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Supremacy rating: Obas at war?

By Dapo Akinrefon

THE recent remarks by the Alake and paramount ruler of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo declaring that the Ooni of Ife remains the highest  ranking Yoruba Oba is stirring up the hornet’s nest.

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 had postulated that 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, however, listed his own title, the Alake of Egbaland as the fourth while the Awujale of Ijebuland occupies the fifth. The Egba monarch has promised to provide proof of his rating. Perhaps, this might not be unconnected to a 1937 group photograph which depicts  traditional rulers of the old western region, with Sir Bernard Henry Bourdillon, Governor of Nigeria (1935–1940) in attendance.

Ooni vs Alaafin

Prior to this, the Alaafin of Oyo and the Ooni of Ife had been engaged in a supremacy battle for close to 79 years. The late Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, who ascended the throne in December 1980 had inherited an ongoing dispute over supremacy between the  obas  of  Yorubaland. In 1967, it was believed that crisis had been resolved when the late sage, Chief  Obafemi Awolowo  was chosen as the leader of the Yoruba.

Interestingly, in 1976 the Governor of Oyo State, General  David Jemibewon (retd), had decreed that the Ooni of Ife would be the permanent chairman of the State Council of Obas and Chiefs. This development did not go down well  with other obas, led by the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba  Lamidi Adeyemi, who insisted that the position should be on rotational basis.

The creation of Osun State in August 1991 calmed frayed nerves but ill will still persisted.

The age-long feud between the Ooni of Ife and Alaafin of Oyo reared its head in January 2009 when the late Oba Sijuwade reportedly said that Oba Adeyemi was ruling a dead empire (the  Oyo Empire, which collapsed in 1793). In a swift response, Oba Adeyemi responded by citing “absurdities” in Sijuwade’s statements saying the Ooni “is not in tune with his own history.”

In his recent efforts at ensuring unity in the South-West, the newly installed Ooni of Ife, Oba Ogunwusi paid a historic visit to the Alaafin of Oyo, during the 45th coronation anniversary thanksgiving, held at the Methodist Church, Apaara, Oyo State. It is imperative to note that while the age-long supremacy battle between the duo lasted, both monarchs (Alaafin and the late Ooni, Oba Okunade Sijuwade), hardly saw eye-to-eye.

Oba of Benin rejects rating

The recent utterance of the Egba monarch has ignited another supremacy battle especially between the Ooni of Ife and Oba of Benin. But in a move to set the records straight, the Palace of the Oba of Benin faulted the remarks made by the Alake. Its defense has, however, stoked controversy over the supremacy of Obas in the South-West.

Rising in defense of the Benin kingdom, the Esogban of Benin and Odionwere of the Kingdom (traditional head), Chief David Edebiri, said the Alake of Egbaland, goofed when he said the Oba of Benin was third in the hierarchy of Obas. He argued that the Ooni of Ife was a son of the Oba of Benin, but quickly added 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, had asserted: “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.

Edebiri said: “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 in the Yoruba monarchical lexicon; 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.

Continuing, the Benin chief maintained that “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.”

He was quick to add that “the monarchical ruler-ship 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 the Yoruba nation.”


According to Wikipedia, the encyclopedia opined that “The Ooni is the traditional ruler of Ile-Ife, whose dynasty goes back hundreds of years. Ile-Ifè is an ancient Yoruba city in south-western Nigeria. ÌÍni Lajamisan, who was the 8th ÌÍni of Ile Ife, was a Son of ÌÍni Oranmiyan, (ÌÍni Oranmiyan was also The first Oba of Benin, First Aláàfin of Oyo and the Father of Ocile of Oke- Ona Egba). ÌÍni Lajamisan the son of ÌÍni Oranmiyan, was also the Father of ÌÍni Lajodoogun, the 9th ÌÍni of Ile Ife, through whom the genealogy of all succeeding Oonnis of Ile Ife until the late Ooni Okunade Adele Sijuwade, Olubuse 11, Arole Oduduwa and the Head of the Yoruba Nation, is traced down to ÌÍni Odùduwà, The Ancestral Father of the Yorubas Globally.”

