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OlLekan Balogun

The Olubaban controversy: Lessons for the future By Bolanle Bolawole

High Chief Lekan Balogun

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The elders say whatever tree the chimpanzee beats in the forest sounds like a drum. In like manner, whatever the Nigerian politician touches, he ruins. On August 27, 2017, the then governor of Oyo state, Abiola Ajimobi (now deceased) tinkered with the age-old Olubadan chieftaincy institution as he “promoted” 21 High Chiefs and Baales to crown- and coronet-wearing Obas. The principal aggrieved was the Olubadan, Oba Adetunji Saliu (who joined his ancestors in the morning of Sunday, January 2, 2022). The assumption is that many Ibadan sons and daughters also did not buy into the purported “modernization” of their respected and predictable mode of succession to the stool of the Olubadan. When Ajimobi failed to see reason, the Olubadan went to court; former Gov. Rashidi Ladoja, the Osi Olubadan, also approached the courts. The Otun Olubadan, High Chief Lekan Balogun, initially was said to have aligned with Ladoja but developed cold feet somewhere along the line, joined forces with Ajimobi and, together with the other newly-elevated Obas, collected his own crown! While some argued that the new development was a modernization effort by Ajimobi to erase the perceived “cheating” and “degrading” of Ibadan High Chiefs and Baales in the larger comity of traditional rulers, others countered that it was politically-motivated, aimed at settling political scores (especially with Ladoja, touted as Ajimobi’s political foe) as well as scoring cheap political goal of ramping up Ibadan support and votes during the 2019 governorship election.

One newspaper reported the tussle thus: The royal rumble in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, which has been on for four months, is yet to abate as the city is now being ruled traditionally from two seats of power. Since Gov. Abiola Ajimobi installed the new 21 kings on August 27, 2017, the residence of the Olubadan, His Imperial Majesty, Oba Saliu Adetunji, which is the palace of the Olubadan, has ceased to be the meeting venue for the city’s traditional institution. Adetunji’s former high chiefs, who have now been promoted to the status of full-fledged kings with beaded crowns, now meet at the ancient Mapo Hall as the official venue for the meeting of the Obas-in-Council. This is in line with the reviewed declaration. Expectedly, the Olubadan and High Chief Rashidi Ladoja, who are not comfortable with the review of the 1959 Olubadan Chieftaincy Declaration, have since stayed away from the new meeting venue… And in the absence of the Olubadan at the meeting, his second-in-command, His Royal Majesty, Oba Lekan Balogun, Otun Olubadan, took charge…

“When the Olubadan found that his opposition to the chieftaincy review…had been ignored, he took the legal option…Oba Adetunji wants the court to make four declarations and five orders. He wants the court to declare that for there to be an amendment to the 1959 Olubadan Chieftaincy Declaration, the chieftaincy committee proposing such amendment must be composed of recognised chiefs by virtue of the provisions of Section 5 (2) of the Chiefs Law of Oyo State 2000. The monarch also prays the court to declare that for there to be an amendment to the declaration, there must be in existence a chieftaincy committee set up in accordance with the provisions of the Chiefs Law of the state. He is challenging the governor that he lacks the power and authority to confer on anybody or person, including the fourth to the 24th defendants (in the suit), the right to wear beaded-crown and coronet in violation of the Chiefs Law Cap 28 Laws of Oyo State 2000.

“The Olubadan is seeking the court to declare that the elevation of the members of Olubadan-in-Council and the Baales to the rank or level of an Oba and their installation as kings entitled to wear beaded crowns and coronets by the governor without consultation with the Oyo State Council of Obas and Chiefs was done in error and, therefore, it is illegal, null and void under the Chiefs Law Cap 28 Laws of Oyo State. The monarch also prays the court to set aside the Gazettes 14 and 15 at Volume 42 of 23rd and 24th August, 2017, respectively made by the governor, which confer on the 4th to 24th defendants the right to wear beaded crowns and coronets, same being in breach, violation and in conflict with the provisions of the Chiefs Law Cap 28 Law of Oyo State 2000.

“Oba Adetunji also asks the court to set aside the installation of the new kings, an order of perpetual injunction restraining all the new kings from wearing beaded crowns or coronets and from parading themselves as beaded crown or coronet wearing Obas in Ibadanland. Also among the prayers of the king is a prayer that the court should grant him an order of perpetual injunction that will restrain Ajimobi, by himself or by any of his officials, servants or agents acting pursuant to his instructions, from initiating any process or taking any step towards intimidating, harassing, threatening, suspending, removing, deposing or taking any action whatsoever detrimental to the Olubadan personally or to his office as the Olubadan of Ibadanland, more particularly with respect to the crisis caused by the purported amendment to the declaration as contained in the gazette”.

