Story of Olubara, Yewa monarch with domain among Egba people of Ogun State
By YINKA OLUDAYISI FABOWALE
ABEOKUTA, Ogun State capital, is renowned for being the homeland of the Egba people, one of the majority groupings and arguably the most influential tribe in the state.
The Egbas, comprising the sub groups- Ake, Oke Ona, Owu and Gbagura, occupy Ogun Central Senatorial District comprising a cluster of towns and villages with Abeokuta as nucleus. The Egba communities are bordered to the West by the Yewas, another large section of people, consisting of the Egbados, Aworis and Eguns, while the third largest grouping-the Ijebus/Remos inhabit the eastern part of the state.
Although they share homogeneity being Yoruba people, this geographical demarcation provides natural boundaries for each group to express its unique and distinct cultural identity and attain fulfillment.
But, surprise, surprise, surprise! Domiciled in the very heart of Abeokuta is a Yewa Kingdom, Ibara, with a First Class traditional ruler. What more, this community is the cash cow, the commercial nerve centre and arguably the most developed part of the capital city, with a concentration of bluechip businesses including banks, insurance firms, companies, popular eateries, mega stores, hotels, petrol stations, courier services firms, GSM companies, boutiques, the state-owned plaza, OPIC towers, and markets. The area also boasts of infrastructure such as good roads, a flyover, street lighting and public water supply system.
Ibara, which falls within the Abeokuta South Local Government area stretches wide, covering Panseke, Onikoko, Oke Ilewo, Ita Eko, a section of Quarry Road, Isale Isaga, Ijeja and the Government Reservation Area (GRA), where top officials of the state government including commissioners, special advisers as well as other prominent indigenes of the state are quartered, with Ijemo and Kuto areas as boundary. It is also the abode of other VIPs including former Head of Interim National Government and eminent industrialist, Chief Ernest Shonekan, while famous business woman and former President of Odua Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mines and Agriculture, Chief Alaba Lawson, has one of her highbrow group of private schools located in the area. Although the people of Ibara are predominantly to be found in Abeokuta South Local Government area, where the present day community is located, some of them also reside in Abeokuta North, where ruins of “Ibara Orile”, their original homestead lie.
How did the Ibara people find themselves in Egbaland?
Pose this question to an average Ibara man, especially in the past, and he bristles with indignation of offended personal and communal pride. He is quick to “correct” you: “This is not Egbaland. Our forefathers had been on this land centuries before other people came to settle here.”
This standard response, which still rankles in the minds of the people till date despite their apparent cordial relations with the Egbas, betrays a resentment of perceived domination and suppression by their more populous neighbours.
For instance, save for residents of the state, only few knew the Olubara is among the five prominent traditional rulers of Abeokuta, as only the four more known Egba monarchs- Alake of Egbaland, Osile of Oke Ona, Olowu of Owu and Onigbagura of Gbagura had often been touted to reign in the rocky city.
Also, there were cases of alleged political marginalization, as the people of Ibara were hardly nominated or picked up in political party primaries to run for elective public offices. Chief Lukman Akinola Akindele, the Akogun of Ibara Kingdom and a politician voices the people’s sentiments. “Well, we can’t run away from the facts. The point is that, that discrimination is there. For example, our area is designated as the last ward, Ward 15, among the wards here because the majority are the Egbas.They don’t pick us during primaries, they use their numerical strength to edge us out. That is why you hardly find an Ibara person occupying top elective public office in this state. I was a councillor in 1990, but, it was during the Segun Osoba era, that we were lucky when one of our own, Hon. Lanre Laose, was lucky to be elected to represent Abeokuta Central II in the Federal House of Representatives.”
But, the traditional head of the kingdom, the Olubara of Ibara, Oba Jacob Olufemi Omolade, tries to underplay the undercurrents of the conflict and prejudices. The urbane and soft- spoken monarch, who was crowned king in 1992 after he retired as permanent secretary in the Lagos State Civil Service, maintains that the kingdom and its people enjoy harmonious and peaceful interactions with their Egba neighbours. If there are areas of differences, this is not peculiar to the Egbas and the Ibaras, he remarks, adding: “Even among them (the Egbas) they have frictions, so why won’ they have misgivings about Ibara people also?”
