The New Ibadan Obas: Who’s Playing Politics?


Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State rewrote history recently when he ventured into the most delicate journey previously threaded by his predecessors to no fruitful end, with the unprecedented enthronement of 21 Obas in a city with a history that spans centuries of seamless ascendancy to the throne of Olubadan as the sole king in the ‘Mesiogo’ city. Ademola Babalola writes


For obvious reasons, August 27 is a watershed in the history of Nigeria. The date was remarkable as it marked the forceful take-over of power from the then military Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, in a bloodless coup by the military junta headed by General Ibrahim Babangida, way back in 1985.

Thirty-two years down the line, this year’s August 27th was also remarkable in the annals of the great city of Ibadan, when the incumbent governor of the state, also a ‘shon of the soil’, Senator Isiaq Abiola Ajimobi, took the almost four million indigenes of the city by surprise by enthroning 21 new kings through the promotion of Ibadan High Chiefs and Baales (village heads) to the status of beaded-crown wearing monarchs.

The gesture which is causing uproar followed a report of the retired Justice Akintunde Boade-led Commission of Inquiry set up by the state government in June this year and which White Paper issued within one week of the submission of such ‘controversial’ report paved the way for the governor to so enthrone the new monarchs notwithstanding the Olubadan of Ibadan, Oba Saliu Adetunji’s opposition to the review of Ibadan traditional council system.

A Peep into History

The Olubadan (meaning Lord of Ibadan) is the royal title of the king of Ibadanland in Nigeria, a largely symbolic role. Ibadan was founded in the 16th century, but the present Yoruba people only took control around 1820. By 1850, they had established their unusual succession principle, which is quite different compared with other traditional Yoruba rulers in that it alternates between two lines of Otun (Chiefs) and Balogun (warriors). It usually takes decades to groom an Olubadan for the stool through stages of chieftaincy promotion, thus meaning that just about any male born title-holder of the metropolitan center is a potential king.

Understanding the Reform

In the white paper released by the state government, the targeted Obas to be so enthroned are 32 but for the existing vacancies and the stiff resistance of one of the beneficiaries of the promotion, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, who tagged the exercise a diversionary act and Greek Gift that would in the long run be set aside through the ongoing judicial efforts.

The latest show of the government was in tandem with what a Government House source tagged “ongoing consolidation efforts to complement the governor’s tripod agenda of his administration anchored on restoration, transformation and repositioning.” Ever since the exercise, the indigenes appear seriously divided with opinions for or against the unprecedented crowning of many Obas in a single day and without the consent of a supposedly approving authority as represented by the current Olubadan, Oba Saliu Adetunji Ajeogungunnuso I.

Proponents of the elevation of the Olubadan of Ibadan to imperial status

argued that since Ibadan is the most populous Yoruba city with 11 local government councils, the presence of more monarchs becomes inevitable “as it has sought state status for many years. Until today, it had only one Oba – a big disservice to the throne and people of Ibadan. The last Olubadan was conferred a CFR status. At the conferment, he was accompanied by chiefs. Other Obas were accompanied by lesser Obas’ from their domain.

Abeokuta has 4 or more Obas. Ijebu has several. Ife has about 4. Iwo has about 4. The Awujale is the paramount ruler of Ijebu land. The Oluwo is the paramount ruler for Iwo land. The Alake is paramount for Abeokuta. The Ooni is paramount for Ife. These are smaller towns when compared to Ibadan with its cosmopolitan set-up. So, the Olubadan deserves to have lesser Obas under him. By this move, Ibadan has one Olubadan that becomes the Imperial majesty, 11 senior ranking Obas and another 11 Baales that now wear crowns.

“Not many opposed it – some from lack of understanding and many because they resist change. Change brings that. Culture is created daily. It is evolutionary by nature. Human beings are adaptive. Institutions that survive must be adaptive or go extinct. That’s common knowledge. A new dawn is here. We celebrate adaptation and response to the agitations of the Ibadan people over decades. We celebrate evolution,” said one of the supporters of the idea.

Between the late Olubadan and Ajimobi

A letter from the Oyo State Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs had in 2015 told the Olubadan to wait for clearance from the government before High Chiefs could be promoted to their new ranks following the vacancies in the Olubadan-in-council due to death of a member. The late Oba Odulana ignored the said letter as he promoted his chiefs to new ranks.

