The paramount ruler of Owo kingdom, Oba Ajibade Ogunoye, was enthroned as the monarch of the community on August 23, 2019. The former director in the Ondo State Civil Service tells PETER DADA about his experience on the throne, among other issues
You have spent one year on the throne as the paramount ruler of Owo. How has it been?
It has been fun, interesting and challenging, and it has also been fulfilling. But I thank God for everything.
You said the past one year has been challenging. What are the challenges?
I cannot say there is no challenge. There are challenges. Why are we living? We live to face challenges. We have challenges of funding. I have plans for this kingdom. To have an industrial base requires funding. To ensure that our youths are trained requires funding, especially with the fact that some of our youths are limited by education or other things. But I believe with time, with focus and purposeful leadership, we believe we will be able to surmount our challenges and when you overcome a problem, another will come. That is the essence of life. We face challenges, we strive to overcome and development will start taking place. Life is not static.
We are equally challenged by security. Before I became a king, a lot of our youths were involved in cult activities. It was in the open. Immediately I came in, I ensured, using the instrumentality of our tradition, that they renounced their membership. And they did. A lot of them, I think close to about 500 renounced cultism. And to God be the glory, we are seeing the results, though a time came, during political activities when some of them became party thugs. But we were able to overcome that also. Now, the town is peaceful. As I said earlier, no society is without challenges but it is the ability to face and surmount them that matters. I am sure that any challenge, in terms of security, that comes around now, we can easily overcome it. A lot of those youths that I said were involved in cultism are now into farming. Some are also learning a vocation.
What are those things you miss? People say it is not easy to be a king of a big community like Owo.
Ordinarily, I must say I have missed majorly my freedom. Before I became the king, I had the freedom to move about and do other things I used to do. For instance, in those days, from home, I would go to the office and at weekends. I could move anywhere I like. Nobody really recognised me except those that were close to me. I could do whatever I liked to do. But now, what we have is a contrary situation. I cannot just move out without being recognised by many people now. People now know me virtually everywhere and wherever I go, people throng around me, showing affection. And all the things I used to do, I cannot do them anymore – no freedom to go out anyhow I like.
How are you coping with that kind lifestyle now?
I think I have been coping simply because my people are always around me from morning until very late in the evening. They are always around me and before you know it, from morning to evening, the day is over. So, people around me have prevented me from having nostalgia or feeling that I have missed something. It is good to be among one’s people to serve them and that is just the satisfaction – to ensure that justice is served, to take care of their welfare, to provide while able to tend to their desires and their wants. That is the essence of humanity and that is why someone should be on this throne and I think it has been fulfilling in this regard.
Now that you have been confined to the palace, how is your social life now?
My social life has been okay. Before I became king, I related and interacted with my people. I came home virtually every week or fortnight to attend ceremonies. But now, that has been reduced and I now send representatives on my behalf. But I still attend government programmes and some other important ones. It is okay. That is the sacrifice I’m making now.
Your election to the throne was competitive. How were you able to calm down the situation?
We thank God for everything. Those who contested with me are all princes of the kingdom and they were eminently qualified. They are all on my side now. We relate well and we are brothers and cousins. We are from the same source, Elewokun Royal Dynasty, though we have branches. So, we are the same. We still relate very well.
Last year during the coronation, you said you had programmes for the community and the kingdom generally. What have you achieved so far?
Then I said we would provide purposeful leadership for the kingdom in all aspects of life and we have been doing that. First and foremost, I told you then that the most important thing was to provide a conducive environment necessary for developmental projects to take place. And to God be the glory, it has been well with this town in term of the enabling environment for development. The kingdom is peaceful, unlike years back, when we had skirmishes. Today, anybody can sleep and close their eyes without any problem. So, it has been peaceful. Also, I have ensured that there is peace in the kingdom. In the kingdom now, we relate very well with ourselves. All of us, sons and daughters, home and abroad, relate very well. We are equally desirous in ensuring that there is development in the kingdom. That’s the most important thing. I have been ensuring that we take good care of our youths. We have been discussing with them. We have been training them so that they can have means of livelihood. First and foremost, agriculture is the mainstay of our economy in this land. So, I have encouraged them to go back to the farm. Now we have over 100 of our youths that we have encouraged to go back to the farm and they are there planting cocoa, which is our major cash crop. As you are aware, Ondo State is the largest cocoa producer in Nigeria and the major producers of the cocoa in the state are Idanre and Owo towns. So, a lot of our youths are now back to the farm planting cocoa, plantain, cassava, maize and so on. And I have equally encouraged them to learn vocations. Then a lot of our work – about tiling, Plaster of Paris, bricklaying, plumbing, etc – were majorly handled by foreigners here (in Owo), especially by the Togolese and Beninois. But I have encouraged them to go back and learn and we have a lot of them there learning, and in the next two to three years, they will have their ‘freedom’ to be gainfully employed. Apart from that, I have ensured that I find sources of employment for some of our youths from private organisations, from government and we are seeing results.
