MANAGING ROYAL INSTITUTIONS IN THE AGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

A PAPER DELIVERED BY TUNDE BUSARI AT A ROUNDTABLE AND A DAY OF TRIBUTES IN HONOUR OF THE LATE ALAAFIN OF OYO OBA LAMIDI OLAYIWOLA ADEYEMI III (1938-2022) HELD AT THE CENTRE FOR BLACK CULTURE AND INTERNATIONAL UNDERSTANDING, OSOGBO, OSUN STATE, ON MAY 24, 2022.

This paper is put together for the under listed objectives. First, it affords me an opportunity to contribute to a discourse, which has lately engaged time and emotions of my colleagues in the media practice. This paper, in addition, will give an insight into my personal encounter with the subject in whose memory this event is organised. Thirdly, it will serve as a guide to our living royal fathers on the best way to handle their public affairs viz-a-viz use of social media.

In this part of the world, whenever royal institution is mentioned, what naturally comes to mind is what I should call a traditional leadership among ethnic nationalities such as Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa/Fulani, for instance. This leadership was a significant feature of the pre-19th Century age before the incursion of the British into our system of administration when the Yorubas had an organized political structure, operating on the doctrine of separation of power and principle of check and balance. Yoruba ran one of the best systems of administration which gave room for growth according to technology of that age. This claim is supported by the late elder statesman, Sir Olanihun Ajayi in his book-Nigeria: Political Power Imbalance which was published in February 2015.

Ajayi, who passed away barely three years after the book was released to public, wrote: “One striking feature of the race is a large scale of political organization which has been with the Yoruba ethnic nationality centuries before the advent of the British. Indeed, one important aspect of the Yoruba system is characterized by check and balances and it is noteworthy that the overall structure is principally constitutional (Obaship) monarchy.” Thus, the traditional institution is symbolized by an Oba who is an indisputable guardian of history and cultural heritage of his town; he is a spiritual father regarded as an interface between his subjects and his ancestors with belief that he communes with the forebears if and when necessary, especially during emergency.

To a Professor of International Relations, Bamitale Omole, who was Vice-chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife between 2011 and 2016, the Oba is held in high esteem in his domain because his palace is the seat of the traditional power and authority. In his paper-Traditional Institutions, Democracy and Development: Role of Oba and His Citizens-which Omole presented at the coronation lecture at Ikere-Ekiti, in 2017, he, expounded, “A Yoruba Oba personifies the kingdom and represents the reincarnation of the past ancestors of the community. The words of an Oba were orders and their actions were divine and sacred. Until the modern period, they were hardly seen in public except during important traditional festivals and religious celebrations. The Oba was/is assisted by a chain of traditional chiefs and loyalists who also form important parts of the traditional institution of government in Yoruba land.”

Regrettably, the important roles which our royal fathers should play in democracy and development of democratic governance have been largely undermined to the extent that they now retain their stool based on their friendliness and, indeed, loyalty to the governor in power with whom resides the instrument to install and dethrone. Details of background to the humiliation and eventual banishment of the politically conscious father of the late Alaafin Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi (III), Oba Raji Adeniran Adeyemi (II) in July 1954, barely a decade on the throne, can shed more light on this submission.

Having briefly explained ‘royal institutions’ in the context of Yoruba culture, I should take a step further to do same to ‘Managing’ which is the action word bearing the substance of the topic. ‘Managing’ here could, thus, mean ‘maintaining’, another action word which simply connotes preservation. Ultimately, the topic is a broad view of how to preserve Yoruba royal institutions in the age of social media. Evidence is overwhelming that revolution in information technology and telecommunication is universal and imposing a new culture on all of us, irrespective of class. On the strength of that, culture, according to Professor I.A. Akinjogbin, an Emeritus Professor of History, “is not static,” gives the new technology a tool to disrupt our old ways of interaction and dissemination of information from one location to another. Akinjogbin postulates: “Certain items that are no longer useful at a particular period in a particular culture can be discarded and are usually discarded in favour of new items that would suit the circumstances of the time.” Given this fact by Akinjogbin, our reality today is that no one can afford to be left behind in this new trend in telecommunication system, hence almost everyone carries a smart phone through which they access the world beyond their immediate environment; then comes the era of social media.

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The social media

Without boring you with jargons of telecommunication, let me quickly state that globally, social media is fast displacing the traditional media of daily newspapers, periodic magazines, radio and television, thereby giving way for the all-conquering mobile device through which varieties of news are read, are heard and are watched. With facebook, now renamed meta; twitter, instagram, google, YouTube, whatApp, one can get all news contents one desires, in fact, as they break, within the comfort of one’s bedroom.

