How the next Ooni of Ife will emerge- Barrister Peter Ogunleye

In African
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Having put behind us the havoc done by the social media to the traditional procedure for announcing the departure of the occupant of the most revered stool in the Yoruba race, it is no longer news that Alayeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II, has not only joined his ancestors, he has indeed been interred with grandeur and majesty.

Inevitably, there have been speculations about potential successors to the revered throne – and the lists keep getting longer by the day. And, why not? The status of the Ooni in not just Yorubaland but nationally and internationally is such as to attract attention. 

Even fellow royal fathers acknowledge the leadership of the occupant of the throne of Oduduwa. The position carries authority, influence and power. No matter the level of affluence attained by a potential Ooni before ascending the throne, the authority of the throne transforms him to another level of influence, status and power. 

The reign of Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II has probably compounded the challenge for potential successors given the magnitude of his influence and the authority he wielded while sitting on the stool of Oduduwa.

It is inevitable that potential successors would make their claim to the throne because it is most probably a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity for anyone. If a particular potential successor misses it now, it is hardly conceivable that he would be alive again when the throne would be vacant for his family to put forward nominations. The late Oba Adesoji Aderemi from the Oshinkola family reigned for 50 years and his successor on the throne reigned for 35 years. So, it has been 85 years since whoever contested with the Atobatele would have been waiting. And he still has only God knows how many years left since the Giesi and Lafogido ruling families would have to produce the next two occupants in that order. So, if someone should miss his turn, it’s bye-bye for life!

Thus, with the large number of claimants and potential candidates being bandied about especially in the print media, it is just appropriate to ask: Who can ascend the throne of the Ooni?

Since the reign of Lajamisan as the Ooni of Ife over 500 years ago, the crown of Ife has remained in his family through his son Lajodoogun. With the expansion of his descendants through the emergence of new sub-families, the number of ruling houses with the right to provide candidates for the throne continued to be fluid for some time but has crystallised into four major lines, representing the four major quarters of the ancient town. These are: (1) Oshinkola House of Iremo (2) Giesi House of Moore (3) Ogboru House of Ilare and (4) Lafogido House of Okerewe. Anyone seeking to occupy the throne must have some form of affiliation to these ruling houses. Even though there are other chieftaincy and ruling houses for various quarters, the throne of Ooni is reserved for the descendants of the named ruling houses.

The history of the ancient town suggests that rulership of the town has passed through various stages with the modern phase seeing the incorporation of the autochthonous ruling families of the various primordial communities into leadership positions including king-making roles. 

The Oduduwa phase of the rulership of Ife produced a fairly respectable number of rulers. Following the reign of Lajamisan and Lajodoogun and the crystallisation of the ruling families into four, the following have been established as past rulers:

1. From the Lafogido Ruling House: Lafogido, Dejinle, Olojo (Agbele), Osinlade (Otutu), Akinmoyero (Odunle), Wunmonije, Adegunle (Abewela) and Ademiluyi (Ajagun) – eight rulers;

2. From the Oshinkola Branch: Osinkola, Aribiwoso, Ojigidiri (Lanibuwa), Kola (Oni-elect) and Aderemi (Atobatele) – five but only four substantive as Kola died before he could formally ascend the throne.

3. From the Ogboru Branch: Ogboru, Gbanlare, Adelekan (Olubuse), and Okunade Sijuwade (Olubuse II) – four rulers.

4. From the Giesi Branch: Giesi, Agbedegbede, Ajila-Oorun, Gbegbaaje, Degbin (Kumbusu), Orayigba (Ojaja) and Derin Ologbenla – seven rulers.

Membership of a royal family carries with it an inevitable aura of pre-eminence. The modern day descendants of the four ruling houses noted immediately above have named among them several prominent families from which the Ooni could be selected when it is their turn. 

The prominent ruling families in the ruling houses include the Aderemis, Adewuyis, Adesanyas and Adeyemos among others in the Oshinkola Ruling House; the Sijuwades, Adefarakans and Mogaji Durojayes among others in the Ogboru Ruling House; the Ogunleyes, Adepegbas, Ologbenlas, Ademakinwas, Adewumis, Adejobas, Adewoyins, Olafares, Ogunwusis and Adegunjus among others in the Giesi Ruling House; and the Ademiluyis, Adeyebas, Adeyinkas, Otutu and Adenijis among others in the Lafogido Ruling House. 

From these families come several of the who-is-who in this country, individuals prominent in the various professions and many of whom are barons and captains of industry. Indeed, Ile-Ife is blessed.

