Erring on the law to fill Ooni stool (1)

The palace gate in Ile-Ife

The palace gate in Ile-Ife

THE filling of the vacant stool of an Ooni of Ife is not a local affair as it may seem but has national and international ramifications. Considering the attraction of the office of Ooni of Ife and the growing number of eminent princes who are reported to have thrown their hats into the ring [45 so far and still counting], it is important that those who are saddled with the responsibilities to fill the vacant stool should be extra careful not to precipitate avoidable chieftaincy dispute. In Akande v Adisa [2012]15 NWLR Pt 1324 at 538, the Supreme Court reinforced the need for orderliness in chieftaincy matters thus: “It should not be left open like a wild fire which knows no limit or bound. If chieftaincy stools should be left to chances, a day would come when only the strongest man or the most influential, will grab everything into his palms. That certainly will pose danger, anarchy and destabilisation to the throne. It shall cease to be monarchical but autocratic. It will engender jungle justice. People will be subjected to fear, intimidation and subservience.”

Basically, there is tension between a faction that claims that there exists an order of rotation among the ruling houses and those advocating an open contest among the princes from all the ruling houses. Prince Peter Ade Ogunleye from the Giesi ruling house in one of his recent interviews had said: “There are four ruling houses in Ile-Ife and the four houses are Giesi, Lafogido, Osinkola and Ogboru… The order of ascendancy remains the same. After the Ogboru ruling house where Oba Sijuwade hailed from, it is the Giesi ruling house. So, it is the turn of my family to produce the next Ooni of Ife.” He concluded on a note of optimism that “the present administration in Osun State will not breach any provision of the law. The present government in Osun respects the law and won’t break it for any reason.”

Prince Adetoowo Aderemi, in a recent interview published on pages 40-41 of Saturday Sun of August 29, 2015 however differed and warned of an imminent litigation if things are not done properly. According to him: “Until certain rites are completed and until enough consultations have been completed, you will only have litigations if appropriate things are not done. I am expecting serious litigations this time around if they don’t allow every prince to take part in the process. You cannot assume it to anybody (sic!), you cannot even just zone it…”

This intervention attempts to interrogate the legal aspects and/or requirements of filling the vacant stool of the Oni of Ife with a view to guiding various persons and institutions that have responsibilities under the law to err on the side of the rule of law. The filling of a vacant stool of Oni is governed by:

(i) the Chiefs Law Cap 25 Laws of Osun State, 2002
(ii) the Declaration of 1980 made under Section 4(2) of the Chief Law
(iii) judicial decisions and
(iv) native law and customs of Ile-Ife

Before the establishment of a statutory framework for the appointment of chiefs in the old Western Region, native law and customs exclusively governed the matter. According to oral history, the kingmakers of each community will consult the official Ifa priest who through divination picks the successor to the throne.

In some communities, Ifa Oracle may decree that even a total “stranger” should be appointed a king as played out in the late Prof. Ola Rotimi’s The gods are not to blame (an adaptation of the Greek classic Oedipus Rex), where Odewale a “Stranger” became the King of the Kingdom of Kutuje.

It bears mentioning however that where the customs are inconsistent with the express provisions of the Chiefs Law and Declaration, such customs will be null and void to the extent of its inconsistency.

With the advent of the colonial rule, a statutory framework was provided for the appointment of chiefs which gave the colonial government the power to approve or disapprove the appointment made by the kingmakers and depose any erring chief. Following the establishment of modern court system, cases on chieftaincy matters were referred to the courts for judicial adjudication.

In order to avoid the problem of calling evidence each time a particular native law or custom needs to be established in relation to chieftaincy matters in the former Western Region of Nigeria, an attempt was made to codify the relevant customary laws and traditions of the relevant people vide Chieftaincy Declarations. Chieftaincy Declarations are made pursuant to the relevant Chiefs Law in force in the Region. The Chiefs Law contained the procedure for making Chieftaincy Declaration that will culminate in the approval of the Declaration by the Governor and the registration of the Declaration. No declaration shall come into effect until it is registered pursuant to the relevant Chieftaincy Law in force in such state.

In Mafimisebi v Ehuwa [2007]2 NWLR (Pt 1018) at 392, the Supreme Court expressly stated that where there is a validly registered chieftaincy declaration, the matter therein is deemed to be the customary law regulating the selection of a person to be the holder of the recognised chieftaincy.

•To be continued tomorrow

Dr. Sanni teaches law at the University of Lagos.

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