In this piece, Oba Adeoye Adefarakan, the Oloyere of Oyere, Ife, celebrates the life of the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II, who passed away on July 28, 2015: exactly five years ago.
Alayeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II was born on January 1, 1930 to the great Ogboru Ruling House, Ilare, Ile-Ife. Prince Okunade Sijuwade, as he was then called, started his elementary education at Igbein School Abeokuta, an institution owned by the CMS mission authority, there he lived with his brothers under the care of one Chief G.A Adedayo and his family.
From there and after elementary school, he proceeded to Abeokuta Grammar School, under that great educationist, The Rev. I.O Ransome Kuti who was the principal.
Prince Sijuwade, in his early life, was very conscious of his royal lineage. After spending five years in the school, he transferred to Oduduwa College in Ile-Ife to complete his studies under the Reverend S.A Adeyefa. On his first day at school, he was mistaken for one of the new teachers and in no hurry to correct the impression, young Sijuwade took over in a class in which he was supposed to be a student.
In spite of his youthful pranks, Sijuwade is remembered by many of his classmates as a particularly diligent student. He was a trend-setter in school and one of the few students at Oduduwa College who was familiar with Lagos at that time.
His business tutelage
On leaving Oduduwa College, the young prince joined his father’s business for some few years after which he left the shores of Nigeria for a course of study overseas. I must quickly add that before he travelled out, the young man on his own volition joined the Nigerian Tribune where he spent two years undergoing training as a journalist: first, as a reporter and later as a sales executive. Thereafter he proceeded to the United Kingdom in the early fifties to undertake a course of training in business management. His training was at Northampton and with the Leventis Group in Manchester in 1957. He also participated in advanced business management training programmes with companies in Italy, Greece, Scotland, and West Germany and Israel. Armed with the immense experience he acquired in these places, he returned to Nigeria a few years later to launch a successful career in business.
Shortly after he returned to Nigeria, he was appointed the sales manager of Leventis Motors in Western Nigeria with its headquarters in Ibadan. By 1960, with Nigeria’s Independence, he became an adviser to the Leventis Group.
The young prince who was now prepared for full blown business held so many management positions both in and outside the government of Western Nigeria and under the then chairman of Leventis Group, Chief A.G Leventis.
Urbane, relaxed and self-confident, Prince Sijuwade had a wealth of experience from which to draw and was at home in boardrooms both in Nigeria and in leading capitals all over the world. In government circles, his opinion was valued and respected because it was often dispassionate, well informed, articulated and judiciously precise.
Installation as Ooni of Ife
Three months after the passing away of Ooni Adesoji Aderemi, a unanimous choice emerged from the kingmakers in the person of Prince Okunade Sijuwade among several contestants. Oba Okunade Sijuwade became the 50th Ooni of Ife on Saturday December 6, 1980 at a colourful ceremony attended by eminent personalities such as the then Emir of Kano, Oba of Benin, Amayanabo of Opobo, Olu of Warri, the representative of the Queen of England, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Mama H.I.D Awolowo who later became the Yeye Oba of Ife. He took the title Olubuse II.
Ooni Sijuwade as a family man
He was a family man to the care who never joked with his family (both close and extended). His first wife, Olori Josephine Yetunde Sijuwade, whom he married in 1959 was a major force and pillar of support as she provided the peaceful and stable matrimonial home for him. His beloved wife died in 1986. Oba Sijuwade married Olori Morisola Sijuwade; she was trained in Britain but settled for fashion designing and was responsible for the production of the flamboyant outfits of Oba Sijuwade. He also married an Egba woman from the family of the Egba High Chief, Harold Sodipo in the person of Barrister Olori Ladun Sijuwade (solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria). He also married to the princess of late Orogun of Ila, Oba Williams Adetona Ayeni in the person of Olori Odunola Sijuwade. The marriages were blessed with successful children
Oba Sijuwade’s poise on the throne
One can recall with fondness the memory of the iconic traditional ruler who brought dignity to the obaship institution in Yorubaland and beyond. He used his position and all his resources for the social and economic development of the Yoruba race and Nigeria in general. At the level of international politics, Oba Sijuwade was a friend to many presidents and heads of government.
Ooni Sijuwade: the political father-figure
Interestingly, Ooni Sijuwade was politically sensitive and indirectly involved; he was never biased or myopic when it came to politics. This was what stood him out across political divides. He gave unfettered freedom to all political players to have direct access to him without placing one above the other. He related so well with politicians across different political groups such that the individuals did not feel used or suspect any foul play by the highly revered traditional ruler.
The omoluabi essence of Oba Sijuwade
Dr Kunle Olajide in Reflections On The Life And Times Of Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II, argues that omoluabi literally means child of God; possessing the attributes of the Supreme Being. A few of the attributes are stated in the biblical quotation having to do with faith, diligence, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity. All these attributes are the instruments which Oba Sijuwade exhibited before and during his reign. He was a quintessential omoluabi. That was why he was fruitful and flourished in all his endeavours while alive. He was a gentleman with an excellent spirit. His integrity was unassailable and a man of impeccable character. He was reliable with a liberal disposition, making him very accommodating to his people and strangers alike.
He believed in a united, prosperous, peaceful and progressive Nigeria. He was of the opinion that Nigeria could only be achieved if it was anchored on due recognition of the peculiarities of the different nationalities which make up the country.
In pursuit of his goals of promoting national unity, he initiated the idea of a conference of traditional rulers of Nigeria. He believed that the traditional institution can be used to foster national unity; this was why he persuaded the Obasanjo administration in 2002 to organise the first national conference which was co-chaired by the late Emir of Kano and himself. Various bodies were invited to the conference which has gained prominence up till today.
He actively and financially supported the Ohaneze Ndigbo. He also encouraged the South-South People’s Assembly, the Middle Belt Congress, Afenifere and the Yoruba Council of Elders. He was convinced that until and unless each nationality had internal satisfaction and achieved its desired objectives, the country would not be at peace.
He honoured and decorated about 300 prominent Nigerians in various fields with high ranking chieftaincy titles which attracted very wide publicity.
The focus of Oba Sijuwade’s development agenda for Ife was the restoration of the city’s lost glory which he commenced before he became the Ooni. This was accentuated by the construction of the popular Sijuwade Estate along Ondo Road. This is a residential housing estate and a complex of high standard suites and chalets named the Motel Royal, Ife, along Ede road. The Sijuwade Estate is made up of about 30 units which came in handy to solve the problems of shortage of accommodation for the university senior staff both academic and non-academic.
He led the state-wide struggle for the consolidation of four local government areas in Ife division. The achievement that was unprecedented was the approval the Ooni got from the then governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola for the establishment of 45 domains and got them gazetted. Between 2009 and 2012, 45 obas were crowned to protect the territorial integrity of Ife and to facilitate socio- economic developments of Ife. In several ways, he was of assistance to the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, in its advancement.
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