wipe out this great heritage of the Nigerian nation and the black race was glaring and clear.
From Oba Gabaro to Adeniji Adele, all had their fair share of political battles and coups in that palace. As an example, on 25th November 1851, the British Royal Navy led by Naval Commander Forbes attacked and bombarded Lagos to dislodge Oba Kosoko from the throne on the pretext of abolishing the slave trade. The British Army had a stiff resistance from Kosoko and his soldiers with heavy casualties that made the British to retreat.
On Boxing Day in 1851, the British led by one Captain Jones backed by heavy artilleries relaunched the offensive in what was termed by the natives as Ogun Awoyaya and Ogun Agidingbi. Three days to the New Year of 1852, Oba Kosoko was finally dethroned but not without a good fight in defence of Lagos because at the end of the campaign, the British returned home with 15 dead and about 80 wounded soldiers Iga Idungaranhas been and still is, the home of great Obas who are versed in politics and warfare. Therefore, Oba Akiolu is not an exemption. This is a discussion for another day.
Oba Rilwan Babatunde Osuolale Akiolu was born on October 29, 1943, ascended the throne of his forefathers on August 9, 2003. A very amiable but strict individual Oba Akiolu cannot but incur the wrath of his detractors in a society where truthfulness, integrity, and godliness are scarce commodities. I have known Oba Akiolu for years and my point of attraction to his personality is his generosity, frankness, and courage. With Oba Akiolu, what you see is what you get as you don’t have to ponder on his feelings about you.
He is a philanthropist and an ardent lover of Lagos and its residents. One thing that opens the door of Akiolu’s residence to attack is his position on indigeneship. He once told me that his own concept of indigeneship defers markedly from that of the masses. According to him “anybody who loves, lives and makes positive contributions to Lagos is Omo-Eko “. This belief and many other good characteristics that are uncommon in our midst may have added fuel to the inferno witnessed in the palace on that day in October. But what the attackers and those who stood akinbo in “EseIga”, showing indifference to the carnage did not realise is that the institution of Obaship is greater than an individual because “ Adie ti o fo Koko obe, Sareara re ni o nbaje” literally meaning “ the chicken that breaks the pot is destroying its own grave”.
In terms of philanthropic activities, Oba Akiolu has impacted most positively on the lives and wellbeing of the people of Isale Eko and its environs; apart from complete modernization of the palace which is in contrast to those embarked upon by Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa in 1960. To further modernize the palace, the Oba has built a guest house, library, and also a health Centre in the community. I have been a witness to his offer of a scholarship to sons and daughters of Isale Eko up to the university level. In this regard, I must mention an instance where a student who was to pay a tuition fee of about one hundred thousand Naira passed a bill of over one million, two hundred thousand Naira to Oba Akiolu for settlement and it was my intervention that saved the day. I was privy to his paying a bill that runs into millions of Naira for the treatment of an ailing chief who eventually died. In one instance, he paid over twenty thousand dollars for the treatment of a Lagos Prince in the United Kingdom and he was also responsible for transporting the corpse back to Nigeria after his demise. These are certainly not the acts of a mean and inhumane person.
Oba Akiolu cannot but get a big bite of aggression in an environment where people have very thin skin for decency and greed. A case in point was in his discussion in my presence with a relatively junior Oba in his palace. The Oba has come to see him and he, in his usual character did not hide his disdain for the Oba’s attitude towards the citing of a cement producing factory in his domain. His anger was premised on the fact that the Oba was placing monetary compensation over and above the general wellbeing of the youths in the community. In his opinion, the center of the community negotiations with the business owners should have emphasized employment for youths in the factory. Oba Akiolu does not see the reason why a community should be averse to the industrialization of its own immediate environment.
Oba Akiolu is a man who is close, very close indeed to history. He has the history of Lagos, it’s environ and people vividly scribbled on his palm and embedded in his occipital. There is no doubt that the anger that burst into the open in October has been pent-up for years but the truth is that such anger is misdirected and misplaced.
“Orisirisiobeni a nrilojoikuErin “ (all shades and designs of knives come into the open when the elephant dies). The attack on IgaIdungaran brought into the open all manner of comments and social media coverage some of which defy norms and common sense. With every shallow intellect in possession of a microphone, misinformation and distortions took over the media space. In a particular instance, a man was suggesting that once an Oba leaves the palace in a circumstance similar to that of Akiolu, he should not be allowed to return to the throne. According to him, once a King exits the palace, it becomes an abomination for him to return. This is certainly untrue because Oba Kosoko left and returned from Epe. History has not forgotten the Oba of Lagos who was kicked out of the palace by the people of Isale Eko for converting to Islam and how the Muslim community ushered him back into the palace with the song “Wole, Wole, ile Baba omo ki nba omo l’eru wole.” and how he was also followed to the Central Mosque with the song “ Bi o kirun, bokiirun, niso n’Mosalasi”
Prof. Ojikutu is of the Faculty of Management Sciences, University of Lagos