Oba Omolade, however, says the historical fact is that the forebears of Ibara people led by some princes and princess from Oyo, had existed on the land that stretched to Egbado and other Yewaland since 1634, before other fleeing groups, displaced from their original homesteads as a result of the 19th Century internecine Yoruba civil wars, came to settle in the area. They were mostly farmers, hunters, artisans and traders.
Historians agree that the Egbas migrated in droves to their present abode in succession between 1829/30 and 1852 and eventually became the dominant group and powerful force, being war-like. Although the issue of who first came to the land sometimes flared controversy and tempers, some traditional authorities in Abeokuta confirm that the existence of Ibara people in the area indeed predates the Egbas’ incursion. Says, Akogun Owu, Chief Anthony Adefulu, who himself insists he is an Owu and not Egba chief, notes that Abeokuta is a refugee town where various groups flocked and settled at different times. “However, if it is said in our folklore that the Olubara, who lives close to the Ogun River, fed on something before the fish in Ogun river existed, it means he has been here from ancient times before others came to discover the Ogun,” observes Akogun.
But, some Egba chieftains claim that the Ibara people are actually part of Egba Alake, whose traditional head is the paramount ruler of the entire city.
This, however, has always been vehemently denied by the Ibara people, who regard it as a deceitful ploy to culturally assimilate them as vassals of the Egbas. Querried Mr. Wale Abbe Ajayi, a former Chairman of Abeokuta North Local Government and erstwhile member of the state House of Assembly: “If indeed, we are Egba Alake people, what position are we in the traditional chieftaincy hierarchy, what portion have we that we can be identified with?
As is normal, people of the two neighbouring communities have intermarried and coexisted peacefully for centuries, with no serious inter- communal clash reported, perhaps, due to the Ibara’s deference to the apparent superior might of the Egbas. However, this has not entirely removed mutual antagonism and suspicion, especially during elections in which Ibara people’s kith and kin in the Yewa part of the state have candidates contesting with an Egba, as in the last governorship poll.
But, Oba Omolade, who, Saturday Sun learnt, has consistently promoted peace among Abeokuta people, dismisses the existence of such prejudices. He says that the people of the city, irrespective of tribal affiliation, are too enlightened and politically matured to allow primordial sentiments becloud their judgment in making such important decisions. “We are too sophisticated politically in Abeokuta to discriminate. We respect ourselves and act, based on merit. Once you are good, you get it. One of our sons in Ibara, Hon. Lanre Laose, an insurance broker, had been elected a member of the House of Representatives,’ the monarch argues.
The royal father says although minor and communal disagreements may have featured in the past, “maturity and education have ensured we have risen above all that.” He remarks that since 1952, when his predecessor, the late Oba Samuel Adetola Adesina Lalugbo II ascended the throne after a long interregnum of 90 years that the kingdom had no Oba, there has been peace within the community and between it and the Egbas.
The Akogun Owu also says he is unaware of any mutual hostility among the groups. He describes their relationship as cordial, although, he notes that as in every normal heterogeneous human society, there would always be rivalry and a sense of competition. “And you can be sure nobody would want to play a second fiddle,” he points out.
The reigning friendly atmosphere, he observes, has further been promoted by the fact that virtually all the five traditional rulers in the city are the best of friends and have one or two things in common. For instance, the Olubara and the Olowu, Oba Adegboyega Dosumu, as well as the Alake, Oba Gbadebo Adedotun Okukenu II were school mates at Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta, while the Olubara and the Osile, Oba Dapo Tejuoso, are close pals. The Alake, in addition, is married to the daughter of the late famous Yoruba author and educationist, J.F. Odunjo, who was a younger brother to Oba Omolade’s immediate predecessor, the late Olubara, Oba Simeon Odunjo.
