Igbo-ora Land and other modern Yoruba “kingdoms”

November 1, 2011


Today is Christians’ All Saints’ Day.

The Americans have a word, ‘puffing’, which is usually used to describe the fancy words on real estate brochures that are often used to describe homes for sale: ‘pretty’, ‘one of a kind’, ‘cutest little house in the neighborhood, etcetera.  Or, in trying to sell an old clunk which will answer when started and will move you from Point A to Point B, albeit with breakdowns here and there, you write in the classifieds:  ‘old reliable’; ‘one owner’; ‘good starter car’ …! 

These are mere descriptions meant to enhance the presentation of a home or, as in the case of the car above, one in the last stage of its life.  It must be dressed in attractive garb, er, adjectives, to the public.  The house and the car do exist and so do the perceptions of the owners and there is, therefore, really nothing wrong with these descriptions as they are mere ‘puffing’.  Buyers, however, know enough when buying pre-owned cars to be wary.  As for homes that are not brand new, buyers have the advantage of title search companies who will let buyers know if there are hidden slimes beneath the ‘one of a kind’ label such as if the house is an environmental cesspool where chrome-plating as home-based business had been carried on, in which case, that house is considered prime candidate for environmental clean-up that will take millions of dollars!

But where in the world, pardon me, where in Yorubaland, is Igboora Land?  Where is Iju Land and all the enclaves that have suddenly been puffed up to enhance the zillions of chieftaincy titles – religious and social – that are a dime, a dozen or in Nigerian-ese,  a dozen, a penny these days? 

A couple of months ago, I actually saw a vehicle at Bodija area, Ibadan with a Muslim title followed by Igboora Land in the place where the license plate was supposed to be.  I have been to Igboora, a spit of a place just as my native town because my description is not meant to be derogatory.  In fact, I did not go to the town for any social engagement but went there as a personal excursion because there is always something very attractive to me about small towns.  My love probably has a root in my background.  I do not love ALL small places I have visited of my own volition but it is close to a hundred percent score.  From Iwo, a city that is under an hour from Ibadan to New Bussa, a town by description, but a village at heart, really.

No, none of my kids attended the Federal school at New Bussa but many years ago, my better half and I plus another couple went on excursion there and we had a delightful time of it, from buying fish on the bank of the Niger which we personally grilled and had for dinner, to taking in the then growing small town.  As for Iwo, I also have pleasant memories of several visits with a girlfriend who took great delight like me, in hunting down strange old beads from those old women that trade in exotic items under shade trees.

You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when I saw the ‘Imam of Igbooraland’ emblazoned as tag on the car at Ibadan unless, of course, every town and village in Yorubland has assumed the status of a kingdom.  In a way, I have tried to understand what all the aruge (my Yoruba translation for ‘puffing’) seems to be all  about.  Now, if the king of ‘Igbooraland’ decides to bestow a never-before given title to the governor of Oyo State, it would look more impressive having the Alhaji as XXX of Igbooraland rather than plain XXX of Igboora.  Or, would it not?

These days, there seems to be certain steps or progression towards big political positions.  Aspirants first try to pile on all sorts of mundane titles from various ‘kingdoms’ many of which are smaller than my beloved small birthplace.  In the process of acquiring these chieftaincy harvests, they also discover that they must contribute to these communities apart from big donations to the Kabiyesis.  Of course, if their ambitions to get elected fail, out go the various ‘philanthropic’ projects.  Anyway, back to ‘royal majesties’, ‘double chiefs’, kingdoms on paper, and other stories.

The strange story of one ‘royal majesty’ from the West is too recent to detail here but suffice to remind readers that this Oba bestowed on an ‘illustrious’ Ogun son a big title to mark his coronation anniversary.  Needless to say that the usual award letter glowingly praising this man had been promptly dispatched only to be withdrawn; yeah, wonders will never end – by the same ‘royal majesty’.  I read copies of the letters pertaining to the disgraceful incident on the pages of my favorite tabloid in which the ex-awardee detailed all the expenses and other things he had done to celebrate theiwuye.  I must mention that the ‘royal majesty’ had clearly written that he looked forward to receiving the Ogun son as one of his chiefs.

What happened?  What happened, according to the ex-awardee was that Ogun governor had a hand in the withdrawal of the title!  Why?  The ex-awardee is interested in the gubernatorial title comes 2007, Nigeria’s new Year of Destiny.  Of course there has been a denial by gubernatorial spokespersons from Abeokuta.  I dare say that the position of that ‘royal majesty’ has been brought/dragged into disrepute IF the letters I read in the paper addressed to the ex-awardee by the ‘royal majesty’ are genuine:  the first one asking him to accept a title and the second saying the man should not show up for the award. 

Why would traditional rulers further debase an institution that is already on the low road through the rulers’ own fault?  I should also ask in the same breath:  why do people jostle so much for these titles that are, by and large to most of us, worse than irrelevant?  Governors and other politicians are rich, rich, rich, as things stand in Nigeria and Obas want a piece of the action.

 I dare say that there are more Yoruba traditional rulers in the “mainstream” of Nigerian politics today than their citizens.  Yeah, of course I know that Yoruba towns and villages should not be enough to produce enough “mainstream” obas.  If theKabiyesis look behind them as in classic Yoruba tragedies, the dancers behind them, if there are any left, are the ghosts/skeletons of hungry citizens who are on the ride to pick up droppings that may fail to enter the Kabiyesis’ huge pockets.

The politicians love the adulation and actually have started to take themselves seriously.  What do you expect of someone bestowed with a title like atun’lu se even though he’s one of the locusts ravaging the land?  “Dressed in their new-found garb of “respectability” – tons of stolen money and superficial honorary chieftaincy titles, these men and women have actually started to see themselves as Nigeria’s royalty. 

The ‘bestowers’ of these titles are supposed to represent the entire people of their various communities but what do these traditional rulers do?  Worse than the politicians.  They cast their lots with the winning parties in their various domains.  After the landslide elections of last year, one of the southwest most senior traditional rulers enthused:  “Now that the people of the southwest voted massively for you during the last presidential elections, … Osun is now in the political mainstream and as a result, a major stakeholder in the activities of the federal government …”! 

Your ‘Royal Majesty’, are people of states who did not vote for “the largest party in Africa” not “stakeholders in the activities of the federal government”?

These self-styled ‘royal majesties’ who used to be addressed as ‘royal highnesses’ have lowered their people’s expectations of them and have thus, to a great extent, brought disrepute to the once-respected institution of Obaship in Western Nigeria.  In the beginning, there were Egbaland, Ijebuland, Ijeshaland and, perhaps a couple of other ‘lands’.  Today, it is a different story although a handful of Yoruba Oba remain steadfast in respecting the titles of their ancestors.

TOLA ADENLE, The Comet on Sunday, November 2004.



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