Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Obas and Oonis

As if civil society in Nigeria weren't complicated enough (520 languages; over 200 ethnic groups), there are traditional "rulers" (kings, obas, oonis, emirs, etc.). The traditional rulers lost their formal political power when Nigeria gained its independence, but many of them retain informal influence over their "subjects."

This topic is unlikely to be on an exam in comparative politics, but it's a good reminder of the superficial nature of the course.

Why Oba of Lagos 'snubbing' Ooni of Ife shocked Nigeria
A dismissive wave?
Video footage showing a traditional leader, the Oba of Lagos, seemingly snubbing the Yoruba "king of kings", the Ooni of Ife, at a public event has shocked many Nigerians. Journalist Ugochukwu Ikeakor explains why it is such a big deal.

Deep respect for leaders is a pillar of the culture of the Yoruba people, one of Nigeria's biggest ethnic groups.

But at a recent public event a Yoruba leader, known as the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu ,74, refused to properly greet the Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Ogunwusi 42.

As the Ooni leaned over to greet the Oba by shaking his hand, what he got instead was a dismissive wave and what looked like a scowl of disdain…

It is not clear yet what upset the Oba of Lagos. But there is speculation it could relate to a spat that goes back over a century.

A long rivalry existed between the two thrones even before the colonial era…

In Nigeria, greetings are all-important - from the roadside to the boardroom, how you say hello says a lot about you.

So when the video of the disdainful greeting emerged, Nigerian social media was stunned.

But as many people have pointed out, the traditional rites of Nigeria's ancient cultures are complicated. And with relatively little history preserved in writing, the lines can be blurred.

The general feeling on social media seems to be that the Oba of Lagos showed disrespect not only for the Ooni of Ife but to Yoruba culture as a whole. Most people are watching to see what happens next…

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