The Ajalorun of Ijebu-Ife, Oba Adesesan Afolorunso Oguntayo is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria with intimidating work experience that stands him out in the gatherings of traditional rulers. In an interview with TUNDE BUSARI, the monarch reflects on his two decades on the throne and his success story. Excerpts:
Can you let us into your profile?
I started my primary school at Christ Church Anglican School, Ijebu-Ife from 1943 to 1949 and completed it at St Michael School, Owu-Ijebu in 1951. I proceeded to Ijebu-Ode Grammar School in 1952 I passed my West African School Certificate Examinations in 1956. I made a Grade A. I later had a brief stint at the School of Agriculture, Moore Plantation, Ibadan in 1956. I worked at the Federal Audit Department in Lagos until I gained admission into the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Ibadan between 1958 and 1961. The college was later changed to the University of Ife and I was the first president of the Students’ Union. In 1962 I completed my professional training in Accountancy at the Leads College of Commerce in Britain and returned to Nigeria to pick a job at the Federal Ministry of Finance. I joined British Petroleum Limited now African Petroleum and rose to the position of Chief Internal Auditor until 1969 when I decided to quit paid employment and joined the league of employer of labour.
How did you emerge the Ajalorun?
I emerged through normal process in 1995.
Was it a unanimous selection?
That was what surprised me in the matter. I was quite sure that it would be an easy succession but when the time to fill the vacant stool came, six other members of our ruling house came out and vied for the throne.
What informed your confidence that you would have a smooth ride to the throne?
My status in the town as the Otunba Oraderemo, the head of all princes and princess of Ijebu-Ife, gave me the confidence. Honestly, I had thought it would be 100 percent assurance. But it was a different ball game. I eventually got four out of six votes to emerge.
Can you then describe the mood when your name was announced to the public?
It was jubilation in the town. The announcement was greeted with thunderous applause and appreciation. My people knew what they wanted and showed it through their reaction to the news. But I must say that some people still went to court to challenge the appointment. This litigation dragged for a long time and to the Supreme Court where I was affirmed again as the Ajalorun of Ijebu-Ife. Supreme Court delivered judgment in 2009. Yet they are still uncomfortable but it is God’s project which no man upturned. I am happy that majority of people from my town know the truth. It was the first time in the history of this town that litigation was recorded on succession. But I consider the whole thing as a sacrifice I need to make for my town. I think my immediate family saw it better when they kicked against my intention to contest. They knew the position would deny them access to me. But I stood my ground and told them they were too selfish. I said nothing was too much to sacrifice for one’s hometown. And I am happy they understood.
When you were a kid, did it occur to you that one day you would make it to the throne?
No. I spent my childhood years developing myself as a hardworking and focused boy. I did not think of the throne even though I was a prince. I was too engrossed with how I would make it in life than thinking about the throne. But I can say that my parents were committed to the course of this town. My father could not compromise anything that had to do with this town. It was this spirit that drove me to see my town coming first in whatever I wanted to do. For instance, I built my very first house completed with swimming pool here in 1975. I believe my town deserved the best of my property before any other place. I used that to encourage others to come back home and develop our town. Aside from that, I ensured I did not stay long outside before I came home. I was enjoying shuttling between my work place in Lagos and Ijebu-Ife. This sense helped me and made me to be very familiar with the people and the geography of my town. So, when I became the Ajalorun, it was not difficult for me to settle down.
How can you describe your last two decades on the throne?
I can say to God belong what I have achieved. But the incident which occurred in 2009 in which a senior police officer was killed by some hoodlums, remains a sad chapter of the history. The incident gave the town a bad publicity and almost turned the town to something else. Almost everybody fled and I became a king without a kingdom. It was not an experience I like to talk about. Some hoodlums felt they were not comfortable in my peaceful reign because they knew my stand on their act. I was not tolerating them. So, they decided to cause havoc on the town and fled. Policemen were drafted to the town, and occupied every space. The Assistant Inspector General of Police of Zone 1 was here in the company with the commissioner of police of Ogun State Command. It was such a bad experience but we thank God it is over now.
Were arrests made and culprits brought to book?
Arrest was made but it is unfortunate that nothing came out of it. It still remains a shock that till date the people behind the crime have not been made to face justice. If a senior police officer could be killed in such manner and his attackers remain elusive seven years after, it is sad.
Have you any other challenge?
The other challenge is one posed by traditional worshippers who believe one cannot be an Oba until and unless he worships fetish things. I said ‘no’. I was born a Muslim but got converted to Christianity based on my conviction. Yet I have a good relationship with everybody. But when it comes to worshipping objects, I am not part of that because that is not what God asks us to worship. Despite that, I don’t stop them from their act because I am the father of everybody. They are not satisfied but I am also determined to do the exact thing God the creator of heaven and earth ask me to do. It is wrong to turn objects to God.
What can you point at as your achievement on the throne?
If you were here before, you would understand the enormity of work done to transform this palace to what it is today. This corronation anniversary also encompasses the commissioning of this palace which is one of the best in the state. I have also brought sons and daughters of the town together to see reason we must all work together to develop the town and we are getting result.
Have you any hobby to exercise body and also relax your nerves?
I was an athlete when I was a student. In fact, I represented school from primary to the tertiary institution. I was very famous because I always won laurels for my schools. I am also a lover of swimming. I found out that in swimming you exercise in pleasure. I have passed this interest to my grandchildren. My first house I built in this town in 1975 was completed with a swimming pool. And till this morning, the swimming pool is in good state. I maintain it religiously.