Yoruba and Benin kingdoms

In an article by Mr Segun A. Fadipe entitled:”Yoruba and Benin Kingdom: Classical Historical ‘War’ of Supremacy”, attempts were made to juxtapose the similarities between the two empires.

Fadipe, in his view, posited that “Oranmiyan – the famous and unequalled Yoruba prince and warrior was the only Yoruba royal enigma to have ruled over Benin Kingdom, founded and became the very first Alaafin of Oyo and later came back to become the Ooni of Ife! He, it was who restructured Benin Kingdom, married in Benin, had two sons who later became Oba of Benin monarch.

It is on record that the  Ogiso troubled dynasty was discarded and subsequent kings in Benin became known and addressed as “Oba” till date, based on the order established in Benin Kingdom by Oranmiyan. Even up to 1939, Yoruba language was the official palace language in Benin. No wonder then that many Benin families bear Yoruba names! And what about designs of the Benin palace after the renowned and historical Oduduwa palace in Ile-Ife?”

Perhaps corroborating Fadipe’s stance, Kunle I Sowunmi, in an article entitled: “Yoruba and Benin Kingdom: Ile Ife The Final Resting Place of History”, traced the origin of the Yoruba and Benin kingdom and submitted that facts must not be distorted with sentiments.

Sowunmi alluded that the question is this. Can a son be greater than his father can? Or can a river be greater than its source? No. Otherwise it will dry. The source of Yoruba from Benin although appeared to be very authentic as presented by Oba Eredua than Saudi Arabia or Lamurudu, which cannot be  traced in Saudi Arabian history. But the fact of history of allegiance of Oba of Benin to Ile Ife the cradle of Yoruba race before being crowned and after death is an indication that Ife is the source of both the Yorubas and Edo but the Yorubas and historians must come up with a very scientific and foolproof history to support this argument. This is an area the Ooni and other Yoruba writers have not defended.

I’m not in supremacy battle with anyone – Ooni

Refusing to be drawn in the supremacy controversy, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Ogunwusi, said he was not in a supremacy battle with any monarch in the country. He, however, restated his desire towards a more united Yoruba race and peaceful Nigeria. The Ooni was reacting to the statement credited to the palace of the Oba of Benin, which was published in a national daily.

Director of Media and Public Affairs in the Ooni’s palace, Mr. Moses Olafare, in a statement issued in Ile Ife, said the only thing that was paramount to Ooni Ogunwusi at the moment was ensuring unity and healthy development among the Yorubas and the entire nation. According to him: “Let me emphasise for the umpteenth time that Kabiyesi Ooni is less concerned over any supremacy hullabaloo.

“He is only interested for now in exploring measures through which the collective interest and genuine unity among Yoruba and other tribes within the larger House of Oduduwa can be enhanced. “This informed his resolve to build bridges of harmony among Yourba Obas. I am resolutely committed to how Yoruba ethnic group can restore its glory and pride position among other ethnic inclinations in Nigeria and don’t want to be dragged into supremacy contest or join issues with anybody.

“The statement credited to the Alake of Egbaland, did not emanate from us but the reality is that as a highly experienced and well informed monarch, Kabiyesi Alake who is a bonafide Oodua descendant is entitled to his opinion based on his knowledge and understanding of history.” “We in Oduduwa land have always seen and regarded our people in Benin kingdom as part and parcel of the Oduduwa House. They are our brothers and sisters and we have historical facts to backup this position.”

“Olafare said six years ago that an attempt was made by some people to upturn history during the launch of a book, which according to him, stood historical facts on its head. “If the position espoused in the media is aimed at distancing our people in Benin from the South-west and Yoruba, so be it. We still identify with them as our kinsmen, regardless of the attempt to change the course of history.’’



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