ONDO, WORLD HEADQUARTERS OF LOKILI
Those who founded Ondo were no commonplace wayfarers with a prosaic, pedestrian pedigree. They were men and women enveloped in royal garments straight from the palace of the Alaafin of Oyo, the then powerful leader of the Yoruba race.
Among the cities, towns and villages that make up the Yoruba nation, Ondo is blessed with a unique history: it is perhaps the only major Yoruba town whose founding king was a woman.In the years of yore, the present Ondo was no great town: just a sparsely populated settlement with scattered huts where a primitive race engaged in farming and blacksmithing.
That was then. Since the early 16th century when some blue-blooded men and women from the palace of the revered Oyo king arrived in the area, Ondo's destiny has been positively altered. Today, with a unique history and with men and women whose names ring an immediate bell across the country and beyond, Ondo readily ranks among Nigeria's great cities.
In the beginning
Rev Samuel Johnson was an authority on the history of the Yoruba race. He was also a veritable chronicler of Ondo history.
Hundreds of seasons ago, so goes the legend, one of Alaafin's numerous wives gave birth to a set of twins. Those were days when the birth of twins was seen as an evil omen, and both the kids and their mum were promptly offered to the gods as sacrifice. This king, however, loved his wife and wanted neither the woman nor her twin children dead. He decided to keep the information away from the public.
Eventually, the secret leaked. The king then decided to send the twins – a boy and a girl – and their mum away from Oyo. He raised a team comprising one of his most trusted warriors, Uja, and two of his chiefs. He then ordered them to lead his wife and kids to a safe place at Epin, somewhere in the land of the Fulanis. A beaded crown and an akoko stick were also given to the team to assure any adversary met on the way that they were from the king. They were told that anywhere they got to and the stick stood upright after it had been thrust into the earth thrice, there the team must settle.
The twins - Olu and Pupupu – were also given some facial marks. The significance of the facial branding, it was learnt, was for the girls to be able to identify themselves even if they were eventually separated.
And so the team left Oyo. They journeyed through forests, traversed the wilds and coursed through rivers and swamps. They eventually got to Epin. The king, it is said, regularly sent gifts to his beloved wife and children, and the people of Epin were also very hospitable towards the sojourning family of the Oyo monarch.
At about 1497, the Alaafin joined his ancestors. The people of Epin were no longer as charitable towards their guests as before: they started manifesting some hostile traits to the late king's wife and children. The people then decided to return to the land of their fathers, Oyo.
Back at Oyo, the new Alaafin, Oba Onigbogi, decided that the twins and their mum must live, so he ordered Uja to lead them out of the city in the direction of Ile-Ife. At Ile-Ife, they were enthusiastically received by the Ooni who gave them additional gifts and emissaries. They then continued their journey until they arrived at Epe, an inhabited settlement headed by the Iyangede. They were also well received by the Iyangede and his people. After tarrying awhile, the party continued their voyage. An account says the male twin, Olu, died and was buried at Epe, leaving the twin girl, Pupupu, and her mum to continue their journey.
After they departed Epe, the party had a stop-over at the present Ile-Oluji. There, the akoko stick was thrust into the earth three times. The stick fell. Assured that they were yet to reach their promised land, Pupupu, her mum and the king's emissaries continued their journey. Some griots in Ondo insist, however, that Ile-Oluji was where the male twin, Olu, died and was buried. The story had it that the man slept and never woke up. The settlement was then named Ile ti Olu sun ti ko ji, the land upon which Olu slept and never awoke. It was later abbreviated to Ile-Oluji.
The party left the king's wife, together with the king's crown, at Ile-Oluji and continued their journey towards the present Ondo. They entered the town through Oke Agunla, a mount that afforded them an aerial view of the planes and valleys of the area. They soon noticed some smoke drifting skywards somewhere in the distance, an incontrovertible piece of evidence that some human habitation existed at the place. Using the smoke as some guide, the people eventually got to where the ironsmith, Ekiri, dwelt.
