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INTERVIEW: Becoming Mogaji Is Like A Past Coming Alive In The Present For Me — Prof. Remi Raji


Prof Aderemi Raji-Oyelade, a former head of department and dean of the faculty of arts at the University of Ibadan, UI, was recently installed the head of his Adegboro family compound. He spoke to journalists about the uniqueness of the title and his efforts to bridge the gap between the town and gown. OYOINSIGHT.COM brings excerpts.

For a while, there has been crisis in the Ibadan traditional system leading to polarisation. How do you think this crisis can be resolved?

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I am new in the traditional system in Ibadanland. I am just a greenhorn but I have followed the trend over time, dated back to the leadership of two former governors in Oyo state. I strongly believe that the Ibadan traditional chieftancy system that has been seen as unique in Nigeria and the commonwealth in general should be retained. There is no other option for excellence where there is excellence. So, I do not believe that there is dichotomy between the Olubadan, Oba Saliu Adetunji, Aje Ogungunniso I, and the other high chiefs. I can recall that at my installation with other Mogajis and Baales of Ibadanland, the Olubadan- in-Council was considerably represented. Peace can only be guaranteed in the traditional system of Ibadan when each person, each traditional and paramount title holder, gives the appropriate regard and respect to the ownership of a system that is unique to Ibadan throughout the world. Researchers have been to our Departments of History and Sociology and to the high chiefs to interview both the scholars and the traditional title holders about the traditional system that is unique and excellent. So, the system should be retained.

You are a scholar. Why did you delve into the traditional setting to take the traditional title of Mogaji?

The Mogaji title is not a title you seek. It is a title that is hereditary within the compound and within the family, immediate and expanded family system in Ibadanland. There are structures and superstructures that make Ibadan to be unique as a political and social entity. The family is the unit of peace and cohesion. So, you have the family, the family head, then, you also have the extended family in all the four primary connections from the father, from the mother, from the two other grandfathers. So, down the line, the family system is expanded and among those who are the free born male children, one of them as at any given time will be selected as Mogaji in a very democratic manner that is not taught by the West. So, we live in the culture. Our language is part of our culture. If I speak the Yoruba language, then I am part of Yoruba culture. I cannot say because I am a Professor, I will forget about my heritage and my roots. As I said, the Mogajiship is not something that you can seek except you are invited or something unique, outstanding is seen in you by the family units: heads and representatives of the age groups including the women. Then, they will pick you. It will be up to you to accept or reject or suggest another person who could take the Mogajiship up. I felt that for my own people, the Adegboro clan, extended and spread all over Nigeria and even abroad, to make up their minds and say it is me after so many years, I have to accept it. My own father had been in line for the Mogajiship. He died in 1975, that is 45 years ago. But he never got the installation at the king’s palace. So, for me, it is like the past coming alive in the present. I really felt honoured by the people including my own brothers and sisters. So, culture is part of our lives. What is the essence of my scholarship? What is the essence of my intelligence if I cannot give back to the society? What does it all add up to if I cannot represent my family within the traditional chieftaincy of Ibadanland?

This poser of the town and the gown, looking at how busy you are as a scholar, as a family man, how do you manage the two seamlessly?

The point is that the town is a resource ground for the gown, and the gown is the factory for the intelligence, production and development of the town. So, there is that synergy all the time. If I live all my life with the gown and I cannot find my way to my family house, what is the essence of that scholarship? You cannot separate one from the other but we have to be practical about it. We cannot just mouth the idea of town and gown. We have to practice it. That is what I have been privileged to do.

You talked about Adegboro, do you have a link with this saying, “Eni ti o se bi alaaru l’Oyingbo, ko le se bi Adegboro loja Oba?”

