His Royal Majesty, Oba Asunmo Ganiyu Aderibigbe, Jamade I, the paramount ruler of Odo Ayandelu in Ikosi/Ejinrin LCDA, Epe Division of Lagos State ascended the throne of his kingdom 10 years ago. In this interview by SAM NWAOKO, the first-class monarch and registered builder speaks on his transition as an itinerant employee of the defunct PHCN to a traditional ruler that is always expected to be in his palace; security and the Operation Amotekun among other issues. Excerpts:
Before the last 10 year when you ascended the throne, you had a life. Now you are living another kind of life. What has the transition from a secular man to a traditional ruler done to you?
It’s been a mixture of challenging and interesting experiences. Before I become Oba, I was working with the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and I was at the corporate headquarters in Maitama, Abuja. I worked as a building officer in charge of building maintenance and offices. I travelled a lot as the job took me around the country and what we did was to maintain some of our facilities around the country. That was my job until my people called on me to come and be their king. I got my approval as the traditional ruler of Odo Ayandelu from the state government on the 25th of January, 2010. One of the things I noticed when I ascended the throne was that the position of an Oba leaves you with a lot of challenging, complex and difficult decisions and there are exciting times also. But with God on my side, I have been able to do things in the right way.
Which occasions left you with challenging and complex decisions to take in the course of the 10 years you have spent on the throne?
One of the challenges is decision-making. As it is happening to a president or governor or council chairman, so is it also for a traditional ruler. You want to make decisions that you will not regret and sometimes, as humans, you would be in dilemma. They have advisers etc. As a traditional ruler also, at times, people will come to you and advise that ‘Kabiyesi, on this matter, this is what you should do’ without you knowing that they are deceiving you. So you need God’s intervention so that you will not commit a gross mistake. One complex case I had to settle was a 21-year old child two fathers were laying claim to and were fighting over. The two men had begun their fight all the way from Isara in Ogun State and they had dragged it to my palace. When they came and narrated their cases, I said the best thing would have been a DNA test to determine who the father is, but I said such matters must have been resolved during the time of our forefathers and there must have been a way they did it. From what eye could see, the mother of the 21-year-old girl is dark in complexion and so is one of the men. The lady in contention is fair, just like the other man fighting for her. They also have a facial resemblance and these factors were not in contention. I told the dark-skinned man and his dark-skinned wife that our fore-fathers would say ‘if I am dark and my wife delivers a fair child, then a fair man must have befriended my wife.’ He laughed upon hearing my proverbial judgement but agreed with me and said he would no longer pursue the matter. Besides, the girl didn’t look at the fact that the fair man is not as wealthy as his rival before she pitched her tent with him. That is a pointer to the fact that blood is thicker than water.
The second case was that of adultery. A man accused his wife of adultery and said she must go unless she swore to an oath that she didn’t do it. When the matter came to the palace, we gave them five days as is customary to our people, as the man has agreed that she swore to an oath. On the second day, while I was already asleep late in the night, one old woman came and requested to see me. She came with the lady in question and said ‘it is true the lady committed adultery but she must not take the oath.’ I asked her ‘Mama, how are we now going to do it?’ She said that is up to you, you are the king. I consulted wide, seeking how to resolve the matter. On the day of the oath-taking, I invited the husband to go first, that he should swear that it is true that his wife committed the act. He said it was someone that informed him. We said that informant should also come and swear to the oath. Then his wife too would swear. He said he could not do it and we dismissed the case and he took the matter like that. Those matters caused me worries but I thank God that we were able to amicably settle all the disputes.
What about physical challenges, there were things you used to do as an itinerant worker that you no longer have the wherewithal to participate in. Isn’t that a form of challenge?
When I became an Oba, I could say that my rights were taken off completely because I like social life. After the day’s work, I go to the restaurant, eat and take a drink or two. You can no longer do those; you can no longer dress in certain ways nor can you just pick your car and drive off at will to visit a friend etc. People would be wondering what happened… however, we are still enjoying it despite being ‘caged’, sort of.
