Intrigues as battle for Oniru stool shifts to court

•Lagos government reckless to install ex-commissioner –Royal family •I’m for peace —Oba Lawal

Oba Akiolu set the tone when he charged the new Oniru to seek peace at all costs. SUBAIR MOHAMMED writes on the intrigues and protest presenting a new reality for the land-rich kingdom.

 

ABOUT a week after the installation of new Kabiyesi for Iruland, a land-rich kingdom in Lagos State, the intrigues before and the judicial unrest after are enough to say it is not yet uhuru for the kingdom in search of peace.

The age-long adage which says uneasy lies the head that wears the crown aptly describes the reality confronting the newly crowned Oniru, Oba AbdulWasiu Gbolahan Lawal, who, in less than a week on the throne, is being confronted with protest and a lawsuit challenging his installation and right to the throne.

Since the race for succession to the Oniru stool began after the death of Oba Idowu Abiodun Oniru on 23 September, 2019, Iruland had been thrown into a crisis over the rightful royal family to produce the next Oniru among the Ogunyemi, Abisogun and Akiogun families. During his stint as the governor of the state, Sir Michael Otedola, on 14 September, 1993, had identified and approved the three families as the ruling houses in Iru Kingdom, in accordance with Section 9 (1) of the Lagos State Obas and Chiefs Laws of 1981.

Subsequent to this, Section 2 of the declaration specifies the order of rotation in which respective ruling houses are entitled to provide candidates to successive vacancies in the Oniru stool, starting with the Ogunyemi family, followed by the Abisoguns and finally, the Akioguns.

 

History breached?

Relying on this gazette, the Ogunyemi ruling house, whose last shot at the Oniru throne was jeopardised in 1993 due to its failure to produce a candidate within the required 30 days after being formally notified, a development, which paved the way for the Akiogun ruling house to produce the late King Idowu Abiodun Oniru, this time, insisted on the adoption of the order of rotation which should have seen them as the rightful next-in-line to the Akiogun ruling house.

However, while the peaceful agitation of the Ogunyemi ruling house was on, as they awaited the needed signal from the Eti-Osa Local Government to present a candidate for the vacant throne, the Abisogun ruling house ably represented by Prince Hakeem Ajasa, a police officer and Prince Adesegun Oniru, son of the immediate Oniru and former Commissioner in the state from the Akiogun ruling house, reportedly stepped up lobbying at necessary quarters to secure the throne for their individual families.

At a point, the name on every lip was Prince Ajasa’s, with Lagos social circle and traditional community getting set for a lavish ceremony for his coronation as the new Oniru. Although, Ajasa, a former Chief Security Officer to the Speaker of the House of Representative, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, was widely tipped by many insiders, the oracle, which has the final say, didn’t favour him. The voice of the people wasn’t the voice of god for him.

 

Enter the ‘dark horse’

Checks by Saturday Tribune showed  that the eventual winner of the throne, Oba AbdulWasiu Gbolahan Lawal, from the Abisogun family, was barely in the picture from the onset, as his kinsman, Ajasa, was seen as flying the Abisogun’s flag well. When the favoured prince was thought to be almost in and his own already settling for different fabrics for aso ebi for his installation, intrigues and politics allegedly crept in and history instead got a date for a serving commissioner and a former police officer, like the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Osuolale Akiolu. That commissioner in the cabinet of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is no other than former Prince Lawal, now His Royal Highness, Oba Gbolahan Lawal, Abisogun II.

