What’s the use of the information recently provided by Oba of Lagos Rilwan Akiolu about how much money people described as hoodlums stole from his palace during the #EndSARS campaign last year? Did he expect public sympathy?
Oba Akiolu’s remarks during the opening of the remodeled Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos Island, on March 3, showed that he didn’t learn any lesson from the invasion of his palace. Has the eminent traditional ruler forgotten that he had to be evacuated from his palace by military protectors who saved him from becoming a casualty as well?
The king’s palace was among “private facilities, as well as other investments that were partly torched and vandalised/looted,” the police had announced at the time. The palace at Isale Eko, Lagos Island, known as Iga Idunganran, is the official residence of Oba Akiolu, the most important traditional ruler in the country’s economic and commercial capital.
“The incident that happened here from October 20th to 23rd is so saddening,” Oba Akiolu said at the event. “The destruction we suffered in Lagos is so enormous than in any other part of the country.
“Many buildings were burnt, including vehicles used to generate income. I can now say publicly that they stole away from my palace $2 million and N17 million.
“Those who committed the offence would not have done that if they knew the implication. But as a father, I won’t place any curse on them.”
His palace is a place of traditional power and may be likened to a government house, the official residence of a governor. In a sense, the attack on the palace was like an attack on a government house. It is ironic that the palace was attacked by locals expected to be loyal to the king. The attack suggested that the king was unpopular. A popular king should have more friends than enemies in his kingdom.
The king ought to reflect on the humiliating attack by his subjects, and be sober. Instead, he exhibited indiscretion and insensitivity by publicising the money they allegedly stole, two factors that had provoked the attack in the first place.
Oba Akiolu, 77, didn’t need to publicise his monetary loss. He was indiscreet because the disclosure highlighted his riches and suggested that he was flaunting his affluence. He was insensitive because he seemed not to consider that his announcement could provoke the many poor people in his domain.
In particular, two million dollars is a lot of money to keep at home. It is unclear why he had kept so much money in his palace? How much did he keep outside his palace at the time? Many people in his domain, and beyond it, must be wondering about the king’s riches.
People described as hoodlums had taken advantage of the widespread #EndSARS non-violent protests against police brutality and abuse of power to make a statement against widespread poverty and hardship.
It is noteworthy that the palace is located in a poor locality. Isale Eko is an urban eyesore. The picture of a beautiful palace amid visible poverty is unappealing. It is always a possibility that the poor will protest against poverty and aloof prosperity.
“It was inevitable,” a prominent Lagos royal, Princess Abiola Dosunmu, the Erelu Kuti of Lagos, had observed at the time. “They didn’t touch any other building in Lagos Island, only the Oba’s palace. That’s a direct message,” she said.
Poverty is no excuse for criminality. But the traditional authorities need self-examination. How has the traditional leadership helped to develop the locality and the locals? Have the traditional leaders done enough to alleviate the obvious poverty in the area? How many of the people in Isale Eko are among the more than 83 million Nigerians living below the national poverty line, according to figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) last year? Nigeria’s population is about 206 million.
The NBS 2019 report on Poverty and Inequality in Nigeria deserves the attention of not only the federal, state and local governments but also the traditional authorities across the country. Every level of leadership has a development role and should be development-conscious.
Before he became king, Oba Akiolu had served in the police force. He spent 32 years in the police force and became assistant inspector-general of police in 1999. He retired in 2002. He is a lawyer. It is unclear if he was rich before he became king, or how rich he was before his coronation.
He was crowned in 2003, but his kingship was challenged by royal rivals, resulting in a long-drawn-out legal battle that ended in his favour in 2019, 16 years after he ascended the throne. “My appointment as the king is the first time in history that kingmakers will be unanimous in selecting an Oba of Lagos,” he had said in court during the battle. The attack on his palace did not reflect his assertion.
The palace of the Oba of Lagos, built in 1670, is a tourist attraction. The ancient palace has been modernised over the years, including in Oba Akiolu’s era. There are ancient shrines within the palace grounds, and some of the previous kings are buried at Iga Idunganran. These features were insignificant to the mob that desecrated the palace.
Oba Akiolu was forced to live outside his palace for more than two months, and returned to the repaired palace on January 1. In a tweet, the Senior Special Assistant to the Lagos State Governor on Health, Oreoluwa Finnih, described his return as a “triumphant entry to Iga Idunganran Palace.”
The description was an attempt to downplay and trivialise the king’s humiliation in his domain, by his subjects. Dramatically, those who invaded and looted the palace stole Oba Akiolu’s staff of office and displayed it as they marched through the streets. It suggested that the mob had dethroned the king, if only temporarily. It is significant that his staff of office was said to have been recovered.
Oba Akiolu should be thinking of leaving a legacy of development and pursuing the development of his domain. May he not be remembered as a king who was forced to flee from his palace, and lost unexplained money in his palace to an angry mob.
By Femi Macaulay
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