The Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Dr. Sikiru Adetona, recently marked his 86th birthday and 60th anniversary on the throne. In this rare and exclusive interview with Olayinka Oyegbile, Deputy Editor and Dare Odufowokan, Assistant Editor, the respected traditional ruler speaks on politics, the late Abacha and the bill before the Ogun State House of Assembly seeking to amend the installation of traditional rulers and other sundry issues.
KABIYESI, there are allegations in some quarters that you are behind a bill before the Ogun State House of Assembly which is believed to be aimed at tampering with tradition and customs as regards the installation and burial of Obas in the state. Can you shed light on this?
Let me start by making it clear that I, as the Awujale of Ijebuland, reserve the exclusive right and prerogative, to the exclusion of anybody – be it Oba or chief, the control over tradition and customs in Ijebuland. Once I say this is what it is, that is what it is. Nobody can challenge me. So, those out there challenging my position and explanations as far as Ijebu tradition and customs are concerned are just at best, agent provocateurs acting on behalf of some people or they simply don’t know what they are doing. Like the fellow who wrote an opinion in a national daily recently, he acted totally out of ignorance.
I just gave you a copy of the bill in question for you to better understand this issue. This is a bill of the Ogun State Council of Obas, not me. I just can’t understand how only the Awujale can represent the entire Ogun State Council of Obas. That is why I said ignorance is the major problem with those accusing me. They lack basic knowledge of the issues they are dabbling into. But for you to further understand this issue, here is the earlier resolution of the Ijebu Traditional Council on the same issue of how obas should be buried in Ijebuland. You can see that the two documents are not the same.
And I am a party to this one dated 31 March, 1997. At the assembly here in my palace on that Easter Monday in 1997, where these resolutions were adopted, more than 5,000 Ijebu sons and daughters, representing various interests and families, were present and they all agreed to the position that obas should be buried by their relatives according to their religious beliefs, without prejudice to traditional gifts to those who may be traditionally entitled. And that the children of obas be allowed to perform memorial services or other social ceremonies after their demise. The media were there. And that is what we have been doing here in Ijebu ever since.
That is our own; not this one they want to pin on me at all cost. This one before the Assembly is the position of Ogun State Council of Obas and it was drafted for the council by Prince Bola Ajibola. All obas in Ogun State agreed to these things. All the traditional councils in the state – Ijebu Traditional Council, Yewa Traditional Council, Egba Traditional Council and Remo Traditional Council. It came much later after our own Ijebu declaration of 1997. It spoke about installation in church or mosque – nothing like that in our own resolution of 1997, which I stand by.
But there are talks about the surprising plans to exclude traditionalists, especially the Osugbos, from installation and burial rights of obas, contrary to the tradition and custom of the Yoruba. How true is this?
Who are the traditionalists complaining? Is it the Jones or the Mukailas parading themselves as traditionalists? Let them come out openly and identify themselves. The public hearing on the bill is coming soon. Let them go there and speak out on all these things. They are ignorant. Talking about Osugbos; they have nothing to do with installation or burial of kings right from time immemorial. So, who is excluding them? Osugbos belong to us here in Ijebu. They are not the same as the Ogbonis in Egbaland or any other group in any other place. I speak of Ijebu where I am the sole authority on tradition and customs. I am not interested in what happens in other places.
Let’s talk about the Osugbos. Who are they?
Osugbo is a society. And if you want to join the Osugbo, you will go and apply. They are not chiefs or priests. They have no role to play other than to serve the king. Osugbos are mere messengers to the king. They owe the existence of their society to the king in Ijebuland. The oba is not a member but the authority for them to meet is the Edan given to them by the king. And once he withdraws it, they cannot meet. So, can such people dictate to the king? I say no. They have nothing to do with the tradition of the people – whether installation or burial of a king. I passed through the process and I never saw the Osugbos play any role.
