Ife’s Ooni, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, has been fascinated by the public for weeks since he started a contest that seemed to inscribe himself in the record books. In two months, the 51st Uni has married six women. By the time you finish reading this, the palace may have announced its marriage to wife number seven (and possibly number eight). For a monarch who has lived through a string of failed marriages, marrying a bunch of women is an embarrassing revenge for the grand departure of his ex-wife. It’s never going to happen again that any woman who fills his harem, every week or so of marriage, gets the same amount of social mileage for getting divorced from him. Marriage becomes a revolving door. If now, any of the six wives — and counting — want to leave him in a dramatic way, it’s no big deal. When she announces her withdrawal on social media, maybe two other people will be lined up as replacements. What better strategy to reduce shame than shameless?

I don’t think anyone took issue with his polygamy, but the almost unprecedented act of marrying one woman a week has people unsettled. As such a series of quickly drawn wedding ceremonies is somewhat unusual, one understandably satirizes the king’s sexuality, at least since the time of Fela and his iconic 27 wives. Cheers and jeers were to be expected, especially since much of Ooni’s private business is in the public domain. Furthermore, traditional rulers are a source of meaning creation, and people cannot but devote themselves to their problems. What I find quite striking about the whole thing is that the political relevance of the modern monarchy, severely weakened under modern democracy, thrives on public attention and, of course, gossip. Nothing inspires gossip more than gender issues because they reflect how much society invests in masculinity and ecstatic politics.

Most likely, Unnie himself enjoys the fantasies projected on him by voyeurs. In a patriarchal society like Nigeria, there seems to be nothing more valuable to a man than being relegated to super sexuality. Some innuendos about his serial marriage combine conspiracy theories with suspicions of demons. Again, for a traditional ruler whose legitimacy rests on the myths and legends of his ancestors and his connection to the 201 gods, Yoruba, and ancestors, the storytellers are doing him a huge favor. In a superstitious society, if people think you have some supernatural power and your behavior is influenced by some otherworldly influence, then you are interested in reinforcing that belief. It creates fear and awe, their means of self-subjectivation in front of you.

Like many, the royal family fascinates me. At times, I am impressed with its resilience. It says a lot that the reserved power structures of the era of absolute domination still have such a big impact on the public imagination. On other days, too, I’m baffled by how people maintain the notion that someone who lives like everyone else somehow embodies “tradition” more than anyone else. Asking us to treat them accordingly feels like a scam to me. Before modern times, kings didn’t even show up to the public. Once crowned, he was deified. Since then, he has distanced himself from ordinary mortals to maintain his myth of invincibility. But now, Obbas takes selfies and posts videos of himself doing what ordinary people do on social media. It may be unthinkable that the Obamas would go into stealth in order to prove that they are a superior species. Anyone who attempts this stunt will be forgotten while alive. What a great way to be a keeper of traditions!

In the part of Nigeria where I come from, some obas don’t even take into account the so-called “traditional” values ​​they should embody before decorating immoral characters with chieftainships. Traditional rulers have proven time and time again that they are complicit in the oppression and abuse of power in modern Nigeria, as with other power structures. If we, as a society, fail to challenge the ways in which traditional rulers undermine our value systems, it is precisely because we believe in the myths of monarchs that connect us to a romantic African past, where our ancestors’ view of the world was simple And pure before being polluted by modernity.

But as any royal will tell you, nostalgia alone isn’t enough to keep people invested in the institution. Every member of the royal family needs glasses too, which can be made available to the public in the form of brilliance or scandal. Their pomp and circumstance impress us and create a sense of being in something deeper than us, longer than our lives, and remaining stable despite social evolution. That’s why the British monarchy doesn’t particularly play with its rituals in public ceremonies. Notably, one of the few times Donald Trump spoke about his mother, he remembered that she was watching Queen Elizabeth’s 1953 coronation on one of New York’s first television sets.

While the grandeur of power is exciting, the royal family also needs the occasional scandal before all its gaudy displays start to feel like a taste of saccharine. Their scandals – mostly family dramas and thus revolving around sexual issues – offset the brilliance and offer a “human interest” angle that makes the royal presence even worth watching. Numerous TV shows about the monarch illustrate how the public can satisfy their desire to watch drama surrounding royals by inventing them. The British monarchy and the cultural industries built around it have benefited enormously from the differences between the likes of Princess Diana and, more recently, Meghan Markle (who has become another media spotlight for them). Scandals are the lifeblood of monarchies, so long as they adequately balance the magnificence of their power.

For nearly five kilometers of our world ruled by one pretending to be royalty or another, the majesty associated with the monarchy is diffuse. To enhance their worth, some traditional leaders have given themselves anachronistic titles such as “His Majesty the Emperor”. In a world that would otherwise see them as remnants of history, insisting on relevance is a wild attempt. Even the “first class” Obas, who embodies the splendor of the royal family, can’t afford to have a little scandal from time to time to stir up the public’s emotions. When the late Alafon Oba Lamidi Adeyemi noticed how the public was watching his wife’s entourage, he turned them into showpieces. Like it or not, at least he makes you look.

Unnie’s marital spree is a compound spectacle of splendor and scandal, and the meaning we derive from his actions depends on how we look at it. Some women saw his union with six of the same sex as a victory for the patriarchy in one fell swoop. Other women believe that these wives lead free lives and that each of their careers is shown as a success. Their wedding to the Uni was a marriage arrangement that gave them status and didn’t necessarily plunge them into the tedious domestic life that doomed most women in monogamous marriages. Joining Uni’s harem is a convenient arrangement for part-time wives. They can always leave when they run out of what the royals have to offer. Nigerian men, especially those who like to value the benefits of polygamy – but fortunately, they also don’t have the financial muscle to practice it – can at least derive the surrogate joy from seeing their fellow men live out their private fantasies. Whichever way you look at the behavior of the Uni, hardly anyone is indifferent, which is quite different for a monarchy.

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