Fellow Nigerians, let me confess that my trip to the ancient city of Ife last Thursday was a most harrowing experience. As a matter of fact, the drive itself was very smooth devoid of the usual hurly-burly on that notorious Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. We set forth on our journey around noon not knowing what to expect along the way. Road travel in Nigeria has defied common logic. You require methods to the malfeasance and madness of our dare-devil drivers. We drove all the way to Ibadan without any major drama of bottlenecks and we thanked God for journey mercies.
The second leg of our journey was from Ibadan to Ile-Ife. We tried to navigate our way from the ubiquitous gridlock around Iwo Road and meandered our way through the backstreet towards the Ibadan Airport to link up the Ife Road without much ado. The trouble came where we least expected. As we approached the Asejire Dam which used to be one of my favourite sights as a kid, we suddenly noticed a logjam ahead. Many passengers had abandoned their vehicles to assemble on the Asejire Bridge like locusts. We were momentarily alarmed wondering what had gone wrong on this usually peaceful stretch.
Alas, a vehicle which I suspected to be a public transport had sped and obviously somersaulted into the rocky river. We saw a deluge of Federal Road Safety Corps operatives struggling hard with what looked like a rescue mission as well as trying to clear the crowd of onlookers for easy passage of travellers like us. I actually seemed to appreciate their passionate dedication to the work of saving lives. Anyway, we prayed for survivors to emerge from that cataclysmic dive and continued on our voyage.
We arrived Ile-Ife with some anxiety because we didn’t know what to expect. Rumour had developed wings like bushfire in harmattan about a certain palace errand of The Ooni of Ife who must mandatorily accompany him on his journey to the great beyond by being buried alive with the King. Many of my Ghanaian friends had called to ask me about this odoriferous news about the disappearance of The Ooni’s Abobaku.
All efforts to explain the falsity of those claims were rebuffed by doubting Thomases. I was forced to tweet and explain that only two kings reigned in the last 85 years in Ile-Ife namely, Oba Adesoji Tadeniawo Aderemi and Oba Okunade Adele Sijuwade Olubuse II. I knew when Oba Aderemi passed on and there was no one buried with him. It is impossible for a living human being to be buried with a king at this time and age and I can say authoritatively that the law abiding Ife Chiefs will never commit such carnivorous murder.
We drove through the famous Lagere Road and headed towards the Ife Palace and met a desolate town in the mourning process of their powerful king. It was almost surreal. We eventually got to the palace gate where we encountered several barricades and some youths who claimed they were Oro cultists. They lurched forward menacingly as if to pounce on us. Then we heard some shrieking chants. We stopped and our security escorts tried to bring the riotous situation under control. I think one of the guys recognised the occupants of the Ovation-branded car and shouted “it is Ovation, Dele Momodu is a son of Ife, he is our own and free to drive anywhere!” I felt humbled and we gave them something for their efforts.
We had been misinformed by someone that the Crown Prince Adetokunbo Sijuwade and the wives of the departed monarch were still ensconced somewhere in the palace of Oduduwa, the progenitor of the Yoruba race. The boys directed us on how to enter the palace.
The gates were firmly locked but the second one swung open as our convoy approached snakelike. As we entered the palace proper, we experienced a certain eerie feeling. It was apparent something had gone desperately wrong. The place had lost its original allure and glamour. I thought we had mistakenly entered Fagunwa’s phantasmagorical forests. We continued towards the inner gates leading to The Ooni’s residences. We saw freshly-cut trees on the ground meant to block any intruder and nosey-parker. The place was virtually empty.
I wondered why we were allowed to drive inside the palace when there was no soul except a few Chiefs straddled in one corner performing their mandatory rites or whatever it was. I felt the urge to get out of that extra-terrestrial space as fast as possible. After all the hullabaloo of Abobaku, what if some human heads were needed? Could it possibly mean a few of us could be kidnapped or just vamoose into rarefied air without a trace in this vast world? I marvelled at the audacity that ever propelled us in that direction in the first instance but I felt assured because I was in the company of Princes and Princesses, including Prince Adedamola Aderemi, and Oro never affects them.. I was nevertheless a bit apprehensive but still excited about the potentially dangerous adventure.
We eventually turned around and left the palace. Memories of years gone by gushed back and took over my brains. So this is the end of another era, I asked rhetorically. I couldn’t imagine I will never visit Kabiyesi, The Ooni, in that massive sprawling palace again. Nothing destroys than death. The finality of it is most cruelly annoying. We then drove to a few places for some quick meetings.
Eventually, we went to visit Prince Adetokunbo Sijuwade in their private home. The place was buzzling with activities in preparation for the interdenominational service that took place yesterday. We met two of the royal wives, Olori Ladun and Olori Odunayo. I saw many Sijuwade Princes and Princesses who had flown in to Nigeria from different parts of the universe. The new head of the family was completely knackered. The responsibilities on his shoulders are incredibly heavy.
While I was in the house with my friends, I got a call from the Governor of the State of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola who had been duly informed by Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi of my presence in our State. He was in his usual upbeat mood and he apologised that he won’t be able to host me as he had some prior engagements to deal with. I thanked him for the call and drove to the home of Olori Morisola Sijuwade, The Ooni’s most senior wife. She expressed delight at seeing us come around to honour her husband. We must have left Ife after 10pm and headed to Osogbo where we passed the night.
