21st February, 2020
By Reuben Abati
Over the weekend, the Yoruba community in the South Western part of Nigeria was treated to the shocking news of a fight that broke out between two traditional rulers at an arranged peace meeting in Osogbo, Osun State, with one traditional ruler punching another in the face and the neck, sending the beaten traditional ruler to the hospital. The appropriate title of the duel is: Oba Abdulrasheed Adewale Akanbi, Oluwo of Iwo vs. Oba Dhirulahi Akinropo, the Agbowu of Ogbagbaa. The winner was the Oluwo of Iwo – he gave the Agbowu a few blows to the face and the neck, and that one had to be taken to hospital, to be treated for the Technical Knock Out (TKO) that he got in the very first round of the fight. The only thing to note is that this was not a commercial boxing tournament, and so, everyone is surprised that traditional rulers would resort to fistfights at a meeting.
The meeting in question was called by the Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of Zone XI, Bashir Makama. In attendance were monarchs from Iwo, Olaoluwa and Ayedare communities of Osun State to resolve a lingering dispute over the ownership and sale of communal land. The Oluwo of Iwo, the paramount ruler of the area had petitioned the Nigeria Police much earlier that other traditional rulers were encroaching on and selling land that belongs legitimately to his domain and he would not accept that. Leye Oyebade, Makama’s predecessor as AIG Zone XI had called meetings of the traditional rulers to resolve the matter, but he could not find a solution before he was posted out of the Zone. AIG Makama chose to continue where his predecessor stopped. The Police should be commended for their peace-making moves and for exploring the option of alternative dispute resolution in Osun State. Both Oyebade and Makama meant well.
At the meeting called by AIG Makama however, the dialogue degenerated into chaos. The Oluwo of Iwo claims that the Agbowu of Ogbasgba in the course of the meeting called him “a mad man” and pointed his staff of office at him. He felt he needed to teach the colleague-Oba a lesson, so he landed some blows on him. He has not denied this, except to insist that he acted in self-defence and in recorded videos now being widely circulated, the Oluwo of Iwo has rained further abuse on the Agbowu, with a threat that he is not yet done with him. The Agbowu has not denied being beaten. He sustained injury – a cut to his neck – and had to be taken to hospital for trauma treatment. Asked why he did not fight back and inflict his own injury, the Agbowu in an interview with The Punch newspaper claims that having been on the throne for 24 years and fully seized of the fact that being a traditional ruler requires a certain level of decorum, there was no way he could have responded in kind. This is a subtle reference to the fact that the Oluwo of Iwo is a relatively younger traditional ruler who has not spent as many seasons on the throne, but some other persons may well hold the view that the Agbowu’s response is cowardly. He got pummeled and he could not stand up for himself! He had to be rescued from “the Mike Tyson” fists of the Oluwo of Iwo by AIG Makama.
The only thing that the Agbowu of Ogbaagba has going for him however, is that whereas he may have been assaulted in the presence of the Nigeria Police, he is the winner of the duel with the Oluwo of Iwo in the court of public opinion. Many commentators are alarmed that a traditional ruler would descend to the level of a scuffle. In protest and to mock the Oluwo of Iwo, they have since re-named him the “Fesegbade of Iwo” (that is, he who grabs the throne with a fistfight), or “Alaluwo of Iwo” (that is, the killer-pugilist of Iwo). These are no compliments. The conclusion is that the Oluwo of Iwo is the aggressor in the matter even if he has tried to present it as a case of “two-fighting.” He claims the other Oba called him a “mad man” and pointed his staff of office in his direction. There were 28 other traditional rulers in attendance. The AIG Zone XI was there. The Commissioner for Chieftaincy and Local Government Affairs representing the state government was also there. Nobody has reported that the Agbowu of Ogbaagba assaulted the traditional ruler of Iwo. Every other commentator has condemned the “Mike Tyson” of Iwo. Mike Tyson is a licensed boxer. Professional boxers are not allowed to fight on the streets, outside the ring. Mike Tyson at the height of his career broke the rule more than twice, in 1988 against Mitch “Blood” Green, and in 2002, against Lennox Lewis, both in pre-match encounters. Still, Tyson was condemned for his wrong conduct. The Telu I (or Emir?) of Iwo, as the Oluwo of Iwo is otherwise known, is neither a professional boxer nor was he confronting another boxer, this matter before us is a case of a traditional ruler behaving very badly.
