INTERVIEW: The Ooni’s Throne Has Never Been Rotated In History – Prince Adetowo Aderemi

Prince Aderemi
Prince Aderemi
Prince Adetowo Aderemi is one of the sons of a former Ooni of Ife, the late Oba Adesoji Aderemi, who reigned between 1930 and 1980. He is the publisher and Editor of Nigeria: Complete Fact Finder, a magazine with historical orientation. In this interview, the University of Ibadan graduate cautions those preaching historical heresy with the claim that the vacant stool of Ooni should be rotated. He stresses that the throne has never been zoned to any ruling house and lays out the qualities the next Ooni must possess, among other issues. Excerpts:

You are a prince in Ife royalty. Which of the four ruling houses do you belong?
That is the question in contention. There should be only one ruling house in Ife, which is the Lajamisan Ruling House. If we want to bring it nearer home, we will say Lajodoogun, who was a direct son of Lajamisan, from whom every Ooni since then has come. No Ooni has been appointed who has no trace to Lajodoogun and Lajamisan. Therefore, Lajamisan ought to be the ruling house in Ile-Ife. From it came his children who reigned after him. One of them was Lafogido. In Yoruba custom, a first son is sometimes regarded as a brother to his father. So, some authorities regard Lafogido as a brother to Lajodoogun.

But even then, Lafogido reigned after Lajodoogun and after which there were, at different times, the Osinkola and Ogboru. Ogboru was on the throne for a long time-some people have claimed 70 years, which means he would have become the Ooni maybe at the age of 20 years. The Ife chiefs got fed up with him and asked him to go. They deposed him in the way the Ife people do it. There are two entrances into the palace-the one with which the Ooni comes in and the one with which he goes out during the Olojo festival. So, they told him that there was something going on at Atiba which is just a stone’s throw from the palace, he wanted to see it and so went out. The chiefs shouted Baba yio, that is to say a new Ooni has been installed.

In annoyance, he left Ile-Ife and settled at Ife Odan where he established a new dynasty. The new Ooni that was brought in did not stay on the throne for three months before he died and about six of such Oonis die in quick succession in similar circumstance. So, the chiefs and the people of Ile-Ife became worried. Ogboru was a very strong person and because he didn’t leave the stool by his own volition, he made sure that the Oonis installed after him did not live.

The late Oba Adesoji Tadeniawo Aderemi
The late Oba Adesoji Tadeniawo Aderemi

How did he do this? Did he bewitch them from Ife Odan where he had settled?
That is beyond explanation. He was said to be a very strong Ooni. The Ife chiefs went to meet him at Ife Odan to persuade him to come back to Ile Ife as Ooni. He refused. Since they had come to apologise to him, he sent them to his daughter, Moropo, and that the daughter should go to the palace with her son, Giesi, who would do the appropriate thing and that Giesi should be crowned the Ooni and that was what the chiefs did.

The ‘appropriate thing’ in that context being the spiritual cleansing of the palace to avoid further tragedy…
I don’t know. That was how Giesi became the Ooni and after him three of his children became the Ooni. As far as I am concerned, Giesi is an extension of Ogboru Ruling House. Up till 1980, there was no time the throne of Ooni was rotated among the ruling houses. The strongest of the princes has always become the Ooni.

You are saying the stool has never been zoned, but some members of the other ruling houses are saying it is their turn…
It has never been zoned to any ruling house, even up till recent history. After Adewela, there was an Ooni-elect called Derin whom some people referred to as Derin Ologbenla. He was an Ooni that was never crowned and yet was in the records as Ooni for 14 years. He had been sent to Ondo by the then Ooni as part of plans to deal with him because Derin was an extremely strong prince who was also feared by the chiefs. There are records to that effect. When Derin got to Ondo, the then Osemawe of Ondo, who was supposed to deal with him was also scared of him and could not carry out the assignment given to him to deal with Derin. On Derin’s way back to Ile Ife, the stool became vacant and he got to know that. He decided to stay in Okeigbo to have a short rest because the trip was long. During his rest, he became comfortable with the environment and told those in his entourage to let them stay put at Okeigbo and that was how he founded Okegbo as a town. He was in Okegbo for 14 years and never got to Ife to become the Ooni and was never crowned.

