• Oba tackles Fayose, frustrates road project

From Wole Balogun, Ado-Ekiti

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the plan by Ekiti State Government to uproot an ancient tree and demolish a shrine in Ikere-Ekiti to pave way for a major road project in the community, was recently frustrated by a monarch and some people of the town. They asserted that the tree is the soul of the town and harbours the spirits of their forbears.
The enraged monarch, Olukere of Ikere-Ekiti, Oba Ganiyu Obasoyin, who is the custodian of all traditional materials at the shrine where the tree is located, led equally angry people of the town to frustrate the governor’s move to uproot the artefacts for the on-going road dualisation that would ease vehicular movement along the Ado-Akure Road that runs through the town.
Obasoyin dared Fayose who had led a team of officials of the Ministry of Works to carry out the demolition of the shrine and the tree. On Monday, June 5, the monarch stormed the shrine, called Ereja, on learning that the governor was on his way to the spot.
On getting to the shrine and meeting the governor, Obasoyin reportedly removed his regalia as a monarch and openly dared Fayose to uproot the tree and face his wrath: “If indeed, you want to show that you have the power, uproot the tree and let me show you what will happen!” A dumbfounded Fayose stared back at him and asked that the assignment be suspended.
The ugly development generated heated controversy. While some frowned at the unruly behaviour of the monarch to the governor, others blamed the governor for daring to incur the wrath of the monarch and his people by going ahead to uproot the traditional artefacts.
Prior to the dramatic incident, the community had been embroiled in a supremacy battle between the paramount ruler, the Ogoga, Oba Adejimi Adu Alagbado and the Olukere. To Ogoga and his supporters, Olukere is never an Oba but a mere chief priest of the Olosunta, a major god of the town. He should never be called a monarch because he was never given a staff of office.
But supporters of Olukere, particularly, indigenes of Odo Oja area of the town and its environs, insist that he is a monarch and non-presentation of staff of office by the government cannot stop them from honouring him as such. They claimed that Olukere used to send Ogoga to meetings with colonial officials in the days of old and was accorded official recognition because of constant and close rapport with the then government officials.
Olukere substantiated his claim with the 1933 Intelligence Report, which recognised him as “the founder of Ikere town who came from Ilode, Ile-Ife who, after many years, received a visitor called Igoga from a town called Agama.”
He also said the state government website stated that Ikere-Ekiti has two Obas, the first being the Ogoga and the second, the Olukere who exist side-by-side and it was on the strength of this that Obasoyin demanded a staff of office from Fayose, a request the governor has yet to grant and which has since been a subject of litigation.
Both sides have presented their positions to the state Council of Traditional Rulers who visited both palaces, traditional sites and obliged with documents to assist in arriving at a conclusion. The outcome of the council’s decision was still being awaited at the time the latest crisis erupted.
Olukere has been having a running battle with Fayose since his ascension in August 2014. In February 2017, he accused Fayose of supervising the destruction of his giant billboard located in Odo Oja. He claimed his problem with Fayose started with his support for the former governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, in the 2014 election. He explained that he has the right to support and vote for any candidate or party of his choice.
The indigenes claimed that the historical site was the source of Ikere and was the place where the town was established and as such removing the tree is a bad omen. There is historical object called “Ege,” a mystical tree, which belongs to Olukere. “Ege” is a fountain with mystical powers to control flooding while the tree is a place where Olukere worships Olosunta deity every year.
There was a massive crowd around the shrine when Daily Sun visited the place on June 13. The residents had placed sacrifices made with a goat and pigeon and other fetish objects at the site while palm fronds were also tied around the shrine. It was to prevent further incursion by government officials to the spot.
Alimi Esan, an indigene said: “what the monarch and some people have done to constituted authority as the governor is bad. They claimed the spot to be demolished is some sacred place, and gathered round it to prevent it from being uprooted. Why can’t they just leave the government officials to try demolish it and see how the sacred tree itself would protect itself to confirm their claim?
“Why are they the ones shielding a so-called sacred tree from being uprooted when they claim it possesses some powers that prevent flood and other ills from befalling the town?”
But the Olukere insisted: “Cutting down the sacred tree and demolishing the Ereja was akin to passing a death sentence on him Olukere.” He was joined by the Alare of Are-Ikere, Oba Oguntuase Atitebi and the Elejoka of Ikuomoba-Ikere, Oba Benjamin Owolade. Both claimed that Olukere is the head of the community.
Obasoyin said the community had agreed with the governor to move all the five deities to the Ereja and preserve the historical site. He wondered the latest decision to bulldoze the tree and the entire shrine.
According to him, Fayose was advised to demolish the shrine and uproot the tree by a powerful elite body in the town, Ikere Development Forum (IDF). He said IDF members are the main supporters of Ogoga:
“On Monday, the governor led the police to Ikere that the shrine be bulldozed. It is when a king dies that the branches of the tree are cut off. I went to meet the governor that he should not pass a death sentence on me.
“I want to say that Fayose wants to kill me by ordering that the tree, which represents my life be uprooted and the people resisted him. My subjects said they don’t want a tenant that will be making life difficult for the owner of the land because I am the owner of Ikere.
“The Ereja is where Ikere people meet once in every year. If that tree is removed, it means they have killed the Olukere. This is the tradition here the tree branches are cut if the Oba dies. In every community, we have traditional heritage and cultural heritage and nobody can kill our cultural heritage.
