IT was obvious something was amiss yesterday at the palace of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, although traditional chiefs claimed there was no cause for alarm.
If the chiefs were right, then the huge crowd of anxious townspeople who had gathered as early as 7.00 a.m. at the Enuwa Square frontage of the palace located at the heart of the ancient town would not have been there.
The denial also continued at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington , West London where the Ooni was reported to have died.
When The Guardian got to the hospital around 2 p.m. yesterday, a front desk official emphatically refuted the story, saying: “I know what you’re after . I’m a Nigerian myself .He’s not here, he didn’t die here. That’s the truth. I know that for sure.”
Inquiries at another National Health Service – Trust Hospital, the BUPA Cromwell in South West London, revealed that nobody matching the age range of the monarch passed away there Tuesday evening.
“Was there any death here, last night?” A worker asked his colleagues, before coming back to say, ‘I’m afraid, not here. Nobody in that age range or description died here Tuesday night.”
The townspeople, most of them wearing long faces and discussing in hushed tones, were obviously at the palace for a confirmation or denial of the news of the demise of the monarch,.
To prevent a breakdown of law and order and keep the crowd at bay, three police vans were stationed at the main entrance. Armed policemen, assisted by traditional palace guards, formed a protective wall and screened those seeking to enter the expansive palace, particularly inquisitive journalists who had arrived in droves.
At the nearby National Museum, a handful of workers were on duty while the neighbouring shop owners gathered in groups discussing the royal father’s death.
As the uncertainty and controversy continued, some residents who pleaded anonymity stated privately, that the monarch may have passed on after all.
But despite the fact that some very senior chiefs were seen entering the palace, many of them looking sad and walking hurriedly, and the somber atmosphere in the section where reporters were restricted to, an announcement was to be made later, that contrary to the speculations, the monarch was hale and hearty.
The Royal Traditional Council (RTC) of Ife, which comprised all the traditional chiefs, said Oba Okunade was not only in sound state of health but ‘‘the royal father is preparing for his son’s wedding holding next week Sunday.”
Addressing newsmen in the House of Chiefs situated within the premises of Ile-Oodua Palace of Ooni, Lowa of Ife, Oba Joseph Ijaodola, who spoke in Yoruba language, said the report in the media that the monarch died in a London Hospital due to an undisclosed ailment, was untrue.
A separate address delivered in English by the RTC Secretary and the Ladin of Ife, High Chief Adetoye Odewole, said the Ooni is hale and hearty and even had telephone conversation with the chiefs a few hours earlier.
He said those behind the death story of the Ooni are enemies of Ife adding :”As I speak with you, the chiefs have not heard anything like that. This is not the first time such rumour would be carried about our loving father.
“They did it in 1984, also in 2004 and now, these people are coming up with another rumour. Oba Sijuade remains in sound state of health.”
Similarly, the Chairman, Ife Development Board (IDB), Prof. Muib Opeloye, said Ife as a town with rich tradition and culture has its way of managing its affairs. He urged the people to verify claims on the demise of the Oba properly before they rush to the press.
In consonance with Opeloye’s assertion that Ife has a way of managing its traditional affairs, The Guardian gathered that the main burden on the shoulders of the chiefs was how to manage what a source described as “the information leak” about the monarch’s passage.
According to a very senior source who craved anonymity “because of the sensitive nature of the matter,” certain rites have to be performed before the death of an Ooni could be announced to the public to satisfy tradition and to protect the immediate family of a deceased monarch.
He said: “The announcement of the demise of an Ooni can only be made by the Obalufe of Ife and one of the traditional kingmakers, Oba Folorunso Omisakin. He is the only person authorised by tradition to do so and until he does that, the king lives on.
“Besides the announcement must not be made until the family of the late occupier of the throne remove all their personal belongings from the palace otherwise the property would be forfeited to the community because, nobody would be allowed to take a pin out of the palace once the Obalufe made the announcement.”
It was also gathered that Obalufe’s announcement will be followed by immediate closure, for seven days, of all the markets within the town and the cutting of all the trees to signify that the monarch has indeed joined his ancestors.