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Royal Overreach: The King’s Misstep in Challenging the Chief Imam of Ogbomosoland

By Kazeem A. Oyinwola LL.M. ABR, MCIArb

In his letter to the Chief Imam of Ogbomoso land dated 14th June 2024, the King, Oba Oba Afolabi Ghandi Olaoye, the Soun of Ogbomoso wrote thus: “…And I am not aware of any subsisting order of court restraining me from issuing queries to you or any of the chief installed by me as the Prescribed Authority of minor chiefs within Ogbomosho land and as paramount ruler of Ogbomoso land. I am equally not aware of any subsisting order of any competent court of law restraining me from removing you as Chief Imam Agba of Ogbomosoland for breach of your oath of office…”

In my view, the above quote from the King’s letter is the real deal. This is the point where the King got it wrong. First, from the wording of the paragraph, the King was under the impression that he was the one who installed the Chief Imam of Ogbomoso land. Secondly, the King probably thought the post of Chief Imam is the same as the post of a minor chief. And thirdly, claiming to be the Prescribed Authority of minor chiefs in Ogbomoso land, the King plausibly thought he could issue a query to the Chief Imam just the same way he could issue a query to any of his minor chiefs installed by him.

To start with, it is on record that the Chief Imam of Ogbomoso land was appointed on 11th November 2021 at the time the current King did not even know he was going to become a King. It’s therefore factually incorrect as claimed in the letter that the current King, appointed sometimes 2023, installed the Chief Imam as the Chief Imam of Ogbomoso land. Except the King can prove that he was the Soun (King) of Ogbomoso as at November 2021 or that he went to the past to install the Chief Imam before coming to the future to become the King in September 2023.

Furthermore, the King erroneously considered the office of the Chief Imam to be the same as that of minor chiefs to which he is the prescribed Authority for appointment and discipline. A critical look at the provision of the Chiefs Law of Oyo State (as amended) puts this issue in proper perspective. Section 3 of the Chiefs Law of Oyo State (as amended) defines a ‘Chief’ as “a person whose Chieftaincy title is associated with a native community and includes a minor chief and a recognised chief.” The section further defines a ‘Minor Chief’ as “a chief other than a Recognised chief” and a Recognised Chief as  “a person appointed into a Recognised Chieftaincy.” You may then ask, what is a Recognised Chieftaincy? Well, according to section 2 of the Chiefs Law, a ‘Recognised Chieftaincy’ is “a Chieftaincy to which the provisions of the part 2 (of the law) apply”.

When one looks at Part 2 of the law, one can see clearly that the post of Imam including the office of Chief Imam is not amongst the offices to which the provisions of Part 2 of the law apply. Thus, it is safe to assert that the office of Chief Imam or the post of Imam is not a recognized Chieftaincy under the law Chiefs Law of Oyo State (as amended).

What then about Minor Chiefs? Could Chief Imam of Ogbomoso land possibly be a minor chief subservient to the direct authority of the King in Ogbomoso land? To answer this question, we need to look at the provisions of Part 3 of the Chiefs Law which regulate and govern the appointment of minor chiefs.

By section 22 of the Law, only the Governor is empowered to appoint, in respect of a local government or group of local governments, a person as a Prescribed Authority for the appointment of Minor Chiefs whose Chieftaincy is associated with a native community in that area. Assuming for the sake of argument that the current King of Ogbomoso land has been appointed by the Governor as the Prescribed Authority, to be appointed as a ‘Minor Chief’ by the prescribed Authority, section 22(2) requires that the person to be appointed should be entitled by customary law and the appointment into the position of Minor Chief must be in accordance with customary law.

Now to interrogate whether the post of Imam or the office of Chief Imam is the same as that of a minor chief, one must first ask whether the entitlement to be appointed as an Imam or Chief Imam is regulated by customary law and whether the appointment is done in accordance with customary law. In other words, is the Chief Imam of Ogbomosoland a person whose Chieftaincy title is associated with a native community or a person entitled under customary law or a person whose appointment is done in accordance with customary law?

