Penultimate Sunday, the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, stirred controversy, when he attempted what some have described as an unholy ranking of kings.
The Alake, while receiving the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, pontificated by claiming that the latter was the highest ranked Oba; and he went further to claim that the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba of Benin, the Alake of Egbaland and Awujale of Ijebuland, are second, third, fourth and fifth, respectively.
Since that statement, many have called to question its appropriateness and the source of its authority. In the following pages, Chief Bisi Omidiora, the Balogun of Ife, and Deputy Chairman, Council of Ife Honorary Chiefs; literary icon, Odia Ofeimun; and Chief David Edebiri, the Esogban of Benin, attempt to give insights into the issue.
In fact, both Ofeimun and the Esogban poured cold water on the Alake’s claim. You’ll find the three articles interesting.
By Balogun Bisi Omidiora
In a fairly researched response to what I considered to be a serious misrepresentation of historical fact on the origin of Oduduwa, the founder of Yoruba Race by some historians, I wrote an article on Ile-Ife which was published in the Guardian of 1st June 2004, the Punch and Tribune of 13th June 2004.
The article received commendation from many Yoruba leaders, elders, state governors, and traditional rulers particularly my Kabiyesi His Royal Majesty Oba Okunade Sijuwade CFR the Ooni of Ife who wrote a letter dated 24th June 2004 thanking me “on behalf of all the citizens of Ife territory, for finding part of my precious time to write the beautiful article on Ile-Ife which could stand the test of the day anytime and anywhere in the world.
Touched and inspired, by the current debate on the place of Oranmiyan in Ife history, it has become necessary and expedient to draw the attention of the public once again to part of the content of that article written eleven years ago with a view to throw some light on some historical facts relating to:-
(a) The sacredness of the city of Ile-Ife that gave it an immunity from external attacks invasion and destruction for many centuries in Yoruba.
(b) The phenomenon of Oranmiyan in Ife history and his historical place among the lists of past Oonis of Ife.
(c) The need for prayer for unity, common front, togetherness, mutual love and respect for one another among our respected and highly revered Traditional Rulers in Yoruba land which all concerned citizens of Ife strongly believe will bring lasting peace, and progress, relevance and impregnability to that “most heterogeneous part of Nigeria” – The Yorubas, at home and abroad.
My father-in-law, His Royal Highness Sir Adesoji Aderemi, The Ooni of Ife (1950-80) if he were alive would certainly disagree as Kabiyesi Oba Okunade Sijuwade did, with the statement that was made in the press sometime ago that Ijebu-Ife had long existed before the founding of Ile-Ife or that Oduduwa the progenitor of Yoruba Race derived his root from Benin and more recently by the statement of a high ranking Traditional Ruler that Oranmiyan never reigned in Ile-Ife.
As a chartered accountant whose stock in trade is logic, truth, fairness and accuracy, certain facts exist, which have not been disputed by various writers on the history of Ile-Ife in respect of which I stand to be challenged or corrected.
(1) That Ile-Ife is the cradle of Yoruba race and most of the Yoruba towns and crowned heads traced their origin from Oduduwa and the ancient city of Ife.
(2) Ile-Ife was the burial grounds of Oduduwa and the Grove of Oranmiyan
(3) That before Oduduwa’s death and burial in Ile-Ife, he blessed and crowned his children and dispatched them to different parts of Yorubaland where they established their settlements and became crown kings.
Oduduwa was not a mythical personage as some historians claimed. It is an incontrovertible fact that he lived to a very old age at Ife, married many wives and produced many children some of who predeceased him. He reigned, died and was buried in Ile-Ife where his sacred grove was deified and worshipped till today. It was generally accepted that Obalufon Ogbogbodirin was the eldest son and Oranmiyan the youngest. Okanbi was the eldest daughter who beget The Olowu of Owu and six other famous kings.
The place of Ile-Ife in the hierarchy of Yoruba race was clearly evidenced by the life and death of Oranmiyan, the youngest son of Oduduwa and the fourth Ooni of Ife. It is a well established fact that Oranmiyan described as “a man of great physical power and mighty conqueror”, founded Oyo and installed his son, Ajaka as the first Alaafin of Oyo. He then went on to become the first Oba of Benin, and installed his son, Eweka (owo mi ka) in his place, “thus giving the Benis the long line of kings from the Oranmiyan dynasty, before returning to Ile-Ife to occupy the throne of his father, Oduduwa, until his death”(Prof. Ade Ajayi).
