It was not surprising that the people of Egbaland rolled out the drums to celebrate His Majesty, Oba Aremu Gbadebo, the Alake of Egbaland, when he marked his 80th birthday on September 14.
Oba Gbadebo has been a stabilising force in Egbaland, despite the traditional cleavages of Abeokuta. He has been able to maintain the ancient protocols that bind the Egba people when they established the new state of Abeokuta as their novel response to the Yoruba Wars of the 19th Century. His reign has witnessed unprecedented development and the full transformation of Abeokuta into a modern, bustling megalopolis. In truth, he has earned his bragging right.
Gbadebo has inherited the political dexterity of his illustrious predecessor, Oba OyebadeLipede, who reigned for 23 remarkable years signposted by the rise of many Egba citizens into national and international prominence.
During his reign, Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi, an Egba man, became the military Governor of Western State and another Egba man, General Olusegun Obasanjo, became military Head of State.
Abeokuta became the capital of the new Ogun State in 1976, and when the Federal University of Agriculture was created, it became a university town. Therefore, when in 2005, Gbadebo ascended the throne, he had a tough act to follow. Since then, he has proven that he was more than equal to the task.
The new Alake became the Oba of the President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the general-turned-politician, who was Gbadebo’s superior when they were in the army. Gbadebo, a graduate from the University of Ibadan, joined the army in 1969 and served in many consequential capacities.
He rose to become a colonel and Principal Staff Officer at the Dodan Barracks Supreme Headquarters office of Major-General Babatunde Idiagbon. When Idiagbon fell from power in 1985, Gbadebo too fell out of influence. But he was a lucky man and he left the military in controversial circumstances during the regime of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
Kabiyesi’s serenity, his much-valued sagacity and his national and international network of friends and associates have been used for the service of his people. It is a testimony of that network that accounted for the alpha-list of guests that attended his birthday celebration. He is the monarch of Yoruba powerhouse, which has dominated and continues to dominate the politics and business of Nigeria.
Yorubaland has produced three Presidents for Nigeria, two of them, Obasanjo and the late Chief Ernest Adegunle Shonekan both have their roots in Abeokuta. Even the President-presumptive, Bashorun Moshood Abiola, was an Egba man.
Since 1999, the town has produced two governors, Chief Olusegun Osoba, the venerable former Managing Director of the old Daily Times and Governor Ibikunle Amosun, the wealthy accountant.
Which town in Yorubaland would claim to have in its fold the arrays of achievers that Egbaland has produced in every field, from the military, law, banking, (think of Fola Adeola) to Christian Pentecostalism (Pastor Tunde Bakare)?
Egba people have excelled in all! Gbadebo is the king of everyone. He is accessible, humble, gen
tle and wise. He takes his charge very seriously and he inhabits his majesty with aplomb and royal essence.
In truth, Egbaland is not as simple as it looks from afar. Abeokuta is a product of the turbulence of the Yoruba country in the 19th Century.
For generations, the Egbas have lived in small settlements in the Egba forest. Their princes were always contending with one another until their land laid prostrate before the ever-expanding empire of Oyo and the Alaafin, the sovereign prince of Oduduwa.
Worse was to come in the middle of the 19th Century when the Dahomian, having seized their independence from the Alaafin, decided to make Egbaland their new area of interests.
The wake-up call for the Egba came after the Owu War, when stranglers from the campaign, led by Lagelu, an Ife general, drove away the Egba from Ibadan, and proclaimed a new polity. The Egba then set up a new state in Abeokuta thanks to the sagacity and courage of three outstanding men, Okunkenu, the first Alake in the new settlement, Lisabi, the general and Shodeke, the statesman.
By the time the British proclaimed the Southern Protectorate in 1900, the Egba State, which was proclaimed in 1830, had asserted its independence. It has provided refuge for educated returning slaves and freemen, many of whom were of Egba origin.
Oba Gbadebo is an inheritor of the old protocols agreed upon by his ancestors. By that agreement, the principal obas of Abeokuta, each of which can trace his origin to the royal House of Oduduwa in Ile-Ife, have agreed to make the Alake, the ruler of Ake, their leader. That protocol has survived till today.