The following is the story the state government, through Gboyega Akosile, the governor’s spokesperson, told of the new Kabiyesi at his unveiling penultimate Friday:

“Gbolahan Wasiu Lawal was born on July 24th, 1970 to late Chief T. A. Lawal- Akapo, the Ojora of Lagos (1977-1993) and Olori M. A. Lawal-Akapo. Gbolahan is a Lagos prince from the Ojora, Aromire, Shokun and Abisogun branch of Oniru Royal families of Lagos State. He is a seasoned administrator with over 25 years postgraduate experience with in-depth knowledge of the workings of the public sector. He is driven, focused, steadfast and passionate. Prince Lawal’s excellent leadership, communication, collaborative and organisational skills have over the years sharpened his ability to identify, analyse and proffer strategic transformational change. Prince Lawal holds an Executive MSc in CITIES (LSE, Cities) from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“He also obtained an MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies [SOAS], University of London in 2008; a BSc Hons in Botany from the University of Port-Harcourt in 1992 and a product of the famous St. Gregory’s College, Lagos.

“In addition, he has completed several courses and programmes amongst which are the International Housing Finance Program (IHFP) in 2018 and Advanced Management Programme (AMP) from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, USA in 2015. He is also a product of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the World Bank Institute, Washington D.C. In the last eight years, he has been on the board of the Lagos State Security Trust Fund.

“Prince Lawal started his career as a Scientific Officer with the Raw Materials Research and Development Council at the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology in 1994. He later joined the Nigerian Police Force and was commissioned as a Cadet Assistant Superintendent. While in the force, he held several duty posts amongst which was serving as an Aide-de-camp [ADC] to the former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He retired voluntarily from the Nigerian Police in 2008 as a Superintendent of Police.

“Prince Gbolahan Lawal was a Senior Special Assistant on Special Projects to a former Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN). In this capacity, he coordinated the Agriculture-Based Youth Empowerment Scheme (AgricYES). The success of the innovative Agric-Yes paved way for his appointment as the Honourable Commissioner for Agriculture and Cooperatives in Lagos State in 2011.

“During his second spell as the Honourable Commissioner, he has brought to bear his previous experience and expertise in the field. He came up with the idea of an Agricultural Stakeholders Summit in furtherance of the efforts of the State Government to make Lagos a 21st century economy with the agricultural sector playing a vital role in sustainable food security and diversification of the economy.

“Essentially, the Summit developed strategies that will ensure the state attains sustainable food security, improved nutrition, generate employment and create wealth through a combination of business and development platforms in partnership with the private sector. As an offshoot of the Summit, he also saw to the development of a five-year Agricultural Roadmap for the State (2020-2025). The roadmap focuses on the development of agricultural value chains where the State has competitive and comparative advantages including the provision and availability of improved inputs, increased productivity and production.”

 

Politics of an ascension

Despite his impressive resume and having been in government in the state at high levels for more than a decade, Saturday Tribune learnt from multiple sources that it wasn’t the glittering record of the Kabiyesi alone that won the crown for him. Small gods in human form reportedly cracked his good fortune nuts for him. Since, he ‘retired’ from the police force at the age of 38, it is no longer a secret that he has enjoyed a lot of benefits from providing security for Tinubu as governor of the state till the end of his tenure in 2007, making it easy for all fingers to point at Bourdillion as the architect of the emergence of this dark horse as the new landlord of Iru Kingdom, making him the 15th Oniru.

It was alleged that Prince Ajasa was used against the ambition of Prince Segun Oniru to succeed his late father and the undercurrents involved in the selection were so obvious in the history that the exercise eventually made. One, the emergence and subsequent installation of Oba Lawal as the Oniru has been adjudged as the fastest in the history of Obaship in Lagos State. Having resigned his appointment as Commissioner of Agriculture on Thursday, his appointment by Sanwo-Olu was announced the next day and in less than 72 hours, the prince transformed into an Oba. His installation was, however, followed by protest and agitation from aggrieved members of a faction of the Abisogun ruling house.

 

‘Why his coronation was rushed’

Explaining the reasons behind his hurried coronation, a top and informed source within the circle alleged: “Custom and tradition have been desecrated in Lagos State as traditional rites and selection of candidates have been politicised. Gone are the days when Oba-elect would spend seven days in seclusion (ipebi) as required by custom and tradition but it was deliberately reduced to two days in the case of Oba Lawal because they perceived aggrieved opponents could approach the court of law to stop the installation. But as the staff of office has been given to the new king, whoever approaches the court does so at their own peril.