When you ascended the throne, what was the vision, what did you set out to achieve for your people?
The first one was education. I agree that when you open a school gate, you have closed the gate to prison. When I came on board, we had only one primary school in my community and the building was dilapidated then. But with a lot of interventions and the efforts of the Lagos State government, they came to our assistance. They said they were going to give us another structure but would demolish the old one but we disagreed and offered them another piece of land. They accepted the offer. Soon after, we felt that our community deserves a secondary school because our children then went to secondary school in Agbowa or Ota-Ikosi for their secondary education. We sought a temporary approval from the Lagos State government and they approved, we raised money and made the place habitable and put up some structures for the take-off of the secondary school. Our children are in SS2 now. Thankfully, a constituency project intervention, a block of six classrooms, is almost completed in our community. We are still expecting the Lagos State government to come with their own contribution to the project. Education is my priority. We also thank God that one of the largest estates owned by the Lagos State government today is in my community. They are 664 flats built on 20 acres of land we donated to the state government. This has helped in the rapid development of our community. Our town also built a ‘Corpers’ Lodge’ to accommodate the corps members we request for to help in teaching our children because we know quite well that there is a dearth of qualified teachers in Nigeria. The lodge is ready accommodation for them for their comfort. In the next 10 years, we are looking forward to having a higher institution in our town and gradually, we shall get there by the grace of God. If the government can do that for us, we will appreciate it.
One of the issues that concern traditional rulers most is the call for constitutional roles for traditional rulers in the country. A lot of people have weighed in on this issue. What do you think about this issue?
I pray Nigeria will get better, but if the government and politicians want Nigeria to get better, traditional rulers should be given a role. We do most of the work because we are the custodian of the tradition, and we own our communities. Each Oba is the one ensuring peace in his community and because of that peace, governments succeed in their plan of development. In Borno, now, there would be a dearth of funds for development because nearly all the funds have been channelled to security. But in the areas where there is peace, the governments do not appreciate it. In this country today, a councillor in the Local Government earns more than most of the traditional rulers. This is not to talk of those in the state and national assemblies. These people also have official vehicles, and I often wonder what laws the councillors pass.
So, we should create roles for the traditional rulers in the constitution because this is not just necessary, but it would help our quest for a better country. In those days before the government intervention in the traditional and chieftaincy matters, it is an Oba that would tell who should be local government chairman or councillor because they are the people at the grassroots. But now, the government is afraid and all you here is ‘our leader said’ and that is why everything is turning upside down. Things are not working in the country because things are not being done properly. So the government should go back to the drawing board. I want to believe that President Muhammadu Buhari came with a good vision but the politicians have killed it and everything is now in disarray. They do not want Obas in the constitution because they know that the moment they put it there, they would have constitutional rights to demand certain things. They see the monarchs as a threat and have decided not to shut them out in the efforts to make this country run better.
Traditional rulers have spoken on the Operation Amotekun controversy. Looking at the issue from the angle of security, what do you think is the cause of the current controversy?
The traditional rulers might have been able to have a stronger say if they were constitutionally empowered to take certain steps. The governors have a good intention for the security outfit, Operation Amotekun, but how much of consultation with traditional rulers at the grassroots has taken place? Nevertheless, it is a project that is worth supporting and we are solidly in support of it. I don’t know what is wrong with Nigerians, we enjoy deceiving ourselves. This Buhari administration said they would encourage community policing, they said they want to bring in vigilante to support the police so as to ensure that there are security and peace across the nation? Some governors in the South West said let us collaborate and take steps to organise the security outfit better and many people have refused to see it as a mere security outfit. A former governor of Kaduna State even said Amotekun was a ploy to create Oduduwa State; I think this is a serious misconception and this, by my thinking is saying that people like Balarabe Musa and others against the South West initiative have a hidden agenda. I don’t know why Amotekun should be logged in to the creation of Oduduwa State this is very wrong.