interviewBy Bashir Adefaka
His Majesty, Oba (Dr.) Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi, CFR, the Alaafin of Oyo Kingdom and Permanent Chairman, Oyo State Council of Obas and Chiefs is one of the foremost traditional rulers in Nigeria. He was once Chancellor of Uthman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto, thus being the first Yoruba monarch to occupy such position. He spoke to BASHIR ADEFAKA in Ibadan. Excerpts:
Your Majesty has come quite a long way. How was your growing up like?
Let me start by acknowledging the fact that my early training was premised on how to take every disappointment in life as a blessing. As a child, I was denied the opportunity of direct parental socialization and upbringing. That was as a result of the travails and political persecution of my father, the Alaafin, Oba Adeniran Adeyemi, by the government of the day.
My father did not allow his travails to disrupt his determination to give me the best preparation for purposeful adulthood. Hence, while he was paying the price of political persecution in exile, he sent the young prince, that was me, to the Alake of Abeokuta, Oba Oladapo Ademola. Oba Ademola was the father of a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Adetokunbo Ademola.
It was under Oba Ademola that I had my tutelage in royalty. The Egba monarch in compliance with my father's instruction did not feed me with a silver spoon expected of me.
Rather, he made me to pass through all the rigorous manuals of a normal child. My father was so impressed by the kind of Spartan discipline that I received under the Alake, but when the tax riot that erupted in Abeokuta forced him, Oba Oladapo Ademola, to Osogbo, I was moved to the household of another disciplined family of Dr. Kofoworola Abayomi in continuation of the nature of Yoruba training that I was already exposed to. That is tell you that life is about struggling, enduring and persevering.
I must also add here that I am proudly an old boy of St.Gregory's College, Ikoyi, Lagos.
You were conspicuously absent at the recent meeting of Yoruba Obas and governors of the South West. Can we know why you were absent?
I had thought that I would not say anything in respect of that and such meetings again. This is because the general public and the various authorities already know my position on such. But now that you have raised it, and for the benefit of the general public and Yoruba race in particular, I will endeavour to give some explanations. For me, as the Alaafin, I have some rules that govern my appearance in some public gatherings. One of these is: Will that outing add to the dignity of the exalted office of the Alaafin or not?
The second is: To what extent is such meeting likely to be of overall interest of Yoruba as an important federating unit of the country? My opinion as canvassed by the Oyomesi and with due regard to the conveners of the meeting is that, the forum falls short of meeting those expectations.
There is no doubt that the country is passing through crucial phases in the polity. That phenomenon imposes challenges on the various federating units. There is therefore the need for unity among the units so that they can speak with one voice that rises above partisan interest.
How can that be achieved under the present situation?
I am coming to that. When in 1967, Nigeria faced similar challenge, it was the entire political class of the Yoruba that gathered in Ibadan where Chief Obafemi Awolowo was unanimously chosen as the leader of the Yoruba. He was nominated not by the Action Group members but, purely, by the entire Yoruba people. That was the glorious moment of the Yoruba when judged by the credible leadership provided by the late sage.
But can we dwell more on it in view of the divergent partisan interests of individuals?
Why not?! All the ingredients are still available. At a time there were moves to reconcile and fuse the Afenifere and the Council of Elders (YCE). The two blocks are made of eminent Yoruba leaders capable of speaking for the Yoruba at anytime. But they cannot achieve much as long as they are not talking with one voice.
In the 1967 experience, the Obas worked assiduously in bringing all the warring political interests together especially against the backdrop of the rancour between the Action Group and the NCNC. But what do we have today? Obas and governors alone chatting a course for the Yoruba. We have to look beyond transient position holders.
For instance, Ayodele Fayose was governor, he was a leader. But out of office he does not appear at the forum again. Governors Oyinlola and Daniel are at the last phase of their second term. What happens after next year when they will no longer be governors? Will they suffer the same fate with Agagu who suddenly withdrew from the leadership scene the moment he ceased to be governor?
The point I am making is that, these people irrespective of being governors are leaders in their own rights. It is unfortunate that Yoruba that used to be pace-setters in political awareness are now backwards. Take for example, there is no forum of traditional rulers like emirs and governors of the northern states just as there is none between Igbo traditional rulers and governors of the south east. Rather than that, the traditional rulers operate through their socio-political pressure groups like the Arewa Consultative Forum and the Ohaneze.
What I am saying is that, the Yoruba should resuscitate its own pressure group to meet the challenges of national exigencies. To me, the institution of traditional rulership around should be an agency for uniting rather than dividing the political class, which is what the Obas are doing now.
Do they want to say Yorubas in other political parties are not leaders in their own rights? What of other political offices holders like Yoruba members of the National Assembly? Other nationalities make use of their retired citizens whether in the public or private sector. But to the Yoruba, qualification for leadership is being reduced to sitting public functionaries especially the governors. For me, selective leadership is not the solution to our problem.
What's your position on the National Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria?
The explanation for my position on the issue of National Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria can also be found in my respect for rule of law and Constitution. We are operating a federal system of government. Under the system, chieftaincy matter is not on the exclusive; not even on the concurrent lists.
It is residual. That means only the state can legislate on it. With that arrangement, is it not contradictory for a system in which the Federal Government has no role to play to be talking of national forum? Any amendment to the Constitution that will transfer any aspect of the traditional institution to the Federal Government is capable of putting the federal system on a shaky note.
We should avoid the mistake of General Ironsi who in 1966 attempted to tamper with traditional institution in the name of centralised authority.
Does it mean you don't see the need for this council? What is the way out?
I agree that there is need for some amendments to the institution especially in the light of some overzealous governors who try to politicise the institution in some states. We have seen instances in recent time of a governor threatening a prominent Oba for daring to comment on some infrastructural decay in his domain.
