The intrigues, politics of 32 new kings

By YINKA OLUDAYISI FABOWALE

“Koseleri!” is a Yoruba word, which means unprecedented, historic, unique, exceptional.

In Oyo State, this word is both a slogan and cognomen popularized by political sycophants in trumpeting the achievements of the state governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi and his All Progressives Congress (APC) government now into the sixth of their eight years tenure.

Ajimobi apparently first earned the praise when in 2015 he broke the jinx of governors who ruled the state never going beyond first term, with his reelection.  The feat was seen as the electorate’s endorsement of the governor’s sterling performance in his first term, marked indeed by massive infrastructural development including construction of bridges and rehabilitation and building of a network of intra and inter-township roads. Ibadan, the state capital, erstwhile notorious for sleaze shed the toga of being “one of the dirtiest cities in the world” as the government not only regularly cleaned up the city but also created parks, planted exotic flowers round the city, which were  regularly fed and nurtured under a grand urban renewal and beautification programme.  Thousands of jobless youths were also employed for municipal duties under the Youth Empowerment Scheme of Oyo State (YESO).

In appreciation of this transformation, Ibadan, where the governor hails from, decorated him with the honorary chieftaincy title of Aare Atunluse of Ibadanland and his wife – the Yeye Aare Atunluse of Ibadanland.  “He is a true son of the soil,” the handsome, gap-toothed state’s helmsman’s kinsmen proudly gushed about their own.

However, the tune changed and so did the drumbeats, when against the crushing weight of the economic recession the APC administration owed workers backlog of salaries and work stopped on most project sites as contractors could not be paid fees.  When the slide got so bad such that the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso jointly owned by Oyo and Osun states was shut for almost a year due to lack of funding, and Oyo, which prides itself as the ‘Pacesetter’ in education and developmental drive was recently ranked 29th out of 36 states of the federation in the latest West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE) performance rating, the disenchanted people, renowned for their ingenious and artful use of the language, wasted no time in finding inverse interpretation of  “Koseleri” which in the highly culturally nuanced Yoruba society, actually has paradoxical connotations.

Thus, for each of the blots in his record of performance, critics and cynics, especially among political opposition mocked and threw sarcastic jibes at the governor lamenting such shortcomings as “Koseleri” (i.e bizarre, bewildering, unusual, unheard of, monumental tragedy etc).

Last Sunday’s mass installation of 21 of the 32 beaded crown-wearing Obas appointed by his government in effect to the controversial reform of the chieftaincy system in Ibadanland has expectedly drawn both criticisms and praise for the governor. While his supporters lauded the event and the exercise that birthed it as another landmark in the history of the cosmopolitan city, reputed to be the largest in Africa, South of Sahara and also the state, a section of the public wrote them off as unprecedented sacrilege and desecration of the time-worn political tradition and history of the about three centuries-old conurbation.

The novel amendment, the state government says, is to enhance the status of the city’s traditional institution and its custodians among their counterparts in Yorubaland. But to critics, it has merely ruptured the hierarchical order of succession and lines of authority in the unique neo- monarchical republican traditional chieftaincy that Ibadan had practised for ages.

Ibadan alone operates this rancour-free succession system, whereby family representative/heads are promoted through the hierarchical ladder to the stool of the Olubadan, the paramount ruler. Other Yoruba towns, which lacked it are plagued by succession disputes often involving long-drawn legal battles that leave them without Obas for many years, even decades!

Believed to have worked so well, critics see no need for Ajimobi to tinker with the chieftaincy, beyond ulterior motives. Indeed, the governor is suspected to have caused the review of the 1957 (59) Ibadan Chieftaincy Declaration which among others specifies new criteria for membership and appointments into the chieftaincy institution and promoted Olubadan’s chiefs/king makers as well as some erstwhile Baales (village heads) as Obas, to achieve selfish political agenda. Specifically, the exercise is said to be aimed at technically barring and whittling the political influence of some prominent high chiefs, notably Otun Olubadan, Senator Lekan Balogun and a former governor of the state and Osi Olubadan, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, in the state. Both men have been promoted Obas in the new arrangement, a position, which, sources say, could oblige them from involvement in party politics. Although, Balogun, a former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain, has been less active on the political scene, Ladoja, who is the major financier and driving spirit of Accord Party, it is believed, still nurses ambition to rule the state again. 

