Ahmadu Rabah was 28 years old in 1938 when he made a very strong bid for the Sultanate of Sokoto. He lost the throne to Alhaji Siddiq Abubakar, a man who was not even on the list of three submitted to the British Resident. Fatalists would say that was destiny at work. Ahmadu Rabah later became known as Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of Nigeria’s Northern region. But he was still not content with all the political power he had over the Sultan and the entire sultanate; he wanted that throne. At the very height of his political glory, he said very clearly that he would be pleased to take the post of Sultan of Sokoto if the position became open. Sultan Abubakar III was quoted, famously, as saying, repeatedly, that “the Sardauna is waiting for me to die.” But it didn’t happen; destiny intervened on January 15, 1966. Sultan Abubakar III went on to reign in admirable peace for 50 years. Ahmadu Bello’s biographer, John N. Paden, wrote in 1986 that “if the Sardauna had become Sultan…he might have tried to set up the Sultan of Sokoto as Head of State of Nigeria…” I am sure Nigeria would have taken care of that ambition if he had tried it. But, another scholar, Jonathan T. Reynolds, stretched this further in 1997 with a more thinkable possibility: “It may well be that the Sardauna hoped to reintegrate political and religious authority in the north with himself as both Sultan and premier.”
There are lessons in the Sardauna story for all stool contenders. I recommend his biography, ‘Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto: Values and Leadership in Nigeria’ by John Paden. You may read from page 108 to 128 and also page 215.
For princes, kingship is sweet and nothing compares to sitting on the throne, whatever the sacrifice. And, they can be resolute in pursuing their ambition even when the chances of success are very slim. Those who succeed in having the crown credit their destiny and thank their stars. Those who fail rarely agree that it is not their destiny to be king. So, they fight on, forever in the air, on the land and under the sea – until fate says the final yes or no.
Christians see themselves as persons of destiny; people fated to be saved. Today is Christmas, their day. About a week before today, at the Beulah Baptist Conference Centre, Ogbomoso, Oyo State, an interdenominational thanksgiving service was held for the new Soun of Ogbomoso, Oba Afolabi ‘Ghandi’ Olaoye. At the event, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), highly respected Pastor Enoch Adeboye, said the new Soun was destined from the womb to be oba. In an apparent response to persons who wondered why the General Overseer encouraged a pentecostal pastor to plunge head-long into a cavernous cultural grove, Pastor Adeboye declared: “To my critics, if I said no and God said yes, whose word is the final? God, of course. So, I cannot stop him because Pastor Ghandi Olaoye was destined to be a king even before he was born; and thank God, it is coming to fruition.” Olaoye was a senior pastor in RCCG before his selection as the 21st Soun.
There are issues around the kingship of the new king. Some use his faith to query his presence in the secluded presence of the ancestors. Really, what would drive a born-again Christian pastor to sit on a stool sanctified with the spirits of the ancestors? Such posers are not without some validity: a pastor sitting on the throne of his fathers means drinking from the same vessel with the undead, undying past. Why would a pastor mix his holy communion with the quaint brew of the ancient? But, people who made this query are not looking at the ‘undue’ influence of destiny in the affairs of men. We are each born to play specific roles in our allotted space. Whatever that role is, we know not; we only work and wish and wait for its manifestation.
Every era has had to grapple with the complexities of fate. Every race and creed has something to say about it – unalterable, unstoppable. We call it Àyànmó in Yoruba land with orí (head) as the propeller. We have Àkúnlèyàn- the life we chose while kneeling before our Creator. We have other terms, one of them is kadara, a word we borrowed from the Arabic Qadar. The Romans had Parcae, drivers and directors of destiny; the Greek had the Moirai, deities of fate, sharers and allotters of portions; spinners of the thread of life, personification of man’s inescapable destiny. Classical poet, Homer (8th century BC), wrote in the Iliad about fate’s unchallengeable properties: “…No man will hurl me down to death against my fate. And fate? No one alive has ever escaped it, neither brave man nor coward, I tell you – it’s born with us the day that we are born.” You will read something almost like this in the Christian Bible which came hundreds of years after the Iliad: “…whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” That is from the book of Romans. And, in Proverbs 16:9, it is said that: “In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” And, my Muslim brothers and sisters know that God “created everything according to a measure of destiny” (Quran, 54:9); they also know and fear that “…when Allah intends for a people ill, there is no repelling it…”(Quran 13 verse 11). It was a situation like this that held the steady hand of the famous poet, James Shirley (1596-1666), and made him write: “There is no armour against Fate.” It was the same that made Plato say that “no one can escape his destiny.”
