ON April 2, 1960 Prince Sikiru Kayode Adetona was crowned as the 52nd Awujale and Paramount Ruler of Ijebuland and presented with the staff of office by the Premier of the defunct Western Region, late Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola before an unprecedented crowd on Itoro grounds, Ijebu Ode. Unarguably the longest reigning Awujale in recorded history and currently the longest reigning first-class monarch in Nigeria, Oba Adetona has been a major actor in the socio-cultural and developmental history of Nigeria since the country’s independence.
Oba Adetona is from the Anikilaiya Ruling House which by the declaration made under Section 4(2) of the 1957 Chiefs’ Law regulating the selection of the Awujale of Ijebuland Chieftaincy, is one of the four ruling houses in Ijebu Ode. The other Ruling Houses are Fusengbuwa, Fidipote and Gbelegbuwa.
In the fifty-five years he has spent on the throne, Oba Adetona has seen the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of the polity. No wonder, he bestrides the traditional institution like a colossus. A sagacious, courageous, charismatic, dependable and reliable traditional ruler and statesman, A no-nonsense Oba Adetona, he is known to always damn every demagogue. Indeed, he is providentially always on the part of history. At least two instances will suffice here.
During the infamous Abacha era, he was the only Oba that told the late maximum ruler the truth, which the ruling junta had to swallow. Equally, when other Yoruba Oba were falling over each other to pray for and bless the second-term ambition of President Goodluck Jonathan, he was the only paramount Yoruba Oba who was candid enough to frankly tell the President that it was not part of Yoruba culture for an Oba to do such. He went on to say that for an Oba to do that, he would be inviting disaffection and disharmony to his throne and kingdom since the subjects hold divergent political opinions. That was vintage Oba Adetona.
The 55th anniversary of his ascension to the throne is an opportunity to write on this unique monarch and his kingdom.
In his seminal book, The Ijebu of Yorubaland 1850-1950: Politics, Economy, and Politics, the late Professor Emeritus Emmanuel Ayandele (1992), gave a remarkable account of an equally remarkable and uniquely adaptable people. In a generous but factual assertion, the author in the Preface, inter alia, states that in any computation of human excellence and ability to make the best of any situation, the Ijebu stand very high in Africa in general and in Nigeria in particular …. Internally, in the bewildering power politics of Yorubaland … held their own in a spectacular fashion, the Ijebu kingdom being the only survivor of the large-scale cataclysmic eruptions that shattered other Yoruba States in the nineteenth century.
Ayandele further disclosed that perhaps the best illustration of the genius of the Ijebu for survival and timely adaptability was their going the polar opposite by recognising and appropriating in the nick of time, the dynamics of social and economic process offered by westernism, their erstwhile bugbear which they had strenuously resisted to the point that the British maxims and seven pounders had to speak to them. The Ijebu inhabit the south-central part of Yorubaland- bounded in the north by Ibadan, in the east by Ondo and Okitipupa, and in the west by Egba. The southern boundary of Ijebu is the coastline that stretches from Ikorodu, Ejinrin, Epe, Abigi, Ebute Oni, to Ode Omi. Even though part of Ijebuland is to be found in the present Lagos State, the people of Ikorodu, Imota, Epe, and Ejinrin who have found themselves in Lagos State have always regarded themselves as one entity even when the migration legends that have often been cited point in different direction.
There are several accounts on the origin of Ijebu people. The accounts being largely oral, opinions are divided on how the people came to inhabit the present Ijebuland. The seemingly most factual of all the accounts was that the Ijebu people migrated into Nigeria from the Southern Sudanese region called Owadaiye, now corrupted to Waddai. The Lagos Times of May 9, 1890 was right when it wrote that Ijebu is about the the only province now in what is commonly described as the Yoruba country that has not lost its original seat from the vicissitudes of inter tribal warfare, which has sorely affected the land.