Aside from that, I have had a major plan to have a council called Owo Developmental Council where we will have notable individuals who are indigenes of the kingdom that have made their marks in all walks of life. Members of the council will talk and deliberate on concrete actions about impacting the kingdom positively. Largely, the council will operate through committees. We will have committees on agriculture, sports, infrastructure, Information and Communications Technology, culture and others, so that from that, we will be handling our issues and I will be at the centre to monitor everything. In the next five years, this kingdom will be better for it. If not because of COVID-19, the whole thing would have been in place. However, we thank God for everything. On August 23, 2020 (today), the day I will clock one year on the saddle, I will inaugurate the council. That will usher in purposeful development in this kingdom and I will also inaugurate a committee on education for the council so that it will be better for us at the end of the day.
Have many indigenes of the town in the corporate world shown interest in your planned programme?
Yes. They are already coming. We have been talking to them. Even those in the diaspora are already desirous of how to bring industries. We equally have a committee on commerce and industry that will propel the industrialisation of this kingdom and to ensure that our youths engage in commerce. Maybe you are aware that commercial activities in the town are in the hands of settlers – our brothers from the eastern part of the country, our brothers from Osun and Oyo states. They are the ones really in charge of commerce, whereas our youths are there without any concrete involvement. Now, we are encouraging them to work with those people, partner with them and compete fairly with them so that they will be so entrenched in our commercial activities.
With this plan, where do you see Owo in the next five years?
I see a great development in this town. I see Owo becoming a global attention. A centre of culture and industry is coming here. Youths will be engaged, agriculture will be rekindled. We used to be the best in cocoa production. The state governor has encouraged us in that direction, too. Our youths are there in the forest, planting maize, cassava, plantain. By this time next year, you will see trailers transporting plantain from this kingdom, and in the next two to three years, you will see more cocoa being produced on a large scale. I see a turnaround and I am hopeful in the kingdom and I believe in purposeful leadership. We can turn things around. I have the support of virtually everyone. If you can remember how I became king, it had never been experienced in this kingdom. The contest for the Olowo stool had always been violent. It had never been easy. The Olowo has always been a very powerful oba. The contestation for the stool had never been easy but the way I emerged has never been experienced in the history of Owo – for a man to be easily chosen. Those who were saddled with the selection were 15 and 14 voted for me, while one voted against. It was unprecedented. If you saw the mammoth crowd when the selection was done, you would know these people are in love with me and I am also in love with them. That is why I am ready to serve them.
Some of your subjects expressed their interest in becoming the state governor, how were you able to settle the matter without being perceived as biased or partial?
The political development of the South-West of Nigeria had its foundation from this town. The people of this town are politically sophisticated. The fact remains that the Constitution allows an individual to desire political offices. That is the more reason our people, a lot of them eminently qualified, came out to be governor. But at times, we find a situation whereby as brothers and sisters, we must still sit down and talk with those who came out. We advised them that the sitting governor has been performing and been representing us well. You know the governor has been able to espouse the Owo person in him.
Also, I am the father of all. I am not biased. What I am after is the interest of this kingdom. Whenever I see the interest of this kingdom, I have no option than to support it. It is an open thing that we know that the race to the Government House in Ondo State, come October 10, is like a 100-metre race. Believe me or not, he (Governor Rotimi Akeredolu) has covered 70 per cent. That is what I tell some people. Why are we disturbing ourselves and not just supporting him? He can easily be elected again, rather than somebody just starting afresh. It will be difficult to meet somebody that has covered 70 per cent in a 100-metre dash and for the fact that he has not disappointed us, it is better we support him. But the good news is that our brothers and sister from this town who showed interest in the race have now rallied round him, supporting him. We are from the same family. It has been well with us and, continuously, it will be well us.
You had a career in the civil service before you became a monarch. Do you miss the office activities?