Even when the king joins his ancestors, they play no role. They can’t even go near the palace. The Osugbos should not be given powers or roles they don’t have. It is the Ogbenis and the Odis that have roles to play in the installation of an oba in Ijebuland. Then, there is the Mogoosu, another palace official, whose duty is just to crown the new king and it ends there. Mogoosu is not a king as being claimed by some ignorant persons out there. He is not even a chief of any community. Few weeks to the coronation of a new king, someone is appointed as the Mogoosu; and once he crowns the king, that is all. I never saw or heard from the Mogoosu that crowned me since the day he performed that function till today.
What about the much talked about fortification of the new oba by the Osugbos while in the Ipebi (seclusion)? Is that not a role for the Osugbos?
Have you been to the Osugbo before as a king-in-waiting? No. Ok, I was there for three months and I am telling you I never saw any Osugbo there. The people talking, have they been there? So, who should know if not me? What we did in seclusion is nothing secret. We were just there making merry and enjoying ourselves while relatives, friends and other well-wishers come around to visit and rejoice with the king. What is the fortification they are talking about? No Osugbo came to do anything to me while I was there. Let them come here and tell me who it was that did that for me. Osugbos are mere messengers, I repeat.
Sir, what is the role of traditionalists in the crowning of an Oba in Ijebuland – especially, in the behind-the-scene ceremonies or rites leading to the coronation?
They have no role to play at all. Be it the Osugbos or any other traditionalists. I am telling you they play no role. It is the Ogbenis, the Odis, the government officials, the princes and the royal house. That is all. I can recall that Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Ladoke Akintola, all of them were involved in my own ceremonies. So, where were the traditionalists you talk about then? And what rites are you referring to? I cannot recall any rite that was done behind the scene. Let them come and tell me. It is all lies. Nothing like that. They even tell you that they give the heart of a deceased oba to the new one to eat! They are crazy. Nothing like that.
Okay, which heart did Orimolusi eat when Adeboye died in Tripoli? Besides, when Gbelegbuwa died, I wasn’t in the country. I was abroad and didn’t return until about a year after his death. So, which heart was given to me? I didn’t eat anything oooo. So, no such thing happened. That is why I am asking you to tell me those rites that are the preserves of the traditionalists or the Osugbo as you claim. People must learn to seek knowledge before contributing to issues they lack information about. And they say I want to alter tradition. Which tradition? What is tradition? Who determines tradition?
Tradition is the way we live. It is not custom that makes people; it is the people who make custom. It is what we are doing today that becomes tradition. The burial of an oba is the duty of the Odis and not the Osugbos. The bill is not against the Odis performing their functions. This is the draft bill and you will see it there that nobody is objecting to that. And the mention that the obas should be buried according to their belief is largely to go in line with the constitutional provision. Whatever goes against the constitution can no longer be done. It is because of ignorant people like this that it is written that way.
One of the things they do in those days was to kill people as sacrifices to the gods. Can they do that again today? Why are people not protesting against the correction of that? Why can’t these protesting professors offer wife or children to be sacrificed? The proposed law is to guide against indecent and barbaric practices in the processes we are talking about. The belief before now is that some people must be killed to help the late king carry his loads to heaven. Can that still be done now? Do you want that to be done? How can you then bury a king traditionally?
It was done in those days, before the advent of the British people. The killing of people for sacrifice stopped. So, kings were no longer being buried traditionally since then. And then we don’t want them to be buried decently. Can you imagine? It is these ones, and not any concerned stakeholders, who are refusing to accept the realities of today. You say traditionalists. Who are they? Let them come out and publicly tell the world what they are opposed to. Who are traditional worshippers? What are they worshipping? Is it these Jeremiahs and Ismailas that claim to be worshiping Ogun and Obatala? Let them come out. They’re just some never-do-wells, who are either James or Dauda.
Are you saying as the Awujale of Ijebuland, you don’t perform certain traditional rites on behalf of your town and people?
Which rites? What are those rites? Do you know those rites because I don’t know of any? If you can say this rite or that rite, maybe I will understand.
