The city of Ibadan is home to many landmark institutions in Nigeria. It is considered the second largest city in Africa after Cairo in Egypt.
Being the centre of administration of the old Western Region since the days of the British colonial rule, Ibadan is considered the political capital of the South-West; hence, many people show keen interest in what goes on in the city.
In the past one month, one major issue that has dominated the headlines is the review of the Ibadan chieftaincy system and the installation of 21 kings by Governor Abiola Ajimobi. Among the kings are the members of the Olubadan-in-Council and baales in the satellite towns, who were elevated to the position of kings.
While the government has made several attempts to give reasons for its action, which centred on bringing development to the smaller towns under Ibadan and adding prestige to the throne of the Olubadan, mounting criticism continues to confront the action.
While the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Saliu Adetunji, who stayed away from the coronation of the 21 kings, has described it as the desecration of the Olubadan stool and attempt to erase the unity of Ibadan under one king into many parts, other critics are of the opinion that the move represents an anthill formed to protect the political interest of the governor as the 2019 election draws near.
Those who are of this view derived their opinion from the fact that Ajimobi’s major political opponent in Oyo State, former governor Rashidi Ladoja, is the Osi Olubadan in Ibadanland who is also interested in politics of the state and how it will play out in 2019.
According to the theory propounded by the critics of the move who are reading political meaning to it, all Ajimobi has to do to silence Ladoja, who is also in line to become the Olubadan, if God wishes, is to decentralise power from the Olubadan-in-Council where Ladoja is a major player, bring the other high chiefs to the side of government by elevating them to kingship status and empower baales in the smaller towns by upgrading them to kings. Having done this, the governor can return to the kings ahead of 2019 and ask for political favour in return for what he has done for them.
So far, Ladoja’s opposition to the move has pitched him against his colleagues in the Olubadan-in-Council, who have accepted the kingship offers. Ladoja’s prayer is that the government lacks the power to do the review since it was not a creation of government but the people of Ibadanland. On Wednesday, the first meeting of the new kings was held in the Mapo Hall, Ibadan, where one of the monarchs, Oba Owolabi Olakulehin, who is also the Balogun of Ibadanland, said Ladoja was on his own. According to him, Ladoja’s opposition was borne out of political consideration, stressing that the former governor would have been happy if the review was done in his time in office.
Ladoja also lost an important ally in the struggle; the Otun Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Lekan Balogun. Balogun, who is in line to become the next Olubadan, is the highest ranking member of the high chiefs who are now kings. He and Ladoja instituted a suit against the government on behalf of the other members when the government announced the decision to set up a commission to review the Ibadan chieftaincy system.
But Balogun backed down, claiming that since the move had enjoyed wide support among the high chiefs, he would rather pitch his tent with them.
Perhaps, one major opponent to the review is the Olubadan, who has not hidden his feelings against such move. This is a party that is difficult to ignore and it has divided the people of the city between the government and the Olubadan.
Among the Olubadan’s supporters are more than 300 Mogajis (family) heads, who visited his palace on Wednesday to offer him solidarity on the matter. They have a common grouse as the Olubadan and Ladoja. The Mogajis, who have vowed to challenge Ajimobi in court, are of the opinion that a king cannot be a chief in another king’s palace. They also fault the decision to crown kings that have no domains.
They are also of the opinion that the baales that were elevated to the position of kings should be under them since the tradition and customs of the city is that Mogajis are vested with the power to appoint baales. In a way, the Mogajis see their position and existence in the chieftaincy order threatened by the recommendation of the commission that reviewed the chieftaincy declaration of Ibadanland.
Another major point that the Mogajis raised was that the process of installing the new kings was fraught with irregularity because the normal traditional rites were not performed before the crowning.
The commissioner, Kolade, however, said that the Oluwo Afobaje of Ibadanland performed the necessary traditional rites for the 21 kings, saying that nobody could wear a crown without necessary rites.
