Between Olubadan and Adedibu
By Reuben Abati
In a most befitting, colourful ceremony attended by a large crowd at the Mapo Hall in Ibadan on Friday, Oba Samuel Odulana, 93, Odugade 1, was formally installed as the 40th Olubadan of Ibadanland. This effectively makes him the paramount ruler of Ibadan land, but unfortunately, the sub-text of the Friday ceremony is the existence in Ibadan land of another "paramount ruler" who wields great influence and who appears to be on a collision course with the new monarch. This other man of power is none other than Chief Lamidi Ariyibi Adedibu, the self-styled political leader of Oyo state politics, PDP strongman, and the man who was named by the Obasanjo administration, the "garrison commander of Ibadan politics".
He is a titled and senior Ibadan Chief, but he boycotted the coronation ceremony. Adedibu's explanation is that he chose to remain in his own palace in Molete because he wanted to give peace a chance. "If they throw ordinary stone at the venue, everybody would say it is Adedibu. I therefore decided to keep away for the sake of peace." The Adedibu influence, his command of the politics of Oyo state, and his meddlesomeness has been identified as one problem that the new Olubadan would have to deal with if he must achieve the objective of ensuring peace and stability in the historic city. Adedibu has shown that he is not going to take a beating lightly, and he has stylishly challenged the Olubadan's authority by talking back at him and his throne. But can there be two kings in the Ibadan palace? What can the Olubadan do?
Immediately he was announced as the next Olubadan on July 11, the king-elect as he then was, launched an offensive against those he describes as the architects of violence in the historic city. He openly accused Chief Lamidi Adedibu and former President Olusegun Obasanjo of being the masterminds of the political crises in Ibadan. Many people would agree with him. He also blamed Adedibu for an attack on his wife, who as Principal of the School of Hygiene, Molete Ibadan, had queried her Deputy for taking students of the school to attend a swearing in ceremony at the State House of Assembly contrary to her instructions. PDP thugs invaded the school and molested the Principal for daring to give anti-PDP instructions.
Oba Odulana is on record as having said that he has forgiven Adedibu and the thugs for this. But he later came up with a directive that no Ibadan Chief should take part in partisan politics in accordance with an existing ordinance. This directive affects about 13 senior Ibadan Chiefs including Adedibu. The Oba also informed the public that Adedibu is not the Ekerin of Ibadanland but the Ekarun, in other words, he is not as close on the line of succession to the Ibadan throne as people may believe. The obvious interpretation here is that although the king-elect as he then was, had spoken about forgiveness, he was also planning to clip Adedibu's wings, put him in his place as it were, remind him, in case he has forgotten, that there cannot be two paramount rulers in Ibadanland.
Whether the Olubadan was speaking his own mind or the mind of others around him, public support is clearly on his side in the Adedibu matter. This much was evident at his coronation ceremony where politics took precedence over tradition. For eight years, the people of Oyo state and Nigerians in general have been looking for a solution to the Adedibu menace in Oyo state politics. Single-handedly, Adedibu turned Godfatherism with all its evils into a defining element of Nigerian politics, and the biggest threat to democracy. He has been brazen and loud in his insistence that no one could win any election in Oyo state, or hold public office, except through him. This is clearly an anti-democratic position, but Adedibu continues to enforce his will through the use of thugs and his manipulation of the electoral machinery. He has given full expression to the concept of the villain as hero and produced a number of copy cat Godfathers in other parts of the country.
Between 1999 and 2007, Adedibu succeeded not just because he controlled the machinery of political violence, but also because his actions benefited the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, and he enjoyed the support of President Olusegun Obasanjo. No one could challenge Adedibu. Not even all the intellectuals in Ibadan. Not even all the rich industrialists of Ibadan. Not even the police who willingly did his bidding. Not even the Ibadan palace and its traditional institutions.
Not even the courts of the law. Not even the anti-Adedibu faction of the notorious National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), that is the Tawa faction. One telling proof: one of Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala's first official duties was to prostrate in public to Adedibu and thank him profusely for making him Governor! Outsiders wondered how one man could hold a whole state to ransom so completely, how he could easily shun the law and remain above it but the only answer anyone could come up with was located in the lawlessness of the PDP as a political party and the duplicity that marked the politics of the Obasanjo era.
But is it time now for Adedibu's comeuppance? Can the Olubadan clip his wings and influence? Three factors may work against Adedibu but they are all severely limited. One, the new man in power, President Umaru Yar'Adua has made it clear that his government is interested in due process and the rule of law. Under President Yar'Adua, it may not be too easy for anyone to sponsor political violence and get away with it. Thugs used to parade the streets of Ibadan with machetes and other dangerous weapons. They were emboldened by the fact they knew they could get away with impunity. If President Yar'Adua keeps his distance from Adedibu and his politics, perhaps that would help. The loss of Presidential endorsement could weaken his temerity.
