By Bisi Lawrence
My compliments to Remi Oyeyemi. His comments on the recent controversy raised by the classification of Yoruba rulers, made by the Alake of Abeokuta – or Egbaland? – were rather illuminating. He outlined the cause of the different versions of the history of the Yoruba that were offered by those whom he described –perhaps not too charitably – as “every Jick and Jack”. But he also conceded that most people are moved by “patriotism and the love of their immediate source of origin; just wanting to project pride in their own roots.
The query after the Alake’s title is prompted by questions that have been raised about the extent of the of territory of His Royal Highness, from several sources. The people of Owu have mostly been twitchy about this. They even have a song extolling their pre-eminence within the Egba domain. And it is difficult to find any Owu man or woman who would contravene the assertion of that song.
One is however rather intrigued about the descendants of Oduduwa. According to your version, Oduduwa was born and raised in Ile-Ife. Many of us were brought up on the legend that he descended by chain from heaven. He was reputed to have been sired by no human being, and hence the interpretation of his name as a being separate by himself – “Odu-tio-da wa”. The father of Oduduwa, you further state, was Okanbi, so named as the only one born of his parents. This, as you postulate, is in keeping with the Yoruba tradition of naming a child according to the circumstances of the parents at his birth. My problem is how the parents would have known that he was the only child they were going to have when he was born? That would have become apparent only after some time after his birth, by which time he would have normally been named.
Talking about names in Yorubaland, Okanbi would normally fall into the line of a cognomen, or a pet-name, for an only child. The nearest name to that is Akanbi or Akanni which attests to the circumstance of a child who is born with the deflowering of the mother. Other variations on that theme include Akande, Alani, Alade and Ala-o, the female variety being Alake.
As for the descendants of Oduduwa, two were supposed to be female according to one version of popular history, and they were supposed to have become, one the mother of the Oba of Benin and the other, Onisabe of Sabe. But regarding the issue of the eighth child who eventually became the Oni, I would rather shelve that in complete agreement with you. My version, or the version I was brought up with, might not agree with yours. I know it is totally unacceptable to most Ile-Ife sons and daughters. One almost physically attacked me years ago for describing his Oba’s antecedents in a way he found offensive.
The case of the Benin connection is quite complex. A version deposes that Oduduwa was actually a prince of Benin. Others, including you, say otherwise. I don’t know, or it is not for me to say, else I might put myself in the way of another personal attack. The Ijebu connection, by the same token, has always frightened me as a topic of even the most light-hearted discussion. It is true, very true, that most people take an inordinate pride in the projection of their cultural heritage as they understand it to be – or have been made to believe it to be.
Hence His Highness Oba Sikiru Adetona, the Awujale of Ijebuland took umbrage at being relegated to a position below some other traditional rulers. A titled chief of Benin Kingdom also rejected the classification which lowered the status of his Oba in his estimation. In his re-appraisal, he declared that the Yoruba language even borrowed a word for kingship,” oba” from the Edo language. To a Yoruba man, that may sound funny against the backdrop of the popular notion that Edo is much younger than Yoruba, while a Benin man won’t take that lightly at all.
The wrangling between the Alake and the Awujale , festering like an open sore, has indeed begun to run, with Egba chiefs chipping in, and with no means in place to debar their Ijebu counterparts from also having their own day in the sun. It was really on the verge of a free-for-all among the venerated traditional rulers of Yorubaland.
Over and beyond all that, the news came down that the recently crowned Oni of Ife has taken a new wife from Benin. At his age, that is not unlikely to be the first among many more. Not even all the bickering could drown the good feeling that the romantic news has roused all around. Such a marital union across States is indeed a practical demonstration of the Oni’s wish to unite the descendants of Oduduwa. It was partially towards that end that he visited the Alake whose embellished welcome threw up the controversial classification of Yoruba traditional rulers, which resulted in the scruffy dispute among his peers.
The intervention of the State Governor, Ibikunle Amosun, is indeed timely. One could very well accommodate his statement, at the end of his meeting with both traditional rulers, as a political statement. But His Excellency’s suggestion that journalists shouldn’t just “sit somewhere and write”, as though the incident between the two obas was an invention concocted by the press – was uncalled for. The age of blaming every faux pas among the more prominent citizens in our midst on the press went away at the introduction of the social media. All Governor Amosun needed to have told the press was, “Yes; there was a little issue here but it has all been thrashed out.” That would have been more of a political statement.
All the same, all “Jacks” and “Jills” should kindly withdraw to a quiet corner and let the cloud of controversy disperse peacefully. However, there is more that can be done to prevent such an unpleasant incident in future. The governor’s office as a medium of adjudication does not enhance the prestige of our natural rulers. Their office is older than that of the governor and closer to the people than the governor’s office. They need a caucus where they can discuss their aspirations, their challenges and disputes among themselves. The Ministry of Chieftaincy Affairs – where it exists, will be little less than an extension of the governor’s office. What is needed is their own forum, created for the peculiar concerns of the positions they hold, and champion.
We had had occasion to refer on this page to the colourful conclave that was convened in the past among the natural rulers in each provincial locality years ago. Such a forum was then where a disagreement between the natural rulers would have been discussed. There was also a House of Chiefs as a parliamentary adjunct in each region. Ministers were thus appointed from among them. By extension, a chairman of the House of Chiefs in the Western Region, Sir Adesoji Aderemi, was even appointed the governor of the region, although it was not a chief executive position in those days. But such dispensations had potentials for a respectful accommodation in the administrative structure of the day. It also increased the self-worth of the traditional rulers. The due conferment of national honours would, I believe, further help in this direction. And so also would the restoration of some role in the administrative structure, even if it is only at the local government level.
Finally, we would appeal to the natural rulers themselves to take an active – in fact, a premier – role in the in the establishment of every aspect of the apparatus that would bring greater glory to themselves as well as to their positions in future. That would minimize, if not totally prevent, the ugliness of those whom we consider our fathers, stripping themselves naked in the market square.