Ogboni, as a group, means different things to different people. News Editor, Ajibola Abayomi, was the guest of President General of Ogboni Aborigine, the first indigenous religious body to be registered in Nigeria, Oba Ogboni Agbaye, Yusuf Akanbi Olaitan, during the first meeting of the Supreme Council of Ogboni in 2015 at his palace in Ajagbandi, Lagos State, where he took on the monarch on several myths surrounding the Ogboni faith
Many people are of the opinion that Ogboni is a secret cult; can you clear the air on this?
Please don’t make that mistake; we are not cultists or secret societies. From time immemorial, Ogboni has been part of Yoruba culture. Before the advent of colonialism, Ogboni chieftains were the intermediaries between the people and the ruling class. They are in charge of the justice system, policing and the military.
You said Ogboni is not a secret cult, what does Ogboni stand for; is it a religion and what form of faith do you practise? In fact, they are in charge of everything because they install monarchs in Yorubaland. The group is pure and honest. To date, no religion or faith is better than Ogboni. If anything goes wrong, Ogboni members would be contacted in the olden days. Things would be sorted out and justice would be affirmed. In those days, our forefathers used kola nut, alligator pepper and bitter kola to communicate with God and the truth would be revealed concerning circumstances that required intervention. It was the wicked white people that indoctrinated and polluted the minds of our people with Christianity and Islam through the Bible and the Quran that made us lose sight of the power the Almighty endowed our culture and tradition with. Today, public office holders use the Bible and Quran to take oaths, yet billions of naira are disappearing from the treasury. In those days, our elders know what to give to the god of iron or thunder and whoever stole anything would be exposed with repercussions. Now, government use anti-graft agencies, police, military and the court to fight corruption yet there is no headway. If they consult the god of iron or other deities, things will be different. No money will be stolen at all. We have to bear all terrible allegations against us with humility because we are the forbearers of other religions.
Before Christianity and Islam were imported here, our forefathers had their own religion. As Ogboni, we worship and adore the land, which is the mother earth. Both the Bible and Quran attested to the fact that all human beings were raised from the dust and to the dust we shall be committed one day. Our belief is that whoever adores the land and worships it will be prosperous. Houses are built on the land, and aeroplane, no matter the height it flies land on the ground.
When you worship or appease mother earth, how does it communicate with you?
Yes, the land speaks to us through the local gin, kola nut, alligator pepper and bitter kola we use during divination on its surface. That is African science that is learnt anywhere through our cultural values.
We learnt that when an Ogboni member dies, the body is dismembered for rituals, why?
Who told you that? That is the propaganda Christians and Muslims are using to discredit us in order to discourage people from accepting our form of worship. Both religions are not acceptable to God. Ogboni is a creation of the almighty because we worship God in truth and spirit. We have seen and heard churches and mosques razed in the inferno and both the Bible and Quran burnt. Why didn’t God stop the fire because those books were holy books? The truth of the matter is that the human body is the temple of God. That is where the almighty God dwells and not the ordinary building some people call the house of God.
So, what is the source of Ogboni’s power?
The power was derived from God. No one can destroy it.
When and how did God empower Ogboni?
No one can say precisely the year but we grew to be initiated into it. The colonial masters researched into Ogboni and when they could not unravel the myth behind it they named us Ogboni Aborigine. They are the ones who registered us as a group.
You said Ogboni existed from time immemorial, who was the founder?
The late Deji of Akureland, Oba Afunbiowo, was the president-general and Oba Ogboni Agbaye. Please find out from records, that the monarch was one of the oldest kings that ever reigned. He was a direct descendant of Oduduwa, the progenitor of the Yoruba race. One of his associates, Labosinde, who inherited the power after he passed on, took it to Ibadan. Labosinde died many years before I was born. To date, members of his household are kingmakers in Ibadan.
What do people benefit from being members of Ogboni?
There are lots of benefits. Anybody that is a member of Ogboni will be known for honesty because if he does anything contrary to that he gets the repercussion. I have initiated all my children into Ogboni.
We also learnt that for one to be a member of Ogboni, one must submit a part of his body. Is this true?
(Cuts in). That is not true. I challenge anybody to prove that he took an oath with any part of his or her body before initiation. Not only that let anybody prove to the whole world that an Ogboni member, after his or her death, was dismembered. All are lies being peddled by those who have been converted by foreign faiths. To be a member of Ogboni, we only require local wine, kola nut, bitter kola and other things. If you want to be a member, you have to register with us. We are guided by our constitution and the laws of the nation. At least, if you want to be a member of drivers’, tailors’, lawyers’ unions and other professions, they have their constitutions. It is the same thing with us in Ogboni.
