INTERVIEW WITH THE ONIFO OF IFO, OBA OLUJIDE AKINYEMI,
At the Olowu Palace, Oke Ago-Owu, Abeokuta on Monday 25th March, 2013.
NOTE: This dialogue unfolded in a mixture of both the Yoruba and English languages, but has been transcribed virtually totally into English using approximate words as accurately as the author could determine. Every attempt has also been made to recreate the oral atmosphere of the encounter as best as possible!
YEAH! ONIFO, WELCOME SIR
WHAT ARE THE NAMES YOU WERE GIVEN FROM CHILDBIRTH?
“I am Olujide, Olubamiwo Akinyemi. A grandchild of Akinjobi.”
WHEN WERE YOU BORN?
“I was born in 1954, the 15th day of June.”
“I am glad to declare that I came from a Christian home, because my father, Emmanuel Soyebi who worked with the Nigerian Railways was the President of the African Church for some 11 to 12 years.”
“My mother is Kehinde Filicia. The funny thing is that my mother came from the Agbole Olowu in Ijebu-Igbo, so both parents are Owu. She was the daughter of Seriki.”
WHAT WAS YOUR FATHER’S OCCUPATION?
At the beginning, my father left Abeokuta for Lagos after his father had died. He self-sponsored himself to school there. According to the stories I heard, he would work at the bakery in the day-time and proceed to evening school thereafter. But when he concluded his education, he started work with the Nigerian Railway where he became their chief…em!…at Iddo.”
“Station Master! Thank you.”
WAS THAT AFTER YOU CAME TO LIFE, OR BEFORE YOU WERE BORN?
“Even before I was born, because I was a child of his old age. He gave birth to me at the age of 70. (Briefly answers a phone call promising to call back).
SO…AT THE AGE OF 70. WERE YOU THE LAST BORN?
“No I am not. I still have about 3 junior siblings after me.”
THAT MEANS PAPA WAS BUSY TILL LATE IN HIS LIFE…
(Interjects). “So all of us in a nutshell were 12 in number altogether. 6 male and 6 female children.”
I SEE. INTERESTING! SO YOU WERE NUMBER 8, OR NUMBER 9 OF THE LOT?
“I am number 8…No, number 9. There remain 3 children after me. One male and two females.”
HOW ABOUT MAMA, WHAT WAS HER OCCUPATION?
“Mama. At a time, she was selling cloths. But the job we grew up to know her with was chicken seller.”.
WAS SHE CALLED ‘IYA ELEDIYE’?
“Truly. She used to be called ‘Iya Elediye’ (Chicken Seller).”
IN THOSE DAYS, THEY USED TO NICKNAME PEOPLE BY THEIR TRADE!
“That is true.”
WHERE DID ALL THESE EVENTS TAKE PLACE?
EBUTE-METTA IN LAGOS?
“Yes! In Lagos, by Apena…”
AND THAT’S WHERE YOU WERE BORN TOO?
“That’s where I was born.”
THAT WAS ALSO MY NEIGHBOURHOOD. I WAS BORN ON MACAULUM STREET.
“Ah! That’s the Morgan area.
“Do you know this popular man…that used to drink…who the Queen gave an award to…em!… De Piper! (in a loud voice). De Piper!”
YES! I HEARD OF HIM.
(A little ‘hood’ gossip and exchanges quickly followed).
EM!… NOW. WHICH COMPOUND DID YOUR FATHER COME FROM?
“My father is a son of the Rokale compound.”
WHERE IS THAT LOCATED?
“Here in Ogbe, off Totoro Road.”
THAT AGBOLE ROKALE…AND JUDGING FROM YOUR NAME, IT APPEARS YOU ARE FROM THE OWU ROYAL FAMILY?
“It doesn’t appear to be, it actually is! It is our own ancestor, Oba Akinjobi who brought the Owu to this land!…And my own father had been summoned to be King, before Oba Adelani was installed. But he declined with the explanation that his children were then too young, and that he couldn’t abandon his children in Lagos and come to Abeokuta to be King.”
BEFORE ADELANI GBOGBOADE BECAME KING?
“Yes! Before Gbogboade became King. That was 1837 or so…”
THAT MUST HAVE BEEN YOUR GREAT GRANDFATHER THEN?
