The Palace Coup in Ibadan


Festus Adedayo

Anumber of attempts have been made to reconstruct the events before and on the night of April 20, 1990 when a bloody attempt was made to overthrow General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida by Major Gideon Orkar and co at the Lagos Dodan Barracks fortress of the wily ex-Head of State. Two previous bloody attempts of that type – Col Bukar Suka Dimka’s and the putsch commandeered by the Five Majors – have also been repeatedly analysed in Nigerian history. An unwritten code permeates all of them and the art of upsetting status quo, which can also be found in Floyd Mayweather, the pugilist’s world: critically study the Achilles heel of your enemy during the period of reconnaissance and hit him a mortal blow when he is distracted. Coupists, even if they don’t read the grim lesson books of Niccolo Machiavelli, pick straightjacket crumbs of his arts on the streets. One of these is that, you must keep your enemy in the dark and thereafter, hit him fatally. Machiavellianism is defined by a manipulative strategy which depends on using other people as tools of personal advantage.

In the dawn coup of a sudden and unprecedented installation of 21 kings by the Oyo State government last week, all the skills above got deployed with a clinical abidance by the teachings of Machiavelli. It is obvious that the highly envied and applauded Olubadan traditional chieftaincy system was complicit in the fate that befell its institution of Obaship due to its lending itself to distraction. It was also able to receive the mortal blow that has made its eyes black and blue because of the mutual tiff between the tripod of the Olubadan, Oba Saliu Adetunji, the certificated kings and extremely territorial wives of the monarch. The complicity of Ibadanland in this whole furore is that, though it saw symptoms of an impending fatal blow on its monarchy years back, it chose to look elsewhere. I will explain presently.

In an interview granted a national newspaper a few years ago, one Major Abubakar Mohammed, who claimed to be Babangida’s Chief Security Officer, had painted the picture of the closeness of Major Orkar to Colonel U.K. Bello, the Minna General’s ADC, who was assassinated in the putsch. According to him, Orkar was even closer to Zainab, U.K’s wife, was a regular visitor to U.K’s office and indeed, a few weeks before the coup, had bought U.K a model armoured tank which U.K. placed on his table. An account even claimed U.K and Orkar were playing draught when the coupists struck.

Yes, they may have a whiff of the Mandarin powers of government and its runners in a primitive democracy like Nigeria, not many people know how awesome the powers are. The power can be used to turn night into day. Having been privileged to watch at close quarters the rentier relationship between governments and traditional system, especially in Oyo State, it was obvious to me that the monarchy is too exposed to abuse and misuse due to its unstructured dependency on government for its existence. This is worsened by the poverty and greed of the stools’ occupiers.

Unless a person in power constantly reminds himself of its finite nature (that ‘His Excellency’ has an expiry) and also his own gross humanity (that his poopoo smells like everyone’s and that he is a potential meal for an army of maggots someday), governmental power in a Third World can make its wielder think that he is ADC to God. How won’t he? Broken to its brass-tacks, God’s power is actually erasing and raising. Power holders in Nigeria too can! At their touch, a hopeless, helpless and hapless man who had no wherewithal to purchase his breakfast can sleep that night a multi-millionaire. And they can wreck, within a jiffy, one who thought he was made for life. Governmental power in a Third World was probably what late Apala maestro, Ayinla Omowura, had in mind when he sang that, if you have no representative at the council, your innocence can officially transmogrify into guilt: Beeyan o leni ni’gbimo, boba ro’jo are, ebi lo maa je. Ask Chief Adewolu Ladoja, the Osi Olubadan, who today plays the card of a victim of power. The paradox is, he was also once a captive of the monstrosity of that power and used it with same magistral relish. He once ordered that the roof of a church on Ring Road, Ibadan be brought down, among so many others.

Unique and envied across Yorubaland due to its peculiarly peaceful system of evolvement of monarchs, the Ibadan Obaship system, paradoxically, has within it what could make it implode. It was obvious it had within it what made it old enough to die the very day it was born, just like the Yoruba aphorism of the offspring of a pregnant cobra which will ultimately lead to its death. A system which places about 43, most times senescent people, on a queue to ascend a throne, with the tendency of a natural and human anxiety by virtually all of them to occupy same throne, and with silent prayers everyday that those in the front pew may die quickly so that they can ascend the throne, only needed a powerful nihilist to activate the fuse that will detonate it. Unsure of their fates at the probability of becoming the Olubadan in their lifetimes, many of the chiefs now certificate kings, broke to the hilt, with greed as wide as the nape of their agbada, frequented Government House like a diabetic visits the loo. Agodi was their place of financial refuge. It thus becomes a fait accompli that they would someday play Judases.

