Oba vs. Oba: story of Yorubaland’s epic royal rumble

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    Governor Amosun with the Alake and Awujale after the reconciliation meeting
    Governor Amosun with the Alake and Awujale after the reconciliation meeting

    In the end, it was the governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, who played the peacemaker, bringing, last Wednesday, the two warring royal fathers to the Governor’s Office, Abeokuta, to appeal to them to sheathe their swords. But not after the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona and the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, had publicly done some supremacy ‘roforofo fight’, as the late Afro music legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, would call it.

    In the beginning, the new Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunnusi, had in January this year embarked on visits meant to first, mend the long-broken fence between the Ooni and the Alaafin of Oyo, and then cement the unity among the traditional rulers in Yorubaland. The Ooni had visited the Alaafin, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi and the Ijebuland paramount ruler, Oba Sikiru Adetona.

    But since the Ooni paid a similar visit to the Alake and paramount of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo on February 7, there has been a battle royale in the top echelon of the monarchs in Yorubaland in respect to their ranking.

    In an apparent show of loyalty to the Ife monarch during the historic visit, Oba Gbadebo had told his guests that he, Ooni, remained the highest in the ranking of principal Obas in Yorubaland.

    Oba Gbadebo listed the other principal obas below the Ooni, as the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba of Benin, Alake of Egbaland and Awujale of Ijebuland.

    The Alake said, “Ooni is one of the five principal Obas in Yorubaland. The others are in order of the way they are classified on a supremacy basis. After the Ooni is the Alaafin of Oyo; after the Alaafin is the Oba of Benin; after the Oba of Benin, it comes to the Alake of Egbaland and the fifth and by no means the last or the least, is the Awujale of Ijebuland.

    Barely days after this claim, there have been discordant tunes, particularly from Oba Gbadebo’s contemporaries in the topmost ranks. The Benin kingdom fired the first salvo, taking the paramount ruler to the cleaners on the ranking disclosure.

    The Esogban of Benin and Odionwere (traditional head) of the kingdom, Chief David Edebiri, yesterday, affirmed that the Alake of Egbaland, goofed.

    To him, the placing of the Oba of Benin in the third position in the hierarchy of Obas couldn’t have been farther from reality. He explained that the Ooni of Ife was a son of the Oba of Benin, adding that the stool of the Oba of Benin could not be compared with that of any Yoruba king.

    Esogban, third in command in the palace of the Oba of Benin, said: “We want to discard this report as something that was not necessary at all. We do not see how the Alake of Egbaland suddenly woke up to think that the Oba of Benin is also a Yoruba Oba. There is no basis for such classification. The Oba of Benin has nothing to do with the Yoruba Obas.”

    “It is simply unnecessary, unless they simply want to stir up controversy. We are not in Yorubaland. To be frank, it is because many of them are not willing to come up with the truth. The word ‘Oba’ is alien to Yoruba monarchy; it is not part of their titles.

    The Benin high chief went further into history: “In the 1950s, there was no Oba of Lagos. What we had was the Eleko of Eko. That was the title of the king there. In Ibadan, you had the Olu Ibadan. In Abeokuta, you had the Alake of Egbaland, while in Oyo, there was the Alaafin of Oyo. In Ilesha, you had the Owa-Obokun of IIesha. So no Yoruba monarch had as part of his titles the word Oba, except that of Benin. “That word ‘Oba’ is indigenous to Benin.

    It is only in recent times you find everybody bearing Oba. When the Western Regional conference of traditional rulers took place in Benin City in 1942, go and check the attendance, there was no other monarch in the whole of the Western Region then that bore the title of Oba, except that of Benin.

    “So it is an unnecessary excursion, an unnecessary attempt to turn history upside down by the Alake by classifying the Oba of Benin as third in the hierarchy of kings. Our own traditional history says that the Ooni of Ife was a Benin prince who wandered from here to Ife, settled there and became the ruler there. That is the position, if they don’t know, they should send people here; we will teach them.”

    “Maybe the Alake wanted to mention a different place and not Benin. The rulership in this part of the world started from Benin during the era of the Ogisos. It was the son of the last Ogiso, Owodo, that wandered from here to Ife and he became a ruler there, carrying everything about the Benin monarchical system to that place. There is no basis for such classification.”

    “The Ooni of Ife, by historical facts, is a son of the Oba of Benin, so they are not in the same class. The Oba of Benin is the only one that answers Oba, the rest don’t. But today, we hear Oba here and there, they are all recent adaptations. I am saying categorically that the word ‘Oba’ is indigenous to Benin and not to Yoruba nation.”