While Balogun was elevated from the position of Osi Olubadan to Otun Olubadan to fill the vacant seat created by the death of High Chief Omowale Kuye, Ladoja was elevated from Ashipa Olubadan to Osi Olubadan. High Chief Saliu Adetunji was elevated from the position of Otun Balogun to Balogun of Ibadanland, filling the position left vacant following the death of High Chief Sulaiman Omiyale.

The ceremony was conducted despite an order by the state government directing that high chiefs jostling for the vacant stools of the Balogun and Otun Olubadan should submit their medical certificates of fitness before Oba Odulana could elevate them.

Seven other high chiefs also got elevated. They are High Chief Akinloye Olakulehin (Osi Balogun to Otun Balogun); High Chief Olufemi Olaifa (Ashipa Balogun to Osi Balogun); and High Chief Sir Eddy Oyewole (Ekerin Olubadan to Ashipa Olubadan).

According to a letter from the government signed by the Director of Chieftaincy Matters in the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters, Mr. Z. O Jayeola, which was addressed to the Head of the Ibadan South-east Local Government administration, on Thursday, December 31, 2015, the high chiefs were directed to submit a medical report certifying them fit for the positions in line with extant chieftaincy laws.

But Ladoja said “such directive was never part of the Ibadan system. I think we should just allow the sleeping dog to lie. It is the Olubadan who decides whom he wants to install as chief. It is the prerogative of the Olubadan, so I am not aware of any directive stopping the elevation. What I know is that I was invited by the Olubadan-in-Council for an elevation.”

Senator Balogun said, “I have been a chief since 1989. For anybody to now say that my medical certificate is needed is strange. As far as I know, they said they want to reform Ibadan chieftaincy. Ibadan chieftaincy is self-reforming. The system you meet is a function of the town’s history. It has not become part of the requirement and so it is not meant to be obeyed now. The governor is proposing reformation, but it has not become law. If he says we should submit medical certificates, for what purpose would that be for a chief who has been in line for over 30 years?”

Mogaji’s Role Threatened by Reform

The Mogaji, Chief Gboyega Adejumo, who appears sidelined along with over 1,000 others, has this to say, “I’m sure not a few already know of the present happenings in Ibadan at the moment regarding the issue of the elevation of some chiefs to obaship and the elevation of some Baales to be called and addressed as obas. But what many do not know is that there are many things wrong with this process as the very foundation of the uniqueness of the Ibadan Traditional Chieftaincy Tradition has been rocked and destabilised!

“From time immemorial, an Arole’Badan, a Mogaji, is an Olubadan-in-the-making and the owner of the family land and property. The Mogaji is higher than a Baálé, and this is so because a Baálè can never become Olubadan. When a Baálè is to be appointed, it is the Mogaji, who will nominate the person of his choice, with perhaps the input of the elders in the village to so appoint a Baálè.

“Now a Baálè is to be an Oba over the Mogaji that appoints him? Koseleri! As Mogaji, I am forbidden to prostrate to anyone, save for the Olubadan, ditto for these high Chiefs turned Obas. So, I ask, what happens to the traditional greetings to the Olubadan by the High Chiefs who, by tradition must remove their hats, and prostrate fully to the Olubadan? How and where then will these Obas now do the traditional greetings to the Olubadan? With their so-called crowns removed and then, they will stand to greet their monarch or what?”

Ajimobi Speaks…

At the coronation, Ajimobi said, the state government followed due process in conducting the exercise and that all extant laws had been complied with and that the exercise was not encumbered by any legal impediment. He debunked insinuations being peddled by those he called political opponents to the effect that the promotion was targeted at whittling down the influence and authority of the Olubadan as the supreme monarch in Ibadanland. He said the initiative was borne out of a strong sense of patriotism and a resolve to elevate, uplift, transform and reposition the chieftaincy institution of Ibadanland.

He quoted a famous author, Henry James, who once said that “a tradition is kept alive only by something being added to it”. And to buttress his point, Ajimobi said, “This epoch making event in the annals of the history of Ibadanland is a practical demonstration of our administration’s commitment to the enhancement of dignity and honour of the chieftaincy institution in Ibadanland and Oyo State in general.

