A few weeks ago, the indigenes of Ijebu- Ode, Ogun State, Nigeria celebrated the annual Ojude- Oba festival. The festival usually comes up every third day of the Eid el Kabir, the muslims festival of rams. At every Ojude Oba, the Ijebus pay obeisance to their king and pledge their loyalty to him. Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, Ogbagba the second, Awujale of Ijebuland is now 55 years on the throne of his fore fathers. Oba Adetona arguably is one of the most respected royal fathers not only in the entire Yorubaland, but in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He remained one of the few fathers that have remained untainted, either by civil rule through the politicians, or even in the heady days of the military. The love for the monarch by the Ijebus is not in doubt as it is expressed yearly at Ojude Oba celebrations.
However, this love by his subjects was not so at the beginning as the people objected vehemently to his ascension to the throne in 1959. The major ground of their objection was that Prince Adetona (as he then was) was too young to be saddled with the responsibility of rulership. He was then a young man of 26, studying accountancy in England.
Following the demise of Oba Daniel Adesanya in 1959, the stool of Awujale became vacant. Prince Adetona was nominated by the Ijebu – Ode kingmakers on Sunday November 1, 1959 as the Awujale – elect. He is from the Ogbagba ruling house, one of the four ruling houses that produce the Awujale. Others are Tunwashe, Fidipote, and Gbelegbuwa.
The mandatory public meeting where the nomination was announced was held at Itoro grounds where such nominations are made public. The meeting which was summoned by the Egbe Omo Ibile Ijebu condemned the choice of the kingmakers who selected Prince Adetona.
One of the speakers at the meeting, Mr Ijale without mincing words described the choice of Adetona as “most unwise and unprecedented” decision. He claimed that it violated the tradition of the Ijebus to ‘choose a prince that was not born on the throne while another prince who was born on the throne by a reigning King (Abidagba) is alive’. He claimed that Prince Adetona was not so born.
After a heated debate, the meeting appointed a committee to petition the then Premier of Western Region, over the matter. The Prince was one of the six princes presented to the kingmakers by the Anikilaya (Ogbagba) ruling house.
In a petition dated November 10, 1959, the Secretary of the ruling house, Emmanuel Ojeleye objected to the selection of Prince Adetona as he described him as “a youth of about 26 years of age who had not built a family of his own could not be described as possessing relative ability, experience, and specialized qualification to qualify him as an Oba”.
Another petition to the Governor-in –council was the head of the Ruling House, Gbadamosi Dawodu who asked the Premier to set aside the nomination of the Awujale –elect. He presented another candidate, Adepoju Odufuade as the officially nominated candidate of the ruling house. He too, like Ojaleye based his argument on the fact that Prince Adetona was too young for the throne. He cited the example of the Tunwashe Funshegbuwa ruling house in 1915. He said that when it was time for the family to present an Oba in that year, the lot fell on Prince Adenuga but that he was rejected because he was too young. This according to him gave Prince Ademolu the opportunity to emerge and he reigned from 1915- 1916, after which he was deposed and then reinstated in 1917 and he eventually died in 1925. By this time, Prince Adenuga had become more matured to ascend the throne. He reigned from 1925-1929.
When all these petitions failed to convince the Premier, the Ogbagba Ainkilaya Ruling House filed a suit before an Abeokuta High Court, seeking to prevent the government of Western Region from appointing Prince Adetona as the Awujale. In their motion, they prayed the court to restrain the government from considering him for the vacant stool.
In the motion filed by their lawyer, Olufemi Ayoola, the Ruling House argued that the kingmakers failed to comply with the provisions of the Western Region’s Chiefs law of 1957. Therefore, the approval of the nomination was not within the powers of the government. They further contended that Prince Adetona’s nomination was done without regards to the tradition. They claimed that he was not the one nominated at the family meeting and that there was “no due presentation and announcement”, a process required by law in chieftaincy matters.
