Why we had no monarch for 17 years, 17 days —Oba Ayeni, Akinla of Erin Ijesa

Oba Isaac Adeyemo Ayeni, the Akinla of Erin Ijesa, in an interaction with Kehinde Oyetimi, shares his thoughts on developing Olumirin waterfall, recommendations for ensuring harmony among South-West monarchs and the role of traditional institutions in national development. Excerpts:


How would you describe growing up?

I grew up in Erin Ijesa and was born here January 22, 1964. My parents were peasant farmers. If I was told that I would be a monarch today, I wouldn’t have believed it because I didn’t have any inkling of that when I was growing up, in spite of the fact that I knew I was from a royal family. It never occurred to me that one day, I would be beckoned upon to assume this position.


What challenges have you found most tasking since you ascended the throne of your forebears?

Not much. However, what has confronted me most is dealing with people. One has to learn the politics of dealing with people, both low and high. Both good and bad people are all your subjects and one has to learn how to manage them.


It is popularly stated that Ijesa people are very stubborn, hard and difficult to control. How true is that?

I don’t agree with that opinion. Ijesa people are very principled and hate being cheated. They also know how to demand for their rights.


Your jurisdiction was without an Oba for 17 years and 17 days. What really happened?

That’s correct.  Generally, in the South-West, these days, when the position for an Oba becomes vacant, you see people showing interest, whether they are qualified or not, unlike those days when it was through the oracle. When the former Oba passed on, a lot of people expressed interest in the position. However, it was clearly stated that the Obaship wasn’t for sale. We went to court and a committee stepped in to prevail on us to withdraw the case from court. A reconciliatory committee was set up but the issue could not be resolved because they were trying to persuade some contestants to step down for others. At that time, it was discovered that the main contestant wasn’t even from a ruling house. So, it was advised that the process be started all over and as such, the king makers had to restrict their search to the main ruling houses for candidates. When that major contestant realised what had happened, he was trying to play underground in order to instigate some of the other candidates to go to court. At that time, in 2012, I had been selected to be king. Of 13 king makers, I had ten votes, while the other three abstained. Two of the three ruling houses went to court. However, we thank God that this year, it has been resolved. One of the cases was thrown out for lack of merit, while the other case was ruled in my favour. After that, the governor approved my appointment and we started the process of installation. I was installed on March 25th and I thank Governor Rauf Aregbesola for his support in breaking that jinx of not having an Oba for 17 years and 17 days.


Since you became the Oba, have you been able to reach out to other contestants?

Yes. We are trying to reach out but some of them are still unrepentant. The ruling house whose case was thrown out has accepted to sheath their sword. The other ruling house has appealed the judgment. So, the battle goes on.


Olumirin waterfall, Erin-Ijesa is in your domain. What steps have been taken to ensure that the place is developed?

My ancestors settled here because of the waterfall and they left Ile-Ife in 1140 AD. The only daughter of Oduduwa founded Erin-Ijesa. Olumirin means ‘Oluwa Imiran’, that is, ‘another god.’ It was a marvel in the eyes of the first settlers. Olumirin waterfall has suffered under-development. Successive monarchs have tried their best to bring the waterfall to the attention of government. A windmill can be installed at the Abake community situated on top which can generate electricity. We have a huge deposit of feldspar mixed with quartz. This raises the probability of finding gold. We’re also working on reaching out to private investors to extract the minerals. Government has been trying their best and we will continue to appeal to them to do more. I learnt in 2012, government allocated N300 million to develop this place but as I speak, we don’t know the whereabouts of that money.


What is your vision for the area?

My goal is to showcase this place to the world and I believe that it begins with the people. We need to work together to develop this place. People should come home to build. Many people have bought land over the years but nothing has been built on them. If we see people who are ready to build, we will allocate such lands. When those who bought the lands earlier are ready, we will give them somewhere else. That’s how we can develop. I’m also trying to reach out to those outside Nigeria, in the form of a convention, to sensitise them on ways we can develop this place. I’m also working on reaching out to Pastor W.F. Kumuyi, who is a son of this town, so he can sanctify this place spiritually as well, and we can move forward from there in development. It wouldn’t be bad to have a branch of Anchor University of the Deeper Life Bible Church here. Or even a Bible College. There is no doubt Pastor Kumuyi is a renowned man of God but he is not known here because his impact has not been felt. So, I would want him to show support.


The traditional institution is very important for the growth of any country. What are you doing to ensure harmony among Yoruba traditional rulers of the South-West?

Basically, what we’re doing is engagement, that is, we need to keep talking. I’m happy with what the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi, is doing. He has been reaching out to Obas in the South-West to let them know that he is ready to work with them. We also have the council of Obas and we have been meeting and reaching out to ourselves. There is no need for conflict. We need peace. Although, that does not mean crisis will disappear completely. Even between husband and wife, there is conflict. The management of such disagreement is what matters. So, we will continue to manage it so it doesn’t cause much disharmony among South-West Obas.


Many people are clamouring for Obas to be given much recognition, especially in relation to consulting them on national issues. What would be your take on that?

In the days of our fathers, Obas were referred to as the Igba Ikeji Orisa. Even witches then consulted Oba for permission before carrying out their activities. However, when the whites came, much power was taken from the traditional rulers. Then, an Oba could ask a person to bring his mother to the palace and she could be killed in the child’s presence and nobody would dare to challenge such action. However, if you try that now, such a monarch would go prison. All the same, I don’t think any government that wants to succeed can do without the Obas. We are at the grassroots and we know the domain more than any other person. Most of us are still well respected. If government can engage monarchs in advisory roles, things would get better. However, Obas are not meant to play partisan politics.


What has changed about you since you became an Oba?

I used to work with international companies. Before, I used to wake up and leave for the office but that doesn’t apply any more. I’m a kind of person who values his privacy. I rarely go to places where there would be too many people. That’s why even in church, I rarely go to conventions. I don’t really like being with crowd. However, now I can rarely hide. Anybody who comes to see me, I cannot turn them back. Before, people rarely visit my house without fixing appointment. Now, I’m beginning to change. Also, I know my friends must have suffered a lot, because I cannot go out with them like before. I took this assignment like a sacrifice. I left a good job and a good life and to come home to be with my people. It is a sacrifice and for me, it’s worth it and that’s why I’m very passionate about developing the people and the town.


What would be your message to your people?

My message for them from day one would be love. Live and let live. They should shun selfishness. If there is love, this town will move forward. We need to come together to elevate this town. Whatever I do, I consult the people and we gather all the opinions before we take decisions. I cannot do it alone. Even letters to the government are reviewed by the people. I want us to succeed together as Erin people.