They were potential recruits of any agenda that would assure them of a throne, fill their dry purses and reflate their personal esteems. You will be unfair to ask such desperate lots not to accept a Greek, yet sure gift, to become kings, instead of waiting, unsure, for Godot. Don’t also forget that promises of official cars and perks would follow. Only contented and rich monarchs insulate themselves from Government House’s impudence and insults.
It was obvious from the beginning that the State’s helmsman never liked the senescence that is always the lot of Ibadan kings at ascension. He expressed this at many fora. Add this to the allegation by Ladoja that he was the target of the policy and you will realize that the Obaship system in Ibadan was ripe enough to die simply because the titular disliked it. But why a system would make the personal ego and whims of a single person become the albatross of millions of people is a systemic error that we all may live with, in the name of representative democracy.

After their election into office, holders of governmental powers suddenly realize the monstrosity of what they hold. Young and old do them obeisance; palace courtiers grovel before them, clergies and Imams sidle into their closets at dusk to proclaim them emissaries of God on earth and wealth of nations are crudely placed at their feet. Courtiers look into the faces of powerful helmsmen and lie to them that what the people say outside is that, aside Awolowo, Michael Okpara and the Sardauna, no one else had ever cloned the triad’s feats. So when the Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes (CCII), in a baffling spit on statistics, said 90% Ibadan supported the desecration of the Olubadan stool, it didn’t take anyone long to understand the geography of their grovel, neither did it take anyone a long time to plot the graph of this statistical assault straight down to their esophagus.

The greatest Achilles heel that ensured this fatal blow on the monarchy is the Olubadan himself and his palace. First, the governor does not respect anyone who capitalizes on their closeness to him to unabashedly demand to sip cash from his fountain. Kabiyesi might have ran foul of this rule. Between his coronation and this spat, Kabiyesi must have visited Agodi more than 20 times, most times being kept waiting at the gate, each time allowed in after about an hour of waiting. Second, it is no longer a secret in Ibadanland that Kabiyesi’s harem, immediately he became king, partitioned the palace along the path of prebends and personal gains. They saw every incursion to the palace as threat to their God-ordained season of harvest. In the process, they became rude to the chiefs, now certificate kings, so much that many of the chiefs stopped coming to the palace. Kabiyesi was powerless to rein them in. So, when the poisonous offer was made to them to become kings, many accepted it as riposte blows to the Kabiyesi and his wives. The funniest of the lot was highly cerebral Chief Lekan Balogun who transmuted from being a highly critical ‘friend’ of the power holder to his monarchical appendage. The power wielder, abreast of this internal palace dissent, merely woke Machiavelli up from his grave and sent his ghost to complete the job of tearing apart the palace and the erstwhile chiefs.

The clinical finish, zeal and dedication by the government to kingify – pardon the bombast – the chiefs are baffling. Great reason as its desire to make Ibadan truly modern is, the inherent slop in the modes of operation of the policy is suspect. Many have also argued that if government devotes same zeal, same zest, same energy and resources towards combating the ills buffeting the state as it does to this Olubadan issue, an embrace with sanity would have come. On the slops, how will certificated kings who have no domain, govern? Why affix ‘His Royal Majesty’ to a stool which is not a historical seat of an empire? Why indulge in the unhistorical and strange procedure of giving Obas certificates rather than coronate them with akoko leaves? Ibadanland will be the first in Yorubaland to have its lesser Obas ascend to another Obaship throne. So when those ‘Obas’, who used to prostrate before the Olubadan, meet their ‘fellow king’ – Olubadan – what will they do, extend their hands to him for a handshake?

But, there is a good tiding for the good people of Ibadan and the Olubadan himself. While former governor Adebayo Alao-Akala, Ladoja and Alhaji Lam Adesina were in combat with the Iku Baba Yeye, the Alaafin of Oyo, this writer wrote that the monarchy would soon outlive the awesome powers of Agodi. It did. The lesson that Obas themselves should learn from this fatal relationship is the wisdom in the ancient wise-saying which counsels that one should be close to the power-wielder by six feet, yet distant from him by seven feet, as close associates of power are always veritable objects of sacrifice.

Adedayo is an Ibadan-based journalist.