Really, the institution needs some protection from the hard grip of some governors. But be that as it may, since traditional institution, as the name implies, revolves around the local people, it can only be best managed when it is allowed to function within its immediate environment at the state level. Any attempt to bring traditional institution under the federal umbrella is an invitation for national chaos.
What is your relationship with the Ooni of Ife at the moment?
Let me put it this way: My relation with traditional rulers generally is cordial. But since you singled out the Ooni of Ife, you should have your reasons. I think he is in a better position to answer the question. For me, I have no problem with him at all as long as everybody knows his limit of authority.
During the maiden meeting of the South-West governors and prominent traditional rulers held at the Government
House, Agodi, Ibadan and hosted by the Oyo State Governor, Otunba Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala on August 1, 2008, something happened that I will now tell you. Others present at the meeting were the governors of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola; Dr. Olusegun Agagu before he was ousted as Ondo State governor; Mr. Segun Oni, Ekiti State governor; my humble self; Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade; Alake of Egbaland; Bishop Ayo Ladigbolu and the Chief Imam of Osogbo, Sheikh Ajisafe among others.
At that meeting, the Ooni openly affirmed that there was no misunderstanding between him and the Alaafin and he praised me to high heavens.
But in January 2009, about four months after that maiden meeting, the same Ooni at the centenary celebration of Chief Obafemi Awolowo at the Muson Centre, Lagos, used his prepared speech to descend on my person, my office and my ancestors. I then reflected deeply on what he had said earlier and his present position. I contacted some traditional rulers and prominent Nigerians to register my displeasure at the unwarranted attack.
Among those I contacted were the Oba of Lagos, Oba Babatunde Rilwan Akiolu; the Awujale of Ijebu Land, Oba Sikiru Adetona; Sir Olaniwun Ajayi; Chief Ayo Adebanjo for two months, none of them could persuade the Ooni to withdraw the unwarranted outburst on my person, my revered throne and the institution of the Alaafin.
Then, I have no option but to correct the historical fallacy, deliberate distortion of facts of history and the malicious publications, so in March 2009, I published a rejoinder which was published in the Nigerian Tribune and other newspapers in the country.
Despite the proliferation of Yoruba bodies and groups, unity seems to be elusive. How can we achieve lasting unity amongst the Yoruba?
You see, diverse opinions are product of the high level of education and mental development of the Yoruba elite. I agree that Yoruba should have a common agenda in response to national issues. That is the essence of federalism. But to think of a united front as it was in the past, Yoruba may have to wait a bit for the emergence of another Awolowo in the political landscape.
That should be somebody who combines sound intellectualism and deep thinking with politics. He must not be narrow-minded and must be ready to surrender himself for the service of the people.
Obas should not be deeply involved in the formation of any political pressure group of partisan interest.
Like adage that says uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, what are your challenges as a prominent leader in the Yoruba Nation?
The challenges are enormous, indeed, just as the experience had equally been exciting. Sitting on the most exalted traditional stool in Yorubaland is enough excitement. However, the excitement also imposes some responsibilities.
Alaafin, in history, is the Head of the Oyo and, by extension, Yoruba Empire who evolved the system of separation of power between the executive and the legislature and the judiciary over five hundred years ago. As a civilised people, Yoruba under the Alaafin, abhor despotism or absolutism of any form.
That was why as the Alaafin, he still had a legislative arm in form of the Oyomesi under the headship of Bashorun. What is today referred to as due process is not new to the Yoruba. Taking decision, in Yoruba, follows due process involving all stakeholders. But once it received the ascent of the Alaafin, it imposes the doctrine of collective responsibility on the people. In Yoruba system, there is also independent judiciary because, Yoruba cherish individual freedom and liberty.
Back to your question, I have been on this throne for some forty eventful years and I've worked with many governments at various levels, local, state and federal. I have also worked with military and civilian regimes. The challenges faced by the people under each of these two types of government are different. Under the military, the pressure was usually on the traditional rulers to support the government, while at the same time, the people out there would want their traditional rulers to support them to drive away what they called military impostors.
You know, in political parlance, military rule is an aberration. Therefore, a traditional ruler, under military regime, must know how to balance his views and position, especially against the backdrop of the military's lack of tolerance for criticism.
But as the Alaafin, who fears no one, I have been able to survive all that and still come out unscratched.
What is your view on the development in Nigeria?
I see the present scenario as a product of necessity. It is God's own design to use Dr. Goodluck Jonathan at this time to rescue Nigeria and contribute his own quota to the development of the country. Because it is the creation of God Himself, I believe there will always be divine guidance for the Acting President for wise decisions. So far, he has shown a kind of courage that goes beyond the imagination of so many people.
How would you assess the performance of the Oyo State government under Governor Alao-Akala?
The governor is doing his best within the limited resources of the state. If there are lapses, it only shows that he is a mortal and not a saint, and no mortal can claim perfection.
Is there any area you can point to as lapses just mentioned?
No specific one to my mind. I am only being hypothetical, my self being a mortal too.
You were once a member of the Oyo State Security Council. Are you still there?
I am satisfied with my traditional functions as the Alaafin.
I understand that you have been removed, why?
Since I have been removed as you claimed, you better go to your source to find out why. For me, my duty as Alaafin is a 24-hour schedule.
Finally, Your Majesty, there was a recent assassination in your domain. How do you feel in view of what we read in the newspapers about it?
That some suspects were quizzed on their relationship with your palace.
As a law abiding citizen, since police investigations are still on, I prefer not to comment on it. As a Yoruba man yourself, you know the palace of the Oba is the home of all citizens. At the appropriate time, I will respond to that. In the meantime, I do not want to pre-empt police investigations with any diversionary step. The time for that will soon come.