There is only one historic ‘Adegboro’ all over the world. Now, there are actually two sayings. The original saying is “Eni ti o ba le se bi alaaru lona Ijebu, ko le se bi Adegboro loja Oba”. That is the original proverb dating back to the post-Yoruba war era. Our patriarch, great, great grandfather, Amusan Abidogun, was a warrior who arrived in Ibadan from Oyo-Ile to be part of many  war expeditions of Ibadan. In peace time, he became a great recognised farmer who was very wealthy. Many people know anyone who wants to be successful must persevere and struggle. You have to dirty your hands. Amusan Abidogun had many farmlands located in the south bounds of the old city, located in present-day Oluyole local government area, along the villages linking Ibadanland with Ijebuland. The two areas where he held away are Abidogun and Ojoekun villages. He had a sizeable number of labourers including slaves who worked for him. He made so much money. On special occasions and at intervals that he returned to his Ibadan home, he would dress well and dance to the king’s market, Oja Oba, generally called Oja’ba. The name of his masquerade was Adegboro, so he was more known and called Adegboro than by his main name. He was known for good dress sense; in the king’s square, he was always dressed in brocade and damask. On festival time, when he went to the palace to pay homage to the king, he was majestic just as the masquerade. His wealth was legendary. It was from the story of his hardwork and industry as a farmer and his majestic nature in the city that the proverb came to be: if you cannot work like a pig in the farm on the way to Ijebu, you cannot flaunt your wealth like Adegboro in the king’s market. The second proverb that is more popular came later. One of Adegboro’s grandsons left Ibadan for Lagos in search of greener pasture. He was our great grandfather;  his name is Yesufu Ojewumi. He traveled in the early 1900s and settled in in Oyingbo where he worked first as a butcher boy in the abbatoir. He was carrying and delivering meat for people from one end of the city to the other. From his industry, Yesufu Ojewumi later bought “omolanke” (wheelbarrow) to expand on his delivery service. After the wheelbarrow, he bought a vehicle and  eventually had a fleet of vehicles, becoming a renowned business in Lagos. His fame led him back home to Ibadan. Apparently, he had been given up for lost. In Ibadan, he followed on the footsteps of his grandfather by going to the king’s market in pomp and pageantry. The family masquerade was always the centre of attraction, always decked in the combination of fine wool, beads and mirrors for costume. For his display of wealth and generosity, and for the legend of how he became wealthy, the Yesufu Adegboro saga gave birth to the proverb: He who cannot work like a porter in Oyingbo market cannot be like Adegboro in the king’s market (“Eni ti ko le se bi alaaru l’Oyingbo, ko le se bi Adegboro loja Oba”.

There is polarity in the Mogaji set up where we have the authentic Mogajis and the other one?

I have read about this issue and sincerely speaking, I will advise myself not to want to go deeper into what is authentic and what is not authentic. For me, it reminds me of Wole Soyinka’s Kongi Harvest, where you have the Ogboni Fraternity and the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity. A Mogaji is a Mogaji. I do not think there is authentic or inauthentic Mogaji.

There is an allegation that Olubadan usually collects large sum of money before he allows somebody to become Mogaji. How much did you pay to become Mogaji?

The Mogaji title is not cash and carry. I can assure you of that. The Olubadan is an institution. So, if you give back to your society, to your family members, I do not see that as paying for the Mogaji title. As I said, Mogaji is almost hereditary. If you are not from within a certain community, you cannot be the Mogaji of that community, even if you have all the money in the world. Do I look like somebody who has N30m? I didn’t borrow to become Mogaji. The Mogaji system is such that your own people are the ones who will contribute if there is a need, because you certainly have to go through certain rites. You have to provide food items but not to the Olubadan. Whoever that has made that allegation should come out with the fact. It is demeaning of the obaship system to accuse Olubadan or any Oba. The Oba is the paramount leader of the community. I am sure you can still remember that before, people used to give loyalty tax to traditional rulers. They called it ‘isakole’. As Mogaji, if I do  not have any job, people should be bringing ‘isakole’ to me but it is the other way round. I would have to give rather than to receive. One will give because you are seen as the leader.

So, has culture changed? If somebody that is supposed to receive is the one giving, then the culture has changed?

The social and political system has changed considerably, because it is the government that people now pay taxes to, not the traditional rulers, but the government pays the paramount rulers. In other words, that is an indirect way of giving back to the kingship system without deliberately asking people to come in the morning and bring their harvests to the monarchy. That does not say that people cannot give to the Oba whenever they feel they should do so. People who cherish that institution still give, especially when the Oba, even the Mogaji or the Baale uses his own native wisdom to resolve some intractable problems that have been on for years. It is just like appreciating your leader for the good things he is doing. They can give if they so desire not that they are forced to do so.  If people come to me and give, I would rather give back because I see myself as a father of all and I need to lift up my people.

With the way political leaders are being dethroned and harassed, are obas properly placed?

