One town, two kings, many crises: Ondo theocratic community under tension

townParticularly known for its theocratic setup, Ayetoro is one of the foremost coastal areas in Ondo State. Unfortunately, one of the major realities threatening its existence has been the periodic ocean surge usually destroying properties and in some instances claiming lives. Aside the natural threat, Ayetoro has been battling a three-year-old traditional ruler-ship crisis. The crisis took a new dimension last week when, despite the presence of a traditional ruler, a parallel traditional ruler and spiritual head was installed in the town. HAKEEM GBADAMOSI writes about the development, how it is affecting the wellbeing of the town and efforts by the state government in putting an end to it.

There seems to be no end to the leadership crisis rocking the theocratic community of Ayetoro in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State as two people have continued to lay claim to the traditional throne of the town.  This development has been raising fear in the area as it is threatening to tear the coastal community apart. According to findings by the Nigerian Tribune, the kingmakers and traditional heads are divided over who has the right claim to the throne.

A new traditional ruler, Oba Oluwanbe Ojagbohunmi, was alleged to have been installed recently despite the existence of a traditional and spiritual head, Oba Micah Ajijo who was crowned the head of the community some three years ago after the demise of Oba Gad Asogbon in 2015.

While a section of the town kicked against the installation of Ajijo as the king of the community, claiming that his ascension to the throne failed to comply with the tradition of the land, describing it as a set-back to the customs of the people of Ayetoro. Those against the installation of Ojagbohunmi claimed that installing a new king for the town when there is an existing traditional ruler is “sacrilegious and blasphemous.”

The genesis of the crisis in the town dates back to 2015 after the passage of the traditional ruler of the community, Oba Asogbon. According to an elder of the land, Lawrence Lemamu, “the traditional ruler of Ayetoro is also regarded as the spiritual head and usually chosen and installed through the Holy Spirit.”

He however said some people broke into the town’s church after the death of Asogbon and forcefully took all the paraphernalia of authority which were kept in the church. They went ahead and installed Ajijo as the new oba through a kangaroo arrangement outside the town. He described the action as a taboo, negating the customs and tradition of the community.

According to him, “since the time of our forefathers, no election has been conducted to choose any king; therefore, the whole community rejected the moves by these people.”

He said the rejection of Ajijo led to the closure of the only church in the community while people continue to worship in an open ground for almost two years while the people vowed to resist the imposition of Ajijo as their ruler.

However, some kingmakers in the land maintained that the selection and enthronement of Ajijo followed the customs and tradition of the land. Speaking on the installation of Ajijo, the Secretary General of the town, Dele Kudehinbu, told the Nigerian Tribune that there was no iota of truth in the claim of Lemamu.

The crisis which continues to linger in the coastal community however received the attention of the state government in September when the government called the warring factions together with a view to settling the crisis.

The deputy governor of the state, Agboola Ajayi, met with the various sides at the Government House in Akure, appealing to them to sheathe their swords in order to usher development into the town.  The peace meeting had in attendance the State Secretary to the Government (SSG), Ifedayo Abegunde; Chief of Staff to the Governor, Olugbenga Ale and security chiefs. Ajayi urged the people of the town to embrace peace just as he informed them on the decision of the state government to resolve their differences.

Apart from this, Ajayi appealed to the various factions to ensure the opening of the only church which had been closed for over two years just as he urged them to hold a joint service in the Holy Apostolic Church to mark the end of the crisis in the town.

Ajayi informed the leaders that the state government had no interest in any of the camps but would rather remain focused in its vision to bring dividends of good governance to the doorsteps of the people. He appealed to the indigenes to live together in love, peace and harmony for the development of the town.

However, the peace meeting failed to achieve its set goal as Ojagbohun was alleged to have embarked on a coronation exercise, thereby, violating the peace agreement reached with him and Oba Ajijo. But the Supreme Council of Elders of Ayetoro community claimed that Ajijo was allegedly imposed on them and insisted that the stool of Ogeleyinbo was still vacant.

Speaking on the installation of Ojagbohunmi, the Principal Secretary of the Holy Apostles, Atimishe Ademolu, said Ojagbohunmi was installed as the spiritual and traditional head by the elders of the land in accordance with the ways of selecting a new king for the community

According to him, “the long-tested and immutable procedure for enthronement of the Ogeleyinbo of Holy Apostles’ Church and Ayetoro community has been under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”

But in a counter accusation, the highest traditional council in the land,  Ogeloyinbo-in-Council accused Ojagbohunmi of rupturing the peace in the town by crowning himself as king when the throne Ogeloyinbo was not vacant thereby inviting anarchy, bloodshed and total breakdown of law and order.