After driving their mythical stick aground thrice, the stick stuck. Convinced that they were now free from their wanderings, the wayfarers told Ekiri their mission. They also went to fetch the crown from Ile-Oluji and showed the doubting Ekiri. Now assured that his 'guests' were actually of royalty, Ekiri sought what would be his fate if the travellers from Oyo were to settle in his domain. Ekiri was told that he would be the kingdom's second-in-command. Thus, Pupupu, the surviving girl of the twins from Oyo was crowned the first king of Ondo. The year was 1510.
Since the mythical akoko stick played a major part in their settlement, the new town was named Udi-Edo. In the people's tongue, it meant, around the stick. Over time, the name metamorphosed into Ode-Ondo. Eventually, Ondo became the community's simple identity. Since its birth at the beginning of the 16th century, Ondo has hugely expanded. Today, its area of influence transcends the main town. Many smaller towns, villages and settlements around Ondo today derive their authority from the Osemawe, the Ondo monarch.
And since Pupupu was crowned king in the town, 43 other kings have reigned in Ondo. The present king is Oba Victor Adesimbo Adenrele Kiladejo Jilo 111, an eminent medical practitioner who ascended the throne of his forefathers in 2006.
From then till now
Ondo is strategically sited at the intersection of roads from Ife, Akure, Okitipupa and other major towns in that axis. As a result of its location, Ondo was a major transit town from Lagos and Ibadan to other towns in the north-eastern axis of Yorubaland, especially during the many wars that ravaged the Yoruba nation in the 19th century. It steadily emerged as a major conduit for goods from Lagos and to other parts of Yorubaland. From then, Ondo started asserting itself as an important community in the Yoruba nation.
As time went on, Christian missionaries started gravitating towards Ondo, bringing with them, alongside the church, education. In 1875, the first church in Ondo, St Stephen's, berthed at Oke-Aluko area. This was followed by the establishment of primary schools in the town. Through the primary schools, more teachers were trained for the schools just as catechists were trained for the church. The British took over the city in 1893.
Ondo was the first town in the old Ondo and Benin Provinces (comprising today's Ondo, Ekiti, Edo and Delta States) to have a secondary school.
The prestigious Ondo Boys High School was formally registered in 1919, though by then it had actually existed for six years. The school was established by the community and placed under an illustrious Ondo indigene, Rev Moses Craig Adeyemi who had studied Classics at the Durham University in the United Kingdom. At inception, the school offered education to boys only. Later, girls were allowed in the school, but it soon reverted to its original, male-only tradition.
Ondo Boys High School wasn't the only institution founded by Ondo folks through communal efforts. Ondo General Hospital, Ondo Divisional Teacher Training College, and Ondo Civic Centre were all established by the people with funds raised among themselves. While the General Hospital has since been taken over by the state government, the Ondo Divisional Teacher Training College is now run by the federal government. But the Ondo Civic Centre remains the Ondo people's property.
In the days of old, Ondo folks, like people from many other parts of Yorubaland, were predominantly farmers and hunters. Food crops that were grown by the people then included yams, cassava, maize and the like. As the town gradually opened its doors and embraced western civilization, several cash crops began presenting some allure for the natives. Cocoa, timber, rubber and other cash crops began appealing to the simple farmers. And since there was a lot of money to be made from planting such crops, Ondo farmers started tilting towards the cultivation of such crops.
Many of the town's folks also relocated to the communities in the riverine areas to trade with Europeans. Many were those that became retail merchants, representatives of European trading companies and interpreters to foreign merchants.
Ondo folks have never hidden their high passion for education. Apart from tens of secondary schools in the town which also hosts the first secondary school in the present Delta, Edo, Ekiti and Ondo States, the town has a number of higher institutions. Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo has been in existence for over four decades and is today a degree-awarding institution. It has also been joined by the Methodist church-owned Wesley University of Science and Technology. The town also hosts the National Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA).
