By Adeola Oladele
Whenever an Olubadan is to be installed, most Nigerians who do not know the history and the nature of the chieftaincy system in Ibadanland have always wondered why the ancient city always pick very old men to be its royal father and thus within 10 years, there is another coronation ceremony.
For the late Oba Samuel Odulana, Odugade 1, like other royal fathers before him and those he may also come after him, it took him more than 30 years to climb the succession lines of 23 steps to ascend the Olubadan stool in 2007 at the age of 93.
It would thus not be out of place to enlighten the general public about the traditional system that produces the Olubadan of Ibadanland; its peculiarities that confer a fascinating uniqueness on the process in the context of Yorubaland and the prospects that exist in the future for its modernization without affecting its rancour-free nature.
Apart from mythical stories of some ancient rulers in Yorubaland reported to have reigned for over 70 years and some living for over 120 years, there were cases of an Ooni of Ife ( Oba (Sir) Adesoji Aderemi), who reigned for 50 years, Olowo of Owo and Deji of Akure who similarly spent long years on the throne. But the system of ascension to the throne in these places are markedly different from that of Ibadan which by its very nature produces old men who often be on the throne for short tenure.
Late Odulana is perhaps one of the oldest monarchs in the world. At such an advanced age, one would have expected Odulana to step aside and allow a younger person to take over the throne, after all, Queen Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard of The Netherlands, did so when she abdicated the throne in favour of Willem-Alexander, her eldest son. She was only 77, and the son was 46. But nobody expects
that of the Olubadan. Besides, ascending the throne of the Olubadan is a life-long process, which sometimes takes between 30 to 35 years or more to accomplish. It normally begins from the aspirant’s family compound. Any son of Ibadanland who is interested in the seat must first be initiated as the Mogaji or traditional head of his compound. But being a Mogaji does not guarantee anything yet because there are several other Mogajis in other compounds and unless there is a vacancy, the Mogaji cannot move up to become the Jagun.
However, once a Mogaji is made the Jagun, then he has overcome the first hurdle and is now in line to the throne with 22 more steps to take. But becoming a Jagun is, in itself, achievable only after the death of a sitting Olubadan, which creates vacancy for someone in the next position to move up. In the case of late Oba Odulana, he got the Jagun title in 1973 and then climbed 22 steps within 34 years before becoming the Olubadan in 2007. The uniqueness of the Olubadan stool is that every male child with root in Ibadanland can aspire to ascend to the throne as long as he is patient and is ready to take his turn.
Nevertheless, there have been numerous cases of some aspirants being the heir apparent only to die before the king. It is not uncommon for the Otun Olubadan or Balogun, that is, the next- in- line to the throne, to die before the royal father. For instance, the late Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, the strong man of Ibadan politics, was the fifth to the late Olubadan before his death in June 2008. He was 80 years old and much younger than the Olubadan. Similarly, High Chief Sulaiman Omiyale, the late Balogun of Ibadanland was also the next to the throne before his demise last year at the age of 93 years.
Two Other Lines to the Throne
But the steps to the throne are not restricted to that line. In fact, there are two lines to the throne of the Olubadan, Egbe Agba or Council of Elders (civil line) and the Balogun (military line). The Olubadan is appointed from the two ruling lines, on rotational basis, to ascend the throne on the death of the monarch. The next-in-line to the Olubadan are the most senior on both lines with the Otun Olubadan heading the civil while the military line is headed by the Balogun who, under the Western Nigeria Law, are recognized as second class traditional rulers and therefore, included in the civil list, which makes them entitled to stipends from government. Next to them are the Osi Olubadan, Asipa Olubadan, Ekeerin and Ekaarun on the civil side, as well as Otun Balogun, Osi Balogun, Asipa Balogun, Ekeerin and Ekaarun Balogun in the military line. And they are all members of the Olubadan-In-Council, which helps the Olubadan on matters relating to his subjects and government.
But there are two other members in the council who are not in line to the throne, the Seriki who is the male head, and Iyalode, mother of the town.
Women Can’t Aspire to become Olubadan
However, the system does not permit a woman to aspire to become the Olubadan. People in the two male lines must go through a step by step system of chieftaincy promotion to reach the throne of Olubadan of Ibadanland. The 11 High Chiefs that formed the Olubadan-In-Council, apart from the Seriki and Iyalode, are recognised as the traditional heads of each of the 11 local government areas in Ibadanland. And because of the sensitive nature of their positions and responsibilities, all the senior chiefs, including the Olubadan, are forbidden from taking part in partisan politics. In their domains, for instance, the senior chiefs are presidents of customary courts, whose responsibilities include adjudication on matrimonial, land disputes, boundary and other communal conflicts.
The Olubadan himself is a very powerful figure and has the authority to depose or stop a chief from advancing from his current post, irrespective of the person’s position on the chieftaincy line. Hence, high chiefs on the lower cadre could be promoted above a high chief whose position has been pegged. Even when forgiven, in the event that he was penitent, the promotion made while the offending high chief served his punishment would not be reversed. One of such incidents happened between 1948 and 1952 during the reign of Oba Fijabi II. A wealthy Balogun, who was next to Olubadan, was said to have had his chieftaincy halted from advancing to the throne. During the same period, a holder of the title of Osi-Olubadan was also punished for acts of disloyalty to the cause of Ibadanland, an offence akin to treasonable felony.
