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OYO101: Ogbomoso Is Up In Smoke; Who Will Stop It? | Muftau Gbadegesin

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As the protracted hostility between the Soun of Ogbomoso, Oba Ghandi Olaoye, and the Grand Chief Imam, Dr. Taliat Yunus Ayilara, intensified and calcified, a question crossed my mind: what is the price of peace?

‘Peace,’ as I soon discover, is a priceless and precious gem that one can only truly appreciate when absent. With that, I toured Kano, where two Emirs (relatives) sit vigilantly on Dabo’s throne, each plotting and planning to outwit the other on the street, courtroom, and courtyard.

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‘Royal Rumble across the Niger’

From there, I sneaked into Sokoto, the caliphate’s seat, where the governor is hell-bent and determined to clip the Sultan’s royal wings and influence. Gutted by the Sokoto governor’s gut instinct, I quickly dove into the waters of Rivers, where the Governor, Siminalayi Fubara, recently stripped His Highness, Eze Ohna Sergeant Chidi Awuse, the paramount ruler of Emohuo Kingdom, as the chairman of the Rivers State Council of Traditional Rulers, for deliberately omitting his picture in the 2024 calendar. Tired of the Rivers pool of crisis, I dashed into the Delta to say ‘Hello’ to the Governor, Sheriff Oborevwori, and ask him why his latest decision has got many people, especially in Warri, worried.

The news headline read, “Delta governor presents staff of office to Agbarha-Warri, His Royal Majesty (HRM), Kingsley Orereh, and Igbi 11.” Confused, I inquired if Agbarha-Warri had any connection to the port city of Warri and its surroundings, which Olu Ogiame Atuwatse 111 is in charge of. But following the presentation of the staff of office to the monarch, Lord of Warri, an influential figure known for promoting Warri, tweeted, “Stop referring to the 2006-created kingdom as the Warri Kingdom.”

‘two kings in the palace?’

In the drama that followed the removal of former Oyo state governor, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, in 2010, his deputy, the late Alao-Akala, the biggest beneficiary of that political crisis, rhetorically asked journalists, Can there be two kings in a palace? Today, that same late Alao-Akala will roll in his grave at the existence of two Kano emirs and two kings ruling over Warri!

Done with Delta drama, I branched into Benin, where the governor, Godwin Obaseki, and the Oba of Benin, His Royal Majesty, Ewuare 11, have been at each other’s necks over the relocation of stolen artifacts and the cold war that has trailed the insubordination of some Dukes to the monarch. Taken together, it was evident that revered traditional institutions across Nigeria are battling some of their worst onslaughts and assaults in recent times. They are not only fighting for relevance and significance; they are simply coping with various existential threats. For cultural enthusiasts, this is not the best of times: the same tongues that promised to protect the sacredness of these age-long stools are now tearing them apart! Unfortunate.

The mother of all rum punches.’

In Kano, Sokoto, Rivers, Delta, or Benin, the various avoidable royal rumbles appear more like supremacy battles between the constituted authority and the custodians of people’s culture and traditions than anything else. History says this is not a new precedent. Records of clashes between power bases, brokers, and respected monarchs abound. Long before slave trades, colonialism, and modern-day Nigeria, different monarchs contended with powerful plots that only defined their enduring legacy.

‘A different kind of clash’

But the burning and boiling royal and religious conflagration engulfing the ancient town of Ogbomoso is utterly different from events in the states mentioned above and cities: it is a clash of a modern-day king and a fiery preacher.

In less than a year in office, the Soun of Ogbomoso, Oba Ghandi Olaoye, has found himself between the rock and the hard place of religious division, polarisation, and, dare I say, conflagration. He took sides in a conflict that preceded his ascension to the throne. A conflict that was purely outside of his bounds and reach. But kings are inheritors of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Whether a crisis started before their installation or after may sound inconsequential, immaterial, and insignificant once it’s about community peace and stability.
Simply put, a king has all the interest in the world to wade into a row that may thwart his reign and disrupt the harmonious coexistence of his people. But there is a place for native wisdom, tact, and diplomacy. To take some steps back, it helps to look at the genesis of this dispute between the King and the Grand Chief Imam carefully.

‘Back to last year’

When it became apparent that Governor Seyi Makinde would not reject the selection of Oba Ghandi Olaoye as the late Oba Oyewumi’s successor, all other leadership structures in the town swiftly fell in line, the Grand Chief Imam included. However, an intra-religious crisis among some Muslim leaders and the Imam had been brewing over time. The aggrieved Muslim leaders, sensing the ignorance of the King in such an intricate, delicate, and complicated web of intrigues, quickly and surreptitiously exploited the situation to their advantage. Insiders revealed that the King’s open-door policy in those days gave everyone in the town a sense of belonging. This policy gave all and sundry access to the King and his palace. Unknown to the King, those Muslim ‘leaders’ had another plan in mind: “Once the die of this conflagration is cast,” they assumed “the blame will be on the King.” They literally and practically set the King up for ridicule and embarrassment. Or, to flip the coin, the King allowed himself to be set up for ridicule and humiliation.

‘Hot n spicy’

In a fiery sermon dated February 22, 2024, the Grand Imam of Ogbomoso walked his congregation through several attempts he made aimed at getting the Kings’ attention. He spoke for close to an hour, narrating his ordeals, which only proved abortive. Sensing clandestine plots to unseat him, the Imam said he approached the court to put things in proper perspective and to avoid a possible breakdown of law and order in the community. While the King kept mum over the Imam’s submission, the surface of a query letter dated June 10, 2024, purportedly authorised by the King, has sparked debate. As the debate over the query turned into a high-decibel slanging match, the Imam peremptorily penned his own strongly worded response. For the first time in modern-day Yoruba history, a king and a religious are about to fight dirty in the village square, and the leader of them all, the governor, is busy attending to other things. How unfortunate?

‘An undertaking that will not stand’

The crisis in Ogbomoso could have been handled differently, deftly, and diplomatically. A neutral king will not have a problem resolving intra-religious crises. After all, he is the father to all. In a simplistic sense, all it takes to address some of the underlying issues is leadership that is open, transparent, and committed to finding the truth. But that is not the case in Ogbomoso. Unless the governor outsmarts the King and the Imam, the outcome of this avoidable fiasco can only be imagined. “An eye for an eye,” as Mahatma Ghandi once enthused, “leaves the whole world blind.”.

OYO101 is Muftau Gbadegesin’s opinion about issues affecting the Oyo state and is published every Saturday. He can be reached via @muftaugbade on X, muftaugbadegesin@gmail.com, and 09065176850.

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