    Yoruba Obas keep mum

    Most traditional rulers in Yorubaland who were contacted for their reactions on the issue declined making any remark, saying since the Alake had spoken on the issue, they would not want to be drawn into any controversy.

    Specifically, one of the monarchs who occupies a prominent office of a national forum and did not want his name in print, said the 1903 gazette spoke extensively on the issue. But the Olowu of Owu-Kuta, Oba Adekunle Oyetunde, said the ranking by the Alake was not new.
    “Even the colonial masters have done the ranking. Spiritually, the Ooni occupies the territory of Oduduwa. So, he is the landlord of the Oduduwa House. I don’t think there is any controversy,” he said.

    While the different affected sections continue to dig into history to give a knock or praise, the Awujale again accused the Alake of “inexperience” and not “knowledegable enough to speak on the ranking.”

    Dismissing the ranking as self-serving, false and a misrepresentation of facts, the Awujale, at the inaugural lecture of the Professorial Chair in Governance that he endowed at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State, said the Alake was not higher than him in order of ranking, adding that at best, the Alake “is a junior traditional ruler in Yorubaland.”

    Oba Adetona said he had waited for days for the Alake to deny his claim, and advised the traditional ruler to meet with former President Olusegun Obasanjo for proper tutelage “so as to save himself and his people from further embarrassment.”

    Picking holes in the ranking, the Awujale faulted the 1903 gazette the Alake based his categorisation on. “The Alake, while receiving the Ooni at his palace, said the Yoruba Obas had been categorised with the Ooni in the first position, followed by Alaafin, the Oba of Benin, with Alake coming fourth and the Awujale as the fifth in that order.

    “He also went further to quote wrongly from a 1903 Gazette to support all the fallacies in his statement. When I learned of the statement, I made several calls to Alake until I eventually succeeded in finding out from him if those statements were actually made by him, which of course he vehemently denied.”

    “In a recent discussion between the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, and I, we also touched on the same issue and the Oba of Lagos told me that he too had asked Alake the same question, which he had again denied vehemently.”

    “Regrettably, however, when the said statement a few days later was continuously credited to Alake on the pages of newspapers, I expected him to deny it or issue a rebuttal, but he did not do so. Therefore, I consider it necessary to debunk the aforementioned falsehood and misrepresentation of facts from Ake Palace so as to put the record straight.”

    The Awujale went ahead to state his own understanding of the Yoruba Obaship history. “First, I would like to make it abundantly clear that the 1903 Gazette referred to by Alake was a newspaper publication that he, in his self-serving role, is now presenting as an official Government Gazette.”

    “The first question to Alake is: Who categorised the Yoruba Obas and when? I challenge him to produce the document of the said categorisation. It is a known fact that the Alake was a junior traditional ruler under the Alaafin at Orile Egba before he fled to Ibadan for refuge as a result of the war then ravaging Yorubaland.”

    “Following the defeat of Owu by the Ijebu Army in 1826, the Owus became refugees all over Yorubaland. Some of the Ijebu troops that fought the war proceeded to Ibadan where they met the Alake and sacked him, consequently forcing him to seek refuge at Ake in Abeokuta in 1830 where, of course, he met Osile, Olowu and Agura already settled at Oke-Ona, Owu and Gbagura sections of Abeokuta township respectively.”

    “Even then, the Olubara, of Oyo origin, had always argued that all the aforementioned four rulers met him in Abeokuta and, therefore, claimed to be their landlord. To ever refer to the Alake as Alake of Abeokuta, let alone of Egbaland, is a misnomer as his control since arrival at Ake in 1830 and till today is restricted to the Ake section of Abeokuta. The official Government Gazette testifies to this fact.”

    “In short, the Alake from history and all available records, is a very junior traditional ruler in Yorubaland. His peers in Ijebuland are the Dagbuwere of Idowa, Ajalorun of Ijebu Ife, Akija of Ikija-Ijebu, Olowu of Owu-Ijebu, Oloko of Ijebu-Mushin, Orimolusi of Ijebu-Igbo and Ebumawe of Ago-Iwoye.”

    “It is important for Alake’s education to appreciate that Ijebuland and the Ijebu people have been in existence for almost 1,000 years and that we are the only people that still remain in our original homestead, while other Yoruba towns and villages have relocated twice or more.”

