There is need to assign constitutional roles to traditional rulers, says Olota of Otta

A man of many parts, Oba (Professor) Abdulkabir Adeyemi Obalanlege has earned accolades having distinguished himself as a journalist, scholar and now a traditional ruler as Olota of Otta in Ogun State. In this Interview with OLAOLU OLADIPO, the graduate of Universities of Leicester and Antwerp bares his mind on wide ranging issues such as the history of his domain, relationship with other monarchs as well the need to accord a constitutional roles to traditional rulers in the state. Excerpts…

Otta is a principal township in Yorubaland that nobody can discountenance, its significance in the evolution of Yoruba history has been well documented. What makes Otta tick?

Otta is one of the earliest kingdoms in Yorubaland. There is no way you can talk about the evolution of Ile-Ife as the cradle of Yorubaland that you won’t talk about the role of Otta in its (Ile-Ife’s) evolution. There is no way you talk about Orunmila and Ifa corpus that you will not talk about Otta because it is on record that Orunmila visited Otta during the period of the earliest times that Ile-Ife evolved. He did not just visit; he met with the first Olota of Otta, Iya Irejimoko who is referred to as the Olota Odo in Otta history. The first Olota gave out her only daughter known as Eyinfunjowo to Orunmila. The purpose of the visit was to appeal to the then Olota to allow people to live in Otta because Otta was synonymous with witchcraft who were so plentiful in Otta then and they didn’t give people the opportunity to stay in Otta. At the end of the day, Orunmila succeeded in persuading the Olota to allow people to stay in Otta. Historically, there were two deities known as Osa Ara which can only be found in Ile-Ife and Otta. Very few townships existed within this period. They were Ile-Ife, Ado-Ekiti, Otta and Iro. Otta was the only township that existed within this locality then. This fact is attested in one of the books of Professor Banji Akintoye. The one (book) that talked about early Yoruba settlements, where he listed Otta as one of Yoruba’s earliest kingdoms and that it is the first Awori kingdom. Let me also state that it is from Otta that Ifa worship was introduced to Oyo Kingdom.

How and when was that?

It was an Otta woman who gave birth to Alaafin Olugbogi being the product of her marriage to Alaafin Oluaso. That is the relationship between Otta and Oyo. So, when you talk about how the Oyo Empire ravaged many Yoruba townships, I can say that Otta was insulated from that because we are of the same blood. Otta is very important in Yoruba history.

The Orunmila that you mentioned features prominently in Ife history because oral history states that Oduduwa who is regarded as the progenitor of the Yorubas met Orunmila in Ile-Ife, then, what is the relationship between Otta and Ile-Ife apart from the visit of Orunmila that you mentioned?

Like I told you earlier, only two towns existed in Yorubaland at that material time. Like I also stated, you can only find Orisa Ara in Ile-Ife and Otta. Then, when you left Ile-Ife, the nearest township was Otta. So, the two townships existed side by side then. It was expected some form of social and economic interactions would have taken place between them. Later in about the 16th and 17th centuries, Olofin Ogunfunminire was asked to prepare some concoction in an earthen pot and leave Ile-Ife to establish a new town which eventually became known as Isheri. Otta had been existing before Isheri and is one of the many Awori townships. The pot sank for sometime in Isheri as predicted but soon resurfaced. The development made him continue his journey until the pot sank in Iddo. It was at that time that the name, the land and the people became known as Awori but Otta had been existing before then. Many of the immigrants found their way to Otta afterwards. It is also important to state that the majority of them moved from here to establish their kingdoms.

That now confers on the Olota, the paramountcy of all Awori chieftaincy?

Naturally, the Olota is the paramount ruler of all Aworis. Naturally! But Olofin Isheri is laying claim to that… He cannot lay such a claim. If Olofin knows history very well, I am sure he won’t. From records, Otta had existed 800 years before the coming of Jesus Christ and it existed around the time of Orunmila. During the reign of Alaafin Oluaso, Ogunfunminire had not even decided to come to Isheri. So, the question is: how can the person that came in the 16th century be laying claim to superiority over the other who had been around since 800 years before Christ?