There is no doubt that the position of Chief Imam is that of a religious leadership. The Chief Imam is primarily a religious leader within the Muslim community. He leads prayers, provides spiritual guidance, and often has significant influence over religious matters. By any stretch of the imagination, it’s not a title associated with a native community nor a title to which its appointee is entitled by customary law or an appointment done in accordance with Yoruba custom. A Minor Chief, on the other hand, is typically a traditional or cultural leader within a native community. This role is more associated with local governance, cultural preservation, and community leadership. The appointment of a Chief Imam follows the provisions of Islamic law and not Yoruba native law and custom.

Or does Islamic law pursuant to which an Imam is appointed qualify as customary law for the purpose of section 22(2) of the Chiefs Law? As far back as 1908, the question of whether Islamic law is the same as customary law has been settled in our court. In the case of Lewis v. Bankole (1908) 1 NLR 81 at 100, the court defined what constitutes customary law. The position became clearer in the locus classicus case of Alkamawa v. Bello [1998] 6 SCNJ 127 where His Lordship Hon. Justice Abubakar Bashir Wali (JSC) said thus:

“Islamic law is not the same as customary law as it does not belong to any particular tribe. It is a complete system of universal law, more certain and permanent and more universal than the English Common Law.”

It therefore goes without saying that by all standards, Chief Imam is not a Recognized Chieftaincy nor a Minor Chief subject to customary law under the Chiefs Law of Oyo State (as amended). It also follows that the undue interference by the King on the issue of Chief Imam to the extent that the King is assuming direct authority over the issue of Chief Imam of Ogbomoso land is ultra vires. The Chief Imam is neither a minor chief directly under the King nor is he subject to the King’s direct authority as other minor chiefs under the law.

This being the case, the purported query dated 10th June, 2024 and the subsequent letter dated 14th June, 2024 written by the King and the contents therein are ultimately a non-starter. Also, directing the Chief Imam to return to the country immediately from hajj pilgrimage on the ground that he didn’t obtain his consent is equally ultra vire. The right to freedom of movement and the right to freedom of religion are constitutional rights, and the Chief Imam does not require the permission of a King to exercise those rights. Besides, the directive smacks of general ignorance of the importance of hajj pilgrimage and its rites, and can be perceived as a religious intolerance taken too far especially considering the fact that the King himself is a non-muslim.

Those advising the King should be sincere with him. They owe him the duty to advise him sincerely. What he is doing currently is unprecedented. He is perhaps the first King in Ogbomoso land to be doing that as I am yet to lay my hand on any historical account, record or evidence from the reign of the first King of Ogbomoso, Soun Olabanjo Ogunlola Ogundiran, down to the current King where the King has ever been directly involved in undue interference with the position of Chief Imam of Ogbomoso land to the extent of even mooting the idea or attempting to remove the Chief Imam. The King should respect the institution of Islam as respect begets respect. If it’s some aggrieved Muslims that are pushing the King behind the scene, the King should resist the bait and focus on his primary role of custodial of culture and tradition. He should not allow himself to be misled.

The unfolding events no doubt underscore a critical misunderstanding of both legal jurisdiction and cultural boundaries. As guardians of tradition and custodians of community harmony, it is imperative for leaders to respect the diverse roles within their realms. The office of the Chief Imam, rooted in religious duty and communal guidance, stands distinct from the administrative purview of minor chiefs. This distinction, rooted in both legal precedent and cultural understanding, must guide any future engagements between the King and religious leadership in Ogbomoso and in Yoruba lands. It is my hope that this discourse serves as a clarion call for mutual respect and adherence to established legal frameworks, ensuring the preservation of both religious freedoms and traditional governance in Ogbomosoland.

*Kazeem A. Oyinwola writes from Abuja. He can be reached via

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