On Thursday, October 2, 2014, I was in the ancient town of Ile-Ife to attend the wake keep of Olori Beatrice Omosigho Adedapo Aderemi, the wife of late Prince Adedapo Morounfolu Aderemi, the first son of the late Ooni of Ife, the revered Sir Adesoji Aderemi. Prince Adedapo died in October 1963 at the young age of 39.
After the wake keep which held at the Aderemi’s family house, popularly known as Glass House in Ile-Ife, I drove to Oja Ife (Ife Market or Oba Market) located some walking distance from the palace of the Ooni of Ife. I went there just to fraternise with Bunmi Adegoke, my childhood friend and old school mate, who retired from Union Bank as a Manager some years back and now into a distribution business. Few years ago, he bagged the traditional title of Sooko, which literally stands for the head of a branch of a ruling house in Ife. Sooko Bunmi Adegoke is from the Lafogido Ruling House in Ife. Altogether, there are more than 40 Sookos in Ife.
That evening, as if I had premonition of what could happen, I had casually asked Sooko Bunmi if at all there was anybody or prince known to the Ife people, who could immediately ascend the throne of the Ooni in case of the eventuality of the reigning Ooni at the time, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, suddenly joining his ancestors. Sooko Bunmi said there was no such person in sight at that time. And like a soothsayer, I jokingly told him that they had better started planning for that because Oba Sijuwade was getting older by the day and was also getting visibly weaker. His reply to this was that if the throne becomes vacant and the chances are good, he could as well go for it.
‘One thing to note is that the stool of the Ooni is a very important position. It is so great that it is not something that should be trivialised or ridiculed for any reason whatsoever’
About nine months and 26 days later, specifically in the evening of July 28, 2015, the unexpected happened. Oba Sijuwade suddenly joined his ancestors. While the remains of the late Ooni were yet to be interred, the jostling to succeed him started in earnest. Almost everybody who had the privilege of the prefix “Prince” attached to his name in the ancient town became interested in stepping unto the vacant stool. As more and more people – the good, the bad, the flotsam and jetsam – signified their intention to contest for the vacant stool as if it was one political office open to all manner of people, so also was tension rising in the town.
It was in an attempt to douse the rising tension that the state governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, reached out to the Ife Traditional Council members and invited them to a meeting at the governor’s office, Oshogbo, on Friday, September 11, 2015. The meeting was held behind closed doors with the governor leading 4 other government officials. The Ife Traditional Council was represented by 13 Chiefs out of the 16 that make up the council.
At the meeting, the governor made it known to the kingmakers that he did not know the process of installing the Ooni and he had nobody as candidate to fill the vacant stool. He said that all he wanted was peace in the ancient town and that the kingmakers should map out strategies to reduce or stop the growing tension in the town. The governor emphasised that he does not want any problem in Ife as far as the installation process is concerned and appealed to the Kingmakers to quickly announce the next ruling house so as to douse the tension which the various security reports from the ancient town had indicated.
J.O. Ijaodola, the Lowa-Adimula of Ife, made it clear that Ife has a subsisting gazette to install the Ooni and that there are four ruling houses in Ife, namely: Osinkola Ruling House, Ogboru Ruling House, Giesi Ruling House and Lafogido Ruling House. Oba S.F. Omisakin, the Obalufe of Iremo Quarters and the traditional Prime Minister of Ife, took over from there. He said Ile-Ife has laid-down procedures for installing an Ooni and it is very straight forward. According to him, the installation process and selection for the stool of the Ooni is quite different from that of any of the other obas in Yorubaland and that the Kingmakers would endeavour to choose or select the right candidate.
The governor then asked the representative from the state judiciary to read the registered gazette relating to the filling of the Ooni’s stool. From the official gazette, it was clear that there are four ruling houses in Ife as stated above. His Imperial Majesty, Oba Adesoji Tadeniawo Aderemi was from Osinkola Ruling House, while His Imperial Majesty, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II, was from Ogboru Ruling House. In turn, the next Ruling House to occupy the throne is Giesi Ruling House. The meeting was then brought to an end.
As a follow-up, on Monday, September 14, 2015, the Ife Traditional Council, held a press conference in Ife and officially announced that it was the turn of the Giesi House to produce the Ooni of Ife. But if the governor and the kingmakers thought that the announcement would douse the raging tension in the ancient town, they were mistaken. As soon as the anouncement was made, the Lafogido Ruling House headed to court to challenge the pronouncement. They got an injunction restraining the kingmakers, the Giesi Ruling House and the governor from going ahead with the process of filling the vacant stool of the Ooni.
That morning, I spoke with Sooko Bunmi on the need to respect the kingmakers’ judgment concerning the succession process but he was unperturbed. Little did I know that he was the number one name on the list of the plaintiffs that instituted the court action. Anyway, I believe Sooko Bunmi and his co-travelers are just exercising their fundamental rights to justice and fair play (if any).
The real fireworks have since commenced but it may end up as an exercise in futility. This is because there is a principle of rotation in place in the succession process to the Ooni’s stool. This process has passed through series of litmus tests culminating in several commissions of enquiry in the past. From the look of things, there seems to be an undue desperation in the attempts by some of the Princes in the ancient town to become the next Ooni and they will stop at nothing, including tinkering with history, to achieve this.
Even in the Giesi Ruling House that has been pronounced as the next in line for the Ooni’s stool, the crowd of aspirants to the throne is unnecessarily unwieldy and untidy. They include two brothers of the same father where the younger one who is expected to step down for the older one as tradition demands, is being goaded on by their father who should know better. Not only this. The younger one has so much commercialized the whole process by doling out money, transformers and tarring roads in the ancient town in order to gain undue attention and advantage. This nauseating attitude has become too irritating to many Ife Indigenes who are now saying that the Ooni’s stool cannot be for sale to the highest bidder.
One thing to note is that the stool of the Ooni is a very important position. It is so great that it is not something that should be trivialised or ridiculed for any reason whatsoever. It is a traditional stool that commands respect and has endured for centuries. We are not talking about the Ooni of Ife alone; we are talking about the Ooni of the Yoruba race. Therefore, what is required is an Ooni with undiluted passion, the right vision and mission to develop Ife and the entire Yoruba race. Certainly, not any form of abracadabra!