It was a Saturday and we just finished playing football at the pitch of my weekend recreational club. Akeem Salau, a club member and friend (he is very much older than me. I call him Egbon) was telling another friend casually that his family was organizing a prayer session to commemorate the 12th year anniversary of the passing on of his mother at Igbo Ora, Oyo State.
My ears tingled when I heard Igbo Ora. My diary was free for the next three days. I told Akeem I would tag along and he agreed. Make I waka go Igbo Ora jare, I thought.
‘Is there a Magistrate or Customary Court in Igbo Ora?’ I asked him. In my mind I thought there could be something worth writing about the court in the town.
He was not sure and he immediately called his uncle who spoke to us on phone. He informed us that there is not only a Magistrate Court but there is also a High Court sitting at Igbo Ora.
‘High Court ke, ni Igbo Ora?’ I asked Akeem. I was certainly going to see it. I never thought a High Court could be sitting in Igbo Ora. I used to think of Igbo Ora as a small town filled with Igbo (bushes).
We left Lagos on a Thursday at about 6:20 a.m. we took Lagos/Abeokuta Expressway through Ota/Ifo axis and turned off to the right when we got to Ita Oshin and traversed that part of Egba land to Oyo State.
By the time I woke up from my short nap, Akeem told me we were about to cross the Oyen River which is the boundary between Ogun and Oyo States at that point.
We sped along the Badagry/Sokoto Expressway as Akeem expertly dodged the pot holes on the road. We arrived at the outskirt of Igbo Ora around 9: a.m.
Before we entered the town, Akeem gave me some heads up as we saw some vigilantes on the expressway. He told me most of the vigilantes were hunters but that the security unrest warranted that they team up to complement the police. Most of the vigilantes carried shot guns that looked like a mid-nineteenth century Remington at a distance or could have been locally made too. I was not close enough to be sure and I was not going to ask any of those mean looking men where their guns were made.
As we entered the town, we made a quick detour to eat at a popular restaurant of the town known as Hossanah. From the road, I should say Hossanah appeared to be on a low hill but is not actually a hill. The geological terrain of that part of the town is undulating and gave the upper terrain where Hossanah was sitting the look of a hill. We veered off the road to the left and drove up a slope of about forty feet from the ground level of the road to the restaurant. We got to the restaurant at exactly 9:12 a.m. and it appeared we were the first customers of the day. There was no rice that early we were told. Amala was already on the fire. We waited for some minutes and we treated ourselves to plates of hot amala and ilasa with goat meat. One could not ask for a better way for an adventurous day to start. We left Hossanah and proceeded to the town.
Igbo Ora is about 80 kilometers north of Lagos and the headquarters of the Ibarapa Central Local Government Area of Oyo State. The town is not any different from any Yoruba Town. There are the churches and mosques all over the town. One could easily notice the dominance of Baptist and Anglican churches as regards the churches in sight. Igbo Ora is a predominantly agrarian town. Agriculture and trade in agricultural products are the main stay of the economy of the town.
You could see the farmers going and coming from their farms on bicycles and on foot with their basic farming tools or farm produce strapped to the bicycles or balanced on their heads. The basic tools one would see – cutlass, hoe, basket and occasionally a shot-gun for hunters. The scent of the air was very different from that of Lagos. The air smelt of green; it smelt of nature.
I should take time to visit the country side more, I thought.
‘Igbo Ora is popularly known to have the highest birth rate of twins in the country and probably in the world.’ Akeem told me.
I glared at him like ‘Egbon kilode na? E de ro ra.’
‘See as you dey look like thief. Google am na.’ He said and smiled as he looked at me and back to the road as we drove down the slope from Hossanah.
I brought out my phone but there was no network at that point.
We passed the Kara market which is the main market of the town. The market is at the other side of the Badagry/Sokoto Expressway almost directly facing Hossanah. The market, in contrast to the elevated plains where Hossanah is sitting, is on the lower plains giving both sides of the roads the outlook of a valley and a hill. I noticed a considerable number of Hausa/Fulani guys in the market. I was informed they deal mainly in the cattle business as people come from the whole of the south-west of the country to buy cows there. The prices are friendly, I heard.
By the time we got into town, I checked Google for Igbo Ora. True to Akeem’s assertion, the town is known for high birth rate of twins. The people attribute the frequency of their twin-bearing to the consumption of okra leaves popularly known as Ilasa used as a complementary vegetable in the mix of goat, cow or fish stew to be devoured with amala. Well, I already had the first taste of the Igbo Ora cuisine and I did not complain; it got my day started. Although to me, the taste was not any different from ewedu.
We went to Akeem’s uncle’s house and he introduced me to his uncle as his Lawyer friend who spoke with him four days earlier. The uncle was lanky and looked fit. He was wearing a grey kaftan when we met him.
‘Se ofin ti gbe wa ni?’ The uncle asked jokingly which means ‘have we transgressed the law?’
‘Rara sah. A kan wa ba yin sere ni sah.’ I replied telling him I was just there for sightseeing.
‘Won ni e fe mo kootu wa?’ He asked which means ‘I was told you want to visit our court?’
‘Beni sa.’ I replied in the positive.
I explained to him that I wanted to write about the court, stating my surprise that there was a High Court in Igbo Ora and that it would be a pleasure to see it.
After the Uncle had arranged for a ram to be slaughtered, canopies and chairs to be rented for the remembrance prayer, he called the Chief Imam of Igbo Ora as a reminder that 12:00 noon was the time for prayer. Then he was ready to take us to the court. Before we left, I had the opportunity of seeing some bunches of ilasa. It was not too different from ewedu as I had earlier observed from my taste. But the leaves were slightly bigger then ewedu.
