By Ola Ajayi
Ibadan – Prof. Adeyemi Aderibigbe, perhaps the oldest of the Princes from Giesi Ruling House of Ile – Ife was chair of the family screening committee which sifted chaff from the wheat, to present the eligible princes to the 16 kingmakers and Ifa divinity, for the choice of Ooni. He had contested for the stool in 1980 when it became vacant upon the translation of the much revered Sir Adesoji Aderemi, who was Ooni for 50 years.
Prince Aderibigbe is a repository of knowledge in all respects. As a prince, he is well versed in the anal of the ancient Ile Ife, the cradle of Yoruba. It is a delight to hear the professor talk especially about the stool of Ooni. As the head of Giesi ruling house, he stood his ground that the new Ooni must come from his ruling house which had been denied twice. In this expository interview, he reveals how the new Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitian Ogunwusi emerged out of thirty-six candidates that signified their interests. Enjoy this special treat…
Sir, can you tell us a brief history of the Giesi family which produced the Ooni?
Ooni Ojaja was the grandson of Ooni kumbusu; kumbusu was Ologbenla’s senior brother. Kumbusu gave his son to Ologbenla , the warrior- Prince to take care of him as a child and protect him from enemies at home who wanted to get rid of the son. Ojaja lived with his uncle, he went to war with his uncle, fought wars with his uncle, because ologbenla was still fighting wars on the frontier of Ile-Ife. When Ooni kumbusu translated, Ologbenla was asked to come back to the throne.
He said: no, take my son. That was how Ojaja became Ooni before his “father” Ologbenla, because it was Ologbenla who succeeded Ojaja when Ife people refused his nomination after the passage of Ojaja, saying: you can’t go on telling us who to take and who not to take again. You can’t. As at that time, Ologbenla had founded Ifetedo and he moved from Ifetedo and founded Oke igbo. Because of his exploits, he stopped the aggression of Ondo and its supporting army from penetrating to Ife any longer. That’s why Ojaja ascended the throne before his uncle because Ologbenla was in fact his uncle. But Ojaja knew Ologbenla as his father. Kumbusu was in fact his father.
That is the untold aspect of family history. But each and everyone of them are all Giesi’s children because they are all Agbedegbede’s children. It’s always been a close relationship. They are children of one parent and that is the strong tie among Ojaja, kumbusu and Ologbenla and they remain the strongest warriors of Ife. It has always been story in Ife that it is only when the Giesi ascends the throne that there is peace in Ile Ife.
Does that mean peace had eluded Ife because Giesi ruling house lost out twice at the time of Oba Adesoji Aderemi and Oba Okunade Sijuwade?
Well, I don’t want to go into that aspect. Giesi was cheated twice.Before Aderemi came up on the throne it was Giesi’s turn. But the Kingmakers or the Ife people in their wisdom chose Aderemi. Aderemi was a fantastic oba, he was truly befitting that throne and he did wonderfully well for Ife. The “Olori aye gbogbo”( meaning leader of all) was maintained by Aderemi and he was known for that throughout the world. The last 35 years was a peculiar experience. Now, peace has returned and it will remain with us for a very long time to come. Progress would be attendant on this peace. Development will be part of this peace, freedom, justice and transparency will be part of this. Ife will be a good example of progress and change; it will be obvious the change will begin to manifest itself in a few months’ time and Ile ife will become the Mecca of the Yoruba nation all over the world.
Why did the Giesi family decide to choose someone as young as the present Ooni?
That’s not the first time in history. Aderemi was forty years old when he took over and he lived for 50years. So, it won’t be the first time and also the exercise we conducted, age just came in at the tail end of it. The Ifa oracle supported our decision. When the names of eligible candidates were presented to the kingmakers, they had to consult Ifa and Ifa again very wisely chose the present Ooni. Ifa did not make mistake; Ifa in turn confirmed that we that screened them did not make mistakes. Age becomes immaterial. Don’t forget that the Dein of Agbor in Delta state ascended the throne at age three or four he is there till today.
What is the significance and power in Are(crown). From a research, I learnt it is very heavy. But mere looking at it, it looks just like an ordinary thing. What makes it heavy?
