By Femi Macaulay
Alaafin of Oyo Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III postponed the public celebration of his 50th coronation anniversary because of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying “the sanctity of human life is more important to me than any social engagement.” Hopefully, he would celebrate the majestic milestone with befitting pomp and circumstance after the coronavirus pandemic.
Fifty years is a long time in human affairs, and Oba Adeyemi should see his long reign as a blessing. In his five decades on the throne, the pre-eminent Yoruba traditional ruler has witnessed the changing complexion of the traditional institution, but he remains not only a veritable symbol of Yoruba culture and tradition but also a powerful and influential king even in a democratic context.
It is a striking irony that Nigerian politicians usually seek the support of major traditional rulers to win votes in a democracy, and even to sustain democratically elected administrations. This reflects the influence of the traditional institution as well as the capacity of traditional structures of power despite the prevailing democratic system of government.
Significantly, in mid-December 2020, a group of politicians, South West Agenda (SWAGA 23), visited Oba Adeyemi to seek his support for their campaign to get Asiwaju Bola Tinubu elected as the country’s next president in 2023.
Tinubu, a pillar of Nigeria’s ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC), has not publicly stated that he wants to be president in 2023, but the group believes he is the best man for the job. Tinubu’s promoters also visited another prominent traditional ruler, the Olubadan of Ibadan, Oba Saliu Adetunji, to sell the idea of a Tinubu presidency to him.
A former minister of state for works, Dayo Adeyeye, who led the campaigners to the kings, made their mission clear. “Our mission is political,” he declared. “Politics has started and everyone is scrambling. We, the Yoruba people, see it as our turn because it is the agreement that the presidency would be rotational.”
Based on this, he added: “We have a joker in the south-west and the joker is Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who was part of the struggle for democracy. There are fundamentals of governance and we want someone who is versed in politics to go into the race. We see that Asiwaju Tinubu has the clout and he is qualified. As experienced politicians, we see that Tinubu is qualified.”
Alaafin’s response showed his position on some of the country’s hot political issues. If there was an agreement involving leaders of the country’s ruling party on presidential power shifting to the south in 2023, Oba Adeyemi wants such an agreement to be respected and implemented. “In Yoruba land, covenant is very important,” he said. “We believe that with the law of retributive justice, if you break a covenant the repercussion is great. You may think the race for 2023 is too early but it is never too early to start.”
Oba Adeyemi also gave an idea of his position on the restructuring debate, and the kind of president Nigeria needs. “If you want to have a country that is forward moving, there must be a federal system of government… We need to have a president who can listen…We have not been fortunate to have the kind of president that we deserve… I believe in your mission.”
Aged 82, he became the 43rd Alaafin of Oyo on November 18, 1970, at the age of 32, and received his staff of office on January 14, 1971. He represents the continuity of a majestic narrative. In October 2018, an international conference on “The Alaafin in Yoruba History, Culture, and Political Power Relations” took place in Nigeria. The organisers said: “In the 17th and 18th centuries, Oyo was the dominant political power in Yorubaland and beyond. It also became a major centre for exchanging goods from the forest areas and the coast.
“The Alaafin was the master of the realm spreading from the Savannah and as far afield as modern Benin and Togo Republics in the West African sub-region. Oyo also gave a major identity to Yorubaland. The name Yoruba was initially used for the Oyo speaking people, their empire and dialect until the 19th century when European explorers applied the name widely to other Yoruba sub-groups.”
The Yoruba are today found in the Southwestern part of Nigeria, the Republics of Benin and Togo, Brazil, Cuba, Trinidad and other places in the Caribbean.
The ancient and powerful kingdom, and later empire, of Oyo under the Alaafin no longer exists, but the Alaafin still exists as the occupant of an ancient and powerful traditional office. According to Oba Adeyemi, “Traditional rulers should be seen as the perfect embodiment of the culture of the place, as well as the synthesis of the aspirations and goals of the nation. This is not only in social values of veracity, egalitarianism, justice and democracy; but in dress, utterances and comportment…”
He represents an old order in a new milieu. The place of the Alaafin and the traditional institution in modern-day Nigeria is a matter of debate. Interestingly, last year a member of the House of Representatives representing Bodinga/ Dange/ Shuni/ Tureta, Federal Constituency, Sokoto, Dr Balarabe Kakale, called for a constitutional amendment to give defined roles to traditional rulers in the country.
Also, last year a group called Peoples Movement for a New Nigeria (PMNN) argued that traditional rulers in the country should have specified constitutional roles. The group’s president and founder, Yahaya Ndu, said: “In all the 36 states of Nigeria, as well as in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, traditional rulers are in place in their various constituencies. But strangely, the role of traditional rulers was totally and inexplicably expunged from the extant 1999 Constitution… I, therefore, with all sense of history and patriotism, urge the National Assembly to lead us back to the right track, to restore the glory, honour, and dignity of our traditional rulers; and to create and ensure specific roles for them in the constitution of Nigeria.”
Of course, there are those who oppose such proposals, which a prominent columnist, Ropo Sekoni, described as “creeping back to indirect rule.”
The debate won’t end today. Alaafin Adeyemi’s milestone coronation anniversary is a time to further reflect on the relevance, or irrelevance, of traditional rulers in modern-day Nigeria.
Source: The Nation