As the controversy continues to trail the emergence of new Obas (kings) in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, the state’s Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Bimbo Kolade mounted a strenuous defence for the decision to elevate the Baales (chiefs) to Obas, saying that all stakeholders including, the Olubadan of Ibadan, were consulted. He spoke with Tobi Soniyi who presents the excerpts:
Why did the Oyo State Government’s decide to reform the institution of Obaship?
In the last 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 Adio Commission recommended 16 of them for the title of Obas. 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 turnn some Baales into Obas in the state, and about 6 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 the Ibadan Chieftaincy Law and other related chieftaincy laws in Ibadan land.
The Ibadan Elders Forum called for it. The Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes called for it, and several others. It is not something that this administration just woke up to, but it was a call that had been there for decades.
How has the latest reform changed the customary mode of the chieftaincy institution in Ibadan land?
Reference is made to the announcement by the governor on Sunday August 27 when the new Obas were crowned in the state, and when all the senior chiefs in the Olubadan chieftaincy line (by the amendment of the Chieftaincy Declaration) were promoted to the level of Part Two recognised chieftaincy titles. And by Part Two recognised chieftaincy titles, what this means is that while the paramount rulers in an area are consenting authorities to the titles, the state governor is the one who has the final approving authority before anyone can be installed, either as a Part Two Oba or chief in the state. This is another level of elevation, in the ascendancy to the throne of Olubadan. As we all know, on Sunday August 27, the eleven high chiefs in the Olubadan-In-Council were decorated as Oba in their own rights. Yet, the ascendancy to the throne of Olubadan or the promotion line remains as established by the Ibadan traditional culture.
The only thing is that the eleven high chiefs, beginning with the Ekarun Olubadan of Ibadan land, on the Otun Olubadan line,and the Ekarun Balogun of Ibadan land on the Balogun line, will no longer be addressed as high chiefs. They will now be addressed as Obas.
The difference now is that the Baales will wear coronets, while the Obas on the Olubadan line will wear beaded crowns and the Olubadan remains the one that wears the traditional and original crown of the Olubadan.
What processes and consultations went into this before the event of Sunday August 27th?
The law gives the governor the right to seek for a review of a declaration. When he was approached by the opinion moulders, the elders of Ibadan land, he informed the Olubadan. And, from the time the present Olubadan was installed, the governor has been mentioning to him what the people have been coming to discuss with him on the need for a review of the Olubadan chieftaincy declaration and other related chieftaincy laws in Ibadan land. There were due consultations with all necessary people – leaders, elders, the youths of Ibadan land, etc. – on this matter.
Even then, to put it in proper perspective, the government of Oyo State did wide consultations, which predated the current Olubadan’s coming on the throne. It started largely with the immediate past Olubadan, when a few of the chiefs, including those who were in the Olubadan-In-Council, such as Chief Omowale Kuye, the late Otun Olubadan raised some issues relating to the low level of respect and dignity accorded to the high chiefs, especially when they go to public functions,and which needed to be corrected. For instance, during the coronation of the Ooni of Ife, they didn’t allow the representative of the Olubadan to sit where kings were seated,even though he had the staff of office with him. And this happens all the time. Also, as recent as during the launch of the N50 billion Health Endowment Fund on August 3, one could see that none of the high chiefs of Ibadan spoke, due to questions relating to status. So, these are some of the reasons why the government felt it was important for us to elevate the status of the high chiefs.
Second, what government has done is by the law. The government always follows due process. The law is clear on the matter. Those in doubt can check a copy of the official gazette and read the relevant sections of the law. The judicial panel, which reviewed the chieftaincy declaration sat for 3 months, and received some 118 memoranda from so many different stakeholders. I believe that’s quite a substantial amount of consultation in its own right. It is equally on record that the Olubadan-In-Council, including Olubadan himself, came to the governor’s office many times while the process was going on, and they knew what was happening.
How true is that with the reformation of the institution of the Obaship in Ibadan land, the Ajimobi administration has sought to modernise traditional governance in the city without distorting the hierarchical order?
If you see the report of the panel and the eventual gazette published by the government, you will see that the hierarchy to the throne is still being maintained. The present Otun Olubadan, even though he is now addressed as an Oba, still maintains his status as the Otun Olubadan. Likewise every other person made oba and on the line to the throne.
Eventually any of them can and will still become Olubadan at the end of the day. The hierarchy of things that we have in Ibadan has not been distorted; the only thing we have now is that the line has been shortened. Instead of climbing 22 or 23 steps on each line before, now we have 11 or 12 on the line for you to climb, and due to this, it is expected that young people will now be able to make it to the throne of the Olubadan.