Were the chiefs in Ife going to him at Okegbo on issues of administration?
That is the issue. The Aare crown was never put on his head. So, technically, he was not an Ooni. For the period he was at Okeigbo, the stool of Ooni was vacant. None of the princes at home could step into the palace and asked to be crowned. The chiefs who didn’t like Ologbenla were waiting for him to come and be crowned Ooni. Ologbenla too was afraid that if he got to Ife, he might be dealt with. So, he decided to stay at Okeigbo. He replicated the chieftaincy titles in Ife at Okeigbo. For instance, Chief Fajemirokun was the Orunto of Okeigbo and that title is the title of the head of town chiefs in Ile Ife who decided who becomes the next Ooni. It was after Derin’s demise that there was a contest for the stool of Ooni. Adelekan, who took the title of Olubuse 1, was crowned the Ooni in 1894. He was on the throne for about 16 years, 1894 to 1910. He was a very strong man and won the contest. He was said to be very petit, always wanting to assert his authority. When he died, there was a contest for the throne among all eligible princes and the contest was won by Adekola who came from the Osinkola Ruling House. Unfortunately, Adekola died mysteriously two months after he was named Ooni and during the rites of his coronation. Before he emerged, Ademiluyi contested with him fiercely for the throne. When he died in 1910, some people said his death might have to do with the fierceness of the competition that threw him up as the Ooni. His death threw open another contest for the stool. All the eligible princes contested for the throne, but Ademiluyi won. He took on the title of Ajagun. He was a very handsome, fair-skinned but very tough man. There was a myth that, at night, he would change into a leopard to hunt. He was so fierce and feared that, when he died, nobody could move close to his bedroom for four days. It was after he didn’t come out in four days that one of the wives was said to have summoned the courage to go to his room and found him dead. During his reign and in 1928, the man who succeeded him, Ooni Adesoji Aderemi, faced his wrath because Aderemi had become so rich. He had taken on the title of Atobatele. One day, Aderemi was driving on the street of Ife towards the palace and the young men in the city hailed him as Baba yio….Kabiyesi. This infuriated Ademiluyi. But Ademiluyi’s first son, Adeyemi, was Aderemi’s close friend. Aderemi was charged to the Ooni’s court and was made to prostrate for 10 hours. He was eventually fined. Ademiluyi’s intention was to deflate his popularity.
Two years later, Ademiluyi died and the race for the throne was thrown open and Aderemi contested the stool from Osinkola. Adedire contested from Giesi and Adedoyin from Ademiluyi’s family, that is, Lafogido, which is the same ruling house as Ademiluyi who has just died. Aderemi won the contest and was crowned the Ooni. Aderemi’s 50 years as Ooni have been described as the golden era in Ile-Ife. In his first year, he realised that the throne of Ooni would be any other throne unless there was good input. After standard six, the pupils were out there on the streets the higher schools were outside Ile Ife. In December 1931, one Reverend M.S Cole was going to Ilesa to establish a secondary school there. A friend to Reverend Cole, one Reverend Adejumo, brought Cole to see the Ooni on a courtesy visit. Ooni Aderemi asked him where he was going and he said he wanted to go and establish a secondary school in Ilesa. Quickly, Ooni Aderemi asked him to first establish a secondary school in Ile Ife and that was how the Oduduwa College was established. By its establishment on January 22, 1932, Oduduwa College is the first private secondary school in Nigeria. When the school was started, he ordered that every pupil that had completed his or her standard six must go to Oduduwa College, whether they had money or not. He found out that in six months, the nuisance which the young boys and girls had become, ended because they were in school. It was in the course of that that Reverend Cole told him that there was a particular plant that was planted in Agege, Lagos, called cocoa and that if Ooni Aderemi made his subjects to plant it, in five years they would all be affluent. Aderemi arranged to have cocoa seedlings brought from Agege for every interested farmer in Ile Ife. In a short while, parents would leave for farms, while their wards would leave for school. Ile-Ife became very peaceful. Before long, the chiefs met with Kabiyesi and complained that they no longer had cases to adjudicate on, petty cases which they handled then were someone taking another’s wife or husband. He told the chiefs too to go and farm.

