Ajimobi, Ibadan Chieftaincy Law and the Imperatives of Change

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‘Wale Sadeeq

Change, as the only constant in life, has become a universal aphorism. Nonetheless, humans are evolutionarily predisposed to resist change because of the inherent uncertainties. Organisations and people that don’t embrace change are bound to lose ground and stagnate. In the words of a late British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, ‘He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.’

The hoopla that thus greeted the move by the Oyo State Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, to carry out a wholesale review of the existing Olubadan Chieftaincy Declaration and other related chieftaincies in Ibadanland because of its touted uniqueness, is nothing short of clinging to primordial sentiments. Nothing captures the hasty criticism from familiar quarters better than the words of John F. Kennedy, who once said that ‘Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.’
The governor had on Friday, May 19, 2017, constituted a seven-member judicial commission of inquiry headed by a retired High Court judge, Justice Akintunde Boade, to review the 1957 Declaration of Olubadan on Ibadanland, which, he said, was no longer in tune with the current realities and modern trend in Yorubaland.

The commission was saddled with the responsibility of reviewing the existing requirements and qualification for ascendancy to the throne of Olubadan, as well as to review the selection process of Olubadan from the two qualifying lines of Otun and Balogun.
It was also mandated to look into the possibilities of having more beaded crown Obas in Ibadanland, taken into consideration the present size and population of the city.

Ajimobi had made it clear that the review was long overdue. The governor said the primary purpose of the review was to facilitate the development, modernisation and effectiveness of the traditional chieftaincy system in the ancient city in particular and across the state in general.

To disabuse the minds of cynics, he stressed that similar exercises were in the offing across the state, in order to create an enabling environment for active contributions of the traditional institution to the socio-economic development of the state.

However, the move by the governor had attracted criticisms from diverse quarters, ranging from the uninformed, the ignorant, to the mischievous. For instance, a former governor of the state, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, who is yet to see anything good about the Ajimobi-led administration, was the first to raise dust. He was soon to be joined by some political neophytes.

Ladoja, the Osi Olubadan of Ibadanland and chieftain of the Accord Party, anchored his vituperation on the same old belief that the tradition of selecting the Olubadan had become long-established and rancour-free and should not be tinkered with.
To Ladoja, who contested the governorship elections with Ajimobi in 2011 and 2015 and lost, the governor had left ‘other important issues’ unattended to, only to be focusing on the Ibadan chieftaincy.

It is no longer surprising that people like Senator Ladoja, who are expected to know better, have chosen to allow political considerations to becloud their sense of judgment. They just must be at daggers drawn with the governor over virtually every policy being implemented by the state government smarting from their electoral defeats.

Suffice to state here that Section 26(1), (2), (3), (4) and (5) Cap. 28, Vol. 1, Laws of Oyo State of Nigeria empowers the governor to approve or review Chieftaincy Declaration of any chieftaincy in the state. To this extent, Ajimobi has not gone outside his mandate as far as the proposed review is concerned. And come to think of it, what has Ladoja and the anti-review band got to lose with the proposed amendments. The exercise will serve the larger interest of Ibadan people who have been yearning for a holistic development of the city. With its vast population and cosmopolitan status, I dare to say that Ajimobi’s Ibadan, nay Oyo State, will not cling to antiquated customs no matter whose ox may be gored.

The germane questions are: Shouldn’t a Declaration made exactly 60 years ago be modified, especially if the need arises? Was the Declaration not made by a particular government in 1957? Does the fact that no government had attempted to carry out the review mean that it should be left perpetually unattended to? Shouldn’t there be room for dynamism? Is the law so sacred to the extent that no reasonable mortal must dare touch it? Was the Ibadan of 1957 when the Declaration was made still the same as we have today? Shouldn’t the status quo, therefore, be challenged to accommodate the changing face of the ancient city?

These are among the several questions begging for answers, particularly from those who may want to crucify Ajimobi over the development. It is sheer bunkum to whip up salary arrears sentiment to attempt to blackmail the governor into a state of helplessness over the governance of the state. It beggars belief that supposedly informed people will join the chorus of those suggesting that the governor should abdicate other responsibilities on the account of the four-month salaries arrears. The salary debacle, as we all know, is an ugly development that cut across almost all the states in the country today. With the ongoing spirited efforts by the governor, the state’s workforce will soon begin to sing a new song to the shame of the traducers of the Ajimobi-led administration.

