By Lasisi Olagunju
NO one comes to the world without a disease. Ibadan is a city of politics and war. Both are forever treated intimately. Those who know will say that for Ibadan, if politics is amala, then war is the ewedu and gbegiri that paddles it into the bowel of satiation. That should explain what you have been seeing in that city in recent days: the governor and the Olubadan testing powers. It is normal. It is only the stranger (ajeji) like me that gets worried at the tension everywhere. Nothing is happening now that has not happened before. Something just must happen. It may be pleasant; it may be unpleasant. If today’s problem did not come, tomorrow is already incubating its own. When Ruth Watson did her seminal work on the city and crowned it with the title: “Civil Disorder is the Disease of Ibadan,” she was merely anglicising the character of the city and its warrior owners. The super highway of its progress from the very beginning is paved with politics, intrigues, civil strife – if you like, call it disorder.
Ibadan people are proudly omo ola – children of a special breed of the Yoruba described by Karin Barber as men with “the capacity to attract and retain the gaze of other people.” They do what no one else has ever done – and then move on, leaving the world to gaze and gasp. What is wrong in 32 chiefs wearing crowns same day courtesy of a governor, without the consent of the consenting authority? Yoruba kings venerate the crown and all activities around it. It is what marks out an ilu (town) from an oko (village), a cosmopolite from a yokel, and, an overlord from a vassal. The crown is the most sacred of the king’s regalia. It is the hood that makes the monk in the palace of the Yoruba king. So, it is sacred, venerated, and jealously guarded from all forms of profanity. The palaces in Ife and Oyo have piles of royal concerns, complaints and interventions on and against acts of desecration of the crown. Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife, in 1959, was alarmed at signs that unqualified people were “buying” crowns. He asked: “What honour is there in a crown which one’s father never wore, never bequeathed?” Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, the Alaafin of Oyo, also warned against what he, in a July 1976 letter to the Ooni, described as “indiscriminate wearing of beaded crowns” by unworthy chiefs in Yorubaland. The two agreed that the sacredness of the Yoruba crown must be protected at all costs from the ravages of profanity.
But then, the seed of today’s challenges is right there in the history of Ibadan. When Oba Aderemi spoke about “bequeathed” crowns and of a beaded crown to which one has “succeeded,” he was thinking of all kingdoms where kings were once princes. But Ibadan is just different, it is not like any of this other conventional ilu with conventional kingship tradition. It is that difference that made Governor Abiola Ajimobi, an Ibadan man, see his “innovation” as tomorrow’s “tradition.” In real Yoruba monarchies, it cannot be traditional if it is modern. Macgregor Grier was District Officer (DO) in charge of Ibadan around 1913. He came face to face with Ibadan’s unusual system that shamed all his experience in colonial service. He wrote Grace Grier (likely his wife): “Ibadan is a difficult place for there is no hereditary Chief as in Oyo where they believe in the divine right of kings – and the result (in Ibadan) is continual intrigue and want of proper authority; consequently chaos.” Today is a product of yesterday. In Ibadan, there must be war or at least civil disturbance for leaders to emerge. At a point in their history, no leader was allowed to lead without first proving himself in battle. At least one Balogun twice declined becoming the Baale of Ibadan because he had not been allowed to go to war by the meddlesome British. There must be war to fight – even if one must be created – to confirm the gender of the commander.
Ibadan has a history of interestingly complex and ruthless politics. The more you read of Ibadan’s past, the more you appreciate and smile at the stubbornness of history. Struggle, rejection and accommodation of power; Intrigues and counter intrigues; trust and betrayal of trust. Every Olubadan sleeps wide-eyed. There was Baale Irefin who thought he was defending the honour of his people against the excesses of local and foreign overlords. He became lonely and was asked to go and “sleep.” He did so on 14 March, 1914. There was also Balogun Ola—bold, patriotic, respected and outspoken against the colonial order. He too fell to the intrigues of the garrison. Alone and crest fallen, he went home, “put his house in order,” and did as a man should do on 18 August, 1917. He became a folk hero and was renamed Balogun Kobomoje (He did not spoil his noble birth). Since the British took power from our kings, they have not stopped dreaming of their paradise lost. The result has been tension and accommodation between power and tradition. Watson interrogated this unending tension between the Yoruba kings and the white man’s power structure.