Speaking on behalf of the council, the secretary general, Dele Kudehinbu accused the other faction of “breaching the peace accord recently at the behest of the state government by crowning himself as the new Ogeloyinbo of Ayetoro contrary to the tradition of the community.”

Kudehinbu said “Ojagbohunmi went against the September 28 and 30, 2018 meetings which resolved that Micah Olaseni Ajijo should be the king while he should remain the spiritual head of the town.”

According to the council, Ojagbohunmi led his group to forcibly enter the church, Holy Apostles Church, after it was reopened after two years, to embark on a self-coronation exercise.

“As evident in the video coverage of the event which was widely circulated in the social media, a hurriedly prepared and strange crown was brought forward by someone who Mr Oluwambe hurriedly seized and looked into it before placing it on his own head.

“This was a self-coronation at best, a sacrilege to the doctrines of the church and the community. It is also an abomination in Yoruba land in general and in Ilajeland in particular.

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“This young man embarked on all these actions in his desperation to become the king of Aiyetoro community and the leader of Holy Apostles Church, even though it is generally well known that the position is not vacant.”

He said Ojagbohunmi was known to the people of the community as a prophet before the demise of Oba Asogbon, while he was part of the 25-member advisory committee and regency council that crowned Oba Micah Olaseni Ajijo as the sixth Ogeloyinbo on August 7, 2015.

Kudehinbu explained that Ajijo was appointed and crowned as the traditional ruler of the community in 2015 by the board of trustees of the community and the Ogeloyinbo-in-Council while the state and local governments as well as all stakeholders were duly informed. He alleged that some elders of the community illegally installed Ojagbohunmi as the king and spiritual head of the community without the approval of the elders and the stakeholders of the town after three years of Ajijo on the throne.

The Ogeloyinbo-in-Council urged “Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and security agencies to call this impostor, Mr Oluwambe Ojagbohunmi, to order with a view to preventing a complete breakdown of law and order in the community.”

However, a source within the town faulted the peace move by the state government saying it failed to dig into the cause of the problem but only aggravated the crisis. According to him, “the state deputy governor who had promised to come personally to Ayetoro town to finalise the peace moves did not fulfil his promise. The tension in the town would have been settled but to our chagrin some officials of the state government were sent. This may be because of the schedule of work and political activities in the state but it would have been better if they had suspended the visit rather than sending people down here.”

He explained that the officials who were in town to represent Agboola Ajayi met the two warring factions separately instead of calling them together before opening the church. He disclosed that different messages were related to the two groups which thwarted the earlier efforts of the deputy governor in putting an end to the crisis.

The source said development had eluded the town in recent time saying until the state government was able to dig into the root of the crisis, the crisis would continue to reoccur. He specifically blamed the elite in the town for the crisis.

He noted that the crisis would have been settled long ago if the elite in the town had swallowed their pride and accommodated others. According to him, “many of the elite are not living in Ayetoro and the people objected to being ruled from outside the town. The people crave for development but the elite are slowing down the rate of development in this town which is known to be the abode of the happiest people on earth.”

The office of the deputy governor, however, dissociated the deputy governor from the installation of Ojagbohunmi saying he had breached the agreement over the crisis in the town.

In a statement issued through his chief press secretary, Leke Akeredolu, Agboola said “the status quo should remain and that Oba Micah Ajijo should remain the recognised king.

“The government was shocked to read on the national dailies few weeks after the peace meeting that Prophet Oluwambe Ojagbohunmi has been crowned by the state government as the sixth Ogeloyinbo and Spiritual Head of the Holy Apostles Church. Government will no longer tolerate any attempt by any individuals to use selfish interests to cause unrest in Ayetoro.”

But the camp of Oluwambe Ojagbohunmi dispelled the allegations against him, insisting that his coronation was legal and in line with their tradition. They maintained that he was enthroned as the traditional ruler of the town by the Supreme Council of Elders, Prophets and the congregation of the Holy Apostolic Church.

Speaking, Ojagbohunmi said “I was enthroned by the elders of the land before the whole congregation inside the only church in Ayetoro. I am not an impostor but those crying over my enthronement should be seen as impostors. They should tell the whole world where Ajijo was enthroned. It is a tradition here that our rulers are crowned in the church. I was enthroned and went through all the necessary steps.

“Ajijo was not enthroned. Only the few elite who are not residents of this community enthroned him in his room outside the community and not with the consent of the elders and the church.”

But will the state government allow the crisis in the town or restore peace to the community? For all the stakeholders from the community, the time to settle the crisis in Ayetoro should be quickened so as to restore development to it.

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