Why I want to be Alaafin at 84 — Archbishop Ayo Ladigbolu

‘Two of my sons stepped down for me to contest’

84-year-old retired Methodist Archbishop, Ayo Sanda Ladigbolu, is in the race to be the next Alaafin of Oyo. He speaks with WALE AKINSELURE on issues of his age, religious background, concerns about the processes leading up to the selection of the next Alaafin and his relationship with the late Oba Lamidi Adeyemi.

THE interesting part about your intention to be the next Alaafin is the fact that you were close to the late Alaafin. In fact, some refer to you as one of the trusted advisers of the late Oba Lamidi Adeyemi. What was your relationship with the late Alaafin like?

I happened to have developed from our growing up together a very cordial relationship with the late Iku Baba Yeye, Oba (Dr) Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III. We broke up for a while, each of us going our different directions. He went to Iseyin, to Arabic and Quranic School. He later went to Abeokuta; from Abeokuta, came to Osogbo, he later came to Lagos. I also went my own different direction and part of my own journey led me to an encounter with Jesus Christ. We both went to Arabic and Quranic School, so both of us are versed in the Quran. Our ways parted, so to say, at the point when I became a Christian and he became a Muslim until the Lord opened the door for him to ascend the throne of our fathers as the Alaafin so we reunited. Fortune also took me away from Nigeria for a while as I went to study in the United States of America. I spent some time in the state of Texas, studied at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where I obtained two degrees, one in Theology and the other in Mass Communications. Until 1977 when I came back home, our relationship remained steady but mainly by mail and by telephone. But, since I returned, we resumed our very cordial relationship. He is first and foremost a brother and a friend. As to the status of adviser that people have ascribed to me, it is a pleasure; but nobody can claim to be the king’s adviser. This is because, in their position, kings get their direction, I believe, from God. You may offer your advice; you may make your counsel available to kings, potentates and monarchs, but the bible says their hearts are like river that God himself directs. For anybody to claim that he or she is the adviser to a king, that person is deceiving himself.


In the lead-up to the late Oba Adeyemi ascending the throne, were you also in the running then as there are reports that you stepped down from the race for Oba Lamidi to emerge? The notion in some quarters is that that is one of the reasons for your closeness with Oba Lamidi during his reign.

Nothing of such happened because by the time he became the Alaafin, the procedure had changed. In the past, it used to be that every prince of all of Atiba royal household could contest for the position of the Alaafin. I have a document that Kabiyesi Iku baba yeye, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi himself wrote on 4th July 1974 about the procedure for the selection of the Alaafin. From there, you will notice that there have been eight Alaafins in the present Oyo and four of them were Aremos; that is, crown princes of their fathers, which means they ruled and reigned with their fathers before they themselves became the Alaafin. One of them was the son of an Aremo who preceded his father and one, which is Layiwola, was a direct son of an Alaafin and that is the way those things had worked. So, between 1859 and 1968, that was the procedure. But, when it came to the turn of Alaafin Bello Gbadegesin Ladigbolu II, there was a new law and that law was used to install him, still through the instrumentality of the Oyo Mesi but backed by the law. So, the previous ones were done according to the tradition inherited from Oyo Ile and established by Atiba. So, there could have been no chance for me at the time he was contesting. At that time, the ruling family system had already become established and the 1961 registered declaration has now specified the Alowolodu and Agunloye ruling families. So, at the time he was contesting, an Agunloye had just left the throne and I am an Agunloye, so there was no possibility of me contesting or stepping down for him. All these are in people’s imagination.


Are there changes, differences you see in the ongoing processes towards emergence of the next Alaafin compared to those that led to the emergence of the late Oba Adeyemi?

There are some slight changes because when Alaafin Bello Gbadegesin Ladigbolu II was installed, there was a different law in existence. Alaafin Bello Gbadegesin Ladigbolu II was installed under the new law they called: “Appointment and Deposition of Chiefs Law 1955 Western region”. But, when it came to the turn of the recently deceased Alaafin, there was a clear, registered declaration, that is, the 1961 declaration, which was a purification of the previous chiefs law under which Alaafin Gbadegesin was installed. Basically, it is still the same procedure. The contestants will contest, do all their lobbying but then the Oyomesi have procedure. They will have to look at the popularity, acceptability to the people, hospitality, generousity of the candidate, what he has he done to improve the lives of the people and the community in general, how people perceive the person that is being touted to become king. All those were part of what had been done in the past which have not changed until recently. So, the Oyomesi knew every prince; they knew their character; they knew what they were made of; and so are able to make choice. Also, there is the Atobatele factor because you must already be showing signs of kingly carriage in the way you behave, the way you carry on, the way people talk about you, the way you respond to people’s needs so much so that there will not be much argument as to whether you befit the position or not. Those factors are still the same but whether we are adhering to them these days or whether naira and kobo has taken over the system is another issue.


