‘This is against our communal tradition’
. Obaship tussle tears Ayetoro people, religion apart
RESIDENTS and indigenes of Ayetoro Community in Ilaje Local Council of Ondo State have cried out to the state government to come to their rescue to save their community from recurrent sea surge and incursion into their custom and tradition, which they described as the spirit behind their existence as a people.
Sabbath, which is traditionally a sacred day when Christians attend church services and attend other religious functions, has turned sour in the case of the ancient town, where the 68-year-old Holy Apostles Church, for the first time, has been placed under heavy key and lock over protracted communal crises that have lasted over six months.
Ayetoro, a coastal community about 160 kilometres from the Eastern part of Lagos, stretching between Ugbo and Igbokoda, the headquarters of Ilaje Local Council of Ondo State, has been plunged into deep crises over the rejection of Ambassador Olaseni Ajijo by the people as the sixth spiritual head and king of the community.
The ancient town is a movement of the celestial order, whose administration and organisation since its creation on January 12, 1947 is based on theocratic system of government that makes the Oba of the community also the head of the church, as laid down from the first Ogeleyinbo, Oba Peter Ojagbohunmi, who reigned from 1949 till date.
Ayetoro, the land of the Apostles and City of Saints, as fondly called by the folks, became a refuge and a place of comfort for those oppressed by the society. The mother of the oldest twins in Ilaje land was offered refuge in 1945, the movement also saved the twins of an Olugbo, whose twins were spared because of the crusade against their ostracisation and prohibition by custom.
A youth leader of the community, Aralu Emmanuel, told The Guardian that each day opened with worship in the church or in the palace courtyard which is the abode of the king and spiritual head, celebrated with communion meal and after each day’s work on the sea or wherever, it ended with the same routine; making the church a strong symbol of unity and identity among the people.
Crises started brewing since the death of the last king, Oba Gard Asogbon, the fifth Ogeleyinbo of Ayetoro community who joined his ancestors on February 12, 2015 and it filtered around town that Ajijo was the Ogeleyinbo-elect. The crises climaxed when an incident occurred in the church, as gathered by The Guardian, when an elder preached in the church and some people felt slighted by the sermon.
Consequently, some youths numbering 31 were reportedly arrested in the community by Ajijo, whom a source revealed his ascension to the title of Ogeleyinbo was marred with tricks, skirmishes and collusions among the few, contrary to the custom and succession rites of the religious community.
Another source who spoke with The Guardian on anonymity request revealed that the youths were detained at the Divisional Police Station, Igbokoda and bailed with a fine of N480, 000 thereafter. This resulted in a rife among the people, who mainly criticized the act of Ajijo as a breach on the communal ties of the people, an affront and a bare display of affluence and wealth to oppress the people.
Hence the crisis started in the church and there was an order from the police that the Holy Apostolic Church, the only church in the community, be placed under lock and restrained from any religious activities in order to maintain peace and avert crisis in the community.
It was gathered that the other warring faction, which consists mainly of the learned and well-travelled indigenes of the community convened a three-day national conference of all Ayetoro indigenes at home and in the Diaspora, which started on August 6.
Indigenes said to the amazement of the entire community, there was an intimidating influx of military and security operatives armed with machine guns and other sophisticated weapons to the community on the second day, and within the twinkling of an eyelid, a section of the people mainly identified as Ajijo’s supporters gathered at the old palace and crowned him as king.
Olaseni Ajijo was a diplomat to the African Development Bank (AFDB) In Abidjan, but has fallen short of the people’s favour and lost popularity. They accused him and some others who are regarded as the elite as a big threat to the fundamental principles and culture of the town.
The youths and elders in the community, with an uncommon bond, united against Ajijo and other educated indigenes: the bourgeoisies, whom they accused of neglecting the community despite the communal efforts fostered to train them through all stages of their education, even as far as overseas.
They barred him from entering the three-storey building palace, which is first of its kind in the country to be built by communal effort in 1961, clamouring that his coronation was an aberration since their king is customarily crowned inside the church and not in the palace.
An indigene, Ikuyelori Isaac, remarked that the indifference of the successful sons and daughters in Diaspora has brought untold hardship on the people and threatened their existence as a people due to the continued threat to their lives and threat by the ravaging ocean surge.
He lamented the negative effect on the church, which is their spiritual strength and last resort. He noted that the recent incursion that destroyed properties worth millions of naira and washed a considerable part of their shores on September 1, would have been averted if the church had not been closed down and the prophet, Olorunmbe Ojagbohunmi, was still around to stem the incursion spiritually.
The Mother-in-Israel of the Holy Apostles Church, Flora Ojogbon, 84, who was revered as one of the people who followed the first king to establish the community, decried the ascension of Ajijo to the throne of Ogeleyinbo, declaring that there was never a time in history when the people had Ogeleyinbo-elect.
The octogenarian, who is also a member of the “Igharafa,” the Spiritual Majesty-in-Council that consists of six apostles and aids the king on administrative matters, attested to the fact that the succession rite to the throne of the Ogeleyinbo is spirituall- bound and not by selection or imposition.
Another elder in the community, Lawrence Lemamu, 68, remarked in tandem with Joshua Bankole, who was identified as a close aide to the third Ogeleyinbo, late Oba Charles Akinluwa (1966-1992). He also pointed out that the community has never had a king who was not a prophet.
“I can surrender my wife, children and entire family but will never sell out my community and the tradition of my people for anything: even if it leads to war,” said Bankole, the indigene who was renowned for his intercontinental voyage and expertise in the construction of the legendary Western Explorer vessel in the mid 1960s.
They accused Ajijo of bringing security operatives to the community that does not have single police unit let alone arresting one another, but rely on the internal harmony and peaceful coexistence that has been the fundamental lifestyle of the people in the whole of Ilaje land.
Attempts to reach Ajijo proved abortive as the youths mounted great barricades against movement to the Saw-Mill, the former industrial site which they said Ajijo has converted to his palace since the August 7 enthronement as the embattled sixth Ogeleyinbo of the community.
However, a close relative who craved anonymity, told The Guardian on phone said it was a new order in the community where the people have to embrace civilisation and develop at the same pace with other neighbouring kingdoms. He was optimistic that the crisis would soon be resolved.