The Ogun State Government recently promulgated Chieftaincy Law that seeks to remove obnoxious practices and restore dignity in the appointment, installation and internment of traditional rulers and chiefs has elicited controversy among stakeholders.
The new Chieftaincy Law, known and called “Obas, Chiefs, Council of Obas and Traditional Council Law of Ogun State, Bill 2021” is traceable to the initial attempt by the then 6th Ogun House of Assembly (OGHA) under Rt Hon Speaker Titi Oseni, in the era of His Excellency, former Governor Gbenga Daniel. The ill-fated bill, initiated by the State Council of Obas suffered a set back at a legislative process, a town hall meeting of stakeholders presided over by the headship of the aforementioned House of Assembly. A cross-section of stakeholders, including traditionalists, religious leaders, community leaders and the political class filled the Ake Centenary Hall, Abeokuta to the brim.
The Ogun State Muslim Council (OMC), as a faith-based organisation, the umbrella body for Muslims in the state, has considered itself a stakeholder as the law seeks to recognise and protect the fundamental human rights on religion of traditional rulers in the state, and as guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution. Suffice it to state that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations protects and guarantees the religious rights of every individual in the world. It, therefore, goes without saying that any law that is geared towards improving and restoring the dignity of man should be regarded as human-oriented and should be supported. In fact, Islam places much premium on Human Rights.
Thus, it explains the OMC’s commendation for the Rt Hon Speaker Olakunle Oluomo-led 9th OGHA and Gov Dapo Abiodun for the wonderful courage and boldness in “calling a spade a spade”. Suffice it to state that the new Chiefs Law is a product of a long standing bill, since 2020, courtesy of the Ogun State Council of Obas, seeking a paradigm shift in the installation and burial process of traditional rulers and Chiefs.
Beyond this historical facts and analysis is to examine the arguments of stakeholders, the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of the new Ogun Chiefs Law. The argument of the traditionalists and quoting a frontline “Osugbo” Remo leader and the group’s Vice Chairman, “a dead person has lost his right under the law”, and that nobody forced people to become an Oba. They stated that the law was an affront on the traditional institution, insisting that government is playing down culture and traditions by passing the law.
However, the government, through the Hon State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs has come out boldly to state that the new Chieftaincy law is never intended to undermine culture and tradition, rather it is aimed at abating fetish practices and doctrines that have hitherto been fashioned into the process of appointment, installation and internment of traditional rulers and certain Chieftaincy holders upon their demise.
Whereas those of the Islamic and Christian faiths welcomed the law as a wholesome development that will protect the dignity of human as a creature of God. The Ogun Muslim Council noted that the law “is a milestone development that will abate the shroud and ambiguity in the doctrinal process of appointment, installation and internment of traditional rulers and Chiefs.” While it also adduced that it will elicit the interest of religiously minded individuals seeking to serve their towns and communities through the traditional system and institutions to vie for the exalted Royal Kingship through their respective Ruling Houses.
A school of thought has argued too, that the religiously minded individuals should distance themselves from Kingship and traditional Chieftaincy if he or she cannot condone the obnoxious and fetish associated with it. This notion, sound as it may, but the right to Kingship and holding of traditional titles is not the exclusive rights or responsibility of a group or individuals. Members of the Ruling house that may lay claim to Obaship or Kingship will profess one faith or the other, that is, Islam or Christianity. It therefore becomes pertinent and normal that his ascension and demise should follow the path of the religion he professes. Moreso, that he will always be guided by the teachings of his faith, contained in the Scriptures, in his determination of matters before him as King/”Kabiyesi”or Chief.
The new trend is that people now swear by the divine book incidental to their faith and rather not the ‘God of iron’ of those days any longer.
It is however pertinent to know who these “Osugbo” are. Who confer them the authority to compel traditional title Chiefs to jettison their faith or religious beliefs (under the guise of upholding and protecting tradition) because they want to serve their towns and/or communities. Where did they derive that power?
The “Osugbo”, and in certain parlance called “Ise se” is just like a social club with people of like minds as members. They are CAC Incorporated like all others social groups and institutions. A cursory look into the constitution of “Osugbbo” in Ijebuland reveals their aims is “to advocate and practice religious tolerance” ; “to promote the dignity of traditional institutions in Ijebuland”, amongst other aims. If actually the group is advocating and practicing religious tolerance as stated, how does it reconcile that aim with its posture and attitudinal reaction to the Ogun State Chiefs Law, Bill 2021 recently assented to by the Governor? Whose interest is the group serving? Who appointed them the custodian of our tradition and culture? Do they exist to ensure their economic well-being or survival? Of what benefit are they to the community? They constitute insignificant or nil proportion of the population. They lord themselves on the people and engage in unwholesome acts under the pretext of preserving the tradition and culture.
The irony is that whoever wants to become Chief is appointed by Kabiyesi and not the “Osugbo” or “Ise se”.
Moreover, most of the “Osugbo” claiming to be traditionalists still profess Islam and Xstianity as their faith, even in the official realm or arena. Some bear Muslim/ Christian names and are engaged in some religious observances as dictated by the two religions.
The submission of this piece is to say that the new law is in order and aims at protecting human dignity and ensure that the ‘road’ to the throne and stepping down from same should be rid of ambiguity, obnoxious and fetish practices. it should be transparent and in tandem with modernity, minimum and acceptable convention. Afterall, the days of consulting and awaiting ‘Ifa’ Oracle to pick and endorse who becomes a King or Oba is gone. Suffice it to state the ‘money devil’ has changed that narrative, yet, heaven has not fallen down.
As a conclusion, while we may not see issues from the same perspective, the new law is sound, reasonable, noble and in consonance with life realities. It also has the potential to check the excesses of the traditionalists, who, under the guise of “Ise se” festival have unleashed terror on law-abiding citizens. Their actions have breached peace, causing disharmony, with pronouncement of illegality and movement restrictions on people.
While they have right of existence, they should apply moderation in their undertakings in the overall interest of harmony and peaceful co-existence as fundamental and crucial to growth and development of our dear State and the nation at large.
Stakeholders are therefore expected to be on the same page. While also asking those individuals and groups who feel aggrieved to seek legal redress as being conventional and apt.
. Kamal’ Akintunde, (esq) is Secretary-General, Ogun State Muslim Council