PING LAGOS (EPISODE 11)

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THE EXPERT
Lewis Ward-Price as the chairman of the commission of enquiry was a choice prepared by the government to embark on this exercise. The commission had power to determine a broad variety of narrow local customs of which he had no particular knowledge or expertise. The naivete or ignorance of the government in assuming that a European expert in Yoruba custom was all that was needed to investigate the customs of Lagos, is seen in the commission’s methodology if it not in its conclusions.

THE ENQUIRY’S FINDINGS – NOT THE USUAL WAY
As the directing mind behind the implementation of the terms of reference of the commission, the chairman, Ward-Price, had wholesale discretion in the selection of witnesses and the order of proceedings. It is clear that the witnesses were handpicked and there is certainly no evidence that Ward-Price was under external pressure as to which witness to take or not to take. The report itself leads to the best proof that the commission’s task could well have been predicted if not in fact predetermined.

Without surprise Ward-Price did uphold Chief Obanikoro’s pro-government views and denounced the Eletu Odibo’s contentions. The commissioner felt: ‘It seems to be established that chiefs should rank in order of their installation’.

Therefore there is no preserved seniority exclusive to the Eletu Odibo title; the senior chief role was so important that he alone should first be informed of the death of the king and thereafter take control of the process. Furthermore in his view,
‘It cannot be correct to say that the Eletu Odibo acts alone in the matter of the selection.’

Ward-Price found that ‘the evidence of Obanikoro can, I think, be accepted as stating the true principle namely that a committee of chiefs are the persons finally responsible for the selection’.

With this judgement, the commission therefore consigned to rejection, the traditional views of chiefs and established a new order. Indeed Ward-Price’s conclusion now form part of today’s observable practices, namely:
The Doosunmu descendants are not elevated or separate from the rest of the larger family which is more appropriately referred to as the house of Iga Iduganran.

Also, ,members of the royal household take no part in the selection process. Furthermore, the composition of the chiefs depends on the senior chiefs depends on the senior chiefs of the day including the representatives of each category of chieftaincies – the Akarigbere; Ogalade; Idejo; Abagbon and the two next most senior chiefs. Indeed as Obanikoro had testified, the chiefs ‘classes were not in grades of one to four, but categories based on function and authority.

In addition, the senior chief of the day would be the chairman – any man may be chosen who is descended through males from the former head of the house(the Oba).

The final twist in the commission’s findings was the most satisfying to the Lagos public with reference to the committee of chiefs – if they are unanimous on one name that name, is submitted to the Ifa oracle for information as to the probability of good fortune to the community during the coming reign. If Ifa replies that the omens are not completely satisfactory but that certain sacrifices will meet the case these are performed, ‘this is not the usual Yoruba way of consulting Ifa but if it satisfies local opinion that is all that is necessary.

With all of this the commission had succeeded in any event, in recording law and custom of two hundred years in the making, investigating the practices of a four hundred year old institution and reducing it to a body discernible, even if contentious rules.

IMPLEMENTATION
The immediate and proximate cause of the commission’s establishment must not be forgotten. Governor Cameron em-panelled a committee to implement the recommendations, despite the shortcomings of the hearings and its sometimes injudicious conduct; the above findings of the commission were subjected to a council vote. The commission’s report was passed as official policy and ultimately found that the new Oba Falolu and not Prince Sanusi Olusi was to be recognised and installed as the Oba of Lagos.

26 UPPER KING STREET
On 2 September 1949, Oba Falolu died at the age of 78. The old Oba’s successor was named as Musendiku Adeniji-Adele. No sooner had Musendiku Adeniji-Adele be named as the new Oba of Lagos than Prince Adeyinka Oyekan and a group of the family of Oba Dosunmu’s descendants raised objection and protested against his ascension to the throne. Adele was also a direct descendant of King Addo, his supporters assumed thta the throne carried a right to occupy the Oba’s palace and residence at 26 Upper King Street, Lagos, the Iga Iduganran. In a thinly veiled action for the throne, the Oyekans filed an action for possession of the royal palace property, obviously believing, should they win the action for the palace, the title and throne would follow. Oyekan claimed (i) a declearation of title of ownership of the palace at Upper King Street, (ii) damages for trespass and (iii) recovery of the palace property; all in the belief that both title and property in the palace were of the House of Docemo.

The use of the phrase House of Docemo as a description of the title of the Oba of Lagos was of course an over-simplification of the lineage and succession to the throne of Lagos. It was however both convenient to the colonial government and to the direct family of the late Oba Dosunmu. The term was not only inaccurate but misleading. Of the Obas that had occupied the throne at that time, only three had not descended from Oba Dosunmu. Yet at no time had it been accepted as law and custom that only children of Dosunmu would occupy the office of Oba of Lagos.

The old dynasty was at work again, unable to neatly deal with succession and unwilling to exclude claimants on principle and precedent alone. These were internal wounds that the entire extended family bore but there were also deep scars from external British intervention in succession to the throne.

And so the immediate facts of this court case relate to a modern mid-twentieth century dispute, but its root cause, its legal and historical connections literally reach back in time once again the very foundation of the old Eko Kingdom and bring to the force unsettled scores from centuries before, back to the heyday of the Kingdom.

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