The Ijebus of southwestern Nigeria are some of the most powerful and influential in all of Africa. An Ijebu man, Otunba Mike Adenuga, is the richest Yoruba man on the planet and the richest woman in Nigeria, Folorunsho Alakija is also an Ijebu woman. But the amazing skills of the Ijebus is not limited to business alone, one of the greatest political strategists in Nigeria, a man regarded as the political leader of all the Yorubas, the late Obafemi Awolowo, is also an Ijebu. However, as powerful and influential as these people are, they have an even more powerful leader. He is called the AWUJALE.
The Paramount Ruler of the Ijebus is so influential that there is nothing politically important in Nigeria that he is not involved. From the June 12 elections to the sovereign national conferences or even to the call for an Ijebu State, the Awujale is always involved. Many political analysts trace the defeat of former president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, to various factors such as the withdrawal of support by highly-respected monarch. Jonathan had gone to the palace of the Awujale to plead for assistance but his outing was a nasty one.
Awujale of Ijebuland With A British Governor of Lagos
So why is this majestic king and traditional ruler called the Awujale? What is the story behind that intriguing title? To unravel the mystery behind that royal title, we will have to travel back in time.
During the time of Alaafin Jayin of Oyo Empire, there was a devastating border dispute between two important towns Owu Ipole and Iseyin Odo. The people in these communities were fighting over land and the conflict lingered on for years. Not even interventions and efforts from the Olowu of Owu and the Ooni of Ife (both of whom were interested parties in the land dispute) brought any solution. The bloody fights continued and messengers had to be sent to the Alaafin (King) at Oyo. Alaafin Jayin swung into action; he deployed his special ambassador called the Ilari and a massive entourage to the conflict zone. Because of the Ilari’s status as a personality who is never to be dishonoured, he was able to swiftly reach a peaceful resolution with the two warring parties. The dispute ended and the Ilari was hailed as the ‘Agbeja Ile’ or ‘Alaja Ile’ meaning ‘he who is an arbiter of landed dispute’ or ‘he who resolved tussle over land’. This titled was later modified and softened to AWUJALE. The Ilari settled in the formerly disputed region and became the very first Awujale, becoming the lord of his own kingdom. This happened gradually.
The current Awujakle, Oba Sikiru Adetona.
After the Ilari settled the dispute, he was accorded royal honours as a special emissary of the Alaafin and later he remained permanently in the area ruling over the Ijebus who populated the area. That time, the Ijebus did not have a ‘tribal’ king of their own and were somewhat isolated (a decision they took on their own) from their neighbours. Later the Ilari (now Awujale) moved to Ode (now called Ijebu Ode) which remains the seat of the Awujale of Ijebuland till this very moment. Ijebu Ode is the largest city inhabited by the Ijebus. And that was how we came about the title ‘AWUJALE’.
As the paramount ruler of all the Ijebus, the influence of the Awujale cuts directly across all the towns that were originally Ijebu centres and these include Remo, Oru, Awa, Ago-Iwoye, Ijebu-Igbo, Ijebu-Isiwo, Aiyepe, Odogbolu, Aiyepe, Epe and many others. The present Awujale is Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona and he has been the king since 1960 making him one of the longest-reigning monarchs in Africa.
Modernity is changing a lot of things and not even the throne of the Awujale has escaped this influence. In the times past, the Awujale was the very essence of sacredness. Upon assuming the throne, he was sheltered within the palace and forbidden to go out by that. Awujales of the old were so secluded that they were not even allowed to see their own sons and other relatives. When he was to have an audience, he would be covered from public view. Even when the colonialists came and there was need for state ceremonies, the beads of his heavy crown veiled his face and no one could see the Awujale or even know who he was. But today, things have changed tremendously but the honour of the Awujale and the endurance of his revered throne remain intact.
THANKS FOR YOUR TIME.
- The History of the Yorubas: From the Earliest Times To The Beginning Of The British Protectorate by Samuel Johnson, pages 20 – 22.
- Kingdoms of the Yoruba by Robert Sydney Smith, pages 66, 67, 68.
- Studies in Ijebu History and Culture by Dare Oguntomisin, 2002, pages 31, 32, 33
- West Africa Partitioned: Volume IT IS: The Elephants and the Grass by John D. Hargreaves, pages 110 – 111.
- The News, Volume 14, Issues 13-25, page 24.
- Nigerian Chiefs: Traditional Power in Modern Politics, 1890s-1990s by Olufemi Vaughan, pages 50, 65, 98, 99, 146.