When Egba women in 1949, under the leadership of Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, revolted against the authority of Oba Ademola and forced him into exile, no other Oba in Egbaland, challenged the supremacy of the Alake. Honouring the protocols of the past and ensuring its sanctity has been the bedrock of the Egba system.
Ironically, it is the inability to understand and appreciate ancient protocols and agreement among the ancestors that is causing unease and occasional turbulence in many parts of Yorubaland. The Ekiti, especially have a lot to learn from the Egba.
In many parts of Ekitiland today, newly manufactured history has been employed by newly manufactured obas, encouraged by politicians and the nouve-riche, to challenge ancient protocols and agreements among the ancestors. Like in Ikere Ekiti, the warring princes, no longer sure of what their ancestors did, or believing that the ancestors were foolish, have gone to court for arbitration and direction.
It is that ancient protocols that would guide new entrants like our father, Oba Afolabi Laoye, Orumogege III, the new Soun of Ogbomosho. Ogbomosho was one of those towns that were seriously transformed by the Yoruba wars of the 19th Century.
The town was founded by Oyo people and over the years, it has welcomed new entrants from other places including, Nupe and Ibariba. This has given the people of Ogbomosho a certain cosmopolitan outlook and sophistication.
As a result of the wars, some major princes including, the Olugbon, became refugees in Ogbomosho. Agreement of those days have continued to guide the interactions of these senior Oduduwa princes with the principal ruler of Ogbomosho, the Soun. Because the Soun was not a direct descendant of Oduduwa, he was not allowed to wear the much-cherished bearded crown until 1978, when our father, Kabiyesi Oba Oladunni Oyewumi, Ajagungbade III, became the first Soun to do so.
Ogbomosho is lucky that another capable person is stepping into the large shoes of Baba Oyewumi. Some people, not really educated about the meaning of Yoruba kingship, are still referring to Oba Laoye as a pastor. He was a pastor. Now, he is a king. In Yorubaland, once a prince stepped into the Ipebi, the sacred sanctum for the training and fortification of the elect, he is no longer the old person.
In the original Ipebi, not the one constructed and invaded by politicians and renegade princes, the new king would be trained on how to behave as a king. He would have encounter with the Alale, the Eternal Continuum of the Yoruba Nation and he would commune with the spirit of those who have been kings before him. By the time he concludes his rites and his mandatory fortifications, the new Oba has become the living essence of the ancestors and The Continuum. Therefore, our father, Oba Laoye, is no longer the man they used to know. He is now Kabiyesi, the living ancestor and the Arole of the first Soun of Ogbomosho, Olabanjo Ogunlola Ogundiran.
At the heart of the Yoruba obaship system is the Arole theory. Arole means the heir-apparent or the person holding forth for the real owner. Therefore, the Alaafin of Oyo is also Oranmiyan, the prince of Ile-Ife, who travelled all the way to the bank of the River Niger, to establish a city and start an empire.
Every principal oba, including the old 16 Pelupelu obas of Ekiti, represents both himself and his ancestors.
His essence transcends the present epoch and unite times and space. It is the Arole theory that makes the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, both the Ooni and Oduduwa, the first king of Ile-Ife. The Ooni is baba, not just because of his age and present position, but because he was also the man there in the beginning when the princes left Ile-Ife at the dawn of time.
Therefore, Kabiyesi Oba Laoye is not the same person that entered Ipebi. He is different. Indeed, he is now born-again. He is the living representative of the Eternal Continuum. The difference would only be if the kingmakers have deceived him and led him into a fake Ipebi.
Settling into the new role can sometimes be challenging for a new Oba, but Laoye has a lot of precedents to assure him. Oba Babalola Akinyele, who was Olubadan of Ibadan, was a well-loved Christian leader of the 20th Century. Oba Adetoyese Laoye, the late Timi of Ede, was a Christian. Oba Oladele Olashore, the late Ajagbusin-EkunIloko-Ijesha, built a big church in his private palace at Iloko. The current Orangun of Oke-Ila, Oba AdedokunAbolarin, the founder of Abolarin College, Oke-Ila, is a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Therefore, Laoye should understand that history has prepared him well for this assignment. His duty is to serve all; regardless of faith, creed or religion, because there is only one Olodumare, and we, his children, are equal before him.