Ajimobi’s controversial ‘restructuring’ at Ibadan

Ajimobi’s controversial ‘restructuring’ at Ibadan

Monday, September 4, 2017 12:52 pm

Governor Abiola Ajimobi presenting staff of office and certificate to Ekerin Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Abiodun Kola-Daisi

Olubadan Saliu Adetunji

By Bolanle Bolawole

Ibadan, running splash of rust and gold; flung and scattered among seven hills; like broken china in the sun. – John Pepper Clark

Clark’s poem on Ibadan, short as it is, speaks volumes. “Appreciating” it brings out hidden meanings. “Running splash of rust and gold” speaks of the intertwining of the ancient and modern. Ibadan is an ancient city and sections of it attest to this with its weather-beaten and time-honoured architecture. Yet, it is also a modern city, the capital of the old Western Region where the government of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, held court and performed the feat of many firsts; such as the first television station in Africa; beating even some European countries to it; Cocoa House, the tallest building in Africa of its time; the Liberty Stadium, to mention but a few.

So, the ancient city of Ibadan had – and still has – its fair measure of modernity. Both the old/traditional (rust/gold) and the new/modern co-exist in what Clark describes as “running” and “splashing”. Splash mud or water, especially so a “running” one, and witness it register its presence far and near. Ibadan is vast; it is the largest city in West Africa and the third largest in the entire African continent. It is “flung” as when David flung his catapult against Goliath, and “scattered” far and wide, up to and amongst seven hills. Hills served protective needs in those days of internecine and tribal warfare. Ibadan, no doubt, was a city of war-like people; the home of Bashorun Ogunmola, among others. Even though those were the days when photography had not taken roots here, the picture of Ibadan is graphically painted in our mind’s eyes by the simile aptly employed by Clark: “like broken china in the Sun”

Bola Bolawole

This is the Ibadan that is on the boil today as a result of a well-meaning (?) attempt by Gov. Isiaka Ajimobi, himself an Ibadan indigene, to modernise the traditional institution in line with, as they say, modern dictates. In so doing, however, he woke up the sleeping dog or stepped, as it were, on the tiger’s tail. Ibadan will not remain the same again; especially with the Olubadan seeing this particular Ajimobi’s modernisation effort as personal affront and desecration of Ibadan’s traditional institution. Not helping matters is the fact that politics, if it was not at the root of the matter have since seeped into it; what with Ajimobi’s determination to rail-road his modernization project as well as the strident opposition to it by a politician like Chief Rasheed Ladoja, ex-governor of the state and leader of the Accord Party! Ladoja is also the Osi Olubadan, which means he is the third in the succession line. Ladoja and Ajimobi belong in opposing political parties.

In the 2015 governorship elections, Ajimobi technically floored Ladoja and another ex-governor of the state, Christopher Alao-Akala, but the combined votes of Ladoja and Alao-Akala’s dwarfed Ajimobi’s; meaning that the governor was elected with “minority” votes, so to say. Had Ladoja and Alao-Akala combined forces, the likelihood is they would have denied Ajimobi the opportunity of making history as the first Oyo state governor to win a second consecutive term in office. But those are the ways of politics; it played out similarly in Ondo state where then Gov. Olusegun Mimiko won second term in office on the wings of minority votes, his two main opponents, Rotimi Akeredolu (now governor of the state) and Olusola Oke (who has now twice failed), fought to scatter, thereby gifting Mimiko the crown. Ibadan’s political configuration is especially dicey because in the 2015 governorship election, Ladoja won in most of Ibadan’s 11 local governments, trouncing Ajimobi to the bargain. So, Ladoja can technically be referred to as the new “strongman of Ibadan politics”, stepping into the shoes vacated by the late Lamidi Adedibu, even though both differ significantly in leadership style.

Every one ought to be eligible to contest the throne of the land of his birth. That is the distinctive character, beauty, and quality of the Ibadan traditional system. It is, perhaps, the only such democratic traditional institution all over the world. Let it not be that we are surreptitiously on the road to destroying that. Rather than destroy or desecrate our unique contributions to civilization, like the Olubadan alleges, we should celebrate and strengthen such traditions, customs, and institutions.

According to some reports, Ajimobi had envisaged that the “restructuring” move would go down well and thereby endear him to Ibadan – and truly, it has but only with a section of it. The “new Obas” created by Ajimobi have bought into the project. After all, close as anyone of them may be to the throne, none is sure of ascending to the throne due to the distinctive “Oba ku, Oba je” (turn-by-turn) age-old rotational system of the Olubadan stool. So, for them, half bread is better than none and a bird in hand is worth more than two in the bush. They now wear beaded crowns, thanks to Ajimobi, and can be addressed as “Kabiyesi”, even if “lesser Kabiyesi” who still have their eyes riveted on the Olubadan stool. So, the Chiefs of the Olubadan who are now elevated to the position of Obas and who, after initially opposing the ‘modernisation’ later turned round to welcome and embrace it after they had been “properly briefed”, were motivated by their own self interests.

