A Community at War With its Ruler

29 Apr 2013

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Chiemelie Ezeobi witnessed the rage of an aggrieved community in Ogun State and reports how the community resorted to jungle justice in its bid to sack its traditional ruler and set his palace ablaze with his wife and children locked inside the palace

On Monday, April 15, Oba Lateef Akanni, the traditional ruler of Ado-Odo, an agrarian community in Ogun State woke up to do the routine rituals of a king. He appeased the gods with sacrifices and thereafter dished out instructions to the palace guards for the day’s activities. He also looked into the diary to be sure of his schedules, but Oba Akanni didn’t do one thing.  He didn’t consult the oracle for what the day held in store for him.

On that day, Oba Akanni did not know danger was lurking in the corner, so he didn’t prepare for the battle ahead. So a few metres away from the palace, his subjects swooped on him and beat him to a pulp for what they described as his display of arrogance and constant injustice that is unbecoming of a king.
Expectedly, Akanni should have been rescued by the kingmakers, but it turned out that the kingmakers abandoned him to his fate.
However, that he was beaten to a pulp was not as shocking as the realisation that even the kingmakers endorsed the treatment meted out to the ruler.

Indeed, in traditional societies, kingmakers are usually the strength of any ruler and when they turn their backs it often spells doom for the ruler.
But for providence and the timely response of the Nigerian Army, Akanni and his family would be dead. He barely escaped being lynched to death by the whiskers as the community revolted against him in broad daylight.
Declaring the traditional ruler persona non grata, the community descended on him, beat him up and set the palace ablaze with his wife and children locked inside the palace.

The act of jungle justice meted out to the king by the community attracted the attention of the Commanding Officer, 192 Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Ahmed, who stormed the community with some soldiers to maintain law and order. When they got there, they first rescued the king’s wife and her children when they heard their cries from the burning palace.
Beside beating the traditional ruler and setting the palace ablaze, the community also burnt about three cars that were in the compound, just as they also vandalised the property within the palace.

Why Ado-Odo Revolted

The community alleged that Akanni has never conducted himself as a king, but as an oppressor who willingly oppressed members of the community. They alleged that any motorist or commercial motorcyclist who unintentionally blocked Akanni's convoy had to pay very dearly for their “sin”.

They alleged that the king had a retinue of security aides that he deployed to harass his subjects. According to eyewitness accounts, it was after one of such occasions of alleged brutality against a commercial motorcyclist that Ado-Odo residents finally revolted and beat up the king alongside his driver.

It was learnt that trouble started at about 8 am on the day of the incident when the traditional ruler allegedly ordered his driver to beat up a commercial motorcyclist who obstructed his way and had been knocked down by the Oba’s vehicle.
Akanni's action drew the anger of the people who rose to defend the commercial motorcyclist. “Before that time, Akanni had ordered his driver to slap the motorcyclist, but the motorcyclist resisted that order by returning the slap. I mean he slapped the king’s driver in return and that infuriated the king who came down from the car to slap the motorcyclist one more time,” said passerby who witnessed the incident.

This reporter learnt that the grouse of the community against Akanni was due to his alleged harshness and uncivilised treatment ceaselessly meted out to the residents, especially by his aides.

The community alleged that the king oftentimes battered people who refused to prostrate to him or gave him accolades befitting his status as the traditional ruler.

The Dagunro of Igbesa Land, Chief Ayeni Adeoye confirmed that residents of the community have been living in fear of the traditional ruler since he became the oba four years of ago. He said: “I have not slept in my house for over a week, because I am scared I would be brutalised again. I was a victim of his brutality in 2009 when my house was burnt and so many people got arrested.

“He beats and threatens people who do not greet him in a royal manner, even though is not even a native of Ado-Odo. He was imposed on us by the former Ogun State Governor, Gbenga Daniel. When his grandfather died, he was buried in another land because he was not a native.

“We have been in court for almost two years to ensure his removal. When Senator Ibikunke Amosun became the governor he started a peace process, but over 10 months ago since the truth commission that was set up to address the petition by over 35 petitioners said that Akanni had a case to answer over the mayhem in 2009 nothing has happened.”