This historical fact on the Oranmiyan Dynesty in Benin was confirmed in the most recent book of the Oba of Benin under the title “Cradle of Ideas” a compendium of speeches and writings of Omonoba Erediauwa of Great Benin” edited by Osarhieme Benson Osadolor and published 2013 where the highly respected monarch was quoted as saying during his opening Address on Thursday 29th April 1982 at the exhibition of The Lost Treasures of Ancient Benin. “We cannot discuss Igueghae without discussing the historical link between Ife and Benin. There is no doubt that both the Ife Royal House and the Benin Royal House have a common ancestor The point of disagreement is who that ancestor was and where he came from” page 157.
On the Oranmiyan dynasty, the monarch went further to say that “one can safely conclude from the evidence available, that Eweka was the first Oba to rule in Benin and that he had a Bini mother. The precise date of his reign was however not absolutely certain, because Eghareuba gave the date as 1200 and Talbot and Bradbury around 1300”Further research would be necessary. In the same manner, one can say that the period of the reign of Oranmiyan as the forth Ooni of Ife cannot be precisely dated.
Oral history from our forefathers at Ife told us that even though Oranmiyan was on the throne as Ooni of Ife, he was often away from Ile-Ife on his war expeditions against the neighbouring hostile nations to other parts of the country. Although the body of Oranmiyan might be far away from Ife many indigenes believed that his spirit was permanently with them at Ife. Consequently, whenever there was war at Ife, on land or territory or an attack on the sacred city by hostile neighbouring towns, the Ifes would send to Oranmiyan wherever he might be, to come home and save them. Remarkably, each time the Ifes called, Oranmiyan would appear immediately with his mystical sword and vanquish the enemies thus leading to the saying in Ife that “in time of war the Ifes always called on Oranmiyan” (Ijo ogun ni Ife npe Oranmiyan) and he would answer them.
The Ifes certainly got indulged in the habit of calling or sending for Oranmiyan, their king, to save them in time of trouble. This culture of always looking upon and total reliance on the power and ability of their Oba to solve most of their problems persists among Ife indigenes at home till today. It extends to all manner of disputes or domestic quarrels between husbands and wives, among relations and between the indigenes and the strangers on variety of subject matters, big or small, which were regularly brought to the palace of the Ooni of Ife for his arbitration and counsel. Ifes never experienced a vacuum on the throne of Ooni of Ife. It had always been “The king is dead, long live the king”.
According to Ife oral history, there was a particular incident, when fight broke out between two factions in Ife which nearly developed into a civil war. One of the factions decided to invoke the spirit of Oranmiyan, their king by calling on him to come home to defend Ife. Oranmiyan appeared at once with his magical sword thinking that the factions fighting themselves were an external force. He started to fight and kill those he thought were the external aggressors until when he realized that the people he was killing were his own subjects. Oranmiyan angrily and mournfully pitched his mystical sword on the ground and disappeared to the palace, where he vowed never to use his sword again, when he later joined his ancestors he was buried on the spot where he pitched his sword. In remembrance of the Ooni Oranmiyan, a gigantic monument of some ten feet high (an obelisk) was built around the sword which Ifes called “Opa Oranmiyan” (The Oranmiyan’s staff) at a designated area, where Oranmiyan was buried, deified and worshipped till this day.
Because it was an acknowledged fact that Oranmiyan the youngest son of Oduduwa reigned, died and was buried in Ile-Ife, all Yoruba kings as part of their ascension and coronation ceremonies were expected to receive and handle the greatest symbol of Oranmiyan’s strength -Oranmiyan’s sword (IDA ORANMIYAN) as representing their sword of office from Ife. It has also been the custom for many years for most crowned Yoruba Obas to visit the grave of Oduduwa in Ile-Ife for blessings during their coronation ceremonies. It is on record that the previous Alafin of Oyo and the Oba of Benin were at Ife to handle the Oranmiyan sword as part of their coronation ceremonies.
