ECHOES FROM THE PAST (3) – An Interview with Chief Alani Opaleye, Olori Parakoyi Erunmu Owu…

Chief Alani Opaleye, Olori-Parakoyi Erunmu, and Alakoso Apo Township, Abeokuta.

INTERVIEW WITH OLORI-PARAKOYI ERUNMU OWU, CHIEF ALANI OPALEYE
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!

Chief Alani Opaleye has also since this interview added further laurels to his profile, as he is now also the Alakoso (Baale) of Apo Township in the Owu Quarters of Abeokuta.

CHIEF ALANI OPALEYE…I BELIEVE THAT IS YOUR NAME?
“Confirmed!”

*
CONFIRMED! NO FORGERY, NO MISTAKE?
(Laughter)
“That’s right!”

*
HOW ABOUT THE IN BETWEENS? LET’S HAVE YOUR FULL NAME.
“Yes, in between…I started…Em!…as a Christian. That will explain that Christian name, although I am a Muslim now.”

*
OH! SO YOU HAVE TRANSITED…
(Interjects) “Not really transited. My father died when I was 4 years old, and the person that took care of me happens to be a Christian.”

*
OK. BUT YOU ARE FROM A MUSLIM BACKGROUND?
“Oh! Both my father and mother were Moslems.

*
THE CHRISTIAN THING WAS BECAUSE OF THE PERSON WHO TOOK CARE OF YOU AT THE AGE OF 4?
“That’s it. Yes!”

*
WE CAN’T SAY YOU WERE CHRISTAIN THEN BECAUSE YOUR PARENTS WERE NOT. WHAT WERE THE NAMES YOU WERE GIVEN AT BIRTH?
“I am Chief…”

*
NO YOU WERE NOT…YOU WERE NOT A CHIEF AT BIRTH!
(Laughter)
“Sorry…Oladiran Alani Iskilu Opaleye.”

*
THIS WAS WHEN. WHAT YEAR WERE YOU BORN?
“I was born on February 9, 1947.”

*
WHERE SIR?
“Ehh! I was born in Olori Opaleye village”


IS THAT NOT IN THE COKER, IBOGUN AREA?
“Yes. Coker Gbalefa area”

*
AND YOUR FATHER WAS…?
“S.O. Opleye… Okeleye Sulaimon Opaleye.”

*
FROM THAT OLORI OPALEYE VILLAGE?
“Yes from Olori Opaleye village to Abeokuta, to Owu here. You know at that time they used to shuttle from… (Interjection)

*
YES. THAT WAS THE FARMING AREA WHILE THE HOMESTEAD WAS HERE IN ABEOKUTA. SO, YOUR FATHER WAS A…?
(Interjects) “He was a merchant”.

*
A MERCHANT OF WHAT?
“Merchant of General Goods. Cartons, bottles, cigarettes and the rest of it.” (some interruptions).

*
OK. AND MOTHER WAS…?
“My mother was Madam Wuraola Agbeke from Asore village, near Atan. The family of Obiremi. Both of them are Owus.”

*
YES. ASORE IS MOSTLY POPULATED BY OWU… SO YOU ARE ONE HUNDRED PERCENT OWU?
“One hundred percent.”

*
NOT FAKE AND DILUTED STOCK LIKE SOME OF US…IGBORE MOTHER AND OWU FATHER!
(Laughter).
“There’s no fake Owu though!”


THAT’S INTERESTING…AND WHAT WAS MADAM WURAOLA AGBEKE DOING?
“She was a trader. She traded in Kolanut..”

*
IYA OLOBI. THAT MUST HAVE BEEN HER NICKNAME?
“Yes. She was ‘Iya Olobi’ for sure.”

*
I KNOW THEY USED TO BE CALLED BY THEIR TRADE NAMES IN THOSE DAYS. WHICH COMPOUND ARE YOU FROM IN ABEOKUTA?
“Agbole Oju-Abere. That’s my father’s compound.”

*
HOW ABOUT MAMA’S?
“My father’s mother’s compound is Ile Rokale.”

*
IS THAT NOT A ROYAL FAMILY COMPOUND. ARE YOU RELATED TO AKINYEMIS?
“Yes. Oba Akinyemi. And my mother’s father’s compound is Agbole Olosi…”

*
OK. THAT’S A KINGMAKER COMPOUND!
“…And her mother’s place…Agbole Fekemo.”

*
WHERE IS THAT?
“Beside the house of Aka there…beside the house of Labuta.”

*
HERE AT OKE AGO-OWU.
“…And Agbole Oso-Elerin here.”