Well, it is good to believe that it is an ordinary thing. But, we know that it is more than ordinary, Aare is the symbol of Oodua and that is why you don’t find it anywhere. It is taken from a hill in Ido ife. The hill is there. It is taken from that hill. The Isoros(custodians of the crown) who do such things know what to do and without the Aare we have no Ooni. The Aare is the symbol of Ooni now the Ooni has arrived. Officially, aside from government approval, Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi became Ooni effectively on 23rd November, 2015.
I learnt that it is only once in a year that the king wears Aare?
Yes, the Aare is worn once in a year on Olojo day. That’s the only occasion you see him outside with Aare; he does not wear it everyday.
Does that mean there are other crowns apart from this one?
Well, in modern day Obas have all sorts of crowns, headcovers whatever they call it. But, the symbol of Ooni is Aare. When he wears it, there is nothing, I repeat, there is nothing that you request on that day with pure heart that you don’t get.
Is it true that if Ifa oracle did not pick the right person, the person would not be able to wear the Are, the crown?
I think it may be true. But, in this case every sign that was expected happened. We were told by the Isoros that if rain does not fall on the day he is supposed to go and take the Aare then its a waste of time. Rain fell and that was a good sign we were all waiting for. I was happy and grateful to God that God blessed the occasion and rain fell. Don’t forget dry season and harmattan has started. But rain fell.
But, there was no rain in other parts of the South West.
No, it did not happen anywhere.
To you and Ife people, that was a divine sign that God approves of his choice as king?
So, that is a divine sign? It is a divine sign that heaven blessed the occasion and it happened.
I am proud. As I said, I feel fulfilled that God in his grace has used us to be part of the making of this history. I am grateful to God.
Sir, how tortuous was the journey from the time of selection, consultations to the time the king was crowned?
It’s been so tortuous. It was really hazardous but thank God, we went through it, the crown is now back in my family after 135 years, I feel fulfilled and grateful to Almighty God, I am also grateful to all those who supported our team.
Sir, who is Sarun(king’s horseman) in Ife. Is it true, he is buried alive with the king when he dies?
Yes, in other Yoruba land, you call them Abobaku. There is only one sarun and Aderemi during his time in his wisdom appealed to his gods to please spare the sarun he had at that time and he refused to follow the ancient tradition of burying a sarun even If he was alive when the Ooni dies or when he translates because the Ooni does not die. And since then, no such thing has happened. The sarun remains sarun. Okunade Ooni Olubuse’s sarun is now one of the kingmakers in Ile Ife.
What implication does that have on the tradition?
Well, we don’t want to go into that. Even, when you are talking about crowning the king of England, there are few rites that are done that are not known to the public even though they perform some of those rites in the open. For instance, the anointing of the queen in 1953 was done inside the Abbey, but nobody saw it only the bishops who had the queen kneeling and she was covered in such shroud and nobody knew about it. So, you don’t talk about such again, I am not going to tell you why, or what the sarun is today or what he will be tomorrow. I can’t because because I don’t know the secret of it. Yes, I am a prince but it’s not the story we are told by our parents and I cannot formulate one myself.
Does that mean they don’t want you coming generation to know anything about it?
If this one becomes the custom, the norm, who are we to question it. We follow it; why should we ask a question about something you and I will reasonably say is good, why are we going to condemn it or ask questions about it. It is good, it is good. The old method was not too good but those who changed it must have seen certain things and they changed and it is good. It has become accepted otherwise Jaaran today would have been forgotten. Aderemi sent his sarun to Mecca; some of them were muslims, others were christians and they are following their religion. Let’s accept that the tradition creates the office of sarun, sarun now can very readily survive the Ooni.
But, there was a time they said the sarun escaped when the late Sijuwade joined his ancestors?
No, he didn’t. He is there he’s still functioning.
So, he will take up that title?
That is the decision of kabiyesi the Ooni. I am not going to decide, he decides.
So, it is the Kabiyesi that chooses his Sarun.
Yes, he decides. Can you ask the president who he will make his Minister. No, he decides it is only when he names him you will know that he is Minister X, Y or Z. It is the Ooni who will name those who are going to work closely with him. It is not for me or anybody to dictate or to even suggest. He would have seen them he would study them. You see God has endowed him with some good intellect.
Since the Sarun does not die with the Ooni again because the tradition has been abolished, is there need for that office again because I heard that was the only role he used to perform for Ooni?