It may interest such people to know that Ajimobi is not a lone voice in his call for a review of the Olubadan chieftaincy. Those that have openly expressed similar views were a former Governor of Oyo State, Dr. Omololu Olunloyo; renowned historian, Prof. Bolanle Awe; and a former Editor of Daily Times, Chief Areoye Oyebola. They bared their minds at a symposium organised by the state government as part of the activities for the funeral of the late Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Samuel Odulana Odugade I, held at the University of Ibadan on February 9, 2016.

These eminent personalities and illustrious indigenes of Ibadan were unanimous in their opinion that the Ibadan chieftaincy declaration needed urgent review ‘to encourage younger, educated and influential men’ to ascend the exalted Olubadan stool.

In a position paper on the theme of the event, “Issues in Ibadan Traditional Chieftaincy System,” Oyebola noted that the Olubadan chieftaincy system was fraught with complexities. This, he said, had made it impossible for any Olubadan to reign for long. He said it was not in the best interest of modern Ibadan city for a prospective Olubadan to wait for more than 35 years after becoming a Mogaji before becoming an Olubadan; since they must cross 22 or 23 promotional hurdles.

He said, “A situation where you have more than 200 Mogajis waiting in line to become Olubadan and, to make the matter worse, majority of these Mogajis are not educated and competent enough to rule over a big city like Ibadan, calls for a review.

“I want to call for a review that will make it impossible for such people to become Olubadan. What I can advise the Olubadan-in-Council to do is to assess the current Mogajis and separate those who are not competent to become Olubadan. Make them advisers to the Olubadan and remove them from the chieftaincy lines. Baales should henceforth nominate young, educated and successful men of between 35 and 40 years to become Mogaji. To wait for 35 years before becoming Olubadan and reign for few years is not in our best interest.”

Contributing to the discourse, Olunloyo said that the Olubadan chieftaincy tradition, Chiefs Law and Subsidiary Laws were replete with contradictions and obstacles that needed urgent review in order to make ascendancy to the Olubadan throne problem-free. Dismissing the age-old mantra about the Olubadan chieftaincy promotion, he said that the process was not without rancour as widely believed. The erudite scholar cited examples of the contention by the Seriki family and Iyalode chieftaincy lines to be accorded due recognition as examples of unresolved issues in the chieftaincy.

Olunloyo said, “There are six obstacles in the way of an Olubadan. Some of these obstacles are in the Chiefs Laws and some are in the Subsidiary Law. The system is semi-promotional. There was this Akinyo crisis when the late Oba Akinyele wanted to become Olubadan. In fact, what the law even says is that the Olubadan-in-council can choose from the four most senior chiefs in any line to become the next Kabiyesi, not necessarily the most senior. Something must be done to reduce the lines and the rung of the ladder. We also need to remove all obstacles in the Chiefs Law.”

Corroborating this stance, Awe said that in spite of its touted uniqueness, the Olubadan traditional chieftaincy needed to be rejigged to encourage younger men to become Olubadan. What more can one say?

It is on record that the late Oba Odugade waited for 42 years after becoming Mogaji before he was installed as the Olubadan at the age of 93. The reigning Olubadan, Oba Saliu Adetunji, mounted the throne at the age of 87 after staying on the queue for 40 years, just to cite the most recent examples.

The need for more beaded crown-wearing obas, aside the Olubadan, is also hinged on the need for the paramount ruler to be assisted in the traditional administration of the city. This will further strengthen the position of the Olubadan as the paramount ruler and imperial majesty in Ibadanland as applicable in Ogun, Osun and Ekiti States.

Rather than crucifying Ajimobi for taking this bold step, he should be commended and encouraged to extend the exercise to other towns and cities in the state whose chieftaincy laws need similar review. And for genuine and constructive critics, they will have the opportunity of making their submissions in written form before the judicial commission of inquiry when it begins public hearing. No doubt, such robust contributions will help the commission in arriving at a position that will be in the overall interest of the stakeholders. For now, let the naysayers sheathe their swords.

–Sadeeq is the Senior Special Assistant on Media (Print) to the Governor of Oyo State.