In this interview by SEGUN KASALI, the Oloja of Epe, Oba Kamorudeen Ishola Animashaun, Arolugbade II, shares some historical perspectives regarding Epe, how he emerged its traditional ruler and the challenges confronting the community.
Can you still recall the circumstances leading to your emergence as traditional ruler?
I celebrated my 20th anniversary about two months ago. In Epe here, we have two quarters: the first one is Aleke and the second is Ebodi. They both have four areas each, with the four areas having eight kingmakers, and Papa makes it nine. Usually, they have to consult the oracle before anybody can ascend the throne in Epe. The former oba was from Aleke side, while I am from Ebodi side. They rotate it. It is anyone chosen by the oracle that will ascend the throne. Then, you have to perform all the rites. The oracle will determine whether you will spend eight days, 12 or 14 days in odo (significant seclusion preparatory to crowning). The kingmakers would confirm and they would write the state government, before you proceed to odo. In my time, I spent some days in odo. There you cannot kill an ant and even if a mosquito bites you, you cannot kill it.
It is part of the tradition. They have to prepare you for the office and you will perform all the rituals before anybody can bow down to you.
What other significance does the odo have for the oba?
That is when the community will know that this is their king. You know some people die there without being touched in odo if the gods do not want them. It is when you come out, with all the rituals done, that the community would accept you. You would move to Ipebi from odo, where you would do the final rites. So, after some days, the state government would then give you staff of office.
In those days before the advent of colonial rule, traditional rulers were very powerful, but it seems such powers have been eroded. Do you still enjoy this stool, despite some erosion of the powers it commanded in the past?
When you are in America you do like the Americans. I am enjoying the position. It is the kings that rule with the osugbos in the olden days. It is what they changed now to ‘ijo oba’, government. People should know that we are close to the community. We are the ones they send to the community to know what the government is saying.
There is no community without its own challenges. What are some of the challenges your people are facing in Epe?
The challenge we have in Epe is not from the government, it is from the people that came to Epe during the time of the fight between Akitoye and Kosoko. Those people that came on exile to Epe with Kosoko, which was granted by the Awujale of Ijebu land are the ones giving us problems in Epe today. The Awujale was the one who said we should accommodate them for about 15 to 16 years then, but after the war, Kosoko left for Lagos with his people, Oshodi, Iyanda and others. There were some people who didn’t leave, but they are not from the Kosoko lineage. When Kosoko was here, they came from Ekiti, Ondo, Ilesha, and Oyo and the Awujale said we should accommodate them on the other side.
Now, they are claiming to be Kosoko, who didn’t have a house in Epe, who didn’t have any building or land in Epe. He came as a sojourner and he went back after many years. He had only one son, because an Epe son married one of Kosoko’s daughters. But Kosoko took his daughter away when he was leaving and left our son for us, who happened to be an Ijebu man. So, they are the people who are now selling our lands and all vacant places in the community. How can someone who is on exile be claiming ownership of a town? The history of Kosoko to Epe, Oshodi and others is glaring. It is what our children read in schools and it is everywhere. It explains how they went to Oshodi, and where they settled down in Lagos today is where they call Epetedo. They have Oloja of Ereko in Lagos, but he is not a king. They went back to Lagos Island.
Kosoko came here on exile because of an issue between him and Akitoye. He had no house here. What I am telling you now can be confirmed by the Oba of Lagos. The records are there in the archives.
But are there documents to back up these claims?
Yes, we have documents. Where they are claiming that belongs to Kosoko was given to Agric by Odofin, who won the case. They took us to court and they still went to the Supreme Court, which threw the judgment away.
After that, they took our people to court again, and we have a court judgment that threw the judgment away three years ago. In the Supreme Court judgment of 1978, they awarded a cost of N510 against them. That was many years ago, the money was huge then. They are the ones who arranged the landgrabbers, the Iposi. Iposi didn’t come with Kosoko; they came to meet him after some years. They are from Badagry, they call them Posu, which Ijebus call Iposu. They have a family house in Isale Eko, very close to the palace of Oba Rilwan Akiolu. They are not from Epe, they are the ones who arranged the landgrabbers. Our people protested, but were shot. The Divisional Police Officer in Epe can confirm this. The DSS is aware. We have gone back to court because they said Awujale of Ijebu land gave them land in Epe. Thank God, the grandfather of the present Awujale of Ijebu land, Oba Sikiru Adetona, Oba Anikilaya, was the one who said we should accommodate them then in Epe.
The land they have started selling now is Agric land, but the Ministry of Agriculture has gone to Araga. The Lagos State government said that they wanted to use the land, where we wanted to build our palace here in Epe. They said that they needed the land and we said they should give us another place because where we are now is my personal house. The Lagos State government gave us the land years ago with documents and these people have started selling the land.
Is the Lagos State government aware of this?
We have already called on the state government to intervene in the matter. We have sent all the documents to them and we even sent a petition to the state House of Assembly. The matter is in court, yet they are doing all of these. I have appealed to my people that they should wait and let us have a court judgment. I told them not to fight anybody.
Apart from landgrabbing, what are the other issues confronting Epe people?
The other issues are roads, electricity, water transportation and security. Epe is the outlet of Lagos State. We are very close to the river. Our place leads to Ore, Ibadan, Port-Harcourt, Ondo and other places. You can move from Ejinrin to Warri, Sapele, Port-Harcourt, and Forcadoes. We thank the Lagos State government that the military is camping here. We also thank the Federal Government for that. We want a Naval Yard to be here because kidnappers trouble our fishermen on the lagoon. When you talk of water transportation, we don’t have a jetty, which is why we are appealing to the Lagos State government. We are part of the state; we are not enemies of the state.
Do you think the collaboration among the security forces, including Amotekun, will help the security of the area?
It will go a long way. We have Dangote Refinery that is under construction in Epe here. We have a fertilizer plant, a big one that is also under construction. We have a port coming up, we have Lekki Free Trade Zone. We will be secure with the police, Amotekun, Naval Yard and community policing. We buy the idea and welcome it.
What would you say are your achievements over the past two decades as the community’s traditional ruler?
I should not be talking about my achievements; it should be the people of the town that will tell you. It is during my time that Dangote Refinery came, the fertilizer company came, Lekki Free Trade Zone came, Alaro City came. We started having good roads, even our electricity changed. We also have IPP electricity from Omotosho. We are making progress on these. I give kudos to the Lagos State government for listening to us.
Are you satisfied with the welfare of traditional rulers?
On the welfare of obas, we will continue to appeal to the state governments and to the National Assembly as well as the states’ houses of assembly to help improve our welfare. We promote whatever the government is doing. We have to make sure that the communities progress; we prevent crisis and do many things. We are doing the work of the government, so the government should take care of us.
What are those things that make Epe unique?
Our people are fishermen, they are farmers and then when they talk of the fish basket of Lagos, it is Epe. Our fishes are different from those of others; when you consume them, you would see the difference because our water is not salty. We have the sea on one side and the lagoon on the other side. We have a very strong culture; our culture is different from those of others. We observe our festivals before other Ijebu lands.
Is it because of the throne that traditional rulers marry many wives?
It is normal because when you get to the throne, you will want to have more children in addition to the ones you already have. You marry more if you want. They give women to obas; if you like, you take them to be wives; you can also reject them. In the olden days, they married as many as 20 or 30 wives, but it is not compulsory.
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