Chief Moses Oyedele Ogunmola is the Otun of Oyo. The 94-year-old former Nigerian Ambassador to Zambia and Malawi obtained a B.A combined honours in English and History in 1960 from the University of Manchester, after which he returned home to serve as an administrator, culture enthusiast and a foremost chief in the council of the late Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III, the late Alaafin of Oyo. In this interview by KEHINDE OYETIMI, he speaks on expectations in the choice of the next Alaafin, among other issues.
You are regarded as one of the earliest university graduates that the ancient town of Oyo produced. You were reported to have studied English and History and graduated from the University of Manchester in 1960. What was the nature of the exception that was held for you when you returned to Nigeria?
It was wonderful. People travelled down to Lagos to receive me. Let me go back a little. Then, when people travelled by sea, those travelling from Lagos to England would meet those travelling from England to Lagos at Freetown. Freetown was always the meeting point. I had to stop over at Freetown, Sierra Leone. These trips afforded me the opportunity to be aware of all that was happening in West Africa then. I lived in Sierra Leone for two years between 1955 and 1957 before continuing my journey to England.
When I returned from England after my studies in 1960, the reception was wonderful; it was as though a new Alaafin or a new Olubadan was being celebrated. They all came with drums and songs to receive me in Lagos. When I got to Oyo, Reverend Taiwo then was in charge of First Baptist Church here. He also led the church in holding a special reception in my honour.
When you returned to Nigeria, what were your immediate contributions to your community?
When I returned in 1960, I began to teach in one of the grammar schools here. I was also asked to come and work at the Ministry of External Affairs. Life then was wonderful; then the moment you were educated, many jobs were lined up for you. Some of my friends joined the Ministry of External Affairs. Some people from Fiditi also came asking that I come over to work at Fiditi Grammar School. Oranyan Grammar School was established in 1960 and I was invited to teach there. I didn’t go to Fiditi, nor did I go to External Affairs. I, however, started teaching at Oranyan Grammar School. I was satisfied with that. Later on, I joined the local politics of my people. By October 1961, I had become council chairman after so many intrigues. The council chairmanship election took place yearly. It was parliamentary. I was chairman from 1961 to 1966 when the military took over power.
How did you become the Otun Alaafin of Oyo?
I became the Otun Alaafin on February 8, 1975. On January 14, 1970, Oba Adeyemi III became the Alaafin of Oyo. He reigned till 2022. He made me Otun in 1975. He made 15 of us chiefs in 1975. Basorun, Agbaakin, Saamu, Lagunna, Alapini, Akinikun and Asipa were on the right of the Alaafin as chiefs. Their children usually inherited the chieftaincies when their fathers died. The rest of us are regarded as honorary chiefs. The Alaafin would pick from among the people to fill the slots of the honorary chiefs. It was at his discretion. He chose individuals whom he felt could contribute to the development of the town. Bode Thomas was Balogun of Oyo.
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I had witnessed practical education after I went to the University of Manchester. I got 32-acres of land and built a very beautiful grammar school. Later I established Alliance Hotel and since then we have been contributing the little we can to the growth of Oyo.
Many people are expecting the installation of a new Alaafin of Oyo. What are your expectations?
The next Alaafin does not necessarily have to be a professor. However, he must have a liberal and functional education. He should be able to discern between wrong and right. He should also be able to work with the high and low of society. He should be familiar with our culture and tradition. He must also be very passionate about providing more jobs, hospitals and several other amenities for our people.
Is Ifa particular about religion in the choice of an Alaafin?
It is wrong to say that a particular religion is always favoured during the selection of an Alaafin. We are latitudinarians in Oyo. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Muslim, Christian or traditional worshipper. In Oyo, if you, as a traditionalist, properly kill a ram and send it to me, I will tell my wife to make a delicacy out of it. I am a Christian. If my pastor asks me why I accepted such meat from a traditionalist, I will tell him that what I know about Christianity is its basic principle. The basic principle is that you should believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Whether I eat the meat or not, it is merely an embellishment. I may decide to eat or not. That is how Oyo is. The late Alaafin was also a Muslim but respected other religions. When he was to choose his honorary chiefs, out of the 15 of us, there were more Christians.
At the moment, if the kingmakers, after looking at the parameters, bring out the choice of Ifa, and that choice becomes a Muslim or Christian or traditional worshipper, I will be less bothered. I will pledge my loyalty to the new Alaafin in the open. I will be unbothered about his religious leaning. It is not part of our culture to base choosing of the Alaafin on religious affiliation. No! We have been practicing Islam as Oyo indigenes since 1660. The Methodist came into Oyo in 1843; the Baptist came in 1850. The Catholics came in 1870. The Church of the Lord also came.
In Ife, the present Ooni still has a father. But we hear that any prince with claims to the throne whose father is still alive cannot be the Alaafin. Is this claim true?
It is actually irrelevant. It is not an issue. If the father is alive and his son is better qualified, then the son should have it. It is not about making any sacrifice. It is not a cult. If the son is better qualified to be the Alaafin, even if the father is alive, then the son should be made the Alaafin of Oyo. We have been in this business of choosing one Alaafin or the other for over 1,000 years. Alaafin does not worship Sango; when they say Sango, Sango was the third Alaafin of Oyo. I am a Baptist; whenever it comes to the issue of the stool of the Alaafin, we are all united as Oyo indigenes. We put all our religious leanings aside and play up that stool. It is our identity and pride. Whether you are a Muslim, Christian or traditionalist, we are united when the issue of the Alaafin is thrown up. We will never relegate that throne to the background. Not in my lifetime as the Otun. We want the next Alaafin to be kind, approachable, one who would facilitate development to Oyo, someone who would love all. We don’t want an Alaafin that is materialistic.