Oba Adetona has done what is expected of a traditional ruler of repute
Oba Sikiru Adetona, The Awujale of Ijebuland, deserves commendation for the candid remark he made during President Goodluck Jonathan’s visit to his palace on Thursday. It is not all the time that we have traditional rulers speak truth to power. I met the Oba for the first time at Ijebu-Ode Grammar School in the early ‘70s. I cannot remember what exactly he came for then, but I remember he told the story of how he became Oba and also mentioned something about appreciating whatever gift his children gave him, despite the fact that he is blessed himself. When you deduct about 40 years from the Oba’s age, you would know he must have been extremely young then. And he was extremely handsome, too. Even at his age, he is still any lady’s man, no pun intended. But these are not matters for today.
The Awujale deserves commendation not just for the frank speech but because of his consistency in such matters. The president had gone to the palace in continuation of his tours to traditional rulers in the southwest. I said it about three weeks ago when the president was in Lagos to meet some traditional rulers, that none of the Obas would dare tell their subjects to vote for the president or any other person for that matter because it is wrong to do that. One is even at a loss as to why the south west has suddenly become a tourism centre for the president at this point in time. President Jonathan seems to have made a fetish of such tours as if the Obas would, at the snap of a finger, order their subjects to vote for him. In Yorubaland, gone were those days.
The Yorubas respect their monarchs; but the respect is reciprocal. Any Oba that makes the mistake of asking his subjects to vote in a particular way, and especially for President Jonathan, knows he is courting trouble. A prominent traditional ruler in Yorubaland, who only said something suggestive of supporting General Ibrahim Babangida after his annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the late Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, knows what he went through in the hands of the Yoruba people. As the Awujale noted, the Yorubas are too sophisticated to be led in the nose on who to vote for during election by any Oba. “In Ijebu here, it is not possible for any Oba, not even in Yorubaland, to go out and say vote for this, vote for that; that person is looking for trouble. But give them the opportunity to present their programmes so that people can make up their minds on what to do. I think this is a very sound democratic principle and that is what I have decided to do, to give you the opportunity of meeting with the people”. It couldn’t have been better said.
Then President Jonathan did what he knows how to do best: gave himself pass mark on road infrastructure. He said railway is back; but didn’t say what type of railway. He also said his administration has tried “both in the tertiary level, or what we call health tourism”, etc. Then he assured that if reelected, he would implement the report of the National Conference. Earlier, when responding to a demand by the Dagburewe of Idowa, Oba Yinusa Adekoya, who spoke on behalf of the Ijebu Traditional Council, President Jonathan said he would take the appointment of an Ijebu in his cabinet “very, very seriously” if reelected.
If the president went to 30 palaces in the southwest and all of them made a similar request, he would promise to do something for them all yet, we all know that the constitution is clear on how ministerial appointments should be made. In several other places, President Jonathan had promised heaven on earth things that he could not do in the best of times when crude oil was selling at good prices.
Perhaps the icing on the cake as far as President Jonathan’s visit to the Awujale’s palace is concerned was the monarch’s admonition to his subjects to vote in only people with the genuine interest of the people at heart; honest people with integrity and the fear of God. “Each time I have cause to talk to our people, I have always told them, in the churches and mosques that when you’re going to vote, make sure you back your sons and daughters who will give something back to you; not the ojelus (looters). Those who will be honest with you, who know the way of God; those are the people you should vote for; not those who will give you two, three spoons and mortgage your future. It is not right”. This is what, in Yorubaland, is calledoro sunnukun (food for thought). I wonder how the president and his entourage would have felt at the point the Awujale was making. Clearly, they must have been disappointed if their visit was to get his royal endorsement.
Oba Adetona’s speech reminds one of the visit of President Jonathan to the revered Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba Erediauwa, during the Edo State governorship election in July 2012. The Benin monarch was as candid as he could be when he was reported to have told the president to allow the wish of the people prevail in the election. As the Awujale rightly noted, the coming elections are about the most tension-soaked we are having in about 55 years. Although no one has used the expression ‘do-or-die battle’ as former President Olusegun Obasanjo did in his time, the point is, this is the real do-or-die battle. But why? Why?
Even the Moroccan king, HM King Mohammed V1, was not left out of our dirty political tricks. That country’s authorities had to say the monarch declined a telephone conversation with President Jonathan because the monarch too realised the implications of such conversation at this point in time. “The king has actually declined the request of the Nigerian government because it is part of the internal electioneering” (in Nigeria), a statement from the Moroccan authorities said. Yet, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja last Monday denied that the Moroccan monarch turned down such a request. It insisted that the president spoke with the Moroccan monarch. “This information is absolutely not correct as the president did in fact speak to the Moroccan monarch … both leaders spoke extensively over the phone on matters of mutual interest and concern”, the ministry said despite the Moroccan authorities’ denial that any such conversation took place. The ministry said it would respond after getting a directive from “higher authorities to do so”. But it was President Jonathan himself who responded, days after, that he never had any such conversation with the Moroccan monarch!
So, what happened? An investigation had been ordered and we await, as usual, its findings. But to show their disgust about the whole thing, the Moroccan authorities issued two statements within 24 hours and crowned what it called “unethical practices” (diplomatically avoiding to say that the Nigerian government lied) with the recall of its ambassador in Abuja for consultations. Although the same Ministry of External Affairs said the conversation (that the president said never was) was not to confer any political advantage on the president and his party, Nigerians know better. What else could it have been all about, especially given the Moroccans’ claim that “there has never been a telephone conversation” between the two leaders?
Does this not show to what extent we are prepared to ridicule the country just for the sake of elections? If we must wash our dirty linen, should we do that in public? So, there is none of our institutions that would not be rubbished all for these elections? Now, it is the turn of the foreign affairs ministry, the most unexpected quarters.
However, by now, it ought to be clear to President Jonathan that no monarch can get him more than his (monarch’s) own vote, that is if the monarch is so pleased to. But hold it, what could have been responsible for the president’s newfound love for Yoruba monarchs? Could it be because they are believed to have ‘authority’ on their tongues or in their staff of office? All said, the Awujale deserves praise for living to the high standards expected of monarchs of repute like him. Little wonder he is one Oba that receives the prostration of countless other Obas. Oba Adetona has done what many spiritual fathers would not do. Kaabiyesi o!