By Busuyi Mekusi
Ancient and contemporary histories of Òyó Kingdom are full of grits and glitz, and etched in grandiose. Founded by Oranmiyan in the 1300s, Òyó Kingdom was believed to have attained political ascendancy and influence from 1650-1750, dominating most of the states between the Volta River in the west and the Niger River in the east. Oyo’s size and tempo in the 16th century was seen as the reason for its powerlessness and vulnerability to its northern neighbours Borgu and Nupe, with Aláàfin Òrópòtò changing the narratives by establishing a cavalry force and maintaining a trained army from the wealth he made from trading. Òyó histories are rich, and the narratological prowess of Oba Lamidi Adeyemi was quintessential!
The Òyó Empire was described as the most important and authoritative of all the early Yoruba principalities. The connection between Òyó and Ifè is reinforced by the myth that Òyó derived from Oduduwa, who likely moved to Ile-Ife, and whose son became the first Aláàfin of Òyó. The rivalry between the immediate past Oòni of Ifè, Oba Okunade Sijuade and the recently travelled Aláafin of Òyó, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, was imaged in the claim of ownership of Òrányàn progenitor and dynasty and the celebration of same by Aláafin starting from 2010. However, the incumbent Oòni of Ifè, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, broke the needless rivalry in 2016 when he visited the Alaafin’s palace, following the last of such a visit by an Oòni in 1937.
If royal visits are very significant, one wonders why traditional leaders now derive pleasures in encumbering political corridors at the different levels, where they ridiculously scout for relevance and patronage. One may venture to argue that the necessity for material expansion by some is at the centre of such unimpressive showing, while it could also be blamed on the abandonment of the long-standing age-long traditional requirement of self-sufficiency from the personality to be enthroned as king, as well as the abdication of the communal catering for the palace and its occupants.
The announcement of the departure of the Aláàfin of Òyó, Oba Làmídì Adéyemí III, for a reconnecting journey with his ancestors flooded the social media space with entertaining videos, with traditional media also using various colourful pictures of the late king to complement stories relating to his life and times, as well as condolence messages. The various descriptions of Oba Adeyemi presented him as; an Iroko whose fall has very far-reaching effects; a revered reservoir of Yoruba histories, word-views and traditions; an ardent defender of Yoruba course; an ebullient political participant and commentator, etc. Interestingly, some other manifestations of Oba Adeyemi’s prestigious kingship are: his dexterous dancing steps and women accoutrements. He was an example of royal material ownership of women. His outings would present him as both a dapper and philogyny, with the colour correlation of his attires complemented by the light-complexioned young Oloris that would ironically contrast his old age. His 52-years reign was dramatic, eventful and glamorous. He was affable, from both close and distant receptors, and his death signposting the limits of mortals.
Characteristic of the multiplicity of values, worth, vices and other human modules for attitudinal measuring found in the palace, being the space for a powerful personality, the narratives about iconoclastic Oba Adeyemi have revealed a near-perfect socially-paged individual, Bàbá Kéjì, or who some have been accused of erroneously calling Bàbá Kékeré, Morenikeji Lasisi, a diminutive old man who is described as a gaming companion to the Aláàfin, and who is reputed to have served three Aláàfins consecutively: Oba Adeniran Adeyemi II (Lamidi’s father) between 1945 and 1956, Oba Gbadegesin Ladigbolu II, between 1956 and 1968, as well as Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III, between 1970 and 2022. This centenarian is predictably a library of a sort, a reservoir of history and a valuable asset or diary about palace matters.
Without any attempt at imputation, it would not be out of place for him to have been privileged with sensitive information, grated access to special unsuspecting treatments like the one Potiphar’s wife offered Joseph, etc. Whatever lifeline that privileged the commoner in Bàbá Kéjì to outlive three Alaafins is desirable for Nigeria, a troubled nation that celebrated the centenary of her amalgamation and existence in the recent past, and has suffered amnesia of past and present troubles as well as lost the possibility of mitigating a disaster.
