Why bandits are k!lling monarchs cheaply — Traditionalists
Centuries ago, monarchs in Nigeria were known to wield enormous spiritual and physical powers. However, insecurity is gradually weakening the ‘power’ of the crown, making traditional rulers victims of violent attacks, gruesome killings and kidnapping, VICTOR AYENI writes
Amid the haze of the harmattan on Monday, January 29, 2024, a car conveying three Ekiti monarchs glided across the landscape of the Ajoni Local Government Area of Ekiti State, on a road framed by thick bushes on both sides.
The Elesun of Esun-Ekiti, Oba David Ogunsakin; the Onimojo of Imojo-Ekiti, Oba Samuel Olatunji, and the Alara of Ara-Ekiti, Oba Adebayo Fatoba, were on their way from a security meeting held in Irele-Ekiti on the fateful day when armed assailants suddenly emerged from the forest and charged at them.
With cold and calculated brutality, the assailants opened fire at the vehicle, killing two of the monarchs – the Onimojo of Imojo-Ekiti, and the Elesun of Esun-Ekiti. The third monarch, Alara of Ara-Ekiti, was said to have survived the attack.
Graphic video footage seen by our correspondent on Thursday showed the body of Oba Olatunji carried by young men onto a pickup van with blood flowing from his wounds.
The distraught wife of the slain Elesun of Esun-Ekiti, Mrs Yetunde Ogunsakin, said she became worried when she called her husband hours into the journey but did not get an answer.
“He called me when he reached Ajowa that he was coming, that he was hungry and I should prepare something for him.
“(From) Ajowa to this place (I was not checking the time) was not supposed to take more than one hour. After getting to one hour and one hour plus, I began calling (him on) his phone but he did not pick up (his calls),” she stated.
The gruesome murder of the two monarchs also sparked widespread condemnation across the country.
Speaking on the killings, the chairman of the Ajoni Local Council Development Area, Micheal Ogungbemi, disclosed that the gunmen had attempted to kidnap the three traditional rulers.
But Nigeria Police Force Public Relations Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, revealed that 13 suspects had been arrested over the killing of the two traditional rulers.
“Now, we have 13 suspects arrested so far in connection with that incident, and we are sure we are going to get more of these suspects.
“We are working with them (suspects) and they are giving us reliable and useful information. We are sure and optimistic that we are going to get all of them apprehended and bring them to book,” Adejobi said during a Channels Television programme on Thursday.
Earlier, the Ekiti State Police Public Relations Officer, Sunday Abutu, on Tuesday, disclosed that the five suspects were arrested in the forest during a bush combing operation but did not state whether the suspects were involved in the killing of the monarchs.
Abutu said, “In a bid to flush criminal elements, especially kidnappers, out of the state, a combined team of the police, NSCDC, Amotekun, OPC, and local hunters embarked on a bush combing operation through Oke-Osun, Ikere/Igbo-Okah to the thick forest around Iju/Ikere boundary.
“During the operation, five suspected kidnappers, namely Usman Jelili, Mohammed Bande, Abubakar Aliu, Isah Abdullahi, and Suleiman Abdulahi were arrested.”
He added that though the suspects claimed to be herdsmen during interrogation, it was later discovered that none of them had cattle in the forest where they were arrested.
But barely three days after the Ekiti incident, gunmen invaded Koro town in the Ekiti Local Government Area of Kwara State, shot dead the traditional ruler of the town, Oba Segun Aremu, and abducted his wife and two others.
The Kwara State Governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, while condemning the killing, directed security agencies not to spare any resources to track down the perpetrators and free the abducted monarch’s wife and others taken away.
“We will certainly get the perpetrators and ensure that this is their last crime against humanity,” he said in the statement.
A vicious pattern of attacks
Checks by Saturday PUNCH showed that the latest attacks demonstrated a pattern of killings and kidnappings targeted towards traditional rulers across the country.
In July last year, the traditional ruler of the Nguru community in the Aboh Mbaise Local Government Area of Imo State, Eze James Nnamdi, was shot dead at his palace when some gunmen invaded his home.
A month earlier, suspected gunmen kidnapped the Oba of Idofin, Shedrack Obibeni, and his wife, in the Yagba East Local Government Area of Kogi State.
In January 2022, suspected hoodlums killed and burnt the traditional ruler of Agodo village in Ewekoro, Ogun State, Ayinde Odetola, beyond recognition.
In December of the same year, armed bandits attacked and killed the district head of Yankuzo, Alhaji Hamza Kogo, of Tsafe Emirate in Zamfara State during a failed attempt to abduct him.