However, lawyer to the government, who was also the then Attorney General of the region, Chief Rotimi Williams QC filed a preliminary objection to their motion. Before the motion could be argued, the government officially on Monday January 4, 1960, recognized the nomination of Prince Adetona as the Awujale- elect. This prompted a member of the ruling house and a contestant, Kasali Adenaya to file contempt proceedings before the court on January 6, seeking to commit to prison the region’s minister for Local Government, Alhaji D S Adegbenro.
Ayoola argued that the recognition of Prince Adetona is in contempt of the court since they know that there is an action pending before the court over the Awujale stool. He claimed that the matter had been in court since November, 1959, and the matter is therefore subjudice. Other grounds of the motion include the following:
- That the Governor- in council and the minister of Local Government show disrespect to the court and acted in a way to obstruct the course of justice
- That the Governor in council acted in contempt of court and disregard of fundamental human rights by willfully stifling, by their approval the fair and proper adjudication of proceedings pending determination of the action relating to the chieftaincy title in court.
In the affidavit in support of his motion, the applicant alleged that the government had urged the kingmakers to speed up the formal installation of Prince Adetona so as to stultify proceedings in court. The applicant therefore urged the court to restrain the Ijebu – Ode kingmakers from installing Adetona pending the determination of the suit.
Even while all these legal battles were going on, the 26 year old prince was installed the Awujale of Ijebu – Ode on Saturday, January 16, 1960 at the Itoro hall. He was presented by the regent, Chief T. A Odutola. The young king was to remain within the precincts of the hall for seven days before moving to Odo, a village in the outskirts of the ancient town for his traditional rites.
Ten days after this installation, Justice W T Charles of Abeokuta High Court dismissed Adenaya’s motion seeking to restrain Western Nigeria Governor- in- Council, the Regional Minister, Chief Odutola, and the Kingmakers from installing Adetona. It was with a cost of 25 guinea.
With this dismissal, the court was left with only two applications on whether Adetona was properly presented as the nominee to the Awujale stool, and the contempt proceedings. Counsel to the petitioner, Ayoola argued that section 5 of the registered declaration of the Awujale chieftaincy of Ijebu -Ode filed before the court by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Local Government, Mr Alan Bowler stated that the Ruling House whose turn it was to present a candidate should nominate such candidate at a family meeting to be summoned by the head of the family.
He said that Prince Adetona was in the United Kingdom during this process and that he could not have been present. He maintained that his nomination was by an individual and not at any family meeting, therefore not valid within the provisions of the Chiefs Law. He further argued that there was no evidence before the court to proof that the kingmakers acted within the provision of the law by holding their meeting within seven days as provided by the law, to consider the names of candidates for the stool.
He also argued that there was no evidence to show that Adetona was presented to the ODIS (servants) who in turn could have presented him to the kingmakers before he could be presented to the governor –in – council. He therefore urged the court to nullify the nomination.
However, the Attorney General, FRA Williams, submitted that the court is not in a position to order any prohibition where the things sort to be prohibited had already been done. He said that it is not sufficient for the applicant to claim that the governor- in- council had committed an error in relation to the appointment. He said the petitioner must also prove that government acted beyond its powers and without jurisdiction. He argued further that any delay in the selection, nomination, or appointment of any Oba or Chief has no legal consequences on the approval which the governor-in- council might make.
In his judgment, Justice Charles held that the governor –in – council at the time the matter came to court for approval, has wide powers under the chiefs law. He said the governor-in council had not exceeded its powers; neither had it acted without jurisdiction. On the issue of contempt of court, the trial judge held a conduct that could amount to contempt would be such that could bring the court to ridicule. He maintained that the action of the government officials in question does not amount to contempt as they only did what the law required them to do.
Justice Charles thereafter dismissed the remaining two applications with a cost of 70 and 50 guineas respectively against the applicant. This marked the end of all litigations against his rule. He was presented with his staff of office at a colourful ceremony at the Itoro grounds on April 2, 1960, by the then Premier, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola. Present at the ceremony were dignitaries from all walks of life, including Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of opposition at the Federal Parliament.