It is on record that a former minister in the old Western Region was similarly demoted. Having tried all his best, using the instrument of government and courts to have his punishment reversed without success, he sought help outside the courts and got a pardon. But he still lost his seniority to some of those who were placed below him. The most recent where an Olubadan exercised such enormous power was in 1983 when Oba Yesufu Asanike, the then Olubadan, withdrew the honourable chieftaincy title of the Are Alasa bestowed on the then Governor Bola Ige of old Oyo State. The late Ige was said to have been involved in an act said to be disrespectful to Ibadanland.
The city of Ibadan was founded in the 16th century, but the present occupants who came from different parts of Yoruba-speaking enclaves, only took control in about 1820. In 1850 they established the unusual succession policy, which is incomparable with other traditional Yoruba rulers. Thus, making it possible for just about any male born title-holder of the metropolitan city to be a potential king.
Ibadan Chieftaincy System Under Attack
However the chieftaincy system came under attack last Tuesday as eminent scholars and personalities called for an urgent review of the Ibadan chieftaincy tradition to encourage younger, educated and influential men to ascend the exalted throne of the Olubadan of Ibadanland.
They bared their minds at a symposium organised by the Oyo State Government for the funeral of the late Oba Odulana at the Trenchand Hall of the University of Ibadan, Ibadan. The event, which has its theme as “Issues in Ibadan Traditional Chieftaincy System”, was chaired by Emeritus Prof. Olu Akinkugbe while Prof. Adedotun Ogundeji spoke on the life and times of the late monarch. An Ibadan Senior Chief, Oloye Lekan Alabi, also delivered a paper on that day.
Those who spoke in favour of the review of the Ibadan traditional chieftaincy system include a former governor of the old Oyo State, Dr. Omololu Olunloyo; a former Editor of Daily Times, Chief Areoye Oyebola; and a renowned historian, Prof. Bolanle Awe. Oyebola, who said he had close relationship with four Olubadans, noted that the Olubadan chieftaincy system was fraught with complexities that has made it impossible for any Olubadan to reign for too long. He said it was not in the best interest of modern Ibadan city for a prospective Olubadan to wait for more than 35 years after becoming a Mogaji before becoming an Olubadan, since they must climb the 23 promotional steps on the rung.
His words, “A situation where you have more than 200 Mogajis waiting in line to become Olubadan and to make the matter worse majority of these Mogajis are not educated and competent enough to rule over a big city like Ibadan calls for a review. Some don’t have the means and knowledge. I want to call for a review that will make it impossible for such people to become Olubadan. What I can advise the Olubadan-In-Council to do is to assess the current Mogajis and separate those who are not competent to become Olubadan.
“Make them advisers to the Olubadan and remove them from the chieftaincy lines. Baales should henceforth nominate young, educated and successful men of between 35 and 40 years to become Mogaji. To wait for 35 years before becoming Olubadan and reign for few years is not in our best interest.”
Speaking in the same vein, Olunnloyo said the Olubadan chieftaincy tradition, Chiefs Law and Subsidiary Laws are replete with contradictions and obstacles that needed urgent review in order to make ascension to the Olubadan throne problem-free. He insisted that the Olubadan chieftaincy promotion was not without rancour as widely believed, given the contention by the Seriki and Iyalode chieftaincy lines to be accorded due recognition.
He said, “No government can legislate on the issue of traditional chieftaincy because of the principle of separation of powers. There are six obstacles in the way of an Olubadan until the laws are reviewed. Some of these obstacles are in the Chiefs Laws and some are in the Subsidiary Law. “The system is semi-promotional. There was this Akinyo crisis when the late Oba Akinyele wanted to become Olubadan. In fact what the law even says is that the Olubadan-In-Council can choose from the four most senior chiefs in any line, not necessarily the most senior.
“Something must be done to reduce the lines and the rung of the ladder. We also need to remove all obstacles in the chiefs law. The current Olubadan-designate is qualified to ascend the throne.”
For Prof. Awe, despite its touted uniqueness, the Olubadan traditional chieftaincy needs to be rejigged to encourage younger men to become Olubadan. She said, “But I want to say that reform should take into cognizance the Iyalode line in order to take care of women. Women should not be relegated.”
However Alabi in his paper titled, “Ibadan’s Unique Royal Succession Tradition,” glorified the ascension system and affirmed the position of destiny in Olubadan’s ascendance. While commending the uniqueness of the Olubadan stool, he wants Ibadan chiefs to have the kind of education that would make them more effective. He said this had become imperative considering the number of years they have to wait in the line for the throne.
From the above, in as much as it will be right to say that the Ibadan chieftaincy system has often ensured rancour free ascension to the throne, it will not be out of place to give a thought to the need to reduce the number of steps on each ladder of the two lines from 23 to 10. Also, deliberate efforts should be made to reduce the influence of money in chieftaincy affairs so as to accord recognition to merit in the selection processes.
By Adeola Oladele