As guest speaker at the lecture marking the 10th Doyin Mahmoud Annual Lecture hosted by the Department of Mass Communication, University of Ilorin on July 4, 2019, Publisher of The Cable, a digital news medium, Mr Simeon Kolawole admitted the fast changing world, as regards development or, if you like, disruption of the media industry, stressing that what obtained in our immediate past is no longer the reality of today with inference that what awaits us tomorrow will be significantly different from what we have today. Kolawole said, “Essentially, I see what we are experiencing now as the transition phase—the transition from traditional journalism as we know it into a brave new world where we will depend less on the printed newspaper and TV/radio, far less than we currently presume.”

I am not contending that newspapers and magazines will soon disappear totally from our newsstands. However, I am saying it with every sense of responsibility that the era of a national newspaper (Daily Times) printing about 600, 000 copies on daily basis is dead and interred. As I stand here today, the conventional media houses are already operating their digital platforms too to bridge the gap created by social media and retain their readers with their patronage.

In face of this development, royal institutions, being a significant feature of every society beyond Yoruba land, is already infected by both value and virus of social media such that they are simply inseparable now. There are different groups of traditional rulers organizing their meetings online. In other words, there are various platforms, which serve as forum for our royal fathers, through which they interact, rub minds together and update one another about development in their respective domains. Curiously, this option has been beneficial to them; it saves them time and resources they need to organize and attend physical meetings from one town to another or at their respective state capitals. In fact, the rate at which our traditional rulers feature on facebook in particular, cannot just be discounted. On each day, you see them uploading their personal and immediate family pictures with a view to either showcasing interiors of their palaces or updating public with developments in their environment.

Again, I consider this new culture as an advantage because it tends to simplify traditional institution and makes it transparent and inviting to people who hitherto were of belief that the palace was all about rites and rituals. Through plethora of comments to their posts, one can see readers’ enthusiasm to visit those towns. This change must have attracted benefits to those towns. Reverse of this, however, is found in an incident whereby a traditional ruler in Osun State here had his facebook account hacked by a faceless gang of internet fraudsters who used the royal father’s name and image to solicit assistance from his unsuspecting friends. I had to reach out to him, after which he cleared the air. My digital newspaper-The Tabloid.net-promptly published a disclaimer to proclaim Kabiyesi’s innocence. Closely related to this is the widespread fact that social media is used to throw insults at traditional rulers whose posts don’t go down well with a section of reading public or whose private controversy is leaked. The late Oba Adeyemi was a victim of this latter category at few occasions, despite that he was not known to be actively featuring on facebook.

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There was no major event around him that would not attract comments, especially from critics who seemed to have sworn to an oath to attack him at every given opportunity. When he installed a musician as the Mayegun of Yoruba land on January 13, 2020, he was not spared of uncomplimentary names for performing a function which fell within his authority. The noise was so intense that less than 24 hours to the event, I had to call him to react to the issues raised with a view to dousing the gathering tension on social media. Apparently because of his trust in my editorial judgment, he agreed to my request and granted me a brief interview on phone, news story of which I published in Nigerian Tribune of January 13, 2020 clarifying his choice of  K1 as the Mayegun’. A few days after the colourful ceremony, I went to him for a comprehensive interview. On January 21, 2020, I published the interview titled ‘Why I made a musician Mayegun of Yoruba land-Oba Adeyemi.’

Just a few months afterward, there erupted an issue with one of his wives, leading to the wife’s relocation outside the palace. Social media once again feasted on it with a section known as bloggers, particularly, throwing caution to the wind and launching an offensive against the privacy of the Alaafin. What interests me most was how Oba Adeyemi successfully managed the controversy. Rather than reacting to it, he issued a strong warning to his aides not to speak on his behalf over it, even when the embattled wife was allegedly attempting to force Oba Adeyemi to speak about the matter. In the end, the matter died a natural death until yet another wife followed the same unceremonious path in 2021.

The foregoing references point to the harm which social media has done to what should ordinarily have been an inviolable affair within a royal household. And it added more to the injury when Oba Adeyemi joined his ancestors on April 22, 2022 at the Afe Babalola University Teaching Hospital, Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, when the age-old process of breaking such news was disrespected, disrupted and destroyed. Even before Oyo township got wind of the news, it was already flying on social media few hours after Oba Adeyemi breathed his last.

A fiery Punch columnist, Abimbola Adelakun got it right in her April 28, 2022 edition in which she noted that traditionally, the process of alerting public of an Oba’s transition “was drawn out due to the elaborate rites that must be performed at different stages of his transition.”