What are the new levels of Obaship in Ibadan land and what are the qualifications for this? How will the Obas be distinguished from each other?
For the high chiefs who have now become Obas, they are wearing beaded crowns and each of them will be known and addressed as His Royal Majesty. The Olubadan has been elevated to the status of His Imperial Majesty, the Olubadan of Ibadan land. The high cchiefs that have been made Obas are still maintaining their traditional titles, however the initial prefix to their names as ‘High Chief’ has now been changed to ‘Oba’. They will now have their names as Oba Lekan Balogun, the Otun Olubadan of Ibadan land, etc. It is only their nomenclatures that have changed.
How have the traditional domains of these Obas been decided, can they appoint chiefs of their own?
Their domains still remain their respective local governments, where they functioned administratively before as the heads of the traditional councils. But the consent for any chieftaincy still lies with the Olubadan of Ibadan land. The councils where they supervise had Baales that have been elevated as Obas, but who are still under them. Also, they still have the Mogaji’s under them. So, all these people who were under them when they were high chiefs are still under them now.
Explain how the reformation of the Obaship institution will deepen traditional governance in Ibadan land?
What has happened is really a welcome development. There are celebrations and jubilation all around the localities and the areas where the Baales have been turned into Obas. It shows wide acceptance of this by the people.
There is this question that no rites were performed towards the coronation of the new Obas; how true is this?
The same place where they were coronated is the same place where the Olubadan was coronated, and a lot of the traditional rites that are done before an Oba can come on the throne were carried out.
Will this new level of Obaship not add to the expense of the government?
No way. It has not in any way increased the cost of managing these Obas in their respective localities. They would keep collecting their regular salaries in the traditional councils that they head. Even those Baales that have become Obas have been and are still part of the councils of their respective local governments. The only thing is that they cannot become the chairmen of the traditional local council; that still remains the prerogative of government.
The reduction of the traditional chieftaincy lines implies that some of these will naturally go into extinction. Why is this so?
The Seriki line actually doesn’t ascend to the Olubadan line. So it’s a line that has been there in the middle. The Justice Akintunde-led panel on the review of the Ibadan Chieftaincy Declaration felt that it had no major reason to remain in the middle; hence it was good for it to just fizzle out on its own. The law is that anybody on the Seriki line who wants to join the Olubadan line can only do so at any point in time if there are vacancies in the Ekarun Olubadan and Ekarun Balogun Olubadan positions at the same time, which has not been so for a while. As a result, the opinion of the panel was that the line should be removed.
Can you shed some light on what will e the relationship between the Mogajis and the Baales. Some Mogajis feel that the Baales have become their senior?
That cannot happen because almost all the areas where the Baales have been promoted to Obas, they only wear coronets. None of these areas also has a Mogaji in the town. According to the report of the committee, which the government accepted, you cannot be a Mogaji in the town and also remain a Baale in the village. So, you have to pick one or the other.
In all the 22 villages where the traditional rulers have been promoted, the unique thing is that all the Baales there do not have Mogajis in the city; and in all the villages that have Baales and equally have Mogajis in the city, none of them was promoted to a coronet wearing Oba. So, it is only the Baales who are within the villages that have been allowed to wear crowns, and they are not on the direct ascendancy line to the Olubadan.
This is important for us to note and its even part of the gazette that the government released, showing that anyone who is a Baale in the village cannot hold the title of a Mogaji in the city at the same time. So, you are either one or the other, not both.
The other good thing is that the ascendancy line to the Olubadan stool has now been reduced from 22 levels on the Otun Olubadan line to 11, and from 23 on the Balogun line to 12. The government believes that the reduction of the ladder will help people become Olubadan at relatively younger ages; and with this, we are not immediately saying that those who are presently on the line now are going to be withdrawn automatically. What the gazette has proposed is that there will no longer be promotions to the Jagun Olubadan and Jagun Balogun of Ibadan land positions. All promotions to join the line will be pegged until the present Jagun on the two sides become Ikolaba of Ibadan land, as either Ikolaba on the Otun line or Ikolaba on the Balogun line.
The gazette has equally stopped the Seriki line of the Ibadan chieftaincy title. No one will be on the Seriki line any longer. For those who have been installed on the Seriki line, the government will allow them to be there until the last person passes on.
For instance, during the coronation of the Ooni of Ife, they didn’t allow the representative of the Olubadan to sit where kings were seated,even though he had the staff of office with him.