“I wish to state categorically that we are not changing history; we are not changing tradition; we are not changing the culture of Ibadanland. Rather, we are elevating and consolidating our traditional institution and the exalted position of the Olubadan as the imperial majesty in Ibadanland. We are also elevating the Olubadan-in-Council and the chieftaincy institution without altering or tinkering with the traditional succession and ascendancy system of the Olubadan Chieftaincy structure.”

The governor explained that the review of the 1959 Olubadan chieftaincy declaration was not a novel idea, having been carried out by successive administrations in the state in 1974, 1981, 1993 and 2000.

According to him, Ladoja, who was opposed to the current exercise, also set up the Adio Commission to review the Olubadan Chieftaincy declaration, before jettisoning the commission’s recommendations.

“Our administration is not reinventing the wheel. We have simply, like others before us, embarked on a review of the Olubadan Chieftaincy Declaration in response to the yearnings of well-meaning stakeholders. These include the Ibadan Elders Council, Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes (CCII) and eminent sons and daughters of Ibadanland, such as Chief Theophilus Akinyele; the late Otun Olubadan, Chief Omowale Kuye; and all, but one member of the Olubadan-in-Council.

“They all desired to elevate the traditional chieftaincy institution in Ibadanland and position it comparably and competitively amongst other ancient Yoruba cities that have embraced new and modern systems. They have been truly inspired by the words of Lidia Bastianich when she said ‘Today’s innovations are tomorrow’s tradition.”

The Views of a Beneficiary

Responding on behalf of the new obas, the Otun Olubadan, Oba Lekan Balogun, thanked the governor for acceding to what he called the clamour by respected Ibadan elders to review the Olubadan chieftaincy to be in sync with other Yoruba cities. He reaffirmed the supremacy of Olubadan, whom he said, remained the imperial majesty and father of all the citizens and obas in the land.

“I’m happy to be part of history today. This is an epoch-making event. We are proud of the governor. We are grateful to him. On behalf of all of us, I want to assure the governor that we will use our position to enhance the socio-economic development of Ibadanland and the entire state.

“This promotion will put Ibadan in strong footing in the traditional institution of Yoruba land. With 33 obas, Ibadan can now renew its clamour for the creation of Ibadan state. This envisages the emergence of Ibadan State. I want to make it clear that the Olubadan, his imperial majesty, remains our father. It will be more heartwarming and prestigious when we follow him to events henceforth with our crowns.

The Growing Insinuation

Both Ajimobi and Oba Balogun appear to have been caught in the web of their own game as what is today trending clearly portrays them as having ulterior motives beyond what the people see on the surface.

For instance, a commentator quoted the governor at the crowning of the current Oba Adetunji to have said: “The beauty of the Olubadan institution makes it unique in the whole of Nigeria. It is the only institution where we know the next 20 or 50 kings. We don’t fight over it. Therefore we feel it is a rancour-free succession where everybody is qualified to be the king one day”.

This made people to wonder what had changed between January 2016 and August 2017 that would warrant the governor to tinker with a self-reforming process in the Ibadan tradition?

Same poser is now trending against Oba Balogun by another online political observer, who quoted the erstwhile vociferous Balogun querying the government’s move in this tone: “I called the governor to stop what he was doing but he did not pick my calls. We are very close but now this will divide us. Ibadan Chieftaincy System is self-reforming and does not require the government to do that. Before, old men were being enthroned as Mogajis but now most new Mogajis are either in their fifties or below. On the issue of literacy among the system, almost all the High Chiefs are graduates of no mean standard. It was not the government that did all these but the decision of the Olubadan-in-Council”.

In the last dispensation, former governor Adebayo Alao-Akala made attempts to tinker with the Ibadan traditional institutions for similar political conspiracy and these same people that constitute the then Olubadan-in-Council cried foul. They resisted vehemently and defended the age long tested and trusted system that works. The Ogbomosho man (Akala) retracted, not knowing that it would take an Ibadan man ‘to disparage Ibadan preserved heritage,’ said another online commentator.