Adelakun’s submission gives credence to the protest mounted by a group known as Oyo State branch of the Traditional Worshippers Association of Nigeria some hours after the burial of Oba Adeyemi. A statement jointly signed by its Chairman, Adefabi Dasola and Secretary, Dr. Fakayode Fayemi Fatunde respectively expressed the body’s disappointment for having “seen the corpse of our revered Alaafin being displayed all over the internet, it is saddening and we want this to be on record that we as a body are protesting this act, we do not want our children and grandchildren to question us in the future that we did not act or talk.”

Adelakun added that “The issue of how the burial of a paramount ruler can be announced in the age of the internet also came up when Ooni Okunade Sijuwade too died.” The traditionalists also recalled that the same act occurred during the burial of the late Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Saliu Adetunji in January 2022, stating ”we made our minds known as well. This is a trend that must stop or we will all be contributing towards the total annihilation of our tradition and culture, our Yoruba monarchs and kingmakers should please make efforts at remedying this malady.”

How to manage our royal institutions

It is regrettable to note that we are yet to come up with what Adelakun called “a stately and noble means of announcing an Oba’s demise in a hypermodern world.” And this must be accepted as a task that must be undertaken in order to save our traditional institution from the embarrassment caused by this rampaging social media.

There should be a watertight security measure built around an ailing traditional ruler such that only his most trusted aides and uncompromising family members, in full control of their emotions, are given access to him. And those people, despite that, should not be allowed use of mobile phones during their visits to prevent temptation to record voice and visual to be later leaked to public in case of eventuality.

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Undeniably, it is going to be a wild goose chase to suggest imposition of restriction on traditional rulers over their visibility on facebook. Such proposal is like taking them back to the age of their ancestors; that platform has become a relaxation arena where they derive pleasure in complimentary reactions to their beautiful pictures. However, these royal fathers need to realize their sacred status as Igbakeji orisa who are not expected to operate on the same wavelength with their subjects. Thus, they are unexpected to be seen and heard sparingly.

My proposition here is that they should be mindful of contents they upload on social media so that they don’t desecrate the stool and reduce it to ordinary before public. It is an aberration and a slap on the face of our custom watching a traditional ruler on facebook caught in a very low act.  While I am not strictly advocating secret practices in the palaces because this void has opened traditional institution to some misinterpretations over the years, it will, however, be dignified for our royal fathers to exercise a good measure of restraint in their use of social media for any purpose.

I should also add that it is high time we launched advocacy campaign for return of History as a subject in schools. Professor Akinjogbin defines History “as the understanding of the process whereby a group of human beings come to be what and where they are at the time of study.”

If eradication of History in our school curriculum successfully conspires with social media, what will be left is extermination of our traditional institution. This conspiracy, for instance, would imply an end to a strict adherence to practice of selecting kings from recognized ruling houses. That is, it would give room for a stranger to contest throne with the blue blood. To maintain our royal institutions, our school pupils need to understand their past with a view to know how and why their culture and tradition are where they are. This positive understanding will serve as compass to navigate and enter their future with courage.

Similar to this is instituting youths’ empowerment scheme through promotion of our culture like what the Eburu of Iba, Oba Adekunle Adeogun Okunoye, for instance, does annually to re-energise vitality of Oriki Yoruba and make it alluring to the youths. I witnessed the 2021 edition held between December 9 and 11, 2021 during which pupils drawn from different schools in Osun State did cultural performances, which raised hope of a promising future for Yoruba culture.

Conclusion

Permit me to wind this paper up with a submission recently made by the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yoruba land, Gani Adams at the 2022 edition of the annual Aje Festival held at Orile Agege, Lagos State. Genuinely concerned about our eroding value system among our youths, Adams lamented that the society had lost the battle to the youths, partly holding internet responsible. He said, “it is quite unfortunate that social media has done a lot in killing all the values and teachings that could enhance societal values and behaviours.”

However, Adams assured that he would not relent in his efforts to educate the youths about the essence of preserving their names and that of their parents as well as about the sanctity of our culture and traditions. He added, “We will need to teach them how to respect the elderly. We must teach them about morality and the need to stay away from acts that could render them useless in the future.”

 

References

Akinjogbin, I. A. Yoruba History and Culture. Olu Akin Publishers. 2002.

Ajayi, Olanihun. Nigeria: Political Power and Imbalance. Safari Books Limited. 2015

Kolawole, Simeon. The Future of Journalism, a paper delivered at the 10th Doyin Mahmoud Annual Lecture at the University of Ilorin, July 4, 2019

Omole, Tale. Traditional Institutions, Democracy and Development: Role of Oba and His Citizens: a paper presented at the Coronation Lecture at Ikere-Ekiti, 2017.

Adelakun, Abmmbola. Alaafin: How we bury the dead is how we respect life: Punch, April 28, 2022

Gbenga Oloniniran” Money ritual strange to Yoruba culture-Gani Adams: Punch May 16, 2022

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