Oba Akran of Badagry, Aholu Menu-Toyi (I), recently clocked 80 years and threw a thanksgiving ceremony where he played host to the crème-de-la-crème of the society. In his post-birthday interview by TUNDE BUSARI, went down memory lane on his rise from the classroom to the newsroom and later to the palace. Excerpts:
You recently celebrated your 80th birthday, how can you describe your life at 80?
Attaining 80 years of age can only be attributed to the grace of God because no one has a full picture of what the future the looks like. One will naturally wish to live long and achieve so many things but the power to achieve those things does not lie with him. God has the power to create and terminate one’s life. I can only be grateful to God for sparing my life to clock 80 years, especially when I look back and recall all what one passed through before reaching this age. I am most grateful to God. It is not a matter of glorifying what happened on my birthday.
Tell us about your life journey up to your 80th birthday?
I was born on September 18, 1936, which makes me 80 this year. I started my life like any other young child and looked forward to a bright future. But the truth is that I did not have the clear picture of what would later happen in my life. But I was conscious of the fact that one needed to be hard-working, focused and live simple life. I was once a school teacher, after which I started my career in journalism.
You are popularly known as a journalist and not a teacher?
Teaching was a respected job during our time, unlike what obtains today when teachers have been reduced to almost nothing. Teachers then were next to God, as pupils respected them more than their parents. I enjoyed my time as a teacher because it afforded me the opportunity to impact knowledge on the younger ones and to also study further. I used the opportunity to further develop myself. I can say that teaching later helped my career in journalism because I was used to hard work and commitment to duty as a teacher. Teaching was interesting to me. I hardly had time for any other thing apart from teaching. When I became a journalist, I did not find it difficult to adjust to the new work environment and schedule.
Did it occur to you that you would become the Oba of Badagry?
I was too engrossed with my job to the extent that no other thing attracted me than my job. When you are enjoying the work you do, you can even sacrifice your home for it. That was the story. I enjoyed my job that I never thought of becoming an Oba. I was outgoing, meeting people and filling good stories.
But every prince’s ambition is to become an Oba. Why was yours different?
It was simply because of my belief that all the princes cannot be king. Only one will make it. How would I know the one that would make it? Instead of bothering myself with such thoughts, I put my mind off it and concentrated on my job to the point of forgetting my status as a prince. I am one who believes that what will be, will definitely be, especially when it comes to issues of position in life. Every reporter cannot become an editor, even though every hardworking reporter must aspire to be an editor in future. But God knows how to do it and he picks whoever he wants. The point I am making is that I did not bother myself with the thought of becoming the king because doing so would amount to a wasted exercise.
Can you share your experience as a journalist, up till the time you rose to become an editor?
I started with the West African Pilot, owned by the late Dr Nnamdi Azikwe. You must have heard so much about the West African Pilot as a vibrant newspaper which was at the forefront of the struggle against colonial government in Nigeria. It was such a vibrant newspaper that every young man wanted to identify with. Working for West African Pilot was more or less a privilege to express yourself and to make your expression heard by the public. Nigerian Tribune came after and joined in the same struggle with which West African Pilot was founded. It was interesting then and the colonial government knew that Nigeria was blessed with brilliant people. I later joined New Nigeria and I rose to become the editor of the paper.
During our days, we were trained well; we were thoroughly baked despite the fact that a few had university degrees. In fact, in terms of resourcefulness, I have discovered that university degree does not make one a better journalist. You need to work hard and realise your responsibility to the society who looks forward to reading your paper and form opinion based on your report. You are an opinion molder responsible to the authorities and the public
Did you have time to rest at all going by the picture you just painted?
We created time to unwind among ourselves. But the truth of the matter is that while we were relaxing, we were still working. Our eyes and ears were working in search of scoops. Honestly, journalism in our days was not a job but our life. If you want to make it in the profession, set a high standard for yourself. Don’t be scared of travelling, even at odd hours and don’t compare yourself with those working in high paying organisations. Be creative and friendly. These are some of the attributes that can make you climb the ladder of the profession.
How did you move from the profession to the palace?
It happened in October 1976 while I was already an editor. I told you that I was the editor of New Nigerian when I was selected to be the Oba. That was in October 1976. By January 1977, I had returned home to start the performance of some rites. By April, the coronation ceremony took place.
It seems you had a smooth sail to the throne, unlike other places where princes slug it out among themselves?
There was also problem of succession. It is natural that others would show interest. But as I said earlier, only one person will be crowned. At the end of the day, God gave it to me. It was God who did it, not by my power.
What do you miss about journalism?
I cannot go out to meet people again. I used to go out and mix with people as a journalist. I cannot wear suits anymore because it is against our custom. An Oba must dress properly and set a good example.
How did Badagry come into being?
Our forefathers came from Accra in Ghana. What happened was that we were formerly in Ile-Ife until 1200 when many people left for different places. My forefathers travelled as far as Ghana, but later returned to this place. Akran was the first settler, hence the title.
Is there a difference between Badagry and other Yoruba towns?
There is no difference. We are the same. The only thing is the language. When we were in Ghana, the language changed and by the time we came here, we were speaking Ogu, called Egun.
What do you really want to see happen to Badagry?
I want government to develop this town beyond what it is now. I thank God that a sea port has been approved a couple of months ago. It is going to make Badagry a big town. This will be the main port in the whole of Africa when it is completed. Bigger vessels will be here. The sea port will transform Badagry and open it up to the world.
What is your view about polygamy in the palace?
An Oba has no limit to the number of wives he can marry. But it depends on individual preferences. I don’t sincerely think the reason that made an Oba to marry more wives in those days is still valid. Time is fast changing. The world is dynamic and we must move with the tide. But I am not saying any Oba who is interested in more wives should not go for them.
How many wives do you have?
I have only one wife who I married in 1971, when I was a practicing journalist. We understand each other to the extent that there is no reason to marry another wife. I am okay and she is okay. Don’t forget that I said it depends on the choice of the individual Oba. What I am saying is that I have nothing against an Oba having more than one wife because nothing forbids him from doing so. But when there is no reason for one to have more than one, it is better one stays with one.