“No my direct father!”
WHAT! IN 1837?. THAT’S WHAT YOU SAID!
“1937! That’s what I meant to say! Sorry.”
YOUR FATHER REFUSED TO CONTEST FOR THE THRONE?
“That is so! And that’s why they went to select Gbogboade.”
SO YOU AND GBOGBOADE ARE FROM THE SAME ROYAL FAMILY?
“You know that all Kings from the six royal families are from the same father! So, when he refused to be crowned, they declared that the consideration had been forfeited by their own lineage, and went to Gbogboade’s lineage…so all the merriments they did then were accompanied with the song, ‘E ma ran baba n’Ifo, baba o ni lo, E ma fun baba l’ogun, baba o ni je e’. My father was there as the ‘King’s father’.”
SO, IT WAS THE IFO PEOPLE THAT DID NOT ALLOW BABA TO BE KING IN ONE WORD?
“It was Baba who said he was not going to Ifo. In those days, the belief was that any person unwanted in the town will be sent behind the scene into the rurals. You know that it was also our son from Owu who was the King there then, (Alake) Ademola. He was the one who declared that they leave the township. I believe that if they had complied then, it is possible that the seat of Owu monarchy would have been forcefully relocated to Ifo today. So they said they would not go…and they didn’t go!”
IN OTHER WORDS, ALAKE WAS TRYING TO FORCE OWU PEOPLE OUT OF THE CITY OF ABEOKUTA?
“Yes! At that time then!”
THAT’S INTERESTING! NOW WILL YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR EDUCATION, THE SCHOOLS YOU ATTENDED…AND YOUR OCCUPATIONS LATER?
“I thank God that my father sent me to school. From my childhood in the Primary school, I was living in the Boarding house. Although before I went to the boarding house, I attended the African Bethel School of the African Church. But because of my excesses in the knowledge that my father was the President of the Church organization, and believed I could do anything there and get away with it, he withdrew me from there and sent me to the Yaba Model School in Yaba/Surulere and placed me in the boarding house. And so when I left the Yaba Model…”
SORRY. IN WHAT YEAR WERE YOU AT THE AFRICAN BETHEL SCHOOL?
“That was between 1960 to…I think 1965. Yes, 1965! Afterwards I left for the Yaba Model School where I concluded my Primary education in 1968. From 1968, I started my secondary education in Ilesha. So…”
WHICH SECONDARY SCHOOL WAS THAT AT ILESHA?
“African Church Grammar School, Ilesha. There, I had one blessing. I was running the 100 meters and 200 meters for them in athletics.”
YOU WERE A SPRINTER!
Yes! The nickname they were calling me then was ‘Jados’.
“I thank God that my parents gave me a lot of opportunities. I was a member of the ‘Wolf Cub’ which I joined at the age of 7, until I became a Boys Scout, which I was until I left the secondary school. I was also opportuned to be a choir member of the African Salem Church, Ebute-Metta, which is now a Cathedral.
THAT’S BESIDE ST. JUDES CHURCH THERE?
“Yes. It’s on Freeman Street. After this, when I came back from Ilesha, I was at home for one year with my dad and was preparing to go overseas when my father suddenly died.”
WHEN DID YOU LEAVE ILESHA?
“I left Ilesha in 1973. My father died in1974 when I was preparing to go to the U.S. After his death, my senior brothers instructed that I should go keep my travelling passport ‘up in the ceiling’ (“Oke-aja”). After that I did some work all about. Some of these places I still remember are…” (Interjection)
SO YOU SUSPENDED THE U.S. VENTURE?
“Ah! What next after I had been instructed to keep my passport ‘up in the ceiling’? (Laughter).
I worked in one funny company called Basha-le-Tinga. I thought it was a clerical job…
THAT SOUNDS BRAZILLIAN OR ITALIAN?
“Yes they owned the company. I worked for only one day.”
ONLY ONE DAY. WHERE WAS THIS BASHA-LE-TINGA?
