Civilisation and modern forms of governance have drastically diminished the power and authority of monarchs. Fading, not faded, our hidden admiration for primordial values sustains the influence of monarchs on government and the governed. Monarchs currently have no constitutional role, but their grassroots prominence generates patronage from virtually all holders of public office, industrialists and dignitaries. This patronage vindicates the presence of monarchs in social and state functions.
The Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu and the Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Ogunwusi’s presence at a function recently produced a much-needed distraction. Just when Nigerians were ardently debating President Buhari’s healthiness and his ability to rule, the video of a royal discord between two Yoruba monarchs diverted public attention like an orchestrated political gimmick. Summarily, the public was enraged that the Oba of Lagos dare rebuff the Ooni of Ife.
Although different scholarly and historical account of the Yoruba race exists, the Ooni of Ife is widely acknowledged as the supreme Yoruba monarch. The Oba of Lagos is not rated among the leading monarchs. As ranked by the Alake of Egba, the top five royals in Yoruba land are the Ooni of Ife, the Alaafin of Oyo, the Oba of Benin, the Alake of Egba and the Awujale of Ijebu respectively. To bring you up to speed, a narration of what transpired in the viral video is necessary.
In accordance with the Yoruba regal heritage, some royal guards’ were eulogizing the Ooni while others hastily cleaned his reserved seat. Admiringly, people loosen their neck strings to catch a glimpse of the Ooni’s majestic entry to the occasion. Humbly and commendably, Ooni Adeyeye exchanged pleasantries with a seated monarch and was he warmly welcomed. Upon approaching the Oba of Lagos, the Ooni, an earthly king of kings, was snubbed in the most absurd manner. He was publicly rebuffed like a mere slave or palace guard.
In shock, Nigerians, especially the Yoruba’s, couldn’t rationalize the courage behind Oba Akiolu’s action. Could it be because Oba Akiolu (74) is older than Ooni Adeyeye (42)? No, that’s not cogent! Similar to the police and army, the rank of a king’s ancestral dominion determines superiority, not age.
Frightened by the overwhelming public outrage and condemnation, Oba Akiolu issued a statement denying that he snubbed Ooni Adeyeye. One of the Lagos white cap chief, Lateef Ajose, proclaims that the snub is “the culturally acclaimed way of greeting by a Lagos monarch” and Oba Akiolu is “basically trying to revive the culture and tradition of ancient Lagos”.
This fabricated response dampens the spirit of Nigerians that, like politicians, monarchs are fast going political in reasoning, actions and reactions. The general feeling on social media was that Oba Akiolu’s damage control strategy of rationalizing insult as Lagos tradition was an afterthought. It is ignoble that rather than apologize, the Lagos monarch chose to diabolically wrap his wrongs around culture and tradition revival. Appalling, his rhetoric magnetizes all the trappings of a political rejoinder. More to the point, the sharp snub and glaring hostility captured in the video negates Oba Akiolu’s defense.
Even if culture is to be revived, welcoming the Ooni at a public function should not be the take-off point. Indeed, there is more to it than meets the eye. On how many occasions has Oba Akiolu greeted dignitaries with a snub, especially in public, before the cameras? In this modern age, would he have welcomed President Trump or Queen Elizabeth to Lagos with such a hostile attitude and snub? Please recall that despite the fact that President Buhari is a Muslim and would not shake hands with his female aides, he cheerfully shook hands with the Queen of England and the Chancellor of Germany. Manifestly, the genuine reason of actions resides only in the mind of the actor.
Since Oba Akiolu’s guilefully redefines his unruly behavior as cultural revival, examining his past deeds would be a credible means of determining whether he could have intentionally snubbed the Ooni or not. Based on facts in the public domain, unlike most Nigerian monarchs, Oba Akiolu is vocal, temperamental and politically sentimental.
In the heat of the 2015 gubernatorial election in Lagos State, the Eze Ndigbos (Igbo traditional rulers) in Lagos state paid a courtesy visit to Oba Akiolu. At the meeting, the monarch ordered all Igbos in Lagos state to vote for Akinwunmi Ambode – his anointed candidate. Vibrating with anger, Akiolu threatened that anyone who flouts his order would perish in the lagoon. The monarch boasted that he owns Lagos; he handpicked Ambode and; he (Ambode) must govern Lagos for eight years (two terms).
