The Obanisation of all Bales in sight
I no dey home my pounded yam share was halved!
I no dey market den relocate my stall to the back!!
People of our land na so you dey do o!!!
No matter if it is the absence of three hundred years or the absence of thirty years. I returned to find that Ayodeji Ogbese had an Oba. And that it was no longer safe to ask whether you were Omo-ilu or Omo-ereko. This was because the previous farms and villages, hinterlands of the town before had become towns in their own right. Where there were baales before there were now obas with beaded crowns never mind that some have their titles scripted into their headgears like Olodaran of Ile-Ijagbon.
A few days ago in Ibadan a mass obanisation took place to beat all such mass promotions. But the promotions were not made by the one and only beaded crown in the land of Ibadan. Rather it was conjured into being by the democratically elected governor of Oyo State. The Olubadan of Ibadan said he had no hand in such gross commonisation of Obaship. The governor said he did nothing new and quotes one or two foreign sources to support his action.
The institution of obas, baales and chiefs was the means Yoruba territory was ruled before British colonisation came. With Ifa divination and a plurality of deities, the world was held together through the living, the dead and the unborn. When the British came their small number of officers administered large areas through these traditional rulers wherever they found them. Where none could be found, they created them, hence warrant chiefs.
At independence, the British did not hand over political power to these traditional rulers from whom they had conquered it. Instead, they handed it to a new elite, western educated, speaking English. That was in 1960. In 1963 the country was declared a republic.
Everywhere a Republic is declared, it usually follows the decapitation of the kings and the destruction of the royal family. But in Nigeria, the obas and obis and emirs were in place but without political roles, just onlookers, figureheads to be seen from time to time.
As in Nigeria, so in 54 other African countries. The modern state had no role political or otherwise for their traditional rulers. They had helped the various colonial governments to keep the peace and entertain the people. Come independence and republican status, they were written out of their people’s lives.
With an average of 75% illiteracy in European languages, the larger sections of the African population understood politics and everyday life in the traditional way. So, while the independent and republican state might not recognise the obas etc, the people still saw them as they had seen them over the centuries – their alpha and their omega. They went to them for justice since the independence and republican justice worked slowly. They went to them in times of sorrow and in times of joy. They went to them for the rituals of birth, coming of age, marriage and death. These traditional rulers were close to their people.
In some countries, like Botswana, the traditional ruler renounced their traditional title and led a political party that took power at independence. In others the children of royalty went to school, abandoned the throne and got into politics. Everywhere else traditional rulers were not to play politics. But politics plays them today in every African country.
Because they are close to their people politicians believe that they can help the to guarantee votes come election time. No wonder Wole Soyinka’s Ogbugbu of Gbu could sing:
What so ever big noise may reign
I will be the Ogbugbu of Gbu, sir!
This desire to go with whatever politician in power has not always worked for the traditional rulers. For instance the salary of the Ogbugbu was reduced to a penny a year because he didn’t crossover to the new powers quickly enough. A few were set on fire along with their houses and cars for supporting politicians their people detested.
They are, these African traditional rulers, considered conservative and the live up to that tradition. They are the ones who lament the erosion of traditional culture, the lowering of traditional moral standards and enthronement of disrespect to things African. They support polygamy generally, oppose the education of the female child and they organise genital mutilation. No wonder the attempt to empower traditional rulers in rural areas of South Africa through new laws giving them powers is being vehemently opposed by gender commissions and equality struggle warriors. In fact, President Zuma has divided Africans into two in South Africa – clever blacks who love dogs and walk them and other blacks who are respectful of their elders even when the elders are misbehaving.
How is it that an institution, which is given no role in everyday political life continues, in spite of independence and republican status of African states, continues to flourish? What prevents African government from allocating political roles to traditional rulers? Why are they maintained at state expense but are not accountable except to some vague guardianship of our traditional culture? Why is it impossible to combine democracy with traditional African rulership?
It cannot but remind the child of the Caribbean of what happened in Haiti from 1791 to 1804. Here the first successful slave revolt on earth took place and led to the founding of a new country in the world. To begin that rebellion the Africans appealed to what was common to all of them, their African religion derogatorily referred to as Voodoo. At Caiman Woods on a night of thunder, lightning, rain and storm, they took an oath to free themselves from slavery and destroy everything French and the French as well. And so they went forth and fought. And fought again and again until they destroyed the Saint Domingo of the French and created Haiti of the Africans. In the reconstruction that their greatest leader planned he called for the replacement of Voodoo with the Catholic religion! The Africans deserted him because they saw him as wanting to restore slavery like the French. The French took him prisoner back to France. He died alone in a French prison.
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