“In spite of the glamour and jubilation that characterised the event, the palace was like a war zone as armoured tanks, Black Maria and police vehicles were stationed everywhere in case of any protest from aggrieved ruling houses. Everybody was seen and treated as a suspect that they had to chase all the Baales and chiefs appointed by the late Oniru, Oba Idowu Abiodun, out of the palace on Sunday, including the chairman of Iru/Victoria Island Local Council Development Area, Honourable Rashidat Adu, for supporting Prince ‘Segun Oniru against Oba Gbolahan Lawal. All the banners printed by Hon. Adu to congratulate the new king were removed because she was perceived as an enemy.

“From the onset, we knew Oba Lawal is the next Oniru. Or how can you explain his resignation on Thursday and installation on Sunday? They did all that within three days without paying attention to traditional rites and customs. There are several interests in his emergence and as we know, all are geared towards fulfilling a mission. It all borders on the Eko Atlantic. You will discover that it was championed by Adesegun Oniru but the Lagos political lord also has interest in it. Because of the clash of interest, it was rumoured that Segun fell out of favour and this was why he was denied the throne. So, the leader felt if his candidate becomes the next monarch, his interest in the Eko Atlantic would be better preserved. Initially, Lawal was penciled in for the governorship position in Lagos State but for the fact that he is the best candidate for the protection of the interests of the power that be in the state, he was enthroned.”

 

O to ge?

Barely a week into his enthronement, a faction of the Abisogun Oniru family, the Omowunmi Abisogun Oniru ruling family, on Tuesday, staged a peaceful protest on the premises of the Lagos High Court in Igbosere where they filed a suit challenging the installation of Oba Lawal as the 15th Oniru.

Among other claims, the protest, led by 88-year-old factional head of Omowunmi Abisogun, Alhaji Surajudeen Durosinmi, alleged that Oba Lawal is not a full-blooded son of Abisogun Oniru and, therefore, he has no right to the stool. They appealed to the Federal Government to prevail on the Lagos State government to reverse its decision on the installation of Oba Lawal and choose one of them as the king of Iruland.

As contained in form No.1 of the General Form of Writ of Summons obtained Saturday Tribune, claimants in the suit number LD/6681/JCMW/ 2020 instituted before Justice Owolabi Dabiri of Lagos State High Court, Igbosere are Alhaja Afusatu Kabiawu, Alhaji Surajudeen Durosinmi and Alhaja Wosilatu Abdul Azeez Fatosha against the defendants Adesegun Abiodun Oniru, Tijani Abiodun Oniru, Hakeem Ajasa, Ademola Abiodun Oniru, Secretary to the Iru/Victoria Island LCDA, Executive Government of Lagos state, Chief Biliaminu Sanni Abisogun, Gani Sanni Abisogun, Rashidi Sanni Abisogun and the Attorney General of Lagos State.

The claimants insisted that succession to Oniru chieftaincy is hereditary and that Abisogun ruling house is the next to nominate a candidate to fill the vacant Oniru stool following the demise of Oba Idowu Abiodun. They claimed that Prince Hakeem Ajasa, the third defendant, is not a member of Abisogun ruling house and he is not in any way related to Omowunmi Abisogun by blood while the selection and installation of the third defendant by the seventh defendant and or with other defendants, is null, void and of no consequence.

The family equally sought an order of the court directing the secretary of the appropriate local government to announce Omowunmi Abisogun ruling house as the next ruling house to nominate a candidate to fill the vacancy in Oniru chieftaincy stool of Lagos state.

Describing the alleged imposition of Oba Lawal on Iru Kingdom by Governor Sanwo-Olu as executive recklessness, the counsel for the aggrieved family, Mr Cornelius Nwachukwu, said: “A case has been instituted in court demanding an injunction and the defendants have responded on behalf of both the executive governor of Lagos State, Attorney General of the State, Secretary to the Eti-Osa Local Government and they filed an application that is pending in court and yet to be heard. So, the question is, why should he be installed as the king in the midst of all these?

