Olanrewaju Oyedeji, Ile-Ife
“Ooni Sijuade was good natured, peace-loving and respectable; he really is a royal man.” This is the view of the spokesman to the distinguished senator representing the district encompassing the Kingdom of the Oni of Ife, Mr. Babajide Omoworare and it is a view shared by others. However, what many will remember for a very long time is the fact of how the death saga has been managed.
When the drama surrounding the death of Oba Sijuade started, it was sounding like real thriller stuff with many denials and accusations of false allegations making the waves. At this point, many were left to wonder what really could be the reason why the death of such a noble personality had become a cause of controversy.
While in some quarters, the belief was that only the Traditional Council could declare the Ooni dead or to put it in the lingo of the Yoruba language, proclaim the words, “Oba waja,” but nevertheless there was the further reality that the Ooni had died in a foreign space whose levels of openness and transparency dictated otherwise. There was also the added reality that we were also living in a world of continually flowing news and where modern journalists cannot be blamed for breaking the news on the death of Ooni or indeed any other person at that..
The controversies surrounding the departed Ooni however did not just start with his death as a look down history’s lanes will actually reveal that during his lifetime, the Ooni almost always had been a controversial man of sorts. Though a good natured monarch essentially, he was also enmeshed in his own fair share of disputes.
Notable of these was his supremacy battle with the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Adeyemi, over who was greater amongst the two. In that instance, the departed Ooni claimed that he was superior since Ile-Ife is the cradle of Yorubaland and the Ooni desired then to be the permanent chairman of the Oyo State Council of Obas (a commitee consisting of Yoruba kings). It took the creation of Osun State in 1991for the supremacy battle to be reduced a bit.
Indeed, pundits say that one of the reasons why Osun state was created in the first place can be traced to the supremacy battle between the Alaafin and the Ooni of Ife, Both monarchs were very powerful as at then and their conflict was escalating into something that could be regarded as a silent war with so much at stake.
With the creation of a new state since the two of them could no longer belong to the same state, each became the chairman of their respective Council of Obas and the dispute abated a little. The reason for the conflict was ostensibly the chairmanship of the traditional council but since both had achieved their aim, one would have expected the crisis to end finally. But it did not end there.
At a birthday lecture organised in honour of Oba Adeyemi in December 2012, the Oyo monarch said the Ooni does not really understand the history of the Yoruba race and that his claim of being the superior monarch is faulty. Indeed, the Alaafin compared the Ooni to someone who knew less than he thought. In his own words: “Anybody who does not know his ancestral roots, who did not strive to learn about it and does not learn from those who know will continue to make mistakes and flounder in ignorance. That is part of the Ooni’s inadequacies.”
He was not done: “Where is the foundation of Yoruba Language? Oyo state is where the language started from. Why are the Modakeke people not speaking Ife language, and Modakeke is just a stone throw from Ife? Why?”
The Alaafin said then that it was also contradictory that the Ooni had rubbished the Oyo kingdom in 2009 but in 2010 claimed Oranmiyan as his lineage ancestor. “How is it possible to call someone you deny your father,” Alaafin quipped.
With the benefit of hindsight, the departed Ooni had started the rivalry in January 13, 1981, just a few months after he left yhe class of princes and became a monarch. It was during the Oyo Council of Obas meeting when the Ooni claimed that the location of Ibadan for the meeting was not the best as in his view, it belonged to Egbaland. One could have known and thought it well that this was like courting lots of reactions, but it was just a phenomenal and mind-boggling point to say that Ibadan is not supposed to be Ibadan, rather it should have been Egbaland. The Ooni meant that Ibadan belonged to Egba people. The then Olubadan, Oba Akinbiyi, did not take this insinuation lightly as he asked the Ooni to name and explain how Ibadan belonged to Egbaland. It was a indeed a huge slap on the face of the Alaafin as the insinuation reduced them to being subjects of Egbaland. It was just like saying ‘Ibadan is a leasehold property of the Egbas. Oba Akinbiyi also declared in his submissions that the Ibadans had installed two Oonis in the long time when Ibadan was the supreme lord of Ife.
Ooni Sijuade was obviously courting conflict amongst Obas at that meeting and the conflict almost divided the Yoruba empire into factions with one faction being aligned with the Ooni and the other to the Alaafin.
Fresh controversy broke when General Muhammadu Buhari came into office as military Head of State and the Ooni was restricted to his Ife domain for making a politically inexpedient trip to Israel; and without express permission too! His travelling credentials were seized and his activities were drastically reduced and there was no way the Ooni-Alafin conflict could continue then as the Ife monarch had to become more circumspect during that era.
When General Babangida overthrew Buhari, the departed Ooni literally got his groove back.
In 1993, Ooni courted controversy again when he alongside other Obas went to visit the then troubled Babangida who was facing a backlash over the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. After the meeting, Ooni, speaking on behalf of other monarchs, stated publicly that the Obas have seen the reason for the annulment and will try to convince Yorubaland to accept the decision. There was a lot of outrage at this alleged ‘sell-out’ but the Ooni claimed he was misunderstood.
He was also a prominent member of the Traditional Rulers for Good Governance and Peaceful Co-existence where he moved round the country trouble-shooting and ensuring that things went normally.
On the streets of Ife, residents have commented severally to the perceived controversial nature of Alaafin. These include remarks by students of the Obafemi Awolowo University. Daniel Temiloluwa, a student of Obafemi Awolowo University said though he is still young his experience with the Ooni has shown that a great man can be controversial. “Ooni was not a perfect man, he had his own shortcomings, though he is a father to Yoruba land but during the OAU fee hike crisis he promised to intervene but we really did not see any outcome of this. This created a lot of tension and I can remember some people saying then that the Ooni had connived with the management to deceive us all. Overall, his legacy is good but every man has his own controversies and Ooni was not different during his lifetime.”
The media aide to Senator Omoworare an Ife resident, Mr Tunde Dairo said the Ooni was a man of repute, timber and calibre who tried his best to ensure that peace reigned in Yorubaland. He said that although Ooni was still assumed to be alive at the time of our talking with him, nevertheless, even in death, Ooni is the best thing that has happened to Ife kingdom.
Another resident who pleaded anonymity wondered why the Ooni’s death will create so much furore. He said: “the Ooni was good natured and we all live to die one day. May he rest in peace. Did we expect him to live forever, he quipped?”