In official and informal circles, Oba Abdul Ganiy Adekunle Salau is called Ajinese the first. And truly, many first things have been recorded in Iseyin land within the short period of ten years that he was installed as the 29th Aseyin of Iseyin. The first township road in Oke-Ogun to be dualised is in Iseyin. His reign opened up the economy of the town with increase in the number of financial institutions. Iseyin today occupies a significant place in the development of literature and other creative arts in Africa with the establishment of Ebedi International Writer’s Residency. In a manner that was never witnessed before his ascension of the throne, the town is expanding in size and population, the latter co-existing; living together in peace and harmony. With tolerance, the Oba is able to aggregate diverse political, social, cultural and religions interests.
Like other new developments in the last decade, therefore, the writing of this book – Ten years in the Service of His People… by Dr. Wale Okediran and its publication by Ebedi International Writers’ Residency founded by Okediran, is another first recorded by the town and its monarch. I am not aware of the publication of a book of this import in celebration of any past monarch in the area before now. The book is, therefore, a thoughtful project embarked upon by Okediran, which, in his own words, serves as “both a celebration and a primer to ten years glorious rule by a much revered and celebrated royal father” (p viii).
Okediran, a physician, politician, creative writer and biographer, is a professional soul mate of Oba Abdul Ganiy Adekunle Salau. The writer (Okediran) and the subject (Aseyin) are united in their pursuit of health and well being of man and nature. While the former sees to the well-being of humans, the other seeks the health of other components of the earth, animals, without which the existence of humans is very much uncertain and perilous.
Divided into four parts with fourteen chapters, the book has as its central focus, the documentation of a decade of Oba Abdul Ganiy Salau’s reign with clear attention paid to his emergence as the choice of king markers among 21 Princes who vied for the throne. It also captures the achievements recorded by him and the town since his ascension and in a manner that was never witnessed before his ascension of the throne, the town is expanding in size and population. As evident in the book, the monarch is able to aggregate diverse political, socio-religious and cultural interests while he is always concerned with the challenges of modernity and development facing the town.
The above issues are put in clearer perspectives in the third chapter entitled “what the people say”. The chapter presents the monarch in the court of people’s opinion. The judges are of different socio-cultural, professional, religious and ethnic background. But they are much in agreement in their opinions of the monarch as a dynamic leader who loves the town and its people. He is tolerant and accommodating. He rises above partisan politics to attract development to his town, regardless of whichever party controls the government at various levels – central, regional or local. He is a friend of the youth and a confidant of the old. He preaches and practices religious tolerance as he accords all religions their respect. In another regard, the Monarch is shown as a courageous advocate of the interests of Oke-Ogun people which are constantly being assaulted and undermined by some political forces that are still glued to the ancient past. Also highlighted in this Section are the problems being faced at personal and communal levels as well as Aseyin’s vision and plans for the future of Iseyin community.
Expectedly, the comments of people drawn from traditional chiefs to community leaders, politicians, artisans, students, youths and non-indigenes comprising Ibibio, Igbo, Ghanaians, and Yoruba from other towns are frank, downright and encompassing in presenting the portrait of the monarch and the score-card of his reign. All of the people interviewed attest to his achievements in a short period of ten years. He is compared in achievements with the late Oba Moshood Osuolale Adeyeri II. Among the people interviewed are Chief Oyegbemile Adelodun, the Basorun of Iseyin, who is the second in command to the Aseyin, Alhaji Ahmed Lawal, Chief Olufunmilayo Ogboye, Chief Mushood Adeyemi – the Ikolaba of Iseyin and Hon. Saheed Yusuf Alaran among others.
One fascinating thing about the book is that the author provides sufficient background for the discourse of Iseyin through a revealing excursion into the origin of Iseyin town as encapsulated in myth, legend and history – ancient, colonial and postcolonial. Thus, the reader has an enriched knowledge, not only about the birth, educational background and career progress of the Oba as a veterinary doctor before he was crowned, but also about the beginning of the town in a series of awe-inspiring events and legendary tales around Ebedi, the founder of the town, Ogbolu, the first Monarch, Aaba, Oluwo and so on.
