Approximately 50 years after it was destroyed by a vengeful mob, Arigidi-Akoko gets a new royal residence, writes Solomon Elusoji
From the crack of dawn, indigenes of Arigidi-Akoko (a community in Akoko North West Local Government, Ondo state), in their hundreds, started to converge at the Zaki of Arigidi-Akokoâ€™s palace, to be part of a momentous event one Saturday in August. Also, in attendance was an impressive array of dignitaries, including royal fathers, high chiefs and eminent businessmen and government functionaries, among others. It was the day the newly constructed Zakiâ€™s palace was being inaugurated.
The old palace was destroyed in 1967 by members of the community loyal to the leader of the Action Group, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, during the Action Groupâ€™s unending crisis in the 1960s. When the then Premier of the Western Region, Samuel Akintola, broke away from the Action Group and formed the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), the new government made it clear that all traditional rulers in the West must remain absolutely loyal to the government and appropriate sanctions were meted out to royal fathers who showed the slightest signs of resistance.
At that time, a vast majority of members of the community were clearly sympathetic to the leader of the Action Group, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. That was understandable, as the people had benefitted directly from the free education policies of the Awolowo government. The then Zaki, Oba Muhamadu Olanipekun, was seen as a loyalist of Akintola and his government, and this fetched the monarch considerable acrimony from some of his subjects. Explanations by the monarch that, as a king, he had no choice than to support the government of the day were rebuffed by the Awolowo group.
Following the coup of January 1966, Akintola was murdered alongside some other leaders across the country. That incident gave the people the opportunity to settle scores with those they perceived as supporters of the late Akintola. And the major culprit, according to the Awolowo group, was the Zaki.
Besides, some other forces in Arigidi also wanted to use the opportunity to seize power from the Olanipekun family, the only house that had been ruling the town since the founders moved to the location from Ile-Ife through Benin a century earlier.
The first attempt to physically remove the Zaki from the palace in May 1967 was thwarted. But the rebels rallied more support and returned three months later. In August 1967, the reporter was told, the anti-Olanipekun forces returned to the town and forced the king out of the town.
â€œAfter trying to set fire to the palace and it would not ignite, one old woman stepped forward, recited some incarnations and placed her left foot on one of the corners of the palace. She then told the mob to set the palace ablaze,â€ an elderly man, who craved anonymity, told this reporter.
He added: â€œBut before they could do that, the Olori, the kingâ€™s wife, stepped out of the palace and pleaded with the crowd to allow the Zaki leave the palace. They agreed and the Zaki went on exile. The mob thereafter destroyed the palace. He returned to the town a few months later and constructed a temporary abode for himself,â€ an elderly man told this reporter.
It was learnt that attempts to install a new Zaki from outside the ruling house had remained unsuccessful over the years.
In 2008, Oba Yisa Olanipekun, a businessman, became the new Zaki. He promised to bring Zaki back to its old glorious state and ensure that the town gets a befitting palace.
Earlier this year, during the annual Okota Festival, a prominent son of Arigidi-Akoko and National Coordinator of Oodua Peopleâ€™s Congress (OPC), Otunba Gani Adams, pledged to build a new palace for the town. And a few months after the pledge, the new edifice was unveiled.
During the inauguration, the Zaki of Arigidi, Oba Yisa Abu Olanipekun, informed journalists that since the palace was destroyed in 1967, concerted efforts to rebuild the place had always been fruitless. He commended Adams, a notable leader in the community, for coming to his peopleâ€™s aid at the most appropriate time.
He told the people that the gesture by Adams had already added considerable value to his reign, as it would always be remembered that the new palace was constructed during his reign as the monarch of the kingdom. He also asserted that the unveiling of the new palace had signalled the commencement of new developments in the town.
He explained: â€œI have many houses in this town and in other places, but for a monarch, there is no place like the palace. And with this palace, Arigidi has assumed a new status and we are happy.â€
In his speech, Chairman of Arigidi Development Union, Chief Abiodu Ilesanmi, affirmed that what Gani Adams had done was a patriotic move. He said the community would record more achievements if other prominent indigenes and residents would emulate the Convener of Oodua Progressive Union (OPU) and contribute their own quota to the development of Arigidi-Akoko.
His words: â€œFifty years ago, Arigidi was burning. People were in a pool of their own blood. There was no peace, no harmony, no development. But today, we are happy that normalcy has returned to the town. I thank God for giving us a man like Otunba Gani Adams who has helped us to rebuild this palace.â€
Another community leader and Edibo of Arigidi, Chief Francis Rotimi, also lauded Adams for the construction of the new palace. â€œWe are all happy that this is coming at this time and we will forever be grateful to God and to Otunba Gani Adams,â€ he enthused.
Another prominent group in the town, Arigidi Leaders of Thought, presented a message of appreciation to Otunba Gani Adams at the event. The message partly reads: â€œOtunba Gani Adams has played a significant role in making a new palace spring out from where the old palace was destroyed. No wonder, they say, â€˜Ile Oba to jo, Ewa lo bukun.â€™ You said it, and it happened. The ancestral fathers who left Arigidi since the unfortunate burning of the palace have returned; joy, peace, fortune, progress, harmony and lost glories are back in Arigidi. Today, you are the Nehemiah of Arigidi: the great builder.â€
Speaking at the event, the OPC leader, Adams challenged his kinsmen and women to desist from trading blames, urging them to instead collaborate to lift the town.
Noting that the construction of the palace was part of his own contributions to the advancement of Arigidi, he said there were other projects waiting to be done in town. In his words, everybody should come together to work for the greatness of Arigidi-Akoko.
â€œLet us stop the blame game,â€ he noted. â€œStop blaming Gani Adams and stop blaming Kabiyesi, the Zaki of Arigidi, for anything. You too should do your own. I have started with the palace. There are many other projects to be done. We have the civic centre, town hall and other amenities that will make our community to be one of the prominent communities in the world.â€
There were Christian, Islamic and traditional prayers as the palace was inaugurated, even as members of Arigidi cultural troupe thrilled the guests.