“I Pray god Touches Fayose’s mHeart So He Doesn’t ‘REMOVE OUR SACRED’ TREE”- Oba Olukere

The contender for recognition in the kingship stool in Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State, the Olukere, Oba Ganiyu Obasoyin, in this interview with TUNDE AJAJA talks about the recent confrontation he had with the state governor, Mr. Ayo Fayose, over the planned demolition of a sacred tree to give way for road construction in the town, the unending kingship rivalry in the community and the only solution to the unrest in the town

Ikere was in the news for the wrong reason two weeks ago when you almost had a confrontation with the governor…

(Cuts in…) I would not call it a confrontation because I’m not powerful enough to confront the government. I can only express the feelings of my people and let the governor know how my people feel about what the government is doing in the community.

The origin of the disagreement was the issue of having to remove some deities to make way for the road construction project in the community. We learnt you agreed to remove them at a price, which was paid, but when the bulldozer came you cried out. What really happened?

When we heard about the construction of the new road; from where it stopped at Oke Ikere to Odo Oja, I sought an audience with the governor and he gave me an appointment. The representative of my constituency in the House of Assembly was the one sent to bring me to the Government House. I went with two of my chiefs, including the Eselemo, who is in charge of all cultures and traditions in the community.  That was in January. At the town square where the road was to pass through, we have about four deities. We have Ejibaosi; who was a warrior that fought for Ekiti then and he ended up in Ikere but he didn’t die, he entered into the ground. So, the spot where he entered into the ground, certain things were done there and a big seat was made for the Olukere to sit during the Olosunta festival. He would sit there and the whole community would come and pay homage to him. The statue is very historical, even to the Yoruba race as a whole. Even the community did not want that statue removed, but I had to beg them that we need development. Also, there is another deity we call Ogun Ajobo, the god of iron, where the whole community performs ritual for the Ogun. It’s at the town square and we agreed to remove it. Thirdly, there is a deity we call Esi Aboba, we agreed to remove it as well. We agreed to remove all these deities, scattered around the roundabout, and put them under the sacred tree, Ereja, so all would be in one place. But that tree is a sacred tree and it has been there for over 400 years. It has not been bigger and it has not been smaller, and you cannot see its leaves on the ground; it doesn’t fall on the ground. I don’t know how or why but that was what I met there. So, we agreed the tree would remain and other deities would now be brought under it.

What is the historical significance of the tree?

Under that tree was where the founder of the community was buried, that is the Olukere Oloje, who came from Ile Ife and had a late Ooni as a mother and had Obaloran as a father. Obaloran is a king in Ife today; he heads Ilode. So, that the first Olukere was buried there was the foundation of that community. During the Olosunta festival, the people of the community would assemble under the tree to seek the face of God, for peace and other things. It’s like their church; as the foundation of the community. And the branches of this tree can only be cut when the Olukere dies. So, immediately the community sees people cutting the branches, they know that the Olukere is no more. That is the traditional way to announce that. So, a lot of things are attached to the tree. Despite the historical facts behind the other deities, we could still remove them; do sacrifices and remove them, and place them under the tree, which we have to preserve. That was the agreement we had with the governor in the Government House.

Did the governor agree with that arrangement?

Yes, he said the following day, the commissioner for works and an engineer in the ministry would come to my palace and we would all go there and finalise things and that he would be responsible for the rituals that would be performed to remove the four deities and put them under the tree. We all agreed and we left. The second day, the commissioner and the engineer were in my palace. We all moved to the town square, we showed them the locations and we left. The third day, the commissioner called, that the government had released money for the rituals to be made to remove the four deities.

Was it when you met the governor at the Government House that you tabled the estimate before him?

