Today, September 14, 2023, the Egba people who occupy the entire Ogun Central Senatorial District comprising six local government areas – Abeokuta South, Abeokuta North, Ifo, Odeda, Ewekoro, and Obafemi Owode – as well as their brothers, sisters, and friends across Nigeria and the diaspora will beat the drum to celebrate.
They will be out to celebrate a man who symbolises and represents the unity of their federation, sophistication, education, industry, brilliance, uniqueness, pathfinding, and leadership roles as well as their many achievements in the larger national, continental, and global context. Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, Okukenu IV, is 80 years old today and this is a monarch in whom the Egba are well pleased and proud.
The Egba, a group of people who work hard, study and travel widely, achieve greatly, and celebrate flamboyantly, will demonstrate their predilection for partying when they roll out drums, gongs, and flutes, churn out the best musical lyrics, and most poetic lines, display the best of cuisines, drinks and clad in some of the most fashionable attires to celebrate their monarch.
The best achievement of Oba Gbadebo as a monarch who has been on the ancient throne of his forefathers since August 2, 2005, when he was selected as the 10th Alake of Egbaland has been his ability to bring about unity, peace, tranquillity, and sense of community development among his people while his tenure has also witnessed tremendous physical infrastructure and economic development in both Abeokuta and the communities in the six local government areas dominated by the Egba.
To further understand why the Egba will celebrate this monarch as he joins the rank of octogenarians, one must have a good grasp of the delicate but highly sophisticated traditional system of government of the Egba. It is a system that is worthy of being studied, emulated, and developed by the rest of Nigeria as a way of restructuring the current warped federal system that has continued to be a burden and a setback for our national development.
The Egba have a unique traditional system in which four traditional rulers cohabit and rule in one big town – Abeokuta township. With the Alake of Egbaland as the paramount ruler of the Egba, there is the Osile of Oke Ona Egba who is the ruler of the Oke Ona Egba, the Agura of Gbagura-Egba , and the Olowu of Owu-Egba. The subjects of all these traditional rulers are Abeokuta indigenes.
Also, unlike in many towns, every Egba rightly belongs to two local government areas. While the homestead is in Abeokuta town( which in the 1999 Constitution has been divided into Abeokuta South and Abeokuta North LGs), a true Egba must also belong to a community or village in any of the four other local government areas in Ogun Central – Ifo, Obafemi Owode, Odeda and Ewekoro. These are communities where our ancestors established their farms. From mere farmlands, the communities have grown from hamlets to villages to big communities whose population and land mass surpass those in some other state capitals.
This has been my explanation to other Nigerians who sometimes wonder why former President Olusegun Obasanjo is said to be from Owu, Abeokuta, and Ibogun at the same time. Some even add Ota where the retired General has the headquarters of Obasanjo Farms as part of the myth on the man’s real base.
Obasanjo, an Egba man, is from the Owu quarters in Abeokuta North Local Government Area. And he has his house there. His village is located in Ibogun in the Ifo Local Government Area where he also has a house. Ota is just a place where he has his business, the farm. In any case, Obasanjo Farms also has branches in other parts of Nigeria like Lanlate in Oyo State, Mambila in Taraba State, and Owiwi in Ifo LG, among other areas.
In Abeokuta, while we know Ake, Oke Ona, Gbagura, and Owu, we are all Egba and we have respect for all our traditional rulers. This federal system has worked for us and the traditional Egba chieftaincy titles are shared among indigenes from different quarters. In the past, personality differences and idiosyncrasies have tended to create disagreements among the monarchs. However, these negative tendencies have disappeared since the current Alake took over, of course, with the co-operation and support of his brother Obas.
All Egba traditional rulers move and work as a united team. There is cooperation, unity of purpose, and a peaceful relationship between all our Obas. Under Oba Gbadebo, the usual bickering, unhealthy rivalry, or superiority fight has ceased. Our Obas now attend each other’s personal or community events. Thus, events like Lisabi Day and others are celebrated together by all Egba and their friends, at home and abroad. No discrimination. No segregation. The new-found unity has also percolated to the ranks of the prominent indigenes. The Egba people wherever you have them, now work together and rally around their monarchs such that you don’t know who is from which quarters.
The state of peace and tranquillity in Egbaland is a reflection of the person of Oba Adedotun Gbadebo. As a member of the State Executive Council for four years, I had the opportunity to relate with and observe Kabiyesi from close quarters. He was a gentleman to the core. The type they call ‘officer and gentleman’, bearing in mind that he is a retired, decorated military officer.