As Ibadan Indigenes React…

About 90 per cent of Ibadan indigenes, at home and in the Diaspora are in support of Sunday’s mass coronation of Ibadan High Chiefs and some Baales (Village heads) to their new-beaded crown wearing status by the governor, the Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes (CCII) said on Tuesday.

At a press conference on the perceived misgivings over the crowning of the new Obas in the city, the CCII President General, Chief Yemi Soladoye, said there was history of chieftaincy reforms dating back to the 19th century in the city, noting that the flawless succession system in Ibadan was the result of several reviews.

According to Soladoye, high chiefs, who have been elevated to the position of kings in Ibadan have always been accorded the status of second class kings by the state government. He stated that the new kings had no domain, meaning that Ibadan land remains under the Olubadan authority.

“The CCII wishes to confirm that the change that has just taken place was desired, initiated, supported, applauded and appreciated by the generality of Ibadan Indigenes worldwide. Constant changes and reviews are in fact the ingredients that have sustained our well-organised and rancor-free ascension to the throne of Olubadan of Ibadanland in almost 200 years of our existence.

“During the time of Lagelu, our progenitor, up to the perishing of the second Ibadan, we were using various titles including Olubadan and since the emergence of this third Ibadan around 1820, tittles like Basorun, Balogun and Aare have been used to describe our leaders. Nobody has created any new ruling house (with the new system).

“The former high chiefs can now physically carry the authority of the Olubadan for development in their communities and create flamboyancy around the Kabiyesi at public functions. The new kings are not kings of anywhere as they are still on the queue to become Olubadan and the imperial power over the entire Ibadan land still resides with the Olubadan of Ibadan land.”

Soladoye explained that the baales that were elevated to king status were from satellite towns that were subdued by the Ibadan warriors many years ago, adding that it was not an attempt to divide Ibadan into several parts.

“The fact of the case is that satellite towns like Ijaiye-Orile, Erunmu, Lalupon had in fact existed before the present Ibadan but having defeated them in wars, we demoted their kings and annexed them to Ibadan. The new arrangement is a manifestation of the usual magnanimity and hospitality of Ibadan people but they wear the coronet from the Olubadan and not their ancestral crowns in the new dispensation. Some of the crowns are also granted to protect our border towns,” noted the CCII boss.

Ladoja Goes for Broke

Ladoja has said the state government has shown beyond reasonable doubt that he was the prime target of the review of Olubadan Chieftaincy Declaration by asking him to either “join in the mockery of Obaship and agree to be made a government-appointed oba” or forfeit his right to the throne.

Ladoja, who spoke through his media aide, Alhaji Lanre Latinwo, said he remained the Osi Olubadan of Ibadanland and would neither agree to being a government-appointed oba with no domain, chiefs and subjects or “support attempt at desecrating the Olubadan throne.”

Latinwo, in the statement, said “thousands of Ajimobi can’t stop Ladoja from becoming the Olubadan if it is the will of God,” and advised the governor to stop playing God.

“High Chief Ladoja believes that only God chooses the Olubadan as clearly demonstrated in the divine enthronement of the current Olubadan, His Imperial Majesty, Oba Saliu Adetunji, who was three steps to the throne. May God lengthen the years and reign of Oba Adetunji in sound health. We will like to make it abundantly clear that thousands of Ajimobi can’t stop Ladoja from becoming the Olubadan if it is the will of God.

 “Ajimobi is using temporary executive power for ego trip and feels that he is humiliating perceived enemies and also playing God. Why should the governor turn himself into a kingmaker, ignoring the long-established peaceful, self-reforming chieftaincy system of Ibadanland that has become the envy of many cities because it is rancour-free?

“Today, August 29, 2017 makes it exactly 21 months to the expiry of Ajimobi’s governorship. The state will surely be freed from the stranglehold of the Emperor and the office will outlive the officer. Very soon, Ajimobi’s portrait will join those of ex-governors hung on the wall of the Executive Council Chambers. Whatever has a beginning must surely have an end.

 “High Chief Ladoja is already in court over the matter and we await a judicial pronouncement on it soon. Ajimobi that set up a panel disregarding Ibadan traditional system received its report and interpreted its recommendations to suit his selfish agenda against the popular wish of the people of Ibadan and the Olubadan. This is laughable.