Recently, you wrote a petition questioning the inclusion of one Areago Basorun, who you said is not a member of Oyomesi, as part of the screening committee. You faulted the composition of the Oyomesi which is the main body to recommend the next Alaafin.

I actually did a letter prior to my appearing for the screening. I did a letter addressed to the Oyomesi and copied to the chairperson of the relevant local government as well as to the secretary of the traditional council so that they would take official notice of my request. I saw an underchief of the Basorun of Oyo appearing suddenly as an Oyomesi and I was surprised. I knew that if there were six Oyomesi with one of them hospitalised, five could carry on their duties. However, the declaration listed seven. At that time, there were seven when Alaafin Olayiwola was installed, but situations have changed. Obviously, some people didn’t do their thorough investigations because the Alaafin has not installed an Asipa up till date, so there was no Asipa. I had to ask that question, who is this man? What is he doing? I know him to be an underchief of the Basorun. Has somebody gone to handpick somebody who will go his way, obey his orders and who will thereby corrupt the system? Those were my concerns and I think I am being proven right by later developments. The answer they gave me was that government asked us to select a warrant in place of Asipa who has been non-existing for more than 20 years and now they did a warrant for him. They said they sent three names to Ibadan and the one that was picked was an under-chief. I said fine, you have answered my question. The next issue I was concerned about was that we had a list. The Agunloye family submitted a list of 49 candidates but eventually the list used for inviting us contained about 86 and I wondered which is legitimate. I asked if you eventually discover that some on the additional list are not truly members of the Agunloye family, what happens to the N200,000 levies imposed on everybody. The response I got to that is that the Baba Iyaji is the legal authority to submit a list; he is the only one that has the right to deal with the princes and we have no concern as to the differences in the number submitted. They added that whatever Baba Iyayi has brought to them on his official letterhead is considered legitimate. They said if I had any problem with the list, I should go and deal with Baba Iyaji. That was a reasonable answer and I accepted and submitted myself for screening, which I believe very well. I took to that screening everything that I believe may be required of me, including the list of the contributions I have made personally and corporately to the development of Oyo town and its surrounding areas, a list of some initiatives that God has given me that has benefitted the entire society. I also told them some of the things I have done that remain there for everybody to see. Only one question was raised in that direction and I believe I responded to every question to the best of my knowledge and understanding of the culture. I grew up in the palace and I know the culture there. I was in the palace through the reign of Alaafin Adeniran; I was in the palace through the reign of Alaafin Gbadegesin; and when I came back to Nigeria, I also was in the palace for most part of the reign of Alaafin Olayiwola. I have been close to the history of Oyo itself and its development. I was delighted I had the opportunity to share these with the Oyo mesi.


Do you fear a premeditated attempt to manipulate the process in favour of one of the candidates for the Alaafin stool?

There has been so much noise all about that certain influential Nigerians, not of Yoruba extraction, have shown very keen interest in the office of the Alaafin and who becomes the next Alaafin and that inducements of all kinds are moving around and they are tempting inducements. Everybody in the town talks about it; market women, people in the motor parks, so much so that they were mentioning specific names. That is common knowledge in the community and those who are concerned are aware. Be that as it may, I have always said it publicly and I said it when they first assembled all the contestants, that all those contestants gathered are my children. I am not an elder brother to any of them; I am their father. So, I said if I become the Alaafin, they have their father in the palace and the doors of the palace will be open to all of them and all its privileges will be available to them. But then, if any of them who is a responsible child is given the position, he can count on me as a father whom he can consult. That assurance I gave publicly and I am not recanting on that. But, as to underhand, underground movements to derail the system and to play down quality and service and devotion to community interest, that is rife in this contest.


At 84 years, there is no doubt that you are father to many of the candidates in the race. In recent times, quite a number of kings in Yoruba land are emerging at a young age, even the late Alaafin emerged at a young age. Why then do you not consider playing a fatherly role to the next Alaafin rather than throw your hat into the ring?

