By Bola Bolawole
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As would be expected, last week’s piece on the land-grabbing allegation leveled by the Obafemi Awolowo University authorities against some indigenes of their host community, Ile-Ife, has drawn the ire of those so alleged. My rhetoric question of “what is Ife without OAU” also did not go down well with many, despite the fact that they understand and admit that the question was rhetorical and that, as a writer, I possess the poetic licence to trade in hyperboles and exaggerations for effect. Such responses are the beauty of feedback! We will relay some of them today, including the response of a section of the Ife community in tango with the OAU authorities over the land issue.
First to fire the salvo was my “aburo” and eminent legal practitioner, Idowu Lanre Alabi: “Happy new year again sir. Kudos for the articles! May your pen never run dry! Regarding the land matter, I can assure you, it won’t stop. Even if the present tussle is calmed somehow, it will still reoccur in the future. As a lawyer in active practice, I can say that land matters of that nature and magnitude never get FULLY resolved. Some so-called children of the “original owners” will still surface at given periods. I only wish and pray that the greedy “claimants” would look elsewhere for land. I must protest against a portion of your piece, sir. That Ife is nothing without OAU is taking it too far, sir. Thank God you acknowledged the fact that it is the cradle of Yoruba race and, as generally believed, the Source. I am aware that even the Owos trace their origin to Ile-Ife. That is more than enough to make Ife something. The Yoruba in Diaspora and those who still hold Ife in high esteem across the globe do so not because of OAU. No doubt, you are fully aware of this truism. That OAU has projected Ile Ife beyond any imagination is a fact that only a fool will disapprove. And I am not one! OAU has done more than enough to put Ile Ife on the world map. Oh yes! But that would not by any stretch of the imagination make Ile Ife nothing without OAU. No, please! Ife is blessed with many prominent sons and daughters to the glory of God, including the present Ooni and the late Oba Adesoji Aderemi. You will agree with me, sir, that some towns/cities don’t have universities; yet, they are prominent even in Yoruba land. And they don’t have the history or pedigree of Ile Ife. My take, sir, is this: try and avoid such sweeping statements and conclusions that may inflame passions and or offend people’s sensibilities. On a final note, I commend your industry, consistency, intellect, and, most importantly, your uncompromising principle. We are proud of you, sir. Remain blessed always!”
I exchanged views with Lanre and we were able to reach some accommodation on the vexed area he identified but space constraint will not allow for a full relay of such here. Then came the salvo from Yomi Layinka! Abayomi Olayinka and I started out as classmates at Owo High School in 1970 before he relocated elsewhere after Form Two. Our paths crossed again after I graduated from Ife and was posted to the University of Ibadan for my NYSC. I lived with Yomi at the Agbowo area of Ibadan (Opposite the UI) and it was here that I came in contact with his friends who were making waves in theatre and BCOS at that time – Ayo Lijadu and the Lijadu sisters, Ayo Oluwasanmi (now late) and the two “boys” who lived with him then, namely, Segun Ojewuyi (now an acclaimed Professor) and Tunji Sotimirin (now an ace comedian), Steve Olayinka, Fela Osuntuyi, Jide Ogundipe (now Jide Oluseyi), Sam Loco Efe (now late), Clarion Chukwura, and Dele Morakinyo, among others. Funny lot! It was here I learnt the full meaning of Yomi: Otami-ibayomi-sugbon-Oluwa-Oba niko je! I also thereafter lived with Yomi and Ayo Lijadu at the Orita Bashorun area of Ibadan. So, Yomi is not just a friend but also a benefactor. He, too, reacted angrily, alleging that I must have been influenced on this occasion. I knew Yomi before getting to know Prof. Tope Ogunbodede, the OAU VC, who was our “junior” at Owo High School and I am not enamoured of Tope than I am of Yomi. Hear Yomi:
“Hello Bola. S’o wa? Thanks for regularly sharing your weekly columns with me. I’ll soon share my thoughts with you on your 4-part interrogation of Falana’s recent lecture on Restructuring. I just read your commentary on the OAU/Ife land matter. Although fairly balanced in your submission, I don’t think you gave enough space to the arguments of the so-called Ife land ‘grabbers’. I wonder if you ever read the statement issued a few weeks ago on behalf of the community by the President of the Ife Development Board. That should deepen your perspectives on the matters arising. If you haven’t, I can oblige you a copy.
