Fellow Nigerians, I’m sorry to say that you already missed a lot of hot gist about The Ooni of Ife Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II, if you did not read my column last week. That is the absolute truth. You may have to search for it in order to fully understand and appreciate my drift this week. The saga you are about to read is such an amazing story and a stuff of thrillers.
My relationship with His Imperial Majesty The Ooni transcended what the ordinary mind could decipher. We did not meet often but anytime, or wherever, we did, the mutual affection was always palpable. And this special bond extended to the Palace Chiefs who had come to accept me as an Ife son and welcomed me with open arms like a true offspring of the soil from the source. One of my best friends among the palace operatives is a gentleman called Chief Funlola Olorunnisola, the Press Secretary to the Palace of Adimula Oduduwa, whose son Sunmilola currently works as a top photographer with Ovation International magazine. The relationship between Chief Olorunnisola and I was nearly strained over the blistering articles I wrote about The Ooni during the June 12 fiasco. Those who sought to respond stridently against my principled position failed to visualise the magnitude of The Ooni’s tolerance level as well as the endless love he had for me.
The raging inferno was however quenched particularly by a father-figure, Chief Oyekunle Aremu Alex-Duduyemi, who, incidentally, celebrates his 80th birthday in Lagos tomorrow. I was invited by this business icon who instructed me to calm down and cease fire. I obeyed. There were other interventions from well-meaning Nigerians like Chief Orayemi Orafidiya, a mentor of many years, and King Sunny Ade, who met me and sued for peace. I’m eternally grateful to all for the positive roles they played, especially for understanding the role of journalists in nation-building.
I will always treasure the magnanimity displayed by The Ooni himself who publicly reunited with me as his son at a function in Lagos. It happened on the day Chief Akanni Aluko launched his newspaper, The Third Eye, at The Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, in Victoria Island. Unknown to me, two of Yoruba’s most influential monarchs were present. It was one of those rare moments when they both sat close to each other. The next time it would happen was over five years later at my 40th birthday in the year 2000. I will return to that later. As I made my way to the launch of The Third Eye newspaper, I ran into the convoy of Iku Baba Yeye, The Alaafin of Oyo Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III and he stopped to have a quick word with me. It was from him I knew The Ooni was at the arena.
I walked in briskly and found a seat next to Prince Bayo Adeyemo, the affable son of the then Olubadan of Ibadan. He was apparently happy to see me and he quickly headed to the high table where The Ooni and other dignitaries sat and informed The Ooni of my presence. My articles had generated so much furore and many people were anxious to rescue the situation. I was stunned when The Ooni instantly beckoned to me and I went up to pay homage to him. As soon as I got close to him, I wasted no time in prostrating lizard-like and apologised for writing such a volatile article. “I’m sorry, Kabiyesi… ” I said repeatedly and I could see the final sign of relief on everyone’s face. I knew I had succeeded in making my point and there was no reason to prolong the drama and trauma. The Ooni responded with his famed graciousness by telling me to rise as all was forgotten. “After all a Father cannot quarrel with his son” he quipped. My love for The Ooni quadrupled that day and our relationship blossomed thereafter and never withered again.
As fate would subsequently have it, I was forced into exile by the Abacha military junta, on suspicion of being one of the people operating the pirate station called Radio Freedom, which later changed to Radio Kudirat. I managed to sneak out of Nigeria through Seme border into Cotonou, in Benin Republic, from where I fled further to Togo and Ghana and eventually to London. What I thought was going to be a brief sojourn soon became an Israelite journey that turned into several years. It was while in London that Ovation International was born. The magazine soon became the publication of choice for the rich and famous.
One of our hottest stories in the early days was about the homes of wealthy Nigerians in London and it included the choicest properties owned by Chief Moshood Abiola and The Ooni in Chester Terrace, Dr Mike Adenuga Jnr in East York Terrace, Chief Wahab Iyanda Folawiyo in Hannover Terrace, Dr Bode Olajumoke in Surrey, Mr Jimi Adebisi Lawal in Croydon, Chief Alex Duduyemi with an office in Knightsbridge and home in Templewood, Hampstead, Chief Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion (again) and Prince Samuel Adedoyin on Winnington Avenue, Chief Sonny Odogwu and Chief Amzat Beyioku Adebowale on the gated Compton Avenue, Chief RasaK Okoya on Bishop’s Avenue, The Okotie-Ebohs on The Bishop’s Avenue, Chief Bayo Kuku and Chief Mike Ajeigbo off The Bishop’s Avenue, Dr Deji Adeleke and Alhaji Arisekola-Alao in Brondesbury Park and so on. The Ooni was very impressed with our innovation and our modest contribution to the growth of African journalism and always glowingly spoke about the magazine.
Despite my interactions with members of the privilegentsia, my passion for fighting for the enthronement of democracy and good governance never diminished. I took a kamikaze dive into the pro-democracy activities of the day and actually joined the rebels who ran Radio Kudirat as Yoruba presenter using the pseudonym of Saliu Elenuugboro Eni Olorun o pa.