Well, at times, when I look back, I miss those people around me then in the office because I used to be a jolly good fellow either to the junior or senior members of staff. I mixed and interacted with a lot people no matter their status. I am a man of the people. My people in the civil service loved me so much. They celebrated me when I was to depart. I miss them and you know I was at the top echelon of the civil service and I believe coming here (to the throne) is a call to service and there is nothing too much to sacrifice for one’s people because before I came here, I thought that if I could become a king, I could achieve a lot to impact my people positively. That is the essence, the major reason I have to do it. This kingdom is a known kingdom, a culturally-based kingdom. Our culture and tradition are superb. This is a treasure that I have desired and this should not only be preserved but also promoted.
We have a major festival here called Igogo festival. I have decided and I am working with my people to make it an internationally embraced festival and expose it to the rest of the world so that when people come, they will see that this is a culture to behold. I started that already in September, the usual month of the festival, immediately I became a king, I participated in the first Igogo festival and it was interesting. A lot of our people came from far and near to see culture at its best. It is a festival of love dedicated to Oranse, the queen of Olowo.
Can you tell us the historical background of that festival?
It happened that the Olowo Regeje (one of the late monarchs) had a wife called Oranse. The woman was known to be very powerful and supernatural. At times, people said she was a spirit. She was so beautiful, a beauty to behold. So, the story was told to the Olowo Regeje and the king made an enquiry and he desired her hand in marriage but she refused. The king pleaded that she should marry him. Eventually, she said if she was to agree to marry the king, she had three taboos which must not be broken: nobody should pound okra in her presence, the local pounding of our traditional okra; nobody should throw a bowl of water in her presence and nobody should throw a bunch of firewood from head to the ground in her presence. The king said there was no problem, that he would ensure that such taboos were not broken and she eventually married him. The king liked her so much and she was equally in love with the king. Unfortunately, we are living in a very competitive world. Other queens, who were there before she came in, conspired against her, out of jealousy, and broke all the taboos in her presence.
What happened afterwards?
She had to depart the palace. When all these things were happening, the king was not around. The king was on a hunting expedition then. She departed the palace without the knowledge of the king and went to a forest grove called Igbolaja. When the king came back to the palace, he was told what had happened and was disappointed in the other queens. What could he do? He had to gather the Iloro chiefs and the youths to search for the queen in the forest. Eventually, as they moved along, some saw her headgear, earrings somewhere and, eventually, she appeared to them and told the search team that she would no more come back to the palace because her taboos had been broken, though she was in love with the king, that by her spirit being there in the forest, there was no way she could come back. Earlier, when she was still in the palace, she had blessed the king. All the beads you see on the Olowos were supposed to have been excreted by her as a blessing to the king. When the king went to her for spiritual assistance, she was always behind the king. So, she said she would not come back but she would continue to be with the king in spirit and that if the king still desired her, a festival should be instituted in her memory and that during the festival, a leather drum should never be beaten but gongs called ‘agogo’. That was where the word, ‘Igogo,’ from Agogo, came out from.
So, the Igogo festival was instituted by the Olowo in her memory. During the festival, the king and the chiefs would all dressed like a woman – they have their hairs plaited, adorned with various ornaments on their bodies, traditional women dressings. The king will be in his usual elements in term of tradition and culture. The first festival I celebrated as a king was celebrated within 17 days. It is a festival to behold. We have a lot to show the world and we are already packaging it for global tourism.
Another one was supposed to come this September but for the COVID-19 pandemic. We are still thinking of how to organise this year’s edition. But God being on our side, we will still mark it. There are some aspects that cannot be jettisoned in the festival but the ceremonial aspect, if need be, maybe postponed until next year. But the one we had last year (2019) was a festival to behold.
Many traditional rulers, when they get to the throne, marry more wives. Was there anything like that in the last one year?
There is none yet.
Do you have plans to marry more wives later?
I am an African. If need be, why not? Let me tell you something. Every man is polygamous by nature, even white men. The only difference is the application of laws. When I was in the university studying Law, I used to have a lecturer who taught us Marriage Act. He told us then that every man, whether white, brown or black, is patently polygamous. He asked us to underline the word ‘patently’. He said that in the West, the law allows them to have one wife but they still do polygamy. How? After marriage for like six months, there could be a problem and a man divorces and picks another woman. After that, if he is no more interested, he divorces again and picks another woman. If at the end of two years, he sees another beautiful lady, he may divorce the one at home and go for the new one again. He (the lecturer) asked whether that was not polygamous. Ours here, our culture allows us to keep them within. Ours is even better because it has solved a lot of social problems. Instead of divorcing and sending her to perpetual sadness, you keep her; you marry another one, you keep, instead of throwing them away. Ours has solved the social problems than that of the West. So, there is nothing special. So, if a man desires more than one wife and he has the sustenance capacity, let him marry.
