Guardian / Nigeria: A new dimension was recently introduced to the unending controversy about Yoruba history when Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi claimed that Igbos from the Eastern part of Nigeria and not Ugbo from the Ilaje, Ondo State, invaded Ile-Ife before Moremi sacrificed herself, to liberate her people.
The monarch, during an interview granted a national newspaper claimed that the Igbos have a strong lineage with the Yoruba, as against the claim by Ugbo people to be the aborigine and original owners of Ile-Ife. The claims had in the last one-week caused serious royal rumbles with the palace sticking to their oral tradition.
The Olugbo of Ugboland, Oba Frederick Obateru Akinruntan, had in the book he presented to the public in August, this year claimed that his stool predates that of Ooni. He was particularly angered that the Ooni referred to his lineage as Igbo, describing Ooni’s narrative as a deliberate distortion of historical facts about ancient Ile Ife.
Oba Akinruntan insisted that the Ugbo people still have several quarters in Ile Ife and they are the aborigines of Ile-Ife, who played host to Oduduwa and his group when they migrated to Ile-Ife.
But the Ooni’s account vehemently denied such claim. To him, “If he (Olugbo) knows the depth of what is called Ife, he won’t be talking like that. But this is not the time to respond to that. Yes he can talk about the lineage of Oranfe, which is Sango’s lineage. They both came to this world twice.
“First, it was in the spirit realm and the second time, it was the physical. There is Ife oodaye, there is Ife ooyelagbo and the third is Ile Ife, now Ile-Ife. He does not know the story of oodaye, that is the Ife of the spirit. Everything that happened in the land of the spirit of the first happened again in the second Ife, so he could not link the two.
“At the first Ife, they were spirit, Oduduwa (Adua), it means prayer. Who doesn’t pray? That is the meaning of Oduduwa. He is called the mouth of God, words of prayers. If you go to the Arabia world, the Muslim world, it is duwa that they call prayers, which is Adura in Yoruba land. That is Oduduwa.”
Reacting to Ooni’s comment that he does not understand the historical timeline between Ife Ooye, Ife Oodaye and Ile Ife, Oba Akinruntan described Ooni’s claim as “completely laughable”. The Olugbo stated that there was Ife Ooye era, Ife Oodaye era, Ugbomokun era, before Ile Ife era. He further asserted that the two prominent markets in Ile Ife today, OjaIfe and Oja Aiyegbaju were founded by his own forefathers, Oranfe and Osangangan Obamakin. He maintained that contrary to what is popularly listed in some books, the reign of Osangangan Obamakin predates the coming of Oduduwa to Ile Ife. He also stated that the most revered inner portion of the palace of the Ooni where his initiation rites to the throne must be done is called ‘Ile Ugbo’.
Oba Ogunwusi had said, “This is my point, we don’t even appreciate the beauty of Moremi. She became a goddess of liberty that liberated her people. It was some people, the Ibos who took Ife into captivity”.
A Reporter, who seemed not clear with that statement asked: “Kabiyesi, is it Ugbo or the Ibos?” to which the Ooni replied, “It is the Ibos; here the real Ibos have a compound in Ife, the Oluyeri compound in Iremo, where the Igbo language is spoken. They are from Ife and you can trace many of them from Ife to Benin to Ibo land. Some of them will say they are from the Middle East but the people from the Middle East, left from Ife”.
However, the Ugbo Council of Elders have demanded unreserved apology from Ooni for allegedly distorting history, by referring to them as Igbos. They even advised him to clarify historical facts from the elders of Ife.
Their statement reads in part, “We the Olugbo-in-Council find such unguarded statements and historical fallacy disturbing, particularly when such emanated from a monarch who is expected to be a custodian of the history, customs and traditions of Yoruba land. We hereby state categorically that we are Ugbo, the original settlers and owners of Ile-Ife. Our forefathers descended from heaven that is why we are called Ugbo Atorunwo. We are not Igbos who are from the South-Eastern part of Nigeria, and who have their own clearly researched and defined ancestry.
“To set the records straight, Moremi to us remains a traitor and a betrayer. She was a slave captured by the Ugbo warriors during one of their many raids to Ile-Ife. She later became the wife of Osangangan Obamakin, the son of Oranfe, who was the paramount ruler over 13 aboriginal communities of ancient Ugbomokun, which later came to be called Ile-Ife. Oduduwa came to Ugbomokun as a stranger and was welcomed in Ilero, the aboriginal palace of Osangangan Obamakin, which is still in existence in present day Iremo, in Ile Ife. During the dynastic struggles, Osangangan Obamakin was directed by the oracles (Ifa and Osanyin) to relocate from Ile Ife to found a new Kingdom. Moremi betrayed the trust of her husband when she exposed the secret of the Ugbo warriors’ valiantry. Ugbos are the original owners of Ile Ife.