She says she “was particularly interested in examining how the military chiefs of Ibadan adapted to the introduction of British colonial rule from the late nineteenth century, and what happened to ideas of political authority and civic culture.” She found that “neither Ibadan chiefs nor British officials were dominant; instead, each side was forced to adapt and change so as to accommodate the other.” Across the history of Ibadan, tension, conflicts and clashes have defined the relationship between governors and successive Olubadan. There are today two power centres in Ibadan: the Government House and the Palace. In an ordinary, normal situation what we have is a case of the stone and the egg. If egg head-butts stone, egg breaks; stone hits egg, it is still egg that cracks. It should not be very difficult to know which of the two centres wields all the powers. But history tells us sometimes power fails the powerful. There have been times when the governor controlled just the government house and the secretariat and the Olubadan owned and ruled Ibadan streets with their awesome powers. In 1982, Oba Oloyede Asanike sacked Governor Bola Ige as the Aare Alaasa of Ibadan and triggered a chain of events that culminated in the controversy of Ige’s loss of power in 1983. The last Olubadan, Oba Samuel Odulana, backed by the streets of Ibadan, had a running cold war with Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala till the governor lost his re-election in 2011.
There is a sense in which disorder is actually order. You find this across time in Ibadan. Ibadan is not the usual monarchy you have in other Yoruba towns. It is a military republic with all the trappings of a garrison. In the beginning, it would look like the rulers of Ibadan decided what title they wanted. I found that Oluyedun who was one of their earliest rulers chose the title of Are-Ona-Kakanfo. His deputy was Lakanle and he was Otun Kakanfo. Oluyole fought and vanquished Lakanle, succeeded Oluyedun and took the strictly Oyo title of Basorun. Another unusual warrior, Ogunmola, short, sharp and tempestuous, who came much later (1865), also chose Bashorun title even when he also knew that Alaafin’s deputy, the head of the all powerful Oyo Mesi was Bashorun and would not share it with anyone. The title was approved for this war commander by the Alaafin who waved the logical tradition of only one Bashorun existing in Oyo Empire. Amidst these seeming disorders, Ibadan moved on and got ordered. A town is run according to its founding ethos. Whatever you see today is in the natural element of the city. Strange crises are strangely resolved in Ibadan. This current war will be over. When it is resolved the Ibadan way, all of us, aliens, will be amazed. There was a 1982 crisis in a family called Sodun over the choice of the Mogaji between two contenders from different households. It was a crisis that defied all filial solutions and resolutions. The battle had to be fierce because Ibadans, in their arrogance, equate their Mogaji with the king of other towns. Becoming a Mogaji firmly sets a man’s foot on the journey to the Olubadan stool. Elders of the feuding family could not get one side to step down for the other. They played the last card, taking the case to the Olubadan-in-Council. The then Olubadan was Oloyede Asanike – witty, unusual, iconoclastic. He led his council members to do the unusual – he satisfied the two disputants with their desires. The two were installed as Mogajis. For the family, what else was there to do other than dance back home? You do not become angry and sad when your lord doubles your blessings.
What has the eye not seen before in Ibadan? This mass coronation matter is very unnecessary and should soon be over. The government and the palace need to press the brake now. When a load rejects the floor and equally spurns the rafters, you place it somewhere else. That “somewhere” is for you to locate. It is nice that the aggrieved parties have gone to court. But you do not come back from the courtroom to resume suspended friendship. That is why it is necessary for reason to take over from the point we are at present. The cloud and thunderclaps rapping our ears must not rain. Those in charge of the agencies of street control and manipulation in Ibadan are not located in either of the feuding centres. If anyone will benefit from the escalation of the war going on, it will be the unseen Generals. These are Commanders you won’t see on the frontline but who are always the beneficiaries of conflicts. Head or tail, in defeat or in victory, they count gold coins, the loot and bounties of war. The potentates are already thanking the stars for this crisis. Their joy will be full if reason dies between Governor Ajimobi and the Olubadan.