Although Ajimobi’s Information Commissioner, Toye Arulogun dismissed  the imputation of political  motive into the government’s action, declaring that his boss had nothing to fear about the chiefs, especially Ladoja, whom he described as a ‘political spent force’, observers note that the politician, who despite the crisis that shook his party still retains formidable clout that makes him a veritable threat. They recall the feat of his party, which, formed barely few months to the 2011 election, came third in the governorship and won seats in the House of Representatives and state House of Assembly, forcing Governor Ajimobi to go into an alliance with it for stability of his administration, although the pact later crumbled.

The Accord Party chieftain, who dumped the PDP after he lost in the power tussle within the party, ran second to incumbent governor, Ajimobi who only managed to retain his seat with 32 percent of the total votes cast in the last poll. Analysts considers the feat remarkable considering that it came eight years after Ladoja left office as governor.

They believe Ajimobi would have lost that election had the various PDP factions that contested the governorship on different political platforms garnering 66 percent of the votes cast, fought the election united. The recent move to woo him back to the party is certainly no comfort to the ruling APC, say pundits.

Governor Ajimobi has also been accused of seeking to create “warrant chiefs” who would do his bidding in an alleged bid to control the politics of the state, even post 2019, with his elevation of erstwhile chiefs.  The governor’s critics say the new Obas are bound to reward their benefactor with allegiance by mobilising their “subjects” to support his wish, especially during elections.

Senator Ladoja, who has gone to court to challenge the state government’s action, accuses Ajimobi of deliberate ploy to cause confusion and crisis in order to distract  public attention from the “many embarrassing failures” of his government.

“They want to cause confusion. I foresee a situation whereby some people will start to declare a republic within Ibadanland, saying ‘after all, I am also an Oba as the Olubadan’, forgetting that it was the Olubadan who made him a baale before he became an Oba. It is already causing confusion,” the former governor told Saturday Sun recently.  He also faults the Justice Akin Boade Judicial Commission of Inquiry that carried out the review as incompetent to do the job, which, he declares is and has always been the duty and rights of the Ibadan traditional establishment. “Chieftaincy issues are based on the customs of the people. If you are not from Ibadan, you cannot understand what our customs are and how they come about it. The government has no business tampering with the declaration of the Olubadan Chieftaincy. The only job the government of Oyo State has to do was to register the declaration and that has happened,” Ladoja says. 

He insists there was even no basis for any amendment of the system, which, he describes as self-reforming. The ex-governor notes that similar bid by some Ibadan intelligentsia under the reign of the immediate past Olubadan, Oba Odulana Odugade was dumped, as most of the suggestions such as having more educated people on the Olubadan line, insulating the institution from partisan politics were already being effected.

Ladoja agrees that the governor may want to use the exercise, particularly the appointment of new Obas as a political tool, Ladoja, noting: “I remember that my successor in office, gave chieftaincy titles to so many people because he thought that with that, they would support him in the next election, but he lost the election. Maybe that is what the government is doing, thinking that it will help them to retain power.”

Ladoja alone is left fighting the move with the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Saliu Adetunji, Aje Ogunguniso I, who sniffs in it a plot to undermine him.

Although government has repeatedly tried to reassure and disabuse the mind of the 89-year-old monarch, its curious discreteness and failure to consult him on the plan, has left him unconvinced.

Saturday Sun learnt that Governor Ajimobi may have inadvertently sowed the boring germ of doubt in Oba Adetunj’s mind, with an interest he reportedly never hid to tweak with the chieftaincy system which with its long line of succession appeared programmed to produce only old people as Olubadan. An urbane and educated Ibadan elite, the governor is said to have considered this an anachronistic burden and embarrassment where more and more young people are emerging Obas all over Yorubaland.