“We want to put it on record that the Oluwo of Ibadan performed the traditional rites for the recently installed 21 Obas. People should get the facts right before propagating falsehood. Nobody can wear the crown without performing the necessary rites. The popular Labosinde House that does the crowning rites can only do that of Olubadan. So all the 21 Obas will have to wait till they become Olubadan at their respective times before they undergo the rites of Labosinde,” Kolade said.
According to the white paper released by the state government after the submission of the report of the commission, the elevated high chiefs preside over chieftaincy matters in the local government under them while the baales, whose domains fall within any of the councils, will be answerable to the high chief-turned king in charge of the council.
The commission also recommended a reduction in the steps that a potential Olubadan from the otun and balogun lines will have to go through before he reaches the top. While the existing otun line, which currently has 22 steps, has been reduced to 11, the commission recommended that the balogun line be reduced to 12 from the present 23. This means that the Ikolaba chieftaincy will now become the entry point for a potential Olubadan, instead of the Jagun chieftaincy.
To guide against possible excess of the new kings, the commission also recommended that none of them must add ‘land’ to the names of their domain in their title and that the title ‘Olu’ is exclusively reserved for the Olubadan.
It also stated that the high chiefs who were elevated and the Olubadan are barred from partisan politics. The government further stated that any of the high chiefs that failed to comply with the code of conduct would not be considered for further elevation or be qualified to be appointed Olubadan.
Those who are of the opinion that the decision to review the system is targeted at Ladoja hold the last two recommendations as evidence. Ladoja is still taking part in active politics and on the line to become the Olubadan.
Since he has refused to accept the elevation to kingship, Ladoja might be risking his chance of becoming an Olubadan and if he accepts to be a king, it would signal an end to his participation in politics. The situation only presents him with an option to accept and whatever the option he chooses, there is a price to pay.
But while justifying the action and proving that Ladoja was not targeted, Ajimobi said the review was not new as past governments (including Ladoja’s administration) had attempted to review the system but lacked the political will to carry out the recommendations. He said the step would enhance the status of the Olubadan and that it would lift traditional institution in the city in conformity with the modern trend.
In a state where financial difficulties have reduced the government’s fulfilment of its duties to the people, some have questioned the governor’s decision, saying that payment of the new kings’ salaries would add burden to the state’s wage bill.
Commenting on the effect of Olubadan’s absence from the coronation of the 21 kings and how they would be paid, the state Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr. Toye Arulogun, said these are issues that would not affect the functionality of the new system.
He said, “It is pertinent to state that the Olubadan’s absence at the installation did not detract from its legitimacy. In addition, we wish to put it on record that the existing constitutional provision of five per cent from the local governments’ allocation will still be used for the welfare of the kings as there is no additional cost to the state government.”
A new twist was added to the controversy as the position of the Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes was criticised by the Olubadan and hundreds of Ibadan Mogajis.
The CCII, which prides itself as the umbrella body of all Ibadan indigenes worldwide , said at a press conference addressed by its President-General, Yemi Soladoye, that the government meant well with the review and that 90 per cent of Ibadan indigenes supported it. Soladoye said that the new system had more advantage than disadvantage, stressing that there was an element of politics in the criticism against it because the two major players (Ladoja and Ajimobi) were politicians.
The Mogajis and Olubadan replied by saying that it was wrong for the club to speak on behalf of all Ibadan people since it only represents a small group of people with common interest.
Speaking on behalf of the Mogajis, the Mogaji of Akinsola compound in Oopo Labiran area of Ibadan, Chief Olawale Oladoja, said, “When did CCII become the mouthpiece of Ibadan people? We know them as a social group. They cannot speak for Ibadan people, only the Mogajis can represent the people in matters that concern the city.”
While the elders of Ibadan are finding a solution to the crisis generated by the installation of new kings in Ibadan by Ajimobi, it will be difficult to eliminate its aftermath from the two camps of the political gladiators who are scrambling for the soul of Oyo State politics in 2019.