It wasn’t my duty to do that. I told you I went there with my chiefs. He told us they (the chiefs) should go and let him know what it would cost them to remove the four deities and reposition them under the tree. So, I was not even part of the costing. Like I told you, the Eselemo, who is in charge of those things, was part of the meeting. It was both the Eselemo and the other chief that I asked to go and call the Babalawos (herbalists) and the Ifa priests in the community, so that whatever needed to be done could be communicated to the Ministry of Works. The only area I came in was that the letter they wrote to the governor, detailing the things to be removed and the money that would be needed, was written on my official paper.

Then you can’t claim ignorance.

That is the palace’s letter-headed paper, because the palace represents the people. That letter is what the governor is now using as blackmail, but anybody who looks at it would know that I didn’t sign the letter.

Were you there when the money was given eventually?

I wasn’t. According to the chiefs, it was cash. The third day after our meeting with the commissioner, he (the commissioner) called them, because I had already handed them over to the commissioner so they could relate directly. The commissioner called the chiefs that government had released money for the rituals, and that I should come but I told them it wasn’t my duty, but that the chiefs would go and they would sign for it and not me. They are the people who are to do it, not me. The fourth day, the two of them went to the commissioner’s office. My only connection with it was the official paper. I never signed any portion of the letter.

That sacred tree later became the subject of controversy, was it in the letter that the tree won’t be touched?

In that letter, it was written that the Ejibaosi, Ogun and Esi, were to be removed and repositioned, but that tree was never part of it. It was never included. Check the letter.

The governor said he gave you N1m but some reports said it was N850,000 that was released. What is the true situation?

Like I said, I didn’t go with them when the money was released, but according to the chiefs, N850,000 was handed over to them by the commissioner in cash. Not the N1m that was reported. The chiefs were given N850,000. After the commissioner came to my palace and we agreed, I never attended any meeting with them again, but the chiefs gave me feedback.

What did you do with the money afterwards?

We have three quarters in Ikere-Ekiti; Oke Ikere, Uro, where Ogoga stays, and Odo Oja, where I stay. From the three quarters, traditionalists were called together. That is why the community people do not see it the way the governor wants them to see it. Even the day they were doing the sacrifices to remove those deities, curfew was imposed from 7pm to 7am, so people wouldn’t see what they were not supposed to see. The traditionalists in the three quarters are there, including those from the Ogoga’s quarter. Ask them, they will confirm what I’m saying. They did what they were supposed to do, and they removed all the deities, now waiting to see the space that would be left beside the tree before we start repositioning them. So, when the governor came out with that story, it was not a surprise to the people because they knew everything about it. I never took any money from the governor for whatever purpose.

Would you know why the governor did that?

I wouldn’t know. Maybe he thought after collecting the money, we put it in our pocket, and now wants to use that to create a kind of blackmail and friction between the community, myself and the chiefs, but thank God it was a plain process. When the first class Obas visited the palace of the Ogoga (the government-recognised monarch), to interview him based on the petition I wrote to them on the need for the government to give me a staff of office, the Ogoga said the tree must be removed. He knows the importance of that tree. I think it was the Ogoga and his people that went and misrepresented Ikere to the governor, that he should come and remove the tree by force. I learnt the Ogoga went and told the governor that he should use that opportunity to clear every traditional artefacts and everything that has to do with culture and tradition in Ikere, because Ogoga knows he has nothing to do with them and he believes that those are the powers of the Olukere in the community. He forgot that even himself, when he was to be installed, he had to come under that tree to pay obeisance and the same Eselemo performed the rituals for him under that same tree that he now wants the government to uproot. It was under the tree they put the ere okin (symbol of authority) on his head and he was proclaimed the leader of the youths.

But without proofs, these amount to hearsays.

I’m telling you what happened. Ogoga said it on tape that the only tree that remains there, the Ereja, which is the power should be removed. The Ogoga said it, it’s on tape and it’s even a video. Those artefacts are the link and bond between the Olukere and the community. So, he believes if those things are removed, there would be no such link. He was trying to erase everything about the foundation and the beginning of Ikere so that the town would be like a community without history.

