The monthly environmental sanitation in Oyo State seems to have no serious impact in the Irefin district of Ibadan where the “Irefin Palace” a century old edifice and one of the oldest palaces in the city, is situated. mounds of animal faeces and litter, surrounds the once magnificent structure and makes the palace a very unhealthy environment to live.
The palace serves different purposes to different people. For the residents of the area, it is a marketplace where various foodstuffs, and live animals like and some local items can be bought. Services providers like tailors, barbers, hairdressers and wristwatch repairers also have shops there where they dispense their services. For a long time, it has also been an attraction for tourists, who come from within and outside the city to see it .
However, in recent times, the buildings in the palace premises have all become death traps, especially to their occupants as they are in so much disrepair that they are on the verge of collapse. If the Government of Oyo State does not take urgent steps, the buildings would collapse totally and result in loss of life .
The palace, which these days is mostly occupied by old members of the Irefin family, dates to the early 19th century. However, years of neglect has ensured that parts of the palace have collapsed. and it is gradually turning into a burial site because of the number of the members of the Irefin dynasty have been buried in the palace. The palace has about 125 rooms which were constructed with mud blocks and enclosed with strong fence by the sixth monarch of Ibadanland, late Baale Irefin Oguntade who reigned between 1912 and 1914. the site also has about 300 family members of the Oguntade’s lineage comprising: Fagbunre, Ogundeji and Igun families.
In the palace, a one storey building is situated in the middle of the compound with adjoining bungalows to the sides and a spacious courtyard in the middle while attached buildings were also constructed at the back.
Investigations revealed that the storey building, which has been locked up for years and is only opened for tourists, was occupied by King Irefin and his nuclear family members while palace workers, servants, and the king’s extended family members occupied the adjourning bungalows. The Baale’s palace was constructed in a way that it was quite easy for Baale Irefin to see the entire compound from his room upstairs and it made it easy for anybody to hear the call of the Baale whenever he makes any such calls through the palace middle window.
The unhygienic state of the palace makes for a very pathetic sight. the only place for all the occupants to bathe is a small bathroom at the entrance of the palace. The entire rooms and the passages are covered in soot as a result of the palace’s residents cooking in the passages due to lack of kitchens for them to cook in.
Mr. Fatai Ogundeji Irefin,an elderly member of the Irefin family, and a retired sergeant of the Nigeria Army, acts as the guide for tourists coming into the palace He told us that Irefin people are Owus who migrated from Owu town in Osun State. “Because of war, the Owu kingdom collapsed and its indigenes spread across the Southwest in 1825. Among the places they scattered to are: Owu in Abeokuta, Erunmu, close to Iwo, Apomu and Ibadan. “Irefin is a name of a person. His father was a warrior and his father migrated to Ibadan where he was allocated a place which includes where the palace is today which was normal practice then (when Ibadan was settled).”
As a result of his service to humanity and protection of his people, Irefin, the son of Oguntade was appointed as Baale ( the title is now known as Olubadan) of Ibadanland. The monarch, who was described as an incorruptible leader, was said to have served his people creditably and his name would never be forgotten in the annals of Ibadan. He was a fearless king who “stood shoulder to shoulder” with the then Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Adeniran Adeyemi 11, who was the father of the current Alaafin, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi 111.
Irefin. who reportedly rebuffed the then Alaafin over his attempt to claim superiority over Ibadan as contained in a letter captioned, “Baale of Ibadan”, written by the Secretary of Southern Provinces dated September 1936. In the letter, Baale Irefin and his chiefs petitioned the government against the insult from Alaafin. However, the Alaafin later had his way after allegedly succeeded in buying over Irefin’s chiefs and getting the then District Commissioner of Oyo State, Captain W.A. Ross to depose him.
Ogundeji, also added that Irefin dynasty is famous for its professional blacksmiths, but there are none to be found these days because no descendant want to learn the trade anymore. Ogundeji continues: “Irefin was appointed on merit as a protector of his people. He never failed in war. He did very well even when he was appointed as a Mogaji over his clan. he discouraged the citizens of Ibadan from raiding other towns in order to enrich himself unlike a lot Baales of Ibadan did. He even cut off the hands of people caught stealing”.
He disclosed that Irefin palace was formerly the second largest palace in the city, but with the demolition of the only palace larger than it, Ibikunle’s palace, which was sold in pieces, Irefin palace became the biggest. For him (Ogundeji) palaces like Irefin’s need to be preserved so that future generations will know what traditional and ancient palaces look like.
He stated further that apart from Basel Irefin discouraging robbery, he introduced taxes to maintain the city, stopped the exportation of palm oil when it became scarce. Ogundeji emphasizes: “He introduced taxes for the development of the town. He instructed that nobody should buy or sell palm oil in big containers but in small pots so that it would not be sold out of the city and will be enough for the inhabitants of the city of Ibadan. He is also said to have contributed the highest amount of money for the construction of Ibadan Grammar School”.
Ogundeji is concerned at the lack of traditional palaces in the city. he points out that the palace at Oja’ba cannot be referred to as traditional palace as it lacks all the features that qualifies it as a traditional palace, he appealed to the state government to ensure that Irefin palace is maintained. “This palace is collapsing. We beg the government to help us maintain and rebuild it because we do not have the financial power to maintain it. Do you think somebody like me, a military retiree can maintain it? No.
Ogundeji further explained that apart from the state government and council representatives who usually come to the palace to see the possibility of upgrading it to tourist centre, ministers from Abuja and representatives of the Federal Government and foreign investors have also come in to see what can be done to turn the palace into money making tourist trap.
Speaking on a telephone chat, the Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Toye Arulogun confirmed the tourist potentials of Irefin’s palace, stressing that it is one of the sites the government has identified and hoped to package and promote for tourism. “The major challenge is how to secure an understanding with the family that owns the palace. Government is willing to develop the palace. If the family could operate symbiotically with the government on the palace, there will be a turnaround of the palace”, he added.