Ondo is blessed with several indigenes who have etched their names in an enviable spot in the list of Nigeria's greats. The town has produced three National Merit Award winners. They are Professor Oladipo Akinkugbe, a distinguished medical scholar, Professor Oladayo Oladapo, a Professor of Engineering, and a renowned geologist, Professor Olu Adegoke.
Ondo is the birthplace of the King of juju music and one of Africa's most successful artistes, Otunba Sunday Adegeye, otherwise known as King Sunny Ade. KSA is one of the very few African artistes whose songs are regularly played on American public and private radio stations. The late legal luminary and irrepressible advocate of human rights, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, was from Ondo just as the founder of the Odua People's Congress, Dr. Frederick Fasehun, former Minister of Information, Chief Alex Akinyele, renowned cardiologist, Professor Akinkugbe and the present governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko.
In many Nigerian societies, the traditional institution is as good as dead, consigned to the backwaters of administration by the government. In Ondo, however, this institution is not just alive, it is thriving.
Ondo folks have a great respect for the office of the Osemawe, the paramount ruler of Ondo Kingdom. Like the obas in other Yoruba kingdoms, the Osemawe of Ondo is hailed as Kabiyesi, Alase, Ekeji Orisa, the commander who cannot be questioned, second only to the gods. Western civilization has no doubt eroded into the stature of the Oba in the modern set up. Yet, the king remains very powerful personality within and outside his domain.
Inside the Osemawe palace is a traditional court that daily attracts people from all over the Ondo kingdom. They come to the palace with different issues, and chiefs traditionally saddled with adjudicating over such matters are always around to help resolve issues.
But several disputes are even resolved by minor chiefs who are saddled with overseeing the various quarters in the town. These chiefs settle minor land cases, domestic disputes and other civil cases. More complicated issues are taken to the major chiefs while only very few, highly complex issues are reserved for the monarch.
Traditionally, Ondo is ruled by the Osemawe, assisted by some chiefs. The monarch and the Ewarefa, comprising six high chiefs, constitute the inner king's court.
There are other sets of chiefs, including the Ukule, the Elegbes and the Ijama. For the settlements outside the main town, the Osemawe also delegates authority to the Olojas and the Baales who are in charge of the villages and hamlets under Ondo. But the traditional institution in Ondo isn't the exclusive reserve of the male folks. There is also the Lisa Lobun, the female monarch who is saddled with a number of traditional responsibilities. She is also assisted by other female chiefs.
Today, Ondo is a sprawling but unassuming community in Ondo State. As you drive into the town from Akure, your eyes are greeted by cocoa farms here and there. You also see several small cocoa processing factories along the road. Mr. Tayo Akinbola, a teacher and historian who was born in Ondo and has spent the last 45 years in the town, describes Ondo as a leader in the production of cocoa in Ondo State. 'Cocoa is one of the commonest things you will see in Ondo,' he tells the writer. 'Virtually every family owns a cocoa farm in Ondo. That is what you inherit from your parents. Cocoa is the general work here. About 70% of the people are involved in it.'
Besides cocoa, he says, other cash crops like kola nuts and the like are also grown by Ondo farmers. Food crops like yam, plantain, cocoyam, cassava and others are also planted in the town.
If there's anyone that will definitely not be missed in a crowd, no matter how thick the multitude is, it is the Ondo man. With his bold facial marks, one long line creatively carved on each cheek, the Ondo native proudly flaunts his unique, life-long identity. The practice started right at the beginning and has been sustained since, the reporter learnt.
What are the major meals cherished by the Ondo man? 'Like most Yoruba people, the Ondo man enjoys pounded yam, eba, rice and other meals,' Mrs. Bukola Akinkugbe, an Ondo indigene who teaches at a secondary school in the town tells the reporter. 'But there is also a special food specially loved by the Ondo man. It is known as pupuu. It is prepared from cassava and you can get it at any home and at any eatery in the town. Pupuu is also common among the Ikale people. These days, some people refer to it as fufu. But the original name is pupuu.'