It is in the formidable town and the unique land of Ijebu Ode, capital of Ijebuland that Oba (Dr.) Sikiru Kayode Adetona was born May 10, 1934. Today, May 10, 2009 he is seventy-five years old and half a century less one year on the unique and ancient throne of his ancestors as the fifty-eighth Awujale. Being a first class monarch and the longest reigning Awujale in recorded history, Oba Adetona has every reason to give thanks to the Almighty God. His reign has been a monumental success and a pride to the Ijebu of Southwest Nigeria, the several tribulations he faced up to 1984 notwithstanding. He personifies the attributes of Ijebu that include fierce and sturdy independence, candour, objectivity, sincerity, entrepreneurial spirit, reliability, and resoluteness. .
Young Prince Adetona, variously attended Baptist School, Ereko, Ijebu Ode; Ogbere United Primary School, Oke Agbo, Ijebu Igbo; and Ansar-Ud-Deen School, Ijebu Ode between 1943 and 1950. For his secondary education, he was at Olu-Iwa (now Adeola Odutola) College, Ijebu Ode from 1951 to 1956. Between 1957 and 1958 he took up appointment with the then Audit Department of the Western Region, Ibadan. The charming prince resigned his appointment in 1958, to pursue further studies in Accountancy in the United Kingdom.
By a letter, dated January 4, 1960 referenced CB. 4 1/333, the Permanent Secretary in the Western Region Ministry of Local Government conveyed to the Local Government Adviser in Ijebu Ode, approval of the Western Region Governor in-Council, the appointment of Prince Sikiru Kayode Adetona as the Awujale of Ijebuland with effect from that date (January 4, 1960). It became the lot of Ijebu notables like the late Ogbeni-Oja, Chief (Dr.) Timothy Adeola Odutola; Bobasuwa, Chief Okunowo; and Asiwaju, Chief Samuel Olatunbosun Shonibare to arrange for the homecoming of the King-elect. On January 18, 1960, the Head of the Ijebu Ode Regency Council, the Ogbeni-Oja, Chief Timothy Adeola Odutola formally presented the new traditional ruler to the whole world. This presentation, which was a novelty, signalled the commencement of the installation ceremonies of the king-elect. It was indeed, a new dawn in the annals of Ijebu people. The king-elect thereafter, proceeded to undergo the traditional seclusion at the Odo for three months.
On Tuesday, April 5, 1960 newly crowned Oba Adetona, took his seat as a member of the Western Region House of Chiefs, after a formal introduction. So charming and captivating was Oba Adetona, that some Obas, and Chiefs nominated him for the presidency of the House of Chiefs, albeit, an older Oba, late Sir Adesoji Aderemi, Ooni of Ife was eventually elected the President. The thought here was that early as a monarch, the twenty-six year old Awujale was a fit and proper king for the exalted position. No doubt, this consideration was an admission of the uniqueness of the Awujale of Ijebuland.
As if confirming the aphorism that a golden fish has no hiding place, the new Awujale was appointed by the Western Region Government as a Minister and Member of the Region’s Executive Council. This position he occupied until the outbreak of the Western region’s political crisis of 1962. With the declaration of a State of Emergency in the Western Region by the then Federal Government, the Administrator of the region found the services of the young Awujale indispensable. He was thus made a Commissioner during the Emergency period.
Since 1960, Oba Adetona has succeeded in raising the status and reckoning of his Ijebu people. He is known and perceived as one of the country’s greatest monarchs dead or alive. A philosopher and social scientist, his fame and popularity extend beyond the shores of Nigeria. A creative and strategic ruler, Oba Adetona has been a significant factor in the nation’s socio-political and economic development.
The Awujale is loyally and devotedly committed to the Nigerian State. He is indeed, a patriot. He has built bridges across Rivers Niger and Benue. He admonishes his people to be thoroughbred wherever they find themselves. No wonder that the Ijebu people have not only comported themselves wherever they are but it is on record that no inter or intra ethnic clash has been recorded in Ijebuland since he ascended the throne in 1960.
