As the News Editor at another stable many years back, my team feasted on the seniority controversy between the throne of the Ooni of Ife which had late Okunade Sijuade, Olubuse II as the kingdom’s monarch and that of Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Erediawa of Benin to hold our teeming readership stuck on our titles. We just could not help getting fresh angles to the story each day of that week. And it helped in several ways.
Good or bad, our titles’ headlines opened new vistas in the steaming controversy that they became must-buys for the readers. As for our team on the News Desk, we savoured the development and the motivation to do more that automatically ruled our abilities. At the end of the day and before the historical fireworks got hotter, parties to the controversy advised themselves, sheathe their respective swords and allowed reasonable maturity to prevail. But how wrong we were. Recent developments have now reopened the said controversy with accompanying noisome cross-fire from both sides inside the old Western Nigeria.
This time around, it was the Alake and paramount ruler of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo that kicked off the brouhaha. While playing host to the new Ooni, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi in his Ake, Abeokuta palace, the Alake reportedly sounded a note of warning to all other Obasa of Yorubaland saying that by all facts, material and particular, the Ooni is supreme to all the others. To rub it in, the Alake added that the Ooni is the highest in ranking of the Obas of the land.
Wait for it; the paramount ruler of Egbaland was not done. He continued saying that that Ooni remained the first out of the first five principal Yoruba Obas in history even as he listed the other obas below the Ooni as the Alaafin of Oyo and the Oba of Benin coming second and third, respectively, in the order of ranking. He listed his own title, the Alake of Egbaland as the fourth while the Awujale of Ijebuland occupies the lowest.
“Ooni is one of the five principal obas in Yorubaland. The others are in order of the way they are classified on supremacy basis. After the Ooni is the Alaafin. After the Alaafin, the Oba of Benin. After the Oba of Benin, it comes to the Alake of Egbaland and the fifth and by no means the last or the least, the Awujale of Ijebuland. So, it’s our pleasure that you are in our midst today. We are happy to receive you,” the Alake said.
Oba Gbadebo also made a tacit remark lamenting that some Yoruba Obas are of the opinion that Ooni was not supreme and that every Oba must take care of his territory. He therefore identified ego as the cause of disunity amongst traditional rulers and people of Yorubaland stressing that the move towards achieving unity has begun with his ascension of Ooni Ogunwusi. The Alake however blamed the age-long disunity amongst Yoruba monarchs on ego, saying the promotion of selfish aggrandizement had been the bane of development in the area. He therefore urged all the other Obas in Yorubaland to humble them in order to achieve the much-sought after unity in Yorubaland.
He expressed delight at the respect former president Olusegun Obasanjo demonstrated during his visit to the Ooni when inspite of the age difference, prostrated for the Ife monarch. The Alake also commended the Ooni for the humility he has continued to exhibit since his ascension to the ancient throne.
“Every Oba in Yorubaland has a letter of appointment. Nobody has made you Oba of a place that you have not conquered or you think in terms of conquest. Why must you now call yourself what you are not? So, as you go along let this (your) humility be your watchword,” the monarch of Egbaland told the Ooni.
Hmmmmm. Deep words from a senior monarch in Yorubaland supposedly fired at all his colleagues.
Historical throwback
Methinks that had Oba Gbadebo recalled the sensitive nature of his pronouncements about the Ooni being supreme and attendant consequences, he would like a father and one of the principal custodians of tradition in Yorubaland refrained from them. At best, that could have been a subject for discussion in an exclusive gathering… not within earshot of the public. A short recourse to the controversy generated by such a comment years back would have been his guide. Alas, he missed it there. And now, not only himself, but the entire Yoruba race is at war within as to whether the Ooni is truly supreme to other Obas.
The palace of the Oba of Benin too well known for not entertaining any second place rating from any quarter whatsoever has since rejected the listing of their revered monarch as the third in ranking of Obas in Yorubaland, coming after the Ooni and Alaafin of Oyo.
The response from Benin was not only swift but vitriolic and capable of dismantling whatever reconciliatory move Ooni Ogunwusi was already making among monarchs in the land.
Salvos from Benin kingdom
Esogban of Benin and Odionwere of the Kingdom, Chief David Edebiri promptly fired back at Oba Gbadebo’s thesis on seniority in Yorubaland describing the list of the Alake as faulty as can be. He noted that the historically, the Ooni of Ife was a son of the Oba of Benin, arguing that the stool of the Oba of Benin could not be compared with that of any Yoruba monarch.
Hear the Benin chief as reported by the Vanguard: “We wanted to discard this report as something that was not necessary at all. We do not see how the Alake of Egbaland suddenly woke up to think that the Oba of Benin is also a Yoruba Oba. For instance, the one they call the Oba of Lagos, these are recent adaptations. In the 50s, there was no Oba of Lagos, what we had was the Eleko of Eko. That is the title of the King there. In Ibadan, you have the Olu Ibadan. You come to Abeokuta, you have the Alake of Egba land. You come to Oyo, you have the Alaafin of Oyo. In Ilesha, you have the Owa-Obokun of IIesha. So no Yoruba monarch had as part of his titles the word Oba except the Oba of Benin.
“That word Oba is indigenous to Benin. It is only in recent times you find everybody bearing Oba. When the Western Regional conference of traditional rulers took place in Benin City in 1942, go and check the attendance, there was no other monarch in the whole of the Western Region then that bore the title of Oba, except the Oba of Benin.
“So it is an unnecessary excursion, an unnecessary attempt to turn history upside down by the Alake by classifying the Oba of Benin as third in the hierarchy of kings.
“Our own traditional history says that the Ooni of Ife was a Benin Prince who wandered from here to Ife, settled there and became the ruler there. That is the position, if they don’t know, they should send people here; we will teach them.
“We will show them landmarks. So this is unnecessary misrepresentation of history. Maybe the Alake wanted to mention a different place and not Benin.
“The monarchical rulership in this part of the world started from Benin during the era of the Ogisos. It was the son of the last Ogiso, Owodo, that wandered from here to Ife and he became a ruler there, carrying everything about the Benin monarchical system to that place. There is no basis for such classification.
He was not done. “The Ooni of Ife by historical facts is a son of the Oba of Benin, so they are not in the same class. The Oba of Benin is the only one that answers Oba, the rest don’t. But today, we hear Oba here and there, they are all recent adaptations. I am saying categorically that the word Oba is indigenous to Benin and not to Yoruba nation,” the Esogban added.
Matters arisng
There is no doubting the fact that there is a tight historical relationship between the Oba of Benin and Yorubaland. Street wisdom reminds me that whether one prince escaped from a kingdom to wonder out elsewhere does not really matter to me.
As a Nigerian in the current dispensation where the change mantra rules the day, this controversy is uncalled for. It was good that Oba Gbadebo told his fellow Obas that individual egos are ruining the once united Yorubaland. But he missed the point when he delved into the deep recesses of the same egotism to announce some hierarchy that has become as contentious as the last governorship election in Kogi state and its attendant consequences.
As for the Esogban of Benin kingdom, his prompt response did not help matters too. I say this because one observer was very fast to retort last night that if the official title of the Benin monarch: Omo N’Oba N’Edo means the son of the Oba of Benin, then there is the need to educate all on who that Oba was if not Oramiyan, as claimed by holders of contrary viewpoints.
Enough of this distraction revered royal fathers. Your subjects need the basics of life. Work with relevant government departments to make this expectation a fruition.

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