“In Apapa. Similarly I also went to Odus Soap Factory…they said we would be shifting between morning and afternoon duties. When I started work with them, after our morning shift, they said we also had to stay for the afternoon shift because they hadn’t yet recruited those who would take over from us, so I angrily left. They insisted I work till 12 so I could be paid for half a day. I asked them to keep their money and left!”
THAT ONE TOO WAS A ONE DAY EMPLOYMENT, I GATHER?
“After that I went to Daily Times where I worked for 1 month in the Advert Section. That was where I secured employment to the Nigeria External Telecommunications.”
THAT WAS NITEL?
“Yes!…(paused a moment, then booms out) NET, NET, not NITEL!”
OK. N.E.T., ON THE MARINA.
“Yes! So, I worked with them for quite a long time, about two and a half years! What happened was that I went for the interview from Daily Times, and they asked me about the length of notice I was obliged to give my employers. I lied to them that it was only 24 hours, so they asked me to begin the following day. That was how I disappeared from Daily Times and consequently forfeiting the only month salary I had worked with them.
“ I was in NET when I met…” (Interjection)
BEFORE YOU CONTINUE SIR. SORRY TO INTERRUPT YOU. WHEN DID YOU ARRIVE AT N.E.T?
“I got there in 1975…and left the place in 1977. So, when I was there, I was an International Telephone Operator. We were then using a semi-automatic process to make International telephone connections. So, I met this man. At about 4 am in the early hours of the morning, I was at work and there were no clients to attend to so I browsed into the records, and I saw this job which had been booked since the previous morning, and they crossed it with the comments, ‘Local party not available’. So I called him and he picked the phone from Zaria. I didn’t know him and never met him before. His record was marked as ‘Harmony’. When the connection came through, it was a robot (answering machine) that completed the call. I made another connection and he was able to speak.
(Royal boggle blares in the palace background)
“When it was going to 6 am, I had left the Operator’s console for the bathroom to wash my mouth and prepare for the end of my shift at 7 am. He had called back to ask to speak to the operator who made his connection possible. So I was called by the Supervisors. When I picked up the call, the man asked, “My friend, what is your name?” Now it was against regulation for us to give our names to customers so I invariably gave him a code name.
(Royal boggle blares again)
“He then demanded for my address, and asked what I would want him to send to me, if it was money or a gift. I answered that it was up to him to determine what he desired to give me, if at all he must. He then asked me to continue to check my box over the next 3 or 4 days. True to his words, this man sent me a set of shirts, trousers, suite and shoes! Later, after about 6 months that we had been talking, one of my brothers came from Zaria. That one was working at Aviation…”
DO YOU KNOW THE NAME OF THIS MAN?
I MEAN THE ONE WHO SENT YOU THE GIFTS.
“Oh! Hamony! I only then knew him by his company name. But later when he came to meet me, he told me his name was Sunday Nwanze. He was a real Millionaire.”
AND HIS COMPANY WAS HARMONY?
“Harmony Fancy Shops. In Zaria. So, when that my brother came from Zaria and I told him Harmony was my friend, he didn’t believe and retorted, “Jide, you never measure the magnitude of your lies.
“Do you know who Harmony is? He has wealth and shops spread all over the North in Jos, Zaria, Kaduna…but Zaria is his base”. I insisted he was my friend and challenge him to go on his return back to Zaria to Harmony and declare himself as from Mr Akinyemi, the man at NET. He later sent a message back to me with the words, “Aburo, ẹsẹ ẹ gun o (my brother, you really do have long legs), because when I got to him, he showered me also with gifts of cloths.”
Now the main help the man rendered me in a nutshell was to offer to be my guarantor when I told him I wanted to go to the US. He also did a stamped affidavit in the magistrate court that he would be sending funds to me in the US for my upkeep and studies at regular intervals. I still have a copy of it in my palace. From that experience I learnt not to discriminate against anybody, because what my blood brothers failed to do for me was then being offered me by an Ibo man. We were still on that process when I came across Tarka at the Falomo booth…”
“Yes! Joseph Tarka also promised that he would sponsor me abroad. During these processes, I also secured a Federal Government scholarship, which my people advised me to utilize. And that’s what I used to Yugoslavia for studies in Agric. I came back here in 1980.”
WHICH YEAR DID YOU PROCEED TO YUGOSLAVIA SIR?