These coronation and burial rituals according to Jacob Olupona the author of Ile-Ife, the city of 201 gods, might have been modified or have disappeared in the contemporary Nigerian state, the last coronation ceremony performed recently for the Oba of Benin, whereby the Ooni of Ife sent “a traditional gift” to the new Oba confirmed the ancient connection between the two kingdoms. In the same manner, I know that similar traditional gifts were sent to the present Alafin by the Ooni of Ife during Alafin’s coronation, as a token of the blood connection between the Royal court of Ife and the palace of the Alafin of Oyo.
Ile-Ife has always been lucky to have great and influential monarchs; who are well educated and internationally exposed. Sir Adesoji Aderemi KCMG (1930-80) Oba Okunade Sijuwade CFR (1980-2015). These monarchs blended tradition with modernity which made our neighbours to say with envy “Oba ni Ife ni, won ko ni eniyan” (the pride of Ife is only in their Oba and not the people) This adage had never been true because from Oduduwa to Oba Sijuwade, great warriors, outstanding politicians, educationist, businessmen and other eminent personalities had come out of Ife”
According to history Ibadan was founded by Lagelu the Balogun of Ife, who hailed from Ile Atiki Ilare Ife the same compound with the writer of this article. Those other great warriors of Ife who left with Balogun Lagelu and said to be part of the foundation of Ibadan were Balogun Okunade Maye, Balogun Singushin, Balogun Ayikiti, Balogun Oga, and Balogun Derin Ologbenla who fought many wars.
The strong and dreadful rule of Balogun Maye at Ibadan after the death of Balogun Lagelu was said to have caused some rifts and dissatisfaction between Ibadan and Ife but the common lineage of Balogun Lagelu with Ife soon brought Ibadan to the side of Ife in a common ally, between Balogun Ibikunle of Ibadan and Balogun Ologbenla of Ife to form a strong contingent for the defence of Ife against the Modakekes and Oyo resulting in the peaceful resettlement of the Ifes in their home land in 1882 (Chief M.A. Fabunmi).
It is on record that Balogun Ayikiti (Ayikiti ninu aran) was elected Ooni Orajigba Ojaja during the period of the Modakeke conflict and ruled for two years 1878-1880. He was succeeded by Balogun Ologbenla who was elected Ooni of Ife in 1880 but never came to Ife to be crowned until his death in 1894 at Oke-Igbo which he founded. He was a great warrior page 18 of my book Ile-Ife in the hierarchy of Yoruba Race.
No historian has ever disputed the existence of the Oyo Empire during the reign of Alafin Ajaka but the Ibadan people were reputed to have the most formidable forces in Yoruba land which prevented any of his people from been taken as slaves or prisioners of war. The military strategies of Balogun Lagelu and his successor Balogun Maye made Ibadan historically unconquerable (Prince Adelegan Adegbola source of Yoruba Civilisation) which contributed to the belief by some that “were it not for the Ibadan people, the official language of the Yorubas would have been Hausa-Fulani (Article on Ibadan, Oluyole and Washington by Augustine A Togonu-Bickersteth in British Communication Magazine December 5th 2000).
Ife was for many centuries a demilitarised holy city of 201 gods (or is it 401) (Prof. Oluponna) with an immunity against external attacks, invasion and total destruction. Neither in history were the staff and grave of Oranmiyan and burial ground of the legendary Oduduwa perished.
Writing on the past Oonis of Ife, Chief M.A. Fabunmi the late Oodole of Ife on page 72 of his book An anthology of historical Notes on Ile-Ife listed them as follows.
(1) The first Ooni of Ife was Olofin Oduduwa the founder of Yoruba Race.
(2) The second Ooni of Ife was Obalufon Ogbogbodirin the eldest son of Oduduwa He lived and reigned for unusually long period of time.
(3) Obalufon alayemore, son of Obalufon Ogbogbodirin became the third Ooni of Ife after the death of his father, while Oranmiyan was on sojourn in Oyo.
(4) After a prolonged war adventure, that took Oranmiyan to Benin, Oyo and other parts of the North East, Oranmiyan returned to Ile-Ife. He was welcomed to Ife as the Akinlogun (war hero).