Another tragic incident occurred in October 2021, when gunmen opened fire on traditional rulers who were having a stakeholders’ meeting at the council headquarters at Nnenasa in the Njaba Local Government Area of Imo State.
The affected monarchs were Eze E. A. Duruburuo, who is the Obi of Okwudor; and Eze Sampson Osunwa of the Ihebinowere autonomous community.
In November 2020, gunmen murdered a prominent traditional ruler in Ondo State, the Olufon of Ifon, Oba Israel Adeusi, at the Elegbeka community along the Ifon-Benin highway.
Oba Adeusi was said to be returning to his town from Akure, where he had gone for a meeting with other frontline traditional rulers when he was kidnapped and killed by bandits.
According to a 2021 report by a geopolitical research consultancy, SBM Intelligence, in the decade since November 2011, 53 traditional rulers have been killed in various violent incidents across Nigeria.
“This unfortunate trend appears to be accelerating as 35 of them were killed in the second half of the decade in review, that is between 2016 and now, while the incidents in which those killings happened have become more violent,” it added.
Waning socio-political powers
Democracy, defined by the United Nations, as a system of governance that “provides an environment that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms” and guarantees that “women and men have equal rights,” has been identified as one of the factors that changed the face of monarchy in Nigeria.
In the past, monarchs were highly revered and seen as the custodians of the customs and traditions. Many of them were seen as being next to God or the representatives of deities on earth. Some of them were also rarely seen in public.
However, with democracy came the demystification of traditional rulers as their subjects were accorded equal rights and priviledge.
A professor of History at the University of Ibadan and a fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters, Olutayo Adesina, told our correspondent that colonial and military rule played huge roles in “clipping the wings” of kings in the country.
Adesina explained, “Colonialism clipped the wings of monarchs and cut their power and subdued them to the extent that they were brought under the colonial administrators. They were stripped of the overwhelming powers that they used to have.
“In Yorubaland then, they used to call kings ‘Igbakeji Orisa’ (deputies of the Gods) and they had the powers to order the execution of people and order the invasion of communities beyond their border, etc., but with colonial rule, all these became severely circumscribed.
“So with the successor state to the colonial state – the Nigerian state – also amassing immense power, we also began to witness indigenous, nationalist leaders and politicians following the process of the colonial administrators. So, they also began to treat the traditional institutions like conquered institutions.
“This led to depositions and exiles under the western regional government and these continued with the military administration.”
Adesina further explained that what he called “the crisis of self-immolation” through “acts of commission and omission” also contributed to stripping monarchs of their powers.
“In several instances, before you become an Oba, you are expected to go to an Ipebi (three-month seclusion in a native shrine) where you are tutored about spiritual things, laws, and ethics. That was why traditional rulers that we met as young people in the 60s, 70s, and 80s were profound.
“But from the 90s, we began to witness traditional rulers who were less profound than their predecessors. This is because they began to adopt certain practices that went against the decree. Some began to treat the Ipebi as not fundamental.
“You would even hear stories of neo-traditional rulers moonlighting from the Ipebi. You would think they were in there but they were in Lagos enjoying themselves. Now, you find many of them have never been to Ipebi,” he said.
The profession also said the influence of political interference and monarchs frolicking with politicians could not be ruled out as one of the factors responsible for the decline of the respect accorded to kings.
“Another factor has to do with Obas cohabiting with the political elites. An oba was expected to be impartial and not expected to be affiliated with any political group, but now you begin to see monarchs aligning with political interests, speaking for them and moving with them and people in the opposition would not like this and that’s how they began to lose some respect.”
Monarchs abandon traditional protection for Western religion – Ifa priest
The disturbing series of attacks on traditional rulers has called to question the aura of spiritual protection with which many African kings were known, with some traditional practitioners describing it as a consequence of the relinquishment of African cultural norms and traditions.
An Ifa priest, Chief Ifayemi Elebuibon, lamented that many monarchs had abandoned traditional means of protection, thus rendering them vulnerable to physical attacks.
He said, “We do have traditional means of protection in Yorubaland. It is just that the foreign religions that were embraced by Yoruba traditional rulers have rendered them powerless.
“Most of the monarchs did not go through the necessary rites and rituals, and therefore, they lacked the necessary protection like charms that could make someone disappear and reappear, charms that can free someone from clutches when held. They only rely on foreign religions for protection.
For Elebuibon Nigerian monarchs should not be kidnapped “anyhow” if they are immune and they embrace traditional things.
“Before a king sets out on a journey, there are things he must do. He must be able to see ahead if it is a journey he should embark on. He must have a spiritual guardian, but they have abolished all that,” he added in an interview with The PUNCH.
