Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
A serious chieftaincy struggle may likely erupt soon in Owo, headquarters of Owo Local Government Area of Ondo State, as the town’s ruling houses gear up to contest the vacant stool of the Olowo of Owo.
In the past week, following the interdenominational funeral services, two of the three ruling houses have shown strong interest and determination to occupy the stool. News that the kingmakers are yet to decide on the succession process creates an atmosphere of suspense and anxiety in the town.
According to reliable sources, the two ruling houses of Ogunoye and Olateru-Olagbegi have met, deliberated and are ready to present candidates for the vacant stool. The Ogunoye ruling house reportedly has concluded to present Mr Bade Ogunoye, a Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ondo State Civil Service, while the Olateru-Olagbegi house is said to have settled for Justice Adesuyi Olateru-Olagbegi, a retired jurist. The third house, the Ajike Ruling House, on the other hand, is yet to decide whether or not it will present a candidate to contest the vacant stool.
According to record, the Olagbegi’s house had occupied the throne of the Olowo of Owo more than the other two. As a result of this, Saturday Sun learnt, the choice of Ogunoye is rapidly gaining traction among the indigenes of the town, especially among the common people in the town. Ogunoye is also reported to be the choice of some traditional chiefs in the town who believe the ruling house family should present the next Olowo of Owo in the spirit of fairness.
According to a source who spoke to Saturday Sun on condition of anonymity, the Olagbegi ruling house did not show interest in the stool initially until the news circulated that the Ogunoye house has finalized arrangements for the presentation of a candidate. The development allegedly prompted their meeting last week and their decision on the choice of Justice Olateru-Olagbegi.
The Olagbegis, the source averred, are allegedly banking on the vast influence of the family, their close relationship with the state governor, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu and other high profile personalities in the country to sway the contest in their favour.
A history of controversy
With two out of the three ruling houses allegedly claiming the right to the throne, there are fears the kind of controversies and contention that surrounded the emergence of the past Olowo of Owo might rear its ugly head.
In recent history, the stool of Olowo of Owo was a subject of a serious tussle. The late Olowo, Oba Folagbade Olateru-Olagbegi, who reigned for 20 years, ascended the throne in 1999 but was not given the recognition of a traditional ruler until 2003 when the administration of Governor Olusegun Agagu presented him the staff of office.
His final ascension to the throne and subsequent coronation was challenged ironically by members of the same Olagbegi Ruling House, who contended that he did not have the right to the throne, being the direct son of late Oba Olateru Olagbegi, who reigned in the town for years, before his banishment to Okitipupa, a community in the state.
Some indigenes of the town, however, opined that the Olagbegi family may not be considered this time around on the ground that they have ruled the town longest, and had also produced the immediate past ruler of the town.
However, if the other two ruling families of Ogunoye and Ajike present multiple candidates, the development, according to observers, may work in favour of Olateru-Olagbegi house that will be presenting a sole candidate in the person of Justice Olateru-Olagbegi.
The selection tradition
The five kingmakers in Owo town may resort to voting to determine the particular person to be selected as the eventual traditional ruler.
None of the kingmakers was willing to speak with our correspondent on the matter as they claim doing so will contravene the culture of the town, which forbids commentary on the issue of succession to the throne. Nevertheless, Saturday Sun learnt the kingmakers and senior Omo-Olowos are holding discreet meetings on the succession process.
It is expected that a call will be made sooner than later asking the ruling houses entitled to the throne to submit the names of their preferred candidate(s).
A traditional chief in the town who preferred anonymity told Saturday Sun: “To choose a king in Owo, we have the kingmakers and the senior Omo-Olowos, who have to meet and consult the Ifa oracle and also pastors, imams and the traditional religion worshippers, who would advise them as to who is most suitable for the position.”
The chief went further: “I have it on good authorities that some meetings have already been going on in different ruling houses in the town and 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 have completed all the processes, somebody will be announced as the next Olowo of Owo.”
An indigene of the town, Rasheed Bolaji spoke on the age-long practice regarding the process of selecting the town’s monarch. “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 that is chosen will be presented to the State Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, through the authorities of Owo Local Government Area for final approval by the state government,” he said.
Iyanda Omotayo, a historian and indigene of Owo, gave a wider perspective: “Owo is ruled by heir appointed from three ruling families––Ogunoye, Ajike and Olateru-Olagbegi––according to Ifá consultations. The Olowo is often appointed by kingmakers in which the Iloro chiefs, under the leadership of Akowa Loja, play a significant role in the king’s installations. The Iloro chiefs comprise the senior chiefs, collectively known as Ighare, and the others collectively known as the Ugbama.”
He reeled out names of past Olowo––from the first Olowo, Ojugbele Arere, to the recently deceased monarch, Oba Folagbade Olateru Olagbegi III––a succession of 12 kings of which three of the last four occupiers of the throne were of the Olateru Olagbegi lineage.
Omotayo opined that Ogunoye and Ajike ruling houses are more qualified to present the next Olowo of Owo––subject to the approval of the kingmakers and others involved in the selection and appointment process. He singled out the Ifa oracle as the “major factor” that determines who ascend the throne of Olowo of Owo.
Preparation by ruling houses
Saturday Sun made several requests for a comment from representatives of Ogunoye ruling house. A member of the family who volunteered comments, Falana Kunle, confirmed: “The family has already been holding meetings and these meetings are not unconnected with how to present a sole candidate for the stool of Olowo which became vacant recently following the passage of Oba Olateru-Olagbegi. 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.”
He added: “We are going to do the needful to ensure that we make it this time around because the family contested the position 20 years ago but we couldn’t have our way (because) 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 and we shall do everything possible to ensure that we don’t miss it this time around.”
While acknowledging the existence of “many lineages and arms in the ruling house,” he, however, assured that “all the lineages will meet together and do the needful.”
He said: “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’s been long that we (last) rule the town. So it is our turn now to rule Owo, a town founded by our forefathers.”
The Olagbegi ruling house was not forthcoming with comment. Saturday Sun gathered the family had met on several occasions, with another meeting scheduled for Monday, May 27, 2019, which all members of the family are expected to attend.
Whether the succession process will be free of controversy or rancour remain to be seen in the light of present undercurrent. There is fear of a rash of litigation after the emergence of a new Olowo as whoever emerges from any of the three ruling houses may face a serious challenge from the other two.
The Ondo State Governor, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, who incidentally hails from the town, will play a vital role in the appointment of the new Olowo, as he has the constitutional right to appoint the traditional ruler for any town in the state, after selection process by kingmakers. It is, however, not certain whether or not the governor has any interest in who becomes the next Olowo of Owo.