Apart from the Palace of the Ooni, the most visited site in Ile-Ife is Opa Oranmiyan. The Oranmiyan Cenotaph is marked by a giant obelisk made of stone. It is one of the tallest stone carvings in the world and its mysterious embedded marks are believed to convey some hidden messages. It is a work of art as well as a mysterious and sacramental intrusion into the modern world. Who knows the brilliant artists who toiled to get this done and for what purpose? Today, it is also regarded as a religious object and the chief priest of the Oranmiyan shrine is one of the most powerful in Ile-Ife.
The obelisk is said to commemorate the life and death of Oranmiyan, the most famous and the most prodigious of ancient Ife princes and princesses. He was said to be a grandson of Oduduwa, the founder of the Yoruba dynasty and after a life of restless adventures, was invited home to become the fourth Ooni of Ife. He was the founder of the Oyo dynasty where he took on the cognomen Alaafin, a title that his descendants bore till this day. Before going to Oyo, he was said to have been sent to Benin where he became the first Oba of Benin and succeeded in putting his son, Eweka the First, on the throne.
The Oranmiyan obelisk is of great interest to me. When I was a student at Ife Anglican Grammar School, Ile-Ife, the site was a place of primary interest for our Ife excursion. We also visited often the palace of the Ooni and were admitted as awe-struck children while Alayeluwa, Kabiyesi Adesoji Aderemi, held court. What is still baffling till today is how a society that has developed to the level of carving stones to produce an enduring object of magnificent art like the Opa Oranmiyan, lost that knowledge.
In the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, many Ife arts were stolen by European adventurers and art collectors. The remnants, still of great interest, are still kept in the Ife Museum. But most of the great Ife arts are now housed in the British Museum in London. Carbon dating on the Oramiyan stele indicates that it may be almost 2000 years old. But the great Ife arts, in terracotta, bronze and stone, adorned many museums in the United States and Europe. Some of them are also in the National Museum, Lagos.
Ife is living history. The city is said to be more than 12,000 years. This is the city of the ancient ones; Obatala, Orunmila, Ogun and all the Orisa who populates the Yoruba pantheons. The Ooni, who is believed to be a direct descendant of the mythical Oduduwa, is regarded as the living incarnation of Oduduwa.
Ife still basks in its old glory and holds on tenaciously to the lore of the past. Yet the great knowledge that gave it fame as the land of great artists and poets are not well documented. There is nobody in Ife today who knew how the Opa Oranmiyan was created. Yet Ife remains a city of ancient knowledge and mysteries.
Ife is emblematic of what has happened to Yorubaland. There is an obvious reluctance to document the treasures inherited from the ancestors, especially the great poems that tell so much of the Yoruba stories. Thanks to the efforts of Professor Wande Abimbola and other writers, we now have in cold prints, some of the great poems of Ifa, said to have been created by one of the ancients of Ife, Orunmila. Many of those great poems are still outside the scope of modern scholarship.
I don’t know whether there is any book that records the panegyrics of the leading obas like the Ooni, the Alaafin, the Awujale, the Alake and the Olubadan. Yet to be fully recorded are the ofo, ayajo, ekun iyawo, ijala ode and oriki. All these traditional works are being left mostly to fallow.
We were told that in the old Western Region, education was given the utmost attention to the extent that it accounted for almost 40 percent of the regional budget. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the first Premier of the Region and his successor, Chief Ladoke Akintola, paid great attention to scholarship. Communities and missionary bodies were encouraged to set up educational institutions. Those institutions were aided with grants. Today education is regarded as a business and those involved are targets of high taxation. Gone were the days of grant-aided schools. Gone were the days when public schools were regarded as the best.
It is noteworthy that all the governors of the South-West states are products of public and missionary secondary schools. Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State attended the famous Christ School, Ado-Ekiti. Governor Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State attended Ife Oluwa Grammar School, Osogbo. Governor Akinwumi Ambode is a product of Federal Government College, Warri, Delta State. Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State attended Aquinas College, Akure while Governor Abiola Ajimobi attended Lagelu Grammar School, Ibadan.
It is obvious that none of the governors would send their children to their former schools. None of the governors also attended Ife Anglican Grammar School, Ile-Ife, my Alma Mata. They could have but none of them was lucky enough to do so. Ife Anglican Grammar School was established in 1955 by the Ife Community led by the Ooni, Oba Aderemi. It started as Ife Grammar School until 1967 when it came under the auspices of the Anglican Christian Mission. It was also then that the pioneering principal, Chief Omoworare, a son-in-law to Oba Aderemi, stepped aside for his successor, Prince Israel Adenrele Ibuoye, who was to serve until 1972.
This Saturday the old students would be gathering in their school compound to see for themselves what has become of the old citadel. The beautiful flower hedges are gone. The fish pond is gone; the horticultural garden, the serene staff quarters of the principal and other senior staff, have been overtaken by a new forest. There is a giant tree growing in the ornate sitting room of the old principal’s quarters. The library, which used to purchase many copies of newspapers daily, is now a shadow of its old self.
It is good that the Osun State government, through its intervention agencies including the State Universal Basic Education Board, is trying to rebuild education in the state. It is time to review the strategy to improve education, especially the theory and practice of free education. Parents need to pay something if only for the stocking of the libraries and the laboratories. A situation where a child would pass through a secondary school without ever seeing a newspaper or being confronted with a conical flask is tragic.
Africa is too far behind in the knowledge race and we cannot afford to remain the same. The backwardness is making the children of Oranmiyan to be restless and listless. They are supposed to lead the world but they are not. This situation is unacceptable and something must be done. There is no better place to start than Ile-Ife, the source of the world. We need to reclaim the old glory of the public schools. Then we can make the acquisition of knowledge an easier task for our children. If we give them the necessary tools perhaps one day they may even discover who built the Oranmiyan obelisk.