WITH the late Oba Folagbade Olateru-Olagbegi 111’s rites of passage completed, the race for the selection and enthronement of another Olowo of Owo has started in earnest. I understand many princes from the royal family are interested in ascending to the throne. I used to think there were three ruling houses – Olagbegi, Ajike and Ogunoye until the current scramble began and those who “know” the history of Owo began to educate green horns like us. I learnt now that Olagbegi and Ajike are from the same source (father) while Ogunoye is distinct. If that is the case, then, it could mean that Owo has two ruling houses. In recent history, the Olagbegis have reigned thrice, one of them, Oba Olateru Olagbegi, actually reigning twice – before Oba Adekola Ogunoye 11 and again after Oba Ogunoye 11 had joined his ancestors; the reason being that Oba Olateru Olagbegi 11’s first reign was truncated as he was removed from the throne. He made a triumphant return to complete the second segment of his reign. Growing up, I had seen the photograph of Olowo Ajike Atobatele, decked in full-length regalia made of beads, hanging on the wall in the house of Pa Cornelius Imolehin, husband to my mother’s elder sister. I understand Oba Ajike Atobatele was so called because he was rich and had attained the status of an Oba before he became one. In my lifetime I have seen only three Olowos – Olateru Olagbegi, Adekola Ogunoye and Folagbade Olateru-Olagbegi.
I never met Oba Olateru-Olagbegi but saw him from a distance. I, however, interacted with some of his children and but for the mindless division that viciously paralyzed Owo in those days, I would probably have married an Olateru-Olagbegi. I was privileged to run into Oba Ogunoye once when he came to our school, Owo High School, to see the principal and later governor of old Ondo State, Pa Michael Adekunle Ajasin. The principal was on his usual checks around the classrooms. The Oba beckoned on me and ordered me to alert the principal to his presence. I gladly ran the errand. Oba Folagbade I also saw from a distance when he attended programmes at the Redeemed Christian Church of God campground on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. Some of the princes jostling to become the next Olowo are known to me. An Olagbegi who is said to be interested is an ardent reader of this column. An Ogunoye said to be interested was my classmate at Owo High School. At Owo High School, three Ajikes were my school mates, with one being my classmate.
I wish Owo will choose the right person as Oba! In those days, Ifa would have been relied upon heavily by the Omolowos or kingmakers; these days, however, things have changed. Yinka Ayefele told us in one of his songs that Ifa these days shouts Alleluya (“Ifa n ke Alleluya”). Not only does Ifa shout Alleluya, it would also appear that Ifa also recognizes and has need for dollars, euro and pounds sterling; not to talk of Naira. There is nothing Nigerians have not corrupted, Ifa inclusive. So I will not be surprised if Ifa collects bribes these days. This will not be peculiar to Owo from what we have heard or seen where Obaship tussles have taken place. Some kingdoms are spared much of these troubles; for example the Ibadan chieftaincy title before former Gov. Isiaka Ajimobi tinkered with it, and the Benin dynasty where the next Oba is known and the succession process lends itself to little or no controversy. But where princes must compete and struggle; where there are multiple ruling houses; and where whose turn it is, is subject to vagaries, permutations and manipulations, it can be battle royal and survival of the fittest. Money will play a part. Connections will also come to play. Coincidentally, the Ondo State’s Gov. Rotimi Odunayo Akeredolu SAN; His Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Adekola Olawoye SAN (my senior at Owo High School), and the Chief of Staff to the governor, Olugbenga Ale, are all from Owo. Putting heads together and with the Omolowos (kingmakers) putting the interest of Owo first, they should be able to give Owo the very best. Of course, kingmakers are not relevant all seasons; this is the season of their relevance and the period when they “eat.” While nobody grudges them that, they must take care to “eat” responsibly. Nothing divides and sets Owo on fire more than partisan politics and Obaship tussles. When one reinforces the other, the catastrophe that ensues is better imagined than experienced. I have seen Owo burn in the past. I do not want to see it burn again. I have seen Owo hopelessly divided such that even children who couldn’t understand what was afoot suffered irreparable losses for the sins of the fathers. “The fathers ate sour grapes and the children’s teeth are on edge.” Thank goodness God has said never again should such proverb apply. May it not apply again in Owo!