Speaking further, the Ifa priest also said many kings had become soft targets for criminals after dumping customary rites for Western civilisation, thereby making them spiritually powerless.
“Our kings have refused to be educated in the old ways and eschewed the fortification of spiritual powers, so why won’t they become objects of ridicule? We were all here when gunmen ambushed a certain king right in his palace and shot him dead.
“In the past, no one dared do such a thing. A king who is spiritually fortified and follows the ancient precepts will not be so vulnerable but now that they are following modern styles, colonial religions, and modern trends, we are seeing what is happening nowadays,” Elebuibon said in an interview with Yoruba Gidi TV.
“In times past, a king was rarely seen in public and did not attend any public function. It was only when they were celebrating a festival for a specific Orisa like Osun or Sango, that the people returned en masse from their farms expecting to see the Oba.
“Where the throne and the head is, lies the divine so it takes someone who is an illegitimate child or one that is a bastard, to say that these ancient landmarks should be thrown away. Whether you are a Christian or a Muslim, if you know that you can’t partake in the sacred rites of Yorubaland, then you have no right to be king,” he added.
The Araba-Awo of Osogbo, therefore, advised kings and kingmakers to return to their cultural precepts and follow their indigenous spirituality, if they expected things to change.
Monarchs violating spiritual rules – Traditionalists
Speaking with Saturday PUNCH, a traditional spirituality advocate, Morenikeji Agbabiaka, explained that modern Nigerian monarchs had become weaker than in times past due to the influence of political godfathers and the monetisation of the selection process.
“In the olden days, before any royal title was conferred, people always consulted Ifa to know whether the royal candidate was going to reign well or not. Nowadays, these are not done; they are based on political appointments and the influence of money, so godfatherism has infected the system.
“Traditional rulers are now under the whim of political godfathers. Back then, you would hardly see our kings out there, but nowadays, you see our Yoruba kings attending different kinds of parties that they are not expected to be seen at.
“In the past, monarchs offered sacrifices but you will see them in modern times frowning at this and saying, ‘I’m a Christian’ or ‘I’m a Muslim.’ Why are you vying for traditional offices when you can’t follow the due rites? This is why they have become weakened,” he said.
Some traditional rulers have in recent times been seen attending public programmes organised by religious organisations. A recent video on social media showed some Yoruba monarchs and singing and dancing at an event organised by a popular Pentecostal church. This, Agbabiaka said, reduced kings to the downtrodden.
“You see our traditional rulers going to churches and mosques, bowing before pastors. I am saddened by the gradual downfall of the monarchs in Yoruba land.
“Yet, as I rightly assert, our ancestors embellished them with the identities of the Gods and the supernatural, but they’ve distanced themselves and are now downtrodden. They have failed to renew their protective rites and ended up rendering themselves powerless,” he added.
Similarly, a traditional naturopathist, Sesan Adewusi, argued that certain mundane practices have neutered innate supernatural powers.
“There are powers that are inherent in Yoruba native intelligence and herbalism that we should be following. Certain leaves can be mixed with some sand taken from an uncompleted building and when the rite is fully completed, it can be hung on your house.
“If assassins or armed robbers are coming toward your house, all they will see will be an uncompleted building and if you hang it on your car, it doesn’t matter how luxurious the car is, these bandits will only see a big tortoise.
“But our people need to know the limits of what they should not partake in. For instance, if a man likes to have intercourse with women from behind, whatever supernatural power resides in him will be neutered and that will render him powerless.
“Whatever ritual meal he has partaken in for protection or power will be neutered. There is also a rite performed with a boiled egg that can be negated if you share a boiled egg with others, so people need to be careful,” Adewusi averred.
Fusion of monarchy with Christianity, Islam
Findings by Saturday PUNCH indicated that public opinions vary about the possibility and extent to which traditional rulers fuse their Christian or Islamic beliefs with the rites and norms that underpin their office.
While some people argued that Christians or Muslims could seamlessly blend their faith with being traditional rulers of high repute in their communities, others said their partaking in traditional rites of passage could jeopardise the tenets of their faith.
Despite the attendant controversies from both sides, several Christians and Muslims have become traditional leaders across the country.
Although the Olu of Warri in Delta State, Ogiame Atuwatse III, performed the traditional rituals before ascending the throne, many see him as a Christian monarch due to certain changes he made in how the palace activities are run.
When he received the Soun of Ogbomoso, Oba Ghandi Olaoye (a former pastor at the Redeemed Christian Church of God), in his palace in Warri last year, he stated that traditional thrones and Christianity were not necessarily antithetical to each other.
