Modernity characterised by the social media and citizen journalism clashed with Nigerian tradition, when the Royal Traditional Council of Ile-Ife categorically denied news reports of the death of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II, adding that the paramount Yoruba traditional ruler was “alive and well”, and preparing for his son’s wedding this weekend.
The denial by the traditional council and refusal to confirm his death by the state government, notwithstanding, a renowned Christian cleric, Mr. Toluwase Akeredolu, said if indeed the Ooni was dead, it meant he died as a born again Christian, having confessed his sins recently.
Akeredolu said he was privileged to have ministered to the monarch a few weeks ago, adding that the Ooni, a staunch Christian, confessed all his sins to God after the ministration.
The Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) pastor, who hails from Ido-Ani in Ondo State, said he lived as a youth in Ile-Ife and got to know Oba Sijuwade during a revival programme he organised in the ancient town.
He recalled that the monarch, at one of the last crusades he attended publicly, announced his acceptance of Jesus Christ as his Lord and saviour.
According to him, “Oba Sijuwade told the congregation at the last crusade we organised in Ile-Ife that he had forsaken sin and accepted Christ as his Lord and personal saviour. He confessed publicly that he will live the rest of his life to serve the Almighty God.”
Despite the denial, disbelieving residents of Ife and its environs thronged the Oba’s palace, which was shut to the public, to sympathise with the traditional council and his family, even as his first son, Prince Adetokunbo (Tokunbo) Sijuwade, arrived London aboard a British Airways flight yesterday morning. Tokunbo had departed Lagos Tuesday night the minute he got word of his father’s “condition”.
He joined other members of the family comprising Olori Mori Sijawade, the Ooni’s most senior wife; Olori Odun Sijuwade; Olori Ladun Sijuwade; Erelu Abiola Dosunmu, who had a daughter – Oyinade Ademide – for the Ooni; and his nephew Prince Rasak Adewole. Other children from across the world and Nigeria, as well as close family members had also all converged in London wednesday.
Upon his arrival, Tokunbo took full charge of the situation in London, and all members of the family were said to have deferred to him as the their new head.
However, addressing journalists in the House of Chiefs located within the premises of Ile-Oodua Palace of the Ooni, the Lowa of Ife, Oba Joseph Ijaodola, said the reports in the media that the monarch had died in a London hospital from an undisclosed ailment was untrue.
Also speaking, the Secretary, Royal Traditional Council of Ife, the Ladin of Ife, High Chief Adetoye Odewole, said the Ooni was “hale and hearty” and even spoke to the chiefs on the phone a few hours earlier.
He said that those behind the death story were enemies of Ife, adding: “As I speak with you, chiefs have not heard anything like that. This is not the first time such a rumour will be carried about our father. They did it in 1984, also in 2004 and now, these people are coming up with another rumour. Oba Sijuade remains in a sound state of health.”
Commenting in a similar vein, Chairman of Ife Development Board, Prof. Muib Opeloye, said Ife as a town with rich tradition has its way of managing its affairs.
Opeloye maintained that the Ooni was preparing for his son’s wedding and urged the public not to panic. Despite their assurances to the public, the entrance of the Ooni’s palace was firmly shut to visitors and only newsmen, chiefs and relations of Oba Sijuade were allowed into the premises. Many indigenes and residents of Ife had converged on the palace but were prevented from entering by the palace guards.
The Osun State Government on its part, kept mum on the death of the Ooni, as the state governor, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, did not issue a statement nor did he pay a visit to the ancient town of Ife to confirm the truth of the traditional monarch’s death. Also, at the family house of the Ooni, the Ogbooru Olubuse compound, there was no sign that the monarch had died as people were seen going about their normal duties.
Oba Sijuwade who was said to have died in a London hospital on Tuesday evening, had in 2010 dropped the title of “Alayeluya”, meaning omnipresent, saying he took the decision out of reverence and fear of God.
Meanwhile, more facts have emerged on how the Ooni, who fell ill last Thursday, was whisked away to the United Kingdom.
According to close family sources, the Ooni had suddenly collapsed in Ife and was rushed to the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, where a team of doctors led by Dr. Tony Akintomide attended to him.
A quick decision, said the sources, was taken to fly him to the UK the next day from Ibadan airport.
Accordingly, a private jet, which was given special immigration clearance to depart for the UK from Ibadan, which is not an international airport, was leased to fly him, a few family members and Dr. Akintomide to London.
However, a source said there was insufficient aviation fuel in Ibadan, which compelled the pilot to make a detour to Abuja, where the airplane refuelled and departed for London.
On arriving the London Luton Airport, he was taken by ambulance to The London Clinic, one of the UK’s largest private hospitals with premises across Harley Street and Devonshire Place in the centre of London.
The family source said Akintomide, alongside specialists at the hospital who had the Ooni’s medical history, succeeded in stabilising him at the weekend.
Up till Tuesday morning, the Ooni was said to be in high spirits and was talking with family members who had come to visit him, but suddenly his situation took a turn for the worse and despite spirited efforts to revive him, he was said to have joined his ancestors by the evening of that day.
His body, the source confirmed, was moved to a morgue in London.
Given the situation, the family source disclosed that two major problems have arisen, the first being the marriage of his son, Prince Adegbite Sijuwade.
“Ife tradition forbids any form of celebration when an Ooni ascends to his ancestors, so we are waiting for Tokunbo’s directive on the matter.
“However, there are others who believe that the wedding could go ahead since it is not scheduled to take place in Ife and Ooni had lived to a ripe old age of 85, which calls for celebration. So there is no basis for unnecessary prevarication,” the source said.
The second issue has to do with one of the Ooni’s closest friends and an Ife high chief, Chief Alex Duduyemi, who is the Asiwaju of Ile-Ife.
Duduyemi, he divulged, was meant to start his 80th birthday celebrations with a book launch at the Lagos Metropolitan Club in Victoria Island today.
“And the grand finale of the celebrations was billed for the ancient city of Ile-Ife on August 9. Now it is uncertain if this will be cancelled or shifted to another location,” he said.
The source also confirmed that major contenders for the Ile-Ife traditional throne are beginning to emerge. Major contenders include Prince E.O.C Eludoyin, a Lagos-based prominent businessman and close associate of Chief Bola Tinubu. Eludoyin is the Chairman of Paragon Holdings, which owns the popular Ikeja Mall in Lagos.
Another likely successor is Prince Ade Adefioye, who is an Executive Director at Wema Bank Plc and is a close confidant of the Osun State governor.
Also, there is Prince Adetokunbo Sijuwade, who is the crown prince of the Sijuwade royal family.
Others include Prince Akin Adewuyi, who is a Deputy Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS); and Prince Adegbambo Ademiluyi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
In addition, another likely contender is Prince Adedamola Aderemi, a lawyer and the grandson of the 49th Ooni of Ife, Sir Adesoji Aderemi, who was also the first Nigerian Governor of the old Western Region pre-independence.
Prince Aderemi is said to have a very enviable pedigree, as in addition to being the grandson to the predecessor of Oba Sijuwade, his maternal grandfather, Alhaji Dauda Adegbenro, was also the Premier of the old Western Region.
Prince Aderemi is married to the granddaughter of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a renowned politician and statesman, another former Premier of the Western Region, a former Federal Commissioner for Finance in the 1970s, and a two-time presidential candidate in the Second Republic.