The report ended by asking a rhetorical question: Many residents of Ibadan, especially the indigenes, are of the belief that the bitterness the new dispensation has generated among the traditional rulers in the city will take time to be healed. If the court rules in favour of the Olubadan or the defendants, many people think the cord of oneness which had hitherto bound the traditional institution together will remain broken for several years to come.” Quite prophetic because that is what we are witnessing today! Ajimobi and his party, APC, failed to impose their will on Oyo state during the 2019 governorship election as Seyi Makinde of the PDP trounced the APC candidate, Adebayo Adelabu, and that was the game changer. Being an Ibadan son himself, Makinde wanted a peaceful settlement of the imbroglio but a Terms of Agreement cobbled together as consent judgment deemed by many to have achieved this desire was later repudiated by the elevated High Chiefs who kicked against it and went on appeal in Suit No 1/22/2020 on grounds that their fundamental human rights were abridged as they alleged they were not party to the consensus agreement. The matter was still in court when Oba Adetunji joined his ancestors two weeks ago.

Before now, the Olubadan chieftaincy succession system was settled and above acrimony, unlike in many other places where ruling houses jostle one with the other and even within the favoured royal house, princes tackle one another for the throne. One other throne where succession is settled is that of Benin where the Crown Prince automatically succeeds the father. The simmering crisis within the Ibadan chieftaincy circle notwithstanding, all roads had begun to lead to the home of the Otun Olubadan, High Chief (or is it Oba?) Lekan Balogun when a one-time Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Oyo state, Michael Folorunso Lana, fired the first salvo. That was the first sign that all may not be well. A newspaper reported the spanners thrown in the works thus: Fresh controversy is now brewing on the appointment of a new Olubadan of Ibadanland as an Ibadan-based legal practitioner, Barrister Michael Folorunso Lana, has cautioned Gov. Seyi Makinde against rushing to approve the choice of the next Olubadan. Barrister Lana, in a three-page letter addressed to Makinde, asked the governor to, for now, withhold approval of any High Chief for the Olubadan stool…

“Lana stated that as at present, there are two court cases arising from the moves by the immediate past governor of the state, late Senator Abiola Ajimobi, to review the long-existing Ibadan chieftaincy laws, saying, ‘it is in line with this legal situation that I advise, most humbly, that you withhold any approval of any High Chief to become the Olubadan so that you will not also join in the desecration of Ibadan Chieftaincy Customary law. Secondly, may I humbly draw your attention to a traditional aberration and illegality that may occur in an attempt to install another Olubadan of Ibadanland, in view of the existence of Suit No.22/2020 HRM OBA (SENATOR) LEKAN BALOGUN & ORS V GOVERNOR OF OYO STATE & ORS…There are only two ways to deal with this situation: one is for the High Chiefs to withdraw the aforementioned cases and the other is to wait for the court to pronounce on it before any step is taken to install an Olubadan. If the court holds that they have the right to be Obas and (are) entitled to wear beaded crowns, then, they are perpetually barred from becoming another Oba. Nowhere in the customary law of any Yoruba town is an Oba elevated to become another Oba. If, on the other hand, the court holds that the Terms of Settlement stands, and their Obaship title is illegal, then, they are free to be elevated to the post of Olubadan.”

That appears to be where the matter now stands – if nothing complicates it again. The “Ajimobi Obas” have seen reason and have reportedly dropped the Greek gift they collected from Ajimobi. We must applaud Gov. Makinde who gave them the opportunity of a soft-landing, which has enabled them to retrace their footsteps. By thumbing their nose at the Terms of Agreement cobbled together at the instance of Makinde, they poke their fingers in the governor’s face; incidentally, the governor is the approving authority before there can be a new Olubadan. That is not wisdom! We must as well appreciate the magnanimity of Ladoja who neither rubbed it in (because his position on this matter all along has now been vindicated) nor leveraged on his close relationship with Makinde (he is touted as a very close ally or even the governor’s godfather) to snatch the throne from Lekan Balogun. Some other folks will rub it in and go for it, as they say. There is wisdom, however, in Ladoja awaiting his own rightful turn – if it is the will of God. But long may the king reign!

Writing in my TREASURES column in the New Telegraph newspaper of Wednesday, January 12, 2022 titled “2023: Now that Tinubu will run”), I had said: Only a fool will try to diminish an office to which he is aspiring – although there are many such fools around these days.” Apart from Ladoja, the way the “rebellious” Ibadan High Chiefs treated the late Olubadan, a stool they are all in queue to ascend, does not demonstrate deep thinking. They were so hasty to collect a crown that they threw caution to the winds. With High Chiefs acting this way, what do we expect of lesser mortals? For, as they say, if gold rusts, what will iron do? Certainly, “awon agbalagba to n fi ikanju oun okanjuwa la obe gbigbona” must give cause for concern. Now, not only their fingers but their tongue, throat and esophagus suffer the consequences! Food for thought!

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