The FOREWORD, written by Dele Layiwola, a Professor of Performance Studies, of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, clears the path for the overall attempt to draw out a plausible strand of Iseyin’s history. This is given a more detailed attention in the first part, entitled “Historical Perspectives”. The content however, is not strictly historical. A good deal of what is regarded as legend and history is steeped in myth.
The author tells us about the movement of Ogbolu from Ijebu land to Iseyin, where he settled with aborigines who gave him land and he ruled over them. Here, the story of the origin of Iseyin follows the pattern of many other places in the world – a story of migrants who conquered and dominated original settlers.
Unfortunately, the book could not successfully navigate the pitfalls of such accounts as related to other towns. For instance, who were the aborigines of Iseyin that received Ebedi and Ogbolu? Were they also migrants from somewhere or did they just surface there? These are questions not answered in the book. The account also indicates that Iseyin derived its name from a description by Ogbolu of his location- Ibi ti won ti n sin eyin (the place where palm kernels were extracted for oil processing, p.25). This implies that Ogbolu gave the town its name. The question that comes up here is: what was the name given the place by its original inhabitants before the arrival of Ogbolu at the location? Besides, in an earlier account, Ebedi, Oluofi, Atamafon and Eyinjue were regarded as separate human beings who transformed themselves into hills. In the third chapter of Part I, the author submits that Ebedi “transmuted himself into a chain of hills to serve as historical monuments for immortalising the martyrdom of his chequered life”. Thus, much work still needs to be done by historians to bridge the gaps and resolve the seeming contradictions in the mythical, legendary and historical accounts of the town’s origin.
It is however, worthy of note that Okediran brings his experience to bear as a creative writer on the historical narratives, making events and situations around the heroes – Ebedi Ogbolu and Aaba so real and credible as he invests mysterious characters and setting with astonishing verisimilitude. In some part, the religious background of the author of Okediran’s reference; THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF ISEYINLAND intrudes upon the narration of myth and legend. For instance, in narrating the refusal of Ebedi to enter the town after his return from a long absence in a foreign land, the narrative states that Ebedi was confronted with the reality of his son already crowned king and he was expected to prostrate in obeisance before his son; “Such obeisance is a heretical contravention of divine decree which states ‘Respect thy father and thy mother so that your days may be long on the land bestowed unto you by the Lord God” (p.21). This is one of the ten commandments in the Bible: Exodus 20: 12.
The story of ten years is not all smooth and bright. As gleaned from the interviews, there are challenges ahead and many say it is still a long road to development. There is the need to attract more tertiary educational institution to the town; establish more companies to create employment opportunities for youths and boost the economy of the town; give more attention to agriculture by encouraging farming and farmers; improve electricity supply; construct new roads and rehabilitate bad ones; establish a stadium complex and improve sporting facilities; find a lasting solution to the menace of Fulani herdsmen who often kill farmers and destroy their crops. The focus of the book which is well summed up by the monarch: “We thank God. Iseyin is really developing now. When I came to the throne, it was not like we have it today. I stood up and faced the challenge. All our friends as well as sons and daughters of the town rallied round me to attract development to our town. Iseyin is the fourth largest city in Oyo State and we have not relented in seeing that it is fully developed”.
Perhaps, the thirst for development will be assuaged in the decades ahead. As Ten Years in the Service of His People has shown, there is much to celebrate at the moment. The book is quite informative, not only about the ancient past and contemporary history of Iseyin, but also about its future metropolitan aspirations. Those interested in postcolonial governance in Africa, especially the institution of monarchy will find the book a worthy addition to their library. This is because it has presented in eloquent prose and penetrating style, the story of the town, the crown and the monarch at the centre.
*Professor Gbemisola ‘Remi Adeoti is of the English Department, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Nigeria.