“That was 1977. When I came back from Yugoslavia, I went to my brother, Chief Ige Akinyemi who asked about my next move. On telling him I was going to settle back in Lagos, he insisted that all of us cannot be in Lagos, Ibadan and Abuja, and I was to go back to our hometown. Despite all that had transpired, I complied, because as a Christian, we have to respect our parents and elders. That’s what brought me to Ifo to start farming. You can imagine somebody who had just returned from abroad, I had to get a bike and mix up with the local farmers, because the mechanized agriculture I had learnt was not practicable due to the scarcity of funds and agricultural lands.
One man, Rashidi Sanusi, who is now late, may his soul rest in peace, was the one that took me like his child and put me through in the way of local farming. I enjoyed the practice and discovered that the perennial crops like tomatoes, pepper and rice were more profitable than the annual crops like cassava due to their quick returns. Also he engaged me in sterilizing the soil through bush burning etc. And I thank God that I achieved….with my wife, because in 1982 I got married. She was a Senior Sister when we got married. By the time I came back home, she had finished at the School of Nursing. We had known each other from the Yaba Model School…and we had been befriending one another since 1970. She was indeed the person who encouraged me to go back to school, because when I met Harmony, we had talked about doing business together. She had then scolded me with the words; “Jide, is it business you want to sit with. What if in future business fails, is it School Cert you want to fall back on? You have to go back to school.”
SO WHEN HARMONY HAD THEN OFFERED TO HELP YOU TO THE USA, YOU HAD ALSO DISCUSSED BUSINESS WITH HIM?
(Voice raised). “It was both the two. Any that I wanted! He had said that instead of clearing his imports in the North, it would be done in Lagos, and he would be directing customers to me in Lagos instead of their coming to the North for purchases. But my girlfriend then, now my Olori refused totally and was adamant that I went back to school instead.”
NOW THIS OLORI WE ARE TALKING ABOUT HAS A NAME?
“Yes! Victoria Modupe Akinyemi.”
“After our marriage, we waited for 7 years without child birth, but thank God, at the end of the day, God gave us 2-nation.”
“One, one. Two nation. Two boys!”
So, I continued with the farming, during which I established the Papaya company…” (Interjection)
“It’s a drink made with pawpaw and other things. Papaya.”
THAT WAS YOUR TRADE NAME?
“It was my trade name for the drink. Papaya. Pawpaw is Carioca Papaya, but this is simply ‘Papaya.”
Yes. Fruit drinks. After that, I started a Bricks Industry…”
IS THE PAPAYA VENTURE STILL ON?
“Since I became an Oba, I have no more time for its management.”
OK. SO, YOU STARTED A BRICKS INDUSTRY…
“Bricks Industry, such that after the molding, we can stand upon it immediately, bullets cannot penetrate, and it was fire-proof. I was also into that for a brief period.”
BRICKS, NOT BLOCKS. MADE OF LATERITE?
“Bricks. Yes. So, after this I went into politics for a while. I had been Chairman three times. ANP, ANPP, and em!…what’s the name of this party formed by Babangida…Yes! I was in NRC also, but I wasn’t the chairman in that.”
IN IFO AREA?
“Ifo Local Government area. Chairman of the parties in Ifo Local Government. I was chairman of ANP. I also brought ANPP into Ifo. After some time, I just decided to back out because I was being abused of being a Christian politician for I could never do what they were doing! I would never tell their characteristic lies, nor short change over any money I was given for distribution. They were always accusing me of not fitting in with them. Even the women would complain that it was not only my wife that should be enjoying me…
(Laughing)…THAT THE ‘FINE-BOY’ SHOULD ALSO DISTRIBUTE TO THEM…
(Interjects). “So, that was among the reasons I left ANP. But when I was leaving them, it was getting to the end of their first term in office and we were preparing for the 2nd term…”
CAN YOU PAUSE THERE SIR. WHICH YEARS DID YOU ESTABLISH THOSE BUSINESSES…LIKE PAPAYA FRUIT DRINKS?
“Papaya fruit drinks. That was 1985/86. Even before Papaya, I had one, Beans flour, that was used in the making of Akara and Moinmoin. That one was well known. I called it Happy Home Beans Flour. It was in the market for a long time, but when beans became so expensive that we could not go to the North again to buy it, I gave it up.”
