In a matter of weeks, the king allegedly sent the principal priestess, the Iya Osun of Osun Osogbo, Adesiyan Olayiwola, out of the palace temple.
Osun Osogbo is hardly in the news for the wrong reason. That is about to change in light of a disturbing development capable of undermining the religion’s over 700-year equilibrium. The discord, which has been brewing quietly since October, cast a cloud of unease over the ancient city and has put those in the know on tenterhooks. Instead of waning, the dispute has been waxing stronger, gradually becoming a schism that threatens the fabric of Africa’s foremost traditional religion with global adherents.
Defined simply, the problem is a face-off between Ataoja, Oba Jimoh Olanipekun, the town’s monarch, and Baba Osun and Iya Osun, principal priest and priestess of Osun respectively. The king is perceived to have encroached on issues outside the royal purview. Traditionalists feared the royal missteps could culminate in calamities for the city and its inhabitants.
A royal fiat against Osun tradition
The controversy started at a meeting of chiefs and temple elders reportedly convened at the instance of the Ataoja of Osogbo.
According to sources, the king wanted an explanation as to why a former Arugba (votary maids who bear the Osun calabash) cannot reside in the Osun temple. According to those present, the oldest among the former maids, Iya Agba Arugba Iyadudu who is over one hundred years old, told the gathering it was a taboo for ex-maids to live in the temple. The king, however, thought otherwise. A few days later, a former votary maid, Bimbola Matanmi, was brought back to take up residence in the palace temple.
In a matter of weeks, the king allegedly sent the principal priestess, the Iya Osun of Osun Osogbo, Adesiyan Olayiwola, out of the palace temple. In a further escalation, he issued an edict purportedly replacing the Baba Osun of Osogboland, Dr Adigun Olosun.
Shortly after the king’s enforced change of guards at the temple, matters went into a tailspin. Rumours began to circulate that the Osun deity had gone missing at the temple.
A series of cryptic, accusatory posts on the Facebook wall of Dr Adigun Olosun further reinforced the insinuation that something has gone wrong.
The intrigue of the missing deity
Saturday Sun reached out to Dr Adigun Olosun, Baba Osun of Osogboland in Germany. In an exclusive Facebook chat, he gave an insight into the grave development.
His story: “On October 10, 2018, I was about to travel to Taiwan for the Silver Jubilee wedding anniversary with my wife and children when I got a phone call. The call was from a Togo number. The caller told me he was calling from the international airport in Lome. His next statement shocked me. He claimed “they” were in possession of Osun Osogbo. He said they paid to acquire it from one tall woman who called herself Iya Osun, with the consent of the king. I requested to know how they got my phone number. The caller claimed they had asked their contacts in Osogbo for phone numbers of those who were previously in the Osun temple. I wanted to know why they were calling me from Togo. He admitted that they could not put Osun into the aircraft, that it suddenly became heavy, that even a forklift could not move it. More importantly, someone among their team had a dream in which Osun had berated him, refused to go with them to their destination, and insisted she is returned to Osogbo her home, not to those presently occupying the temple, but to those who previously cared for her.
“I was perplexed, moreso because I was far away from Osogbo. After the call, I briefed Chief Ajagunna, the head of the Osogbo chiefs and Chief Elebuibon. To buy time, I told this faceless group I was about to embark on a two-week journey. I asked for their names and their numbers. They declined. They told me they knew when to call me––and they did that until the issue was closed.
“After my Taiwan trip, they called again. In the meantime, Ajagunna told me they asked the king about Osun and the king assured them Osun was in the temple. I used that as a bluff the next time the people called me. They claimed to be antique collectors who sold their relics in the market in Europe and America. They suggested it was better I came around to see with my very eyes before dismissing them. What I saw was the authentic Osun. I couldn’t have mistaken. I mean, that is what I have been worshipping all my life. They said if I involved the police, I should consider Osun gone forever. I did not want to take a chance. I could not allow my life, the life of Osogbo and of Osun followers all over the world to just go like that. It was not a time for bluffing.
“Then I asked them to hand her over to me since Osun had refused to go with them. They asked for a refund of N15 million––according to them, money they allegedly paid to the king for the acquisition, the cost of transporting Osun from Osogbo to Lagos and to Lome in Togo, and the first-class tickets already bought for their flight to Europe. They were adamant that I could only get Osun back after paying them. They gave me a Tuesday deadline. I discussed the issue with the high chiefs of Osogbo and Araba Elebuibon. I ended up raising the fund alone, by emptying my pocket and borrowing from people.
