By Ise-Oluwa Ige
In this report, Vanguard’s Law & Human Rights examines two separate video clips on how former President Olusegun Obasanjo publicly ‘drilled’ more than a dozen Iseyin monarchs at a state function in Oyo State last Friday over what he called breach of protocol and harvests perspectives of Nigerians, particularly lawyers, on what appears a clash between the Yoruba tradition and the constitutional protocol on the one hand and the evolution of traditional rulership from pre-colonial era till date on the other hand. The report infers that stakeholders desire urgent review of the 1999 Constitution to allow for preservation of traditional institution in Nigeria.
On September 15, 2023, former President Olusegun Aremu Okikiolakan Obasanjo, as usual, stirred up a hornet’s nest in Iseyin, a city located approximately 100 km north of Ibadan, in Oke Ogun, Oyo State.
The occasion was the commissioning of two laudable projects: a 34.85 km Oyo-Iseyin Road and the completed College of Agricultural Sciences and Renewable Natural Resources of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Iseyin Campus, by Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde.
The governor had, as a mark of honour, invited former President Olusegun Obasanjo as Special Guest while traditional rulers from Iseyin were in attendance.
While all had sat for the commissioning of the first project: a 34.85 km Oyo-Iseyin Road, Governor Seyi Makinde and his special guest, ex-President Obasanjo walked in. Everybody got up as protocol demanded but all the traditional rulers in attendance remained on their seats.
Also, at the commissioning of the second project— The completed Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Iseyin Campus, on the same day, the governor again walked to the podium to speak. Everybody, including Obasanjo, the governor’s special guest stood up. The Iseyin obas, also remained seated.
Although the protocol breach was apparent, nobody said a word about it until the opportunity came for Obasanjo to speak at the event. His words: “I respectfully greet you royalties and salute the people of Oyo state on this auspicious occasion. You all know me well so I need no reintroduction. I’m here as a guest of your son, my son, your governor, Engr Seyi Makinde who is doing so well for your state in my view. For his status as chief executive of this state, protocol demands that you rise to receive him at a function like this.
“Governor Makinde may be a gentleman who doesn’t bother about ceremonials and fanfare, though. Today, however, I am here and I want to correct this. We should give honour to whom honour is due at all times. This is particularly important on an occasion like this when the governor is hosting a former president. The minimum this audience should do is to rise to receive him and his guest, just as Makinde the “omoluabi” that he is, pays obeisance whenever he comes to your palaces, just as I do whenever I visit you.”
Ex-President Obasanjo drills Iseyin monarchs
After pointing out to them their wrong, like a teacher would assess his students after teaching them to ascertain if they understood what he just taught them, the ex-President faced the Iseyin monarchs, this time wearing his ‘Army General face’— eyebrows pulled down, nose wrinkled, upper lip pulled up, lips loose and thundered a command in Yoruba: E dide. To the bewilderment of all present, all the Obas quickly stood up. As soon as they did, he lowered his voice and asked them to take their seats: E joko.
But from the crowd that had gathered to watch the commissioning of the project erupted an uproar
After drilling them, the four-star General went further to remind them that while he was the president, he, Obasanjo, openly prostrated for obas. But in the closet of privacy, obas paid obeisance to him.
Although, the drama was over, all those that witnessed it could not help but discussed the matter in hushed tones at the venue.
While still at the event, two different versions of the video clip of the drama were uploaded on the Internet: the first, about 30 seconds long only showed where Obasanjo ordered the Obas to stand up and sit down while the second version, a little longer, gave context to the command to the royalties by Obasanjo, while netizens feasted on the contents in the social media.
Mixed reactions greet Obasanjo’s drilling of Iseyin monarchs
As expected, the recorded drama sparked mixed reactions and controversies, with many lambasting Obasanjo for disgracing the Yoruba monarchs while few others felt his intervention was actually in order except his approach.
For instance, the Council of Elders (CYE), dismissed Obasanjo’s act as an infra dignitatem to Yoruba culture and tradition and a taboo.
Specifically, the Council accused the ex-president of denigrating and desecrating Yoruba royalty who are considered second in command to the deity.
If I was there, I would not stand up—Oluwo
Similarly, the Oluwo of Iwo Oba Abdulrosheed Akanbi had also castigated former President Olusegun Obasanjo for disrespecting the Iseyin monarchs.
Oluwo in a statement through his Press Secretary, Alli Ibraheem, said he did not blame Obasanjo for what happened but the Obas who obeyed such humiliating order, adding “I trust myself and my stool. At death, there are certain things my soul will not take, let alone when alive, active and kicking.”