Akeem’s uncle informed me that there is a court staff who is his boy in the neighborhood and would give us all the assistance in respect of any information we wanted to know.
We drove out of their family compound to Abeokuta Road and then unto Idere Road where the court is located.
We chatted as we drove to the court on the narrow but smooth road.
I gathered Igbo Ora as it is presently known today comprises of these quarters – Igbole, Pako, Iberekodo, Sagauun, Idofin, and Igbo Ora. Igbo Ora derived its name from a fruit called Iwera. The fruit was said to be found mainly in the forest before anybody settled down permanently in the town. The story was that when people came there in the olden days for hunting, Igbo Iwera (meaning the forest of Iwera or the bushes of Iwera) was a meeting point for the hunters as it was common for hunters to agree to wait for themselves at Igbo Iwera which was later constricted to Igbo Ora.
The history of the town I gathered from other sources was that the town was founded by Lajorun. Lajorun was said to be a great-grandson of Oranmiyan. He was searching for a good land far from the Dahomean war that was taking place at that time and moved with his family and some other people. He founded the town and it grew into the present day Igbo Ora. Akeem’s uncle said there is another version that states he migrated from Ekiti. But Akeem’s Uncle clarified it that Lajorun did not find the whole of what is known today as Igbo Ora but founded the part called Igbo Iwera (later constricted to Igbo Ora) which term was unanimously used for the whole town comprising all the six quarters. All the other quarters that make up present day Igbo Ora also have their histories.
The other quarters that formed Igbo Ora named their quarters by the name of what they found in their settlement. Igbole was said to be founded by Baba Aso a descendant of Olubara from Ibara Orile in today’s Ogun State and the quarter was so named because the forest in the area was so thick and they referred to it as Igbo lile (thick forest or thick bushes) and later constricted to Igbole.
Pako was founded by Ogboja, a woman and a descendant of one of the Alaafins of Oyo; it is not clear which of the Alaafins. She named the quarter Pako because Ako tree was plenty in the area. It was called papa ako (the fields of Ako or Ako fields) before it was constricted to Pako.
Iberekodo was found after a civil war broke out in Igbole. Some people migrated to that part of town because of the civil war and named the place Iberukoduro later constricted to Iberekodo.
Lagaye a hunter from Oyo founded Sagauun and named the part where he settled as such because of sagoyin tree mainly found in that area. His brother Lasogba who was trying to locate him after many years found him at Sagauun. After some days Lagaye took his brother Lasogba to Idofin forest and he settled there with his people.
They all adopted the name Igbo Ora as the name of the town because they all believed Igbo Ora (Igbo Iwera) belonged to all the quarters.
‘Die die oo, a ti fe de be o,’ Akeem’s uncle told Akeem to slow down as we were close to the court.
I could see the court’s sign board at about 200 yards away. We slowed down and turned right into the red earth driveway of the court. The court building was standing there at a distance of about 150 meters from the road like a handsome middle-aged lonely tired laborer whose teenage wife just eloped with her teenage lover. There was no sign of life.
The first impression I had about the court-house was the structural design; it looked familiar. I had seen it somewhere but could not pinpoint where.
A woman, who wore the apparel of a cleaner, emerged from within the court building. She stood at the entrance and looked at us without flinching.
‘En le o,’ my friend’s uncle greeted the woman.
‘Kolawole (not real name) nko?’ Akeem’s uncle asked for the court staff.
The woman acknowledged our greetings and answered that Kolawole was not inside the court but must be around somewhere. As we were discussing where he could be, Kolawole emerged from the bushes. He is a man of average height and slightly fair in complexion. He did not look like the regular Lagos civil servant I am used to. He was wearing a blue tee-shirt over a faded trouser. He approached us slowly and looked at us curiously until he saw Akeem’s uncle and his eyes showed recognition and some relief.
‘Egbon, e kasan.’ He greeted Akeem’s uncle and the rest of us.
My friend’s uncle told him our mission and he was glad to help but he was not to be quoted. He took us around and gave us the basic information about the court.
By the time I started asking Mr. Kolawole questions about the court, there was little wonder why the edifice looked familiar. It used to be the secretariat of the defunct political party, Social Democratic Party (SDP) of the aborted third republic in Igbo Ora. And anybody who was familiar with the structure of the party’s local secretariats in the south-west of the country would know all the local secretariats had the same structural design. It was thereafter turned into a local council office of some sort before it finally became the aboard of the High Court in Igbo Ora, the court staff told us as we conversed in Yoruba.
The court is painted in yellow and light brown and is built on a big expanse of land of red earth which could not be less than ten plots. It was difficult to approximate the size of the land as there was a fence only on the right side. The left side had no fence which suggests the vast unending land to the left could be part of the court land.
The court was established in 2008 during the administration of Governor Christopher Alao-Akala, I was informed.
The court building occupied a quarter of the cleared land that could reasonably be attributable to the court.
The court staff stated that the only challenge of the court was electricity. The court was yet to be connected to the electricity mains of the town as at the time of out visit. The court ran fully on electricity generating plants and had two of such plants.
The court was on vacation when we visited but was well-kept. The grasses and flowers were trimmed. The cleaner we saw earlier came in everyday to do the cleaning. The court room was neat and tidy.
I was informed that the Presiding Judge did not reside in Igbo Ora but comes from Ibadan once in two weeks to sit in the court. When necessary he made out special sitting dates for pressing matters. We were informed the hardworking Judge also sits in Ibadan.
Our source informed us that the major cases in the court were land matters and occasionally there were some criminal matters.
For me, the fact that a High Court sits in Igbo Ora had notched up the town in my estimation. I will no longer think of the town as a remote town of bushes. I reckoned it was worth stating that there is a High Court of Oyo State sitting in the town better known for the high birth rate of twins.