There is no end in sight to the nine-month-old rift between the principal priest of Osun, Dr Layiwola Adigun Olosun and Ataoja of Osogbo, Oba Jimoh Abidemi Olanipekun, Laroye II.
The strife deteriorates further as Adigun, who for 42 years has been the Baba Osun of Osogbo, formally sued the Ataoja and his chiefs on May 28 for violation of his fundamental rights.
The discord worsened as Adigun rallied Osun worshippers with a call to action to build an alternative temple, following the eviction of Iya Osun, Adesiyan Olayiwola, from the palace temple allegedly on the order of the king.
The development, observers fear, portends trouble as it signifies an unhealthy division with such schism capable of marring this year’s Osun festival scheduled for August 16.
The emergence of a new faction
Since August 2018, the palace and the temple have been locked in bitter acrimony that occasionally degenerates into a thrust-and-parry between the king and the priest over the alleged missing Osun deity. The rancour climaxed in the eviction of Iya Osun and her son from the temple in the palace. That was swiftly followed by Ataoja’s replacement of the two principal priests of Osun. Adigun, Adesiyan and other dyed-in-the-wool traditional religion worshippers have since challenged the king’s action as “anti-tradition,” maintaining that the decision to depose and appoint Osun priest or priestess is outside the purview of the Ataoja.
Over the past months, devotees had been hopeful of an armistice between both parties before this year’s festival. From all indication, such expectation is far-fetched.
A clearly worded post on the Facebook wall of Adigun on May 27 at 9:35 am reads: “Osun has finally spoken. She said she does not want to go back to the Osun temple in the palace.
“We need to carry out the wish of Osun to have another temple that will be free from palace intervention and the charlatans now in the temple who denigrated her and her devotees. Osun said she could not live with them anymore.
“The new Osun temple will house Iya Osun and the elders of the Osun temple, they will be running the temple as they were doing before. We are now asking all the lovers of Yoruba tradition to contribute to the construction of the new Osun temple, it is a big project which can only be done by all of us.”
The post invites donations to be sent to the First Bank account of Egbe Olosun Osogbo. “We need your support on these fundraising efforts, it is for Osun, it is for Yoruba tradition” Adigun had written, promising to post “the progress of the construction online” so all can follow the development.”
Saturday Sun contacted Adigun for clarifications.
On the proposed new temple, he affirmed, “It will be located in Osogbo” and on how Osun devotees in the diaspora are reacting to the development, he declared: “They are the ones who made the suggestions and Osun agreed with it. Some of them already said they would not be coming to Osogbo if I will not be there. The people from Lagos, for instance, also have said they would not follow fake Igba Osun (calabash).”
Asked about his participation in this year’s festival, Adigun hinted about his likely absence. “I do not want anything that might disrupt the festival or breach public peace. There are people who understand and support my position on Osun matters. I do not want any clash or chaos to happen on account of me; for that reason, I will stay away from Osogbo till the end of the festival. Iya Osun of Lagos had invited us to come and celebrate Osun Osogbo festival with her in Lagos if this whole issue is not settled in Osogbo before August 16.”
Asked about the stance of Egbe Omo Olosun in Osogbo (Association of Osun worshippers in Osogbo) in the face-off, Adigun affirmed: “We have not decided. They are waiting for a directive from me.”
The court case
Presently, the controversy has found its way into the High Court of Justice in Osogbo,Osun State.In the Suit No. Hos/43/2019, filed on May 28, 2019 by the trio of Dr Adigun Olayiwola Olosun, Chief Mrs Adesiyan Olayiwola Olosun and Prince Aborisade Olayiwola Olosun,they are suing HRM Oba Jimoh Abidemi Olanipekun, Laroye II, the Ataoja of Osogboland and eight others including Chief Gabriel Oparanti (Ajagunna of Osogbo) Chief Sulaimon Agboola (Akogun of Osogboland) and Chief Popoola Bolarinwa (Otun Jagun of Osogboland).
The applicants, arguing that the king’s action is “unlawful, illegal and anti-tradition as same amount to flagrant violation of the customs and tradition governing the Osun Osogbo traditional institution,” seek the nullification of the installation Alhaji Moshood Adesina and of Alhaja Awede in their place respectively as Baba Osun and Iya Osun.
Adigun is also suing the Ataoja for defamation of character to the tune of N100m. The war of words between Adigun and Ataoja had taken a solemn turn with a press conference called by the king when he broke his silence earlier in April.
In The Nation of April 6, Ataoja had asserted: “Nobody ever gave Layi (Adigun) or his father the traditional title of Baba Olosun. The Ataoja only has Baba Orisa, because he has many gods like Oro, Ogun and Ifa, apart from the Osun goddess. The Ataoja used to appease all these gods. So, we have Baba Oloosa, not Baba Olosun…The man called Layi Adigun, who alleged that the Osun deity had been stolen, does not have any connection with Osun. Osun assisted his father in the past and he leveraged on this to attach himself with Osun devotees. His father came from Otan Ayegbaju. He was a bricklayer. He had a statue then called ‘Jubilee, which he used to carry about, collecting money from the people. Children usually followed him. We used to give the old man one penny in those days as a small boy. He used that method to eat and claimed to be a devotee of Osun goddess.”
Ataoja in the interview also opined, “Layiwola Adigun is hungry” and in another interview referred to him as a fraudster who would be arrested if he steps into Osogbo.
Adigun on the evening of May 27 told Saturday Sun why he was going to sue Oba Olanipekun for defamation––“To clear the name of my father who worked throughout his life for Osogbo as Baba Olosun and my own name which he defamed,” he said.
“His aim is to rubbish all the contributions of our ancestors and my own little contributions to the growth of Osun, Irunmole, and Osogbo at large. I was responsible for the painting of the Osun temple. I took that over from Iya Suzanne Wenger before she died. Many times, officials of the National Museum Osogbo usually praised and thanked me for supporting their efforts financially.”
Contrary to the king’s claim that he is a fraudster and a charlatan, he reeled out his credentials which include NCE from Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo (1988), two bachelor’s degree in Yoruba and Ethnology respectively from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife (1990) and University of Muenster, Germany (1997) and two masters in Yoruba (University of Lagos, 1994) and Media (Southampton Institute UK, 2001). He also has postgraduate diplomas in journalism (NIJ, Lagos, 1994) and law (London College of Law, 2003) while his PhD from Bradley University (2018) is in Yoruba Traditional Religion.
“I have travelled to many countries in Europe, Latin America and Asia to promote Irunmole and to do spiritual works with Irunmole followers,” Adigun avowed.
Besides being the director of Iyadudu Center for Yoruba Art and Culture, Ostbevern, Germany, he is also the spiritual head of Ibile Faith Society and President, World League of Traditional Religions.
Efforts to get a response from Chief Gabriel Oparanti, the Ajagunna of Osogbo, have so far been abortive.
Uncertainty among worshippers
The situation is worrisome to Osun devotees and traditional religion worshippers in general. Such a schism has never occurred among them in recent history. For as long as they remember, Dr Adigun Olosun has been in charge of arranging the Osun calabash that is taken to the river by the votary maid (arugba) on the day of the festival. He has performed that role since 1977 when he took over as the Baba Osun of Osogbo following the death of his father.
More worrisome, however, is the silence from the government, given that the Government of the State of Osun in the past had actively promoted the Osun festival as its flagship tourism event and the Sacred Osun Grove with its riverside shrines, being a World Heritage Site, is under the operations of the National Commission for Museum and Monuments.