He has demanded for apology from Obasanjo for the open desecration of the traditional institution.
Obasanjo must apologise to monarchs—EFI
Similarly, a non-governmental organization operating under the name of Ebedi Frontliners, Iseyin (EFI), also called on former President Olusegun Obasanjo to apologize to traditional rulers in Oke-Ogun, saying his outburst was unwarranted and unexpected from a Yoruba elder and traditional title holder like him.
One Adejare Ibrahim, a resident of Oyo Alaafin, in an article titled: ‘Now, the truth is gradually coming out,’ argued that the former president came to the event specifically to take his pound of flesh from the Vice-Chairman of Oyo State Council of Obas and Chiefs and Olugbon of Orile-Igbon, Francis Olusola Alao, who reportedly featured on a radio programme ahead of the February presidential poll where he attacked Obasanjo for supporting the candidacy of Peter Obi.
Forgive Obasanjo, my husband, please—Ms. Taiwo Martins
Meanwhile, one Ms. Taiwo Martins who claimed to be a wife of the former President had issued a statement to apologize on behalf of Chief Obasanjo’s family for the purported infra dignitatem by his husband against the traditional institution.
All of these happened between Friday, September 15, 2023 and Sunday, September 17, 2023.
Obasanjo disowns Ms. Taiwo Martins, says he has no regret drilling the monarch
However, former president Olusegun Obasanjo on Monday, September 18, came out publicly again to say that he still stood by his position on the issue and had no regret drilling the monarchs.
In a statement by his media aide, Kehinde Akinyemi, Obasanjo anchored his position on the fact that respect and dignity must be given to the office of a governor by virtue of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, stressing that to do otherwise was to deride the office and the constitution.
The Obasanjo statement also denied Ms Taiwo Martins, posturing as his wife, saying nobody makes statements on behalf of his family except himself or people delegated by him to do so, even as he hinted that people should take note of the state of health of Ms Taiwo Martins and ignore her statement of apology purportedly issued by her on behalf of the Obasanjo’s family.
Obasanjo not wrong—Dr Olusunle
A former aide to the four-star General and senior journalist, Dr Tunde Olusunle, in an article argued that Obasanjo did no wrong. He said even if the retired General had made any error of judgment in his approach to correct the Iseyin monarchs, the blame should be shared between the Government House Protocol Team and the event’s Master of Ceremony.
He specifically argued that it was the responsibility of the protocols department to furnish the MC especially if he is not from the governmental system with the programme brochure and list of dignitaries and that the MC should have been prompted to respectfully invite the audience including the traditional rulers to rise to their feet to receive the august guest once they arrived at the venue.
It was not the monarchs that were disgraced but Governor Seyi Makinde—Dr Adebayi
Also defending Obasanjo, a Pastor, Rev Dr John Adebayi dismissed an insinuation that Chief Obasanjo’s action was pre-planned to take his pound of flesh from one of the Obas.
The pastor said he could not see why Chief Obasanjo would publicly berate twenty or more prominent Yoruba Obas just because one Oba or a few Obas offended him in the past.
According to him, the first video clip about the encounter Chief Obasanjo had with the Oyo State traditional rulers which lasted about 30 seconds merely showed how Chief Obasanjo ordered the Obas to stand up and sit down.
He said that a longer version of the same video clip which came out much later added context to what happened during the occasion and put a lie to the insinuation that Obasanjo came there prepared to attack the Obas.
“Except if anyone wants to read meanings to the video other than what ordinarily meets the eye, the incident happened spontaneously, at the spur of the moment. It was not a pre-planned matter at all. How would Chief Obasanjo have known that Governor Makinde would come into an event and the Obas in attendance would remain seated in breach of protocol?
“It does not matter who the Governor is, whether an old man or a young boy, he is the boss and should be respected. We may not like it, in which case, we can change the constitution to reflect our wishes, but until then, the Governor has the power to hire and fire, including the removal of a King regardless of his status,” he said adding that Sanusi, the Emir of Kano was removed and that heaven did not fall.
He however admitted that though the approach adopted by Chief Obasanjo to correct the Iseyin Obas might be seen as offensive, he nonetheless argued that he was the most able personality to correct the wrong on that occasion
He argued that contrary to the belief by the people that the ex-President humiliated the Obas, he said if the truth must be told, the person who was really humiliated on that occasion was Governor Seyi Makinde.