Ooni Obalufon Alaiyemore was driven into exile and went to found the town of Efon Alaiye. Oranmiyan was placed on the throne of his father Oduduwa as the forth Ooni and the Lord of the Royal palace of Ife (Adebanji Akintoye history of the Yoruba people).
Chief M.A. Fabunmi’s list has 49 past Onis of which His Royal Majesty Oba Okunade Sijuwade was the 50th Ooni of Ife. Chief Fabunmi further stated that Oranmiyan was the only Ooni of Ife who had the distinguished honour to approve the crowning of two of his own sons, namely Prince Eweka as the Oba of Benin and Prince Ajaka as the Alafin of Oyo.
Similarly, writing on who were the successors of Oduduwa on the stool of Ooni of Ife, Adeagbo Akinjogbin has three different past Ooni’s list which consistently placed Oranmiyan as the forth Ooni of Ife see pages 112 to 115 of his book. The cradle of a race from the beginning to 1980.
Most writers on the past Oonis of Ife started with the reign of Ooni Lajamisan the 9th Ooni of Ife sometimes referred to as the first Ooni of modern Ife. Lajamisan Ooni was so important in the history of the Ife Kingdom because after him, the succession to the throne was stabilised in his bloodline- so that all Oonis after him have come from it (Adetunji Akintoye) Lajamisan was a direct descendant of Oranmiyan.
According to history, Ooni Lajamisan gave birth to Ooni Lajodogun the father of Ogboru, Lafogido and Osinkola, which are today three of the four Ruling Houses in Ile-Ife, the forth being Giesi, a grandson of Ooni Ogboru who rule Ife for over seventy years.
The writer of this paper is not an historian, but by virtue of his training as an accountant and in keeping with the motto of his Alma mater – the London School of Economics (LSE) which is RERUM COGNOSCERE CAUSAS (to know the cause of things) he has been able to carry out a thorough research and audit on the privileged information obtained from his family connections and his close relationship of over 60 years with the palace and the Royal Court of Ife. This together with the written contribution of very distinguished writers on the history of Yorubas which cannot be faulted have enabled him like an auditor “to give a true and fair view of the position of Ile-Ife as the cradle of Yoruba Race and Oduduwa as the progenitor of Yoruba Nation.
He was also able to certify with the authority of Sir Adesoji Aderemi and Oba Okunade Sijuwade the Ooni of Ife and all concerned citizens of Ile-Ife that Oranmiyan was the youngest son of Oduduwa, the grandfather of Ajaka the Alafin of Oyo and Eweka of Benin and that Oranmiyan ruled in Ile-Ife for many years, died and was buried at Ile-Ife.
The Yorubas have been singularly blessed with a rich culture, an history that has endured and existed long before 3000-1000BC, and which despite the devastating inter tribal wars has stood the test of time. Our Traditional Rulers in the past have been able to keep sacred, respected, and unrubished this great history of the Yoruba Nation, which history was taught to us in our primary school days in the 1940s. Happily Governor Fashola in a recent statement at a book launch on 19th February 2014 at Lagos promised to restore the study of History in the curriculum of all Lagos State schools. I like to encourage all the South-West Governors to do the same.
If we were to judge and anticipate, by the controversy and distortions of historical facts that are happening around us today in Yoruba land, one must wonder, what legacy are we likely to leave behind for our incoming generation?
Long live the Federal and State Governments of Nigeria.
Long live the respected Traditional Ruler Institutions in Yoruba land.
- Omidiora ,Oon, Fca is the Balogun of Ife and
Deputy Chairman, Council of Ife Honorary Chiefs.
Balogun Bisi Omidiora OON FCA is the Balogun of Ife, and the deputy chairman of the Council of Honourary Chiefs of Ife, He is the Life Lay Deputy President of Ife Diocese Anglican Communion and Baba Ijo of St Peters Anglican Church Iremo Ile-Ife. An alumnus of London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) He is a Past President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria.
This paper contains an extract from his book Ile-Ife in the hierarchy of Yoruba Race published by Diamond Publication Ltd Lagos in 2010 under revision.