You have a Muslim name, why did you abandon Islam?
In those days, all Yoruba people were members of Ogboni. However, nowadays, civilisation has changed many things. Whoever disagrees with me let him or her trace the history of his or her forefathers to prove me wrong or right. My forefathers were Ogboni members. I was given a Muslim name just because Islam was brought to our town. I am from Oore, in Ifelodun Local Government in Kwara State. In fact, from what I found out, my family also heralded Christianity into our town. So in my family, we have Christians, Muslims and traditional worshipers. Ogboni members are naturally powerful people who form a union to protect the interest of members. Our worshipping centre is called Iledi where we meet for important meetings. All political parties in Nigeria adopt the Ogboni style because some caucuses always meet to decide the fate of each party, either through the ballot system or secret meeting. In Ogboni, we always converge to make decisions based on
the agreement that must be kept after taking an oath by appeasing mother earth. Whoever goes against that will face some consequences. God honours agreement. All agreements must be kept in good faith in the interest of justice. That is what we stand for, unlike many politicians who don’t honour agreements because of their selfish interests.
That is why things are not in order. If two ruling houses are contesting a traditional stool in a town, elders will meet and settle things by choosing the right lineage. They will have to prevail on those who will not get it based on justice and assure them through an oath that when it is their turn, they won’t be denied. That is Ogboni for you.
The crisis is not limited to the two religions you mentioned; even among your people, there were factions laying claim to Oba Ogboni up till last year. Why?
I am the only President-General and Aare Oba Ogboni Agbaye. Ogboni is one indivisible body. I am using this medium to appeal to every one of our members to be united. As a king, I am not interested in fighting anyone. In Ogboni, we don’t admit thieves or convicts as members. I am again calling on all our people to be steadfast and united.
What is the relationship between your people and traditional worshippers?
We have a cordial relationship. In those days, traditional worshippers have no particular name because there were many people worshipping different deities.
It is from the pool that they formed Ogboni. Like Yoruba people would say, Isese lagba, meaning traditionalists are the forbearers.
Does that mean you are powerful juju people?
Only God has power. We don’t have any juju of our own. Traditional worshippers are not juju people. They only worship what they believed in. Any root we uproot will die and any snake we touch will dry up. That is natural power from God that is inherent in us.
Sometimes Ogboni attire sends fear into people’s minds, particularly the way you wear beads; what is the significance of all these?
Don’t blame those that are afraid because they may be ignorant of Yoruba culture. Every Yoruba man is entitled to our attire because it evolved from our culture. The beads and our regalia are fashionable. As a Yoruba man, we are fashion doyens because Oduduwa was the first man to design cloth in Africa. When you see an Ogboni member putting on beads in addition to the regalia, it shows that he or she is chief among us. I have told you that we were registered by the colonial masters; the British are the ones that named us Ogboni Aborigine because of countless myths inherent in us. As you can see in our midst, we have several chiefs because we are holding the first meeting of the Supreme Council of Ogboni to offer sacrifice to the gods for the 2015 polls to be fruitful and peaceful. We are concerned about the turn of events as we approach the general elections. Our prayer is that our desired candidate can win.
Are you saying you want Ogboni members to emerge as president or governors?
They don’t have to be Ogboni members. We want somebody that will take care of the poor and needy.
Christians and Muslims believe that there is life after death, what is the fate of Ogboni members after death?
We are the ones going to heaven. Eternal home is for us and not for Christians and Muslims. They are deceiving themselves when they say that someone rested in the lord whenever one of their members dies. I have asked a question, what form of eternal rest are they talking about? They are just lying to themselves. Whoever keeps stamping the surface of the earth with his or her energy is certainly making the soil to be solid and in return, the mother earth will be hard on the fellow.
However, those of us who appease the land, always have peace and blessing in return because mother earth will always be kind to us instead of being harsh. That is why we always match on the soft surface. When a Christian or Muslim dies, they use a digger to dig hard into the land before they are able to carve out a grave for the fellow, but in the case of the Ogboni, the soil is always soft because we worship and take care of mother earth. That shows that we are candidates for heaven. When my father died many years ago, a star dropped from the sky and he was buried at the spot where the star dropped in our yard. Mind you my dad died in another town but he had instructed that whenever he dies, he should be brought home for burial. The star dropped at the exact spot my dad said he should be buried.