There is merit in that opinion. People assume that if a younger person ascends the throne, the person has a chance of living longer and reigning longer. Apart from that, what other attribute of youthfulness do you think qualifies a younger person better than an aged and experienced person from assuming the throne? There is a second leg to that response. In Oyo custom, there have been eight Alaafins who reigned in Oyo, none of them had a living father. Two of my own sons wanted to contest but because of their understanding of my personal love and commitment and enthusiastic activities for the promotion of the betterment of the people, they decided to step down. If they did contest and were selected, they could not have been made Alaafin while I was still alive.


You are a Christian who rose to become a Methodist Archbishop, before you voluntarily retired. One is curious that you vie for the Alaafin stool which has rich cultural and traditional practices some of which might be perceived as ‘unChristian’.

Apart from one Alaafin who was compelled to convert to Islam and was forced to wear the turban, traditionally, our family is traditional. If you find anybody in the Alaafin family now claiming to be Christian or Muslim, he is a convert. That is the historical fact. As to me and my relationship with Yoruba culture, I don’t want to overestimate myself but I can boldly say I have been a personification of Yoruba culture in all ramifications and I am open to a debate with any Yoruba man who can prove to me how and in what ways he has personified true, authentic Yoruba culture than I have. Why was I made the national chairman for the installation of the Aare OnaKakanfo of Yoruba land? Why have I been the co-founder, co-originator of Oranyan festival for 10 years unbroken? Why was I the coordinator of all religious activities in the palace involving Christians, Muslims and adherents of traditional religions? Why was I the one who offered facilities to bring artefacts from Ibadan museum to Oyo museum? The prejudices would remain where they are. My Christian background, for some people, is a problem because some people believe their community is a Muslim community and they do not believe change is the only unchangeable element of life. They do not give a chance to anybody who is not an adherent of a particular religion to be fit to rule over them. I was aware of that but I felt my people still believe in merit, quality service and that they are an appreciative people. Everything I have done for my community, I did it because God said 17, 18 years ago, ‘Go home and add value to your community.’ So, if the people choose to be appreciative, to show gratitude to God and to give me an opportunity to serve them better, in a higher position, all glory be to God. If not, if money wins over virtue, over value, over integrity, we will wait and see.


Was your decision to contest for the Alaafin stool based on your own conviction or you were urged on by some quarters?

The Yorubas have a saying that, ‘Eniti a koni ika to gba, o ti ni ika tie ninu.’ This translates roughly to, ‘if your heart is clean, it is difficult for anybody to pollute it.’ By right, I believe I have every right to ascend that throne. By virtue of my knowledge of the culture, of the economy, of the intricacies of governance, particularly of Oyo, I believe that I am eminently qualified to be a contestant. But then, when the Ladigbolu section of the Agunloye family nominated me, I felt justified that I did not push myself, though I knew I was qualified in every way to contest, but the stamp of authority of my family put upon that intention made the journey much easier for me. Immediately thereafter, there were others who were keenly interested, who knew who I was, who are hopeful of what I could be in the future as a king, who were clapping and encouraging me along the way. Also, the high, low and middle of our society, including traditional rulers, high ranking, topmost politicians, ordinary people, farmers, peasants, children have also wished me well.


Will you also be inheriting the wives of the late Alaafin if you emerge the next Alaafin?

The tradition is that every wife of the Alaafin is a depository of history, depository of culture. They have learnt a lot that the new king and his own retinue can learn from. From commonsense point of view, you don’t just come in there and drive them away; you wait, nurture them and tap from their rich resources before resettling them. It is not compulsory that you have to tie nuptial knots with them. Figuratively, to inherit is to take them over, accept responsibilities for them and resettle them to their new lives. That is part of Yoruba social responsibility lessons that the rest of the world may need to learn.


Though the present chieftaincy declaration recognizes Alowolodu and Agunloye as the two ruling houses to produce the Alaafin, there are agitations by those who also say they are sons of Atiba and should also be in the running to produce an Alaafin. What do you make of these agitations?

Our kith and kin of Atiba royal family are justified in their agitation because before 1958, it was open to all. But, I am not a lawyer and I don’t want to dabble into legal issues. I am sure it is a matter we can deal with but you cannot deal with such issues during an interregnum. You do not deal with such when a king is not on the throne. I will appeal to our kith and kin, all children of Atiba to maintain peace and wait. We are one family and will remain one family.

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