    “If only he cares to obtain a copy of the book: “The Ijebu of Yorubaland (1850-1950)” by the late Prof. E.A Ayandele, that erudite Professor of History, and endeavour to read it, he will know who the Ijebus are and appreciate that from time immemorial and since our settlement on Ijebu soil, Ijebu was, indeed, a nation until 1892 when we were defeated in the Magbon War by the British colonial forces.”

    “As to be expected, the British colonial masters left no stone unturned to humiliate us for daring to engage them in a war. When Sir Gilbert Carter read intelligence reports on Ijebuland at the Home Office in London, he felt convinced that the Ijebus were a special breed.

    Therefore, when he later found himself as Governor of Lagos colony, he prepared a treaty for the Awujale to sign so as to allow the missionaries to educate and evangelize the people, as well as surrender their monopoly of trade between the coast and hinterland, and for which he offered an annual payment of 800 pounds that was rejected.”

    “In conclusion, I hereby strongly admonish the Alake to refrain from making such unsavoury, unguarded and unfounded statements which, if not checked, may seriously jeopardize the unity of Yoruba Obas and their people.”

    On Monday, at a news conference in Abeokuta, some Egba Chiefs responded to Awujale’s allegations. The Chiefs, under the aegis of the Egba Chieftaincy Committee, sharply disagreed with the Awujale on his position over seniority claims.

    They contended that all allegations levelled against the Egbaland paramount ruler “lacked documentary facts” and that Oba Adetona threw caution overboard by his derogatory remarks against the Alake.

    In a prepared text by the Balogun of Egbaland, Chief Sikirulai Atobatele, which was read by the Aare BaaIroyin of Egbaland, Chief Lai Labode, the Chiefs said their concern about Awujale’s comments was predicated on the monarch’s “self-indulgence to churn out outright historical falsehoods in the presence of knowledgeable Nigerians.”

    Chief Labode said the Alake is superior by the salary structure, which he stated was prepared by the country’s colonial masters. “On the allegation on who categorized the Yoruba traditional rulers? The fact is that the then Ooni of Ife did, at the Central Native Council meeting which was chaired by the Governor-General, His Excellency Sir William Macgregor, M.D, at Government House, Lagos in 1937.

    “Those in attendance included the Ooni of Ife, Alafin of Oyo, Oba of Benin, Alake of Abeokuta and Awujale of Ijebu Ode. Historically speaking, the Alake was higher by salary differentials paid by the colonial government at the time. The Alake of Abeokuta earned £2,250 while the Awujale of Ijebu-Ode earned £1,700 during the colonial era,” he disclosed.

    On the allegation that the Alake quoted from a 1903 Government Gazette in a newspaper to claim his seniority, the Egba chiefs averred that “the Alake quoted from Government Gazette, Colony of Lagos, Saturday, 20th February, 1903. Page 100, paragraph 16,” adding that “the Gazette was a subsidiary legislation which has a force of law and, therefore, a public document available for verification.”

    The Chiefs also corrected the aspersion cast on the Alake that he is “a young and inexperienced” traditional ruler, noting that “Awujale’s speech was uncalled-for and was neither civil nor decent.”

    Since the controversy started, mixed reactions have continued to trail it. A Yoruba historian, Rufus Adebowale, disagreed with the feuding monarchs on their perspectives on the hierarchy of Yoruba traditional stools.

    Adebowale said both the Awujale and the Alake were inaccurate in their analyses of the history of the Yoruba race. Adebowale, a prince from the Okukenu ruling house of Egbaland, backed Oba Gbadebo in some of his claims and attacked Oba Adetona for being critical of the Egba monarch.

    According to him, the Awujale is a foreigner in Yorubaland, as the Ijebus originated from Wadaiý in Sudan and, as such, the Awujale and his Ijebu people lacked the authority to speak on the history of the Yoruba race.

    The 72-year-old historian also took a swipe on the ranking, declaring that the Alake distorted history by claiming that the Alaafin was next to the Ooni of Ife.

    “The history is not contestable but what is important at this stage is for all hands to be on deck for co-operation, for unity so that the vision for development can take place but you cannot lose sight of history as a guide,” he said.

    Despite the tone of these comments from both the camps of the Alake and the Awujale, both traditional rulers publicly denied on Wednesday that there had been any altercation over ranking between them. Rather, the media, they said, should be blamed for reporting fire where there was no smoke. (Daily Trust)

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