If you lived in Ibadan in the 80’s, ‘ooni ile Dele’ (the crocodile in Dele’s house) was an incredible story that circulated from homes to classes, churches to mosques, it was more of a fable, but it’s true! Yes, there is a family in Ibadan that has a crocodile as pet. An animal only seen in zoos and wildlife channels.
As a pupil at the St Michael Catholic School, Yemetu, Ibadan, I had the luck to know some friends that lived around the compound where they breed the crocodile.
We set a date and secretly plotted our visit to ‘Dele’s Compound’.
It was a sunny Friday afternoon in 1988 (can’t remember the month), I, Saka Bolatito, Saheed Adetunji, Tunde Ladapo and another boy from the nearby Salvation Army Primary School, Yemetu, Ibadan made the short trip to Oje market where Ile Delesolu was located to catch a glimpse of the crocodile.
My young mind was filled with questions and suspense on our way to the compound. I was sweating and kept pondering ‘what if I was eaten by the crocodile?’ ‘how would my mum react?’, I prayed silently in my mind as I remembered my mother’s stern warning ‘come back home immediately you finish from school’, but the crocodile story was too tempting and overruled all the warnings and home training I’ve received.
We got to the compound, but we were too scared of going near. We maintained a distance and observed there was a small pond within the house, to our utmost disappointment, we didn’t see a crocodile. All we saw was an empty pond littered with dirt.
As luck would have it, a young boy walked up to us and as if he read our mind, he shouted ‘ki n jade losan, e wa lale to ba ti fe jeun’ (the crocodile doesn’t come out in the afternoon, come in the evening during its feeding time).
We were happy with the information, at least we confirmed there was truly a crocodile. We made up fantastic stories to tell the school on Monday and we became instant heroes when the story circled round that we saw a live crocodile…so incredible!
Fortunately, the opportunity came 30 years later. I was working on a documentary with the Hello Oduduwa team and we were on an assignment to Delesolu’s Compound, our mission? To interview the family living with a crocodile!
In a bid to find out why a crocodile is being reared in a compound in the heart of one of Ibadan’s most popular markets in Ibadan, I was with the team that went to the compound, unknown to the team it was my second visit.
We had to wait as the head of the family, Chief Raufu Yesufu Delesolu, who doubles as the Oota Olubadan of Ibadanland was holding court . It provided a firsthand experience of what happens in Igbejo Delesolu. He was overseeing a matter brought by traders in the market. When he had settled the matter, we were ushered into the hall and one after the other, Chief Delesolu answered the questions posed by the team.
When asked what was behind the rearing of a crocodile by the family, his response was “it is not a religious thing; it is just a family tradition. When our father came to Ibadan as a soldier, he had it.
He had first settled in Ojaaba but when the place became too small for him and his family, he approached Iba Oluyole who was ruling Ibadan then and he gave him the place we are now. And when they came, they agreed that there had to be a crocodile”.
While making it clear that the tradition is as old as the Oje Market itself, he shed more light as he said “the present crocodile is not the first. The present one was brought in 1940”. Not done, Chief Delesolu explained that “we moved into this hall in 1949. That was when I was in Class One. And since then, I have never seen anyone bringing palm oil or salt to say they are doing any ritual. The only instruction our parents would give us was that we should go and fetch water and pour it where the crocodile is. Sometimes they would tell us to fetch six buckets each and we would be in a hurry to do so; in order to have time to play football”.
He agreed that the crocodile has been a centre of attraction for decades; “back then, Europeans would come and see the crocodile. They were the ones that made us know that we should be feeding it with chicken. Our fathers never gave it chicken; all they did was just pour water. It used to go out then. It would go and stay in the pond near Ojo ‘Badan’s house. Maybe if not for that pond, it would have gone away long ago.
Funny enough some herbalists would come and even people looking for children. There was a day some people in white clothes came and wanted to circle the place but we quickly stopped them so that they won’t give our compound a bad name. I said this is not the Ka’aba, why would you be going round ? So we drove them away”.
Does the crocodile perform any particular function? Oloye Delesolu said “as a family, we believe there are some things that cannot be seen by the ordinary eye. Maybe it has a way of protecting children in the compound. For instance, high fever is not heard of in the compound. You can see that we ran a pipe there; those days we used to pour water and drain the water manually, it would sometimes snatch containers and damage them with its teeth.
It lays eggs, even without mating. It laid eggs some months ago and to retrieve the eggs, we would trick it with a chicken and use the wood there to enclose it at the other end before someone can enter to pack the eggs.
There is nothing religious about it; it is just a family tradition. We are not the only ones that have a crocodile in Ibadan.”
We didn’t leave without asking if there a taboo guiding the tradition or what would happen if there is no crocodile , he looked at the team and said “like I said, it is not a religion. When you know that this thing is your tradition, your family custom, that oh, this was how my fathers did it, you will want to continue that way.
It has never harmed anyone and we don’t even allow it to go out so it is not posing any danger to anybody.
We buy chicken for it but meat sellers in the market come to give it meat, sometimes when animals get killed by vehicles, they will come and give it to the crocodile”.
Again we asked, can there be more than one? “Sometimes Hausa traders bring crocodiles for us to buy but we don’t oblige them because we are not rearing it for food so we don’t need more than one at a time. And when that one dies, whoever is the head of the family at that time will buy a new one”.
When we asked how Igbejo Delesolu came to be, Chief Delesolu laughed and said “Allahu Akbar, this is our own Aso Rock because our family has about 131 compounds extending from Alafara Oje. Igbejo is what our fathers had before the British came with their court system and established customary courts. What we do here is to ensure that peace reigns in the market and till date, if there are disputes in the market they will come here and the matter will be resolved”.
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