We checked into our hotel and agreed to meet at about 7am for breakfast. I managed to catch some sleep after working till 3am. By 6am, it was time to get ready. We gathered ourselves in about six cars and drove to Ife and arrived the venue in Enuwa, at about 10am. The Area Boys sprang on us and skilfully with two mobile phones from my friends while I managed to escape those rascals.
The Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo personally attended and this added some colour to the event. It was nice seeing Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State, Major General Adeyinka Adebayo, Rear Admiral Akin Aduwo, Lt. General Alani Akinrinade, Prince Ayo Aderemi, Mrs Tola Oyediran and her sister, Dr Mrs Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu (both represented the Awolowo family), Prince Adedamola Aderemi (who has spent ample time with the Sijuwades right from London to Lagos), Senator Bamigbetan, Senator Iyiola Omisore, Senator Babajide Omoworare, The Secretary to the State Government of Osun and so many others.
After visiting a few places including the old Buka of the Obafemi Awolowo University where we dealt ruthlessly with some piping hot amala and goat meat, we went to spend some time again with Prince Adetokunbo and the Oloris. Thereafter, I led the family in a short prayer and it became obvious I’m inching closer to my calling as a Pastor as I prophesied at Pastor Tunde Bakare’s 60th birthday celebration.
What next, I asked as we drove out of the compound. The Ife kingmakers don’t usually waste time in selecting their new king. I expect them to name one of the contenders in the next few weeks. The process is not going to be simple as there seems to be a motley crowd this time around. Ile-Ife is blessed with many successful and accomplished Princes who may be qualified.
I project that the Kingmakers will ask ruling house three out of the four ruling houses to present their candidates, namely, Osinkola, Giesi and Lafogido. The Ogboru ruling house which presented the last Ooni, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, will not now be asked to present a candidate. This follows the precedent when Osinkola ruling house was not asked to present a candidate when Oba Adesoji Aderemi Atobatele I joined his ancestors, thus paving the way for Ooni Sijuwade to be crowned.
According to Ife custom and tradition there is no order of rotation in the presentation of candidates by the respective ruling houses. From the twentieth century to date, the last five Ooni’s have come from three not four ruling Houses:
(a) Olubuse I from Ogboru – 1894 to 1909
(b) Adekola from Osinkola – 1910 to 1910
(c) Ademiluyi Ajagun from Lafogido – 1910 – 1930
(d) Aderemi Atobatele from Osinkola – 1930 – 1980
(e) Sijuwade Olubuse II from Ogboru – 1980 to 2015.
Prior to these Obas above who reigned in the 20th century, Lafogiddo had produced 7 Oonis, Osinklola had produced 3, Giesi had produced 6 and Ogboru had produced 2.
Attempts may have been made in the past between 1957 and 1979 to establish an order of rotation but these failed to fly and rotation was jettisoned by the Kingmakers in the one and only exercise in 1980.
There are already indications that virtually all the eligible ruling houses will present their candidates after a rigorous screening exercise to determine eligibility by those houses. Some of the criteria they will utilise are whether the candidate is truly a prince from that particular ruling house, including whether the claimed royalty was bestowed honorarily on the candidate’s ancestor or the aspirant is descended from a male lineage. Similarly, tradition forbids an Ooni to have a living father and, patent disability or deformity is also a ground for exclusion.
The mood in Ile-Ife seems to favour younger candidates since the last two Ooni’s ascended the throne at the ages of 40 and 50 respectively. I predict therefore that nobody above 60 will be considered suitable by the Kingmakers.
There are no clear contenders coming out for different reasons. Firstly, a few of them wished to pay deference to the memory of Oba Sijuwade and did not feel that it was decorous to press a claim until his funeral was concluded. Secondly, some are in public service and will not want to risk their jobs.
Tthirdly, the financial obligations are usually quite significant and this has been the practice since time immemorial or, at least, since the passing of Ooni Ojigidiri as Oba Adesoji Aderemi wrote in his letter of July 28 1930 to The Resident of Oyo Province when laying his claim to the throne and; Fourthly, No claimant can say that he was anointed or blessed by the previous Ooni as most of the present contenders were close to Ooni Sijuwade in one way or the other.
Once the ruling houses have concluded their screening they ask the princely gladiators whether they are able to agree amongst themselves so that the house can present one common candidate. If there is no agreement then the ruling house is compelled to forward the names of all those interested in vying for the stool to the kingmakers.
In Ife, there are six primary kingmakers who must act in consultation with the other secondary kingmakers before an Ooni is elected. There are 8 Iharefe Chiefs on the Right headed by Obalufe (or Orunto as he is otherwise known) and 8 Modewa chiefs on the Left headed by Lowa. The Iharefe are the civil chiefs including the war chief, whilst the Modewas are the Palace courtiers. Three of the Iharefes namely, Obalufe, Obalaye and Ejio, form one half of the primary kingmakers whilst the remaining three come from the Modewa side and are namely, Lowa, Jaran and Agoro.
Prior to the selection by the six primary kingmakers, the Araba of Ife is requested by them to consult Ifa and determine the candidates that are worthy for consideration for the Title. Once the Araba puts forward those worthy of consideration, the 6 primary kingmakers make their choice after consulting with their remaining colleagues.
Thereafter the chosen person’s name is sent to the Governor who must appoint that person as the Ooni. It is noteworthy that the kingmakers in Ife present only one person to the Governor as their choice of Ooni and the Governor therefore has little choice but to honour the selection of the kingmakers.