“Until last Thursday, Oba Lawal was not in the picture for the race to the throne. Initially, Ajasa, who is also within the Lagos State government was selected. All they did was to drop Hakeem Ajasa and he was replaced with Lawal. We are contesting the procedure for selection and emergence of the Oba. The Secretary to the local government ought to announce the next family in line and request from the ruling house to bring their candidate for consideration. They are not to impose an unpopular candidate on the entire kingdom. We want to ask the court to compel them to do just that.

“That Oba Lawal was hastily installed simply highlights the interest of the Lagos State government in the matter. There are procedures to be followed but surprisingly, within three days, he resigned and was installed as the king. That was reckless enough. It showed that there was no consideration for the people of Lagos State. Importantly, Gbolahan is an outsider. He does not belong to the ruling Oniru clan. This shows that the entire process has been politicised. They neglect the law and customs that regulate Obaship affairs in Lagos State.

“We believe it is unjust and we are praying for the reversal of his installation but if they refuse, we will continue with our legal pursuit until justice is served. We believe he will be removed by the court. The Omowunmi Abisogun ruling house is the next in line to the Oniru stool and, therefore, rejects the imposition of Wasiu Gbolahan Lawal as the Oniru of Iruland by the governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

“Since the death of Oba ldowu Abiodun Oniru in 2019, there have been several attempts by some forces to hijack the Oniru stool for their personal and political gains. The family has also been cajoled with money and other material trappings to waive their right to the throne. But they are firm and unbending in their demand for their right to the Oniru stool.

“We are shocked that the Lagos State government would act illegally by acting contrary to the dictate of the laws. Why should Governor Sanwo-Olu impose and install an unpopular candidate despite knowing that there is a pending suit against installation of the new Oniru?

“My clients, the Omowunmi Abisogun Oniru Chieftaincy Family, are in court over this matter and the Lagos State governor, Attorney-General, Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs; Secretary to Victoria/Iru LCDA are respondents.

“All the parties have filed applications which are yet to be decided because of the lockdown. But they took advantage of the lockdown factored by the COVID-19 pandemic and installed a stranger as the king.”

 

I’m for peace –Oba Lawal

Oba Lawal, however, has been suing for peace since his ascension. He commended Governor Sanwo-Olu for approving his selection, while praising Senator Bola Tinubu for years of mentoring in leadership and administration. He also waved the proverbial olive branch to his opponents, while promising to pursue an open-door policy in leading the kingdom.

The traditional ruler said: “Iruland is central to the commerce and economic development of Lagos. I want to assure all that Iruland will continue to accommodate business development on all fronts and remain home for all tribes and races. With my experience in public service, I will continue to work with others not only to bring more development to Iruland but the entire state. I promise to live the rest of my life for my people.”

The Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, had a piece of advice for the new king: “As you are ascending to the throne of your forefathers, I pray that your reign shall be long lasting. Now, you are the king, I urge all sons and daughters of this kingdom join hands with you to move this land forward.

“I advise you to personally make effort and gather all members of the ruling houses and citizens for the sake of unity. You must extend an open arm to everyone, so that you can leave Iru Kingdom better than you met it. However, you must be careful with those that will flock around you as advisers. Don’t tolerate advice that may cause division in your kingdom.”

Governor Sanwo-Olu is optimistic all will be well. He said: “There is no doubt that the future of Iru Kingdom continues to be bright and promising, and that the ascension of His Royal Majesty, Oba Lawal, marks the start of the next phase of the journey into that future.

“I commend the kingmakers and elders of Iruland as well as the ruling houses for the peace and mutual understanding that have characterised the process that led to the installation of the new monarch within a period of less than one year after the demise of the former Oniru. This is a remarkable feat, worthy of commendation and emulation.”

 

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