Olusegun Abimbola is the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Oyo State. In this interview with our Correspondent, Oseheye Okwuofu , the explains the motive behind he decision of the Govenor Abiola Ajimobi-led administration to carry out the now controversial amendment of the 1957 Olubadan Chieftaincy Declaration.
DID the state envisage that the issue of chieftaincy review would become a legal tussle?
In any society, particularly in the evolution of issues of institution, organizations, or even processes, there are bound to be those who support and there are bound to be those who oppose even for the most altruistic proposals. A very good example is that some people thought that slave trade was legal and appropriate. They practice it for generations. At some point, segregation was appropriate in some localities and when there was agitation for change, it was violently resisted in some areas.
Similarly, when some countries effected legislations to change some obnoxious practices, some people went to court. What I am trying to say is that there is nothing in this life that is suggestive of a change, no matter how positive the change is, that will not be challenged by some people either selfishly or otherwise. Now, to your question weather litigation was anticipated or not, people who have good, bad or no reason at all can challenge any position, policy or proposal at any point in time.
So, I’ll say it is not beyond contemplation. That is why government ensured that in implementing the decisions taken, every required steps were diligently followed. There is hardly any chieftaincy declaration that exist in any part of Oyo state and the entire southwest, perhaps even beyond the southwest, that is not a product of inquiry at some point. What then is a declaration?
The Chiefs law of Oyo State is today a referring material for all the states in the southwest, because when the Chiefs law was originally introduced, we were all in a region. So it became applicable in the other states of the west at a point. What is the purpose of a declaration? Section 4 of the Chiefs law says that the governor may require a committee to be set up to make a declaration on a customary law that will regulate in the selection of any person to hold a recognized chieftaincy post.
That is what a declaration is. So if you want to become Oba or Baale of any particular locality, there is a statement of appropriate customary laws, processes and procedure that will govern how to become one. Now, under the Chiefs law, the supreme authority remains the governor. Every other institution under the Chiefs law hold their power as delegated responsibility of the governor.
That is why it is usually said that ‘the governor may by order do this or do that’. So you find out that it is the governor that the law emphatically says holds the power. So everybody else who functions by virtue of the Chiefs law function as a delegated authority under the governor. That is foundational. So if the law says that for every competent council that would be established by the order of the governor, such number of committee may be determine by the governor for the purpose of declaration.
That means the existence of previous committee is subject to the governor. I am trying to preface the prelude the numbers of issues. What the governor did was to exercise his powers under section 25 and commissions of inquiry law to set up an inquiry because if the governor can ask a chieftaincy committee to make a declaration in respect of any chieftaincy matter, what would be the basis upon which that committee will do so? What will be the basis of the governor’s directive.
The governor cannot know the customary evolution of every domain in the state and all these chieftaincies need a declaration. The only way the governor can be availed with all the necessary informations that will determine the directive to chieftaincy committee as to the issuance of a declaration would be based on his knowledge of what is the customary law relating to a particular chieftaincy which can only be achieve through inquiry. That is why you hear of Ademola inquiry, Oloko inquiry etc.
So is there no room for the state house of assembly to legislate on the issue?
The position of the Chiefs law is that when the governor is satisfied that the declaration is inquired; that satisfaction can be a product of feedback or recommendation of inquiry or his personal knowledge but he won’t say he is satisfied because there would be need to issue a declaration or even to amend a declaration as the case may be. Then he can direct necessary chieftaincy committee that made the declaration to do the amendment.
When the commission of inquiry make its recommendations, that is the content of what will inform the governor to know the facts relating to a particular chieftaincy. It was brought to the governor and the executive council. Then governor issued his opinion which was contained in a white paper and gazetted. That white paper was a represents the opinion of government in respect of what is to be done.
The white paper is still not the amended declaration. It is the opinion of the government as what to be done. It was pursuant to that white paper and pursuant to the Chiefs law in section 10 that if the government is satisfied, he may require a chieftaincy committee to amend the declaration. It is contained in the white paper which was transmitted to relevant chieftaincy committee. It is the chieftaincy committee that amended the declaration. And when the chieftaincy committee amended it, it was gazetted and registered. Those are the steps as contained in the law and as followed by the governor. There is no part of it that says the House of Assembly must amend the declaration or register it.
