Obasanjo: When formal procedures collide with customary practices


E di de! (Stand up!). E joko! (Sit down!), a resonant male voice echoed loudly through the phone, possessing an authoritative and guttural tone. The voice bore a resemblance to that of a military officer barking orders to troops on parade, yet it was unmistakably the voice of the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo.

Although retired from his General’s rank, Obasanjo, in this particular video, was not overseeing soldiers on a military drill.

Instead, his audience comprised traditional rulers from various regions of Oyo State, adorned in flowing robes and holding their staffs of office.

Astonishingly, they complied with his commands much like soldiers, although the speed at which they stood and sat differed significantly from military precision.

The command carried an air of sternness, leaving no room for friendliness.

This incident unfolded at the unveiling of the Iseyin Campus of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology on September 15, 2023

Obasanjo, known as Ebora Owu, was a guest of the state governor, Seyi Makinde.

Upon their arrival, Obasanjo noticed that while other seated guests stood to welcome the governor and his entourage, the monarchs remained seated.

His frustration with what he perceived as a lack of respect for constituted authority prompted him to deliver a lecture, both in theory and practice, on protocol to the traditional rulers.

The incident sparked numerous commentaries, with opinions divided on the matter.

I have chosen to engage in this debate by addressing two questions.

Firstly, were the traditional rulers correct in remaining seated when the governor and Obasanjo entered the venue? I believe they were not.

I have had the privilege of covering various events presided over by high-ranking government officials, such as ministers, governors, and Presidents.

The customary practice is for all seated individuals, including traditional rulers, to rise as a sign of respect when such officials arrive at meetings or events.

Some event hosts may even request guests to stand as they announce the arrival of these dignitaries.

At such events, the national anthem is typically recited while standing, signaling the start of proceedings. Afterward, the government official may invite everyone to sit while taking their own seat.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan was particularly accustomed to this procedure during his presidency.

Whenever he arrived at events, the first words he uttered were almost always, “Thank you, please be seated!” This implied that people had risen when he entered the venue.

However, there was a memorable incident during a cocktail reception in honor of the national football team, the Super Eagles, at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Chairs were not provided, as guests were expected to socialize while enjoying drinks and appetizers.

When Jonathan arrived and issued his customary directive, “Thank you, please be seated!” there was laughter and murmuring because obeying the presidential order meant sitting on the floor.

The former President himself quickly recognized his error and joined in the laughter.

In my view, there is no doubt that all those seated, regardless of age or position, usually stand to welcome these government officials.

In some cases, highly placed individuals in attendance may even be asked to line up at the entrance to welcome these VVIPs and then enter the venue with them.

Similarly, I am aware that similar customs are followed in the palaces of traditional rulers.

Guests rise when they enter and remain standing until the monarchs take their thrones.

Some may even prostrate or kneel as a sign of respect as the monarchs make their entrance.

Having addressed the question of whether the traditional rulers were right or wrong to remain seated, I will proceed to the second question.

Could Obasanjo have handled the situation differently? With all due respect to the former President, I believe a different approach was possible.

Obasanjo could have sought a private audience with the monarchs after the event, explaining the implications of their behavior and advising against a recurrence.

Alternatively, if he felt the need to make his observation publicly, he could have conveyed his message without resorting to commanding them to stand and sit, resembling a teacher disciplining pupils.

This approach diminished their esteemed status, and in my view, Obasanjo simply corrected one perceived wrong with another.

Despite the bold public comments from Obasanjo and the traditional rulers, lessons can be learned from both sides.

The traditional rulers, I suspect, will not remain seated when the state governor arrives at any future event, except for those who are elderly and unable to stand for extended periods.

It is also my belief that Obasanjo, no matter how provoked he may be, may never again publicly reprimand high-ranking individuals (not just traditional rulers) as he did in Iseyin.

The Iseyin incident exemplified a clash between protocol and tradition, and in such situations, wisdom is needed to handle the aftermath.

For now, let all parties, including third parties, allow the matter to rest.


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