*
THAT IS YOUR MOTHER’S MOTHER…FEKEMO AND OSO-ELERIN?
“Yes.”


BOTH ON OKE AGO-OWU?
“Oso-Elerin is in Oke-Ago-Owu. Ile Fekemo is in Totoro.”

*
OK. YOUR LINEAGE IS NOW COMPLETE…SO, CHIEF ALANI OPALEYE, LET US KNOW ABOUT YOUR EDUCATION…
“I started my Elementary School at the Owu Baptist Day School. That was in 1954. I had a very slow education and I left Owu Baptist Day School in 1961.”

*
OK. AND AFTER THAT?
“I attended an evening class in 1962 at…the compound of Baba Olori-Igbimo…There was a lecturer there… let’s call it…Agbole Alaru.”

*
SODEINDE?
“Yes. From there I sat for entrance examination to the Baptist Boys High School in Abeokuta, BBHS. And I gained admission there in 1963.”

*
HMMM! THE SCHOOL OF OPPRESSORS!
(Loud laughter).
“I left in ’67, and proceeded to Lagos in 1968. I started my working career with the General Post Office, Marina.”

*
OK. THE G.P.O IN MARINA.
“…As a Postal Clerk. And I received a training…a 6 month training at the Oshodi Training School. There I worked for about two and a half years.”

*
WITH G.P.O?
“At G.P.O. I worked with various departments and branches. I was at Yakubu Gowon Post office, along Broad Street. I worked at Mushin Post Office. It was from that Yakubu Gowon Post office at Broad Street that I met one Mr Frank Faccilaro, an American. He used to work with American International Insurance. He usually came to the Post office to buy stamps and send their monthly returns to Marylton, Delaware. So, he one day saw my performance at the counter and there invited me to come and work with American International.”

*
INSURANCE…THAT WAS IN 19…?
“Yes. That was in 1973…73, 74.
(answers a phone call and promises to get back to the caller soon)
“…From there I joined the company. So, I now moved from government ministry to a private company. I was with American Insurance for a while before I moved to Niger Insurance.”
(a short burst of the royal burgle blares in the background).

*
NIGER INSURANCE. WHICH YEAR WAS THAT?
“Yes. That was in the year 1976.”

*
SO, YOU WERE IN AMERICAN INSURANCE FOR 3 YEARS?
“Yes o! (a longer burst of the burgle sounds again in the background). So, I started my professional exams in Insurance in that 1976.”

*
GO AHEAD SIR.
“From Niger Insurance I was sent to Liberia, Monrovia…to the West African Insurance Institute. College of Insurance and Risk Management.”

*
BY THIS SAME NIGER INSURANCE…AND THAT WAS IN 1976?
“Nooooo! That was in 1985.”

*
YOU HAD BEEN WITH THEM FOR 9 YEARS THEN?
“I had been with them for 9 years.”

*
NOW, YOUR PROFESSIONAL EXAM IN INSURANCE THAT YOU STARTED IN 1976…
(Interjects). “I never completed it until when I had proceeded to Monrovia.”

*
YOU WERE ON IT ALL ALONG?
“All along…in stages.”

*
OK. NOW YOU WERE IN MONROVIA…
“Yes. I came back from Monrovia in 1987…”

*
YOU WERE THERE FOR TWO YEARS?
“No! 1986, sorry. I had a diploma in Insurance from that college…and also a Diploma from C.I.I. London.
(Royal burgle continues to blare).
“After that, I was absorbed to read Insurance at the Delta State University.”

*
THAT WAS WHEN?
“That was 1997. For my MBA, 1997 to 1999. As a matter of fact, I was to read MBA in Insurance and Risk Management, but as a result of not many people enrolling for that course, it was cancelled. I now read Marketing.”

*
MBA WITH EMPHASIS ON MARKETING?
“Yes! Also, I am a Chartered Marketer.”

*
YOU ARE CHARTERED WITH THE INSTITUTE OF MARKETING HERE?
“Yes!”

*
ARE YOU CHARTERED IN ISURANCE AS WELL?
“No. I’ve got a Diploma in C.I.I.”

*
SO, YOU ARE MORE OF A MARKETER THAN AN INSURANCE MAN?
“Of course…”

*
AND I SAW YOU AS AN INSURANCE MAN!
“I am an Insurance man…In fact, all along…I grew from the ranks…and I was head of Marketing in 1981 for almost 12 years, and I retired as Head of Marketing in 2005 after serving for 29 years…”

*
AT THE NIGER INSURANCE?
“Yes. I rose to the position of DGM-Marketing.”