So many people had thought the issue of Abóbakú (he who dies with the king) would, either openly or discreetly, play out again, but we were reminded of the disruption of the practice by the British Colonialists. The dramatisation of traditional leadership requirements and expectations, individual sacrificial dying for collective good, contrasted with the needless pogroms of World Wars, the materialistic attachment to the tempting world of the living at the expense of the fortitudinous glorious placement in the life-after, the shifts imposed by new orders on the old, etc., are some of the metaphoric interrogations that Wole Soyinka achieved in his classical play, Death and the King’s Horseman. Leveraging on his authorial locus, Soyinka similarly warned readers against reductionist reading of the text as a catalogue of clash of cultures. While an appointed messenger may not be required to accompany the demised Aláàafin in the 21st century, the ritualised dismembering of human agencies across Nigeria is suggestive of many possibilities. Little wonder, the efforts also made to debunk the fact that Bàbá Kéjì is the chief messenger to the Alaafin.
The necessity of a lifeline resonated sometime ago in the chicken pen I was familiar with. A free-range turkey bird, who shared the space with eight others, had curiously inserted its head between two wooden rods that were used to design a wooden-cage. In an attempt to retrieve its head, apparently having distorted the process through which it got its head into the cage, the head got stocked in the space, and he had to desperately flap its wing-feathers to get out of trouble. A finicky curious person around had to check on the chicken pen, and later rescued the turkey. Fatigued, and seemingly passing out, the rescuer dropped some splashes of water into its throat, and strength returned to it. The turkey got the lifeline, and survived the accident of its lack of discretion. Demonstratively analogous to the fortuitous outliving of three Aláàfins by Bàbá Kéjì, there is always something(s), somebody or group of individuals that would give a process the lifeline needed for a better tomorrow. It is for the foregoing that Nigeria desperately needs a dispenser of lifeline that would reverse the euthanasia that internal and external enemies have approved for her.
As some Nigerians have jocularly suggested that the country be auctioned to the richest man on earth, Elon Musk, whose heart has just won Twitter, for the needed lifeline, or Putin that is committed to the expansion of his socio-economic and political hegemony, different realities that challenge the integrity of the humanity of Nigerians continue to dominate the public space. Amidst claims of 80% of Nigeria crude oil being stolen, the recent illegal refinery inferno in Imo State, where more than 100 people were roasted, show that Nigeria enemies are not unidentifiable monsters. The clamour for the return of Goodluck Jonathan by some Nigerians, a certified ‘failure’ that was ousted through the ballot, to contest for the presidential seat in 2023, with the unresolved issue of the multimillion dollar Arms’ deal scam, Abuja CCTV contract palaver, etc., show that most Nigerians are backward in thinking, and awkwardly oriented.
Nigeria still wobbles in the dark past, as the country still struggles with problematic national identity portal, epileptic national grid, incessant kidnapping and ransoming of innocent unprotected citizens, protracted strike actions by staff unions in public universities, etc. Unfortunately, rather than continue to call on political leaders to rise up to the constitutional responsibilities of protecting the lives and properties of citizens, members of the national assembly went ahead to pass a bill criminalising the payment of ransoms, thereby attempting to short-circuit the lifeline Nigerians enjoy in that respect. Even though I would subscribe to the dignifying death in the hands of kidnappers than the commercialisation of human lives, which is an impetus to the nefarious trade, our national assembly members simply lived up to the literary prescriptions of Tayo Olafioye in “The Parliament of Idiots”.
Nigeria has since set a unique negative template for citizenship and democratic behaviours, so much that public servants, like the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige and his Minister of State for Education counterpart, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, whose ministries have failed to resolve the strike actions by university staff unions, leading to the closing of the gates of public universities, have joined the political struggle following the opening of the floodgates of the APC. Reminiscent of the careless slips in the economy of Nigeria, there was a claim of missing $75, 000 at the APC secretariat, not sooner than the party open its luxurious ‘shop’ for the sales of nomination and expression of interest forms to its teaming bogus members.
Nigeria desperately needs a lifeline! Eid Mubarak!