His Eminence Owolabi Aworeni is the Head of Yoruba traditional religious practices. His title, Araba Agbaye, means Aworeni occupies Orunmila’s stool, thus the primary custodian of Ifa, the Yoruba system of divination. In this interview with Uhuru Times at his Oke Itase, Ile Ife office recently, the religious leader spoke on a wide range of issues:
With the many challenges facing the Yoruba Nation in today’s Nigeria, what would our fathers have done to set things right?
First it should not be strange to us. There are many things disturbing the Yoruba Nation. We do not value what we have. Why did I say that? Everything happening in our land currently were already foretold by Ifa during the annual pilgrimage to Oke Itase last year, precisely June 2020. The Odu Ifa for the current Yoruba year is Ogbe Alara, and Ifa counselled that all the Kings in Yorubaland should offer sacrifice as revealed to Babalawos during the pilgrimage. Unfortunately, a lot of Obas do not believe in our ways. Meanwhile, the laws of the land recognise them as the custodian of our culture and tradition, which they hardly give any regard to. Sadly, all the negative things happening today will sooner or later affect each and everyone of our Kings. That is what Ogbe Alara says, and we have done our very best here. We have played our part at Oke Itase through necessary sacrifices. But our people must adhere to the warnings given by Ifa and not deliberately go out looking for trouble. However, if care is not taken, the crisis that Ifa foretold will affect every inch of Yorubaland.
What should Yoruba leaders do in order to enhance economic development, so that this part of Nigeria can fully attain its potentials?
It is very simple. The political leadership of the South-West should consult Ifa. Ifa will let them know what to do and how to get out of the current economic mess. For instance, in Ile Ife here, if there is no rain, or the crops refuse to grow, we have deities that are consulted. What is hampering our development in Yorubaland is that we do not have a firm belief in what the Almighty God has given us. There is no big deal in what is happening all around us. If the political leadership is serious and committed to the development of the South-West, they know it is Ifa that will give directions on what to do for quality results. Sadly, humans hate those who are upright and living truthfully. Our leaders prefer liars and sycophants. In 1993, someone I do not want to name, but who is a household name all over Nigeria, visited Ile Ife. He was told by Ifa that his desire was out of reach. He got angry and left. But the words of Ifa were fulfilled to the last letter in accordance with the revelation given here. Our leaders are the ones punishing the people. As Yorubas, they know what to do. But once it does not tally with their personal beliefs or interests, they’ll not act on it. In the kind of situation we have found ourselves today, it is Ifa that should be consulted and things will change for the better. Once that is done, those who are messing around will sit up. Our prayer to God is for Him to touch their hearts so that they’ll return to the path charted for us by Him. What these leaders always forget is that, no matter the kind of honour they have outside their land, once things are bad in that land, others will always poke fun at them. Let’s leave Christianity and Islam out of this desire to bring positive development to Yorubaland. For instance, the many killings by herdsmen today do not leave out Muslims, Christians or Traditionalists. We must act as one in accordance with traditional Yoruba belief that, anything we want to do, God gave us Ifa to know the way out of our challenges. In the days of old, once a child is born, it is Ifa the parents consult to know what the future holds for him or her. It is the same for when we want to pick a King among other difficult choices. We should return to the sane past of our fathers, so that things will work out well for us.
You have mentioned severally that many Yoruba leaders hardly believe in Ifa. But what about Kings, who by law are the custodians of Yoruba culture and traditions, disregarding traditional things ….?
Forget about political leaders, who pretend they have nothing to do with Ifa or anything traditional. They always visit us. It is because they do not want to be faithful in office, they pretend in public that traditional things are not good. You can imagine if our political office holders in Yorubaland are compelled to take their oaths of office using Ogun, how many of them will mess up? They know that these our deities do not respect even those in charge of them. Once you go against the oath you’ve sworn to, it is instant judgment. You cannot bribe the deities. The deities will never wait for you to change your ways. Once you run foul of your oath, it is instant judgment. That is a major reason many of those holding political positions do not want to identify with traditional things while in office. But as I said earlier, they visit us at odd hours for personal issues. No matter what their public disposition is, they know that traditional things are very effective. The only sad aspect is that they do not want it for the general good.
Concerning that of the Kings, any of them, who disregards the traditional way of life given to us by our fathers has already lost his authority. The spiritual authority such a King should have is no longer there. He is just an empty shell. When my father was alive, his regular admonition to the children was always that, we own his living body. But once he dies, tradition owns his corpse. And that whoever is not seriously involved with tradition cannot see his corpse. When I wanted to become the new Araba Agbaye, the major question the custodians asked me was, ‘is the desire to become our Araba yours, or we are forcing the title on you?’ Of course, it was my desire I responded. This was to ensure I followed all the rules attached to the office. How can an Oba, who lobbied, begged and spent money to become one suddenly begin to act as if he was begged to ascend the throne? You, who is known as Alase Ekeji Orisa (an executive next to the deities), how can authority from the deities flow from your tongue after you have sidelined them? Many of them do not realise that the prostration they receive from the old and young is not for them. It is for the deities our people believe they are next to. So, any Oba, who sidelines the deities has already lost everything pertaining to his throne. He has no authority again. An Oba will say something, and such will immediately happen. Who are those making such things to happen? It is the deities through the adherents of such deities. A past Alaafin of Oyo once decreed that a political leader, who embarrassed him, be barking like a dog. That political leader barked like a dog till he died. That is Yoruba tradition at work!
You appear young for the office that you currently occupy. How do you cope with the old men around you?
It is God, Who gives wisdom to leaders. The first advantage for me is that, my father was the immediate past occupant of this office. I learnt a lot from him. A major challenge I have is that I hardly can stay in a place for too long. I enjoy moving around. But with my position, I cannot be doing that anymore. Secondly, at my age, one should be socializing. However, that is no longer possible. I need to dignify the office, and God has given me the enablement to continue being an elder despite my age.
There is a palm tree behind your office here at Oke Itase.
That tree was a companion of Agbomiregun. It was his major means of transportation. We always appease the palm tree annually before the beginning of Ifa Festival here. Those who come here on pilgrimage pray there and whatever they ask for always come to pass.