*
29 YEARS. WHAO!
“You can see that they took everything out of me.”
(laughs)

*
(In Yoruba slogan) NIGER TI LO YIN RACK!
(Loud laughter).
“O lo mi rack ni.”

*
(Jokingly) THEY HAVE TO PAY REPERATION. WE HAVE TO SUE THEM TO COURT. HOW CAN THEY ‘RACK’ OUR CHIEF LIKE THAT!
(Extended laughter)
“And to speak about the progress and career at Niger Insurance…I was a Branch Manager, Brand Manager. From Brand Manager, I was an Area Manager. I started as an Agency Officer. From that to a Branch Manager, to Regional Manager, and to Head of Marketing.”

*
AND YOU RETIRED AS DGM-MARKETING. AN ILLUSTROUS CAREER WITH NIGER INSURANCE INDEED!
“Thank you.”

*
NOW LET’S REWIND. WHEN YOU WERE WITH GPO, YOU MUST HAVE BEEN A BACHELOR THEN. WHEN WERE YOU HOOKED AND WHO HOOKED YOU?
(Laughter)
“I was hooked in 1976…by Alhaja Chief (Mrs) Risikat Aramide Opaleye.”

*
IN 1976, YOU WERE WORKING WITH…
“Niger Insurance.”

*
THAT WAS SOON AFTER YOU STARTED WITH NIGER INSURANCE?
“Yes, February 2nd!”

*
YOU MUST HAVE USED YOUR FIRST SALARY TO MARY?
“Plus all the ones I had been accumulating.
(loud laughter)
“That was a little bit after Udoji.”

*
AHH! AFTER UDOJI AWARD?
(Hysteric laughter)
“I was very confident financially!”

*
YOU WERE FEELING EXTREMELY COOL WITH YOURSELF. ALANI WAS FEARLESS!
(Hysteric laughter continues)
“There was a lot of money then. Everything in my room and parlor were brand new!”

*
THERE MUST HAVE BEEN A LOT OF MARRIAGES IN THAT YEAR!
“Yes o. there was too much money.”
(hysteric laughter still continues)

*
I BELIEVE THE AWARD CAME ALSO WITH A ONE-YEAR BACKLOG…AND INVARIABLY INTRODUCED INFLATION INTO THE ECONOMY!
“Yes. That was the unfortunate effect…which we’re still feeling now!”

*
OK. SO YOU WERE FEELING COOL WITH YOUR MONEY, AND YOU GOT MARRIED. AT LEAST YOU WERE NOT SELFISH, YOU WENT TO GET A PARTNER TO SPEND ALL THAT MONEY WITH YOU!
“Of course, that was what I did! You know they say behind every successful man, there must be a woman.”

*
AND THEN CHILDREN STARTED COMING. WHEN DID THE FIRST ONE COME?
“The same 1976.”

*
WOULD THAT NOT BE CALLED BISOLA?
“We dated for many years before we got hooked. We dated for about 3 to 4 years before we had our wedding in 1976. As a matter of fact, two weeks after our wedding my wife gave birth to the first child.”

*
BOY OR GIRL?
“Boy.”

*
THAT WAS REALLY CROWNING YOUR EFFORTS. HOW MANY CHILDREN ALTOGETHER?
“I had many. Let’s just keep it like that.
(Laughter)
“… And from the same woman o!”

*
AND THE BABY OF THE FAMILY WAS BORN WHEN?
“That was…(pauses)…in 1994.”

*
1994…AFTER 18 YEARS OF BABY-MAKING, YOU HUNG YOUR BOOTS AND RETIRED?
(Laughs)
“Yes sir! That baby of the house is now in Crawford University…Four hundred level.”

*
HER EDUCATION IS VERY FAST TOO.
“Very fast.”

*
BECAUSE MY 1992 DAUGHTER ONLY GRADUATED LAST YEAR, AND I THOUGHT SHE WAS FAST, BUT YOURS IF FASTER.
“What I normally do for them is that when they are in SS1, they will write JAMB, they will write GCE. In SS2, they will do it again. As a matter of fact, almost all my children got their results in SS2…and when they get to final year now, they will write it again.”

*
THAT’S NEAT. SO, THEY GET SOME PRACTISE AND EXPERIENCE!
“It’s expensive, but then it will open the eyes of the boy or girl to what is coming and what to expect. And they will make use of only one result. None of them have used two results to enter the University…and I have introduced the concepts to a few of my friends and it is working well for them!”