There are also a number of soups with which the Ondo woman easily entices her man. A special one is called gbanunu, a vegetable-based soup prepared with assorted condiments. With gbanunu, eating pounded yam, pupuu, eba, amala and such other meals become a delighting experience. Apart from appealing to the palate, gbanunu is said to be very nutritional and medicinal. Other soups relished by the Ondo people include the ila-alasepo, elegede soup, osunyo and so on.
Ondo is a multi-religious society with Christians and Muslims living together in harmony. There are traditionalists too, men and women who worship Ogun, Orunmila and other traditional Yoruba religions.
Ondo and lokili
The belief among many people in Nigeria is that no Ondo man worthy of his identity would be satisfied with any meat so long as that meat isn't lokili, pieces of meat cut from a slaughtered dog. Some even assume that the only meat served at any restaurant in the town is dog meat. Taiwo Akinlade, an Ondo-based journalist says, however, that nothing could be further from the truth.
'It is a great misconception to think that Ondo people can't do without eating dog meat,' he says. 'Of course, we can't deny that people eat dogs here. In the olden days, many people eat dogs. But the truth is, dog meat is not what you will find everywhere. It is not available in the open market. It is not something that when you get to the market now, you will say, I want to buy some dog meat and people will be inviting you to their stalls. No. Dogs are commonly used for sacrifice to Ogun, the god of iron. So, during Ogun festivals, the devotees slaughter their dogs. Anytime people want to appease Ogun, they may also slaughter dogs. Those dogs are then prepared and eaten by the devotees. But because of civilization, dog meat is no longer common in Ondo. These days, educated folks in Ondo don't eat dogs.'
That isn't to say that those who relish dog meat aren't adequately catered for in Ondo. If you know the areas to go, you can even get your lokili prepared as asun, little chunks of dog meat sufficiently spiced, grilled and barbecued and consumed alongside chilled alcoholic beverages.
Ondo is also the home of the normal asun, some form of barbeque prepared mostly from goat meat and served oven-hot with a sauce made from hot pepper, onions and spices.
Ondo has some festivals that attract people from far and near. Some of these are the Ogun festival, Odun Oba, Oramfe and the hugely popular Ekimogun Day celebration organized annually by the Ondo Development Committee (ODC).
In times past, Ogun was a major festival in Ondo. In those days, people trooped to the town from all over the country to partake in the merriment and the revelry. 'In those days, on the morning of the festival, you would see the excitement on the face of everybody.
The people would be very happy. From early in the morning, you would be hearing the heavy sounds of pestles in the mortars as each household prepared pounded yam, known as iyan Ogun. During the festival proper, there would be so many spectacular acrobatic displays and a lot of choreographed dances by the celebrators. The present king is, however, bringing some colour back to the carnival. He is said to be attracting some patronage to the festival, especially from corporate organizations.
The Ondo Development Committee has been credited with attracting several developments to the town. Established in 1986, the ODC's first chairman was High Chief Ebun Olawoye, the Odofin of Ondo. Former Vice-Chancellor of Ondo State University, Professor Ifedayo Oladapo is the current chairman.
The first Ekimogun Day celebration was held in December 1988. The carnival attracts Ondo sons and daughters from all over the globe. The event includes a fund-raising ceremony. With such money, the ODC has been able to build the magnificent Oba Adesanoye Civic Centre besides other notable contributions to the kingdom.
But even before the establishment of the ODC, Ondo people have severally demonstrated their passion for the development of their community. Apart from establishing the first community secondary school in Nigeria about a century ago, Ondo people have embarked upon many projects aimed at adding value to their town without demanding any help from the government.
Many roads in Ondo are neat and tarred. But the reporter is told that many of these roads were actually built by the people themselves. People from street to street, quarter to quarter contribute money to construct and maintain their own roads. The people also don't wait for the government to provide water for them. Hardly would you find a house in Ondo without a well.
'An Ondo man will not like to come to fetch water from your house and be rebuffed or insulted,' says Mr. Akinbola. 'And he will not like to start fetching water from the stream or something. If you insult him, he will give you your own insult. So he will prefer to construct his own well. Before he starts building a house, he has already constructed a well. That is the attitude of the Ondo man.'
