The Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi (Ojaja II) is the traditional ruler of Ile-Ife which is regarded as the cradle of the Yoruba race. Described by many as a monarch with a very modern bent, Oba Ogunwusi since his emergence has carved a progressive niche for himself. In this interview by MONICA TAIWO, he speaks about both the spiritual and historical place of Ile-Ife in Yoruba evolution including his passion for agriculture, tourism in the South West. Excerpts:
Your majesty, it is obvious that you have a preference for white given its usage at almost every part of your palace. Why?
White basically signifies purity. Everything that is white stands for purity all over the world; it stands for cleanliness. I have always loved white even before I became a king. To the glory of God, I stand for purity.
It is generally believed that there is a lot embedded in Ile-Ife; you are a custodian of Yoruba culture. What is the place of Ile-Ife in Yoruba history, especially the people and deities of Ile-Ife?
God appointed me to this throne and Ife is called ile to n fe (land of expansion). At some point in human history, mankind was in one place. It has been proven by scholars globally. Anthropologists and archeologists attest to this that at some point, we were all at one place before everybody moved from that concentration through thousands of years. Let the truth be known that mankind started from Ile Ife.
The first humans, Adam and Eve, started from here; it has been proven. Even before mankind was created, it was called the land of the spirits. If you read your Bible and Quran very well, the esoteric world existed; there was a world that was called the pre-genesis world. This was before the creation of man, animals and several elemental forces. We have had elemental, supernatural beings and divine spirits. They lived here for thousands of years before God created mankind. We have landmarks to show the world. The challenge is that we have not told our story as a black race. Anthropologists hold that mankind and creation started out of tropical Africa; there is no dispute about that. No scholar can dispute that; but where in tropical Africa? Tropical Africa is West Africa. Which is the predominant tribe in West Africa? It is the Yorubas. Who has the oldest and most ancient culture and tradition? The Yorubas do. Kingship system started from the Yoruba race. Nobody can dispute that. Some anthropologists have actually pinpointed it to Yoruba land that creation of mankind started here. We have all the empirical evidence; we have the landmarks which we are trying to bring out now.
There is a very strong connection between the divine spirits and human beings, but a lot of people have very wrong impressions about the divine spirits. We call them divine spirits, deities or angels. They are all the same; they are messengers of God. They are in charge of so many natural phenomena. They are the forces behind sunlight, water, fire, wind, land and the earth. They are the forces behind everything nature stands for. And they are very potent. Which human can survive without nature? Can you survive without water, food, land or fire? Can you survive without sunlight which provides photosynthesis resulting in oxygen? You cannot survive without all these things. That is the potency of African culture and tradition.
We are trying to bring everything out for people to have a better understanding; every innovation in the world belongs to the deities. The deities have both their positive and negative sides. Take fire for instance. If not properly controlled, it will be destructive. The same thing applies to water, wind and sunlight. Yet, we cannot do without all of them.
The deities have their negative sides. But on the positive sides, they are necessities. They are the bedrock of every invention and they came from here. That is what I have been telling people which they don’t understand. They usually bring religion into such dialogue and it shouldn’t be.
Religion and nature are two different things. These are natural, elemental forces that a pastor or an imam cannot do without. We cannot survive without nature. You need nature; nature doesn’t need you. So you have to give honour to nature and that is where our deities come in. They are the custodians of nature and they are all messengers of God.
Why is it difficult to maximize our potentials given the gamut of such knowledge that we have, especially in taking our rightful place in the world?
It is very pathetic; it is in the Bible and the Quran that people perish because of lack of knowledge. Our people will rather focus on the negative sides of nature rather than the positive. The western world would rather focus on the positives. It is obvious; everything is so evident. Who has the best weather in the world? It is tropical Africa— West Africa in particular. Everything about us is the best.
Our banana, crude oil, cocoa, pepper, cotton and weather are the best in the world. Nothing compares to everything that we have. There is no harsh weather in West Africa and guess what again, Africa is the only place in the world that is not subjected to natural disasters.
My point is that through exposure and tourism we want to bring out all that we have for people to appreciate. There is nothing wrong with all these things. God is balanced. Aside from being a monarch, God brought me in to expand our tourism potentials. I am even ready to preach this to generations yet unborn. We must look inwards and appreciate what we have.