What do you mean? Look, what you call aide de camp in present palace today, that’s Sarun. Aide de camp is a personal aide of the monarch. He knows more about the monarch than anybody else and if the aide de camp does not function properly, the monarch still reserves the right to get rid of him, change him if he likes and if he’s performing very well and he feels I don’t want to deter the progress of this servant, he will promote him. The present Jaaran was once aide de camp, I mean, Saarun to Ooni Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse 11.
That is how it goes. If he is there in the palace, he may progress. Jaaran today is the second in line of the chiefs on the left, he rose from being Emeseto Jaaran. The present Lowa of Ife was also an Emese, he started from the lower rung of the ladder but we have other chiefs who are kings in their own rights, that is what we know about Saarun and its progress.
What about those who were aggrieved before the final selection of the new Ooni?
God in his grace will appease them. We on our part will make overture to them. After all said and done, the four ruling houses in Ile ife all came from one stalk. Why should they fight?What are we fighting for in the position?Only one of us will occupy that position. That was what convinced me in 1980 when I stepped down for Okunade Sijuwade, although I heard unkind rumours that he gave me and other members of our family money. That was totally false. I stepped down for him because we were convinced that all of us came from one stalk and that’s it.
Has that case been withdrawn now?
I don’t know. I never asked questions; I was not involved; I didn’t know anything about it. I was reading like you in the papers. Nobody told me anything, nobody involved me, nobody asked me questions, if I was asked, I would have appealed to them. But, now God in his grace has worked his miracle and I am sure they have all accepted it. They remain princes of Ile Ife. Those who are not related in any shape or form to Ife royal houses, God again, helped me to point them out. They cannot make that claim again. No, not ever because the good thing that has happened now is that there are records you can read. I got them to admit that they do not belong to the royal house, that’s what education and record keeping does.
What is your overall assessment of the role of the kingmakers in the whole process?
I am not a kingmaker, I am a prince. If I have cause which I will never have again, I would have had to present myself before them to make up their minds,assess me, consult Ifa, If I am found suitable, they would make their pronouncement. That is what they did in the case of the present Ooni and it was a beautiful decision and for your information, I did not know the Ooni and his existence until I started this exercise.
That sounds funny sir. So, you didn’t know him before?
No, I didn’t know him before. I am grateful to God for exposing me to him and exposing him to me, I did not even meet him on any occasion.
Can Nigerians know what actually led you to him then?
When we were screening them, the questions I asked him and the responses he gave , it looked as if somebody somewhere had been schooling him. I can strike my chest nobody knew the questions I was going to ask and he performed beautifully. I was agape when he was answering some of the questions although I tried to shield my surprise away from him and everybody. When he went before the kingmakers and they consulted Ifa everthing was exposed but I did not know him at all.
Sir, how many people were on the screening panel?
Very many of them. But, we interviewed 36 of them including non-members who were parading themselves as members of the ruling house and we did not shut them out as such but I did make my comments and forwarded them to the kingmakers. Let them make their choice from amongst all of them. There was no preference, but I made my comments.
So, it was the kingmakers that finally chose the Ooni?
Yes, it was the kingmakers that picked the present Ooni. But, let me emphasise the fact that they could not have done so without consultation with the Ifa and they did and it came out successfully. Every sign that I was asked to look for, I saw them and that is why I said earlier that I feel fulfilled.
All 51 Ooni’s Of Ile-Ife in history
2ND OSANGANGAN OBAMAKIN
4TH OBALUFONO GBOGBODIRIN
5TH OBALUFON ALAYEMORE
11TH ODIDIMODE ROGBEESIN
21ST LUWOO (FEMALE)
38TH AKINMOYERO 1770-1800
39TH GBANLARE 1800-1823
40TH GBEGBAAJE 1823-1835
41ST WUNMONIJE 1835-1839
42ND ADEGUNLE ADEWELA 1839-1849
43RD DEGBINSOKUN 1849-1878
44TH ORARIGBA 1878-1880
45TH DERIN OLOGBENLA- He was a powerful warrior! 1880-1894
46TH ADELEKAN (OLUBUSE I)- 1894-1910
47TH ADEKOLA 1910-1910
48TH ADEMILUYI (AJAGUN) . 1910-1930
49TH ADESOJI ADEREMI- (1930-1980)Minister without portfolio when he ruled from 1951 to 1955. He was the first indigenous governor of Western Nigeria.
50TH OKUNADE SIJUWADE- (1980-2015)
51st Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi, Ojaja 11 (2015-)