Confirming what he said, another resident who claimed to have been brutalised by the traditional ruler in the past, Temitope Akapo, said despite the treaty by Amosun, the community has not known true peace.

She said: “During the last incident, I was arrested where I was sitting in front of my father's house and they charged me for murder. I was the only woman in the group. I was held for 11 days in the police station before I was sentenced to prison. I spent over one month there before I was eventually released.”

She added: “Although I don't know who set the palace ablaze, all I can say is that we are tired. We are calling on the government to save us and remove this present traditional ruler. He doesn't want the best for us at all.”

Another member of the community identified as Tunde observed that Akanni has not been ruling like a king, adding, “We are not happy with and we are pleading with the government to act fast and restore the peace which this community enjoyed in the past.”

Army Comes to the Rescue

The Commanding Officer, Ahmed who led the rescue said: “I was waiting for the General Officer Commanding (GOC), 81 Division, Major General Obi Umahi to arrive Owode for the annual range classification exercise when the information on the mayhem filtered in.

“At first, I detailed some of my men on patrol at Ipokia to move in but considering the distance, I decided to visit the area myself. On getting there, I saw that the palace was ablaze already. The villagers on sighting me from a distance fled and ran into their houses for fear of being arrested.

“And from the fire, I could hear the voice of a woman and children crying for help. The woman turned out to be the traditional ruler's wife. In fact, they were already chocking from the smoke inhalation, but my men braved the fire and rescued them.”

Ahmed said that he learnt the police who had come in during the rescue operation had taken the victims to the police station instead of the hospital, but he went to the station and made sure they were taken to the hospital for treatment first.

Ahmed confirmed what residents this reporter. He said: “After the rescue operation, I went back there to investigate the cause of the fracas and I learnt from the chiefs that they were tired of the traditional ruler's purported draconian rule.

“Since the people of the town were afraid of being arrested, they shut their doors, when they saw me and other soldiers in the community the second time and I had to go round to knock on their doors and some of the community elders started coming out to give accounts of exactly what happened.

“I spoke with some of the elders and they said they don't want him again, even though the case was already in court. No arrest was made and no life was lost save for the traditional ruler and the wife who were injured.”

He added: “Part of our responsibility was to effect rescue which we have done already. So we have handed over the matter to the police to conduct their investigations. So at now, we have pulled out our men.”

According to the GOC, Umahi, the rescue mission by the army was what was expected of them, adding that his men have been dispensing their duties responsibly.

Akanni’s Hospitalisation

Attempts by this reporter to get Akanni to respond to the allegations against him proved abortive. Enquiries showed that the traditional ruler who lost consciousness after the attack was taken to King's Cross Hospital, Otta, Idiroko Road, Ogun State. His injured wife and children were later rushed to the same hospital as well for treatment.
But when this reporter visited the hospital, one of the medical personnel on duty said the hospital was forced to refer the traditional ruler and his family to an undisclosed hospital in Abeokuta for security reasons.
“The hospital feared that the community might take out their angst with the Oba against the hospital and burn the place to the ground all in a bid to get to him. So we referred him to a hospital in Abeokuta a bit of a distance from this environment,” she said.

Community’s Demands

The community has demanded that the government’s white paper on the Truth Reconciliation Commission be implemented. According to them, the commission had indicted the Oba over 10 months ago, yet no action had been taken. They also asked that the first Oba who was removed in favour of Akanni be brought back to rule them.

How Government Reacts

In order to ensure justice, the Ogun government has set up a Judicial Commission of Enquiry to investigate the cause of the crisis.

In a statement signed by the Secretary to the State Government, Mr.  Taiwo Adeoluwa, a five-man commission to probe the incident is headed by Justice Elizabeth Osinuga with Mr Johnson Ojo  as the Secretary.

``The panel is to identify individuals, groups of persons and institutions directly or indirectly responsible for the unrest and ascertain the extent of loss of lives and damage to property during the crisis.The panel is also to recommend ways of avoiding a re-occurrence of such unrest,” the statement said.

Confirming the story, the Police Public Relation Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi said some people went to the palace and attacked the Oba of Ado-Odo but normalcy has been returned to the town.

He added that the State Commissioner of Police Ikemefuna Okoye “has been there and we are going to ensure that the needful is done to bring all those involved in the act to book.”

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