Meet The Next Ooni Of Ife

ooni

Ife townspeople at the gate to the Ooni’s palace following rumour of the monarch’s death…last month

How The ‘Deities Intervened’
ALMOST everybody knows who the next Ooni of Ife is. He is Prince One-of-the-several-contestants! Of course, the snag with revealing his name at present is: he has not been officially designated.

But who is he really? The answer to that question depends on whom you ask, what media platform you have logged on to, and what you choose to believe in the fast-paced, action-packed drama to appoint a successor to the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade.

Oba Sijuwade was crowned December 6, 1980 after a hotly contested battle for the throne. News of his death in a London hospital filtered into the media July 28, 2015 but was refuted by the Ife council of chiefs, who cited age-long traditions guiding such sensitive pronouncements. Following his burial, Ife kingdom has again been thrown into another round of tussle.

Only this time, it could be ever so intriguing. There are just four Ruling Houses. Period. Presenting a list of their names, however, is not as simple as it seems, and how they are ordered might depend on who is doing the ordering and what subtle effect such wants to achieve. Suffice it to say that the last monarch, Oba Sijuwade, was of the Ogboru Ruling House, while his predecessor, Oba Adesoji Aderemi, was of the Osinkola House.

While it had initially appeared the Ogboru House might not stake claim to the royal seat, having produced the last Oba, the race took a controversial twist, last week, as one family in the House argued that a conciliatory pact with Giesi House, which allowed for the ascension of Oba Sijuwade might not be interpreted as deal with the entire Ogboru House.

Consequently, a prince threw in the hat. Giesi House, meanwhile, has been in the media, making loud claim to the throne, and explaining why, by a 1977 document – The Ooni of Ife Declaration, reference number CB141/7/1/540 – it has the right to produce the next monarch.

On the other hand, Lafogido Ruling House argues that its Giesi counterpart failed to stand its ground when it was its turn to produce the Oba, conceding to Sijuwade, and so should in fairness be deemed to have lost its chance; something like the Ruling House sold its right for a mess of porridge and should stand aside for the round to finish before laying claim to the stool. Therefore, Lafogido has decided to join the contest.

Also, at a press conference on behalf of the Osinkola Ruling House, last week, a spokesman noted that if fairness were followed, Osinkola should produce the next monarch.

He argued that before 1930, there had been no chieftaincy declaration guiding the selection of an Ooni and that in 1957, the first chieftaincy declaration came into existence. He, however, explained that in 1977, there was an “alteration and some variations”.

These factors, he said, paved the way for the emergence of Oba Sijuwade, adding, “What we seek is that the variations that were considered then should once again be activated for us, Osinkola, to be considered.”

With these, it appears all the Ruling Houses, regardless of any known or unknown formula, have decided to slug it out. This is not to mention claim, and rumours of claims.

But modern day Ife is no longer stranger to brash encounter with modern day reality. Following the death of Oba Sijuwade, contemporary media stole, as it were, the magic wand from the hand of traditional chiefs who had held same for centuries. While they huddled around the fireplace of ancient culture, whispering in hushed tones, roasting relevance, the mass media blasted the death of their revered monarch over the top of their heads. Although they struggled to hold on to the grill, present day reality, perhaps for once, beat them to it. And it could happen again.

But why should simple rotation among just four points prove so evasive? Why should a matter that would finally be ‘decided’ by the Ifa deity elicit so much argument and counter argument among mortals? The sum total of answers to these questions would define the identity of the next Ooni of Ife.

Thirty-five years since the last coronation, the Ife monarchical stage remains practically the same. But that is where the similarity stops. The actors, directors, audience and props have all changed.

When Olubuse II, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, took the reins of power, there was no Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, GSM, SMS or the Internet. Today’s struggle for the royal seat, however, is happening against the backdrop of such media spotlighting that whether admitted or not, could tinker with the final outcome of things.

Like never before in the history of Ife kingdom, aspirants to the throne, through contemporary media, have almost unlimited power to sway opinion, and have unprecedented visibility and audience.

And it is foolhardy to suppose that contest for the throne is everything else except a media war. Consequently, on the pages of newspapers and online, the next Ooni is evolving anyhow, as contenders push their regal arguments, implicitly and explicitly to secure some advantage.

But modern day Ife is no longer stranger to brash encounter with modern day reality. Following the death of Oba Sijuwade, contemporary media stole, as it were, the magic wand from the hand of traditional chiefs who had held same for centuries.

While they huddled around the fireplace of ancient culture, whispering in hushed tones, roasting relevance, the mass media blasted the death of their revered monarch over the top of their heads.

Although they struggled to hold on to the grill, present day reality, perhaps for once, beat them to it. And it could happen again. Choice of a new monarch, according to established tradition, is the preserve of the Ifa oracle, which has the power of supernatural discernment, judgment and foresight.

Such is the high regard the African brings to the pronouncement of his deities that when once they have uttered their voices, in submission, the people chorus: “The gods have spoken.”

And discussion moves to other matters. But the controversies that are beginning to dog the appointment of a new Ooni suggest someone might have lost confidence in the ability of the oracle to decide: very unlike what might have obtained in centuries past, but quite the realism of modern day power games, where the winner is the deft, ruthless, quick and smart, regardless of extant rules.

Someone, perhaps, has embraced the maxim: ‘the gods help those who help themselves’, and has decided to stop at nothing to stuff his couch. And so, behind the media war, trips to political godfathers, emails, phone calls, SMSs and intense lobbying, rather than sober recourse to tradition and the gods, are gradually fashioning the identity of the next occupant of the throne.

With every passing day, the contest is expected to get tighter; and with every passing day the risk of bringing one of Africa’s most respected institutions to ridicule, that is if the claimants decide to dig in.

But the drama won’t be any different from the present day power tussles across the continent, where gods – written constitutions – have been sidelined and parties have left a trail of bitterness and worse.

May there be no factional Ooni! Ewo orisha! May there be nobody walking, Sanusi style, to office anywhere in Nigeria, dressed like an Ooni before D-day! Ka ma ri! After the Ooniship war has been won and lost, the next Ooni is not so much the man – Prince One-of-the-several-contestants.

The next Ooni will be an institution, battle scarred but wiser; one that helplessly has moved a step further into brazen political realities, and dare we say, a step from some of the rigours of passing traditions; one that has shed a little more of its ancient innocence. Now that you know the next Ooni of Ife, you may, please, meet him. Kabiyesi O!



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