You said removing the tree was like passing a death sentence on you…

(Cuts in…) It’s not like, unless appeasements were made, cutting that tree is a death sentence on the Olukere, because it is when the Olukere dies that you cut the branches, not even the whole tree. So, when you remove it, then you have killed the Olukere.

Are you implying that you would have passed on if it was removed?

By the grace of God, I would not die, I believe so much in God. I’m a practising Muslim. It’s my position as a traditional ruler that allows me to do all these things because it is the duty of the traditional ruler to preserve the tradition of the people.

Some people feel you made that statement to whip up sentiment?

Go to the community and ask. It is not only in Ikere that such a thing happens. In Ado-Ekiti, there is a tree there that is only cut when the king dies. The government wanted to make a dual carriage way there, but because of that tree, they did only one lane. The tree is there till today. Even the one lane had to bend to accommodate the tree. That is a community in Ekiti State, so what is the difference. So, it is not sentiment. It is a fact.

What would have happened if the government had succeeded in removing that tree?

I’m not going to predict anything because I don’t want to be quoted, but I’m going to tell you categorically that if anybody forces himself or herself to remove that tree, they would pay for it because we will transfer that death back to that person. The community would transfer that death back to that person, because we will know that it is not the will of the people to do it. If you use government power on the people, the people would also use traditional power back on you.

Is it true the governor entered the bulldozer to uproot the tree?

He wanted to, but when he saw the reaction of the people; he first instructed the driver to enter the bulldozer after I’d been pleading with him, that he should see how many people were there, it wasn’t about me, but the community. I pleaded with him to allow what belongs to them to be. If you are doing something for the community, their interest has to be protected. You have to consider the interest of the community which you are trying to serve. After all the pleas, he instructed somebody to enter the bulldozer, then, people started pelting that person with stones. With that, he wanted to, but seeing the reaction of the people, he didn’t do it.

Did you at anytime meet the contractor to know if the road could be constructed without removing the tree?

Thank you. I interacted with the contractor, and he told me that the road could be constructed and still accommodate that tree and even that roundabout would be beautified by him. So, if there is no underground something, why is the insistence? It is the contractor that is supposed to be complaining that it won’t be possible, but he’s not complaining. He even showed me a draft of the drawing he had made, accommodating that tree in that place. However, we are still begging the governor and praying that he would not come back to cut the tree. We don’t have power that we can use against government. He should think about the people; what their feelings and interests are, and I think the government should protect that. We believe that as a listening governor who has the interest of the people at heart, the government would be magnanimous enough to respect the wishes of the people and allow the tree to be. We even said we could make appeasement and cut the branches of the tree to show good faith and satisfy him. That is even a taboo, but I pray that God will touch his heart and he will not sentence me to death in my lifetime (laughs).

But why would you think the Ogoga was behind it because he is the recognised king of the town?

He is only having the insinuation that if that tree is removed, that is the only traditional imprint in that town, and he doesn’t have any traditional rite to perform, so he believes removing all the traditional artefacts in the place would make the place his own home, now erasing the power and bond between the Olukere and his people. Ogoga should tell us who was the person in control of Ikere community 200 years before he came there, or was the community existing without a leader?

The Olukere has had an agelong dispute with the Ogoga, what is the origin of that dispute?

The dispute started over 200 years ago. Before the arrival of the Ogoga to Ikere, six Olukere had reigned and the community had existed for about 250 to 300 years before he came. When he came to the community, he came as a hunter, looking for the elephant he shot. He lived in Agaba, which was a small village between Ikere and Ijare. When he came, my forefathers were in their palace when they saw smoke in the bush and then they sent palace guards to check who was there. On getting there, they saw Ogoga and they brought him to the palace. When he got to the palace, they asked him who he was and he explained how he shot the elephant and how the object looked like a rock. Till today, the rock is still there. The name of that first Ogoga was Igoga Agama Okemugami, and the Okemugami was his Benin name. While the then Olukere was Agbela Asobora. The king called the Ifa priest to verify his claim about shooting an elephant and it was verified. With the help of the Ifa priest, the elephant was located at Atiba and that is where his (Ogoga’s) palace is now. The Olukere then called the able-bodied men in the community to bring the elephant to the palace. As I’m talking to you now, the tusk of the elephant is still in my palace. All the hunting materials he came with; the bag, arrow, are still in my palace as artefacts, which I still even showed the Pelupelu Obas who visited my palace in January.

