Oba Akiolu, the mob and failure of protocol
The encounter between Oba Rilwan Aremu Okikiolu Akiolu, the Oba of Lagos and Oba Adeyeye Enitan Oguwusi, the Ooni of Ile-Ife again brings to fore, the naivety and intellectual innocence of the present generation of Nigerians as every mouth that could speak went into motion to condemn the Oba of Lagos using unprintable words and languages that are devoid of decorum against the whole of the traditional institutions in Lagos State. Some contributors to the discourse threw finesse to the wind by insulting not only the stool but also the entire natives of Lagos State. I need not re-emphasize that the well from which most of them quench their thirst daily in Lagos State was dug by the occupiers of that office.
I have known Oba Akiolu for ages as a blunt, frank and straight forward individual. If there is anything that is not lacking in the character of the revered Oba, it is the fact that you know where he stands on all issues, as he does not hide behind a finger. In Yoruba land, this is the position that the society expects to find its leaders.
On the other hand, the young, ebullient and intelligent Oni of Ife, Oba Oguwusi, in this few years that he ascended the throne has shown that he means well for the people of Ile Ife in particular and the Yoruba race in general. His promotion of the Yoruba culture and his quest to unite the race and her institutions justify his position as the Arole Oduduwa.
The issues that cumulated in the brouhaha are clearly the consequence of history, the lacuna in protocol and administrative gaps in the two palaces. We should reserve the fact of history to the later part of this writing. However, the issue of protocol and administrative guiding of the Royal Fathers in Yoruba land is being handled with levity as they are treated as secondary in the life of the Oba. Gone are the days when the Oba had his retinue of protocols that guided his conduct and public utterances.
As an example, the Oba in Yoruba Land is not expected to go about shaking hands or hugging people. Protocol requires that he goes straight to his seat and waves his Irukere (horse tail) to his friends and subjects. Anyone conversant with the structures and arrangement of the palace in Yoruba land should understand that an Oba rarely renders voice greetings to his guests or visitors to the palace. He is either shaking the Irukere to welcome the visitor or talking in such a low voice while the palace megaphone (the Akigbe) would say “Oba nki e”. “Oba niki e ma woile, ki e maarora “- literally meaning “ the Oba welcomes you, the King urges you to move cautiously.” If the Oni of Ife had been robbed by his protocol, the conflict between him and the Oba of Lagos would have been avoided.
The Lagos palace is bedeviled by the same protocol breech and inadequacies. During the last election, the Igbo in Lagos went for the jugular of the Oba of Lagos for an utterance that no one till today can verify as emanating from the palace. All manner of individuals went on social media to pour venom on the Oba and the Lagos traditional institution. While this lasted, there was no intelligent management of this crisis from the palace. The ridiculous and unguided utterances of the Igbo during this period did not go unnoticed but those who should talk in Lagos remained quiet to douse the tension in an already overcharged environment. This was during the 2015 election.
The same situation is replaying itself in the current controversy between the two respected Royal fathers. IgaIdungaran is blessed with Human Resources that could protect the institution that it represents. The Oba of Lagos should as a matter of urgency put a full and responsive protocol in place to guide against future occurrence. Oba Akiolu should realise that the Lagos stool is a big institution. Very big indeed to the extent that it is older than many cities in South West Nigeria, including Ibadan, Abeokuta and many renowned Yoruba settlements and therefore, there must be a way to ward-off insults to the throne through the employment of good crisis managers. For example, timely and prompt press releases would have quenched the ember of hatred and discontent usually played on by the detractors of the palace.
Interestingly, the current controversy seems to be removing a cover from the casket of history. The Oba of Lagos does not and has never derived his power directly from Ile Ife as IgaIdungaran is more an offshoot of the Benin dynasty rather than Ile-Ife. The Benin Kingdom has never agreed that it was mid-wived by Oduduwa. In fact, the Benin continues to resonate it to the world that Oduduwa, the father of the Yoruba left Benin for Ile-Ife. While one will not agree with this position as it stands history on its head, we cannot deny the fact that the contest of superiority is a pandora box that should remain sealed if peace must reign. If, as the Benin have always claimed, Oduduwa left Benin to found the Ile-Ife Kingdom, then Oba Akiolu cannot be tied to the apron of the Yoruba Empire through the linage of Oduduwa. This is the fact of history that the noise makers in the social media who are mostly young people and whose understanding of tradition is very limited have refused to acknowledge.
For the respected Oba Oguwusi, there is need to rework the protocol of the palace in Ile-Ife. The move for peace that has become a major manifesto of Ile -Ife through her young dynamic Oba would receive constant jolt in the absence of able and competent protocol because only God knows the situation that would play itself out when Oni of Ife, Alafin of Oyo, Oba of Benin, Oba of Lagos, Olugbo of Ugbo and many others royal fathers meet in the same auditorium.
I was at an annual lecture delivered by the Ooni of Ife at the University of Lagos. The lecture which was delivered off-hand was good but it could have been a lot better if the Oba had spoken through a script. This is the work of his protocol. The Oni by now should have a chapel in or around his palace, if he doesn’t have one already. An Oba of his caliber should not be preaching in the church because his office places some limitations on his daily conduct and routine. His acceptance of the grandeur of God does not come through rhetorics and sermons but through the cleanliness of the inner recess of his mind. While his decision to be a Christian cannot be questioned, the stool on which he is sitting today had its own religious antecedent and its occupants must worship Eledunmare. How some Yoruba Oba who claimed to be born again Christians and Muslims manage to blend between these religions and Ifa remains a subject of research but their leaning and belief should not interfere with the traditional institution. You cannot eat your cake and have it.
Anyone who wants to preserve tradition cannot be seen as violating it. While one can forgive the innocent contributions on social media, it must be mentioned that insults to the traditional stool of Lagos is most unacceptable. People can make their points without insulting the institution realising that where the freedom of an individual ends is where the freedom of another person begins.
• Prof. Ojikutu is of the Faculty of Business Administration, University of Lagos.