The Olugbon of Orile-Igbon, Oba Francis Olusola Alao, is undoubtedly elevating the name of his town to high pedestal. That is why his presence is felt where A-class events hold. In an interview by TUNDE BUSARI, Oba Alao reveals why he would stop at nothing to change the fortune of his domain. Excerpts:
At the Conference of Yoruba traditional rulers hosted by the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, I saw you sitting closely to him on the right side. What does that suggest about the extent of your relationship?
I must first of all make this appeal to the media to help us, the traditional rulers, in the unity efforts we embark on. Yoruba is known in every part of the world as a great nation. The only obstacle to that attribute is the marked differences among us. This factor is what outsiders exploit to take advantage of us. We shall be very glad if the media plays complimentary role in this effort to ensure we become an indivisible ethnic group.
How realistic is this dream, given the influence of education, religion and in fact, politics?
Yoruba unity is achievable if all hands are on the deck. It is also achievable if we, traditional rulers, rise to our responsibility as father of professors, religious leaders and politicians. There is nothing stopping us from getting it. There is no shortcut to development we crave on daily basis. Unity of purpose is the road to development. We have covered some remarkable grounds and hopefully we are going to get there.
One of the issues affecting the unity is said to be ego among the elite and traditional rulers. How do you intend to address this?
You are correct. But the era of supremacy war is gone. We should think more of collective development, rather than individual agenda that ‘I am better than you are.’ The world has moved past that age. We have a 30-year-old controlling billions of dollars now in the US. Who is not using Facebook today? Should not that teach us a lesson that we also need to move? We are working on that and we are approaching result.
Can you then say that was what the conference was all about?
It was a well-thought out conference that drew many traditional rulers together in the town regarded as our cradle. The impression at the gathering was encouraging as we interacted under friendly atmosphere and shared ideas, progressive ideas bothering on Yoruba’s future.
How close are you with the Ooni of Ife?
I am as close to him as you have earlier raised. He plays his role well as our host who is genuinely concerned about Yoruba race at home and in the diaspora. My close interaction with him has shown that we share same vision on the position of Yoruba in the future.
You attended the 80th birthday ceremony of the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Olayiwola Adeyemi, held in Ibadan. What impression did you have about the attendance at the ceremony?
My impression was that the attendance reflected the true status of Oba Adeyemi. An event where you have the vice-president and governors among other high ranking government officers says a lot of the status of the host. I am happy for Baba Alaafin for attaining such age and still enjoying good health. Everybody was impressed by his physical and mental fitness. Despite the weeklong events for the birthday, he showed no fatigue. The Ooni of Ife was also in attendance to make significant statement that Yoruba would get it right.
The Alaafin made a public presentation of his book at the event. Have you read it?
I have not read the book because that book is not an ordinary book, considering its volume and content. It is not a book one reads in a haste. I will definitely read it because reading it would reveal some information which one needs as a traditional ruler. It would also contain some guides on experiences on the throne. I am lover of books any day. So, reading the book is the an obligation. Something we are losing these days is reading culture. Internet seems to have relegated serious reading to the background. But with books like the one written by Baba Alaafin, we shall return to reading.
You placed advert on the birthday ceremony. Does that indicate your closeness with the Alaafin?
Placing an advert to celebrate his birthday with him was something I did as one who appreciates what he symbolizes as the custodian of culture and tradition. You should not forget he is the permanent chairman of the Oyo State Council of Obas and Chiefs. But apart from that, he has shown exemplary leadership in almost 50 years now. He deserves his respect and honour. If you see the advert from that perspective, you are not wrong at all. I wish him more peaceful reign. I need to wish him so because my prayer is also to reign for long to make impacts in my town.
Cashew is said to be synonymous with your town. How far is this true?
You are correct. This is an aspect of my town the public does not have much knowledge of. We are not only ranked the best producer in Nigeria but in Africa, if not in the world. This is an area that has engaged me. This is an area I cannot afford to ignore. As a business man who has been modestly successful, I am already talking with the state government on how to turn this product around and make Oyo State the largest producer of cashew. We are going to achieve it.
Is the throne not slowing you down as a businessman?
We should not go into that. What and where I am today is a call to service. So, there is no reason to complain about business again. Of course, my businesses are important to me because they are what I spent my younger years to grow. But as I said earlier, service to one’s town is more important. My people had trust and confidence in me to have decided to put me here. So, I must work to justify their trust and confidence by opening up the town to the world. In years to come, Orile-Igbon is going to be the economic hub of Oyo State. We have started the process and we are heading towards success.
What does obaship mean to you?
This question relates to the earlier one. Obaship is about service to one’s town or community. It is about using what God has given you to develop your town. Unlike political offices, it is a lifetime position, hence the need for traditional rulers to be very careful on their ways on the throne. We are going to be held responsible for what happens in our towns.
Your wife is a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). How does she balance her role as a pastor with that of being an olori?
The best answer to this question is that the hand of God is in the position we find ourselves today. In fact, her being a pastor was something only God could ordained because she was a top-ranking banking executive officer. She had limited time for any other thing apart from her job, which involved meetings and series of networking. But to give accurate answer to your question, I will say since she prayed over it when the announcement was made and saw God’s approval, the rest is history. I am using this interview to commend her steadfastness in our journey so far. I am not on exaggeration trip, she is a model, a right template for what womanhood should be.