Debunking the assumption that traditional institutions were synonymous with superstition and the worship of creatures, the Olu of Warri said the two institutions could play a complementary role that would contribute to the growth and development of the country.
The monarch, according to a statement issued by his media consultant, Adeniyi Ifetayo, stated, “We have a divine obligation to lead in righteousness, justice, and fairness, equity, are not empty abstractions but compelling ideals.
“Only when driven by a singular commitment to these ideals can we lead our people into visible, functional development materially, mentally and spiritually.”
Similarly, the Soun of Ogbomoso who was installed on September 8, 2023, after reportedly completing the necessary traditional rites, has also been designated as a Christian monarch.
Olaoye, who was an RCCG pastor in charge of the church’s, Jesus House branch in Washington DC, United States of America, was seen in a viral picture kneeling before the General Overseer of the church, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, during an interdenominational thanksgiving service held in Ogbomoso, in December 2023.
During his sermon at the event, Adeboye said he knew long ago that Olaoye was destined to be a king.
He stated, “I knew Olaoye was born to be king. When he (Olaoye) came to me to inform me about the development I told him to go and pray. He came back and said he had not heard anything.
“I told him to go back and pray again, and after a while, he came back and told me, ‘God has spoken. I have heard him loud and clear that I should go ahead.’
“It was then that I told him to go ahead because it had been destined. I knew that long ago but I wanted God to speak to him directly.”
Soun was also quoted as saying, “I will rule with equity, justice, and fairness. I will not be the king to Christians alone, I will be a king to the Muslims, to the traditionalists, and every indigene of this land and make Ogbomosoland a place where sons and daughters can be proud.”
In 2021, a Deeper Life pastor, John Odogbo, emerged as the paramount monarch in Idomaland in Benue State through an election conducted by the kingmakers.
Similarly, in 2020, another Deeper Life pastor, Matthew Jegede, was crowned as the first Alahan of Ahan Ayegunle Ekiti in the Ekiti East Local Government Area.
In 2017, an RCCG pastor was crowned as Oba Gabriel Adejuwon, the Onisan of the Isan kingdom, the hometown of the former governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi.
In 2012, another RCCG pastor, Kehinde Olugbenle, also became the new Olu of Ilaro and paramount ruler of the Yewa-Awori axis of Ogun State.
Conversely, the Oluwo of Iwo, Oba AbdulRasheed Akanbi, who has been described as “one of the most controversial monarchs” in the country since he was installed in 2016, openly identified with Islam.
Clerics denounce ‘pagan’ rituals
Commenting on whether Christians could merge their faith with traditional monarchy, the pastor of Multiply Christian Network, Daniel Okunoye, told our correspondent that for an individual to be a monarch, he must not partake in traditional rites.
“One can be a king but one must also know how to separate oneself from the defiling influences of traditional rituals. If you check the Bible, you will find out that Daniel and other godly people separated themselves from the pagan rituals of the land of Babylon.
“A Christian can be a king, but he must not partake in traditional rituals because the Bible doesn’t support the alliance of light with darkness,” Okunoye said.
On his part, a Muslim cleric, Alhaji AbdulRasheed Owoseni, in an interview with our correspondent said, “Islam prohibits such traditional rites”.
“The reason is that in Yorubaland, anyone who will be crowned a king is made to bow before orisas, and his activities will involve offering sacrifices, honouring ancestors, putting palm oil on some images, and other things.
“Allah forbids us from bowing to anyone except Him. This is stated in the Quran, in Surah Luqman which says we must not bow before any man, parents, or images. So when a Muslim becomes a king and adheres to the tenets of Islam, there will be conflicts with Isese adherents, and every social ill in the community will be attributed to his refusal to follow traditional rites. So, there are no two ways about this.”
Don advocates integrative kingship study
However, the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas, Austin, Prof Toyin Falola, at a recent event, urged African universities to integrate kingship studies in their disciplines to enable them to understand and appreciate the role of traditional rulers in society.
Falola said, “I have made a suggestion repeated over and over again. Why can’t African universities create new disciplines based on what they have accumulated over the years? There are enormous epistemologies that they can convert to theories and re-train students differently.
“I have proposed three ideas. Why can’t they have a department of kingship? That is what we have had for centuries.
“When the late Alaafin of Oyo died and I went to give a keynote, I said, ‘Why couldn’t we have a discipline called Alaafinology of Obaship?’
“This is because knowledge has depth and resources, and by converting it into a discipline, it would do precisely what others have done in other cultures – create theories that others can use.” (Saturday PUNCH)