Shouldn’t there be some structures on ground to help build your tourism campaign?
All ancient cities in the world are not as better preserved as Ile-Ife. God has blessed Ife-Ife because it is still preserved till today. For thousands of years, a lot of people attempted to upturn Ife kingdom but it never succeeded. So the beauty is that we have physical landmarks to show the world that indeed mankind started from here. Here, you will see things that defy science, law of gravity, among many others. You will see supernatural occurrences. They are mindboggling. We want to bring everything out for the world to see; that is what we are doing now.
I am particularly awed by everything you just said but how do you feel being the custodian of all these?
I don’t own myself any longer. God, the creator of heaven and earth, is the one that is guiding me in everything. He gives me strength and inspiration. I am 100 per cent loyal to Him; He instructs me daily.
How do you get such instructions from God?
Do you believe that no one has seen God before? The closest people that have seen God are the deities. They are the supernatural, elemental forces. They hear God’s voice; you get that kind of thing through the deities and spiritual forces. Christians call it the Holy Spirit. It is real; the Holy Spirit is real.
To the glory of God, I have that privilege. I hear God’s voice clearly every time and He has given me guiding angels to protect me, to watch over me and to lead me right. They are the ones who open my eyes, my heart and my mind. Through their inspiration, I am getting a lot of things done.
It is becoming very obvious that you are passionate about Nigerian youths. What are your plans for them?
A typical youth has really messed up their sense of reasoning. It is very unfortunate and pathetic. Today’s youths don’t even believe that there is a future. The job I am doing now is orientation and re-orientation. It is also called youth emancipation.
Do not be deceived by a lot of things. The western world did not do much for us. When I was a young prince, I asked questions such as “what is fundamentally wrong with the black man?” Nothing is wrong with the black man. It is neo-colonialism. They tagged our heritage as bad and evil. That is what is affecting our psyche naturally. I have a very strong movement and many people are beginning to reason with me.
In what areas specifically?
In so many areas: number one is agriculture and number two is tourism. We are the biggest advocates of these two industries in Nigeria today. I am very proud to say we are getting results. We are building the tallest statute in Nigeria; this we will unveil to the public soon; this is done by the youths. This is to show the youths that there is future in this country. We did not import any material. We got all our materials from Nigeria.
In agriculture, we have more than 200,000 youths who are into farming. We have partnered with IITA, Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria and others that are involved in equipment. We partnered with a lot of organizations: Bank of Agriculture, Bank of Industry and many others so that we can make youths attracted to agriculture. Today we are very happy and it is evident in Ife. Ife used to be one of the most troubled zones in Nigeria because of the Ife/Modakeke unrest.
Today I can tell you that we don’t have miscreants in Ife; we are very proud to say that we are making progress irrespective of the national recession.
You talked about the deities earlier as the spirits that guide us and that they live with us. I noticed that in Ile-Ife, Moremi is held in high esteem. What is her importance in the history of Ile-Ife?
Without Moremi, there would not have been a formidable Yoruba land. That is the truth because Ife is the ancestral home of every Yoruba man and woman. In the early years after the death of Christ, between the third and 12th century, many people in Yoruba land left Ile-Ife. This was so because Ile-Ife had been in existence years before the birth of Christ. We have enough evidence to prove that. You cannot talk about Yoruba history without talking about Oyo. Oyo played a pivotal role, because Oyo left from here.
Moremi lived around eighth to 12th century. Then, they lived for so many years; that was the peak of the Yoruba emergence. Lagos, that is called Eko, left Ife between 14th and 16th century. If Moremi had not conquered the war for Ife, there wouldn’t have been Lagos and so many other towns and great cities that we have now. In Yoruba land, Lagos, the greatest black city, left from Ife. It is the most populous. It is the biggest and the largest city in Yoruba land.
This is my point. We don’t even appreciate the beauty of Moremi. She became a goddess, a goddess of liberty that liberated her people. It was some people, the Ibos who took Ife into captivity.
Kabiyesi, is it Ugbo or the Ibos?
It is the Ibos; here, the real Ibos have a strong lineage in Ife. There is a compound in Ife, the Oluyeri compound in Iremo, where the Igbo language is spoken. They are from Ife and you can trace many of them from Ife to Benin, to Igala; then from Igala to Ibo land and from Benin to Ibo land. Some of them will say they are from the Middle East but the people from the Middle East left from Ife.