The governor was said to have voiced to some Ibadan elite his dismay and conviction that the chieftaincy system was due for reform when the Olubadan stool became vacant in 2016 and Adetunji, then 88-year-old wealthy albeit illiterate merchant, stood to succeed the late occupant.  Somehow, it was learnt, the governor’s views reached the ears of the incoming Olubadan, who began to suspect subterfuge to prevent his ascendancy, particularly when out of the blues, the Seriki family, that was never part of the royal succession system, staked a claim. The clan, which had made similar but futile bid spearheaded by the prominent politician, late Chief Meredith Adisa Akinloye, in the 1990s, petitioned Governor Ajimobi, alleging rights to the throne.

Although fingers were pointed at Agodi Government House as likely sponsor of the surprise agitation, Ajimobi’s eventual support and installation of Adetunji as Olubadan dispelled suspicion that the governor ever had a hand in the kite-flying, or any personal grudge against the monarch.

But apparently, the apprehension was not totally erased and reared up again when in April this year, the state government’s announced its intention to tinker with the Olubadan chieftaincy with the constitution of the Boade panel. The Olubadan kicked and so did his 11-man cabinet whose members have  supervisory powers over the 11 local governments in Ibadanland when the commission’s terms of reference were made public.

But if the Olubadan had feared likely loss of his authority and primacy, their affirmation in the official white paper on the recommendations of the judicial panel released by government should have allayed them.

Curiously, Oba Adetunji has persisted in his vehement opposition to the exercise and its outcome, even after being deserted by all his chiefs, save Ladoja. Several statements issued by his media aide, Adeola Oloko, and condemning the exercise have kept pouring out from the palace.

Governor Ajimobi recently cautioned the monarch against politicizing the issue, a broadside believed to have been targeted at Ladoja, suspected to be surreptitiously fuelling the Olubadan’s obdurate resistance to the new policy.

However, the monarch on Monday fired back a response objecting to the insult implied in the governor’s counsel that he was naïve and had no mind of his own.  He reminded Ajimobi that he had on principle, consistently opposed the idea at various meetings before and after the deed was done, wondering if at his age he could be teleguided by anybody against his conviction. 

The day after Ajimobi crowned the government- appointed Obas at Mapo Hall arcade, the Olubadan with scores of Mogajis hit Ibadan roads in a convoy of about 24 cars denouncing the mass coronation as a charade and proclaiming himself the paramount ruler over the entire Ibadanland.  The road show which was joined by some supporters of Senator Ladoja attracted large crowd of the city residents and caused traffic snarl on some of the routes taken, as the trailing crowd hailed “Kabiyesi! Kabiyesi!!.

Why is the old monarch recalcitrant despite several overtures government reportedly made to pacify him, even after the governor met and apologized for not consulting him and his council members initially? The question has baffled observers.

But Saturday Sun can reveal that the Olubadan’s stubborn opposition may have stemmed from fear of perceived treachery by some of his chiefs.  It was learnt that relationship between the monarch and members of the Olubadan-in-Council had not been particularly cordial due to differences over the administrative style of the former.

There had been complaints of non-consultation on important matters, embarrassing interjections by non-members and palace aides in council deliberations, during meetings usually held at the Olubadan’s palace. The Olubadan’s alleged indifference to the grouse drove a big wedge between him and his chiefs.  Indications that all was not well within the council blew into the open when majority of the council membership took a public stand against their principal’s decision to depose and replace Chief Labake Lawal with Mrs. Ameringun as the Iyaloja of Ibadanland.  The chiefs, who were joined as co-defendants in a suit filed by the embattled Iyaloja challenging her removal, publicly dissociated themselves from the decision, explaining that the Olubadan acted unilaterally.

