Who Becomes The Next Ooni Of Ife?
As the race to the stool of Ooni of Ife becomes more keen and tense, AJIBOLA AMZAT visits the ancient city of Ile-Ife to capture the politics and the anxiety that surround the succession process.
The ancient city of Ile-Ife, Osun state is calm on Tuesday afternoon September 22. Except for the hoot of automobiles plying major roads that are too narrow, and the humming of human mass that mills around the market areas, the rest of the city is quiet.
Here, people talk to each other across the streets without straining their ears. Someone could call out to another from the house a distance away with little effort. In this quiet city, it is unlikely to miss the sound of a wailing infants the nextdoor, or any strange noise for that matter. Ife is a close-knit community where news travel even faster than it does in Lagos, the news hub of the nation.
Presently, the news in town is about who becomes the next Ooni of Ife. The last Ooni, Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II died in July 28 at Saint Mary Hospital London at the age of 85. His remains has been interred according to Ife tradition. Since then, the main gate to the palace has been closed. It will remain so until the new Ooni is crowned. That is the tradition. Give or take, the gate will become open again in October. The Ife Royal Tradition Council has set a deadline of 42 days, which started two weeks ago when the state government through the state Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs initiated the succession process.
As at Tuesday evening, forty candidates have been screened by Giesi Ruling House according to a member of the committee.
Giesi House whose turn it is to produce the next Ooni is constituted by eight units namely Agbedegbede, Moliki, Wanikin, Ojaja, Deboolu, Idu Ladere, Ila Osun, and Luugba.
In matters of days, the list of successful candidates will be forwarded to the 16- member kingmakers headed by Obalufe and Lowa the highest ranking chiefs who represent both the right and the left sides of the Ooni respectively.
But while the Giesi Ruling House is busy conducting the screening exercise for the contending candidates, Lafogido, another ruling housing has headed to the court to contest the endorsement of Giesi by the kingmakers.
Sookoo Adeleke Adewoyin, head of Sooko of Lafogido Ruling House and a former deputy governor of Osun State said at a press briefing recently held at Osogbo that the process adopted by the state government and kingmakers to select Giesi Ruling House was “alien to Ife”.
According to him, Ife originally had two ruling houses, which comprises of Lafogido and Lajodogun. The two were the children of Lajamisan. Osikola, Ogboru and Giesi are splits of Lajodogun Ruling House, while Lafogido remain one. Lajodogun has produced four Ooni in a space of 121 years while Lafogido has only produced one.
He stated that, the Ooni Olubuse I who reigned between 1894-1910 was produced by Ogboru/Lajodogun; Ooni elect, Adekola 1910-1910 was produced by Osinkola/Ladojogun; Ooni Ademiluyi Ajagun 1910-1930 was from Lafogido; Ooni Adesoji Aderemi from 1930-1980 was Osinkola /Ladojogun and the late Ooni Sijuwade Olubuse II was produced by Ogoru Ladojogun.
From this account, he argued that the rulership of Ife kingdom from the modern time, which commenced, with the reign of Ooni Lajamisan has been dominated by Lajodogun Ruling House to the disadvantage of Lafogido. The family therefore wants the court to correct the injustice.
Not many stakeholders in the town are persuaded by this argument because 1957 and 1980 Ife chieftaincy declarations recognize four ruling houses and not two, namely Osinkola, Giesi, Ogboru and Lafogido.
According to the 1957 declaration on rotation, Osinkola was to be the first, followed by Giesi, then Ogboru and Lafogido Ruling House. The representative of Osinkola then was the late Oba Adesoji Aderemi.
But a Commission of Enquiry set up in 1976 and headed by Justice Adenekan Ademola, a retired Supreme Court Justice reviewed the declaration of 1957. The new declaration in 1980 interchanged the order by putting Ogboru in the second position, Giesi the third and Lafogido the fourth. This review privileged Oba Sijuwade from Ogboru Ruling House to emerge as Ooni in 1980 after the death of Oba Aderemi instead of a candidate from Giesi House. Prof Aderibigbe Ologbenla, a prince of Giesi Ruling House, challenged this decision then. But deed was already done. In order not to repeat the injustice of the past, the kingmakers and the government of Osun state have affirmed the Giesi House as the one to produce the next Ooni.
In a release signed by six key Ife traditional rulers on behalf of the 16 kingmakers and obtained by The Guardian, the kingmakers state that, “it is the turn of Giesi, so other three ruling houses, that is, Osikola, Ogboru and Lafogido should wait for their turns.” They rest their argument on Section 19 subsection 3 of the 1980 declaration.
The release was signed by Obalufe of Iremo quarters, Oba Folorunso Omisakin; Lowa Adimula of Ife, Oba Joseph Ijadola; Obajio of Moore Quarters, Oba Yaya Elugbaju; Jaran of Ife, Oba Adekola Adeyeye; Obaloran of Ilode Quarters, Oba Sakariya Olawusi and Arode of Ife, Oba J.A Awe.
Notwithstanding, the kingmakers expect the Giesi Rulin House to present a “credible candidate.”
According to Obalufe, Ooni must not only be a full-blooded prince, he must be someone without disability and he must be healthy. He must be self-confident, well-informed and charismatic.”
He dismissed the rumors about pegging the age at 50, and about preferring a married prince to a bachelor. “Being unmarried does not stop any prince from becoming Ooni, he could marry as many wives as he wants after ascending the throne,” said Obalufe.
Notwithstanding, many people interviewed by The Guardian in Ile-Ife prefer the next king to be a man of wealth and substance such as the two late Oni, Oba Adesoji Aderemi and Oba Okunade Sijuwade. “Ooni can no longer have a king that is not already influential and affluent,” said Adeoye Michael, a member of youth group in Ife. He added that the previous kings have elevated the status of Ife through their influence, and the next Ooni should do better.
A titled Ife man said the last Ooni used to feed about one thousand people daily, so the next Ooni should be able to feed 5000 people daily. This pronouncement may have shown that apart from other qualities, the preferred candidates for the stool will be a man of means.
And quite a number of the candidates from Giesi Ruling House fit the bill as their profiles reveal. This situation makes the race more keen and tense.
Even the kingmakers are under pressure as they hinted when the Muslim came to offer prayer at Ooni’s palace on Thursday. “The task of producing the next Ooni has placed heavy burden on us,” said Obaloran of Ilode. They also dismissed the insinuation that some candidates have reached out to them for assistance, and that they have received gratification for such support. The chiefs eventually tasked the clerics to pray for them so that they would discharge the responsibility of electing the new Ooni without hitches.
Considering the subdued tension in the town and the level of political consciousness of the Ife people, the kingmakers certainly would need this prayer in the days ahead.