“To avoid any mix up, Ugbos still have a strong base in Ile-Ife till tomorrow. These include: the aboriginal palace, Ilero, which is adjudged to be the first assembly hall in the history of Yoruba people in Iremo, where the choice of every incoming Ooni is decided by sons of Osangangan Obamakin through consultation of Ifa and Osanyin. These communities are headed by Obawinrin, Obariyun, Woyeasiri, Owajan, Lowagbafin, Obarena and Obalara (Obalufon).
“The Ugbos in Ile-Ife till date perform vital roles and rites in the administration of Ile-Ife, their functions include among others; announcing the passage of Ooni and cleansing of Ile Ife and other traditional rites of blessings of the land. Every incoming Ooni must be betrothed and symbolically married to Yeyemoolu who was the wife of Osangangan Obamakin. This is essential in order to appease the spirit of Osangangan Obamakin, before the new Ooni can live peacefully in the palace.
“The Are crown is received by the Ugbos and is worn by Obalufon, one of the sons of Osangangan Obamakin before the new Ooni wears it. It is only the sons of Osangangan Obamakin who can place the Are crown on every incoming Ooni. The emese system, brigade of guard of Ooni was originated by Osangangan Obamakin.”
Still not done, the Olugbo-in-Council now asked Ooni to confirm his ancestry. According to them, “Popular history stated that Oduduwa, the progenitor of Ooni migrated from the East/Mecca. In another recent account by the Oba of Benin, Oduduwa left from Benin. We ask that Ooni should confirm his ancestral roots.”
Reacting to the salvo and posers raised by the Olugbo in council, Oba Ogunwusi through his Director of Public Affairs, Mr. Moses Olafare, said, “ It was absurd for anyone to describe Moremi, who according to him, used her powers to liberate her people from the incessant invasion by some faceless terrorists, as a traitor.”
According to him, “The attention of Ile-Oodua has been drawn to a statement credited to Oba Frederick Akinruntan through the Olugbo-in-Council berating the people of Ile-Ife for celebrating Moremi Ajasoro as a heroine and goddess of liberty.
“How on earth should a Yoruba king refer to Moremi as a traitor, just because she used her power of a woman to liberate her people from incessant invasions by some faceless terrorists?”
Olafare also stated that Oba Ogunwusi is not ready to engage any monarch on supremacy battle, but would rather want to concentrate on issues that will unite Yoruba and develop the economy of the land.
Secretary of Olugbo-in-Council, High Chief I. A. Demehin described the reaction of Ife palace to the issues raised by the Olugbo as “diversionary and attempt to dodge answering pertinent questions about pre-Oduduwa arrival at Ife.
He said, “For many years, history of pre-Oduduwa families that lived in Ife has been covered up by those who enjoy prominence with the distorted existing order. The Ife palace language to the facts we raised was not only appalling, but very distasteful. Olugbo is not in any war of supremacy with any monarch, but he is interested in letting the world know the truth that Oduduwa met some people in Ife and the descendants of the aborigines he met are still alive and we have rights to tell our stories as supported by over 2,000 empirical facts”.
While clarifying whether it was Igbos or Ugbos that invaded the ancient town, an Emeritus Professor of History from the University of Lagos, Anthony Asiwaju said, “I think the claim of Ugbo being the indigenous inhabitants of Ile-Ife in the pre-Oduduwa naration is derived from the Moremi legend. The reference is to Ugbo but it does not mean the Igbo of the Eastern Nigeria, and I am happy that some books have clarified that.
But why the confusion of Ugbo with Igbo?
Another retired Professor of History from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Professor Isola Olomola explained that there is no confusion anywhere because the history being discussed here were events of several centuries and Ibos were never called Igbo until after the civil war. The eminent scholar stated that there is no research work or book that traced Ibos of Eastern Nigerian origin to Ile-Ife.
He said, “There is no book or research work that traced the history of Ibos to Ile-Ife. Some of their scholars claimed they are part of Jews that did not follow Israelites to the Promised Land.”
Olomola said the controversy about the status of Moremi is unexpected because a coin must have two sides. He said: “Moremi as heroine was not only being celebrated in Ife, but also in Ekiti here because of her role in liberating the Ifes from the Ugbo that came to raid them at night. She submitted herself to be captured by Ugbo warriors that later married her because of her beauty. But she later returned to Ife and revealed the secret of the Ugbos. So, one should not expect Ugbo people to celebrate Moremi.”
Professor Asiwaju however, cautioned: “Yoruba royal fathers to be sensitive to the vulnerability of historical sources on which their titles and positions are based and the need, therefore, for them to be more cautious in their public pronouncements. This is especially important, if the concern is the promotion of unity across the entire culture area in Nigeria and, why not even across the border in the Republic of Benin and beyond?
“In this important regard, I would urge that revered Yoruba Obas be humble enough to read and learn more about their constituents’ history, beyond what is traditionally transmitted in the local courts and palaces.”