Owo may not have completely healed from the self-inflicted wounds of the past but it would appear to me that much progress has been made in the right direction. We must therefore bend over backward to ensure that the hands of the clock are not turned backward again. Owo needs peace. Owo needs development. Owo needs justice. A town which used to be the first among equals has regressed on the altar of self-immolation. It will take decades of hard work and unity of purpose to bring back its lost glory. This is not a task for an individual, be it governor or Oba. The quantum of resources and efforts needed to develop a community cannot be supplied by an individual. If any prince promises that he will single-handedly develop Owo, take that promise with a pinch of salt. We have heard such in the past. It did not materialize and does not seem likely to materialize any time soon. What Owo needs is an Oba who appreciates the place of unity and cohesion in the development process. Owo needs an Oba who is humble, honest and passionate about placing the people first. Obas reign these days, they rule no more. There is no more subject-ruler dichotomy or master-servant relationship. All are free-born and none is subject to another. All must therefore be treated with respect and courtesy. All must be courted not commanded. If anyone prostrates for you, it is a mark of respect which you will only keep if you work hard to earn it. In this modern age, it is no longer an entitlement.
We itemised that Owo needs peace, development and justice. It must flow in this order: When you do justice, you have peace and it is in a peaceful environment that development becomes possible. Little wonder, then, that scripture commands us to let justice flow like a mighty river. In selecting a new Olowo, let those charged with the onerous responsibility take this admonition seriously to heart. May the good Lord help them!
June 12: Medicine after death
Last Wednesday was the first anniversary of Nigeria as a whole celebrating June 12 as Democracy Day. Hitherto, the remembrance of the epic struggle to end military dictatorship; the watershed election of June 12, 1993, adjudged worldwide as the freest and fairest in the country’s chequered history; its mindless and satanic annulment by the military dictatorship of self- proclaimed evil genius, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida; the angst and uproar that followed and the heroic movement of men and women of conscience to protest and possibly upturn the annulment; the iron hand with which the military crushed the protests, and the many deaths, assassinations, oppression and repression that followed from 1993 to 1999 – all of these were remembered and celebrated annually only in the Yoruba-speaking Southwest region of Nigeria.
For sure, the Southwest had its own fair share of traitors who treated June 12 and its adherents with contempt and scorn: An overwhelming majority of the people nonetheless maintained the slogan “On June 12 we stand” and gave it vent in whatever way they could. They were the ones who did not allow June 12 to die but kept it on the front burner for last Wednesday to see the light of day. But has June 12 been now realized? Has its purpose been achieved? Can the ghosts of the martyrs of June 12 now rest in peace – those with marked graves and those who vanished without a trace like Bagauda Kaltho? Do the Yoruba especially now feel vindicated? Before now, missiles of all sizes and shapes had been hauled at them: they were accused of sectionalising and personalising the struggle, of reducing it to Yoruba affairs, of demeaning and whittling it down, etc but they stood their ground like the proverbial wall of Gibraltar. It is to this group that we owe today’s modest achievements of the June 12 struggle.
I am proud to be counted a visible member of this illustrious group from Day One up till now. Those of us who were harassed, hunted, haunted, oppressed, repressed, detained, hounded underground and into exile; who were detained; who were shot at; who were marked for annihilation; separated from family and friends; who lost our means of livelihood; who were hauled before regular and military courts; who were framed; who were sentenced; who were hauled into various prisons all over the country; who picked up deadly and terminal diseases in those prisons; who lost liberties, limbs and life; whose heads were bloody, yet unbowed – these, and not Muhammadu Buhari, are the reason for this season. We continue next week with the opponents of June 12, those who betrayed it, those who traded it away like Babagana Kingibe, Tom Ikimi and Tony Anenih, and those who turned it into merchandise, those who had the opportunity to do something about it but did nothing, like ex-presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan who, today, must bury their head in shame, not to talk of Babangida and his cohorts that annulled the election; ineffectual Chief Ernest Shonekan, the “fidihe” chairman of the nebulous Interim National Government, which the most vicious, heinous and debased dictator of them all and the Capone of Nigeria’s tribe of thieves, Sani Abacha, swept away to mount the saddle.
All of these have had their names recorded on the wrong side of history as far as June 12 is concerned. For sure, they didn’t know there would be a day like this, just as that reggae artist crooned of those who betrayed Marcus Garvey. Traitors and betrayers of the people’s trust often forgets the immortal words of the revolutionary, Che Guevara, that there are always some young men waiting in the wings and ready to pick up the weapons of their fallen leaders to continue the struggle; which was why the death of MKO Abiola did not signal the end of the June 12 struggle. Can those opposed to the battle to restructure Nigeria put two and two together and imagine what their place in history will look like in a few years’ time when, like June 12, the battle for restructuring would have been won and lost?
LAST WORD: Did you see Omo-Agege, the new Deputy Senate President, kneel for Buhari? What kind of 9th Senate will such cretins preside over? Omo-Agege ridiculed not only himself but also Buhari into the bargain. He demeaned and diminished not just the National Assembly but Nigerians in totality – home and abroad. Read Ayi Kwei Armah’s “The Beautyful Ones are not yet born” and understand that the 9th Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria died ere it was born! O yes!