It has been argued by the Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes (CCII), made up of prominent Ibadan indigenes, that the vast majority of Ibadan citizens support the Ajimobi “restructuring” of Ibadan traditional stool; this is yet to be proved or disproved. The withering effect the late Chief Bola Ige’s caustic tongue had on this same Ibadan notables decades ago, in his famous “Who neglected Ibadan?” dressing-down, has still not let me accord much weight to their voice. A referendum for or against ought to have been conducted before the restructuring. The Olubadan insisted he was not consulted until Ajimobi was half-way into his restructuring exercise; therefore, the consultation was a mere after-thought or just fulfilling all righteousness. The way the Ajimobi government picked and chose what recommendations of the Justice Boade commission to accept or reject also leaves sour tastes in the mouth of many. It is not too hard to see that government appeared to have made up its mind from the word “go” to railroad its modernisation project.

Of all the reasons adduced for the restructuring, the one I found most agreeable is the one that says this is not the first time the Olubadan stool would be subject to modernisation. History teaches that the Olubadan used to be called “Baale” and that he did not wear beaded crown. I remember that controversies raged when the Olubadan (Oba Adebimpe or who?) began to wear beaded crown decades ago. When we begin to tamper with traditions and customs, there is no knowing how far down the road we would go as time passes by. Ordinarily, the Olubadan succession system is the most democratic it can get; any of the indigenous families in Ibadan have equal rights and opportunities to ascend to the throne. There is no so-called “blue blood” or royal houses, which someone has argued is discriminatory and offends Section 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic. Every one ought to be eligible to contest the throne of the land of his birth. That is the distinctive character, beauty, and quality of the Ibadan traditional system. It is, perhaps, the only such democratic traditional institution all over the world. Let it not be that we are surreptitiously on the road to destroying that. Rather than destroy or desecrate our unique contributions to civilization, like the Olubadan alleges, we should celebrate and strengthen such traditions, customs, and institutions.

What prestige do we want to accord the Olubadan chiefs who have now been made “warrant Obas”, as was done by the British colonial masters in Igbo land during colonial times? The new Obas are, at best, Janus-faced; they are “Obas” and at the same time remain chiefs of the Olubadan. The nomenclature is as confusing as it is contradictory – and it raises more questions than it has answered. Like a sovereign country, can we possibly have Obas without clearly defined territories and easily identifiable subjects? Since the Ajimobi “Obas” still remain chiefs of the Olubadan, how would they relate seamlessly with an Olubadan who has minced no words in rejecting the Ajimobi contraption? Will the Ajimobi “Obas” attend meetings at the Olubadan’s palace; if so, as what: As “Obas” in their own rights or still as chiefs of the Olubadan? Will they wear their beaded crown or ordinary cap to the Olubadan’s palace? Will they prostrate to greet the Olubadan or stretch out their hands in a handshake?

Obas generally hold court: Will the Ajimobi “Obas” do similarly? Will they have palaces replete with their own chiefs and court jesters? Can they appoint chiefs? This confusion is needless. In other climes, we see how ancient landmarks, traditions and customs dating back centuries are diligently maintained. Here, we pull down old buildings that tell stories so as to construct new ones that are bland. We whimsically destroy customs and traditions that are as old as our very existence just to score cheap political points or out of crass ignorance and half-baked ideas dangling in the air. So sad; very sad!

Unfortunately, both sides of the divide appear to have gone too far to be able to retrace their steps on this issue. The protagonists will have to be leaders of leaders; men of uncommon modesty; and of unparalleled humility to do so. Ego is involved already. Political destinies are also at stake. Not only have the battle lines been drawn, the combatants appeared to have crossed the Rubicon.

There will be victims. There will be victors and vanquished: Who these will be, only time can tell!

Your epistle on hate speech and President Muhammadu Buhari was heart-rending. It makes one sick to the bone. The catalogue of the Administration’s many foibles, maladministration, power abuse, and gross incompetence should be a source of worry to the APC-led government and all compatriots being negatively affected by the Buhari government. There is nothing cheery about this administration, which the electorate voted for overwhelmingly, with the hope that things would turn around for the better. Personally, it is a big regret for me because I was one of the “mumus” who was deceived by APC’s false promises made in 2015. As a nation, it will be foolhardy for us to continue along this path of destruction and arrested development due to bad leadership and governance. – Yacoob Abiodun, USA. 

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