What is your relationship with other Awori monarchs?

Our relationship is cordial. When most of them left Otta to establish their kingdoms, they always maintained cordial relationships with their motherland.

Do they subscribe to your leadership?

They do but the problem with the Aworis is lack of unity. For instance, if you ask the Egbas to tell you their head, they won’t hesitate to say it is the Alake. The same thing in Ijebuland as the lesser monarchs would say Awujale but not so in Aworiland. From the records, efforts were made by the colonialists to identify the leader of the Aworis but every Oba was describing himself as the overlord. That made it difficult to identify who among us to relate with.

How did that impact on development in Aworiland?

It has impacted us negatively because we cannot agree on common goals. We do know among ourselves who the most senior Oba is but some of the Obas, not all, are proving obstinate but that we will leave for posterity to judge.

Is there any role to be played by the Olota of Otta during the installation of any Oba in Aworiland?

As you know, the traditional rulers lost their powers during the colonial rule, especially with the introduction of the 1952 Constitution. As a result of that, traditional rulers have become mere appendages of government. Normally, they (government officials) will just invite you to functions but as far as Otta is concerned, Olota is the prescribed authority over any other town within Otta District.

Governments do make recourse to you whenever they want to take some decisions?

Of course, whenever the issue has to do with Otta District. As the current Olota, how far have you gone in trying to bring everybody together? I can say that we are about 99 per cent together under the leadership of Olota of Otta. All Awori Obas in Ogun State are under the Olota of Otta.

What about the Awori Obas in Lagos?

In Lagos State, I am aware that they have their own forum as well. You know that we are under the control of two state governments. I can tell you that we still relate very well as brothers.

Are you aware that you are the first Professor to become an Oba in Yorubaland? How does that make you feel?

Does it put you under some form of pressure? Well! It means a lot to me and my people because much is expected from me by my people as a professor of journalism. At the same time, it means that I have to bring modernity to the institution and tradition of our people. That also means that I have to live by example, that I have to bring my people together. I am happy to say that as a people, we have not only related very well but have been speaking with one voice.

How has your current position changed you as a person?

I am still the same person but as the Olota of Otta, I do what is expected of me traditionally and officially. As a professor, I still lecture. I still take on doctorate degree candidates who are referred to me. I still write papers for publication.

Don’t these commitments affect your duties as a traditional ruler?

No! not at all.

People who don’t know you will ask: why would a professor prefer to become a traditional ruler?

I wasn’t really interested but because of so much entreaties from people that I respect so much, I discovered I had no choice than to listen to the yearnings of my people.

What was your initial reaction when the chiefs came to you that they had picked you as the new Olota?

Like I said before, I wasn’t interested. When I didn’t budge and they couldn’t find me, they thought I had run away. The whole thing became so amusing to me. I felt what were they talking about? I got persuaded when my friends and those I respect so much began to come to me. Your immediate predecessor, Oba Oyede was a teacher… Unfortunately, I was out of the country and I never met him.

But people credit him with leaving some legacies behind and what are these legacies he left behind that you are building on?

One thing that I know about him is that he was a straightforward leader who did his best for the people of Otta. Being honest and righteous are the virtues that he left behind. I feel I should build on that and that is what I am doing. You talked about the traditional institution being an appendage of government… Our traditional powers were taken away by the colonialists with the 1952 Constitution. As we speak, traditional rulers don’t have constitutional powers any more. We only do what the government wants us to do.

If you are to suggest, what role do you want the constitution to assign to traditional rulers?

I think we should be given the role of adjudicating on matters within our domain. To me, this is the way you can bring peace to the communities. I think, certain things are going in that direction with the alternative judicial processes being carried out by state governments. I have attended training in that direction. I am also a member of the Institute of Reconciliation. I think we are going in the right direction but there is no constitutional backing which we are asking government to give us.




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