*
IF I HAD KNOWN THIS BEFORE HANGING MY BOOTS, I WOULD HAVE USED IT FOR MY CHILDREN ALSO.
“Yes. You don’t have to go and meet any lecturer to help you with admissions into the University.”

*
FANTASTIC. THAT COULD HAVE SAVED ME THE MONEY OF ENROLLING THEM FOR THE FIRST YEAR UNIVERSITY DIPLOMA WHICH IS VERY EXPENSIVE.
“Yes. Then they would have to join the main University at the 200 level. That is very expensive.”

*
ARE YOU TELLING ME? ALL MY CHILDREN HAD TO UNDERGO THAT AT UNILAG WHERE THEY SCHOOLED…TO PREVENT THE FRUSTRATION OF WAITING FOR JAMB!
“It’s not good for the children. To allow your children to wait at home frustrated for a year…they will definitely keep bad company…so I don’t allow them to stay…even the one that just finished his Youth Service in 2011…immediately I sent him to the College of Insurance. He has only one paper to go now to be chartered. He has finished from the School of Insurance and Risk Management, the school I attended in 1985…He is working with Mutual Benefits Insurance now. He was born in 1991. He already has 3 certificates…”

*
HE CANNOT BE AFRAID AGAIN…
(Laugh)
SO, YOU ARE A STRONG EDUCATIONIST?
“Really…I never had that opportunity when I was young…”

*
BUT YOU IMBIBE IT INTO YOUR CHILDREN. YOU MAKE SURE THAT…
(Interjects). “Of course now. Yes! If I am not able to give them basic em!….I gave them education. That is em!…which I cherish!

*
THAT’S GREAT…NOW, YOU ARE A CHIEF. YOU ARE THE OLORI-PARAKOYI ERUNMU OF OWU KINGDOM. WAS THAT YOUR FIRST TITLE?
“No, no! My first title was Seriki Erunmu Owu. That one came in the year 2001…under the late Oba (Dr) Adisa Odeleye.”

*
WHO WAS YOUR BALOGUN THEN?
“My Balogun was…my Balogun is General Ekundayo Opaleye (rtd).”

*
HE WAS THERE IN 2001… SO, HE INSTALLED YOU AS THE SERIKI BALOGUN ERUNMU OWU…THAT IS, SERIKI TO GENERAL OPALEYE?
“Well, you may say so…As you suggest, I am directly related to him”

*
NOW YOU ARE OLORI PARAKOYI TO HIM.
“Yes. To him.”

*
IS THAT AN ACCIDENT OF CIRCUMSTANCE THAT YOU WERE SERIKI TO SOMEONE WHO’S BEARING THE SAME SURNAME WITH YOU?
“We are related. We are first cousins.”

*
DEFINITELY ON THE FATHER SIDE.
“Yes. The two titles were given to the family…the Opaleye family.

*
THE TWO TITLES, THE SERIKI AND THE BALOGUN…THEY WERE SHARED?
“The Onroko then, and Kabiyesi said we should…There are titles for the Erunmus, awaiting people to take up. Many were running away and did not want to become chiefs because of the money involved, and some will use excuses of being a Christian, an Alhaji and whatever…not knowing that there is nothing ritualistic about these titles, particularly in Owu Kingdom. Strictly, I had wanted to opt for Balogun…but then I settled for Seriki too.”

*
YOU ALSO MENTIONED ONROKO. WHAT’S THE ROLE OF ONROKO IN YOUR CHIEFTAINCY COUNCIL AT ERUNMU?
“Onroko. Em!…(pauses). Onroko is just like the traditional head of the Erunmus…while Balogun is the war head of the Erunmus.”

*
I LEARNT THERE IS NO ONROKO IN ERUNMU. AT LEAST THERE’S NO ACTIVE ONROKO RIGHT NOW?
“Active is the language. You have just applied the correct language. When the late Odeleye was on, he was active, he was strong. I don’t know what he has in mind for not being active now!”

*
BUT HE IS STILL ONROKO?
“He has not changed his title, because…the ‘Onroko’ is their family title.”