Do you get allowance or funding from the government?

Before now, before the last Olukere who came before me, they used to pay peanuts. The Olukere who came before me spent 20 years on the throne and I’m now four years on the throne. The last Olukere was the first literate Olukere so he started the struggle the very hard way, but the problem was that his nomination was not accepted by the core Olukere family, so there were court cases, and that disturbed him a lot. The Ogoga then used that to curry half of the family to his side to start fighting the Olukere. So, for the 20 years, the man didn’t have the time to fight this cause as he should have. Since I came in, I’m not ready to take peanut from anybody; I want my authority.

But the Ogoga has said you lead the festival because you are the chief priest?

I just told you that I lead the worship as the father of the community. As a stranger, the Ogoga cannot even eat anything cooked along the line of that festival. It’s a taboo for him. The late Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, said during a festival in Ikole that he (Ooni) is the chief priest in Yoruba land, and that he has 201 deities he worshipped in Ife. Every Oba of every community must be a priest because you have to lead your people spiritually. Even in the Bible, most Obas in the Bible were priests; David and many others were priests. I can continue to count. So, as an Oba in any community, you have to be a priest; it’s part of your functions.

But you seem to be alone because other kings are not with you.

When government came in and started taking over the roles of Obas, because of that register, he is accorded the position of an Oba in Ikere. It is only those that are accorded this position that are allowed into their meeting. So, I have not been going there, so I won’t be an intruder. What I need to do is what I’m doing now; have my staff of authority, have my name in government papers, then go there for my functions. This is part of the fear the Ogoga has, that if I have a staff of office, their own is finished in Ikere because he can never wear a crown in my presence. I’m throwing it to him as a challenge. Let him come out wearing a crown, while I wear mine, and let us meet.

What would happen?

He won’t live. I’m telling you categorically. It is a kind of oath. He can’t try it, because he knows if he does, he’s going to die. If there is an agreement between two people and there is a repercussion, is it not the person to suffer the consequence that should be afraid? Why am I not afraid? I want people to read what an Australian tourist, Donald Friend, wrote when the then Ogoga invited him to Ikere as an advisor. Look for it and read it.

Last year, the members of the House of Assembly told you to stop parading yourself as a king. Why are you disobeying the House?

It’s not the members of the House. It is what you call the hand of Esau and voice of Jacob. I took a petition to the House of Assembly, telling them what was happening in my community and I wanted redress. After listening to me, they promised to invite the Ogoga to come and state his position, but because of their connection and their direct access to government, the Ogoga went to plead with the governor to stop the hearing by the House, because he knows what the outcome would be. You cannot cover the truth always. So, the governor came out on the television and said I went to the House with drums and I embarrassed his government, and for that reason, the House should not continue with my petition. Surprisingly, the House of Assembly that had accorded me respect and attended to me well came out and said I should go and tender an unreserved apology to government if I wanted them to consider my petition.

Have you apologised?

Why should I, when I have not offended the government? I don’t tender apology when it’s not necessary. I only tender apology when it is necessary, like what happened about the tree. When we realised in the community that the governor must have seen reasons with us and allowed the road to continue for now, we went on air, thanking him and tendering an apology on behalf of the community, because he said the community acted somehow when he came there.

In your agitation, are you saying the stool of the Ogoga should be proscribed or you just want to be recognised and he would remain the king?