If at that point in history, Ooni Aderemi saw the need to give attention to agriculture as a means of creating sustainable wealth for the citizens, why is it difficult for the political leadership currently in the saddle in the South-West to take a similar initiative to address pervasive poverty?
It is because we have gotten it all wrong. The exodus from the farm was a 1973 affair when there was a boom in the oil industry. Up to 1973, crude oil sales contributed less than five per cent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It was when the Israelis and the Arabs went to war and the Arabs shut export of crude oil to the West that demand for our own crude oil galloped. That was when we started producing up to 2 million barrels per day and in no time, the petrodollars began to come in hugely. And that was when General Yakubu Gowon, the then head of state, said money was no longer our problem; that the problem was how to spend it. There was no foresight in the then leadership. I still maintain that, if Chief Obafemi Awolowo had been a Federal Minister for Finance during the oil boom, we would be talking of a different Nigeria now because the man had vision. I have had occasions to sit down with him. He never discountenanced my opinion as a young person’s view. He would listen to me and ask me questions. And you would be surprised that he would make use of your knowledge and that was the unique thing about Chief Awolowo. Today, the free education policy of Chief Awolowo is what has placed the South-West above all other zones in the country. Dr Nnamdi Azikwe tried it in the East, but he failed and in the North, it was a different ball game-the philosophy of almajiri did not give room for such a policy.

In the spirit of fairness and equity, would you advocate the adoption of rotation of the Ooni’s throne among the four ruling houses so as to lay the foundation for a crisis-free succession in the future?
The question I want to ask you is: should we change custom? The custom of Ife is that when there is a vacancy, every eligible prince from the male line in the recognised families as being those who can contribute to the competition should be allowed to do it. We can’t have a first class candidate and go and choose a third class candidate. Many of those who are now saying they want to become Ooni know absolutely nothing about the tradition and customs of Ile-Ife. The 50 golden years of Ooni Aderemi were so described because he was focused. Apart from the fact that he went to England a number of times for constitutional matters of Nigeria, the only time he went to England outside official programme was in 1968. It has never happened in the history of Ile Ife that the position of Ooni was rotated. After Abewela, who died in 1849, and was said to be from Lafogido, was Degbinsokan who was Ooni from Giesi family from 1844 to 1878. Immediately after him, there was Ogayigba, also from Giesi, and after him was Derin Ologbenla, who was Ooni at Okeigbo. He was also from Giesi. So, three Oonis from Giesi family came in one after the other. Abelewa was from Lafogido, before him was Funmonije also from Lafogido. It was after Adelekan that we had Adekola from Osinkola, who was there for only two months. Ademiluyi, also from Lafogido, took over. After Ademiluyi, we had Aderemi from Osinkola family. This means that only Ademiluyi was between Adekola and Aderemi. After Aderemi, we had Okunade Sijuwade from Ogboru family. So, where is the rotation?

Are you saying that because it was never rotated, it should never be rotated now or in the future?
We will be going against the customs of Ile Ife if we contemplate rotating the position of Ooni.

In other words, it will be against the republican spirit of the Ife people to rotation the stool.
Ife people are not republican. They are pure traditionalists. What we are saying is that every eligible prince is qualified to contest. We must not go against the tradition so that terrible things won’t start happening in our domain. If we have to resort to allocating and disqualifying, it may not be palatable.

Should the tradition continue, it then means a particular family with very big and influential candidates will continue to emerge to the exclusion of others.
May I remind you that being a big candidate does not mean the candidate has big money. We must do the right thing by allowing every qualified candidate to contest and we allow Ifa to select the best among them. We should not put money into Ifa’s mouth.

Will the process of Ifa choosing the correct candidate be an open one? Will the candidates be present or some kingmakers will come to announce to them the chosen candidate?
Ifa will not lie. If the candidates are allowed to be there, some of them will die from the shock that Ifa has rejected them. So, it is better for them to be told that Ifa has rejected them. I think the chiefs and the kingmakers in Ife are still very honest.

