Five years ago, his concerns were how to grow the nation’s insurance industry and reduce the activities of quacks in that practice, as the President of the Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria (CIIN) and a chief executive of a thriving insurance firm. Today, he is being called upon by his people to put these experiences to good use at the community level. In this interview with AKIN ADEWAKUN, the newly-elected monarch of Ile Oluji Kingdom, the Jegun of Ile Oluji, Oba Oluwole Adetimehin, unfolds his developmental plans for the kingdom, insisting that his primary focus now is how to reciprocate the overwhelming confidence of his people in him. Excerpts:
How did you react when you were named as the oba-elect?
Let me say what has happened is just the manifestation of divine providence. To say the least, I never had the ambition of becoming an oba. But as a prince, right from my birth, there had been premonition that I would be crowned as a king. And this kept coming, but I didn’t pay any attention to that. But as years went by, people were seeing this royal thing in me, and it was almost coming to a name or appellation. Everywhere I went, people were always saying kabiyesi. I’ve been a career person all my life, and by God’s grace, I have made my mark, having attained the peak of my career. So I was already fulfilled. But the questions I kept asking myself are: can this be real? Will it happen? Is that the next level? And when the stool eventually became vacant and all over the place, people kept calling, they were going to the family house to encourage me, and before you knew what was happening, it became the talk of the community, even beyond the shores of Nigeria. I think God really prepared the place for me and wanted me to ascend the throne, because I never went out of my way. I was not running from pillar to post the way some of the other contestants were doing. So I never saw it as a do or die thing.
How did you now prepare yourself for the throne?
You know this new position is different from a political post or even life in the corporate world. There are some requirements you have to meet. I knew I met those requirements. But the mindset was that those prophesies and the overwhelming assurance around were not enough that it would be a walk-over. I just committed everything to God, because before then, I had grown to know God, knowing full well that whatever he decides to do he will do it. I actually prepared for the throne by calling on God and asking me to lead me aright. So every now and then, I always call on Him, who set the step for me and I give it to me that guard me on how best to do it everyday. That is why I no longer get scared, I never get afraid, even at situations that ordinarily should be scaring.
Immediately your name was announced to the time of your coronation, the support, the acceptance was overwhelming and unprecedented, how did you earn such confidence?
Well I myself, I can’t explain. Nobody can. That was simply God at work, His ways are not our ways. You know I was almost suffocating, when it was time to go and present my address, because the crowd was rather huge. What we witnessed that day was unprecedented, and that was the Lord’s doing. To me, that overwhelming support manifesting in that mammoth crowd was not enough to get me carried away, rather I saw it as a big challenge of what to do and how to do it to meet the aspirations of the people of this community. It was one unique experience of my life and I keep thanking God. Sometimes I wondered what could have merited me such acclaim.
To what extent would you say you have recovered from the shock of coming from a corporate world to lead a traditional institution?
First, majority of my colleagues in the insurance sector were shocked that their past president had become a monarch, because all my days in the career, I never paraded myself as somebody looking forward to becoming an oba. I never showed anybody any such sign that I had an ambition to become an oba, except one or two professional colleagues, who happened to be prince and was always living the life of a prince. A whole lot of them were shocked. The corporate culture I was coming from and this traditional institution are my miles apart. Now one has to attend to tradition and the people of the kingdom, because their perception of the throne is that they have somebody there who can solve all their problems. They see the palace as the only place they can go and have their issues or anything bothering them sorted out. Unlike the corporate world when your day is planned, you have your appointments, you have opening and closing times, here nothing like that. But I have plans to restructure the pattern here, though one thing is certain, there is no way you can shut your gate against the people. But God helping us, I should be able to bring some improvements, educate them on the way to go and make them believe that it is not only the kabiyesi that can solve their problems. I have six high chiefs who have their portfolios. So when you build confidence in the people that there are other problem solvers, that are easily available, I think things should be a lot better and with that approach, you will be able to solve more problems, collectively than you alone can solve.
Can you let us in into some of your agenda for the community?
Recently, I inaugurated residential quarters representatives group (Ipade Adugbo), to promote cordiality and effective communication amongst the people. You want to get to know about their welfares, their challenges? You want to be able to find solutions. Every street is expected to have a representative. So what we are trying to do now is to structure that kind of associations to be able to use that as one of the platforms to reach out to the community, because I realize that people carry a lot of rumours that have no foundation.
A lot of traditional leaders within the South West region have argued for community policing, what is your take on this subject?
My take is that we should look at the fundamentals and not scratch the surface. What are those things responsible for insecurity in Nigeria? Why do we have security challenge? If we can define those elements very well, we probably will not need more policemen. For instance, the issue of unemployment, our youths are coming out of colleges, they can’t find job placements. The few that are employed are not well paid. So if we can solve unemployment problem, the number of people out there, wandering will reduce. Graduates driving okada will reduce, people doing 419 will reduce. Also the issue of politics, which is being taken as a full time employment, should not be so, it has led to promotion of thuggery all over the place. If we can address all these issues, the issue of community policing will not even come up at all. But if we can not address the issues, then we need to look at what we can do to manage those problems, which we can not solve outright. That is why I will support community policing. I believe a policeman from a particular community will definitely understand the terrain better. So it will be very easy to fish out perpetrators of those criminal acts within the community. It would also de-emphasise the undue use of the regular policemen. But they will have to be well trained.
Ile Oluji Kingdom and by extension, the whole of the South West has lost its pride of place as far as cocoa business is concerned. What do you think can be done to resuscitate the business in the community?
My take on that can not be different from the popular argument. We need to diversify and look forward to resuscitating some of these businesses that had fetched us money in the past. We should take the fullest advantage of exploiting the gift of nature in our environment. Unfortunately, we keep saying it, but can hardly actualize that dream. That is to say, the potential is there, but we hardly tap into it. In those days, predominantly, our fathers were farmers, and they were giving it the best shot. But then all of them believed that they must send their children to school, even though at that time, their children were still offering helping hand to them. But nowadays, nothing like that again. The people got educated and the type of education they got was not full enough to make them successful in life. So that possibly accounted for the drift from the farm to the city, where they are busy chasing white collar jobs that are no more there. So coming back now would amount to re-inventing the whole order. Though it could be resourceful in the short run, but in the long run, the result is going to be 50-50. How many people have taken interest? Have they got the means? Can they access loans? All the programs being put together by governments at the state and federal levels, can the people access these facilities to do farming? I think the solution is for the government to go back to the old order, introduce agric farm settlement schemes, on partnership basis, because we have a number of young graduates that are willing to work that couldn’t find means. So if such a means come, and the government is sincere about it, create infrastructure, provide means of their getting stipends, it would work. Then private enterpreneurs that want to do farming will complement that idea. But there is no way, if we don’t diversify we won’t get out of this problem. When we talk of recession, it is revolving. The problem we are going through here now will spill over to all other parts of the world.