*Oba of Benin greater than any Yoruba monarch — Esogban
*Says Ooni of Ife hails from Benin; Yoruba Obas keep mum
*South West leaders split
By Simon Ebegbulem, Gbenga Olarinoye, Dapo Akinrefon, Charles Kumolu & Gbenga Oke
BENIN CITY—The Palace of the Oba of Benin has stoked controversy over the supremacy of Obas in the South West, saying it was not true that the Benin monarch was the third in the ranking of kings in the region as declared by the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo.
The Esogban of Benin and Odionwere of the Kingdom (traditional head), Chief David Edebiri, yesterday, said the Alake of Egbaland, goofed when he said the Oba of Benin was third in the hierarchy of Obas.
He explained that the Ooni of Ife was a son of the Oba of Benin, adding that the stool of the Oba of Benin could not be compared with that of any Yoruba King.
Esogban, third in command in the palace of the Oba of Benin, said: “We wanted to discard this report as something that was not necessary at all. We do not see how the Alake of Egbaland suddenly woke up to think that the Oba of Benin is also a Yoruba Oba.
“There is no basis for such classification; Oba of Benin has nothing to do with the Yoruba Obas. It is simply unnecessary, unless they simply want to stir up an unnecessary controversy.
“We are not in Yorubaland. To be frank, it is because many of them are not willing to come up with the truth, the word Oba is alien to Yoruba monarchy; it is not part of their title from time immemorial.
“For instance, the one they call the Oba of Lagos, these are recent adaptations. In the 50s, there was no Oba of Lagos, what we had was the Eleko of Eko. That is the title of the King there. In Ibadan, you have the Olu Ibadan. You come to Abeokuta, you have the Alake of Egba land. You come to Oyo, you have the Alaafin of Oyo. In Ilesha, you have the Owa-Obokun of IIesha. So no Yoruba monarch had as part of his titles the word Oba except the Oba of Benin.
“That word Oba is indigenous to Benin. It is only in recent times you find everybody bearing Oba. When the Western Regional conference of traditional rulers took place in Benin City in 1942, go and check the attendance, there was no other monarch in the whole of the Western Region then that bore the title of Oba, except the Oba of Benin.
“So it is an unnecessary excursion, an unnecessary attempt to turn history upside down by the Alake by classifying the Oba of Benin as third in the hierarchy of kings.
“Our own traditional history says that the Ooni of Ife was a Benin Prince who wandered from here to Ife, settled there and became the ruler there. That is the position, if they don’t know, they should send people here; we will teach them.
“We will show them landmarks. So this is unnecessary misrepresentation of history. Maybe the Alake wanted to mention a different place and not Benin.
“The monarchical rulership in this part of the world started from Benin during the era of the Ogisos. It was the son of the last Ogiso, Owodo, that wandered from here to Ife and he became a ruler there, carrying everything about the Benin monarchical system to that place. There is no basis for such classification.
“The Ooni of Ife by historical facts, is a son of the Oba of Benin, so they are not in the same class. The Oba of Benin is the only one that answers Oba, the rest don’t. But today, we hear Oba here and there, they are all recent adaptations. I am saying categorically that the word Oba is indigenous to Benin and not to Yoruba nation.”
Yoruba Obas keep mum
Most traditional rulers in Yorubaland who were contacted for their reactions on the issue declined making any remark, saying since the Alake had spoken on the issue, they would not want to be drawn into any controversy.
Specifically, one of the monarchs who occupied a prominent office of a national forum who does not want his name in print, said the 1903 gazette spoke extensively on the issue.
But the Olowu of Owu-Kuta, Oba Adekunle Oyetunde, said the ranking by the Alake was not new.
“Even the colonial masters have done the ranking. Spiritually, Ooni occupies the territory of Oduduwa. So, he is the landlord of Oduduwa House. I don’t think there is any controversy,” he said.
He advised all Yoruba sons and daughters to support the incumbent Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, in his on-going efforts at uniting the Yoruba race.
South west leaders divided
However, mixed reactions trailed the remarks made by the Alake of Egbaland over the supremacy of the Ooni of Ife over the Alaafin of Oyo and the Oba of Benin.
Let’s ignore issues capable of causing disharmony—Adebanjo
In his remarks, a chieftain of Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, said: “The Obas should make peace although the Benin Kingdom has never accepted superiority. That is a historical fact. The world is very dynamic and as such, issues that are capable of causing disharmony among the ethnic groups in Nigeria should be de-emphasised. The Obas should talk among themselves. As far as I am concerned, that is not an issue because the country is currently facing economic crisis that requires the concern of every Nigerian.”
Alake stated the obvious — Odumakin
On his part, Afenifere spokesperson, Mr Yinka Odumakin said Alake of Egbaland stated the obvious fact.
Odumakin said: “The supremacy of the Ooni of Ife among the Yoruba by all account is not contestable and I think the Alake of Egbaland stated the obvious. I think what the present Ooni of Ife is demonstrating at the moment is unity among the monarchs by the way he has been going to meet the Alaafin and other Yoruba monarchs.
“The history is not contestable but what is important at this stage is for all hands to be on deck for co-operation, for unity so that the vision for development can take place but you cannot lose sight of history as a guide,” he said.
The controversy is not healthy— Babatope
In his reaction to the controversy, former Minister of Transport, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, said he would not like to dabble into the controversy among the kings.
His words: “Honestly, I feel this kind of controversy is not healthy at this time and I won’t like to comment on it.”
What the Alake said
It would be recalled that the Alake and paramount ruler of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo, Sunday, declared that the Ooni of Ife remained the highest in the ranking of Yoruba obas.
Oba Gbadebo who stated this while receiving the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi in his Ake, Abeokuta, Ogun State palace, said the Ife monarch is the highest of the five principal Obas in Yorubaland.
The Alake, who said there were five principal obas in Yorubaland, listed the other Obas below the Ooni to include the Alaafin of Oyo and the Oba of Benin in second and third positions, respectively, in the order of ranking. He listed his own title, the Alake of Egbaland as the fourth while the Awujale of Ijebuland occupies the fifth.