Saturday Sun learnt that things got so bad that some of the chiefs boycotted the palace, save for the Otun Olubadan, Senator Balogun, who kept up honouring the customary courtesy to avoid being accused of being over-ambitious and encouraging rebellion against the occupant of the throne of which he is next to succeed, a source said.

Government’s insistence that it acted based on popular clamour and representations from diverse sections of the Ibadan community including members of the chieftaincy institution for the amendment and the eagerness with which the high chiefs embraced the new policy leaving their principal in the lurch, have besides revealing the deep fissures within the traditional body raised some vital questions.

Could the chieftaincy review had been at the instance of some of the aggrieved chiefs? Is it true some of them presented memoranda and even participated in the judicial panel’s proceedings.

Did Governor Ajimobi institute the reforms, as he said, out of patriotism or did he wittingly or unwittingly got involved in a partisan battle?

Why did the government in the published gazette reject the judicial commission’s recommendation precluding  the members of the Olubadan-in Council promoted Obas, from bearing the royal title of Oba, in spite of their elevation?

While answers to some of the questions still blow in the wind, the Otun Olubadan, Oba Lekan Balogun stoutly rose to debunk insinuation of any palace coup or ill-feeling towards the Olubadan, whom, he says, remains and the paramount ruler of Ibadanland and will be accorded all respect due to his office.

Reacting to allegation of their volte-face after initially rejecting the review, Balogun said: “That would not be an accurate way to put it.  We were not against the idea of the reform itself.  We opposed it essentially because we were not consulted.

We didn’t know what his (governor) intentions were and there were all sorts of allegations as to his motives and what he planned to do.  For instance, there was suspicion that Ladoja and I were targets!  But the government later summoned a meeting of the council members and we discovered that the governor was motivated by patriotic love for Ibadan.  It turned out we were wrong about our assumption of him having ulterior motives. So we stopped fighting”

Oba Balogun said he too was forced to withdraw from the lawsuit challenging government on the matter and tried to persuade Senator Ladoja to also do, albeit without success, after he discovered that their colleagues had backed out from the legal action overnight. “I was forced to also withdraw because I believe if there’s need to be in court, all of us should be in court,” says he.

But, he explains that the reform has not upset the status quo with respect to Olubadan’s suzerainty.  “What has changed is merely the nomenclature and fashion, that is, the wearing of beaded crowns.  Nothing else has.  The new arrangement does not touch the existing hierarchy.  The Olubadan remains the paramount ruler with the title of Imperial Majesty, while the council members answer to Royal Majesty and the newly promoted Baales Royal Highness. So, we still prostrate to him (Olubadan),”  the former chairman, Senate Committee on National Development further clarifies. 

Reminded that that it was taboo for royal fathers in Yorubaland to prostrate for another in greeting, Balogun quips: “That is if they come from different domains. “We’re one. We have a domain, although a global one we all share and that is Ibadan, with parts of it managed by some of us in trust and at the behest of the Olubadan,” dispelling the mockery of the new crowns as kings without kingdoms.

Balogun sees neither ridicule nor contradiction in bearing the titles of an Oba and serving as chief in the court of another traditional ruler.  His words: “There is no contradiction.  One specifies your specific role, the other your global position. …The tradition of a people is a function of their history.  Some towns were founded by individuals and as such you find there dynasties.  On the contrary, Ibadan was founded by warriors and nobles who came together and agreed to rule the city together.  They agreed to have Mogajis as heads of each family who would gradually learn as they climbed up the ladder and aspire to the Olubadan’s stool.  That’s our history as distinct from the history of other people.”

He also faulted allegation that the mass coronation of the Obas was a mockery of tradition as mandatory traditional rites and processes such as seclusion and tutelage on royal lifestyle and duties, history and customs of their people, introduction to the deities, presentation to the townsfolk and receiving obeisance, offering of traditional prayers by the chief priest as well as installation with the sacred Akoko leaves were not observed.