Evangelist Lawrence Adewale, an Ibara resident of Ijale Yewa descent corroborates the Olubara’s claim. He says: “We are all one Abeokuta people, we cooperate and intermarry. we have a lot of Egba daughters married to us here and I’m sure, if I get there now, I will find a lot of my sisters from Ibara at Sodeke, Igbein, Ijeja, and elsewhere.
Adewale says the issue of communal friction does not arise as people of the city have intermingled, while traditional festivals, which would ordinarily have provided pretext for fomenting troubles by aborigines or youths of the various communities are normally observed within their respective localities and scheduled in the city’s cultural calendar such that there is never any room for clash. “Each community knows its turn. Ibara normally opens the local Egungun masquerade festivals with the Gelede masquerade. Others come immediately after us. If any community breaches the peace, the police and security agencies will bring such to book,” declares Oba Omolade.
The Akogun of Ibara Kingdom, Chief Akindele, particularly lauds the effort of the Olubara at dousing inter-communual rancour and promoting the development of the community. His words: “We thank God for the Olubara. He has consistently tried to promote peace, while also asserting our distinct identity as a people. He’s always fought for our rights and the progress of Ibara. And to the glory of God, things are improving.”
How come Ibara’s physical development outstripped that of other sections of the city, which obviously must make it a source of envy by others?
Elders of the community attribute this in part to the European merchants, who, they say, chose to settle and conduct their trading in the area when they first came to Abeokuta and the British colonial government that made it the seat of government. “Our fathers’ generous policy of offering land to visitors and foreigners to establish business, schools and institutions also assisted a lot,” explains Evangelist Adewale.
Saturday Sun learnt that when the Whitemen – Spaniards, Greeks, Portuguese and the British arrived Abeokuta, they found Ibara’s topography and weather suitable for commerce. Consequently, the area grew into a thriving business district, hosting big players like GB Olivant, PZ, UAC, SCOA and where trading in wines/spirits, tobacco, iron sheets and other essential goods boomed.
The prosperity of the area , it was gathered, was further boosted by the special extension of railway tracks from Aro terminus, from where it runs to Ibadan, Osogbo up to the northern part of the country, to Ibara area, specifically to transport cargoes meant for the big trading stores and companies arriving from Lagos ports.
Subsequently, because of its rapid urbanization and conducive environment, the area became the choice of governments and organizations for siting of their buildings. For instance, many of the public structures and institutions such as the first prison yard, police station, marketing board, established by the defunct Western Regional Government were sited in Ibara. One of he earliest cigarette-making factories, Gold leaf and a boatyard, where boats were manufactured and sold across Nigeria also had their plants in the vicinity.
Mr. Gbenga Oduwole, an Abeokuta resident, describes Ibara, which also boasts of one of the most beautiful, sceneries in Abeokuta, as the city’s commercial hub. “It probably explains why the area enjoys so much government attention in terms of infrastructural development- good roads, the first flyover in the state is there and recently President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned the newly rebuilt Omida ultra modern market with two and three-story buildings and modern open stores when the state celebrated the 40th anniversary of its creation.”
Such is the prestige of this locale that the Akogun of Ibara, Chief Akindele, can boast: “Today, if you say you are a business person in Abeokuta and you don’t have your office or shop here in Ibara, you are not reckoned with and you too will know you are not in business yet, because you will have no customers.”
Saturday Sun learnt that there are plans by the state government to build a shopping mall, with the popular South African retail goods giant, Shoprite, as anchor tenant in the upscale district.
Ibara certainly cannot wish for anything more, with the proud status and privilege it enjoys among its conterparts, some of whose neighborhoods, being populated by mostly indigenous and illiterate indigenes, tend to be dirty and squalid with old decrepit houses and poor drainage.
Although he would not give up his Yewa heritage, the Olubara, Oba Omolade, declares that he and his subjects are Abeokuta people. “When I was in Lagos, people call me Baba L’Egba, as people from Abeokuta are called, and I always answered. We are all brothers, we are all Abeokuta people and I’m proud to be from this land,” says the reverred royal father.