A senior member of the Omowumi Abisogun Ruling House of the Oniru royal family, Prince Babatunde Kabiawu, who lives in the United States, bemoans the alleged usurpation of the monarchy, in this interview with Punch
Can you describe the process normally used by the Oniru royal family in choosing the successor to the throne?
You are a Yoruba man and you know what entails before you can be installed as a traditional ruler. Before any Oba can be picked, there must be consultations within the family and each family might has up to three or four branches. So, each branch will nominate its representative, then they will consult the oracle, which is Ifa, for divine direction. After the consultations, whoever the Ifa picks will emerge as the chosen one. The other candidates will support him, and from there, he will be taken to Ipebi, where all rites will be performed and he will be there for three good months before he ascends the throne. It is then that the government of the day can come in to make it official by giving him the staff of office.
But in this case, it was the other way round. There was no due process. We just heard that the new Oniru was being installed. I was called (as it happened). I never knew. We were never consulted. We have elders within the family; they were not consulted. Nobody was consulted. So, he was just installed by people who have political powers and interest in that area. So, he is there to represent the political class, not the family, because we have branches. My branch is the Omowumi Abisogun and my mother is the second daughter of Abisogun, who was the only surviving child of Orunbi Oniru. Orunbi Oniru had three children; two died at tender ages, remaining Abisogun, who married and had Omowumi. Omowumi married and had seven children. The first child was Ilumo; my maternal grandmother was the second child. The current Onilase is from the Fatoki branch, who is the last son of Omowumi. So, let them come out and tell everybody which branch he (Lawal) belongs to.
If you say you belong to the Abisogun family, you must have ties with Omowumi; you must have your ties with Ilase.
Are the other branches of the family in support of Oba Lawal’s installation?
I wouldn’t know what is on their minds because people are controlled with money. Everybody now believes in what they will put in their pockets. I only know what is on my mind. Even the last Oba that passed on; the branch (of family) he claimed was fabricated; it never existed. He was a cousin from the Aromire family. His great-grandfather came to live with Omowumi. When he was being harassed — they didn’t take good care of him, so he said, ‘Let me go and meet my sister at Iga Oniru.’ That was how he came and started living with Omowumi. (Prince) Ilumo (Oniru) was the one to take over after the vacant throne. He was the first son of Omowumi, but he refused because then he was living around Porto Novo (Republic of Benin), doing his business; he said he didn’t have the time and didn’t want to be tied down, and that they should look for somebody else. The colonialists were calling them then that they should bring a representative. That was why they asked Yusuf Abiodun, who happened to be the father of the last Oba Oniru, to be installed as a regent.
There was a case in 1935; there was a chieftaincy tussle at Aromire then. He went there as a witness. They asked him who he was and he said he was a chief from Oniru. He was a regent. So, when he passed on, his son, who had all the documents, refused to release the documents to the family. It was then that Alhaji Suraju appealed to him that they should allow him because, one, the father took it upon himself to fight for the family to get all the land back and that they should use that as compensation, but after this, the throne should be returned to the real family. Since then, it has been about one issue or the other. So, there is no other genuine branch outside Abisogun.
Before Yusuf Abiodun became the regent then, Lanre Ogunlore was the first regent after Abisogun. But he died while he was on the throne. He didn’t stay long. So, it was after him that they installed Abiodun Yusuf as the next regent. And Omowumi was living at Ilase then because she was the founder of Ilase with her husband. So, let them come out and tell us the ties they have with Omowumi. Even Lanre Ogunlore that became the regent was from Igbosere and was one of the brothers to one of Abisogun’s second wives. So, most of those people that are parading themselves as belonging to Abisogun all came to live with the family. From there, they embedded themselves into the family. When they were integrated, they started claiming they were from Abisogun. All Abisogun’s children know one another. When the chips are down, everybody knows one other. These are all concocted and fabricated family houses that they are displaying.
So, are you saying they are impostors?
Yes, he is.
Prince Ajasa has expressed support for the new Oniru, though he was said to be the rightful successor to the throne, chosen by members of your family. What is responsible for that?
When he said he was also vying for the throne, it was taken to court and there was an injunction on it before the state government then went through the back door and installed the present one that would protect their political and economic interests in that area.