“Without recourse to the state House of Assembly which has the constitutional duty to make or amend laws, he has appropriated legislative function and added such to his executive role. This charade can’t obviously pass a judicial challenge. We ask him to enjoy the remaining months of his governorship while it lasts. We wish to remind him that he has booked an unenviable chapter for himself in the annals of the history of Ibadan and posterity will be the judge.”

And Olubadan Remains Adamant

Oba Adetunji, on Monday, stormed major markets and roads across Ibadan metropolis to affirm the indivisibility of the Ibadan royal stool under his kingship. The king, who welcomed the Mogajis (family heads) in their scores, who had come to pay solidarity visit to him in opposition to the governor’s elevation of High Chiefs, told Ibadan indigenes and residents alike across the areas visited that he would not surrender his sovereignty to any other Oba in the land.

The show which took-off at Popoyemoja palace to areas like Oja’ba, Beere, Oje, Agodi Gate, Agbeni, Ogunpa, Dugbe, Molete and other environs, saw Olubadan waiving horse tail to the people, who were hailing him as the only recognised Oba in the land.

Shortly after returning to the palace, the Olubadan through his Director of Media, Adeola Oloko, advised the Oyo State Government not to paint the monarch with the tar brush of petty partisan politics, as he is a monarch and not a politician, saying “As a monarch, I’m a father of all, irrespective of sex, ethnic and ideological persuasions.”

Reacting to the remark by Governor Ajimobi at the mass coronation, Oba Adetunji stated that the person or group who would use the royal stool of Olubadan for selfish political reason has not been born.

“Since Friday March 4, 2016, when I ascended the exalted throne of Olubadan, I have opened the gate of our palace wide to all manner of people. If you belong to APC, PDP, Labour, Accord and/or more, you are most welcome. So, politics has nothing to do with my resistance or opposition to the chieftaincy review spearheaded by the Oyo State Government.”

Oba Adetunji also described as unfortunate the comment by the governor that recent utterances from the palace are tending towards the political, adding that if the governor has any demonstrable evidence of such, he should kindly provide it. According to him, there is no press statement issued from the Olubadan media office which did not enjoy my blessing before it was made public.

 “While I am aware that people react to age differently, I am not old enough to be misinterpreted by anybody, even at 89, Governor Ajimobi stated that he invited us to the Governor’s Office over this matter and visited me in the palace later. While this is true, I wish to respectfully state that the Boade Panel was inaugurated on May 19, 2017, His Excellency, Governor Ajimobi invited me to the Governor’s Office on Wednesday, June 14, 2017 after the panel had sat for 4 weeks. At that meeting, His Excellency, the Oyo State Governor, the High Chiefs and State House Correspondents would recall my opposition to the chieftaincy review.

“My question is, did anybody put words in my mouth in that recorded tape? When he invited me to his office and visited me in the palace on Sunday, June 18, 2017, the Boade Panel was almost through with its job, when we met at the inner chamber, what the governor came to tell me was that he knew I should have been consulted first. So, it is not true that I was consulted, as claimed by him. If I had been consulted, this error would have been avoided. The desecration of the crown would have been averted.”

The Olubadan, who congratulated all Ibadan people for staying calm despite the brazen abuse of Ibadan custom and tradition stated that this time would pass and commended all his brother-monarchs for their solidarity and cooperation, reiterating that his opposition to the exercise was to prevent breakdown of law and order, complication and dire consequences in Ibadan Chieftaincy System.

In the Final Analysis

No matter how good an intention is, if not properly communicated or executed, it may land the initiator in trouble. Such appears to be so apt in the foregoing. While the governor is believed to be transformational and elite-centred in his approach to governance as exemplified in his tripod agenda of restoration, transformation and repositioning, he appears to be needlessly chewing so many things at the same time. And he carries on without first, building consensus around his programmes and policies. Recall the recent introduction of School Governing Boards to public secondary schools by his administration which was marred with widespread criticisms before stakeholders later welcomed it with open hands?

Although not sure how this one too will end, especially with Ladoja now in court, it is clear that it could have been handled better with little or no opposition. In fact, given the rigidity of the Ibadan tradition, it would remain shocking if what the Olubadan said was true that he was not carried along. It would mean that there was more to the idea than the tales of reformation being sold to the public.