*
WHAT’S HIS NAME SIR?
“Onroko now? Ijaola…Chief Gbolahan Ijaola…Their family house is just in front of our house, at Oju-Abere…we had a very close extended family relationship…”

*
WELL NOW SIR, IN 2001 YOU WERE SERIKI ERUNMU OWU. AND AFTER THAT WHAT HAPPENED IN TERMS OF YOUR ESCALLATION THROUGH THE RANKS OF CHIEFS?
“When Kabiyesi came on board…”

*
OBA DOSUNMU?
“Yes. There was a meeting we had at Obasanjo’s house…and they now asked us to come to the palace. We never knew that Kabiyesi had been picked…”

*
DURING THE INTERREGNUM?
“Yes, during the interregnum. And they had picked the Kabiyesi today, but we never knew and we held the meeting today…then at Prince Bola Ajibola’s house. Now Obasanjo and Amosun and the leaders had a meeting and announced to us that they had successfully brought in an Oba now…”

*
AMOSUN WAS PART OF THE ANNOUNCING TEAM?
“Oh yes. He was here that day. So, Obasanjo requested that now that the Oba is going into Ipebi, we have to be feeding him. What do we do…So, Obasanjo promised 500,000 naira…”

*
WHICH YEAR WAS THIS?
“That must have been 2005…Amosun promised N250,000, Doja Adewolu N100,000, Olori Parakoyi Owu, Ola-Yusuf promised N100,000, and a few others.”

*
AND YOUR PLEDGE?
“N50,000… So, this money was to be given to Professor Adewolu then, to go and open an account. So the other day I went to Chief Adewolu’s house to go and pay my N50,000, and there I met Chief Okedara.”

*
THE JAGUNNA OWU. HE WAS THE ASIPA THEN I BELIEVE?
“Yes. They now told me to wait and we now went out together. First of all we went to Agbeloba to collect the N500,000. We proceeded to Amosun’s house to collect a cheque of N250,000. I took my own N50,000, and we collected that of Adewolu and we used all these to open an account…and then they made me one of the signatories…Adewolu, Okedara, myself and the then Chairman of Abeokuta North Local Government. I never knew Adewolu was to travel the 2nd day, so after opening the account, I was compelled…or conscripted to come here and be staying in the palace.”

*
TO COME AND BE STAYING IN THE PALACE?
“Of course now! Since I am a signatory, the Chairman of the Abeokuta North will not have time to come and be signing cheques…for the needs of the Ipebi. People come here, and we make food for them. The day we don’t make food, we fry Akara, we fry pufpuf, we buy minerals, we load it here…”

*
FOR THE VISITORS?
“All the visitors coming, we were entertaining them. These are the money we were using. And two of us were managing it…with Chief Okedara.”

*
YOU WERE THE FUNDS MANAGERS.
“Yes. That was how I moved into the Palace Administration. Maybe as a result of my efforts, made the Kabiyesi to retain me for duties in the palace. I stayed with him for the 3 months…”

*
HE WAS IN IPEBI FOR 3 MONTHS?
“Yes. But then…you know I had retired. I retired on the 1st of April…so I had the time. Occasionally, I would take permission from Kabiyesi to go to Lagos. I was trying to build my new business…because I have to work.”

*
YOU CAN’T DEPEND ON PENSION.
“Pension? The day we retired, we were given all our benefits in bulk…and nothing more!”

*
…AND WHATEVER YOU LIKE YOU CAN THEN DO WITH IT?
“Yes. But then when I was a Branch Manager in Apapa, I had registered a Broking outfit.”

*
AND RUNNING IT ON THE SIDELINE?
“No. I wasn’t running it, but I had put somebody there to be running it. So, as soon as I was retired on the 1st of April, 2005, I didn’t keep myself from interacting in the Insurance business…and presently, I am the current Executive Vice-Chairman of XL Insurance Brokers.”

*
AND OF COURSE THE CHAIRMAN IS NON EXECUTIVE, SO YOU ARE RUNNING THE SHOW. YOU ARE THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE?
“Of course yes.”

NOTE:

Due to a fault in the voice recorder used at the interview session, further transcription is unfortunately not possible.


However, Chief Alani Opaleye, the Olori-Parakoyi Erunmu Owu also revealed that the Erunmu Council of Chiefs to which he belongs is very close to the people, holding regular monthly meetings between the chiefs and the township people.
He views his role in Erunmu Owu as that of its Minister of Commerce. He is also the Chairman of Owu Land Matters in the Apo Township of Abeokuta.
He is a self confessed socialite with active memberships in the Abeokuta Sports Club, Yoruba Tennis Club, Lagos, Island Club of Lagos, and the Lagos Public Service Club.
He is currently investing in expanding his business enterprises into the Hospitality Industry with a 22-room Guest House currently being constructed in Abesan Estate, near Ipaja in Lagos, a venture he hopes to inaugurate by June 2013.
He is resolved to continue rendering every Monday of his capable working life to the service of the Olowu and Owu people at the palace in Abeokuta where he has been spending most of his weekends, while pursuing his business interests in Lagos at weekdays!


THE END