The March 28 presidential election has made some traditional rulers in the South-West geopolitical zone millions of naira richer, SUNDAY PUNCH has learnt.
Findings show that this change of fortunes was brought about by President Goodluck Jonathan’s quest for the support of the traditional rulers and their subjects for his re-election bid.
Jonathan, the Peoples Democratic Party candidate, has virtually relocated to the South-West since the Independent National Electoral Commission postponed the general elections. The President has traversed the geopolitical zone, holding series of meetings with traditional rulers, groups and individuals.
Analysts have said South-West voters might determine the outcome of the presidential election. As a result, the All Progressives Congress and the PDP are making strenuous efforts to win the votes of the region.
SUNDAY PUNCH learnt that the President and his team doled out various amounts of money in dollars to monarchs during his recent visits to the region. It was, however, gathered that a few of the traditional rulers and chiefs turned down the money.
Competent sources disclosed to our correspondents that a handful of Obas received as high as $250,000 each, while the least paid were traditional rulers of small towns who were given $10,000 each.
Sources say the sum of money given to each traditional ruler is determined by a set of criteria, which range from status and class — whether first-class, second-class, or mere traditional chief — to the popularity and perceived political clout of the monarch.
The traditional ruler of a prominent South-West ancient city, which the President visited was said to have been given $250,000 (N50m) while other traditional chiefs were given $10, 000 (N2.2m).
A prominent lawyer, who spoke to SUNDAY PUNCH in confidence, alleged that each of the paramount rulers received about $250,000 (about N50m). He, however, added that some of the senior Obas were expected to share the largesse with their subordinate Obas and chiefs.
He said, “We learnt that the Yoruba Obas in the highest category got $250,000, a part of which will go to the lower Obas. Ironically, a son of one of the prominent Obas is contesting on the platform of the opposition, APC. Interestingly, when the President visited the palace, the father dressed the son with the same attire as the others.”
On February 21, Jonathan after inaugurating the Olorunsogo Power Plant 2, at Papalanto in Ewekoro Local Government Area of Ogun State, held a private meeting with some prominent traditional rulers in the state.
At the meeting were the Akarigbo of Remoland and Chairman of the Ogun State Traditional Council, Oba Michael Sonariwo; Alake and the Paramount Ruler of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo; Olowu of Owu, Oba Adegboyega Dosunmu; Olu of Itori, Oba Fatai Akamo; Oniro of Iro, Oba Adebari; Olu of Owode-Egba, Oba Kolawole Sowemimo; and other traditional rulers, mostly from the Ogun Central Senatorial District.
The Awujale and paramount ruler of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, and Olu of Ilaro, the Paramount Ruler of Yewaland, Oba Kehinde Olugbenle, were absent.
Jonathan returned to Ogun State on Thursday and paid a private visit to the Awujale in his palace at Ijebu Ode.
Also, three weeks ago, the President was in Oyo State, where he visited the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, and the Soun of Ogbomoso, Oba Oladunni Ajagungbade, in their respective palaces.
On March 7, the President visited the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, in Ile-Ife, Osun State, to seek the support of the monarch and his colleagues for his re-election.
Apart from the Ooni, the Orangun of Oke-Ile, Oba Adedokun Abolarin; the Owamiran of Esa Oke, Oba Oba Adeyemi Adeniran; the Olufi of Gbongan, Oba Adetoyese Oyeniyi; Alowa of Ilowa, Oba Bukola Ali; the Olojudo of Ido Osun, Oba Adeen Aderemi; and monarchs from the entire Ile-Ife region were at the palace to receive the President.
The President, thereafter, proceeded to Ilesa where he also met with the Owa Obokun of Ijesaland, Oba Adekunle Aromolaran, another paramount ruler. Traditional rulers from Ijesaland were also present at the Owa’s palace to receive the President.
In Ekiti State, a similar scenario played out. Jonathan met Ekiti monarchs when he visited the state for the PDP campaign in January, it was learnt on Friday. About 50 traditional rulers were present at the meeting and the President took time to shake hands with all of them.
A source within the PDP told our correspondent that traditional rulers categorised as ‘mere traditional chiefs’ were given $10,000 each by the President’s aides. The monetary gift, it was gathered, was given to “appreciate the presence of the traditional rulers and solicit their support for the President’s re-election.”
Similarly, a source in the palace of a prominent traditional ruler in one of the South-West states, said, “It is true that the President gave out money to the kings. But it was not a huge sum as speculated. Thus, the kings should not be seen as being bought over. Our kings are men of good standing in the public. Their consciences are not for sale and could not have been bought.”
The windfall from the President is not limited to traditional rulers alone as groups and individuals have also benefitted hugely from it.
The groups, which included market women, students, professional and ethnic groups, SUNDAY PUNCH learnt, made between $5,000 and $100,000 in Lagos. All the groups that visited Jonathan at the State House, Marina, went home richer.
The largesse however caused rancour among some of the groups as members accused their leaders of short-changing them.
A member of a popular Yoruba group that visited Jonathan in Lagos said his group received $50,000.
Speaking under the condition of anonymity, he said, “We were given $50,000 when we finished meeting the President; but to my surprise, our leader gave me only $500. A lot of us are not happy with what he did.”
The Secretary, Board of Trustees, National Council of Traditional Rulers in Nigeria, Oba Adedapo Aderemi, however, told one of our correspondents on the telephone that he knew nothing about the President’s largesse.
Aderemi, who is the Olojudo of Ido Osun in Osun State, said the monarchs did not collect any bribe, neither were they offered.
He said, “I do not know anything about the bribe. The President invited us and we went to meet him. Jonathan is our son just like Buhari is our son. As the number one citizen of the country, Jonathan invited us and we honoured the invitation.
“There is none of us who is hungry. Obas in Nigeria are not hungry as far as I know.”
Similarly, the Chairman, Ekiti State Council of Traditional Rulers and the Onitaji of Itaji, Oba Adamo Babalola, said they (kings) did not receive money from Jonathan at any time.
He said, “I’m not aware. Nothing of such happened to my knowledge. If that happened, I was not part of it.”
In the same vein, the Ondo State Council of Traditional Rulers said it did not benefit from Jonathan’s cash gift.
A member of the council, the Olufon of Ifon, Oba Israel Adeusi, said the allegation was an effort to drag the traditional council into politics and tarnish its image.
“This kind of rumour should be stopped. We are not politicians and we should not be dragged into this kind of politics.
“You have a duty to stop this kind of rumours and protect the integrity of the traditional institution,” he said.
On his part, Oba Kayode Olisa, Oba Ajowa Akoko, said he was not at the meeting where Jonathan met with the traditional rulers in the state.
According to him, he had travelled out of the state and was unable to make the appointment.
Asked if anything was sent to him afterwards, he said, “I am not aware if anything was given; only those who attended will be able to confirm what happened.”
Efforts by SUNDAY PUNCH to get the Presidency’s reaction did not yield any positive result on Saturday as calls made to the telephone line of the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, did not connect.