We may ask at this stage: How is an Ooni selected? The Ooni is chosen from the royal patrilineal clan. The position is hereditary but like many titles of priest and chiefs, which are owned by particular clans, it does not pass from father to son. Indeed, it cannot pass from father to son given the fact that the stool rotates among four major royal families. Males of the four lineages of the royal crown are eligible to become kings in rotation, but a lineage can be skipped if the family is unable to present suitable candidates for the throne. 

According to the Chieftaincy Declaration of 1957, the normal successor to the Ife chieftaincy is through the male line of the ruling house whose turn it is to present candidate but successor can devolve to the female line “if none of the candidates presented through the male line of the ruling house concerned is suitable and if the candidate presented through the female line possesses the necessary qualification and is acceptable to the kingmakers.” 

In the event of the candidate presented from the female line also being found unacceptable, “selection is made from the family of the next ruling house”.

Wealth is not an essential qualification for an aspirant to be considered suitable for the throne as the main objective is to select the best candidate. The qualities considered as most important are integrity, generosity, humility and willingness to listen to advice and take counsel. 

Gender is also an important qualification for the throne as only male contenders are eligible – even if consideration is being given to candidates from the female side of the lineage. Seniority is also not a factor although the candidate must be at least about 30 years old at the time of ascending the throne and he should be married. Neither is education a prescribed qualification although during the last two selections, education has emerged as a major factor for consideration of who ascends the throne.

You may wish to ask: how does the family whose turn it is presents its candidate? 

According to the chieftaincy declaration, the family whose turn it is to present a candidate is to be invited in writing by the appropriate government authority, writing through the Ife Traditional Council, to present their candidate or candidates from among whom the kingmakers shall select the most suitable person. 

At this stage the ruling House would select its candidate or candidates for the consideration of kingmakers. The candidate(s) is then presented to the Obalufe and the Lowa. If the decision of the ruling house is not unanimous and one or more candidates are presented, the decision is made by the Obalufe in consultation with the Chiefs on the Right (the Outer chiefs) and the Lowa in consultation with the Chiefs of the Left (the inner Chiefs). After the candidate is selected, he is then presented to the State Government for ratification and approval under the Chieftaincy Laws.

From the above, the process of selection and who is eligible to vie for the throne of the ancient town of Ife is a fairly settled matter. The chieftaincy declaration has established a pattern of rotation among the four houses with Oshinkola, Ogboru, Giesi and Lafogido. According to the Gazetted Declaration, the ruling house whose turn it is to produce the next Ooni is the Giesi Ruling Family. The order of rotation above must be observed. 

Rumours has it that the order of successor was altered in 1976 as the 1957 Chieftaincy Declaration had established the order of succession as Oshinkola – Giesi – Ogboru – Lafogido. The revision had seen the Ogboru jumping over the Giesi, a situation that permitted Oba Sijuwade to ascend the throne at the time he did. The most recent approved version has the succession order as Oshinkola – Ogboru – Giesi – Lafogido.

In concluding this write up, it is safe to reflect a little on the Giesi Ruling Family whose turn it is to produce the next occupant of the throne of Oduduwa in Ile-Ife. History tells us that all the Oonis from Giesi Ruling house were noted for their efforts to protect the kingdom and ensure prosperity for the people. Agbedegbede who succeeded Giesi, his father, extended the boundaries of Ife far and wide and the boundary is reputed to extend up to Apomu and Ikire. He was also known to have built walls around Ife for protection. Some of such walls were the Isoya and Moore walls, relics of which are still standing till date.

Like his father, Giesi, Agbedegbede had a long and peaceful reign. Agbedegbede, also like the first two from his royal lineage, might be said to have depended on wars of conquest as a means of acquiring wealth, but he also depended on farming. History also tells us that Agbedegbede had four children namely, Gbegba-aje, Ajila, Adesunmakin and Sooko Ogbagodo. Although Adesunmakin never reigned his children Kumbusu and Derin Ologbenla reigned as Ooni, his grandson Orayigba Ojaja also ruled.

Gbegba-aje, one of the successors, was one proof that wealth, possessions and influence had no bearing to ascending the throne of Ife, as the man was reputed to be poor but struck it rich as he was believed to have “picked up the calabash of prosperity”, the source of his cognomen – Gbegba-Aje. Ultimately, he was reputed to be the richest monarch emerging from the Giesi royal line. As king, he encouraged the production of Segi beads, which was in fashion and abundant during this period, this was later sold to the people at reduced rate. 

Gbegba-Aje was also reputed to be a very brave hunter and warrior before ascending to the throne of Ooni. In his time, wars were used as a means of trade, and he took part in the execution of many wars for money and in the interest of Ile-Ife. He was said to have lived very long and had peaceful and successful reign.

Thus, modern day members of the Giesi ruling family are descendants of a very rich and proud history. The world awaits their nominee who will ascend the throne of Oduduwa, the person who would be crowned the next Ooni of Ife. History beckons.

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