But in the past, declarations usually come from the Olubadan-in-Council. Why is it government this time?
It won’t be correct if anybody alleges that there was no consultation because I am aware that there were consultations and this issue did not start with this administration. But it predates this administration and all the parties involved are aware that it predate this administration. Perhaps it is as far back as 30 years ago. All the settlement chiefs that were also part of the entire process know that it has been in existence for many decades, not as if it is just started yesterday.
We also need to know that the essence of the commission of inquiry is to ensure that all stakeholders make impute into the final decisions. The essence is to invite memoranda and in this case, they receive about 120 memoranda. At that point when they were receiving memoranda, the people who had gone to court were expected to submit their own memoranda to avoid disagreement. It will interest you to know that none of the people that went to court submitted memoranda.
But they have gone to court at that time?
The commission of inquiry had started its sitting before they approach the court. That shows that they chose not to submit any memoranda but rather to go to court. The commission was set up on May 19 and went on public hearing in June 7 while the first case was filed in 25th of June. The public hearing was to allow those who have already submitted memoranda to come and speak on it so that it won’t be their own personal interpretation of written documents.
With your explanation, don’t you think it is a mistake on the part of the government that you didn’t limit the promotion to the Baales and not the High Chiefs?
Like I said, the essence of the commission is to take suggestions from all the stakeholders through memoranda. In many of those memoranda submitted different positions were canvassed and justified. Some of the memoranda were from Olubadan in Council, High chiefs and other institutions with respect to the elevation of the Olubadan in Council. Even this one predate this administration. These are the issues that have been on ground for long and we need to recognize some of the issues at hand.
When change begins, there is always some measure of resistance. In several part of the state like Ibarapa and Ogbomoso, there were similar situation where government had elevated some traditional rulers to crown wearing Obas. Now, imagine a situation where a Baale who is a crown wearing Oba, sits as a member of a traditional council headed by one of the high Chiefs who is not an Oba.
Can you see the aberration that will be created? That means someone who is an Oba has been put under a High chief. You can see that it is a way of balancing history and keeping the trend, peace and hierarchy in chieftaincy institution. The government is trying to create balance. Governor Ajimobi’s action is purely calculated to clean up the historical problems that different generations keep passing on because nobody could boldly take the decision this administration has taken.
The new Obas are also members of the Olubadan in Council, can they wear the Olubadan crown again in future?
One of the things about life is evolution and none of us is in the position to determine what is in it until you face the circumstances that demands it of you. Just as you said you have never seen a promoted King so also you will say you have never seen a domain with emergence of paramount ruler the way we have it in Ibadan. It doesn’t exist anywhere but we cannot say because it does not exists elsewhere, our own is aberration. It is not because that is how we are.
One of the things we should appreciate is the uniqueness we possess in Ibadan. Today, we are faced with issues that has to do with boundaries with some neighboring states and for those states to assert authority, they have conferred Obaship title on the boundaries community Chiefs. When it is time to take decision, you know what happens. Also, now that they are proposing a national council of traditional rulers, do you think a Baale will be part of the council?
The qualification to be in the council will be something that shows your superiority in the hierarchy of traditional institutions. So, if we remain on that premise, we are not doing ourselves any good. Don’t forget, there was a time we have only one local government in Ibadan land. I mean Ibadan Municipal Council. When there was moves to have many councils, there was this kind of resistance.
Then, did anybody know that there was still going to be the 1999 constitution which will tie distribution of consolidated revenue of Federal Republic of Nigeria to the number of local government we have? Assuming Ibadan remains only one local government rather than eleven, now we have 774 local government in the constitution that the revenue mobilization and physical commission divides allocation to every months based on the parameter set out.
Ibadan would have been taking only make one slot because we are one local government. Now that we are eleven local governments, it is more resources and development for Ibadan land. That is what I am saying that naturally people resist change because they cannot see far off into the future. But that should not stop us from doing what is good for our people once we see that it is the good thing to do.
– The Nation