Olubadan: Reinventing Traditional Governance in an Ancient City


By Tajudeen Akanni

N o matter what you do, no matter who you are, take notice that tomorrow is on the way. No matter your profession, social standing or belief, take notice that change is bound to happen and happen again. This tends to shine the light on the review of the Obaship at Ibadan, as His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Oyo State, stated during the crowing of 33 Obas at Ibadan on August 27, 2017, “today’s innovations are tomorrow’s traditions.” There is no area of life, immune to innovation.

Without innovation, the human race would actually be retrogressing. That is why the Governor’s position on the reform is apt. No one can win an argument against innovation, particularly given the common knowledge that for over 30 years leaders of thoughts and many interested parties in Ibadan have consistently called for the review of the traditional institution of their Oba, the Olubadan, currently occupied by Oba Saliu Adetunji.

Interestingly, Ibadan is made up of 11 local government areas, more than the whole of Bayelsa State, which has just eight local government areas. Traditional administration of the ancient city is very unique, commencing from the Mogajis and Baales, who function as family heads to the Olubadan who is the paramount ruler, ruling with the Oluban-in-Council.

Even with the minor reform, ascension to the Olubadan throne remains by seniority among the 11 High Chiefs that constitute the Olubadan-in-Council, though they now wear beaded crowns. Ibadan has about the most peaceful and orderly ascension to the throne in Yorubaland and probably the entire Nigeria, as the next Olubadan already knows himself up to the next six in line.

It is instructive to state that despite the well-structured path to the throne of Olubadan, members of Olubadan-in-Council have to wait until the transition of a reigning Oba to ascend to the throne. This accounts for why in most cases only the advanced in age become the Olubadan, most of them were crowned at well above 80 years. This is also the reason why most Olubadan do not reign for long.

It is important to note that the chieftaincy laws in Oyo State provide that a Governor can call for a review of existing Declarations. In the exercise of this power, the Governor of Oyo State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, himself an Ibadan indigene hearkened to citizens and stakeholders persistent clamour for a review the traditional governance structure in Ibadan to make way for better administration and elevate the current status of the Olubadan stool.

To this end, the Governor set up a Review Panel headed by retired Justice Akintunde Boade. Chief Lanre Jaiyeola served as Secretary to the Panel. The panel on completion of its assignment after receiving Memoranda and submissions from various stakeholder-groups, including Baales recommended that the 11 High Chiefs be elevated to Oba status while still maintaining their line of ascension to the Olubadan while the Olubadan becomes an Imperial Majesty and Paramount Ruler. Similarly, 22 Baales who had always cried for an upgrade of their status were also elevated to Obas.

Since the inauguration of the new structure and Obas, the current Olubadan, Oba Saliu Akanmu Adetunji has not hidden his disdain and resentment to the new arrangement which he considered a personal affront and a reduction of his power. He has a former Governor of the State, Senator Rasheed Ladoja who is also one of the upgraded High Chiefs in his camp. With Ladoja in the fray, the matter has assumed a political dimension, with many alleging that the former Governor wants to fuel the issue to gain political mileage and currency.

This stance tends to gain support from Ladoja himself, when he alleged last week that the attack on the Olubadan Palace during a meeting was targeted at him and blamed the state government for masterminding it. The Oyo State government has long denied any involvement in the attack.

Speaking on the matter, the Oyo State Commissioner of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr. Bimbo Kolade said that the reform carried out in the Ibadan Traditional leadership structure will only enhance the status of Olubadan and deepen traditional governance in the ancient city.

The Commissioner maintains that the Governor of the state, Senator Ajimobi responded to the call of prominent Ibadan elders, Chiefs, Baales and leaders of thoughts who have consistently called for the review of the Ibadan Chieftaincy Law over the years.

Kolade noted that rather than diminish the status of the Olubadan throne and the current occupant, Oba Saliu Akanmu Adetunji, the elevation of the 11 High Chiefs to Obas will enhance the status of Olubadan as the Paramount Ruler while the order of ascension to the Olubadan throne remains the same.

“For almost 30 years, there have been calls and agitations for the review of Ibadan chieftaincy law. In fact one of the notable Ibadan indigenes, Chief T. A. Akinyele wrote a book in which he posited the need for the Ibadan chieftaincy law to be reviewed. There have been several other books also written by Ibadan indigenes on the need to review the Ibadan chieftaincy law. Between 1974 – 76, and as recent as 2003, there were several commissions of enquiry set up by government to look into chieftaincy matters in the state, during which there were constant calls for a review of the Ibadan chieftaincy law. During the Adio Commission of 2003, some 33 Baales in Ibadan made a request through the respected lawyer Niyi Akintola, (SAN) for them to start wearing beaded crowns. “Out of the 33 Baales then, I think the Commission recommended 16 of them for the title of Obas,” he said.

He recalls that “Even though the immediate past administration of Chief Alao Akala in Oyo State did not set up a commission of enquiry, it actually made attempts to turn some Baales into Obas in the state, and about six Baales were given approval to wear beaded crowns, although this was not implemented. So, the agitation for a review of the Chieftaincy law has been on for a very long time. Immediately this administration came in, there were several representations to Governor Abiola Ajimobi on the need to review.”

Notable stakeholders are already calling for calm, including influential Ibadan elders and those outside the state like Afenifere and Yoruba Council of Elders. The two leading pan-Yoruba socio-cultural and political organisations have weighed in on the matter calling for dialogue and mutual understanding in the resolution of the issues arising from the reforms.

The Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes (CCII) has also stepped in to douse any tension and acrimony the reform could bring. CCII has already brokered a peace meeting between Senator Ladoja and Governor Ajimobi which is hoped will settle the matter even though the Mogajis have called on Olubadan and Ladoja to boycott the meeting.

In the same vein, the Oyo Patriotic Front led by Mr. Jare Adepoju has cautioned the state governor to be careful about any deal with Senator Ladoja because of past peace resolutions which the former Governor has breached.

“The peace move by the CCII to resolve the imbroglio in Ibadan and other parts of Oyo State is commendable. However, we want to caution Governor Ajimobi not to get carried away. He should remember that his gestures in the past were repaid ungraciously,” the group advised.

Lending his voice in the support of the reforms, a legal luminary and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Niyi Akintola commended the government of Oyo State and the Governor for the courage to carry out the reforms in Ibadan traditional institution. For him, the review is long overdue, “What was obtainable in those days is no longer tenable today. Moniya in Ibadan is bigger than some state capitals in Nigeria; Omi-Adio is a cosmopolitan town with a population of 186,000 people according to the 2006 population census.”

“How can you expect the ruler in such a town to be under a Mogaji in Ibadan town? That was what the past governors were trying to correct but they lacked the political will to execute it.”The coming days will see if the ancient city of Ibadan is pulled back to allowed to benefit from the drive of an innovative and courageous governor.