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Oba Okunade Sijuwade In The Eye Of History

By Odeyele Ayodeji Folayele
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In traditional Yoruba society, the leader of an Ilu (town or society) is the Oba (king), the leader of smaller villages is the Baale, while the leader of a compound is called Olori Ile. The choice of who governs at these various levels is done through democratic means. The choice of the Baale and the Olori Ile is mostly based on age and prominence in the ancestral tree of the village or compound, and each has a number of royal families among which the Oba is chosen.

Furthermore, when there is a vacant stool, candidates for Obaship would emerge from the royal families. As soon as they emerge, they are all treated as equal candidates to the stool after which they are subjected to the same rules and treatment with the final choice of an Oba made by the Kingmakers in consultation with the Ifa oracle. For example, in Oyo, the Alaafin was elected from a number of candidates linked by royalty by a King-making body called the Oyomesi which consists of seven councillors of society [also done in other paramount Yoruba traditional societies and in Ile-Ife, the primordial or spiritual capital of the Yoruba].

The Ooni also emerges from among members of the ruling houses while the King-makers, under the directive of the Ifa oracle, choose whoever should emerge as the Ooni. Interestingly, in cases of succession and ascension, Yoruba traditional culture employed the assistance of the Ifa oracle to aid the Kingmakers in determining who in the town should become the King.

The point here is that in each Yoruba traditional Ilu, there are some families already marked as the royal lineages from which contestants to the stool would emerge. When those who are considered eligible or who consider themselves eligible for the contest emerge, they would all be subject to the same and equal exercise by the Kingmakers who are the officials in charge of such societal duties under the guidance of the Ifa oracle through a mediation by the Ifa priest who is also an important spiritual officer in the society. The import of this is that ascension to the throne was done according to some laid down rules agreed upon by people in the Kingdom.

Furthermore, the rules were applied equally without any preferential treatment. Pertinent to this account is that every member of the Ilu (Kingdom) is aware from the beginning that when a vacant stool is to be filled, contestants should come from the acknowledged royal lineages. In addition, among the aspirants from royal lineages, the one whose choice is supported by the King-makers in conjunction with the recommendation of the Ifa oracle finally becomes the Oba (King).

From Ile-Ife, according to Yoruba oral sources, the world took off from Ile-Ife where other empires and kingdoms were founded. Oduduwa, founder of Ile-Iffe sent out his sons to found and rule over these empires and kingdoms. The relationship of the rulers of such empires and kingdoms to Ife in the distant past is unclear. However, it came to be recognized that although they had political power over these kingdoms and empires, spiritual power was believed to reside in Ile-Ife. It was this spiritual power that made it possible for them to rule successfully over their kingdoms and empires. Since Oduduwa, Ile-Ife has been regarded by the Yoruba as the cradle of their race, the land of the gods while the Ooni of Ife, regarded with awe and reverence, is referred to as God’s own representative on earth – Arole Oduduwa, Oluaye, Iku Alase, Orisa Keji.

Humble beginning of Oba Okunade Sijuwade
Oba Okunade Sijuwade was born on the 1st of January, 1930 to a great royal family in the Ogboru house, Ilare, Ile-Ife. The last Ooni of Ife that the Ogboru ruling house presented (before the incumbent) reigned in Ife for many years as Sijuwade Adelekan Olubuse I. He was the first Ooni to venture out of his domain. At the invitation of the colonial Governor, he visited Lagos in 1903 to give his ruling on whether the Oba Elepe of Epe was entitled to wear a crown which was earlier refused by Oba Akarigbo of Remo. Oba Adelekan was the father of the late Omo Oba Adereti Sijuwade, the father of Oba Sijuwade Olubuse II – the present Ooni of Ife. His mother was the late Yeyelori, Emilia Ifasesin Sijuwade.

Prince Okunade Sijuwade, as he was then called, started his elementary education at Igbein School, Abeokuta, an institution owned by the CMS Mission. He lived with his other brother under the care of their father’s good friend Chief G. A. Adebayo and his family. Chief Adebayo was the secretary to the Egba Council, under the Asoju Oba. After his elementary school education, he preceded to Abeokuta Grammar School, under the well-known educationist, The Rev. I. O. Ransome Kuti who was the principal of the school.

