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It may be said that destiny played a major role in his ascension to the throne. Not only did he rise from a lowly status, he became king at the time he did because of a rearrangement prompted by circumstances beyond human control.
The deaths of two high-ranking chiefs who were above him on the hierarchical ladder that determined who became king positioned him to succeed the incumbent ruler.
Oba Saliu Adetunji became the Olubadan of Ibadan, in present-day Oyo State, in March 2016. He was 88 at the time. His advanced age was not unusual because the prominent ancient Yoruba city, and state capital, is known for a system of traditional rulership that conventionally produces old men. The system is unapologetically gerontocratic.
He reigned for about six years. Notably, he was mainly distracted by an unprecedented challenge to Ibadan’s traditional rulership system, following moves in 2017 by the Oyo State government under then Governor Abiola Ajimobi to reinvent the age-old traditional structure.
The governor had installed new kings, thus creating multiple kings in Ibadan, which hitherto had been under one king. Ironically, he said: “We are not changing history, we are not changing tradition, and we are not changing the culture of Ibadan land.”
Not surprisingly, Oba Adetunji, inspired by a strong sense of tradition, opposed the new arrangement, and his supporters took the matter to court. Significantly, the Oyo State High Court, in 2018, nullified the creation of new kings in Ibadan. The judge described the installation as “unconstitutional, illegal, null, void and of no effect.”
In another judgement in 2019, the state high court “revoked” the crowning of the new kings. Also, the new governor, Seyi Makinde, withdrew their crowns, and parties in the conflict reached an agreement to pursue an out-of-court settlement to restore peace.
Oba Adetunji’s death on January 2, at the age of 93, did not end the crisis. The Olubadan succession system, which was predictable and seamless, has been affected by the controversial coronation of multiple kings in the land. In the aftermath of the controversy, the selection of his successor is not uncomplicated.
Under the long-standing system, particular families produced candidates for the throne who had passed through a chain of chieftaincy stages. The hierarchy was clear and the successor to a departed Olubadan was clear.
That was how Oba Adetunji became the 41st Olubadan. Born in the Adetunji Compound, Popoyemoja, Ibadan, he was a tailor in Lagos before he became a music promoter, and then, king. He started his journey to the throne when he became the Mogaji of the Adetunji family in 1976. He was Balogun of Ibadan before his ultimate elevation to kingship.
“Since 1976,” he said during his inauguration, “I have continued to progress steadily on the Balogun chieftaincy line, climbing the 23 steps according to the tradition of Ibadan chieftaincy, till Allah granted me the grace to become Olubadan.”
His glorious attainment was remarkable, considering his disadvantaged background. “I have no educational certificate and I never attended any school. My job experience with some white men gave me the opportunity to learn their language by relationship,” he said.
He switched from tailoring to marketing music, and founded his first record label, Baba Laje Records, in 1960. His business expanded, placing him at the top of a group of music marketing companies, including Omo Aje Sound Studio and Adetunji Label. It was a mark of his success that he discovered and promoted music stars, including Wasiu Ayinde Marshall, Dauda Epo Akara and Saka Olayigbade.
Oba Adetunji’s position as Olubadan made him an influential traditional ruler, not only in the country’s Southwest, but also nationally. In separate posthumous tributes, President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Makinde emphasised his rich experience, deep wisdom and commitment to social development.
Importantly, his passionate and successful defence of the traditional system of rulership he inherited showed his courage and positive consistency. He will be remembered for consequential services to tradition and culture.