OPINION BY HON. FEMI ADE. ADEBISI JP
Former Vice Chairman, Ibadan South East L/G Mapo.
In a recent clash between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and a section of the Yoruba Obas (traditional rulers), the issue of tradition, protocols, and respect took center stage. While the clash initially revolved around traditional protocols, it is important to note that Obasanjo has a deep respect for Obas, often prostrating or bowing before them. He and the governor are demanding a return of the same courtesy.
During the event in Iseyin, Oyo State, tensions escalated when the Obas present failed to stand to recognize the governor and the ex-president—a customary gesture of respect deeply rooted in Yoruba culture. Obasanjo, known for his adherence to protocols, demanded that the Obas stand and then sit, as demanded by official protocols. This confrontation has sparked a heated debate regarding the position and role of Obas in contemporary Nigerian society.
However, it is crucial to consider the broader context surrounding this clash. Historically, there have been instances where Obas have faced dethronement by governors when they failed to align with the political interests of those in power.
NotabIe examples include:
1. The dethroning of Oba Adeyemi Adeniran 11, The Alaafin of Oyo in 1955 by the then Premier of the Western Region, Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo after the clash of official protocols between the Alaafin and Late Chief Akin Deko during which Alaafin was accused of diabolically commanded Bode Thomas to start backing like a dog till he died on the following day.
2. Muhammad Sanusi 1, who was a founding member of the Northern People’s Congress(NPC) was deposed by the then Premier of the defunct Northern Region in 1963 for politically motivated reasons.
3. Umar Tukor, the Emir of Muri was deposed by Governor Yohana Madaki in 1986 on the order from the then Military Head of State, Late Gen. Sanni Abacha for insubordination and abstaining from government events.
4. Ibrahim Dasuki, The Emir of Sokoto was deposed by Governor Yakubu Muhazu in 1996, also for the offense of insubordination.
5. Ovoranme Nogbaisi, the Oba of Benin was deposed in 1897 for motivating his people against the economic interest of the British Colonial masters.
6. Oluwadare Adesina, the Deji of Akure was also deposed by the court on the offence of public assault against his Olori which observers claimed to be underlined by political reasons that had to do with a Governor of a South Western State who was secretly having an affair with his Olori.
7. Mustapha Jokolo, the Emir of Gwandu was deposed in 2005 by Governor Adamu Alero of Kebbi State. He was accused of a security breach due to his utterances. It was claimed to be also politically motivated.
8. Olateru Olagbegi, the Olowo of owo, in whose palace, Action Congress (AG) was founded was dethroned in 1966 by the leader of AG, and the then Premier of Western Region, Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo due to a clash of political interest which saw the Olowo taking side with Sir Samuel Ladoke Akintola who succeeded Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the Premier of the defunct Western Region.
10. Ibikunle Akintoye, the Oba of Lagos was deposed for his stance against the slave trade by the British in a conspiracy with his nephew, King Kosoko who succeeded Akintoye and signed a treaty that ceded Lagos to the British as a colony in 1861.
10. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was deposed in 2020 by Dr. Umar Ganduje, the former governor of Kano State, who unbundled the Kano Emirate into four Emirates. The travails of Lamido, obviously, came with political undertones.
These instances highlight the vulnerability of Obas to political interference and underline the need for a clear separation between politics and traditional roles.
Moreover, in the northern regions of Nigeria, governors have the power to appoint and depose their Emirs, who are equivalent to Yoruba Obas, at will. This often occurs when Emirs do not align with the political interests of those in power. Many Emirs owe their positions to political alliances rather than the popular will of the people or cultural demands. This further underscores the challenges faced by Obas, who often find themselves at the beck and call of politicians, compromising their impartiality and cultural custodianship.
To address these concerns, it is imperative to introduce statutory provisions that prevent Obas from engaging in partisan politics. By doing so, Obas can focus on their cultural custodial duties while avoiding conflicts of interest and maintaining the dignity of their positions. This would allow them to serve as authentic representatives of Yoruba culture and tradition, free from political interference.
As the discussions surrounding the clash between Obasanjo and the Yoruba Obas continue, all stakeholders must engage in constructive dialogue. Finding a common ground that respects both tradition and the evolving dynamics of Nigerian society is of utmost importance. Efforts should be made to review the constitutional framework governing the roles and responsibilities of Obas, taking into account the need for cultural preservation, impartiality, and community development.
Ultimately, the clash between Obasanjo and the Yoruba Obas highlights the multifaceted challenges faced by traditional rulers in Nigeria. While protocols and cultural practices are important, it is equally vital to address issues of respect, political interference, and the preservation of cultural heritage. By striving for a harmonious balance between tradition and progress, Nigeria can ensure the continued celebration of the rich Yoruba cultural heritage while fostering a future that embraces the evolving needs of its diverse society.
In light of the clash, it is essential to highlight that Obasanjo’s firm stance on protocols does not negate his deep respect for the Obas. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated reverence for traditional rulers by prostrating or bowing before them as a symbol of deference and acknowledgment of their cultural significance. His expectation for reciprocal respect during the event in Iseyin stems from a desire to uphold the mutual exchange of courtesy and honor that should exist between leaders.
While the clash has drawn attention to the challenges faced by Obas, it also underscores the importance of safeguarding the integrity and independence of traditional institutions. The dethronement of Obas by governors due to political disagreements has been a recurring issue, reflecting the vulnerability of traditional rulers to external influences. Such actions erode the autonomy and cultural custodianship of Obas, undermining their ability to fulfill their traditional roles effectively.
Analogously, in the northern regions of Nigeria, where the Emirs hold similar positions to the Yoruba Obas, the power of governors to dethrone and depose them has been a longstanding practice. This highlights the need for a more democratic and inclusive process that ensures the selection and appointment of traditional rulers align with the will of the people and cultural traditions rather than being subjected to political maneuvering.
To protect the sanctity of the Obaship and maintain the distinction between politics and cultural custodianship, a statutory framework should be established that delineates the roles and responsibilities of Obas. This framework should explicitly bar Obas from engaging in partisan politics while emphasizing their cultural and societal contributions. By doing so, traditional rulers can focus their efforts on preserving cultural heritage, fostering unity within their communities, and promoting socio-economic development without compromising their impartiality or integrity.
Furthermore, Obas need to remain committed to their cultural custodial duties and refrain from adopting religions that may conflict with or dilute Yoruba traditions. While religious freedom is a fundamental right, Obas play a vital role in preserving and upholding cultural practices and beliefs. Striking a balance between religious freedom and cultural preservation can ensure the continuity of Yoruba traditions and values for future generations.
As Nigeria continues to evolve, it is crucial to engage in meaningful discussions and enact necessary reforms to empower traditional rulers while preserving their cultural heritage. By addressing the challenges faced by Obas, such as political interference, lack of statutory responsibilities, and the need for cultural preservation, the country can establish a harmonious balance between tradition and progress.
In conclusion, the clash between Obasanjo and the Yoruba Obas serves as a reminder of the complex dynamics between tradition, protocols, and respect in Nigerian society. It calls for a comprehensive review of the roles and responsibilities of Obas, ensuring their independence, cultural custodianship, and effective contribution to community development. By nurturing a society that values and upholds its cultural heritage, Nigeria can forge a path toward a future that embraces both tradition and progress.