The Oluwo committed multiple offences in the presence of constituted authority: the police and the state government as represented by the Local Government Chairman, the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and other state officials. AIG Makama should have ordered his arrest on the spot, for assault, disruption of public peace and for constituting himself into a public nuisance. The Osun State Government is yet to issue the Oluwo of Iwo a query. He should get a query forthwith from the same authorities that gave him his staff of office. The last time I checked, no traditional ruler in Nigeria is covered by the law on immunity in the Nigerian Constitution. Any traditional ruler that chooses to behave in an unruly or irresponsible, law-breaking manner has as much right as a common felon. I am surprised that the “Mike Tyson of Iwo” with his gross misconduct in the presence of so many witnesses, is still walking free. He should be writing statements at a police station! The Agbowu of Ogbaagba who is the aggrieved party in this matter should also stop being spineless. He should report the assault on his person at the police station! He got a cut on his neck. What if the Mike Tyson of Iwo had cracked his skull open?
The people of Iwo have also been disturbingly silent. Is Iwo Olodo Oba, no longer the the land of valiant people? Traditional rulers in Africa derive their legitimacy from the people they represent. They sustain in modern times, traditional and primordial connections that define the people’s cultural authenticity. It is not for nothing that they are regarded as the spiritual and political heads of their communities, second only to the gods in the people’s cosmogonic thought-process. In some communities, traditional rulers are in fact regarded as the direct representatives of the gods, and hence, they are expected to be super-human, more discerning, wiser, and to act as the court of last resort for the community. There is, therefore, in other words, an unwritten code of conduct for traditional rulers especially in the South West of Nigeria. This code of conduct does not accommodate roguish behavior. It frowns upon any kind of criminality on the stool and goes further to prescribe punishment for any traditional ruler who subverts the community’s interest.
The checks and balances in the traditional kingship system were so strong at a time, any errant traditional ruler was required to commit suicide upon the say-so of the kingmakers, or abdicate the throne. A rogue traditional ruler could in fact be banished from the community. The intrusion of colonial rule and its disruptive impact disoriented traditional systems, and in post-colonial Africa, the new colonialists have further abbreviated traditional authority. Nonetheless, traditional rulers as icons and symbols or relics, are still expected to conduct themselves like gods among men. When they err, they violate tradition and disgrace their people. The Mike Tyson of Iwo should be reminded that whereas he claims that he is protecting ancestral land, that does not give him the right to resort to self help and violence. One Yoruba king was once sentenced to death by hanging. In 2010, the then Deji of Akure was deposed for beating up his estranged wife. Oluwo should have a sense of history. His ancestors were dignified, sober and wise kings. He must not desecrate that throne!
Let this be said: when this “Mike Tyson” ascended the throne of Iwo, there was a lot of excitement. The people of Iwo like many other communities in the South West have been appointing as traditional rulers, over the years, young, educated, men who can project the community and speak the language of a new world. Telu I ‘s predecessor was a teacher and an academic. He brought dignity to the throne. When Akanbi showed up as the choice of the kingmakers, the belief was that given his cosmopolitan outlook, he would bring a new sass to Iwo kingdom. He had lived abroad. He sounded modernist and progressive. He even ascended the throne with a foreign wife, who was an exemplification of the modern outlook. Other Yoruba people thought Iwo had stepped up. But it didn’t take long before the conflict between the modern and the traditional began to unfold. In this regard, the current Oluwo of Iwo is an archetype. In times past, traditional rulers were chosen through divination, and the people believed and accepted the pronouncement of the fathers of secrets. These days, the palm nuts of Orunmila have also modernized. The divining tray clearly knows the difference between the Naira and the Dollar or Euro.
