When Olusegun Obasanjo arrived at the open field of the Cultural Centre in Mokola, Ibadan, the sun was already in full bloom. The jeep that brought him was swarmed by bodies jostling to get a view of the man whose decisions have, arguably, shaped the trajectory of Nigerian history more than anyone else. Owu royal fathers, many of who had travelled from distant corners of the country to attend the 26th annual Owu National Convention, also stood from their seats to welcome the one-time military general. The music of drums rent the air and the arena was flooded with enthusiasm like a river.
The Owus have a special place in the Yoruba race, an ethnic group mostly found in south-western Nigeria. History has it that the first king of Owu Kingdom, Ajibosin, was one of the grandson of Oduduwa. As an infant, he once put on his grandfather’s crown and when it was removed, he wept continually until the crown was placed back on his head.
“His mother was later told to keep the crown for the son as he seemed so anxious to have it,” Lola Tomori wrote in his book, ‘The Owu Factor in the History of Ibadanland’. Hence, Ajibosin was nicknamed “Asunkungbade”, he that cries to take the crown.
Although the original homestead of the Owu Kinngdom is disputed, in the 19th century, it was very prominent alongside the old Oyo empire. However, its wars with the latter broke up the Kingdom and set the stage for the migration of its people to distant lands, a phenomenon which has led scholars to compare and juxtapose the Owus with the Jews.
Today, the Owus can be found in various settlements, from Ogun to Oyo states and even outside Nigerian territory. Each settlement, usually, is headed by a King or under the supervision of a Mogaji. Every year, the people, led by their kings, hold an itinerant convention to rub minds together. In 2017, it was Ibadan.
“This is an annual event in which people of Owu origin come together to discuss about their origin, their various challenges in their various locations and the way forward for progress and development,” one of the most prominent royal fathers of today’s Owu Society, the Olowu of Owu-Ijebu, Oba Segun Adesina told THISDAY at the 2017 convention. “It’s a well thought out activity of the Owu people because they come from at least 50 settlements; and these settlements are not limited to one state or region, and even cut across national boundaries. So this is a welcome association of brothers who come together to discuss their ancestry.”
However Oba Adesina noted that, going forward, the Owu people need to do more help each other. “We need to do more for our people wherever they are, especially when we find ourselves in positions of political authority,” he said. “We are not saying they should be partial, but where our people have excelled, they should not be deprived of the opportunity.”
The royal father also said the Ibadan edition had been a success with the help of Owu-Ijebu delegation, who have made invaluable contributions to the process. “We have made positive contributions to the Oba Council meeting which were well appreciated,” he said. “And our members at the council are doing very well, which makes us very proud.”
An Owu son and Otuba Atunluse of Owu-Ijebu, Otuba Femi Adewunmi also spoke to THISDAY, reiterating that “Owu descendants are all from the same eventual lineage with shared common interest, so we must be our brother’s keeper.”
He also said he would like to see his people become a “strong pressure group to ensure advancement of all Owu communities – starting from my own stronghold, Owu-Ijebu.”
The finale of the 2017 convention was opened by the Head of Owu People in Ibadan, Teslim Abiodun Olugbode. In his welcome address, he noted that the convention made it 20 years when Ibadan had previously hosted the Owu community. He then called on all Owu indigenes, home and abroad, to strive for growth and development of the “great” Owu Kingdom. “As we all know, we require unity and togetherness to defend the legacy handed over to us by our ancestors,” he said. “We must work together for its development and the time is now.”
But the highlight of the day was when Obasanjo took to the stage, as the crowd hobbled around the podium, waiting to listen to Owu’s number one citizen.
It is not amiss to argue that the Owu convention would not have existed without Obasanjo. The idea for an umbrella body for Owu people, the Royal Union of Owu People (ROUP), the brains behind the convention, originated from the late Chief Akin Olugbade, the then Balogun of Owu Kingdom in Abeokuta. He had a vision that after the war of 1821-1826 which caused the dispersal of Owu people from their homestead, efforts should be made to get them back together. He Identified some Owu sons and daughters under the chairmanship of Chief Afolabi Fadairo who was then the Oganla of Owu Abeokuta and they converged at a dinner in Gateway Hotel, Abeokuta, in 1986. But, after that dinner, not much was heard about it.
However, sometimes in 1992, Obasanjo invited some Owu sons to a lunch at his Otta Farm. There, he raised many pertinent issues concerning Owu People. Obasanjo said that one of the great achievements of Chief Olugbade was his attempt to unify the Owu People and that he would not like the idea to die.
At that lunch, which was attended by Owu leaders such as Dr Onaolapo Soleye, Prince Bola Ajibola, Bashorun Doja Adewolu, Alhaji M.Ola Yusuf and Arc Wale Adisa Odeleye, another tentative meeting was arranged.
Alhaji Yusuf took up the challenge to move round the Owu settlements and carry out the plan to bring the Owu People under one umbrella. He was supported by Some Prominent Owu Sons like The late Olusoji Idowu, Alhaji Adisa Adewolu, Alhaji Agboke, Alhaji Ganiyu Egbeyemi, Alhaji Tajudeen Egbeyemi, Baba Olede, Chief Femi Oketokun among others.
The Grand Finale of the Establishment of this Union was held in 1992 at General Olusegun Obasanjo’s House, Ita-Eko, Abeokuta. Many distinguished Owu Sons and Daughters all over the world present. These include Hon. Justice Fakayode of blessed memory, Chief Omololu Olunloyo, Chief Duro Oluyemi, Prince Gbogboade, Prince A. Adewara, Prof. Joseph Mokuolu, Prof. Alani Fabunmi, Dr Onaolapo Soleye, Bashorun Doja Adewolu, Barrister Adisa Adewolu, Chief Mrs Adepate Ojesina, Chief Mrs Gbogboade, Chief Akin Ogunpola, Hon Gbolahan Ijaola.
In his speech at the 2017 convention, Obasanjo noted that the reason for starting the Owu union was to build a community of Owu people who will support one another. “We should be looking for one another,” he said. “Let’s look everywhere for where there are Owu people; someone told me there might be Owu people in Ekiti state, in Ondo state, let’s look for them. Our fathers do not throw away their children.
“In fact, anyone who says he is an Owu person and behaves like an Owu, let us accept him. Owu people do not steal. If we find such a person, we must ask his mother where he was brought.”
However, he warned that the task’s success will depend on the availability of funding and resources. “We must look for ways to finance these ventures,” he said. “The onus now falls on us, especially the leaders. We cannot continue to watch things go bad, saying we are helpless. After this gathering, we leaders will sit down and look for innovative ways through which we can raise money.”
In the end, he thanked everyone for coming for the convention, despite the economic situation. “If we had called and you had not responded, it would have been very understandable,” he said. “But you came – may you meet your home in peace.”