OUT of all the ethnic groupings in Nigeria today, it is only the Yoruba that can lay legitimate claim to a common ancestry. Oduduwa is known and regarded as the Great Patriarch of the Yoruba race and one whose name is always invoked in ancestral worships. However, in spite of this common heritage the children of Oduduwa rank among the most disunited and ever-bickering ethnic groups in Nigeria.
The lack of unity among the Yoruba was so intense in the formative years of Nigeria’s political system that an Igbo man, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, nearly took advantage of the intra-tribal rivalry among the people of the then Western Region to become the first Premier of the region in 1954.
After averting the political tragedy that would have befallen his own children, Oduduwa, the great progenitor of these vibrant people, decided to entrust the leadership of his people to the control and direction of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Subsequent events proved that he made the right choice.
Chief Awolowo assumed the mantle of leadership in 1 954 and soon started to dazzle the rest of the country with his outstanding performances. He recorded major ‘firsts’ to his credit viz; the first television station in Africa, the first Olympic-size stadium in Nigeria, the famous marketing boards and the visionary farm settlements.
The legendary political father of the Yoruba nation stunned his inter-regional peers with the introduction of the free primary education and capped it all up with the increase in workers’ salaries to five shillings a day, a feat which the NPC-controlled Federal Government publicly admitted that it could not match.
Under Awolowo, the West recorded unrivalled achievements that inevitably became the envy of other regions whose leaders did not wish him well. They achieved their aim when they used Satan to throw the spanner in works by instigating and encouraging discord between Awolowo and his indefatigable deputy, Chief S.L. Akintola.
The 1962 intra-party dispute between Awolowo and Akintola was a watershed in Nigeria’s political history as it not only resulted in the truncation of parliamentary democracy in Nigeria but also succeeded in polarising the Yoruba nation and creating mistrust and disunity among the people.
Several other incidents also contributed to the disunity among the children of Oduduwa. For several decades, the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade and the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, never saw face to face and this situation brought certain other prominent traditional rulers and their peoples supporting either of the two powerful monarchs, thus exacerbating the fast festering mistrust and suspicion among the people.
The situation came to a head in the early 80s with the open face-off between the Ooni and the Alaafin over the chairmanship of the Old Oyo State Council of Obas. As the rivalry among the Obas increased, the love and brotherhood among their various subjects declined.
In 1982, the deep mistrust between the Oyo and the the Ife people exploded into a serious armed conflict between Ife and Modakeke, which resulted in many casualties on both sides. Then again in 1997, a bloody war erupted between the two communities which compelled the then president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, to proceed to the war zone.
Until about a year ago, mutual love and trust were virtually non-existent among the major traditional rulers in Yorubaland. But the situation changed about a year ago. Shortly after his ascension to the highly revered throne of Ile-Ife, the new, youthful Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi (Ojaja II) did the almost impossible — he left his traditional domain to pay a royal visit to the Alaafin of Oyo in his palace!
It was a historic visit which jolted but gladdened the hearts of millions of Yoruba people, home and abroad. The gesture was widely hailed and applauded by his brother Obas themselves. Shortly after his visit to Oyo, the Ooni embarked on similar visits to Abeokuta, Ilesa and a couple of other towns where he was enthusiastically received and hailed by his hosts.
At the palace of the Alake of Egbaland, the Oba praised the patriotic initiative of the Qoni in embarking on the tours and declared emphatically that the “Ooni is indeed the Number one Oba in Yorubaland”. Similar comments have been made by other prominent Yoruba leaders who have described the Ooni as “the person sent to us by Oduduwa to restore peace and understanding among our people”.
As an Ibadan man myself, two events always fuelled my great admiration for the Ooni. The first was when he graced the coronation of the Olubadan of Ibadan. His majestic entry into the arena in a horse-drawn carriage threw everyone into ecstasy and two fellow Ibadans sitting beside me remarked “this is truly the king of the Yoruba nation”.
My second experience was at the imposing palace of the Ooni at Ile-Ife where the mere appearance of Kabiyesi to his waiting visitors was done with pomp and majesty. May he live long.
By Moses Olorode, Ibadan