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By Sheriff Folarin on (Posted under Opinion), National Mirror (Nigeria)
In a land prone to schism and where diverse peoples exhibit fissiparous tendencies and propensity for going after each other’s jugular, words are capable of fanning conflagration. It can particularly be more volatile when there are high political stakes polarized along primordial clannish ties. It is worse when a clan among several others in the multiethnic community fears a loss of grip on its ancestral lands, heritage, commerce, wealth and political hegemony; and that it is conceding too much to another clan considered foreign. At this point, all can be thrown to maintain relevance, and caution can be hurled away, while strategic deterrence or offence becomes the instrument of inter-group relations. This is when altercations, threats, death wishes or the curse of drowning in lagoons can come from any quarters, even from sacred places as the palace of His Royal Majesty.
The royal dimension to the ongoing 2015 elections reared its controversial head last week when the highly respected paramount ruler of Lagos, King Riliwan Akiolu took it to the wires while hosting an Igbo interest group, a platform he employed to issue a stern warning (call it threat) to the Igbo community to vote for the choice of the paramount ruler and “owner” of Lagos State failing, which would naturally result in perilous times in the Lagoon. It is historical as well as institutional that the Oba of Lagos is the head and father of all, and that he is the “landlord extraordinaire” while all the inhabitants- indigenes, non-indigenes, traders, fishermen, farmers, teachers, adults, children, men, women, foreigners from other African nations or outside Africa, et cetera- are his subjects and by extension, “tenants”. Even the Europeans acknowledged this when they dealt with Oba Kosoko and Oba Akintoye in the second half of the nineteenth century, precisely from 1851 up to the colonization of Lagos in 1861.
The Oba was a very powerful man and in the context of British colonial rule, the Oba was regarded as an important and indispensable middleman in reaching to the people of Lagos. Lagos has retained its heritage, customs and traditions so much that it is in the consciousness of any newly crowned king that he is the father and lord of all the peoples in the domain. Incidentally, Lagos, like Benin and Abeokuta, despite the early contact with the Europeans, has not let go of its ancestral roots, the Oba is the “alese ekeji orisa” (second in command to god) and his words are taken with utmost seriousness, just as his rites, rituals and festivals, such as the internationally famous ‘Eyo’ are regarded as untouchable and undeletable. The other Obas in Lagos, including the Akran of Badagry, monarchs of Ikeja, Ikorodu and Ajah, among others, regard the Oba of Lagos or Eleko of Eko as the supreme head.
But in Yorubaland, the king is not quick to talk and is subdued in temper. This is for two basic reasons: he is the father of all, which makes him the last court of appeal (call it Supreme Court as in pre-colonial days); and he is the repository of deep, deep wisdom. Elders and cabinet members are not expected to react spontaneously (in fact, elders in Yorubaland are regarded as wise men that provide solution in every delicate situation). The king is therefore the primus inter pares in knowledge, tact and wisdom. The very reason therefore why Obas spend longer years on the throne is not just because it is customary; but the fact that their exhibition of maturity and high level native intelligence and wisdom makes it customary to stay longer or forever in power.
It is however also expected of Obas to defend their domain. Any Oba who loses his domain to any internal or external force is not worthy of the throne. Kings in native Africa are war generals who lead platoons or entire battalions to battles to defend the territorial integrity of their domain. When kings or war generals lose battles or make their domain vulnerable, they are condemned to die or go on exile. This was the fate of Are Ona Kakanfo Afonja, whose defeat in a war of Oyo Empire’s territorial expansion led to his self exile and establishment of Ilorin kingdom. Even at that, he lost Ilorin again to the wily Fulani pastoralists under Alimi, which ended the Yoruba control of Ilorin and its provinces. Shaka, king of the Zulu people in Southern Africa would do anything, including use of full military weight or cunning tactics to keep the Europeans at bay in protection of his people and lands. Shaka personally led his wars and won all, warding off immediate neighbours and western imperialists. In pre-colonial Benin, particularly in 1897, Oba Overamwen Nogbaisi and his chiefs in the course of restricting any British visit and subsequent incursion, went on eliminating all the British party led by their English colonial officer. The backlash was horrendous, but the objective had been achieved.
Lagos in the post-colonial times cannot however, be the African society of the pre-colonial or colonial times. A lot has changed and constitutionally, the “owner” of Lagos now are the people and the custodian of their rights, the elected governor. Kings have now taken the traditional position of reminders of cultural heritages and leaders of thought, with or without whom progress can still be recorded. However, in the consciousness of African monarchs of the present, the “divine right of kings” still persists and they still are, no doubt, powerful influences and voices in the system. They could still be agents of stabilization and their touch and firm control of the grassroots can be a huge advantage for any politician seeking elective posts.
Oba Akiolu’s direct threat to the Igbos was perhaps coming against the background that the Igbos were evidently dominant and taking over the economic, social and political spaces of the metropolis. The National Assembly elections, in which the “Ndigbo” massively voted for the party considered opposition in a largely APC-dominated state and the emergence of some Igbo politicians from Lagos as House of Representatives members-elect, were probably the fears that the Oba was losing his domain to external forces. Constitutionally, Lagos, like any other states, belongs to all and there should therefore be no fuss or fear about which clan is dominant. But there is also the angst that Lagos, in a Yoruba enclave, has been conceding so much to their brothers from Eastern Nigeria all in the belief that it is a “No Man’s Land”. But the Oba would not agree with this because even at coronation and with all he is told by oral historians and custodians of palace customs, he is the “lord” and “owner” of Lagos and as such, a fighter for the protection of all that his forebears had left behind to protect. The threat to the Igbo, to do his will of voting his homeboy, Ambode of the APC or face the dire consequences of drowning in the Lagos Lagoon, was thus coming from the attachment to the past, that the king’s will must be done and that any king who loses political and economic control to strangers has lost the moral authority over the domain.
But why is Lagos a No Man’s Land? Since colonial times, when it became the political headquarters after Calabar, Kaduna and Lokoja, Lagos has transformed into a cosmopolitan city and its being the Federal Capital at independence for decades made it an all-comers’ stronghold. But geographically, it is still situated in Yorubaland, a domain of the Eleko, with traditions, customs and history embraced and celebrated by all. The cosmopolitan nature of mega cities around the world has not necessarily made them to lose their socio-cultural identity.
But in retaining such identity, there are modest and appealing ways of communicating to other clans, without drawing ethnic blood. The great Eleko should have addressed the issue more appealingly and yet authoritatively.
Dr. Folarin, an Associate Professor, is the immediate past Head of Department of Political Science and International Relations, Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State