Oba Gbadebo joined the Army after bagging a degree from the Faculty of Arts of the nation’s premier university, the University of Ibadan. Though he left the Army as a Colonel, he worked at the highest level in the force by serving as Principal Staff Officer to the last occupant of the Office of the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon. Those who knew him then believed he was a workaholic, organised, focused, and disciplined officer who earned his place in heading what could be the policy and strategy headquarters of the military administration headed by Muhammadu Buhari.
Oba Gbadebo always wears that gentle, genial look of a man who is never bothered by anything. He speaks gently, very articulate, and eloquent. He bears the visage of a man who has seen it all. A golf player who must be missing the company of his younger friend and brother Oba, the late Oba Saburi Babajide Bakre, the Agura of Gbagura-Egba, who joined his ancestors earlier this year. They both played golf together. Oba Bakre invited me several times without success to join the duo at the Abeokuta Golf Course where he was ready to teach me the game since I own a complete golf kit.
Oba Gbadebo is very free with everybody. I usually enjoy the tough jokes between him and Kabiyesi, Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, anytime the Obas had a meeting in the Governor’s Office, Oke Mosan, when I was the Commissioner for Information and Strategy in the state. The Alake would laugh heartily as both of them trade banters.
The Egba monarch speaks in a measured, persuasive tone to implore, encourage, or motivate anybody who will bring in development projects, industrial concerns, or business ideas that will generate employment opportunities, aid the continuous modernisation of Egbaland, and draw international attention to Abeokuta city and its growing communities.
The traditional ruler believes he has a pact with destiny as there is the talk of an enduring divination that the era of the 10th Alake would bring rapid physical and economic development to Egbaland. Incidentally, Oba Gbadebo, a holder of the military’s service medals of Force Service Star and Defence Service Medal as well as the national honour of the Commander of the Federal Republic, is the 10th Alake of Egbaland. Like his name, ‘Adedotun’ suggests, his ascension to the throne has brought renewal, modernisation, and great shine to the glory of the Egba in the Nigerian milieu.
His era has witnessed an Egba son who was the President of Nigeria, (his fellow Baptist Boys High School old boy, Obasanjo) and Speaker of the House of Representatives (also a BBHS old boy, Dimeji Bankole). Under his reign, an Egba man, the late M. K. O. Abiola, also an old boy of BBHS, was recognised posthumously as the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Also, under his reign, the Egba have produced a second governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun. Before then, veteran journalist and the Akinrogun of Egbaland, Chief Olusegun Osoba, had been the first governor of Ogun State of Egba origin.
Oba Gbadebo is from the Laarun Ruling House. His great-grandfather was Oba Okukenu, the first Alake of Egbaland. His grandfather, Oba Gbadebo, was the sixth Alake who ruled from 1898 to 1920. His Uncle, Oba Samuel Gbadebo, was Okukenu III while the incumbent Alake is Okukenu IV. Oba Gbadebo’s Laarun ruling house was established by an Alake who reigned in the 1700s before the Egba relocated to the present Abeokuta.
Oba Gbadebo is the Chairman of the Board of Oando PLC and Chancellor of the Federal University, Ndufu Alike Ikwo, Abakaliki in Ebonyi State. A royalty who is at home with the common people, he has proved to be the true father of all Egba and, by extension, the good people of Ogun State and all Nigerians who come with good ideas for the development of the country.
Oba Gbadebo is truly the epitome of an apolitical royal father. His measured interventions and contributions on national issues are always respected and taken seriously by all. At 80, the monarch still looks well-kept, strong, and ready to play golf any day. In him, the Egba and their friends across Ogun State, Nigeria, and around the world, truly have many reasons to celebrate the 80th birthday of a revered royal father. The fact that today is a Thursday may not disturb anything.
A good number of activities had taken place to celebrate the monarch, including the prayers in the mosque and churches, particularly the Cathedral Church of St. Peter’s, Ake, Abeokuta, the first church in Nigeria, which also houses the first copy of the Holy Bible ever brought into Nigeria. I am sure it has been a colourful festival in honour of a monarch in whom the subjects and their friends are well pleased. Happy birthday, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, omo Ara Ake Majo. Majo meji. Omo Eru ni nsin ni. Eko ki nsin eniyan. Oju a ma ri Odun. Ajinde ara ma je o.
Olaniyonu writes from Abuja