He was in the forefront of finding a national solution to the political logjam of 1993 to 1998. Oba Adetona consulted widely and hosted several fora. He was never a sell out. He brokered peace and concord in 1998 and 1999, and the current major actors in the nation’s political parties will readily attest to this disclosure. However, for Oba Adetona’s commitment to the nation, his pronouncement otherwise would have swayed public opinion in favour of those agitating for the balkanisation of Nigeria. Perhaps, if Nigeria had been abundantly blessed with Nationalists, such as Oba Adetona, the country will be nearing Eldorado, if not already there. The submission here is that more traditional leaders of the type of Oba Adetona are needed.
Parts of the incorruptibility of Oba Adetona had earlier been given in this write-up. I state without equivocation that spoils of office cannot corrupt the monarch.. He is just, transparent and equitable. Oba Adetona loathes indecency. He eschews corruption like the plague. He has been known to chastise corrupt leaders and quite often to publicly denounce them. Woe betides any Ijebu person who gets his hands soiled. Such an Ijebu person has no home to return to. His long and enviable reign has not made Oba Adetona to decay nor decompose.
During the dark days of the late maximum ruler, he was amongst the few leaders that stood to be counted on the side of history. Time has in deed vindicated him. Oba Adetona, to paraphrase Josiah Gilbert Holland (1819 to 1881), is one leader “whom the lust of office does not kill.’’ A leader “whom the spoils of office cannot buy”. A monarch who “possesses opinions and a will.’’ A king “who has honour, who will not lie”. A legend that has always “stood before a demagogue and damned his treacherous flatteries without winking”. He is a monarch among monarchs.
That every successive administration in Ogun State and Nigeria holds him in high esteem is a manifestation of his incorruptibility and sagacity.
He has immeasurably succeeded in bringing about religious harmony among his people to the extent that religion does not dichotomise the Ijebu. The Christians live in harmony with Muslims in Ijebuland. The traditionalists are equally not isolated. The common saying in Ijebu is that “religion cannot divide us”. The Holy Quran confirms this, to wit: “to you, your religion, and to me, my religion”.
Albeit Oba Adetona, is the President of the United Muslim Council (an umbrella Islamic organisation for Muslims), he attends several Christian functions and he is quite versed in the Holy Bible. The Ijebu Christian Community holds the New Year Prayer Session in the Awujale Palace. Many of his high-ranking Otunbas and Chiefs are Christians. The Palace is an admixture of Christians and Muslims.
Oba Adetona’s purity and righteous deeds are accounting for his success in this world and will surely account for his securing al-Janah (paradise) in the Hereafter. Given his spirituality, one is left in no doubt that, Oba Adetona will reign for more decades as Allah guarantees longevity for leaders who fear Him and thread His path.
The 58th Awujale has used his sagacity and creative ingenuity to bring the traditional institution in tandem with civilisation. The old and fetish practices have been jettisoned in Ijebuland, thus making the institution to be attractive to successful technocrats, professionals, and business moguls of royal lineage. There is no better way to conclude than to say that as a monarch, Oba Adetona has personal warmth and integrity. He has positive attitude and high energy level. The Ijebu monarch has enormous sense of humour. He is resilient, creative, sagacious, objective, and incorruptible.
Oba Adetona has brought tremendous honour and dignity to the Traditional institution, especially to Ijebu Traditional Council. His records of excellent and unsurpassable service to his people and country are heart warming.
Albeit, one issue agitating the mind of this quintessential monarch is the desirability of creating an Ijebu State out of the present Ogun State, his subjects are unanimous with him in his quest. Indeed, for justice, fair play, and equity to reign in the land, the Ijebu deserve a State of theirs. Surely, at God’s own appointed time, the Ijebu would have a state of their own.
I sincerely salute the living legend, the great and amiable monarch as he clocks fifty-five years on the throne of his forefathers. May his reign continue to be peaceful, progressive, and beneficial to Ijebuland and indeed, the country.
By Fassy Yussuf
*Dr. Fassy Yusuf, former Ogun State Commissioner for Information and Culture, is a Lawyer, and Development and Communication Consultant is the Baagbimo of Ijebuland (E-mail: [email protected]. 08033154488)