She liberated her people with “Ina saan”, torchlight. She used local materials to break into the Igbo camp and the war of taking over Ife stopped from then. She sacrificed her only son just to liberate the entire Yoruba race. Ile Oodua, the land of Oduduwa, belongs to the whole Yoruba people. The people that left— the Oyos, Ekitis, Egbas, Remos, Ijebus— have rights here. When they were leaving to set up other kingdoms, they left behind brothers, wives, friends and sisters. We are the ones who are left to take care of our lineage.
After Moremi left, another war struck which was the transatlantic slavery. Moremi was fresh in the memory of every Yoruba son and daughter so that when they started taking them in the early 14th century into slavery, they would cut a tree and carve the statue of Moremi. Because immediately Moremi left, Ife carved a statue of Moremi, in gold and bronze. Ife people are known as the best bronze and gold casters all over the world. Their works are older than that of the old Roman Empire which has been proven all over the world; Ife has the oldest in the world.
While in slavery, they didn’t have access to all those materials; they casted in wood and they were praying to God that Moremi’s spirit would liberate them and bring them back home. The slave masters took note of their craft. But truthfully, the spirit of Moremi came to their aid. These were the slaves that they took into their various houses to take care of their homes. These slaves told their masters of their affinity to Moremi. Their masters began to let them go. Some of them started coming home in the early 18th and 19th centuries. You would notice Yorubas within the Brazilian quarters bearing English names — Sawyer, Da-zousas, Dasylva, Williams, Cole. Those were the slaves that prayed to the spirit of Moremi and eventually returned home.
Before the scramble for Africa, over 80 per cent of West Africa was Yoruba land. This was all the way to Mali, the Bantus. We had a lot of things in common before the Islamic Jihad and the Fulanis came from the Middle East to take over a lot of things up North.
My point is they carved out a place in Yoruba land which is now called the liberation area. Many slaves that were freed were brought back to the liberation area. The aborigines of that place still speak Yoruba; that is Liberia. It was carved out of Yoruba land. They also did at Sierra-Lone and the capital is called Freetown. That is still the spirit of Moremi. It brought the blacks back because they invoked her spirit.
Even the Roman, Greek and French Empires saw the powerful spirit of Moremi; they took on that spirit and it was called one of their ascended masters. The Illuminates and others like them took it over and they call on her spirit and it answers them. When they started fighting among themselves, they said they needed liberation. So, all of them went to a land called the United States of America, land of liberty, land of freedom. They used Moremi’s statue and spirit to set up the United States of America. The greatest country in the world today was founded with the spirit of Moremi. Look at the statue of liberty; look at Moremi’s statue here. It is the same. They didn’t change it. That was even the second statue. The first one was a black woman; they took it back to France because it was a gift from the French to the Americans when they wanted to start the USA as a nation.
The USA is less than 250 years old. They gave them the black one but they felt they didn’t need to make the deity a black woman so they had to make it a white woman. It is one of the most popular statues in the world today. It has that touch of Moremi, the same hand.
It was in the news sometimes ago that a particular monarch in the South West said his people left Ile Ife to resettle at their present site. He insisted that they were the original owners of Ile-Ife. How true is this?
If he knows the depth of what is called Ife, he won’t be talking like that. He doesn’t know anything. But this is not the time for me to respond to that. Yes he can talk about the lineage of Oranife, which is Sango’s lineage. They both came to this world twice. First, it was in the spirit realm and the second time, it was in the physical. There is Ife oodaye; there is Ife ooyeelagbo and the third Ife is Ile Ife, now Ile-Ife. He does not know the story of Ife oodaye; that is the Ife of the land of the spirit. Everything that happened in the land of the spirit of the first Ife happened again in the second Ife, so he couldn’t link the two.
At the first Ife, they were all spirit, Oduduwa (aduwa). It means prayer. Who doesn’t pray? That is the meaning of Oduduwa; people just call it Oduduwa. It is aduwa meaning prayer. He is called the word, the mouth of God, word of prayers. If you go to the Arabianworld, the Muslim world, it is duwa that they call prayers which is adura in Yoruba. That is Oduduwa.