Are you saying you can now sustain more than one wife now?
Before I became the king, I had the sustenance capacity. If I wanted then, I had the capacity. The thing is that I still have one ‘Olori’ (wife) here but I will not tell you that I will rule it out that I will not have another one. If you see me with another tomorrow, it is possible. And if I still keep one, so be it. It is an individual decision.
Do you think your olori (wife) will allow that?
I am the one to decide that not her; I am the head of the family, though she may have her reservation, which is normal. But if I decide to marry more, so be it, and if I decide not to, it is still okay.
What is your opinion about some traditional rulers modifying tradition and customs due to their own religious beliefs?
Nobody can do that here (in Owo). I told you that Owo is a centre of tradition. Those things that we saw as repugnance to equity, good governance and good conscience had been abolished over the years. But the main elements, the essence, have been preserved and, mind you, I am a man of tradition. I am here to promote my tradition. So, nothing will be abolished. Rather, it will be preserved and promoted, though we are Christians and Muslims. I, as a person, see myself belonging to all; see me as Christian, Muslim and a traditionalist. By and large, I will preserve and promote our culture and tradition. That is the essence of an oba. That is the reason I am here. They say traditional ruler. That is the baseline. There is no shifting the goal post during the match. If you are a traditional ruler, be a traditional ruler. Owo is a centre (of tradition). When you talk about tradition, you talk about Benin, Ife, Owo and Oyo in Yorubaland. These are real centres of tradition in Yorubaland.
My husband’s humility endeared him to me — Olanike, wife
Mrs Olanike Ogunoye is the wife of the Olowo of Owo kingdom. She tells PETER DADA about her experience in the palace, her love life and marriage
What has been your experience in the last one year that your husband ascended the throne as the traditional ruler of Owo kingdom?
Although it is a new experience, I thank God that it has been a good and wonderful experience in the last one year.
Before you got married to your husband, did you ever aspire to marry somebody who would be a king?
No. I never I had such a dream.
How did you feel when your husband was crowned?
He is my husband, I felt good because a good thing has happened in his life and also because his election and enthronement was the wish of the Owo people. They loved him to be their king and I am very happy and I thank God for that.
How will you describe your husband?
He is a good man, a gentle, loving and wonderful husband. He is an epitome of humility.
How did the journey start with him; how did you meet?
We started the journey about 19 years ago. We met the normal way a young lady and a young man meet and start their love journey. We met in Owo.
Are you from Owo too?
No. I am from Ido-Ani (in the Ose Local Government Area of Ondo State). But my mother is from Owo.
Many ladies love to marry from a royal family. Was that your own case too?
Actually, I did not marry him because he was a prince but the humility I saw in him led to our courtship. When he approached me, he never mentioned it that he was a prince. It was a belief that he would introduce himself to me as a prince, but he never did. It was later that I was told that he was a prince.
When you discovered that he was a prince, how did you react?
I reacted negatively at the beginning because of the unpalatable beliefs attached to the royal family. But when I heard what the people said about him and his reaction when I discussed it with him, he gave me assurance and trust that there won’t be any problem marrying him. That was why I considered him.
What attracted him to you?
As I said it earlier, it was the humility I saw in him. He did not come to me as a prince but as an ordinary person. I did not even know at the beginning that he was a prince. He came to me as a man on his own. People even thought he would come and introduce himself as a prince and display some ego. But there was nothing like. Along the line, whenever we had a misunderstanding, I flashed back and remembered the way he came to me because he never wore the toga of a prince.
Was there any objection from your family or from certain quarters not to marry him?
Not at all because everybody saw that humility in him and that one overshadowed every other thing.
How is life now that you have become the wife of a king,?
Life is okay and everything is going on normally.
What are those social things you miss?
Mostly, I will say I miss my privacy. I am a person that values privacy so much and freedom. For instance, I like to drive myself around or be in private, playing music in the car, singing aloud and enjoying myself, but all those things are no more now.
What about your friends outside there, are they still in contact with you?
Actually, I do not keep many friends but the few ones I have are still in contact with me. But it is just that the freedom is no longer there to go out together. Being the wife of a king, you are kind of restricted from doing many things. But we still communicate with one another.
What do you do at your leisure in the palace?
At my leisure? Don’t forget that I am a civil servant.
Do you still go to work?
Yes, I do, but not always. Occasionally, I still go to work.
Do you enjoy every bit of life in the palace?
Apart from the issue of privacy and freedom that I said earlier, I have no problem in the palace and I am enjoying my husband too.