From Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
The demise of the Olowo of Owo, Oba Victor Olateru-Olagbegi has opened the way for a royal tussle in Owo, headquarters of Owo Local Government Area of Ondo State. The kind of controversies and battles that surrounded the emergence of the late Oba may again rear its ugly head, with the three ruling houses, Ogunoye, Ajike and Olagbegi, claiming the right to the throne.
Oba Olagbegi ascended the throne in 1999 and was not given recognition until 2003 when late Governor Olusegun Agagu presented him the Staff of Office. He reigned for almost 20 years. He fought many battles and challenges before his ascension and subsequent coronation.
His main challengers, who were also members of the Olagbegi Ruling House, Daily Sun learnt, claimed that Oba Olagbegi did not have the right to the throne being the direct son of the previous Olowo, Oba Olateru Olagbegi, who was banished to Okitipupa, also in the state.
Sources however, said the Olagbegi family may not be considered this time around, having ruled the town for long and being the immediate past ruling house. But some members of the family are already showing interest in the throne. This is even as the family had allegedly met to deliberate on a candidate to be presented to the kingmakers.
A traditional chief who preferred anonymity told Daily Sun: “To choose a king in Owo, we have the kingmakers and the senior Omo-Olowos. They would have to meet and consult the Ifa oracle, pastors, imam and the traditional religion worshippers, who would advise them as to who is most suitable for the position.
“No fewer than five persons have already signified intention to occupy the throne. They are yet to make their ambition open due to customs, which forbids signifying intention for the throne before the final funeral rites of an Olowo of Owo.
“I have it on good authorities that meetings are going on in different ruling houses. Some people from both within and outside the country are sponsoring the meetings. Their intention is to contest for the vacant stool of the Olowo. By the time we complete all the rites for the passage of the late monarch, they will come out openly.”
Although he refused to disclose the identities of the five persons, he hinted that two of them are based in the United States of America, while the other three are based in Lagos: “The kingmakers will soon come out with the names of the contestants.”
The kingmakers were yet to make any formal notice regarding the presentation of princes for the vacant stool as the town is still mourning the late monarch. After the funeral rites, they would ask the ruling house entitled to the throne to submit names of their candidates who would be presented to Ifa priest.
The five kingmakers may resolve to election to determine the particular person to be selected after which his name will be taken to Ifa priest for consultation. None of the kingmakers was willing to speak with our correspondent on the matter. They claimed that culture forbids such action pending the funeral rites.
An indigene, Rasheed Bolaji, said: “There is an age long practice in this town in the process of selecting an Olowo. After the names have been presented to the kingmakers, the names will be forwarded to Ifa Priests who will seek the face of the gods on who should be the next traditional ruler. Any name chosen will be presented to the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, through the authorities of Owo Local Government Area for final approval by the state government.”
An historian and indigene of Owo, Mr. Iyanda Omotayo, said: “Ojugbelu Arere, the first Olowo of Owo, was the direct descendant of Oduduwa known as the father of the Yoruba. The name Owo meaning ‘respect’ in British English was coined from the intrigue attitude of Ojugbelu who was the pioneer Olowo of Owo.
“Owo is ruled by heir appointed from three ruling families, Ogunoye, Ajike and Olateru Olagbegi, according to Ifá consultations. The king is often assisted by appointed chiefs collectively known as Edibo Ologho and other chiefs such as Sasere, Ojumu Odo, Elerewe Ayida, Ajana Atelukoluko, the Ifa priest of Owo and Akowa Loja who is the head of chiefs in Iloro Quarters of Owo.
“According to Owo traditions, the Olowo is often appointed by kingmakers in which, the Iloro chiefs under the leadership of Akowa Loja play a significant role. The Iloro chiefs comprise the senior chiefs collectively known as Ighare and others collectively known as the Ugbama. Both play major roles during installation of a new Olowo.”
He gave the names of past Olowos as Ojugbelu Arere, the first Olowo of Owo, Rerengejen, Elewuokun, Ajaka, Ajagbusi Ekun, Olagbegi Atanneye I, Olagbegi Atanneye II, Ajike Ogunoye, Olateru Olagbegi I, Olateru Olagbegi II, Adekola Ogunoye II and Folagbade Olateru Olagbegi III.
Omotayo continued: “Owo has the largest palace in Africa, which was declared a national monument by the Federal Government. The Olowo Palace has as many as 100 courtyards. Each courtyard has a specific function and was dedicated to a particular deity. The largest, said to have been twice the size of an American football field, was used for public assemblies and festivals.
“Some courtyards are paved with quartz pebbles or broken pottery. Pillars supporting the veranda roofs were carved with statues of the king mounted on a horse or shown with his senior wife.” He said the Ogunoye and Ajike ruling houses are more qualified to present the next Olowo.
A member of Ogunoye family, Falana Ayobami, reacted: “The family has been holding meetings not unconnected with how to present a sole candidate for the stool of Olowo. But, it is not allowed to make our meetings formal because the tradition of the town forbids such practice since the funeral rites for the immediate past Olowo have not been completed.
“After the whole rites of passage of Oba Olagbegi, the kingmakers will formally write a letter to the head of the ruling house, who will subsequently call a meeting and the family will decide on who to present to the kingmakers. We will need to consult widely before we present a candidate because our candidate will also go through serious scrutiny.
“We are going to do the needful to ensure that we make it this time around. The family contested the position about 20 years ago but we could not have our way. We presented many candidates while the Olagbegi ruling house presented a single candidate. The selection and appointment was challenged in court and the rest is now history.
“It is now our turn to occupy the throne of our forefathers. We shall do everything possible to ensure that we don’t miss it this time around. There are many lineages and arms in the ruling house, but I can assure you that all the lineages will meet and do the needful.
“If you check the record and go through the history of Owo, you will discover that the Ogunoye ruling house has not reigned like other ruling houses. It has been long that we ruled the town. So it is our turn now to rule Owo, a town founded by our forefathers.”
A member of the Ajike ruling house who simply identified himself as Omo-Olowo equally claimed that it is the turn of the family to produce the next Olowo: He argued that the rotational order of ascendancy to the throne of Olowo favours the family more than the two other ruling houses: “I will not like to speak much on this matter because the town is still mourning and as a Prince I know the implication of this.
“The community is in a mournful mood. It is after three months of the demise of an Olowo that we can come out to say it is our turn to rule the town. We have not received any notice from the kingmakers, so, we are quiet for now. However, that is not to say that we are not making moves expected of us. The family will meet from time to time and we will not relent at getting to the throne.”
No member of the Olagbegi ruling house was ready to comment. The family claimed to be mourning one of its illustrious sons.
Governor Rotimi Akeredolu who incidentally hails from Owo will play a vital role in the appointment of new Olowo. It was not clear whether or not the governor has interest on who becomes the next Olowo. He had promised to give Oba Olagbegi a befitting burial: “We are proud of the services he rendered while alive. He fought to make sure that something good came to Owo. And he did that in many areas. He had the love of his town at heart and lived a good life.
“We had a king that was respected for his rich education. We had a Kabiyesi that was most respected. He knew the Prince of Peace when he was alive. He was committed to building a church because he believed in the God he served. He was always at the Holy Ghost service. The fact that he knew the Prince of Peace has made us to be rest assured that he is resting in peace.”