By Dapo Akinrefon
The ranking of Yoruba Obas by the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo is gradually snowballing into a controversy.
The Alake, who received the new Ooni of Ife, Oba Ogunwusi Adeyeye at his palace on February 7, had said: “Ooni is one of the five principal Obas in Yoruba land. The others are in order of the way they are classified on a supremacy basis. After the Ooni is the Alaafin of Oyo; after the Alaafin is the Oba of Benin; after the Oba of Benin, is the Alake of Egbaland and the fifth, and by no means the least, is the Awujale of Ijebuland.”
But the Egba monarch’s supremacy rating left a bitter taste in the mouth of the Binis, who rejected the ranking.
While setting the records straight, the Palace of the Oba of Benin faulted Alake’s remarks.
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.
Aside the Binis, the statement did not go down well with another monarch.
This time, a monarch from the South-West, the Awujale and Paramount Ruler of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, who has since replied the Alake.
Ooni of Ife’s unifying attempt
Soon after ascending the stool, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, had hinted his resolve to unite Yorubaland.
Oba Ogunwusi stated that he has God’s mandate to unite the Yoruba race.
To many, the statement was commendable following the division that had permeated the South West.
He said that his efforts in uniting Yoruba nation are already yielding positive results, adding that Yoruba will develop if it was a united front.
The Ooni of Ife said: “I am so happy and pleased with this visit. God speaks with me everyday on this move to unite the Yoruba nations and I can say that God is leading me through this unity move.”
To demonstrate his disposition for unity of the race, the Ooni of Ife embarked on a mission to Yoruba monarchs in the region.
In a surprise move and for the first time in seven decades, he became the first Ooni to visit Oyo town since 1937.
Oba Ogunwusi made history as he visited the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III, to grace his 45th coronation anniversary thanksgiving, held at the Methodist Church, Apaara, Oyo State.
The visit put paid to the age long rivalry that had existed between the Ooni of Ife and Alaafin of Oyo.
Aside the Alaafin of Oyo, the Ooni of Ife’s ship berthed at the palace of the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Gbadebo.
Surprisingly, the visit of the Ife monarch to the Alake of Egbaland, stoked the fire of controversy and has led to a series of arguments and counter-arguments over the rating of Obas in the South-West.
While the Alaafin of Oyo has failed to join in the debate, the Ooni of Ife has kept mum.
Awujale, Alake tango
However, the rating did not go down well with the Awujale and Paramount Ruler of Ijebuland, Oba Adetona, who tongue-lashed the Alake of Egbaland, over his recent ranking of Yoruba Obas.
Dismissing the ranking as self-serving, false and a misrepresentation of facts, Awujale said the Alake was not higher than him in order of ranking, maintaining that at best, he was a junior traditional ruler in Yoruba land.
To get the records, the Awujale advised the Alake straight to meet with former President Olusegun Obasanjo for proper tutelage.
Awujale said: “My advice to Alake, being a young and inexperienced traditional ruler, is that he should contact Chief Olusegun Obasanjo for proper education so as to save himself and his people from further embarrassment.
Picking holes in the ranking, the Awujale faulted the 1903 gazette the Alake based his categorisation on.
The big five
“The Alake, while receiving the Ooni at his palace, said the Yoruba Obas (the Big Five so to say) had been categorised with the Ooni in the first position, followed by Alaafin, the Oba of Benin, with Alake coming fourth and the Awujale as the fifth in that order.
“He also went further to quote wrongly from a 1903 Gazette to support all the fallacies in his statement. When I learned of the statement, I made several calls to Alake until I eventually succeeded in finding out from him if those statements were actually made by him, which of course he vehemently denied.
“In a recent discussion between the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, and I, we also touched on the same issue and the Oba of Lagos told me that he too had asked Alake the same question, which he had again denied vehemently.
“Regrettably, however, when the said statement a few days later was continuously credited to Alake on the pages of newspapers, I expected him to deny it or issue a rebuttal, but he did not do so. Therefore, I consider it necessary to debunk the aforementioned falsehood and misrepresentation of facts from Ake Palace so as to put the records straight.
“In conclusion, I hereby strongly admonish Alake to refrain from making such unsavoury, unguarded and unfounded statements which if not checked, may seriously jeopardize the unity of Yoruba Obas and their people,” he added,
Awujale’s comment uncivil — Alake
Sensing the need to engage the Awujale, the Alake of Egbaland lampooned the Ijebu monarch describing his comments as indecent and uncivil.
Oba Gbadebo, a retired army Colonel maintained that his intention was not to whip up any controversy or demean anybody but to educate people.
The Alake spoke through his Adviser on Media Affairs, Chief Lai Labode, accompanied by Egba Council of Chiefs at a conference at the paramount ruler’s palace in Abeokuta.
He said: “The Alake’s reply was predicated on the self-indulgence of our respected monarch to churn out outright historical falsehoods in the presence of knowledgeable Nigerians.”
The Alake, whose speech, entitled: ‘Putting the record straight: Egba’s response to Awujale’s allegations’, said he believed that Awujale’s audience would have taken his attempt to rewrite contemporary history as his personal views: “we feel compelled to state the facts for record purposes,” he said.
Lugard’s salary scale
However, in his reply to all the allegations raised by Awujale against him, the Alake said his intention is always to educate the public by stating the facts of history and for record purposes.
In his defence, the Alake buttressed his ranking above the Awujale, going to the archives to quote Lord Lugard’s Grading and Salaries of Obas in the Southern Province.
On the allegation by the Awujale that the Alake quoted wrongly from a 1903 government gazette, which was a newspaper publication, the statement said: “Alake quoted government Gazette, Colony of Lagos, Saturday, February 20,1903, page 100, paragraph 16. Gazette is a subsidiary legislation, which has force of law and, therefore, a public document available for verification.”
Thread with caution – Oba of Lagos
In an effort to douse the growing tension between the two monarchs, Oba Rilwanu Akiolu of Lagos has cautioned Yoruba traditional rulers against making statements capable of causing disaffection among the various traditional institutions in the country.
He was of the view that emphasis should be on fostering peaceful coexistence.
Akiolu said: “We, Yoruba Obas, are not supposed to be making inflammatory statements. All the Yoruba Obas should refrain from making statements capable of causing disunity. God gave us one thing in this Lagos; all those who make progress in this country started from Lagos. There is nowhere in Lagos we discriminate against anybody.”
Amosun wades in
In an attempt to douse the tension created by the two first class obas, the Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun met with the Awujale of Ijebuland and the Alake of Egbaland.
Though the trio kept mum as to the outcome of the meeting, it was intended to broker peace between the two top Yoruba traditional rulers.
Ooni of Ife keeps mum
While the controversy lingers, the Ooni of Ife has kept mum refusing to be drawn into a supremacy battle with any monarch in the country.
It is, however, evident that the Ife monarch’s desire is towards a united Yoruba race and peaceful Nigeria.