Owatapa is a priest title —Elerinmo

Sitting under a complete royal mien and flanked by his High Chiefs, the Elerinmo of Erinmo-Ijesa, Oba Michael Odunayo Ajayi Arowotawaya II, speaks with authority without betraying any emotion. He sets the record straight on the contentious issue of Owatapa and declares it nonexistent in the history of Erinmo. In an interview conducted by TUNDE BUSARI, he also speaks on his journey to the throne in 2014. Excerpts:


When did you ascend the throne?

I ascended the throne on 29th of July 2014.


How can you describe the selection process from which you eventually emerged?

It was a long process. In Erinmo, there are four ruling houses-Arowotawaya, Oboyilekan, Ajeranbialate and Osupaidimi. Osupaidimi produced my immediate predecessor. When there was vacancy. I was unanimously selected in the presence of officials of Oriade Local Government. The seven kingmakers had a meeting and accepted and formally wrote to the local government. The local government also wrote to state government. Afterwards, the state wrote formal letter to me on behalf of the governor that I have been chosen. we went through traditional installation after which date of coronation and presentation of staff of office was picked. Presentation of staff of office was done on August 6, 2014 on behalf of the governor by the commissioner for chieftaincy affairs. After this was done, I then got a certificate. Every Oba has it. In the letter you are addressed as prince but in the certificate you are addressed as Oba. You cannot really say you are king without going through all this official processes of appointment, and certification, which are officially gazetted. If you are not gazetted, you cannot claim you are an Oba.


What was going on in your mind on your coronation day?

I thank God everything came like dream come true. I give glory to God. Unless God makes one King there is nothing anybody can do. I found out that day that I was on a journey of no return. I felt the huge responsibilities on me. I felt challenged and I am determined to make the difference during my reign.


Can we quickly go through your profile?

I am first born of Joseph Olubowale Ajayi , who is a direct descendant of Arowotawaya royal family. I had first degree at age of 20 at the University of Ilorin. I studied Sociology, Business Administration and Accounting in 1987. Before I completed my final exams at the university, I had got employment into the largest conglomerate in Nigeria at that time, UAC as a management trainee.  I received the letter of appointment even before I left for national service. I joined UAC fully in October 1988. I did my NYSC at Police College, Kaduna. I had a MBA Marketing at Lagos State University.  Working with UAC afforded me opportunity to have cross-functional and cross-sector experiences.  Within the conglomerate, I worked for different companies some of which include GB Olivant, MDS, Mr Biggs and others. I became an expatriate working in Ghana. I later set up my own company. I also emerged the Director-General of Ghana-Nigeria Chamber of Commerce.


The Owatapa title is said to be seen differently by the Elerinmo-In-Council. What is the position of the council on it?

There has never been any oba by that name in the history of my town. This is not hidden. The fact is there to confirm.


What then is the bone of contention?

There is nothing to contest. We are not contesting against any non-existent thing. What I am only after is the peace of my town. I want my chiefs and people to all live in peace. I don’t want break down of law and order. I am a peaceful Oba who ascended the throne peacefully. I am the true Ilufemiloye (Town’s unanimous choice) So, I should be seen to be promoting that peace and not giving any room for thugs to disturb the peace.


How far have you gone in your effort to maintain the peace given the circumstance at hand?

We have made some efforts which are interestingly yielding results now. As I said earlier, I should not allow chaos for any reason, hence the steps we have taken.  God is always in support of the righteous ones. We are happy with what He has done for us so far on the matter. For instance, on August 19, 2016, Osun State Ministry of Local Government, Chieftaincy, Water Resources, Rural and Community Affairs issued a letter in which it declares as non-existent the so-called Owatapami, saying it runs contrary to Section 21 sub-sections 3 (a) and (b) of the Chief’s Law, Cap. 25, Laws of the State of Osun, 2002. Even before the ministry’s letter, on July 16, 2016, the Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID) of Osun State Command, sent a letter to the palace, further clearing the air on the matter. The letter was a reply to the petition which the palace had earlier sent to the police. The police letter stated that its investigation had shown that there is no community ever known as Itapa within the various communities under the jurisdiction of Oriade Local Government. The letter also confirmed that there was an earlier litigation on the matter during the era of my predecessor, which the palace had won.


Is that so?

There is nothing I am telling you that is not in black and white. All these facts are all documented for verification. We have nothing to hide because there is no reason to hide anything. The Owatapa title we read in your paper was an Ifa priest title conferred by the Owa Obokun, Oba Adekunle Aromolaran in June 1982 and which was withdrawn, according to a letter by the Owa Obokun himself. The letter put to rest everything about the matter. The then Secretary to the Military Government and Head of Service in the former Oyo State, F.B. Adisa on July 19, 1984 acknowledged the Owa Obokun’s letter and affirmed his decision. The letter read: “I am directed to acknowledge the receipt of Alayeluwa’s letter dated 20th June, 1984 addressed to the Military Governor of Oyo State, Lt Col, Oladayo Popoola, and to say that the State Government does not raise any objection to the exercise of Kabiyesi’s power under the Chief’s Law as far as the measures which Your Royal Highness intends to take on the Atapa Chieftaincy is concerned.”


What can you say you are missing in this your new world?

I am missing my freedom. That is the truth. I have lost my privacy too. But the fact that the throne is a call to serve ones people makes it worthwhile. I can, therefore, say that I am okay with the new world as you put it. There is nothing like putting your years of experience into the service of your people. My people wanted me and showed it and rallied round me. I am blessed.


How can you describe your chiefs as regards your relationship with them in steering the ship of the town?

I just said that I am blessed. I am really blessed with a group of chiefs who are ready to work for the town and support my four cardinal programme of turning around this town. Where you have this type of chiefs, you are assured of steady progress. Their ages and experiences are combined with my youthfulness and exposure to breathe a new life to Erinmo and our people. I am, therefore, expressing my satisfaction at their commitment so far. When I told them that Tribune would be here and I wanted them to be present, they all expressed willingness to be here. And you can see their contribution so far.


Are you comfortable with agbada unlike suits you were used to wear as a corporate personality?

I don’t have a choice. Right now, I am in the position of Baba of my town and I am comfortable with it because that is where I should be. Life is about phases.


Traditional rulers are said to have power to pick any beautiful girl for wife. What is your view on this?

That traditional rulers can does not mean I will. We are in a new millennium unlike those days when an Oba had a concentrated power as the chief judge, commissioner of police, senator and everything. Taking wives is not my priority. My focus is to develop my community beyond I met it.