The national tabloids quoted Akiolu as saying “If anyone of you goes against Ambode who I picked, that is your end. If it doesn’t happen within seven days, just know that I am a bastard”. The monarch further threatened that “I am not ready to beg you, if anyone of you, I swear in the name of God, goes against my wish that Ambode will be the next governor of Lagos State, the person is going to die inside this water”.
In a country of laws, it would be interesting to watch Oba Akiolu dump the Igbos into the lagoon if Ambode had not triumphed. You may term Akiolu’s statement a mere threat, but recall that a similar inciting statement made by the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini, fuelled xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Won’t Nigeria shatter if Ambode had lost the election and his supporters angrily began to murder the Igbos?
Before you resolve that Oba Akiolu’s action in 2015 was a mistake, please recall that he recently vowed at the inauguration of the Nigerian Women against Corruption Initiative that he would work against former vice president Atiku Abubakar’s presidential ambition. All things considered, Akiolu’s vow would have held water if Nigeria is limited to his kingdom. Moreover, if Akiolu’s relentless attacks on Atiku were often credible and pro-masses, most Nigerians would have probably subscribed to his views, but, unfortunately, his rants were purely vengeance-seeking.
At a stakeholders meeting in Victoria Island, Lagos, Akiolu accused Atiku, Daura and other Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stalwarts of facilitating his dismissal from the Nigeria Police Force in 2002. He argued that his dismissal from service was a plot to ensure the PDP wins the 2003 elections in Lagos State.
Evidently, Oba Akiolu is more of an electoral warrior and political godfather than monarch. Being human, most monarchs have their political preference, but are often careful not to appear politically biased. They strategically play safe, so that if their preferred candidate is not elected and power change hands, they (monarchs) can easily switch allegiance and dance to the new political rhythm.
In all likelihood, most of the individuals that Oba Akiolu had ridiculed with his ego and temper have tolerated him based on their respect for royalty. For Akiolu, a less significant monarch and beneficiary of ‘royal immunity’, to now ridicule Ooni Ogunwusi – the overall leader of the Yoruba race – is unacceptable and condemnable. The catastrophic aftereffect of Akiolu’s snub is best presented in literal fiction (read slowly to grasp).
Once upon a time, there were three brothers that hardly agree on anything; they terribly hate themselves. By order of birth, James is the first born, Jack is second and Jude is the third/last born. According to their culture and tradition, once a man dies, the immediate junior brother owns the corpse and determines how it would be buried. While working on his farm, James was bitten by a poisonous snake, he fell sick and died. By right, James’ corpse belongs to Jack and he has the liberty to bury it as he wish. Based on the never-ending hatred, Jack announced that James’ corpse be sliced and fed to the vultures. People persuaded Jack to have a rethink but he refused.
For the first time in that village, human flesh was sliced and fed to the vultures. Obviously, Jack thought he has perfectly humiliated his brother because of the hatred between them. Unfortunately for Jack, he has forgotten that such hatred also exists between him and Jude and he had indirectly taught Jude the best way to handle the corpse of hated brother. The crucial message in this fiction is that we all must always use our discretion and power intelligently. Wise is the man who first orated that ‘what goes round comes round’. If Oba Akiolu fails to act cautiously and the powers-that-be fails to caution him, the law of Karma never fails.
Oba Akiolu must be reminded that today’s action is tomorrow’s history. He has set a bad example and indirectly taught other low-class monarchs that the best way to treat a revered monarch in public is to be rude. Therefore, no one should be surprised if a third class king from Ekiti State (best to use a PDP state) snubs or hiss at Oba Akiolu at a public event and later claim it is culture and tradition revival. To be honest, if the Sultan of Sokoto or the Obi of Onitsha snubs the Ooni of Ife in public, Oba Akiolu would most likely be the first to condemn such act and label it an insult to the Yoruba nation.
It is evident and non-negotiable that for Oba Akiolu to reclaim the admiration of Nigerians, especially that of the Yoruba extraction, he must melt his ego and apologise to the Ooni of Ife.
Arise, O compatriot Akiolu, humbleness call obey.
* Omoshola Deji is a political and public affairs analyst. He wrote in via firstname.lastname@example.org