Balogun says the charge is not true, insisting that the ones peculiar to Ibadan traditions were done. He discloses that  before the public ceremony, the monarchs were summoned into the inner chamber of Mapo Hall to perform the rites before the Oluwo, Ibadan’s chief priest, saying: “People are just finding fault; we did all that.  We have been there before 12 o’clock, we were not crowned till 3pm.  It was after we’d done all that, that the crowns were put on our heads.  For a long time, the governor was waiting on the platform.”

Government’s spokesman, Mr.  Arulogun says he cannot understand the opposition to the policy, remarking that the administration merely acceded to the popular yearnings of Ibadan people and seeing the need to upgrade the status of the communities whose  traditional rulers were elevated Obas, of based on their history. He notes that the office of the Olubadan as a first class Oba directly benefited from past similar exercise.

The commissioner describes as laughable  the allegation that the reform was Ajimobi’s attempt to clip Ladoja’s political wings, asking: “Why would Governor Ajimobi want to do that to a man he had consistently defeated in elections?  Ladoja is not an issue anymore.  Besides, it’s not as if he (Ajimobi) will contest the governorship after he finishes his term. Excusing himself to rejoin a meeting from which he broke to hurriedly grant the brief interview, Arulogun refers Saturday Sun to his chieftaincy and local government counterpart for enquiries on the reason for purported designation of Mapo Hall as the venue for the meetings of the Olubadan-in-Council, hitherto held at the Olubadan’s palace , among others.However, the meeting could not hold as the commissioner was reportedly busy.

Oba Balogun, however, says the relocation of the venue is a non issue, although suggesting that the choice of a central location could have been informed by the circumstance of “current differences” among the council members. The traditional ruler however, says: “The gazette can’t prescribe for us where we hold our meetings.  It’s a dynamic issue. If the Olubadan says today ‘come back’, I can tell you, I will probably be on his side… Supposing the new Olubadan Palace we are building is ready, of course, we’ll move there, because the place belongs to all of us.

Meanwhile, the influential Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes, CCII, the amalgam of all town unions, associations and clubs in Ibadanland, dropped its apparent ambivalence midweek to join the fray.  It went on the government side. A group of Ibadan indigenes in the Diaspora, Ibadan United in Diaspora also backed the policy as a popular one, even as the government appointed Obs lent their voices, berating Senator Ladoja for allegedly misleading the Olubadan. The CCII claimed that 90 percent of Ibadan people demanded and supported the chieftaincy reform.

But, the Mogajis accused the CCII, of having been compromised. They faulted  the validity of the statistics it claimed represented the popular support of the people, wondering when the organization took the census to arrive at its conclusion. On the contrary, they noted that as heads of all the families in  Ibadanland, they were in a better position to gauge the opinion and feeling of the people.

CCII president, Chief Yemi Soladoye, who addressed newsmen on Tuesday, however, admits that there are some grey areas in the review that require clarification.

He observes that government needs to specify the position and status of the Mogajis in relation to the Baales now promoted to Obas in the traditional hierarchy, if the new arrangement is not to cause friction, confusion and crisis among stakeholders in the affected localities.  Under the old order, the Mogaji is superior to and responsible for nominating the Baales in conjuction with some family elders.

Although the Baales can never aspire or rise to become Olubadan, the Mogajis are natural candidates for the imperial throne.  “The question is,” says an Ibadan chief, “is a Mogaji now expected to prostrate or pay obeisance to the Baale turned Oba, or will the Oba who is forbidden from prostrating for another mortal, refuse to respect and pay obeisance to the Mogaji who is his superior?” 

The Mogajis would not have their traditional rights and authority abridged.  About 300 of them had headed for the state high court where they filed actions asking that the government’s action be nullified.

As it were, the court rooms promises to witness fierce legal fireworks in the next days as Ladoja, has also filed fresh suits against the state government, in addition to the pending ones on the matter.

Details of the aggrieved parties’ the prayers were unavailable by press time, as various law chambers in the city were busy preparing for the impending legal battle with several other lawyers, who are indigenes of Ibadan lining up to offer their services in prosecution of the battle during the week.