Oba Olaoye’s longstanding friend and fate mate, cerebral Oba Adedokun Abolarin, the Orangun of Oke Ila, disclosed last week that the new Soun once scoffed at the idea of him ever contesting to be king. But, the French have a proverb: “One meets his destiny often in the road he takes to avoid it.” The faster we run from fate, the quicker it overtakes us. Yet, there are critical views like that of Henry Miller, an American writer who lived between 1891 and 1980. Miller believes that “destiny is what you are supposed to do in life. Fate is what kicks you in the ass to make you do it.” That debate oscillating between fate and free will has raged throughout history. It is still on although Jay Livingston and Ray Evans’ Qué será, será remains forever sweet in our ears.
Are we truly helpless “grasshoppers in the hands of wanton boys” or we are gallant masters of our destinies? Would Pastor Olaoye have become Oba Olaoye without strongly joining the contest for the stool? My Muslim brothers reading this will remember the first part of Quran 13 verse 11: “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” Olaoye’s Bible would tell him at all times to “stand at the door and knock” and be diligent enough in knocking for anyone to hear his voice and open the door. It is his standing and knocking and listening and seeing the door open that qualified him to sit on that throne (Revelation 3:20). But would that qualification alone have put the crown on his head if fate had refused to smile on him?
The new Soun was caught on camera kneeling before Pastor Adeboye, a non-king. Cultural conservationists have not stopped shouting desecration and defilement. They think the new king broke a covenant so early in his reign. They say even the pastor’s Bible frowns at acts that violate the sacred; and they think their culture and tradition are as sacred as holy writs. Temples have lost their potency and nations their verdancy because things which should not have been done were done. Bible scholar, Tova Ganzel, in 2008 wrote on ‘The Defilement and Desecration of the Temple in Ezekiel’. He thinks desecration “extends to the intolerable acts perpetrated by the people that eventually brought about the Temple’s destruction and the nation’s exile.” Ganzel’s thoughts are deep, the details you will find in the journal, Biblica, published in 2008 – Volume 89, Number 3, from page 369 to 379. There are other cases brought to our attention by other sources. Here, I lack the space to cite them. When you are made king in Yorubaland, you are banned forever from kneeling or prostrating to and before any man or woman born of woman. That is the rule and it is presumably strict. But the pentecostal king slipped. He knelt before his pastor and his pastor prayed for him holding the crowned head – another violation. Is it not in the Bible (Mathew 25:21) that the good and faithful servant gets his master’s well done because he “has been faithful over a few things” by doing what he is asked to do with tact? Ogbomoso is in Yoruba land where killing vultures is forbidden and eating vultures is forbidden. But there are still ways in which people eat taboos and wash them down with foaming palm wine. Kings kneel and prostrate before priests but they do not do it in the market place as Oba Olaoye has done. I think it was a genuine error. I believe he won’t do it again.
Then, again, the new king was heard addressing his people in the English language. That was another error. Listeners would view their king as an elitist alien. Even when the people understand that language, they would refuse to understand its message. And every leader needs the people as the wind behind their sail. In ‘The tale of the Heike’, a Japanese masterpiece, it is said that “the sovereign is a ship, his people water. Water keeps the ship afloat; water can capsize it as well. Subjects sustain their sovereign; subjects also overthrow him.” That is why a king must literally and metaphorically speak the language of his people. Speaking in pentecostal tongues alienates leaders. Coming down to the people’s level, using their words, builds trust, fires them up and inspires them to serve their lord and master. The Yoruba have a saying for the groom who speaks to his in-laws in a language he alone understands. But I know that like other human engagements, the kingship process is work in progress; its wine gets better as it adds years. The rough edges may yet get smoothened as the journey progresses in Ogbomoso.
Because in a situation like this, it does not rain, it pours, there was another issue. At the coronation ceremony in Ogbomoso was the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi. Some people feel the occupant of the throne of Oduduwa should not have got up to welcome Osun State governor, Ademola Adeleke, to the event. They say he should have emulated the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atuwatse III, who sat beside the Ooni and looked unmoved by the gubernatorial entrance. I heard the critics and wondered if they knew that Adeleke was Ooni’s governor and what we run is not a monarchical democracy. And, have they asked themselves if that was how the Olu of Warri would sit if it was his Delta State governor that came before him? Can the critics check why the Olu of Warri bowed when he visited his own governor in Asaba on November 5, 2021? The photo is available online. Before our neo-Yoruba nationalists push their various obas to take on governors, they should reflect on the likely result of a head-butting contest between egg and stone. The governor is the stone, the oba the egg.
I join in celebrating the new king in Ogbomoso. The new oba presents a promise of greatness. His education, his exposure, composure, his physique, his standing and, very importantly, the company he keeps, suggest he will be good for his people. Prayers for him should, therefore, not be left for his pastors alone. He needs the evocative support, the blessing, the gird and the guidance of the owners of the morning and of those who hold the reins of the night. I believe he is a worthy addition to a short line of oba currently leading the people’s journey back to what Ayi Kwei Armah calls ‘the way.’ If he and others do it well, we may actually see in them an alternative to our politics of pain. We may start asking forcefully: why can’t we have a very good oba, obi or emir as president or governor? Or is there anything in our constitution that says they cannot be?