“I will resist Fayose’s attempt to demolish it. If he is allowed to uproot it, that will bring calamities to the community. If Fayose likes, let him bring 1,000 soldiers, 1,000 policemen, we will resist him.”
Fayose alleged that the Olukere was paid N1million for the relocation of the shrines, saying vouchers are available as proof that the monarch collected the money. While appearing on his monthly media chat, “Meet Your Governor,” on the state television, he showed the footage of his encounter with Olukere alleging that he (Obasoyin) almost punched him when he visited the site. He also alleged that some houses were attacked in the wake of the riot that engulfed the community while some individuals were attacked with cutlasses and other dangerous weapons.
An apparently furious Olukere was seen in the video engaging the governor in a hot argument and made some gestures to show his disapproval of the plan to remove the tree and demolish the shrine.
Fayose said: “Look at Olukere in that video, he wanted to punch me. See him removing his robes and beads, he wanted to fight me. Olukere is not a king because he has not been presented with the staff of office.
“I am surprised that somebody of his status can do that to me. But as an elderly person and father of the state, we will make sure that he sees reason. You cannot confront the government but we will explore all avenues of peace to resolve the matter.
“We will be patient to find a solution to the problem. I want to appeal to the Olukere to be very careful because some people were macheted in their homes. I have made it abundantly clear that for development to take place, some of these traditional artefacts will give way.
“When we started, we met the Ogoga of Ikere, Oba Jimi Adu Alagbado, who said there were shrines along the project site for us to handle. Later, the Olukere came into the scene and said the affected area is his domain and that the issue of relocating the shrines did not concern Ogoga. I told him that we might not be able to bend the road. Prominent Ikere indigenes such as former Governor of the old Ondo State, Chief Bamidele Olumilua, were at the meeting.
“To help in performing the necessary rituals to relocate the shrines, the Olukere was given one million naira on January 11, 2017, to relocate the deities and shrines. He collected the money at the Government House, Ado-Ekiti, and the vouchers he signed are still available.”
But Olukere denied the alleged receipt of N1 million. Obasoyin explained that the money was not given to him personally either in cheque or in cash. He said two of his chiefs, the Eselemo of Odo Oja, Chief Adeyemi Fajilade and Saya, Chief Foluso Olowofela collected the money from the Commissioner of Works, Mrs Funmilayo Ogun, which he said was effectively deployed for the relocation of four deities with the exception of ancient tree:
“Let me say categorically that I didn’t personally collect any cheque or cash from Fayose, so this is a cheap blackmail. The agreement we had with the government was that, there were five deities that could obstruct the dualisation project and we agreed that four should be relocated.
“Ikere people didn’t want Ejibaosi relocated but I had to pacify them because we love development. I want to believe that it was the Ogoga that wanted to mislead the governor because he knew he has no role to play in the tradition of Ikere town, so he wanted these traditions obliterated.
“The actual amount released was N850, 000. I even added a sum of N350,000 from my own pocket to complete the ritual. I am presently constructing an N18 million worth road in the town while I have investments worth over N200 million in this town. So, I can’t stand on the way of government to effect development.”
But Ogoga who has been silent since the latest crisis broke out joined the fray by condemning what he called “the show of shame by Olukere,” saying their action did not represent what the town stands for.
He said he, his chiefs and the entire community deem it fit to apologise to Fayose for what he described as “the disgraceful behaviour and show of shame by the self-styled Aworo Olosunta who describes himself as Olukere.
“We have refrained from joining issues with Obasoyin as we consider he should ordinary be dealt with appropriately by the law enforcement agents. However, his recent show of shame compelled us to state the facts against the lies that have been sent out by paid agents. Obasoyin does not represent Ikere.
“We state unequivocally that the family of Aladeselu the first settler and known founder of Ikere whose imprint can be found in Odo-Oja his place of abode is the custodian of the shrines erected and planted at Ereja and not any other person or Obasoyin family.
“That the Aladeselu family after due consultation with Ogoga-in-Council concluded the relocation of the shrines in December 2016 despite the incident of December 27, 2016, when Obasoyin tried to disrupt the exercise by members of the Aladeselu family a case which is still with the Nigeria Police, Ado-Ekiti, six months after.
“The general public will recollect the mayhem and destruction wrecked on Ikere in February 2016 when Obasoyin alleged that the governor tore his billboard where he displayed himself as a crowned king, an action in breach of the law of the land. The case is with the Nigeria Police both in Ekiti and Lokoja, Kogi State. Nothing has been done by the police almost one and a half years to date.
“We repeat for the umpteenth time that Olukere was never at anytime in our history a chief let alone a king. Olukere has always been a priest of Olosunta like other priests of idols in Ikere and no government has ever recognized him as a monarch.
“In Yoruba history and culture there has been no leader who would obstruct developmental project in his community. All Ikere people within and in the Diaspora are happy and welcome the project being championed in Ikere by the administration of
Fayose and we support him in this effort. We salute the maturity that the governor has applied so far.
“We abhor any act of hooliganism, criminality and brutalisation of law abiding citizens. We therefore appeal to the law enforcement agencies to do the needful. The security agents should not wait till people start to defend themselves justice delayed is justice denied.”
However, it appears government has bowed to the wishes of traditionalists to spare the Ege tree as the contractor diverted the road.