Cablegate: Nigeria: Death of Lagos Traditional Ruler

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. SUMMARY. The death last week of Oba Adeyinka
Oyekan highlights the role traditional rulers still
play in Nigerian society. Appointing an Oba's
successor (a traditional Yoruba king) is often
contentious, and the royal palace of Lagos was already
filled by intrigue as the 92 year old Oba's health
failed over the past several months. As events
surrounding Oba Oyekan's death and burial unfold, Lagos
security measures have been tightened. END SUMMARY.


2. In Yorubaland, an oba's death is an event that
thrives on myth and rumor, while the truth lies
somewhere in-between. According to age-old Yoruba
belief, Oba Adeyinka Oyekan has not died; he has passed
away, transposing to another plane to join his
ancestors. An oba has power over life and death ("iku
baba yeye"). In his palace, "death" is a forbidden
word. An oba must never see a corpse or attend burial
ceremonies. Despite an oba's seeming invincibility and
immortality, when one's death becomes reality, several
weeks may pass before the news is publicized.

3. So it was for Oba Adeyinka Oyekan, the 18th monarch
of Lagos. On March 7, he reportedly died after a brief
illness. Born on June 30, 1911, Oba Oyekan was the
grandson of the late Oba Adeyinka Oyekan 1, the 12th
Oba of Lagos. He assumed the throne in 1965 after a
protracted ascension battle that was finally resolved
at the Privy Council in England. Oba Oyekan enjoyed a
preeminent position among all other traditional rulers
in Lagos State as the permanent chairman of the Lagos
State Council of Chiefs for many years. His tenure
marked a turning point in the history of obaship in
Lagos. He worked hard to promote unity among
Lagosians, irrespective of their ethnic backgrounds,
and he was highly respected by his people for his
advocacy of peace and progress in the state.


4. In the past, party affiliation played a prominent
role in government dealings with traditional rulers.
In the First Republic, two prominent traditional rulers
were even dethroned for their political beliefs or
party affiliations. In the Second Republic, party
affiliation and political considerations played a key
role in the selection of traditional rulers by state
governments. Successive governments in Nigeria,
military and civilian, have shown enormous interest in
traditional institutions. This is due in part to the
power traditional rulers wield among their people.

5. Under today's Nigerian democracy, political parties
and individuals often rely on traditional rulers to
achieve political objectives. Traditional rulers are
careful to refrain from stating their political
preferences publicly, fearing this would be
counterproductive should an opposition party take
power. Their most potent weapon remains the chieftancy
titles they bestow upon sons and daughters they deem
deserving. Only the oba can convey traditional
titles, which are still very important and relevant in
Nigerian politics. The manner in which these titles
are awarded leaves no question about the ruler's
intentions. They are often meant to promote the
political, economic and social interests of those who
seek them. Not having a title like chief, otunba, or
asiwaju precede one's name is a major disadvantage in
South-West politics.

--------------------------------------------- ------
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6. Various rituals follow the death of an important
oba in Yorubaland. Oracles are consulted to determine
which rituals should be performed. Most of these
rituals are shrouded in secrecy and better carried out
late at night, away from the public's prying eyes.
Tradition holds that an oba's burial must be
accompanied by human sacrifice. The oracle determines
when the oba's burial should take place and the type of
sacrifice that should accompany it. The delay in
announcing an oba's demise, and the curfew imposed
afterwards, traditionally enabled palace hands to
obtain persons to be sacrificed. Rumors are already
circulating that at least nine other souls must
accompany Oba Oyekan in his transitional journey.
E.O. 1295: N/A
Maret closures are an important part of the burial
process. Officially, the closures mark respect for
late oba. People generally believe, however, that the
markets are closed to ensure successful curfews. Lagos
markets routinely operate late into the night; their
closure encourages people to remain indoors during

7. COMMENT. Oba Oyekan's death has opened a new phase
in the Lagos obaship throne. Traditional Lagos ruling
houses already hold divergent views about which house
should produce the next Oba. Over the coming months,
succession disputes among the houses will be a major
media spectacle. Eventually, the disputes may result
in litigation, proving that in Nigeria, time-honored
traditions and modern institutions blend to weave a
complicated societal and cultural fabric. END COMMENT.


© Scoop Media

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