He argued that from the narrative, Chief Obasanjo was not fighting for himself but defended the young political ruler, Governor Makinde of Oyo State, adding “given all the circumstances of the case, l hope the public will find a place in their hearts to forgive Chief Obasanjo for the approach he adopted in correcting the error in the house. On the other hand, we should see beyond that error and commend Chief Obasanjo for his boldness in righting a wrong.”
Obasanjo couldn’t have done what he did to Iseyin monarchs pre-1960—Lawyers
All said, former President Obasanjo could not have dared to do what he did to the Iseyin monarchs last Friday before the advent of colonial rule in Nigeria.
This is because the pre-independent traditional ruler stands as the repository of all the executive, legislative and judicial powers of his domain.
In some areas, particularly amongst the Yorubas, a traditional ruler is regarded as a replica of God by virtue of which all their words become law, the infraction of which oftentimes attract corporeal and sometimes, capital punishments.
According to Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, the courts have, over the years, equally recognised the status of traditional rulers.
But, the advent of colonial rule in Nigeria occasioned a major paradigm shift in traditional rulership.
Why traditional institution lost its respect—Ogwuche
According to a senior lawyer based in Port-Harcourt, Chief Festus Oguche, traditional institutions flourished in all of Africa during the pre-colonial era and the traditional rulership system became entrenched as the ideal mode of social relations and societal governance.
“The current corrosion of the institution is not in any way connected with the collapse of monarchy and the rise of secularism in Europe, but rather, the fallout of the deliberate tinkering and weakening of the system by colonial policies and practices.
“In Nigeria, for instance, the British found it convenient to create lackeys or puppets from existing pre-colonial traditional offices and at the same time, created monarchs where there was none, furtherance to its indirect rule policy.
“At the end, they left behind traditional systems that are distorted and completely disconnected with the people.
“The 1960 independence, as well as the 1963 Republican Constitutions made ample provisions for constitutional roles for traditional rulers,” Oguche said, adding that those roles were specific to their offices and not general in terms, but that notwithstanding, the traditional offices and institutions were accorded due recognition under those two organic instruments.
“However, this position changed completely under the 1979 constitution and it subsists till this day under the current constitution,” he said.
Oguche argued that the implication is that no recognition or role of any kind is given or assigned to traditional rulers under the current constitutional dispensation.
Rather, what exist are traditional offices created and regulated by the Chieftaincy Laws of the different states, and their existence is subject to the whims and caprices of the Governor.
“The implication therefore is that the traditional rulership system and its attendant institutions exist at the pleasure of the Governor, who wields enormous powers over the appointment, discipline and removal of traditional rulers.
“Indeed, it is the state governments that run or administer the traditional offices and the accompanying institutions that support them,” Oguche added.
With our constitution, royal fathers must worship governors or be fired—Oguche
By implication, Oguche said that under such circumstance, the royal fathers must tow the governor’s positions and exhibit unquestionable loyalty to him, or lose their positions or even be banished from the kingdom even for flimsy excuses as was witnessed in case of former Emir of Kano.
No wonder, Anambra State Governor dethroned three traditional rulers and withdrew their Certificate of Recognition recently.
The sacked monarchs were said to be among the 12 rulers suspended in the state for visiting Abuja to see President Muhammadu Buhari without the state government’s approval.
There is an on-going clamour for a paradigm shift in the recognition accorded traditional rulers in the grundnorm.
According to a retired Director at the Presidency, Eric Teniola, one of the defects of both the 1979 and 1999 constitutions is the deliberate denial of any role whatsoever for the traditional rulers.
He is of the view like many lawyers that the time is now for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution to give roles to traditional rulers in the constitution and venerate them and ensure their preservation.
But a prominent member of the inner bar, Mazi Afam Osigwe (SAN) said it is not in doubt that different states of the federation have Chieftaincy and Deposition Law that prescribed the appointment of chiefs and traditional rulers but that what is in doubt is the extent to which governors followed the procedures stated in these different laws.
Traditional rulers themselves should be blamed for their woes—Osigwe, SAN
Osigwe, SAN however said part of the blame for what the traditional rulers are going through in the hands of politicians is attributable to the way they themselves compromised their offices for selfish interests.
He said in many instances, traditional rulers have been at the beck and call of politicians and most often, help political players to come to power.
“And when they fall out of favour with them, the governors use the same arguments that they may have benefited from to remove them,” he stated, advising that they should not be involved in advancing political affairs of a party against the other, to stay above aboard and be father to all” rather than descending into the realm of conflict and get bruised in the end.