Early in life, Prince Okunade Sijuwade was conscious of his royal birth, and his carriage, even in school, was of one who was destined to wear the crown. Once, at Abeokuta Grammar School, The Rev. Kuti wanted to flog the young Sijuwade for some misdemeanour. As the principal raised his whip, the young prince dared the famous disciplinarian to hit a ‘king’.

This did not of course stop Rev. Kuti from meting out what he considered appropriate punishment to the erring young man who was nonetheless satisfied that he has made his point. He left Abeokuta Grammar School after five years and transferred to Oduduwa College in Ile-Ife to complete his studies under the Rev. S. A. Adeyefa. On his first day at school, mistaken for one of the new teachers and in no hurry to correct the impression, young Sijuwade took over the class in which he was supposed to be a student. In spite of his royal posturing and youthful pranks, Prince Sijuwade is remembered by many of his classmates as a particularly diligent student and quite mature for his age. Because of his relative access to money, the prince was able to acquire many good things of life, especially clothes. He was a trend setter in school. He was one of the few students in Oduduwa College, who was familiar with life in Lagos at that time, as today, the centre of good life in Nigeria.

On leaving Oduduwa College, the young prince joined his father’s business for about three years after which the elder Sijuwade, convinced that his son had acquired sufficient on-the-job training, decided he should proceed for a course of study overseas. Before he left however, the young man on his own volition decided he needed to have journalistic training.

He joined The Nigerian Tribune where he spent two years, not only as a reporter but manager in charge of business and advertisement. Thereafter, he proceeded to the United Kingdom in the early fifties to undertake a course of training in Business Management. His training was essentially in Northampton and with the Leventis Group in Manchester in 1957. He also participated in advanced business management training programmes with companies in Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Scotland, West Germany and Israel. Armed with the immense experience he acquired in these places, he returned to Nigeria a few years later to lunch a career in business.

Prince Sijuwade’s business career was marked by more than average fortune. Endowed with an agile mind, highly motivated and possessed of an iron-will, courage and prodigious industry, the prince was certainly destined for success. And so he drove himself to limits that would seriously test all but the most dogged. Early in his career, he decided he could do with no more than four hours sleep and that distance would prevent him from accomplishing his goals. Even today, with the enormous demand on his time in several places, some of them several miles apart, he maintains a travelling schedule that even the most peripatetic would consider punitive.

Shortly after Prince Sijuwade returned to Nigeria, he was appointed the Sales Manager of Leventis Motors in Western Nigeria with its headquarters in Ibadan. By 1960, with Nigerian Independence, he became an adviser to the Leventis Group.

In 1963, the government of Western region Nigeria, now getting increasingly involved in a lot of industrial activities in the country approached the Leventis Group to release the Prince for five years to help in re-organisation of some of their companies. The request was reluctantly granted after month of hard negotiation by the then Chairman of the Leventis Group, Chief A. G. Leventis who considered the young Prince Sijuwade as an asset to their organization. The Leventis Group made the Western Nigeria Government promise to let the Prince return to his organization at the end of his assignment.

Prince Sijuwade’s first assignment with the government was as Sales Director of National Motor in Lagos. He subsequently headed the management of the company with numerous Nigerian and expatriate staff under him. In 1964, he undertook an extensive international tour to look into the possibilities of acquiring better products for National Motors. One of the places he visited was the Soviet Union whose cars he believed would sell well in Nigeria, because they were relatively cheap and appeared durable.

When he returned to Nigeria and reported to his employers, they were not as enthusiastic about the business proposal, because the government was not at this time well-disposed to trade with the Russians. Rather than feel disappointed Prince Sijuwade, smart businessman that he was, immediately saw a business opportunity and seized it. He formed a company along with three friends, WAATECO, which was to become in a few years the sole distributor of soviet-made vehicles, tractors and engineering equipment in Nigeria with at least fifty Russians on its staff and a dozen branches all over Nigeria.

