Governor Ajimobi has said his review of the lines of succession and the coronation of the new chiefs is in Ibadan's best interest. Olubadan Saliu Adetunji and former Governor Rasheed Ladoja do not agree.
Even though his role is largely symbolic, the Olubadan (Yoruba for ‘Lord of Ibadan) sits as the royal king of Ibadan, the capital of the Oyo State and one of Africa’s largest cities.
Unlike other Yoruba kingdoms, there is no direct line of succession to the seat of the Olubadan. Ibadan may have risen to be an important part of Yoruba identity but it is not one of the original seven kingdoms outlined in the Yoruba origin story.
According to local historians, the city was founded in the early 1800s by Lagelu. This was a period where life had hit the refresh button on Yoruba land and most of the original kingdoms were either at war or close to their end.
Ibadan grew, in the shadows of these times, from a military camp to a vast city-state renowned for its trade and military might.
Despite its clear strength and the leadership of the warriors like Lagelu who had created the city, Ibadan was very short lived.
In his definitive book on Ibadan history, Iwe Itan Ibadan, HRH (Sir) Isaac Babalola Akinyele writes that the original city of Ibadan was destroyed by the Alaafin of Oyo after an egungun was accidentally disrobed in the marketplace.
The efforts of Lagelu and some of the citizens who escaped restored Ibadan to its former glory, but by 1840, the city was threatened by the spread of the Fulani caliphate.
The armies of Ibadan defeated the Fulani in a bloody war but by then, most of Yorubaland had been ravaged.. Refugees from Oyo Ile, Abeokuta and other towns trooped into Ibadan; after a short struggle, Oyo took control of the city.
Kingship in the city then became a major issue. Ibadan had been ruled by a class of warriors and their families since its inception; Oyo, on the other hand, was a civil state with Baales and a ruling house. A system where power rotated between two houses, the Baale Line and the Balogun Isoriki line was created.
That system remains to this day.
Apart from a period between 1901, when British created the Ibadan Town Council to administer the city and 1936, the Olubadan has ruled over Ibadan.
The two ruling lines are supported by the Olubadan-in-council, made up of chiefs from both ruling lines.
To become Olubadan, Chiefs are promoted along the lines of succession for decades until they reach the council.
The Otun Olubadan and Balogun are the most senior on both lines and next in succession to the throne.
Others include the Osi Olubadan, Asipa Olubadan, Ekerin and Ekarun, as well as Otun Balogun, Osi Balogun, Asipa Balogun, Ekerin and Ekarun Balogun.
The Ibadan Chieftaincy Declaration of 1957 gave legal credence to these lines of succession as well as the Olubadan-in-council.
In modern times, this rotational arrangement has posed problems. As western government has pushed traditional systems into the background, many in the ruling families have become involved in partisan politics.
Former Oyo governor, Rasheed Ladoja, for instance, is also the Osi Olubadan, a position that puts him in close running if the Olubadan’s seat goes vacant.
It should be noted that the Ibadan Chieftaincy Declaration was created to allow both sides secure fair representation. But for all its inclusiveness, the rotational arrangement is fraught with unnecessary complexities.
At a symposium held in honour of the late Olubadan Samuel Odulana, a former editor of Daily Times, Chief Samuel Areoye said “A situation where you have more than 200 Mogajis waiting in line to become Olubadan calls for a review. To make the matter worse, the majority of these Mogajis are not educated and competent enough to rule over a big city like Ibadan.”.
In times where traditional rulers are little more than a relic of the past, the reality is that the arrangement has the potential to inspire chieftaincy disputes that, frankly, no-one has any time for.
In May 2017, Governor Abiola Ajimobi inaugurated a seven-man judicial commission of inquiry to review the Olubadan chieftaincy declaration and other related chieftaincies in Ibadanland.
While it was an unusual step, it was not beyond Ajimobi’s powers. According to Section 26(1), (2), (3), (4) and (5) Cap. 28, Vol. 1, Laws of Oyo State, the governor can approve or review any chieftaincy Declaration.
A month later, the commission made up of a former High Court judge and retired public officials, returned its findings and suggestions.
The most notable was that the two lines of succession should be “adjusted”.
Under the new arrangement, The Olubadan-in-Council, along with other Baales and Chiefs would be elevated to the status of Obas and referred to as “His Royal Majesty”.
To reduce the long years it takes a potential Olubadan to get to the pinnacle of the two chieftaincy lines producing the Olubadan on a rotational basis, the panel also reduced the rungs of the ladder of succession.
The Otun, or Civil line, was reduced from the existing 22 to 11. The Balogun line, on the other hand, was reduced from 23 to 12.
The Olubadan was also elevated to the status of a First Class Oba, referred to as “His Imperial Majesty”.
It was reported that, in a closed-door meeting, the Olubadan, His Imperial Majesty Saliu Adetunji along with other chiefs, agreed to the implementation of the proposal.
Whatever rifts have appeared now came after the secrecy of that meeting ended.
The Olubadan has distanced himself from the review, on the grounds that he is not open to any changes to the arrangement that brought him to the throne and has sustained that seat for years.
The monarch was absent when Ajimobi implemented terms of the review by installing over 20 members of both ruling houses and Baales across Ibadan as Obas.
Another person who is severely aggrieved in Rasheed Ladoja.
In his position as Osi Olubadan, Ladoja would be among the two most senior chiefs from his line to be considered for the throne if it becomes vacant.
Under the new review, Ladoja would be crowned as an Oba and subject himself to the new terms of ascension; he has refused with more emphasis than anybody else.
Speaking through his press secretary, Ladoja said that by asking him to either “join in the mockery of oba-ship and agree to be made a government-appointed oba” or forfeit his right to the throne, Ajimobi has openly demonstrated that he was the target of the review.
As things stand, the Olubadan succession crisis is brimming within Ibadan. The review has legal authority on its own but to achieve its aims, the government will need the Olubadan’s support and blessing. At the moment, that is not forthcoming.
During the Eid holidays, the Olubadan cancelled a customary prayer trip to the Agodi Praying grounds on fears of an attack or violence between those loyal to the Olubadan and supporters of the government and many chiefs who have already accepted the beaded crown of an oba.
Ladoja has also taken the matter to the courts.
Ibadan is one of the last true bastions of Yoruba culture and its ruler, the Olubadan represents something far more than the throne he sits on or his office.
The realities of democratic governments mean that an elected governor can review the rules and procedures that support an institution as old as the Olubadan’s.
Understandably, Ajimobi’s review of the Ibadan rules of succession and chieftaincy will not find many fans among indigenes who have lived with and romanticized the idea of their traditional ruler and the history that he stands for.
In that light, it may be important to preserve the traditions and processes that have produced his reign and many others before him.
However, that preservation must never come at the cost of progress.
Ajimobi’s statement that the 1957 declaration was no longer in tune with the current reality and modern trend in Yorubaland cannot stand long on its own.
The problems of needless bureaucracy, long lines of succession and multiple claims to the throne are the vehicles that demand the change of the ascension process, and by extension, Ajimobi’s review.
If the institution is to be truly preserved, then the seat of the Olubadan must be sustainable.
It is no mistake that since 1946, no Olubadan has spent a decade on the throne.
As far as the old declaration remains in place, more will come and go and that throne remains open and fragile.