The dethroning of obas did not begin just today. Obas have been deposed in the past. The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Adeniran Adeyemi I, the Awujale of Ijebu, the Olowo of Owo were all dethroned. We have instances of dethronement even in our traditional system. Obas have been decapitated; obas have been banished, in colonial,  democratic and military regimes. Even traditionally, the Oba can be deposed. If you look at the obaship system, it has managed to survive the vagaries, the many instabilities that we have had from military rule to civilian, to unitary, then back to the new democracy and all of that. It means there is something about it. Why is it that there is kingship system in Europe, in Spain, in Austria, in the United Kingdom, in Sweden? Why is it that the kingship system is still revered in those countries I mentioned? Over there, their gazettes and policies were made to give the monarchy relevance and to bring their traditions to bear with modernity. It seems that in our clime, the duties and the rights have not really been clearly outlined or defined. I do not think it is right for the obas, the emirs and the obis to always be at the beck and call of the governors who are going to be there for four years or maximum eight years. It is really an unpleasant development. I think the decapitation, dethronement or banishment of obas should have been left to the colonial past. In the present, we should be looking at the importance, the relevance and the significance of the kingship system especially for Ibadan that is so unique. There is a proverb, “Eti oba nile, eti oba loko, eeyan lo n jebe”, roughly, meaning that the people are the power and the authority of the king. Now, the city is so huge, it is sprawling but there is no part of the city that does not have the representation of Olubadan.  So, there is no need even for social media to pass the message of a king to the people. If there is an epidemic, the system has been so embedded to the fabric of the society that a day does not pass without the king’s pronouncement, without a prayer being made by the king for the land. No king wants war or instability. He is a father to all, irrespective of religious affiliations and professions. The king is the leader but there is a parallel between the leader at the traditional level and the leaders at the political level. We have forgotten that the king was also not just the spiritual leader, he was also the political leader in the past. Now, the political power has been withdrawn to the extent that if an oba makes a pronouncement and a governor feels there is something not appropriate about it, he can actually order the king to withdraw such a statement. That is not how it should be. It is just that our western democracy has reduced the power of obas but I am saying that there is something ironic about it. Why is it that the democracy of the UK has not taken off the power of the queen and the king? The same thing in Sweden and Spain. I have been to these places and I know that they revere the king or the queen and there are still primary political powers that are vested in the kingship system.

There is an allegation that some universities have added to the list of workers. Particularly, UI is alleged to have inflated its workforce so as to claim extra N650m from the federal government. It is stated that the discovery of this by ICPC brought the idea of IPPIS. It was also alleged that UI ASUU is corrupt and not transparent with its members. For example, the last earned allowance was said to have been distributed with a table prepared by ASUU, which was different from the original one prepared from each department and used to work the allowance by the FG. It is also believed that many lecturers registered under IPPIS?

There are so many questions here. The questions have attached to themselves rumours, unsubstantiated statements that are far from the fact.  I am a lecturer and I am sure I represent a sizeable number of lecturers within the university. I started teaching here formally in 1995. There are people who came even after then. Between the person who started 1980, 1985 and 2018, there is no difference. The only difference is that you have to know where you are coming from or how far you have moved. So, when they are talking about emoluments, benefits, and allowances, you have to calculate according to the year that you got into the university. People who came four or five years ago expect to earn the same amount as those who have been in the service for over 25 or 30 years. It is simple mathematical equation. As I said, there are too many questions but I will try as much as possible to simplify them in my response. The second point I want to note is that there is no place where you have a union where there will not be pockets or instances of dissenting voices. Where you have 30 out of 1,500 members as dissenting voices, you have a minority, but a minority that must be heard. What we always try to do is to make sure that we close our ranks. As we always say, united we stand, divided we fall. So, we make as much efforts as possible to get those dissenting voices to come to meetings of ASUU. We have regular and sometimes emergency meetings, where issues are raised, tabled and clarifications are made. Sometimes, you expect about 1,000 people to attend a meeting and you find extremely few members, less than 200 members. Only in time of crisis will you have the room filled up. When it comes to the leadership going to Abuja, Port Harcourt, or Makurdi to discuss about the emolument, benefits and they return to pass on the information and decisions from NEC on ordinary times, you will not find many people attend. It is only in time of crisis that you have so many people. That is understandable. Even, some of our own members are not adequately informed about the ASUU network, about the rapid response and about decisions that are made.  ASUU is the only standing professional labour union that can speak the truth to power. ASUU will give you constructive criticism. ASUU insists that Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) does not respect the peculiarities of its members as part of the global world University system. ASUU argues that the regulatory system is not well thought out, submitting that it is a siphon to provide money to consultants. We have professional accountants, statisticians, and mathematicians within ASUU. Why not bring them on board of the special presidential committee to develop a mutually acceptable alternative payroll mechanism for the National University system? There is nobody who is against transparency; I don’t know of anyone who does not want the fishing out of ghost workers. The ghost workers are not only within the university system. They are everywhere. They are in the medical institutions, and in the civil service. These are the leakages that will destroy the system faster than we think. So, there is nobody who is against it, but it is an exaggeration to say that University of Ibadan in which I am, and I know what is going on, has padded its own bill to the tune of N650m. It is an open society, we can actually ask those who are better informed about the financial status of the University. The Vice Chancellor and the Bursar are there. I know there is no kind of padding at all. The third point to address is that ASUU is acting as a pressure group. ASUU is not a hub for disbursing the commonwealth that comes to the university. ASUU does not deal directly with the money disbursed to different units of the university. ASUU only goes out to agitate for improvement in the educational system, in the provision of resources but when the subvention comes, it goes to management for disbursement, not to ASUU. Concerning the earned allowances, it was the academic body that worked out the table, to know what should go to each person and delivered it to the management.

University of Ibadan is far from the generation it belongs, there is no doubt about that. What can be done to ensure that it is in its right position?

It is a huge question and I will answer cryptically by revising an English saying or idiom. “Put the round peg in the round hole and the kingdom of excellence shall be given unto you”.

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