Palace invasion: When the gods go on protest
The plundering of the Oba of Lagos’s palace in last week’s statewide riots here gnaws the mind. The sacrilege, both to the stool and Lagos cultural heritage, is condemnable in its entirety. A thorough investigation by the police and a panel of inquiry can work out empirical details and bring the philistines to book. But in the interim, there are moral and socio-cultural issues that should not be glossed over. Let us ask: why was the palace invaded? Where were the gods and residents when the kingdom’s heritage was being plundered and brought to ridicule? What is the affinity between the monarch and his subjects? Certainly, there are dimensions to these inquiries, but I find the theoretical explanation most convenient in this regard.
Video footage of the invasion making rounds in social media is quite disturbing. Aggregate accounts suggested that the riot began as a street protest by residents, staging road-blocks in Lagos Island including Iga-Iduganran (the official residence of the Oba). Apparently displeased by the disturbance, the Oba allegedly called in the police to repel peaceful protesters. It became a faceoff, shots were fired and two of the protesters killed. With more rush of blood to the head, irate protesters went for the police station and subsequently for the palace. Eminence grise, a retired police chief, had to scale a fence to escape being lynched. Further angered by the flight, the mob in broad daylight descended on Iga, ransacked every valuables including artefacts and opa ase (staff of authority). They brought the palace down in mindless acts of desecration.
With the benefit of hindsight, the event was as symbolic as it was abominable. Ideally, an Oba’s throne or palace is one of the central sites of reference in an African community. Therein abound traditional values, rites, shrines of the god, history and culture in their unblemished forms. The palace is to governance, what shrines are to the gods and marketplace is to the economy. And in African traditional settings, they are all necessarily interconnected. Recall that the African cosmos thrives on symbiosis and interdependence of forces. Where one thing stands, another thing stands with it. Mutual complementarity defines the relationship between spirit and matter, good and evil, animate and inanimate things, gods and humans, kings and traditions and so on. It is a necessary cohabitation. In this regard, the Oba too is a sacred being; the representative of the gods and deities of the land. In him resides power and eminence. Except in a few kingdoms, all of those characteristics would seem obsolete in modern settings.
In our contemporary time, the kings have not only lost their political powers, they have lost the spiritual essence and the glory. Evidence abound that most of the kings today are the creation of the political class and no more of the gods or tradition. Perhaps in very few places, it is almost impossible to have the rites of succession without a major acrimony among the kingmakers and concerned stakeholders in the land. Isn’t it an aberration that the governing constitution made the kings answerable to the local government authorities! Since politicians have become the new gods and kingmakers, their beneficiaries have literally abandoned the real gods of the land, rituals and rites while hiding under the cloak of Christianity, Islam and modernity. And as the African ontological narratives have it, the gods you do not revere in good times will not save you in bad times. So, it is logical that the gods that did not partake in the enthronement will not show up in times of trouble. Indeed, the gods are not to blame.
What of the people? Did they also abandon the Olowo Eko and the palace on the day of trouble? Traditionally, a palace is strategically located in the centre of the town and next to a market ground. That connotes service. The palace is just as close to the people as possible and only far-off as necessary. A place where the famished got filled and those in need got respite. The kings don’t take their subjects for granted, knowing that the voice of the people is the voice of God. And in return, the people shield their palace and the ruling family. The king is like a termite among soldier ants. Yes, there are historical instances of palace invasions in times of primitive warfare. However, the palace is never brought to ruin while the village or town is intact. No! In fact, the palace is often the last to go down, given the level of resistance the entire village would summon to repel invaders and protect their king. So, what has gone awfully wrong in Lagos?
Truth is that our monarchs are fast becoming unpopular among their subjects. Some of them have gone so low, commonplace, and have lost the former glory. Unlike in the past, our Obas are regular guests at parties, religious gatherings, political campaigns, and other public spheres in the manner that diminishes their eminence. As a real appendage of the political class, they are too laid back about the plight or the development of their people and in the process lost the peoples’ goodwill. Anyone familiar with Iga would tell you that the Oba’s palace sits at the centre of the busy town. On a good day, the street is a beehive of activities with all sorts going on simultaneously. It is therefore unlikely that non-residents or foreigners could have perpetrated the sacrilege and in broad day light right under the full glare of the Lagos residents. Has the Oba of Lagos become that unpopular to warrant a palace implosion? At what point did things go that awry for the king? The king does not govern his domain alone; but with the parade of white-cap chiefs – the intelligence community of the Oba. Ole kii ja agba k’o ma se l’oju firi. Where were they when the Oba lost popularity among the gods, the people, and the Lagos heritage was being brought to ruins? Let us not leave out the proposition of envy and envious members of the community in all of these. The brazenness and insensitivity of people in the position of power are such that expose them to undesirable reprisals. Right in the midst of squalor, the royal family often stands out, as if to tell their subjects that they live in a different world. The song of bamu-bamu l’ayo, awa o mo bi ebi n pa omo enikan (we are too full to be bothered if anyone is hungry) is anathema to peace and security. Just like politicians, they clearly forget the people in their drive for acquisitiveness and vanity. You cannot be self-possessed and count on the goodwill of the subjects that are already battered on all fronts. Agba t’o je ajeewehin, a ru igba’e dele!
All of these observations add up to one fact – mistakes had been made. Clearly, both the gods and the people had gone on protests here – by their actions and inactions. In times like this, there is a need for soul-searching and appeasements across the boards. Without doubt, the kings have responsibilities both to the gods, the people, and vice versa. To do contrary or selective is to cause an adie ba l’okun; ara o r’okun, ara o r’adie (that is, catch-22) situation. Ire o!