This small beginning marked the start of trade with the Soviet Union in Nigeria and for Prince Sijuwade, the birth of a business empire that was to include at least fifty companies. Two years after WAATECO was set up, Prince Sijuwade offered the Soviet Union 40 per cent equity participation in the company. Of course, the Russians did not hesitate since the company was doing well. Business with the Russians was to grow many hundred folds in the next decade and a half.

It is a credit to his acumen in business that while trade with the Russians expanded, his business contacts in the capitalist West continued to grow and develop. He was being seasoned in the tough world of business. While setting up his own company, he continued his efforts to help re-organise the government-owned National Motors and by 1965 the company began showing a profit. The political turmoil in the country following the coup of January 1966 and the counter-coup of July the same year brought his good friend (Rtd) Major General Robert Adebayo (then Colonel) to office as Governor of the Western Region.

Sensitive to the possibility of having a disagreement with his friend over a public issue, he decided that it was best to resign his appointment as an employee of the Government of Western Nigeria. He subsequently left the service of the government and went fully into business on his own. With this resolve, he now explored with fresh zeal his many contacts within Nigeria and on the international scene and revitalized business possibilities which time had not allowed him to exploit while working with the government.

Within ten years, his activities stretched far and wide, and to keep in touch with the various commercial capitals of the world, he moved the headquarters of his operations to the United Kingdom n 1973. With this, he was truly where he wanted to be in the business world. The world was, as it were, his oyster.

Prince Okunade Sijuwade and Ile-Ife relationship before 1980

A modern housing estate which he built in one of the quieter and newer parts of the town was to provide housing for senior staff of the University of Ife, and help relieve the University’s acute staff housing shortage. It was for prince Sijuwade not only a business investment but a contribution to the development of the University and his home town.

It was the same thoughts that inspired his decision to build a first class motel for V.I.P. visitors to Ife, the Motel Royal. This also turned to be a far-sighted decision because at his coronation a few years later, when the town played host to thousands of guests, the accommodation problem was not nearly as chaotic as it might have been. With his business now firmly established internationally, he decided to establish a stronger footing in his home town, Ile-Ife. He embarked on two major projects in the town which turned out to be a wise decision both from a business angle and as a means of enhancing his image in his community and among many Ife indigenes. It is widely believed that this was the bedrock for him ascending the throne of his fore fathers in 1980.

Oba Okunade Sijuwade: a modern ambassador of peace in contemporary Yoruba history

Ever Since he ascended the throne, Oba Sijuwade has been a worthy ambassador-at-large in Nigeria and a symbol of pride for the Yoruba. The Ooni has ever since been in the forefront of the vanguard of traditional rulers whose foremost pursuit is geared towards sustaining the stability, unity and peaceful existence of every single component of the Nigeria nation. In fact, the Ooni, the Emir of Kano and the Obi of Onitsha for almost three years were being referred to as the three musketeers who have fought tooth and nail to bring the country together where every Nigerian can sleep in any part of the country other than his own town.

Oba Okunade Sijuwade has done a whole lot more than any other ruler in Yorubaland. For example, he is reputed to have personally forged unity and peace among the people and helped the Yoruba in Diaspora to stay in touch with their cultural roots. For the sake of history, in 2009, His Royal Majesty, Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II, the Ooni of Ife, led about fifty traditional rulers from the South West on a five-day visit to the neighbouring Republic of Benin. The visit of the Ooni with the traditional rulers and chiefs was aimed at promoting cultural link and unity among traditional rulers in West African countries, some of who shared cultural link and origin with the Yoruba. Oba Aderemi Adedapo, the Olojudo Alayemore of Ido-Osun who doubles as Chairman, Protocol, Public Relation, Culture and Tourism Committee of the Osun State Council of Obas, said the visit of the Ooni and the Yoruba traditional rulers to the Republic of Benin was to promote cultural lineage and peace in West Africa. Eminent traditional rulers on the entourage of the Ooni on this fateful day were Oore of Otun-Ekiti, Obalufon Alayemore of Efon Alaaye, Owa Ooye of Okemesi, Elemure of Emure-Ekiti, Timi of Ede, late Aloko of Iloko Ijesa, Olufon of Ifon, Olobu of Ilobu, Aragbiji of Iragbiji, Olowu of Owu, Olumoro of Moro, Akesin of Ora, Asaoni of Ora, Olojo of Ojo and Onisan of Isan-Ekiti. Others were Owamiran of Esa-Oke, Olororuwo of Ororuwo, Olufi of Gbongan, Elerin of Erin, Oluwo of Iwo-Oke, Adimula of Ifewara, Salu of Edunabon and Olukoyi of Ikoyi Ile.

