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The hierarchy of Yoruba kings

By Bisi Lawrence

The ascension of His Royal Highness, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi to the throne of Ile-Ife tends to incite the opening of several pages of Yoruba history that may be better glossed over. “Pages” in the context of what is largely only remembered, not really written, does in itself cast serious doubt on the facts of the narrative. It cannot, all the same, be argued that some of the highlights of what has been cherished by the people for decades as the basis of their heritage do not bear any semblance to their status as a distinct unit of homo sapiens with their own languages, culture and traditions. On the contrary, the pattern of a cultural development that identifies a people is more harmoniously blended among the Yoruba than in many other communities in the world. (That is written as a Yoruba man, whose mother was from the royal Edo family of Osula.…no apologies)

•Odia Ofeimun
•Odia Ofeimun

This may be because of the expressive nature of the people which bubbled through their music. It is part of their heritage to give songs a role in social events as well as traditional occasions, so that that the kernel of  history was inserted into communication, and was retained across, or over time. It is no wonder that the custom has faded in some degree with the establishment of newspapers and other retentive aspects of the mass media. The custom was still very vibrant, though, in the practice of very many families, especially those who are linked with royalty or highly-placed chieftaincy establishments. The communication was stringed into cognomens which extolled the virtues of the family or personality—oriki—from which the relatives may all share a portion of glory.

This came into play at the conclaves of the natural rulers which were organized by the colonial government, after they had been able to instil some peace and order over the Yoruba area of Nigeria. It was hardly more orderly in other areas also, and the effective installation of peace, mostly by force, could really be linked with the beginning of a country called Nigeria. It played out this way: one group of people, identified by their language and appearance, would be locked in battle with their neighbours in an internecine strife that could go on for years, then the Whiteman arrived with his superior weapons and kept both sides quiet. He would then establish his authority, recognizing one side as superior to the other. He was not always right. But in the way of colonialism, might was  right.

In Yorubaland, this type of enforced peace was endured because there was no way of seeking justice. So the people express their resentment in other ways. In the conclaves which rotated from the towns acclaimed to be the capital of each province, the so-called paramount rulers would gather with great pomp and circumstance, robed in the costliest apparels, preceded by their young wives, each of whom looked enchanting with her hair plaited in the latest style. The musicians would sing in praise of the lord and master, while the women would scatter loud encomiums into the air. The company would wave banners and flags encrypted with slogans drawn from the rich cognomens of the royal house pertaining either to the history of the family or in praise in particular of the oba on parade. Some of the slogans were cast in tones that were pointed at the proclaimed superiority of a rival oba who might have a counter-slogan of his own, but proceedings were carried out in an atmosphere of fraternal union, and not once was the carnival air allowed to be disrupted.

I remember one that took place in the early 40s in Akure, The Alafin’s procession flashed a banner which had the slogan, “Ogongo  baba eiye”. It featured a flamboyant image of an ostrich, to illustrate the legend which means, “The Ostrich is the father of all birds,” This was an obvious reference to the acclaimed position of his domain being, as it were, the “father” of all Yorubas. The Alake of Abeokuta’s retinue was stylishly turned out with a banner that had the attribute of the royal house inscribed near the massive logo of an elephant, “Omo Erin j’ogun ola.”  – “The Elephant’s son inherits the honour”. Even the oba of Benin, Akenzua II, was prominent in the royal processions.

There were several other displays of wealth in the attire of the ladies in the processions, but it all seemed long ago now. It was virtually back-heeled into a corner just about when the local government took over from the native authority, all the powers which were in the hands of the traditional rulers. The obas had little constitutional powers to parade after that. But the veneration continued, and their relevance has been sustained more by tradition than the meagre references in the administrative structures of the country.

The continuation of the veneration of the people has provided the raft upon which the pride and glory of the natural rulers have survived today. Very enlightened and well-educated young people have been absorbed into the system of succession within the past four or five decades. Many of them are devoted to the development prospects they see among their people and the role they are called upon to play to make a difference. This has enhanced the regard in which the people have always held their  natural rulers. One of the leaders  in this group has been the Awujale of Ijebu-Ode, His Royal Highness Oba Sikiru Adetona, who was plucked from his studies in Europe and set on the throne of his forefathers. The Alake of Abeokuta, His Royal Highness, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, will strive a bit harder to be included in that list of progressive traditional rulers, rather than dabble in the exertions of a “sergeant-major-general” which he has imposed on his royal head, by listing some    other natural rulers in his perceived supremacy.

Frankly, I believe His Royal Highness must have run across one of the old almanacs which contained a diary, important  dates  and pictures of eminent personalities, especially high government officials and natural rulers. Perhaps the most popular was published by the famous pharmacist, Jacob Odulate, known far  and wide as “The Blessed Jacob”.  In one of those publications, the erudite gentleman grouped together the pictures of five natural rulers whom he termed, “The Big Five”. Featured were, in no particular order, the Alaafin of Oyo, the Oba of Benin, the Awujale Of Ijebu-Ode, the Alake of Abeokuta and the Oni of Ife. There was no hint of rank of position beyond the title of their traditional thrones. This was in the late ‘30s and ’40s, in my primary schooldays, and the ideas of their hierarchy were kept to ourselves individually and collectively. Anyway, I observe that Oba Gbadebo’s list even severely left the Awujale out of his list of four.

Anyway, having read the

scholarly deposition of Odia Ofeimun, I believe only those who have anything of value need raise the issue of supremacy among the children of Oduduwa any longer. It would amount to nothing more than an exercise in idleness.

I am still very much interested in football, local soccer; not so much in “Man U”, or “The Gunners”, though I cannot help moving to the gripping strains of “You will never walk alone.”  But, for me, Nigerian football has only meant “The Eagles”. That was a team I loved with all my heart from its formation, and because of his founder, Jerry Ikpeazu , peace be to his shades. But after my second term as the Publicity Secretary of the NFA, it was no longer politic to be identified with any club in particular. It was sensible.

We members and officials were brought up to respect our positions and threat our responsibilities with all seriousness. We were therefore able to confront ministers, or commissioners or call-them-what at the head of affairs, as long as we knew we were doing what was right. And what was right was the success of the Eagles.Now it all seems to be in a state of chaos. Since former  President Goodluck Jonathan could concern himself with the administrative functions of appointing or retaining the services of a coach, we now having  the minister involving himself overtly in such matters. And, admirably, the football body resigned then, but what is happening now?

I once resigned as the Vice-Chairman as I publicly said I would. A good friend of mine who did not know I had actually “walked my talk” challenged me to so. He found out to his surprised that I had. You can make no progress in a project where your vanity, or profit of your  position become more important than your success. My good friend then was Paul “Sports” Bassey`. He too recently resigned, among others, over a commendable position in the quest to make our football thrive.

It will, if their resignation survives.

Time out.


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