Saturday Sun learnt that the plaintiffs will seek among others for the nullification of the exercise for non compliance with statutory provisions, especially the Ibadan Chieftaincy Declaration and Oyo State Chieftaincy Law 2000.

One of the lawyers who spoke to Saturday Sun, dismisses Niyi Akintola’s (SAN) submission that the state government had the right and power to carry out the review as was done by previous governments in 1959, 1976 and 2000.  He declares: “The issue is not whether or not the government has the right to do the reform, the issue for determination is whether the exercise can be justified under the law.

According to him, Sections 10 and 25 Cap 28 of the Oyo State Chieftaincy Law allows the governor to conduct a review on the chieftaincy declaration only when the customary law system is found to be defective or objectionable, but notes that this is not so.

There are also moves to institute contempt proceeding for the committal to prison of some top government officials and members of the chieftaincy review panel for going ahead with the exercise when a law suit challenging it was already before the court.

But the authorities are unperturbed by the rash of legal actions.  A highly placed source confided in Saturday Sun that government had envisaged and pull the sail off the wind of possible legal challenge. Hence the urgency in publishing the white paper and giving immediate effect to its decision by installing the new Oba the same weekend, to forestall those opposed to it from going to court to stop it.”  This, observers note, probably explains why a confident Governor Ajimobi declared triumphantly that the deal had no legal encumbrances.

However, the governor may have spoken rather rashly and not realized that by tinkering with the Ibadan chieftaincy, he may have made enemies and opened other battle fronts with other first class monarchs in the state. Saturday Sun learnt that the Olubadan may have got the sympathy of some of royal courts in the state, between which there had been frosty  relationship due to the leadership tussle in the state Council of Obas and Chiefs, but now united by a common threat to their influence. They kings are said to be apprehensive that the governor may turn to their domains if he succeeds with the Ibadan experiment.  Royal emissaries with messages of solidarity and advice have been shuttling between the palaces of these monarchs and the Olubadan’s in the last one week.

A powerful and influential monarchs known to be very conscious of defence of his pedigree and throne was reported to have declared that he would have asked to be joined in the suit, but for the fact that the affairs was still exclusively Ibadan’s.

The royal fathers are piqued that the government, in its hasty award of beaded crowns to the new Obas, allegedly breached provisions of  the state’s chieftaincy law 2000 which prescribes a request or proposal from any part of the state be tabled before the council. As it were, the council of traditional rulers has not met since 2011 after their statutory meeting was  suspended on the orders of  Governor Ajimobi in the aftermath of the leadership squabbles that rocked it.

Another legal opinion, however, says this may not invalidate the governor’s action because with the suspension order, the power of the council reverts to and could be exercised on its behalf by the governor who is the appointing authority.

Ibadans whose warrior- ancestors at the zenith of their  military might, stood together to fight external enemies, may never have been as divided and quelrous as  they are today over the chieftaincy system they inherited  from their forebears and by which they had lived peacefully prospered and advanced to be the third  most populous city in the country. The descendants of  Iba Oluyole, Ibikunle, Bashorun Ogunmola, Aare Latosa and other legendary Yoruba men of valour, who, despite their might, lived and ruled the city together in peace even in turbulent times, have turned the bayonets on one another. Although, the din of booming guns, the thunderous clatter of hoofs of calvary and hair-splitting neighing of study mounts that characterized Ibadan’s battle field in the days of yore may be mute and invisible, it is expected to be reenacted when the sparks start to fly in the courts soon.  On one hand is the Olubadan, Senator Ladoja and the army of 300 Mogajis.  Are they a match to the battalion of new crowns and that have emerged and their mass of subjects and supporters?  Will these be willing to submit their new found recognition and power for a slide back into obscurity under the shadow of the Olubadan? 

The Oyo State government obviously did its home work well and played the card well?  But did it?

The verdict lies with time and the court, which, for the first time in the history of the city, is being called upon as arbiter in a major chieftaincy dispute affecting the entire land.  Koseleri!

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