PING LAGOS (EPISODE 6)

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In the legal tradition the tenure of the old kings pf Lagos would only end when the king died. Except where war or forced deposition ended the reign; the passage or transition of Oba was not an event treated with levity. In practice members of his official residence and household are strictly bound to inform the senior chief among the Oba’s councillors of transition; it was the senior chief who would make the formal announcement of his death. Even during the colonial suppression of customs, it was never incumbent on the government of the day to make this announcement publicly as such an announcer would have no role in customary law.

The basic criterion for ascension to the headship of the House as Oba of Lagos was the eligibility of ‘any male who descended through a male from a former head of the House of Addo’.

The family lines of members of the House of Addo were accepted to be Akinsemoyin, Eshilokun and Ologun Kutere.

The Obas and Chief Law Cap 138 Laws of Lagos State now deal with the procedure for the selection and candidature of Obas, the Oba of Lagos included. However, the customary law and practices of Lagos are still binding and founded in history.

The procedure in accordance with custom and law and other matters relating to the status of the principal head of Lagos was the subject of a Commission of Inquiry regarding the House of Docemo, commissioned by His Majesty’s Government in 1933.

Several of the chiefs and important personalities of the day gave oral and written testimony. Mr Ayodele Williams, Herbert Macaulay, Sir Kitoyi Ajasa, traditional chiefs, the Eletu Odibo of the day and the Obanikoro of Lagos were te main protagonists who all gave evidence. Yesufu Fasanya, another respected individual of advanced years, (who had participated in the enquiry into the ‘Water Rate question’ in Lagos in 1916) and an apparently impartial witness also gave evidence. Comparative consideration of customs obtaining elsewhere in Yoruba-speaking Nigeria was conducted by consulting other rulers – the Alaafin of Oyo and Alake of Abeokuta of the time. Not having (at that time) codified the method of selection of the Oba, the proceedings commanded great and momentous interest in public life. After three months on 3 July 1933, Henry L. Ward Price gave a report on the Commission’s findings. Some issues are already controversial today; others may continue to be relevant:
-The members of the family the House of Docemo do not participate in the selection of the Oba, the head of the House.
-The sons of the House of Docemo were eligible for courtesy titles as white cap chiefs, but any such holder would not take part in the selection pf the Head.
-Any man maybe chosen. The man must have descended through males from a former head of the House. There is authority for the practice that different sections of the House may take turns or that preference is given to men born during the term of office of their father. In any event the selection committee often dealt with such lesser points of preference.

The chiefs in the Oba’s council were the persons responsible for the selection of the Oba. Their rank is determined; the leaders of the chiefs were in turn determined using the date of installation as chief, amongst the Oba’s councillors. Much debate centred on whether the Eletu Odibo had a natural right of leadership amongst the chiefs (it was suggested that the Eletu Odibo crowned the new Oba) or whether the senior chief was a position that changed depending on who at that time was the longest serving. The Ward-Price commission accepted the latter view. The finding was that, despite some special functions of the Eletu Odibo or status of the Idejo chiefs, the senior chief in Lagos is a position determined by the seniority of the chiefs at any time by use of the date of installation into office. The apparent heads of the groups of chiefs are the holders of the following titles – the Akarigbere (Eletu Odibo), Ogalade (Obanikoro), Idejo (Olumegbon) and Abagbon(Ashogbon) they appear to maintain some recognition over and above the other individual chiefs in each group of chiefs.

It now remains incontrovertible that there was no order of precedence amongst the chiefs in the king’s court but that there may have been precedence within each group by virtue of the fact that there is evidence of a leading (installing chief) in each group of chiefs. The suggestions that there is a prima inter pares – a first among equals – among the chiefs is without customary law precedent and is lacking in historical support. It must also be mentioned that but for the intricate relationships between the chiefs and the head of the family house, the institution could hardly have survived for so long. Therefore the suggestion that elevations of some titles of chiefs to the status of Oba or Baale based on written declarations by past occupiers of traditional offices is unsupportable as one-man-made customary law is alien to the traditional kingdom.

Unlike what appears to have obtained elsewhere in other communities along the West Coast of Africa, a local deity, the Ifa Oracle is consulted after the selection is made and is further consulted as to the probability of a good fortune to Lagos during the coming term of the incoming Oba’s reign. The oracle is not consulted for the selection of the Oba but merely for a forecast of his reign.

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