Do you see the need for reforms in the process of selecting Obas in Yorubaland, particularly in Ife, the cradle of the Yoruba race?
I don’t see the reforms that can come because the obas are like relics and could be irrelevant, depending on what use the position is put. Those who are clamouring that it is their turn are not looking at the history and culture. For instance, the Ooni can have a mother but must not have a father. The young man who says it is their turn still has a father. If he has a father, then his father should jostle for the position and not him. Those who are going for it in my own family are those whose fathers are dead.

How many candidates are in the race so far?
They are more than 50. But some of them are just pure jesters. For instance, somebody who woke up in the morning and said the late Ooni had anointed him. The Ooni can’t anoint anybody because he does not know who will succeed him. The man, because he has a university, is making it look as if without being a millionaire one cannot be the Ooni. What has the Ooni got to do with being a millionaire? The Ooni is a relic; he should be in the palace. We have this problem because the whole thing has been turned into fashion and social thing.

What is your advice to the kingmakers as they begin the process of selecting the new Ooni?
They should not go against the tradition and custom of Ile-Ife, which is that every eligible prince should be allowed to contest. They should also maintain the time-honoured tradition of letting Ifa pick the best from among the contestants as the Ooni-elect. I have said it several times that only God, which in Yoruba cosmology is called Olodumare, decides who will occupy the stool of Ile-Ife.

One of the contestants is your nephew from the Aderemi lineage-Prince Damola Aderemi. How much campaign have you done for him?
There are actually two candidates from my family that are contesting. There are also one or two Baba Sala (clowns) who also say they want to contest. I called them Baba Sala because they don’t seem to know what we are talking about. The position of Ooni is not one that can be desecrated or dragged in the mud. The Ooni must have a means of livelihood.

Isn’t there a mechanism of pruning down the number to separate the wheat from chaff?
Ordinarily, the Ooni must not have any deformity. The Muslims say a ram with a broken horn cannot be sacrificed for Allah. The father of any of the princes who is jostling must have been buried in Ife and he must be able to know where his father was buried in Ife. He must be able to tell the people how he is related to the Ooni. He must have a father who was eligible in his time. He must be upright. Frauds and 419ners must never be allowed to sit on the throne. There are so many of them going about with big money. We must investigate how they made their money. We don’t want an Ooni who, after being installed, will be chased around by the anti-corruption agencies, even though they say the agencies too are now corrupt. We must not allow someone against whom petitions had been written to be the Ooni.
We need an Ooni of proven character and integrity. Money is equally good but not stolen money. Of late, names of people owing banks billions were published in newspapers and these big debtors go about in rented agbada and limousines. We want the kind of Ooni Aderemi in Ile-Ife now; an Ooni who stood shoulder-high among his peers and was respected by the Alake Ademola, Alaafin of Oyo either Ladigbolu or Adeyemi, Olubadan from the time of Alesinloye, Oba of Benin, Akenzua, the Ewi of Ado Ekiti, the Olowo of Owo, Deji of Akure, Adesida, Oba Adeniji Adele of Lagos and many others absolutely.


5 thoughts on “INTERVIEW: The Ooni’s Throne Has Never Been Rotated In History – Prince Adetowo Aderemi

  1. May you live long baba,you are very correct,you said it as it is.I now know more,you have a nswered so many questions about ologbenla i had wanted to ask.God bless u

    1. Giesi the daughter of Ogboru was the first female Ooni.
      Ojaja 1st was the second to come from this lineage.
      Derin Ologbenla was the third to come from the Giesi line.
      Babatunde Enitan Ogunwusi the great grandson of Ojaja 1st is the fourth Ooni from Giesi line.

  2. Giesi is a direct daughter of Ogboru and Ooni Ogboru chose to slight Ile-Ife Chief’s after he accepted their apology asked them to crown his daughter Giesi, thus Giesi was the first female Ooni to rule Ile-Ife. Ooni Adeyeye Ogunwusi is the 4th Ooni to emerge from this line after the 1957 Ademola Commission of Inquiry. Before this inquiry the royal family in Ile-Ife was one and ascension to the throne was a survival of the fittest with due consultation with Ifa Oracle.

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