Two, there are many forces in Ibadan today, now emboldened by the Olubadan's move against Adedibu. At the coronation ceremony, they seized the moment to play a little politics of their own. When Senator Rashidi Ladoja, the former Governor, now a member of the Action Congress got to the Mapo Hall, he and his wife were hailed by the audience; when they took their leave, a large crowd followed them home. The same crowd according to newspaper reports ignored the state Governor, Adebayo Alao-Akala. The Governor is Adedibu's man. Ladoja is Adedibu's estranged political son. But was that crowd rented? In Nigeria, audience behaviour may not be a true test of popularity.
Three, Adedibu derives much relevance from the respect and attention that he receives from the Oyo state Government. It is a master-client relationship. If Governor Alao-Akala can help it, he would perhaps dump Adedibu, because it is only when he does so, that he can assert himself fully as the Governor. Should Adedibu get onto the wrong side of the palace, the people and the Presidency, would Governor Akala find it easy to support the plan to retire him compulsorily from politics? But can Akala take such a risk?
Four, in what looks like a coming confrontation with the palace, are Adedibu's hands tied? Can he afford to be seen to be fighting the Olubadan throne publicly? Yoruba history is full of stories of once powerful men who took on the throne in a fight, or who became unmanageable within the community and who paid dearly for their insolence: Kurunmi of Ijaiye, Basorun Gaa of Ibadan, Iyalode Efunsetan Aniwura also of Ibadan are examples. The times have changed though. Would ordinary people and the Amala crowd support Adedibu, should he decide to fight the Olubadan? It is a question that he alone can answer.
For now, Adedibu is directing his answers to the Olubadan, although he says he cannot disagree with the monarch. He had travelled abroad recently with the promise that he would return on time to attend the Olubadan coronation. But he changed his mind on his return when he discovered that the Olubadan had ordered his exit from politics. In a public statement, he took on the Olubadan. Adedibu argues that he is not aware of any legal provision which says Ibadan chiefs cannot take part in politics, and that in any case the Nigerian Constitution grants every citizen the freedoms of association and expression and the right to vote or be voted for in a democratic election. Besides, what is the traditional institution all about if not politics? Brilliant arguments, Chief Adedibu is definitely clever. I also thought that banning chiefs from taking part in politics is an ill-informed order, which smacks of dictatorship and which cannot be enforced. The Olubadan also needs to be reminded that many of his colleagues, before him, willingly gave politicians chieftaincy titles and when he settles down, he may find himself distributing some of those titles too. Would he then say that such politicians must abandon politics in exchange for an Ibadan title?
Adedibu has also pointed out that he is not the Ekarun of Ibadanland, but the third in line to the Ibadan throne. This really means that Adedibu could one day become the Olubadan! To worsen the effrontery, Adedibu reminded the Olubadan that he is the controller of Oyo state politics, the political leader. He was indirectly asking the king: how many constituencies do you control? But the masterstroke from Adedibu came through the speech delivered by Governor Alao-Akala at the coronation ceremony. The speech, which preceded the handing-over of the staff of office to the Olubadan, could well have been written by Adedibu himself.
The Governor delivered a strong message, a combination of admonitions, blackmail and subtle threat, when he told the Olubadan: "reign over the people and don't rule over them. Your utterances and actions will be subjected to scrutiny. From now on, your utterances on political matters are very crucial to the attainment of peace in the state. It is imperative that you refrain from making inflammatory statements or take side on issues. You are the father of all regardless of their religion, political, social or ethnic lineage. Seek true reconciliation with those who have crossed your path. This administration will always support, recognize, and appreciate you as far as your actions are in line. On our part no stone will be left unturned to protect lives and property. Traditional rulers also have roles to play by maintaining peace in their domains." I dare say: The hand in this speech is Alao-Akala's but the voice is Adedibu's.
Traditional rulers do not control budgets. They no longer command troops. They cannot order anyone to obey their commands. In the past, Adedibu wouldn't dare challenge the monarch. But in today's Nigeria, money and politics rule the community and traditional rulers have no authority. Ibadan Mesiogo is also a radically divided, intrigue-driven community. The Olubadan is well-meaning, but there is little that he can do about Adedibu and his politics. He wants the creation of Ibadan state. He wants the Ibadan airport upgraded. These may prove to be far easier tasks, than confronting the Adedibu menace. But the Olubadan has made his point. "I will only appeal to politicians to play the game according to the rule by giving peace a chance", he said. The answer lies with the Nigerian state, which must make it impossible for anyone no matter how highly placed to subvert or aid the subversion of the rule of law. Long live the Olubadan!