The Supremacy and Inconsistencies of Traditions: A Case of Egba and Iruekpen Ontology of Burial
Yemi Oke,
Ontario, Canada

I have been following the recent debates about the death and burial of the first lady, the late Chief (Mrs.) Stella Obasanjo with keen interest. Again, may her gentle soul rest in peace. I'm particularly intrigued and puzzled that the livings have refused, either expressly or by necessary implications, the dead a peaceful rest. I personally felt that all these needless flexing of muscles as to superiority or inferiority of traditions and ontology of burial either perceived from the perspectives of a "daughter" or "wife" should stop to avoid degeneration into ethnic clashes. I will refrain from making this note academic as it is not intended to form a thesis or dissertation chapter, but for clarity and easy understanding of everyone one who might be interested in reading this narratives.

The claims of the Iruekpen people are very sound and valid. But if what I read in the Vanguard Newspaper of November 1st 2005 is anything to go by, there is cause to worry. It reads:

Š. THE cold war between President Olusegun Obasanjo and his in-laws in Esan land, Edo State over the burial of the late First Lady, Mrs. Stella Obasanjo in Abeokuta, does not seem to be abating with the Esan Peoples Congress (EPC) at Uromi, giving the President a 30-day ultimatum to produce the remains of the deceased for "proper" interment in her homeland of Iruekpen. At a meeting at Iruekpen weekend, the EPC comprising traditional rulers, elders, and youths said if at the expiration of the deadline the President did not respond to their demand, Esan warriors, would be dispatched to Abeokuta to exhume her corpse and bring it home for appropriate burial.

Let me make it clear that I seek to attempt to be very objective here as some readers might assume my ethnic origin. Needless to say, however, that when it becomes necessary and inevitable, I'll wish to be an Egbaman of Abeokuta origin and my voice will identify with Egba traditions in these regards. But until then, what is the essence of the traditions of the Egbas and Iruekpen on the ontology of burial, and which is supreme? Okay, let me introduce legal arguments, "where the traditions are same, which one prevails and which one becomes void for and to the extent of its inconsistenc(ies)?"

The above question might generate more questions that answer as I personally do not yet understand the jurisprudence or jurisprudential contentions involved. However, like the Iruekpen's tradition of burying their daughter in her father's compound, it is the highest defilement of Egba's tradition to burry an Egba wife, duly married to an Egba man outside her husband's compound. The issue is not even whether or not the marriage is blessed with issue or issues. It becomes much stronger where the deceased Egba wife has children who are by implications, Egbas or herself an Egba Chief. It is an abomination of the highest order, to the Egbas and their traditions, that their wife be buried in their in-laws' house, eewo ni!!!

I do not envy the Jagunmolu of Egbaland, and Balogun of Owu, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. The best he could do in the circumstance was offer deepest apology upon agonies of loss of a darling wife, to pay damages. Doing otherwise as to yielding to burying his wife in accordance with the traditions of the Iruekpen would tantamount to suicide as a first class Egba and Owu Chief (equivalent of Prime Minister). As Chief Suarawu Olayiwola Alani Bankole (S.O.A. Bankole) an Egba kingmaker argued in one of the dailies, "the Iruekpen could have as well refused to hand out their daughter in marriage to an Egba man in the fist instance".

The argument of Chief Bankole seems persuasive. In law, the principle is "volenti non fit injuria"- meaning he who consents to an injury cannot turn back to complain of it. Similarly, "he, who takes benefit of a state of affair in law, cannot be heard to complain of same" and he who also "takes benefits consents to taking attendant burdens".
Whichever way the issue is viewed, it would be anathema to argue that Egba's traditions which insist on burying their wives, who are not only their daughters by virtue of marriage, but also Egba Chiefs as in the case of the late Chief (Mrs.) Stella Obasanjo, is unreasonable. Quite realistically, it will also appear irrational to argue that the ontology of the Iruekpen on the issue is baseless.

Given the above illustrations and explanations, it is thus reasonable to conclude that none of the two ontological dispositions as to burial is superior or inconsistent. The necessary implication is that the status quo ante-the state of affairs- at the time of the incident be maintained and sustained.

I therefore urge this legal and jurisprudential reasoning in arguing that the ontological positions of the Egbas and Irukpens are both valid. I sincerely appeal to the parties in maintaining the status quo ante and resist the temptations of denigration of the traditions of the other or attempting to invade another's compound or communities in reversing the present state of affairs, as threatened in the above quoted newspapers.