Are you saying you don’t intercede and or pray on behalf of your subjects?
That is not part of my function. The churches and the mosques are there to do that. Intercede? What sort of intercession? I am concerned about how to get good roads, drinkable water and general wellbeing of my people and territory. You talk about being spiritual leader. Spiritual leader of what or where? I don’t know about that. It is all rubbish. People are just talking about what they don’t know about. I have been on the throne for sixty years and I have never been tired because that is my job. Otherwise, I have to quit the place.
So, I understand what being an Awujale is all about. I became a king as a young man and when I got here, I saw the excesses of the politicians and a lot of other things. And I felt I needed to do a lot to manage the situation. And in the last sixty years, that is what I have been doing. And I will tell you firmly that I have done my best.
Another allegation out there is that you subdued the annual traditional Obanta festival and promoted the Ojude Oba festival which is related to the Muslim Ileya festival. How true?
There has never been any Obanta festival. So, where did they get the story of an Obanta festival being subdued for Ojude Oba festival? What I can remember is that there used to be one Obanta Social Club doing some things annually in the palace. But at a time, the people in charge became fraudulent, collecting money from people and not accounting for it, so I stopped them. That was all. That has nothing to do with Ojude Oba that has been on for centuries now. It started with Ileya festival when the Awujale gives ram to Muslims to slaughter at the praying ground. On the third day, they came to the palace to thank him. That was how it started long before my coming to the throne. It became a tradition and we continued it because we saw it as a platform to unite our people for cooperation irrespective of their religions. Nothing like Obanta festival. What festival will that be actually? Is it Ogun festival or Agemo festival? People just say what they don’t know about out of sheer ignorance.
For the records, are there kingmakers in Ijebuland? If yes, who are they?
You see, politics has changed everything. The real kingmakers in Ijebuland are the Odis. When there is a vacancy, they know the next ruling house and they know the eligible candidates there. But it is a different thing now. By law, they set up some chiefs as kingmakers due to the influence of government and politics. And people now go to court over everything that has to do with king-making.
Your anti-Abacha stance in those tough, military days, what was going on in your mind then?
My duty is the welfare of my people; and in doing that there will be risks and I have to face the risks on behalf of my people. That is why I am on the throne. If I can’t do that, then I should quit. I saw the need to defend my people and I did just that. That, I will do any day. You talk about being threatened, didn’t (the late) Bisi Onabanjo suspend and depose me when he was governor? All I see is the duty I owe my people. If other traditional rulers aren’t doing that, that is their headache. If in the course of doing that I am removed, I will have no regret whatsoever. The people are always with me because they can trust me. So, I have to do my duty to them too.
How do you think traditional system and government can exist side by side without conflicts?
The traditional rulers must recognise the changes. That is politics. Before the British came and conquered us in 1892 at Imagbon during the Anglo-Ijebu war, Ijebu was a nation on its own. Even after the British left, politics took over and the changes continue. I always respect government and politics. That is the way to go as a traditional ruler today. But I also ensure I respect myself so as to be able to hold my own. I will give you all the regards of your person and office, and expect you to do the same for me. It is the only way for traditional system and government to exist without rancour. The times have changed greatly.
What have you to say on the seniority tussle among Yoruba obas?
I will say the whole rivalry is as a result of stomach politics. How do I explain this? They want favours from politicians. They want to be contractors; they want to be suppliers. That is why they are in rivalry. They do all these things to impress those people they want favour from. But it is actually none of my business. I have never been interested. My concern is Ijebuland and I am not in any competition with anybody here. So, I am not interested in dragging seniority with anybody anywhere.
Finally, Kabiyesi, are you fulfilled with your reign and life?
I cannot do more. What more can I do? I am satisfied. I have done my best. Or what more do you want me to do? Tell me things you think I should still be worried about. I have served my people and country to the best of my knowledge and I pray whoever comes after me should continue. Now, I look forward to the day I will go to be with my maker.