in 1985 when the people of Kabba, in the then Kwara State, wanted to install a new Obaro, the paramount ruler of Okunland, little did they know that the actions of their leaders would lead to the crisis that eventually caused disaffection among the princes of the town.
The kingmakers and the majority of the community were said to have settled for a candidate, who had almost completed the mandatory rites, but another section of the community was said to have endorsed a different candidate. The difference in the choice of both sides led to internal wrangling among the ruling houses. When the issue could not be amicably resolved, another candidate, Oba Michael Olabayo, was eventually approved by the then military governor, Muhammed Umaru, as the new Obaro. Oba Olabayo is the immediate past Obaro who reigned from 1985 to 2016.
However, his ascension to the throne was met with protests as some sections of the community felt they had been cheated once again by not allowing them to present a candidate to the throne, which they believed they were entitled to by virtue of being a bona fide members of the royal family.
When the dust raised subsided, the state government, in its bid to find a lasting solution to the succession crisis, set up a commission of inquiry to look into the immediate and remote causes of the crisis, and to also make recommendations on how to prevent a recurrence. The move was meant to ensure that the three royal families, which have 13 ruling lineages, have equal opportunity to the throne. Apart from the throne of Obaro, the commission also worked on the thrones of Obadofin and Obajemu, the other two chieftaincies that are also rotated among the lineages.
The royal families are Katu with three lineages, namely Atipa, Isoro and Abata. Another one is Okaba, which has six lineages that include Ilemila, Odogba, Idogba, Ilajo, Ugbo and Okere. The last of the royal families is Odolu with four lineages and they are Ogbagi, Ijemu, Irasi and Teko.
The three royal families consist of brothers that migrated from Ile-Ife to the present day Kabba, according to the history of the town, and the obaship of the town has been rotated among them.
The commission of inquiry was said to have culminated into a 1986 edict No 6 as amended in 1989, and after the creation of Kogi State in 1991, became edict No 12 of 1995 which recommends a rotational principle for the ascension to the throne. The edict, which became operational with the ascension of Olabayo, states that the stool of the Obaro shall be rotated among the three royal families in the town.
Section 4 of the edict stipulates the order of rotation with Okaba, where Olabayo hailed from, as the first beneficiary after which it is expected to move to Odolu and later to Katu with the circle continuing in the same manner.
The demise of Olabayo earlier in the year has, however, opened another contest for the throne of the Yoruba speaking people of Kogi State, with lineages and princes making moves to ensure that their preferred candidate get endorsement from by the state governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, as the next Obaro of Kabba.
Going by the provisions of the edict, the contest is expected to be within the Odolu royal family, which has four lineages. Already, some contenders, a 46 years old business man, Chief Olobatoke Kayode Joseph, from Irasi lineage, and a retired custom officer, Chief Dele Awoniyi, from Ijemu lineage, have shown interests in the stool.
The Odolu ruling house was said to have commenced the processes of coming up with the choice of the family as the Oba Odolu, who is also the head of the house, has constituted a six-man screening committee, headed by Chief Lawrence Obawole, to look into the credentials and qualifications of the contestants.
After the screening, Joseph and Owoniyi scaled through and their names were sent to the Obadofin and Obajemu, who are the kingmakers of the town. But the Irasi lineage has objected to the participation of Owoniyi in the contest, saying he is not qualified to contest. According to the lineage, since the chieftaincy edict of the town has made it clear that no lineage could hold two positions at the same time, it is illegal and wrong for Owoniyi to aspire to become the Obaro because the Ijemu lineage, where he comes from, is presently occupying the throne of Oba of Odolu.
The spoke person of Irasi, Sunday Owoku, said based on the principle of rotation, the Odolu family, with four clans, has an Oba known as the Oba Odolu, and that the present occupant, Ajayi Osatuyi, is from Ijemu clan, the same clan where Owoniyi hails from. He argued that the development prevented him from participating in the process. Buttressing the point of the family, he said the present Obajemu, another third class Oba, is from Ogbagi clan of Odolu royal house, and therefore, candidate from Ogbagi could not contest the throne. He also said when the principle of rotation started, Teko clan from the same Odolu, benefited as they became the Obadofin then. Therefore, the clan cannot contest any available post now as they have had their chance.
Owoku said, “one clan cannot take two Odolus at the same time. This was done to prevent victimisation, oppression and tyranny. The only clan that has not benefited from the edict is Irasi. It was Irasi that prompted the rotational arrangements and the promulgation of the edict. This is because we were given the Oba in 1985, who had performed the necessary rites, before the military administrator took it away from us.
“We have waited for 35 years and this is the turn of Irasi. It is unfair and will amount to cheating for Irasi if we are not allowed to produce the next Obaro. The actions of the Ijemu negates the provisions of the edict as they have announced a new Obaro for themselves. We are pleading with the governor to save us from the plan to again hijack the Obaro from our family.
“Our contention is that Owoniyi was not supposed to contest because they (Ijemu) already have Oba Odolu. It is unfair and will amount to cheating for Irasi, the Ijemu clan has occupied the Obaro stool seven times, while we have only benefitted once. So, it is morally and constitutionally wrong for them to also aspire this time around.”
To further buttress their case, the Irasi clan has written to the state governor to state the issues surrounding the ascension, calling for the intervention of the governor to ensure that justice, fairness and equity prevail at the end of the day. According to the letter titled “Historical fact on tbe Obaro stool in Kabba-owe kingdom and two other Ololus (Obadofin and Obajemu), dated September 30, 2016, and addressed to the state governor, the clan gave a detailed information on the ascension to the throne and the need for the governor to use his good office to ensure fairness.
However, Owoniyi in his reaction to the position of the Irasi clan, said towns do not have ruling houses, but ruling groups, which he also agreed are three as mentioned by the Irasi. He said although it was the turn of the Odolu group to produce the next Obaro, the law of the land did not say one particular clan should produce the monarch out of the four clans in Odolu.
“They (Irasi) cannot say that they are to produce the Obaro. Anybody from Odolu can aspire to be the Obaro as long as he is qualified to do so. The present Obajemu was installed while his father was the Obadolu. There is nothing like rotation among the four clans. What the edict say is that it is the turn of Odolu.
“There is no internal arrangement in Odolu. It is those that are afraid of competition that are proposing the arrangement. The law talks of Odolu as a unit and it is the prerogative of the kingmakers to decide who the Obaro is. Any candidate that enjoys the support of two out of the three kingmakers becomes the Obaro. The law wants the best person to come from Odolu, it does not allow any clan to present a candidate.
“Our argument is that Okaba cannot produce the next Obaro and anybody contesting outside Odolu is not being fair. Anybody that says it is the turn of his clan is also wrong.”
But just as the clans in Odolu are slugging it out among themselves, the ilajo clan from Okaba, where the last oba came fro, are also laying claim to the throne. They also are saying that they have right to contest and produce the new Obaro for the town. The basis of their argument is that they are the bona fide owners of the town and it is only the Okaba that resides within the heart of the town that should be producing Oba in the Yoruba speaking areas of the confluence state.
The contention for the throne is assuming a two-way dimension because as the Ilajo clan wants to retain the stool in their clan, while there is internal squabble within the Odolu clan and it is only the state government that has the final say on who becomes the next Obaro of Kabba.