Oba Okunade Sijuwade and other traditional rulers visited Seme, a border town between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin and given a warm reception by Dr. Thomas Boni Yayi, the President of the Republic of Benin, who was represented by Professor Moufoutau Laleye, the Ambassador of Benin Republic to Nigeria and other prominent rulers comprising Alaketu of Ketu, Onisabe of Sabe, Onikoyi of Ajase, Ajahute Dode of Alada, the king of Abomey and a host of others. The five-day visit took the traditional rulers to Cotonou, Ajase/Porto-Novo, Ouidah, (a former slave camp) Alada, Abomey, Sabe and Ketu. Three of the seven sons of Oduduwa, the progenitor of the Yoruba race, are residents in Benin Republic. They are Alaketu of Ketu who was the first born, Onipopo of Popo and Onisabe of Sabe. The President of Benin Republic, Dr. Yayi, who organised a civic reception for Oba Sijuwade, said that the Ooni should feel more at home since the country is made up of Yoruba and other tribes.

It is important to note that in February 2009, Oba Sijuwade helped mediate in a dispute over land ownership between the communities of Ife and Modakeke Ife, which resolved in part through the elevation of the Ogunsua of Modakeke Ife as an Oba. The new Oba, Francis Adedoyin, would be under the headship of Oba Sijuwade.

In July 2009, Oba Sijuwade said he was concerned that Yoruba socio-cultural groups such as Afenifere and the Yoruba Council of Elders were taking partisan positions in politics and warned about the harm this might cause the Yoruba nation.

Towards the end of 2009, a more local dispute between the Ooni, the Awujale of Ijebuland and the Alake of Egbaland was finally resolved. Oba Sijuwade traced the dispute back to a falling out between Obafemi Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola during Nigeria’s First Republic, which had led to a division between the traditional rulers. He noted that the traditional rulers were an important unifying force in the country during the illness of President Umaru Yar’Adua

Furthermore, in January 2010, Oba Okunade Sijuwade showed the world his commitment to Nigerian unity by conferring Nigerians from different tribes titles, which to many historians and writers has been describe as one of the reasons fostering unity in the country, little wonder the affable General Gowon described the Ooni as a bridge builder and a detribalized Nigerian, who has worked for the peace and unity of Nigeria.

Meanwhile, the ceremony which saw to the conferment of chieftaincy titles on 18 prominent Nigerians, including Chief Muyiwa Ajibola and his wife, Oreyomi, who bagged the titles of Agbaakin and Yeye Agbaakin of Ife respectively was chaired by former Nigerian Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), as the Chairman. Other dignitaries who bagged titles include Chief Muyiwa Omisade and his wife, Toyosi; retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, Chief Tunde Alapini, and his wife, Ibipo; then Osun State Commissioner for Chieftaincy and Local Government Matters, Prof Muib Opeloye; then Deputy Speaker, Osun House of Assembly, Chief Ropo Oyewole; a former Senator, Chief Segun Bamgbetan-Baju, and his wife, Yinka. Popular actor, Prince Babajide Kosoko, and actress, Chief Rachael Oniga, Chief Mrs Ololade Owolabi, Chief Mrs Funmilayo Adedoyin, Chief Mrs Jumoke Olatunbi, Justice Adewuyi Oyeyemi, and his wife, Amoke, and Chief Yomi Afolabi-Oloja, all bagged various titles. Described as generous, accessible, humorous, and humble, Oba Sijuwade also has the propensity to build bridges across ethnic, religious and political divides.