Islamic clerics were amazed as to how that could be for someone who was not coming to the mosque for prayers. When his grave was dug in December 1994, the soil was very soft such that immediately after the length of his grave was carved the remaining part of the land became stiff. The Islamic clerics were wondering about what they saw. My dad was an Ogboni member. He had bought the cloth, and perfume and had been saving the money to be used for his burial 10 years before his death.
What are your plans for your members?
I have good plans for Ogboni members. I want them to be more united. I served my predecessor and those who want to succeed me should also serve me.
What positions did you hold before you became Oba Ogboni Agbaye?
I was Oluwo Iledi. I was given the post because it was the title my dad was holding before his death. As a young man, after my dad’s death, I relocated to Lagos but his contemporaries in Ogboni traced me from Kwara State. They insisted that I must continue from where my dad stopped. They came to Lagos and set up Ogboni unit in my house. The rites took three days, after which I began to participate in Ogboni affairs in Lagos State under the late Naibi, the immediate past Oba Ogboni. I became the leader of Ogboni in my local government and later, the governor in charge of Lagos State, a post formerly held by Oba Fayemi before he founded Ogboni Saala. I was made Otun Ogboni Agbaye and, thereafter, I became Otun Olori Oluwo Agbaye before I became Olori Oluwo Agbaye. I became Oba Ogboni last year.
Can your members still practise Islam or Christianity?
Why not? I pray in Islam and Christian ways. I have a Bible and a Quran in my house.
But you don’t believe in these faiths?
When you are in Rome, you behave like Romans. I don’t hate any religion. You can never see us attacking or criticising either Islam or Christianity but whenever they are preaching their sermons they always demonise us out of ignorance. Whoever wants to make heaven must be holy and truthful. Those causing problems for the nation today in the name of Boko Haram, are they, not Muslims? We watch them on television offering Islamic prayers. Can they continue to wound and kill a fellow human being and still make heaven with Holy God? Apart from that, we hear stories about several pastors and the so-called men of God, what they are doing in their churches, deceiving people. How many Ogboni members have been caught doing any evil thing in society? All the rooms in my palace are open, there is no hiding place here or anywhere an Ogboni member lives.
We heard that there are some hidden spiritual things involved after one is initiated into Ogboni
That is a lie. Bring whoever claims that there is any hidden thing in Ogboni before me and let him or her prove it to the whole world. As I said, all these are propaganda from those who want to demonise us.
It was also said that some of your members possess witchcraft powers, how true is that?
Who told you? I ask you, who is a witch? Who can identify a witch? Let the fellow come forward. There is nothing like that in our midst at all. Before you can make a pronouncement and it will come to pass, you must be holy before God will allow that to happen. All human beings are endowed with one power or the other.
At what age can one become Ogboni member?
I have initiated all my children at birth into Ogboni. Some of them are already in the university. They all worship with me.
What is your mode of worship?
We converge at any convenient time daily and pray, using water, kola and bitter kola. Then we say our prayers to the deities.
But you said members worship mother earth, why do you need to pray through deities?
Yes, I said so because whoever worships mother earth towers above anyone or deity. Every deity is worshipped on the surface of the earth. The only secret in Ogboni is our word, which is our trust. It is a burden, whoever is not committed to that is not worth our respect. Take for instance, when you have many candidates vying for a political seat. The leaders of such political parties in that town or city will have to agree on one person as their flag bearer. What I mean is that only one person will emerge the winner at the end of the day. Therefore, the elders involved must unite to ensure that the winner emerges without rancour. That is why you see the outcome of an election going in a particular direction after an agreement must have been reached. That is an Ogboni pattern. We normally meet at a location devoid of distraction that is not open to many people. Whatever agreement is reached must be respected. Politicians meet at night to avoid being distracted to agree on issues. They are practising Ogboni’s way of life.
There are several Ogboni groups with different names, what is the difference?
There are different Ogboni groups like Ogboni Saala, Ogboni Confraternity, Reformed Ogboni Confraternity and others but we are all one. All of them had their roots in Ogboni Aborigine. I want all of them to be united. There are several tribes that are members of Ogboni but non-Yoruba indigenes cannot be the overall head as stated in our constitution and endorsed by the Supreme Council of Ogboni worldwide.