It is two in one. I want the press and the government to investigate if Ogoga is actually from a royal family. If he is, then, he could be a king. But because I want peace in my community, I’m not even asking government to disrobe him or give me his staff of office, what I’m saying is that I should be recognised for who I am in my land. We are the aborigines of Ikere. We founded the place and were already established before Ogoga came. So, I want my own staff of office. Abeokuta has four ruling Obas, and they are all first class, but they respect the Alake as the head, Epe is there, In Ekiti here, we have Ikole, Igbemo and others, they have more than one king. In my wife’s town, Ipoti, they have two kings there presently. In Omuo, we have three Obas; Omuo Ikota, Omuo Oke and the Olomuo himself. So, why are these people afraid? If a tenant continues to tell you in your presence that he is bigger than you in your home, you would go to any length to send him out of that community, and when it gets to that, it becomes war. I, the Olukere, would never allow anybody to continue to tell me in my home that he is a visitor that is supreme to me in my home. I won’t continue to accept it and I’m ready to go to any length to make sure I recover my community from that stranger.

Will there ever be an end to the crisis?

If it persists, the community would be forced to send the stranger out of the community, and it is already getting to that. During the issues that greeted the tearing of the billboard by the state government last year, the people started serious protests and they went as far as sending Ogoga out of his palace. I wasn’t even in town that day. For three days, Ogoga could not step into Ikere; they sent him out and locked the whole palace and put palm leaves round the palace, which is a taboo. If not that I pleaded with the people, that would have been his end in Ikere, because even the police could not control it. You can’t enforce peace, because the more you put force on them the more they react and the more things escalate. You can make peace by making the people themselves accept peace. The respect the community has for the Olukere transcends government or recognition. When Olukere passes away, every rite for an Oba that is passing away is done for him; the trees would be cut and they would kill goats freely everywhere. The community accords the Olukere every right of an Oba. What makes the difference is the government recognition.

Are you saying that if government gives you staff of office, all the agitations would end?

There would be peace in the community. Before you can have peace in any community, there must be justice, fairplay and equity. When these three things are lacking in a community, there can never be peace. This thing did not start today, it has been there for long. He (Ogoga) can continue to insult me anyhow and call me names; that doesn’t have anything to do with me. He cannot stop me from continuing with what I’m doing.

When you met the governor to discuss the relocation of the deities, why didn’t you take the opportunity to ask him about the recognition you have been fighting for?

We discussed it, but I would not want to talk about that. I’m a traditional ruler, there are things he told me which he made me to believe that it should be between himself and myself and I would never divulge it, no matter the disagreement. I must say the governor has seen reasons with the community. He has been doing things for which the community would not want to offend him. This last December, for the first time in the history of Ikere, everything that was sent to every Oba in Ekiti State for Christmas was sent to my palace by the governor and that was the first time such a thing would happen in the history of Ikere. We are supposed to be thanking him because he has been seeing the clear picture of what is going on in the community.

But hasn’t he spoilt it with the allegations he raised about the N1m?

I won’t say he spoilt it, because no one is above mistake. The tongue and the teeth live in the mouth, but at times they quarrel and they bite each other but they still remain there. At least, he has not even removed the tree till this present time and we are appealing to him not to.

So, you won’t give up until you get a staff of office?

I don’t know what can stop me. The only thing I think can stop me is death and I know I’m not going to die now because God has a hand in what I’m doing. Why? I believe God has a hand in everything that is truthful. God is a God of truth, sincerity and justice. We took this man as a stranger in that community and accommodated him and he now carried the pot of soup, hypothetically, and even want to cut our hand from eating, after he has even taken the pot away. If God is a God of justice, nothing would stop me, and I would not die and I would surely achieve it by the grace of God. With the support of my people, I believe I’m going to achieve it and I would get there. I don’t mind if it is 10 years, but I will continue with this struggle until the right thing is done in that community.

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