Oba Gbolahan Timson is the Jagunmolu III of Shomolu/Bariga, Lagos. In this interview by GBENGA OLUMIDE, he speaks on how Bariga came into existence, the sacredness of obaship and sundry issues. Excerpts:
Briefly, how did Bariga come into existence?
Our forefathers came from Ile-Ife in Osun State, as hunters and fish farmers. They migrated from Ife to Isheri-Mole, an area located between Ogun and Lagos states after Ojodu-Berger. And they later migrated to Bariga. When they arrived in Bariga, they set up a hamlet, living among the monkeys and baboons for hundreds of years before the advent of communities. Initially, we had 27 communities, University of Lagos consumed four communities and we have 23 communities left. It was among the remaining 23 that produced the first Oba lmidi Suberu Opeke, Jagunmolu I. He officially became oba in 1959 but was not gazetted until when the late Akintola came into power. He said “the community has been victimised because of us” (referring to the politicians) and he asked what their upmost want from government was. They replied him that they wanted their Obas to be recognised by government.
What are the dos and don’ts of the community?
Like it is in every Yoruba community, the dos and don’ts are similar and almost the same. It is forbidden for you to take the wife of your junior ones, you will be banished from the community. It is forbidden for any member of this community to be involved in stealing, if caught, whether you are sentenced in court or not, your lineage can never get any meaningful position in the community again. If by any act of commission or omission, someone’s life was terminated by you; you will become a stranger in your own community and no one will want to be identified with you again, irrespective of whether you are convicted or not. You don’t whistle in the sunny weather and our religion is multiple, you are not allowed to harass anyone due to his or her religion.
Traditional rulers are regarded as gods, but now some get kidnapped and killed. What is the cause of this?
As beautiful as democratic governments are and democratic dispensation can be, you find out that every good thing has its own side effect. The high-handedness of the military will not allow what is happening now. The sacredness of obaship is not comparable with anyone. Traditional rulers all over the world are the anointed people of God. They are actual representatives of God on earth. They have no tenure to serve. After becoming an oba, nothing higher than it in life again, that is how sacred that position is. But with the recent democratic experience, people’s rights are taken for granted. This is what is responsible for that. I am not canvassing for extrajudicial killing, but the swiftness in handling things in the military era is different to what is obtainable now. You go through a lot of process. Somebody arrested for criminal offence, but under the porous legal system, particularly the criminal justice system, he or she will wriggle out easily only to go and commit further crimes. They are kidnapping their own traditional rulers. When bad things begin to happen in the community and good people keep silent, outsiders will believe everything is okay. But when it begins to affect the noble ones, the senators, the obas, that is when they will know that bad thing has come to the community.
In spite of this, some say traditional rulers no longer toe the path of their forebears, a reason all these things are befalling them. What is your position on this?
I disagree with that vehemently because we cannot by any act of commission or omission depart from our ancestors as the custodian of the people’s culture. There are still rules that can be applied to remove an oba, apart from politically motivated actions. When a king commits a crime against his community, there are traditional procedures to go through for his removal and these rules were there to serve as checks and balances before the modern democracy come in. Before you can become an oba, you must have been summoned to the shrine. And if the same king is summoned again to the shrine after he has become king, all the powers that have been conferred on him will be stripped off.
If an allegation is levelled against a king and the king is unable to defend himself, such a king has two options. He will be asked to be dethroned or asked to join his ancestors in order to allow peace to reign in the community. So, if people are saying that some traditional rulers are distancing themselves from God, I will say it’s true because if truly you rule with fear of God, things will fall in place for you.
Recently, Niger Delta Avengers threatened to blow up the Third Mainland Bridge, most of which are in your domain. What was your reaction then?
Truly, the Third Mainland Bridge is within my domain, we’ve called on the government, both state and federal, though the state government cannot really do much in terms of security, particularly when it concerns interstates matters, but at least we can secure our local environment in our own way. Our government is not really doing much in terms of security. That threat from the NDA is taken for granted. Yesterday, we also learnt that a magistrate was kidnapped in Lagos, an oba was kidnapped a few days ago. Much is yet to be done on the issue of insecurity in the country, because a senator of the Federal Republic or a member of the House of Representatives has not been kidnapped. Also, the children or wife of a sitting governor is yet to be kidnapped. Let the wife of a governor be kidnapped, you will see that stars on the sky will come down to search for her.
Should we have to wait until that happens? Or wait until we lose a governor’s wife to kidnappers? This is the time all hands should be on deck. We should be more aggressive. The issue of security must be handled properly, not with kid gloves. When there is no security, nothing will work out, nothing will be achieved. If a government is working, doing everything to boost economy without proper security in place, it amounts to nothing. Government needs to pursue the avengers and their sponsors. These people are not ghosts and they are still among us. Before they attack a community, they must have been in that community for some time. It is not possible for them to just barge into an oba’s palace and kidnap him, if there is no conspiracy. They were able to walk into oba’s palace and pick him up because they were armed.
So, all these happened because of nonchalant attitude of government?
The little that has been achieved in the area of political stability and socio-economic balances could be completely eroded if insecurity persists. We shouldn’t concentrate too much energy on socioeconomic development at the expense of security. Security issue should be prioritised; it is when you are alive that you can talk about any other development. We also need to overhaul our criminal justice system. A situation where someone caught red-handed with firearms cannot be prosecuted except an expert’s advice or DPP’s opinion is sought is not enough. Don’t forget, these are people who were caught with firearms and some even fired back at the police before they were arrested.
I am not supporting or canvassing for extrajudicial killing, but as a matter of urgency, such criminals should be taken far from human society. What gave birth to Boko Haram, NDA, MEND, etc is lawlessness. Any nation with no proper legal system, where court orders are not obeyed, cannot thrive.