“Then I went to meet them in Ibadan. They took me on Okada blindfolded to where Osun was kept. The journey lasted about two minutes. They took my phone. Once they agreed the money was complete, they handed me Osun and also returned my phone. Then they left. Because I was taken there blindfolded, I had difficulty getting my bearing. I had to ask my way back to the road.”
This drama according to him took place on the night of November 30.
“I am baffled that someone could be as bold as to pull off such a heist. But when they mentioned an ex-Arugba who connived with them, it was easy to connect the dots. What puzzled me most, however, was the king’s insistence that Osun is in the temple. After I’d retrieved Osun, I sent him a message, but he made a joke out of it: “Osun is now with the Old Baba Olosun”.
“Presently, Osun is housed somewhere in Ibadan, and will remain there until the right step is taken by the Ataoja of Osogbo.”
Bone of contention
As far as he is concerned, Adigun is unwavering in his opinion that the problem stems from the king’s act of appointing people of questionable characters as keepers of the Osun temple.
“When the king woke up one day and sent Iya Osun away from the temple on flimsy excuses, we were worried; but when this issue of the selling of Osun came up, we could understand the why,” he said.
Continuing, he said: “There had been complaints that we hindered the efforts made to make the Osun temple more business-oriented. Our stand is this: if mosques and churches in Osogbo are not turned into money-making ventures, why should Osun temple be commercialised? Osun is a religion; therefore, the Osun temple is a religious place for helping people spiritually. We are five who can see Osun physically. The king sent all of us away––because we stand in solidarity with Iya Osun knowing that she did not commit any offence.”
And the most galling aspect of it all: “The king now appointed a Chief Imam, Alhaji Adebayo Adesina (Osunyemi Ifabode) as Baba Osun and an Alhaja (Alhaja Osunwede) as Iya Osun.”
An anonymous source in Osogbo told Saturday Sun the Ataoja-appointed Baba Osun, Alhaji Adebayor Adesina, is an imam of two mosques. One of the mosques, according to another source, is located at “Ile oluawo ni Isale Osun.”
According to Adigun, it is an aberration for an Alhaji to be appointed Baba Olosun of Osogboland. “Baba Osun must be somebody who grew up in the Osun temple. He must have started practising the religion from childhood to his adulthood, and if he is chosen by Osun––not the king––the elders in Yoruba traditional religion will perform the rites and install him.”
Adigun, who was a protégé of Susan Wenger––raised from infant till his 13th year by the woman famously known as Adunni Orisa––has been performing the role of Baba Osun since 1977. Giving a further overview of ascension to the key positions in Osun temple, he avowed that the responsibility of choosing Baba Olosun is the duty of the elders in the Osun temple. “Once a choice is made, the chosen person is handed over to the assembly of traditionalists in Yorubaland who will perform the installation rituals. The same applies to Iya Osun. Osun worshippers usually inventoried qualified women from the royal houses and pick someone who has reached menopause. After the rituals are performed, she is presented to the reigning king as the new Iya Osun of Osogbo. The king has no hand in all of this.”
Similarly, the king, he avowed, has no right to depose any of the Osun titleholders. Osun positions are not palace titles, he insisted. “Osun worshippers choose them and also remove them if they committed grievous offences.”
With regard to his purported removal by the Ataoja, he clarified: “As for the title of Baba Osun, only death can take the title from the holder. I lead the team to prepare Osun. If anyone tries it without me, the person will at first go blind, and then die. Ask about what happened to Aworo Oosadare from those who will tell the truth.”
And to the supposed new Baba Osun, Adigun has thrown a gauntlet: “When I am home, I will take you to Ibadan to see Osun Osogbo. If you see her and survived, I will hand over my title to you.”
In the world of deities, rites and tradition, actions have consequences. Could the present mix-up pass away without repercussions?
Adigun said: “Since the incident, there have been a few death too many in Osogbo. Osun is angry and Osogbo is in danger because those presently in the temple are charlatans. Even, Osun is out of the temple.”
Breaking the stalemate
Adigun did not mince words when he said: “We either head to court for the enforcement of our rights, or we raise funds for the building of a new Osun Osogbo temple that will house Osun, Iya Osun and her team as Osun Osogbo wanted.”
Saturday Sun put a call through to Chief Ifayemi Elebuibon, the Araba of Osogboland, on December 24. His comment was brief and insightful. “It is true there are some ongoing controversies; we are making efforts to resolve the issue. God will help us to settle it,” he said.
Chief Gabriel Oparanti, the Ajagunna of Osogbo, returned his call at 6:15 pm on December 26. “It is not an issue to be discussed over the phone,” he affirmed. “Come and see me and we can discuss at length.”
Efforts are still ongoing to reach the palace as at the time this story went to press.