By Muyiwa Akintunde
Not a few eyebrows were raised when the Ife kingmakers endorsed – and the Governor of Osun State approved – the then Prince Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi as the 51st Ooni of Ife last October. The revered throne of the source of the Yoruba race was to be mounted by a 41-year-old! What about the old, wise men in the Giesi ruling house whose turn it was to produce the Arole Oodua? In electing Prince Ogunwusi (now Oba Ogunwusi, Ojaja II) from among several other eminent princes, the Ife kingmakers must have been convinced that age is not all that matters. At 28 in 1938, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello would have been Sultan of Sokoto. The chosen one, Sir Siddiq Abubakar III, made him Sarduana (warlord) of Sokoto at that young age and he went on to become the Premier of Northern Region, and – some would insist – de facto Prime Minister of Nigeria ruling from Kaduna! Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon was an unmarried 32-year-old at the time he became military Head of State in January 1966. Crowned Obi of Agbor when he was only 28 months old, Dein Benjamin Ikechuku Keagborekuzi I, now 39-year-old, exudes wisdom of the Biblical Solomon. There are more examples.
Since his ascension to the throne, Oba Ogunwusi has carved a niche as a unifier of the Yoruba race. Slowly but steady, he is breaking down old walls that have kept the traditional institutions and their peoples in the region apart.
The creation of Osun State out of the old Oyo State in 1991 was deserving no doubt, but the story-behind-the-story was that the two royal titans of Yorubaland had to be separated. The unhealthy rivalry between the Ooni of Ife, the now Late Oba Okunade Sijuwade and the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III choked the space. It was all about who was the paramount Yoruba monarch and not about the development of the region. The gains of the rapprochement between Oba Sijuwade’s immediate predecessor, Oba Adesoji Aderemi and Alaafin Adeyemi were eroded in the tiff that lasted all the 35-year reign of Ooni Sijuwade. But in only three months after mounting the throne of his progenitors, Oba Ogunwusi has taken giant steps towards reconciliation.
On January 17, Oba Adeyemi had a thanksgiving at the Methodist Church, Apaara to mark his 45th coronation anniversary. The age-old rivalry between the occupiers of the paramount stools must have informed the decision of the event organisers not to extend invitation to the new Ooni. Not to be discouraged, Oba Ogunwusi mobilised about 100 monarchs across Yorubaland to honour the celebrating Alaafin. It was the first time in 79 years that the Ooni would visit Oyo town! In the reign of Ooni Aderemi, the then Alaafin, Oba Siyanbola Onikepe Oladigbolu I, hosted Yoruba Obas to a meeting in his domain. It was the last time Oyo town would welcome paramount Yoruba rulers to a summit.
Ooni Ogunwusi’s mission to Oyo town and other significant moves is clear. The peace and unity of the Yoruba race must not be compromised. In a statement on the landmark visit to Oyo town, the royal father was quoted thus: “I am here today though not invited, but as the Arole Oduduwa, the onus is on me to felicitate with all sons and daughters, wherever they are and to show my solidarity. I am ready to damn any consequences or insinuations from anywhere. My mission here is to preach peace among nations of Yoruba both home and abroad and I am ready to work with Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Olayiwola Adeyemi to project the unity and love which we believe is existing in days of our forefathers.”
On the heels of that significant move, Oba Ogunwusi took another historic step. Again, Oba Aderemi was the last Ooni of Ife to visit the Awujale of Ijebuland, one of the major paramount rulers in Yorubaland. That was in 1941.
Twelve days after breaking what had appeared to be the Oyo plague, Oba Ogunwusi led several traditional rulers and chiefs to Ijebu Ode where Oba Sikiru Adetona had been Awujale since 1960, one of the longest reigning traditional rulers in the country. A 75-year-old jinx was broken!
Oba Ogunwusi’s key message: unity, peace and cooperation among traditional rulers and peoples of Yorubaland.
He is clear-minded in that mission. Before setting out of his domain, he had reached out to his next door neighbours, Modakeke with which Ife had a legendary but needless battle. Ooni Ogunwusi led his team to the Akoraye Day celebration, held last December 26 to raise fund for the development of Modakeke. Rather than dwell on the differences among peoples and causes, the Ooni chose to exploit those attributes positively to the benefit of the society.
On Monday, February 1, Ooni Ogunwusi continued on his outreach programme, this time to a political leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Described as a purely private visit, it is seen as in pursuit of the agenda of unity among the sons and daughters of Oduduwa all over the world. Political and economic integration of the region was said to have been on the front burner. For Yorubaland, a new day has dawned.
- Akintunde, a public relations consultant and journalist, is based in Lagos