Critics have questioned the criteria for the numerous chieftaincy titles he confers on politicians, business persons and professionals from different parts of the federation, but those close to him believe that his sole motivation is the ‘promotion of culture and love’ in diversity.

In January 2010, he attended a meeting of the Atayese pan-Yoruba group, which issued a call for a truly federal constitution in which the different nationalities in Nigeria would have greater independence in managing their affairs.

Furthermore, the late Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero and Oba Okunade Sijuwade were like Siamese twins, almost inseparable. Their friendship was palpably solid and it extended to their children such as Prince Nasiru Ado Bayero (currently the Turaki Kano and one of the strongest contenders to the throne) and Prince Adetokunbo Sijuwade, the eldest child of the Ooni and his Crown Prince.

The late Emir, Ado Bayero was such a wonderful networker who broke down barriers of ethnicity and religion. He was a devout Muslim while his famous friend, the Ooni, was a full-fledged Christian. This difference in faith never affected their relationship adversely. Their religious tolerance would later get both into trouble with the then Buhari military junta when they travelled to Israel in contravention of a ban slammed against the country.

As an Oba, Sijuwade was involved in several political controversies, one of which was his position on the June 12, 1993 election, where he prevailed on his Yoruba kinsmen to abandon the struggle for its actualisation. He was roundly vilified. It was the same manner of resistance to Boko Haram that saw the insurgents making attempt on the life of the late Emir, Ado Bayero in his domain. While the ordeal might have rattled them in a way, they remained strong, resolute and united. Theirs was a bond cemented in heaven and concretised on earth, a didactic lesson for our current and future leaders.

Oba Sijuwade was a great family man. Like most African royalties, he was a polygamist with three wives, many children and grandchildren. Olori Monisola Sijuwade is his first wife and also the Yeyeluwa of Ife. The other two are Olori Dolapo Sijuwade, the CEO of Dalora Ventures, and Olori Ladun Sijuwade. It should be acknowledged that a major force in the life of Oba Sijuwade was the beloved Yeyeluwa of Ife, Olori Oyetunde Sijuwade – a remarkable woman, always cheerful and hospitable. She, for many years of blissful relationship, provided a stable, enviable matrimonial haven until her untimely death in August 1986.

Oba Sijuwade was a sincere patriot, statesman and harbinger of progress and development, with a keen sense of duty. As a result of this, the paramount ruler has received many national and international awards and decorations in honour and recognition of his various achievements. Under listed are some of the various awards received by him during his lifetime:

  • Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFR)
  • Keeper of the Seal of Yorubaland
  • Hon. Chancellor, Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria
  • Hon. Chancellor, Osun state University, Osogbo,Nigeria
  • Former Hon. Chancellor, University of Technology, Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State, Nigeria
  • Doctor of Civil Laws (Honoris Causa), Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria
  • Doctor of Literature (Honoris Causa), University of Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State, Nigeria
  • Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa), University of Lagos, Nigeria
  • Member of the British Institute of Management
  • Highest National Honour, Republic of Poland
  • Royal Belgian Distinction of Commander in the Order of the Crown
  • Grand Commodore, Ohio State, USA
  • Carrier of the Key to the City of Columbia, USA
  • Carrier of the Key to the City of Philadelphia, USA
  • Carrier of the Key to the City of Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago
  • Carrier of the Key to the City of Havana, Cuba

About the Writer:
Mr AYODEJI JOSEPH ODEYELE was born in Ile-ife, Osun State in late 1980s, the first son of Elder and Deanconess A.F ODEYELE.

AYODEJI attended Adventist secondary school,idi Omo lagere ile-ife,he proceeded to Osun state university for his degree programme in History and international studies. From his sophomore year at the University , he wrote a weekly column for the school press club. He was also active in student politics, serving as a the Pioneer President of his campus.He is a freelance writer,History scholar, a constructive critic,an astute disciplinarian,a patriotic Nigerian and presently the Research Assistant to Senator Babajide Omoworare.

He is married to Mrs TITILAYO MARY ODEYELE.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Odeyele Ayodeji Folayele and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."