What surprised The Ooni the most was the role I played alongside Prince Adedamola Aderemi and Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi in the drug case saga that was ostensibly orchestrated to smear The Alaafin of Oyo. Our troika ensured that the Alaafin left the United Kingdom with his head held up high, with the strong support of Prof Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate, who demonstrated once more his patriotic fervour and the desire to foster and protect our culture and tradition. The Alaafin would eventually be vindicated by the British Police.
Rather than gloat over the predicament of his arch-rival, The Ooni would later invite some prominent kings, including the then Ataoja of Osogbo, The Timi of Ede, The Orangun of Ila-Orangun and others to thank us for not allowing such a monumental disgrace on Yoruba traditional institution by political sorcerers.
Every time Prince Adedamola Aderemi and I visited The Ooni at Chester Terrace, he was fond of regaling us with numerous tales. He was a most quintessential and fascinating story-teller. The Ooni was a true and total Nigerian. He knew practically who-is-who in different parts of Nigeria and titillated us with his recollections of both the distant and contemporary times.
Despite his supposed differences with Chief Moshood Abiola, he never stopped admiring the man who gave his life and that of others for the sake of our collective future. And when Chief Abiola died in detention on July 7, 1998, one of the earliest sympathisers I met in Chief Abiola’s London home was Prince Adetokunbo Sijuwade, The Ooni’s son. His presence provided some needed succour for the Abiolas (Deji, Agboola, Bolaji and Wuraola) whose father had spent four excruciating years in solitary confinement. Kola Abiola was the only one in Nigeria at that sad moment.
I soon returned home after spending many years in exile. The year 2000 would remain unforgettable for me as I turned 40 and I made elaborate plans to celebrate a life full of ups and downs. Naturally, I reached out to the high and mighty in society. I was ready to use the occasion to do what Nelson Mandela had done by deciding to forgive those who had wronged me by locking me up in detention or sending me into forced exile. The first leg of my 40th birthday started in Abuja where the former President, General Ibrahim Babangida, was represented by his daughter, Aisha, and the then Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was represented by the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Chief Solomon Ewuga. I was honoured to have the then Minister of Culture and Tourism, Alabo Graham-Douglas, Mrs Daisy Danjuma, Prince Jide Adeniyi and others as guests.
If I thought Abuja was a success, Lagos turned out to be the icing on the cake. This was made possible by the extra-ordinary presence of The Ooni and The Alaafin. Before the commencement of the ceremonies at Sheraton Hotel Lagos, I had invited both kings to the Towers for private entertainment and refreshment. I was initially agitated about how things were going to play out. The Chairman of the occasion, Chief Alex Duduyemi, was placed in a most precarious situation as a citizen of Ife who had to sit between the two royal Fathers. The then Governor Olusegun Osoba later joined us and his effervescent personality ignited a sense of camaraderie. Both Royal personages showed the wisdom of Solomon by embracing peace and even took photographs together. It was a coup of sorts for me!
Subsequently, I met The Ooni several more times, either by design or mere coincidence. We met at home and abroad and he always showered me with love and affection. He even went the extra mile to introduce me to very important personalities wherever we met. The last time I visited him was at the instance of my third son Eniafelamo who was a schoolmate and friend of Prince Adetokunbo’s daughter, Adedunni Sijuwade at Grange School in Lagos. We had travelled to Ile-Ife and The Ooni was very happy to welcome us. He told my young son: “Please, feel free to go anywhere in this palace because this is the place your father was born.” I was deeply touched.
The Ooni was an energetic man who travelled great distances to rejoice or sympathise with friends. He was never tired of flying or driving and his recollections and reflections for me served as a reminder that we must remember our heroes even though they may be long forgotten by a thankless nation.
It may be difficult to find kings like Sir Adesoji Aderemi and Oba Okunade Sijuwade, now or in the future. Those kings raised the bar that may be tough to match. Ile-Ife can never afford to put just anyone in power whenever their king finally joins his ancestors. As it is done in serious monarchies, a search for a credible successor usually starts before the king departs.
At 85, such a search must begin for a veritable successor for a king of that age. The future Ooni would do well to have an impeccable pedigree. Being a son or grandson of a former king should help because he would have had a foretaste of the esoteric tradition of his people. He would have to be young enough, preferably under 60, since the last two kings were crowned at 40 and 50 respectively. He must be well educated at home and abroad like the present Emir of Kano whose appearance on international media platforms makes one proud. He must have a profession or career like the current Emir of Kano and even the Sultan of Sokoto who was in the military.
He must have a personal fortune or the capacity to mobilise funds because the palace of Oduduwa requires some major funding to maintain. He must be a cool and calm personality and humble enough to be able to carry the people of Ife and indeed all Yoruba along. He must be a global citizen and not a local champion at this time and age. A warm relationship with most Yoruba kings should be a beautiful bonus and must be encouraged. He must also be an intelligent and wise man who’s able to solve complex problems. Above all he must be kind hearted, good natured and selfless.
Ile-Ife needs a powerful monarch that will be well respected at home and abroad. A man who is already respected by his peers and elders will certainly serve the Yoruba and also Nigeria well. Men with the virtues I have enumerated are uncommon because leadership qualities like these are rare, but thankfully they exist and must be found and nurtured.
When the time ultimately comes, I am sure the sagacious Kingmakers would give great consideration to the merits I have detailed above and choose a worthy heir to these outstanding Monarchs.