The Elerinmo of Erinmo-Ijesa, Oba Michael Odunayo Ajayi (Arowotawaya II) was with the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi on his tour to Britain in March, after which he headed to the US and returned home with honours including the Community Excellence Award, proclamation by the Mayor of the City of Newark, New Jersey, Ras Baraka and a commendation letter by the Newark Municipal Council. In this interview by TUNDE BUSARI, Oba Ajayi reflected on the tour and reaffirmed the position of Yoruba culture in the world.
How will you describe your tour of Britain with the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi?
I hope to get the right words to describe the success of that trip. It was superb. It was a tour that brought out the richness of the Yoruba Culture to the extent that the white kept asking us interesting questions about the Yoruba race, culture and the totality of our life. The tour was part of the Ooni’s global outreach plan to showcase our heritage abroad. I must say that Yoruba people are all over the continents of the universe; in west coast, Caribbean, Brazil and Cuba. I mean those that were displaced by the slave trade and those who embarked on what I call self-migration in the Diaspora. It was a busy schedule for us which also afforded us opportunity to realise that our sons and daughters out there still connect well with our culture. They did not forget their heritage. As I just said, we ran a busy schedule throughout. Our visit to the British Museum was touching, very, very touching with our artifacts that were well preserved and displayed. Entering the museum and seeing the artifacts was a kind of spiritual connection with our origin. Our hosts were impressed by our dressing.
Ooni, suggesting a strong relationship predating your ascension to the throne. Is this correct? You appear to always be in the company of the
The history of our relationship is personal. Let us leave it as such. The important thing is that Ile-Ife is the cradle of the Yoruba race at home and in the Diaspora. This status confers that respect on the Ooni of Ife. If you were part of that tour to Britain, you would be very proud of the Ooni and the kind of respect extended to him everywhere. Those people out there have read Yoruba history and known the position of the Ooni. We were at Birmingham Palace. We were at Oxford. I was proud to be on that tour. But this goes beyond what your question suggests. It is about Yoruba and Yoruba history. I am always available for any course aimed at projecting Yoruba at home and abroad. As a matter of fact, every Yoruba traditional ruler must maintain such ties with the Ooni because we cannot afford to leave him alone. The project at hand cannot be done alone. He needs to be supported. I have travelled with him to Ghana, the US and now Britain. I am happy that we, traditional rulers, are moving closer to harmony. Yoruba is the first and the best if we can get our acts together.
What were the highlights of the tour?
The Ooni laid a wreath at the Commonwealth Remembrance Day. You know the significance of the Commonwealth being the gathering of countries and people who were former colonies of the Britain. We therefore considered it a great honour to have invited a Yoruba Oba to Commonwealth remembrance ceremony. The Ooni also had what should be called a private session with the British Monarchy and also had meetings with the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Andrew.
Some people would insist on knowing the importance of the tour.
When we are talking of cultural renaissance; that was what we achieved with the trip. I have told you we were at the Black Cultural Archives where we saw our artifacts on display there. It is true that those items were well preserved there but can they interpret them? If they can, they cannot interpret them properly. I recall when the Onikere of Ikere-Ekiti saw the door of his forefather and the mood. These are what we call spiritual connection which the people out there don’t have because the artifacts are not theirs. As the Ooni himself said that nobody can tell our story better than us because we are the true custodian of our culture, heritage and our tradition. So the importance is even more than what we can exhaust on the pages of newspapers and magazines.
There is something about you even in your old pictures which connotes royalty. Have you observed this?
As a matter of fact, my mother too is always amazed and other people have dropped same remark on my comportment. The truth of the matter is that being a king is more divine than something one should be desperate about. You don’t struggle for it because only God crowns king from birth of the recipient. It is my destiny before I came to the world to be king and here I am as the Elerinmo. That is why I said that I have reached the pinnacle of my life. There is nothing I want to become again because God has been so kind to me to take me this far. I retired from the corporate world before I was 50 after I had been Founding President of the Forum of Nigerian Professionals in Ghana, Convener of the Ghana-Nigeria Business Summit, Founding Director-General, Ghana-Nigeria Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Convener of the first Made in Ghana Solo Exhibition in Nigeria, Founding Chairman, Institute of Strategic, Management, Ghana Chapter, Organiser of the first Ghana-Togo-Benin-Nigeria Business Summit. Before the above, I had also held managerial positions at multinational corporations like UAC and the Nigerian-German Chemicals Plc. I graduated from the University of Ilorin with a Bachelor of Science (Sociology) at 20. Only God made these attainments possible. So, my being an Oba, as I said, is God-ordained, particularly looking back at my growing up years when I was fond of looking after the welfare of people around me. It is in my blood and I am grateful to God for seeing me through. That is why I cannot do without giving praise to Him because He is the King of kings. We are only here as His representatives. He is the king.
You did not return to Nigeria with the Ooni after the tour. What was your mission in the United States?
I already had an invitation dated March 12, 2017 and signed by the Chairman of African American Heritage Parades Organisation Inc, Newark, New Jersey, Charles N. Hall jn. I was invited to participate and support the 2017 calendar events of the organisation as a special guest. That was my mission there.
Can you share your experience in the US?
Why not? It was another beautiful journey to reunite with fellow blacks but citizens of the US. There was emotional connection with my hosts as they did everything possible to make me feel at home in their midst. Again, I want to emphasize that Yoruba culture is the best. I participated at the 50th Anniversary of the African American Heritage Statewide Parade and Festival. For two weeks, I was involved in a number of activities. I was at schools and churches. I was at the Union Chapel AME Church. I also visited mosques and rehab centres where I spoke with youths who have drug issues on the need to follow the right path to achieving their potentials. It was a reconnection of sorts, which I won’t forget in haste. The trip has opened up Erinmo to investors in the area of developing our seven mountains to a huge tourist destination to attract tourists from all parts of the world. I was the first Nigerian King at the opening bell of the Newark Stock Exchange. The popular pop musician Cool and the Gang also hosted me. It was two weeks of activities, which helped me to showcase Erinmo to my hosts. We have the best cocoa and this fact is not hidden. We look at areas to develop our agriculture and in the nearest future the result of the US tour will manifest.
Can you shed light on the vocational training for youths of this town?
Thank you so much. I am of the view that we should not continue to do things the same way. If we do, there is no doubting the fact that we will continue to have the same result. This is empirical. When I came to the throne, I envisioned ways of engaging our youths productively. The vocation training is one of the schemes. I spoke with the coordinator of the scheme and the report I received is heartwarming, meaning we are doing the right thing. Engaged youths are the hope of every town while jobless youths are not only a threat but a danger because they are the willing tools of the devil. With my exposure to the outside world, there is no empowerment that gives financial freedom to the youth than offering them jobs. Giving them money cannot and will not help them. It can help on a short term but later they are back begging for more money. I am very happy that our youths are responsive to the scheme. In a couple of months, those in tailoring vocation would round off as their coordinator has assured me of their competence level, which is encouraging.