Hotels and restaurants
For the visitor to Ondo, getting a place to lay your head wouldn't pose a problem, as there are a number of hotels and guest houses in the town. The hotels can easily be categorized into different classes, though. There are the low grade hotels and the high class hotels. Some of the good hotels in Ondo are Aki-Avic Hotel, Ade Super Hotel, Sunny Sky Hotel, Olamojiba Hotel, Flagship Hotel, Adeyemi College of Education Guest House, NIEPA Guest House and the like. And if your purse isn't too weighty, you can still get some low-cadre hotels in areas like Yaba, Odo-Jomu and the like. There you can even get a hotel room for as cheap as N800 or N1000.
Like in most civil servant towns in Nigeria, the day runs to a close quite early in Ondo. Nightlife here is virtually non-existent. Anytime from 9.00 pm, the streets are already getting deserted as most people rush home to rest for the night.
But there are places in Ondo where life doesn't even start until about 9.00pm. For instance at Odo-Jomu, there is a popular local eatery called Alatupa Meje, the woman with seven lamps. She earned the name, the reporter learnt, through the seven local lanterns she normally uses in her restaurant late in the evening. She hardly retires for the day until around 1.00am.
Folks who delight in eating out shouldn't find Ondo a boring town. Popular fast food restaurants like Mr. Biggs, Tantalizers, Chicken Republic and others are very present in the town.
The Ondo woman is very serious and industrious. According to Akinlade, she is the type of woman that will rub shoulders with the men. She is quite comfortable too without necessarily relying on any man. 'Many of the houses in Ondo, in fact, about 30 or 40 % of the houses in this town were built by women. Even these commercial taxis, farms and all these things were owned by women.
The Ondo woman is not the type that will say 'let me sit down here and rest and I will depend on my husband'. Apart from that, they also love education. They won't mind selling their property just to ensure that their children go to school. The Ondo woman also hates being cheated. Even if she is not educated, she will not sit down while her rights are trampled upon. She will always fight for her right.' He discloses too that the Ondo woman is very committed to community development and will always participate in projects that will edify her community.
In many communities in Nigeria, what majority of their young men engage in to keep themselves busy is okada operations. In such areas, you see many a young man who couldn't afford tertiary education quickly jettison whatever trade he's supposed to learn and embrace a career as a commercial motorbike operator. Not many youths in Ondo are at home with the okada business, however.
In the town, education is given a high premium. Many of the youths are still in school and, as soon as they complete their education, they are gainfully employed.
'But one sad and worrisome trend that is gaining ground in Ondo now is this issue of yahoo-yahoo,' Akinlade explains. 'When you go to cyber cafes these days, you discover that most of the young men are doing fraud on the internet. But, again, I wouldn't say that is a problem that is peculiar to Ondo. I think it is a general problem in the country and it is a clear evidence of our declining moral values.'
That notwithstanding, he insists that the typical young man in Ondo is focused and hard-working. 'Since there are many successful men in the town, there are a lot of role models for Ondo youths. So you find them aspiring to become successful like such people.'
What they want
People of Ondo are however, clamouring for more attention from the government. They want more roads to be rehabilitated. 'The past governor, Dr. Olusegun Agagu did some work on the roads in Ondo,' remarks Dele Akindoju, an indigene of the town. 'Though most of what he did can be regarded as window dressing by many people because many of those roads are now getting dilapidated, at least he did something.'
Ondo is also in need of good drinking water. In most households in the town, people rely on boreholes and wells. Like in many other cities and towns across the country, public taps from which clear, potable water flowed ceaselessly many years ago have since dried up.
'Another problem in Ondo is that most of the buildings of the public primary and secondary schools in Ondo have become dilapidated,' Akindoju continues. 'Agagu also tried in that regard to some extent. Public power supply is also non-existent in Ondo. If all these are put in place, Ondo will be a better place for us to live in.'