I may not be able to push this further, but I am concerned that there is now in the South West, an emergent generation of traditional rulers who are young and educated but who by their conduct seem totally unprepared for the assignment that they have taken up. They are expected to be the people’s traditional fathers, but they behave publicly like children who still need to be guided. They violate traditional norms and values and seem to have absolutely no understanding of the dignity of the thrones that they occupy. An average king in Yorubaland was revered but how can anyone adore these new generation Obas who go to parties and clubs every week. They fight on the streets. They hustle with their own subjects over everything. We are in the age of “oshomo” kings (kings who go to parties and chase women openly). They dance and wine like plebeians. They shuttle from one hotel to the other and engage in “gbas gbos” conduct that is unbecoming of the exalted office that they occupy.
There are important national and local issues that they can comment upon but they don’t: when they are not fighting on social media with an estranged wife like the Mike Tyson of Iwo, they are busy engaging in fistfights, again like the Oluwo of Iwo, who seems to have an anger management problem. Traditional rulers in the South West used to be among the most respected of their set in Nigeria. The late Ooni of Ife brought so much dignity to the throne, he built bridges across Nigeria. He and the late Emir of Kano were like Siamese twins. Ooni Okunade Sijuwade and Kano Emir, Ado Bayero were a stabilizing force in Nigeria. Ooni Sijuwade, Olubuse II similarly shared the same relationship and brotherhood with the Obi of Onitsha, the revered Obi Nnaemeka Achebe. Across Nigeria, there are also other distinguished traditional rulers who act in line with the significance of their traditional mandate. The Alaafin of Oyo, Lamidi Adeyemi III, to cite a close example, was in fact an amateur, professional boxer. In more than 50 years on the throne, nobody has accused him of giving people cuts in their jaws and necks. He is a highly revered monarch, whose intellectual gifts and wisdom on the throne are exceptional. Young men can be admitted to the throne, these days, but perhaps the state governments that give them the staffs of office may need to organize training sessions for them, beyond the obviously compromised traditional induction in the aboriginal conclaves.
I now return to the main issue that triggered the belligerence within the traditional community in Iwo, Osun State: land. The ownership, possession and alienation of land is a very sensitive and volatile matter in African communities. It formed the basis of the pre-colonial and post-colonial struggles in East and Central Africa from Kenya to Zimbabwe to Tanzania. Across Nigeria, control over land has also resulted in many conflicts and loss of lives and property as illustrated by the Tiv-Junkun riots, communal clashes between Ife and Modakeke, and between Umuleri and Uguleri, and the most recent violent confrontations between herders and farmers in the Middle Belt and the Southern parts of Nigeria. It is not a matter to be taken lightly. The Oluwo says other traditional rulers are selling land in his domain. Is he aware of the Land Use Act which vests land ownership in the trusteeship of the Governor? Is he also enlightened enough to know that any dispute over land is better resolved in the law courts, and not through self help or what is known among the Yoruba as “omo onile or ajagun gbale” pretensions? The people of Iwo expect him to be an enlightened king. Why does he serve them so badly? Trouble today, controversy tomorrow. And now he has added pugilism and street fight to his cocktail of incorrect conduct? He must be told that he endangers the same people he leads. Nigeria cannot afford a rogue traditional, monarchical establishment with an unmerited sense of entitlement in all matters particular and general.
In times past in Yorubaland, as recently as the 18th and 19th Century as Professor I. A. Akinjogbin tells us in his authoritative and unimpeachable research on the subject, Yoruba communities fought wars over every issue including the encroachment of farm lands, ego matters and sheer display of power and greed. In the century covered by Akinjogbin’s research, one traditional ruler inflicting injury on a rival traditional ruler could ignite sentiments that will catalyze a civil war. That other Yorubaland is not too far away. The king of Ogbagbaa in Osun State may not know how to pack a punch, but his people may not be as lenient. The Nigerian State at both Federal and state levels should therefore not treat the pugilism of the Oluwo of Iwo as one of those incidents. The relevant security agencies must dig deeper to forestall any kind of negative consequence.