As to your question: “what is Ile-Ife without this university?”, I think you were rather gratuitous and condescending to a city whose history and civilization of redoubtable global renown was already long consecrated before the great founders of OAU were conceived in their mothers’ wombs. Are you suggesting that the barely 60- year-old university gave Ile-Ife its thousand-year old reputation as the cradle of the Yoruba race and the citadel of its ancient arts and civilization? You didn’t have to add that rather offensive and impudent remark in evaluating the place of Ife in contemporary reckoning. As an Ife man, I personally take a very strong exception to the barely concealed insolence inherent in that provocative question. I can only hope that your personal relationship with OAU’s Prof Ogunbodede has not clouded your usually balanced view in this particular matter.
By the way, I’m involved along with some other compatriots in facilitating an alternative dispute resolution mechanism to resolve the grey areas so that the traditionally cordial relationship between town and gown is sustained and improved upon. I can only hope all parties and their cheerleaders will give peace a chance. Enjoy the rest of your day. Cheers!”
That was the first response from Yomi, followed by exchanges between us both which space constraints will not allow me to print. The gist, however, was the press conference addressed by the concerned Ife chiefs, which he forwarded to me, and the information that efforts were being made by peace-makers to resolve the issue. I had read the Ife chiefs’ angle in which they counter accused the OAU authorities of land-grabbing. Who, then, is the land-grabber? Fortunately, both claimants said they possess documents to prove their case and an alternative conflict resolution mechanism should have little problems perusing the evidence of both parties and coming to justice. I welcome this! Especially because names have been named in some quarters and bank account details where monies allegedly paid for portions of the sold disputed land were being paid are already in the public domain. The personalities involved in this land-grabbing saga are all Yoruba and why must we dance naked – or strip one another naked – before our mockers? In this regard, I hope another reader’s response would not be taken out of context when he asked: “One thing is still not clear and sounds ambiguous to me: What is the position of the Ooni over this matter?”
A professional colleague, Wale Sokunbi, hit the nail on the head when she said: “I think the gazette is a public document. Not sure it is possible for anyone to make wild claims on it.” But she veered off to take sides, which she is entitled to, when she added: “In any case, was it fair for the late king to have given such huge portion of land to the university that the institution cannot even utilise in 100 years? If it is these days, nobody would believe he (Ooni Aderemi) did not make money from it. I think it is unfair to the local community to dash out that size of land…I just think they should reach a compromise, based on the wording of the gazette. Anything outside of the gazette can only be achieved with appeals. Obviously, the university does not even need that size of land, that is why much of it has remained unutilized many decades after, and it is now leasing out to people.” She needs to see the expanse of land gifted some other universities by their host community!
A lecturer at the OAU, however, put the blame for this controversy squarely at the doorsteps of the OAU authorities when he said: “The university management should be blamed for them not to have built a fence to mark their land boundary all along”. He cited other universities that had done similarly and wondered why OAU failed to do the needful all these years. Well said! But better late than never! Once this issue is resolved, neither OAU nor the Ife community should any more live on assumptions or take things for granted.
Truth be told, the Ife community is polarised on this land-grabbing issue. From my investigations, not all Ife chiefs and or prominent sons and daughters are on the same page. Besides, the polarisation of Ife on the Obalufe chieftaincy issue is also playing out on the OAU/Ife land-grabbing brouhaha. Ife must urgently put its house in order. As they say, a stitch in time saves nine!