The reason Africa has so many problems today is because the continent has lost touch with its roots. Over the years, traditional institutions have been undermined and they must be included more if Africa is to rectify past wrongs and realise its potential.
This is the assessment of His Imperial Majesty Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja II, a Nigerian traditional leader. Ogunwusi, an accountant by trade, also goes by his regal title, Ooni of Ife. The 43-year-old who came to the throne in 2015 hails from the south-western Nigerian city of Ife. He is considered as a kind of spiritual king of the ethnic Yoruba people who live in the region. The Yoruba number about 40 million and they have many kings.
“The Ooni of Ife is regarded as the spiritual head of the Yoruba while the Alaafin of Oyo is regarded as the custodian of military history and strategy of the Yoruba,” says Tade Ipadeola, a Nigerian lawyer and poet, speaking to me via email. “The duo are a sort of primus inter pares (first among equals) among Yoruba kings,” says Ipadeola, who publishes his poetry in English and his native Yoruba. It should be added that Ipadeola is not a huge fan of monarchies.
His Imperial Majesty, the 51st Ooni of Ife in a dynasty dating back hundreds of years, was speaking at Chatham House, a London think-tank, on 23 November. Addressing the topic of “Inclusive Governance and Community Engagement in Nigeria: The Role of Traditional Leaders”, the Ooni of Ife said Africa is “blessed with land and natural resources” but there are “still so many problems”. Without going into detail, he said the problems stem from corruption and the modern ways of government, which are not responsive enough to the people’s needs. A more “blended” form of government is needed if Africa is to realise its potential as a continental powerhouse, he said, with traditional leaders taking on a more influential role alongside modern politicians.
“Traditional institutions are part of nature,” said the king. In Africa, “ultimately you must obey your king” and “any government who wants to get into power has to go through the traditional leaders”, he added.
A large portion of his presentation addressed Nigeria’s exploding population. The numbers have been growing rapidly for the past five decades due to high birth rates. By 2050, according to a United Nations report, Nigeria will overtake the United States as the world’s third most populous country.
The west-African nation, which competes with South Africa for the title of the continent’s biggest economy, is edging towards 200 million people. Overall unemployment has been rising for the past nine consecutive quarters and is now at 14.2 percent. Young people are bearing the brunt of this slowdown.
“Nigeria’s youth – a majority in the country where the median age is 21 – are the most affected,” writes Nigerian journalist Yomi Kazeem in Quartz Africa. “Fraudulent ponzi schemes have thrived with millions looking to make a quick buck in the absence of gainful employment.”
If economies don’t improve and job opportunities don’t emerge for restless and energetic young people, the Ooni of Ife said Nigeria – and Africa – was “sitting on gunpowder”. Young people need jobs and a meaningful purpose in life, he said.
On the question of who funds Nigerian traditional leaders, His Imperial Majesty the Ooni of Ife wasn’t coming out clearly. The query led me to ask around.
“I’m worried that traditional leaders get funds from the Federal Government, the State Government and even the Local Government in Nigeria and they render accounts to no one,” says Ipadeola, the Nigerian lawyer and poet.
In response to my question on who holds traditional leaders and kings to account, the Ooni of Ife, in good humour, asked what religion I was. I wasn’t sure what this had to do with my question, but I responded, “No religion, sir, I’m an atheist”.
“But you believe in right and wrong?” he further enquired.
“Of course,” I said.
“And you believe in Karma?”
“At times. But I’m still wondering what this has to do with the question of who holds traditional leaders and kings to account?”
After some verbal gymnastics, the Ooni of Ife seemingly told the crowd that kingmakers and god hold him to account.
It was reassuring that during his speech he mentioned that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
All in all, a revealing few hours.
Top photo: His Imperial Majesty Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja II. Wikipedia