THAT WAS IN THE SAME 1985 PERIOD?
“No! That came up in 1980.”
AND THE BRICK INDUSTRY. WHAT TIME?
“Brick Industry was on till I became Kabiyesi.”
AND IT WAS ESTABLISHED AROUND THE SAME 1985?
“No, Brick Industry was ‘95…but wait a minute o…No! It was ’91, because I became Oba in ’96.”
AND THEN SIR, YOU WERE CHAIRMAN OF 3 POLITICAL PARTIES IN IFO LOCAL GOVERNMENT. A.N.C AND A.N.P.P. YOU SAID YOU WERE NOT CHAIRMAN OF N.R.C, WHICH WAS THE 3RD ONE?
“I don’t know how I have forgotten the name of the 3rd one. It was Babangida’s party…No! what’s the name of this man that died o…Abacha!”
YOU DIDN’T FIT INTO POLITICS BEFORE YOU WERE TOO TRUTHFUL AND CHRISTAIN, SO YOU LEFT.
“Yes! And I left the party. Unfortunately for me after a year or two, I was just called one day…in my area…I was the one who established the Abe-Kaju Community in Ifo.”
KAJU. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
“The Kaju that we drink.”
YOU MEAN CASHEW?
No! Kaju. It is the seed they call cashew. The part we drink is called Kaju.”
OK! I NEVER HEARD THAT BEFORE!
“So, I established the Abe-Kaju Community in Abekoko, Ifo…”
WHAT DO YOU DO IN THE ABE-KAJU COMMUNITY, SIR?
“Community…It’s a neighborhood. We gather ourselves together.”
IT’S MORE LIKE A COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION?
“CDA. So, I was the chairman for a long period. I had been the chairman since 1981. And when in 2004 that I also built my own house, I decided to minimize my hassles and quit as chairman. So, they called for me in 2005 that they had candidates for Baale. I told them those candidates were not suitable for the Baale post and proposed a man whose brother was selling at the neighborhood market, whom I approached to ask for his interest in the matter. We called this man Baba-Pupa, Ogunjobi, at Abule-Ifo. He summoned me that he wanted me or Baba Toyin to become the Baale. I informed him that I had advised they picked Baba Toyin because I didn’t have the time for such responsibility. He then insisted that I should be the one. That’s how I was brought to the palace in 2005 to be made Baale.”
WHICH PALACE WAS THAT, SIR?
“This palace that we are in now, Owu Palace! It was when we got here…Olowu had just entered ‘Ipebi’…He told me did I realize I was a Prince? So, he gave me 3 months to go and think over the offer. That’s how I ran away and didn’t re-appear to him. When it was February, he instructed that they should go about looking for me. When I was found, I was made Baale on February 27th. Unwillingly, I became the Baale Abe-Kaju, Abekoko! When I got back, I was still having issues with the Olu-Ifo as to why I went for my installation in Abeokuta, and not with him, when on March 30th (2006), I was summoned at about 8.45pm to report to the Owu Palace for a meeting. At that time, Gbenga Daniel was about to do his 50th birthday, so I assumed the meeting must be on that issue. We were instructed to come to the palace on the 31st in our formal attires. When I got here and met the Chiefs who I used to jest with, everybody was stern and they just said “your father is calling you”.
When I got to the Olowu, he said they should measure my head, to which they told him it is 32. He immediately asked them to bring a size 32 crown which was placed on my head. He asked me to swing my head to the right and left and informed me that I was going to become an Oba that morning! I exclaimed “Ah!” Olowu then asked why the exclamation? “But you are a prince, the crowns in your compound has just only increased by one”! So, that’s how I became an Oba o. When I went, it was only me and my God that went, but on my return journey, I also had a crown on my head without prior knowledge of it. When my wife who had earlier gone shopping to Lagos came back in the evening, she busted into tears on seeing the crown! And praise God that since then, we have not encountered any bodily or spiritual fall. And when it is March 31st this year, it will have been 7 years since this coronation!
LONG LIVE THE CROWN!
…(to be concluded in part 2)