Remembering Papa Ooni Sijuwade

H  ISTORY will continue to remember all the great men and women who have contributed a lot to the advancement of the societies that have produced them. We will continue to mention on this page that the greatness of God lies in the fact that God is the Supreme Being that knows when a man will die. The Igbo of Nigeria have a saying about God that just cannot be faulted – “ONYEMACHI, ECHI DI IME,” meaning, it is only God that knows the events of tomorrow.

The saying remained a constant mention in the mouth of the ace Igbo musician, Celestine Uku, until he died.

It is just unbelievable that a great Nigerian like Papa Ooni Sijuwade, Olubuse II, is no more. When his death was announced by the media, many Nigerians and observers of events in Nigeria just did not believe the story. Ooni Sijuwade dead? I say it again that the story was simply unbelievable. The reason for this unbelief was simple. Everything Papa Ooni did while alive had an instant midas touch. He did it well. He was a man of history – a man who knew what he wanted in life. As a business man, he put his hands in correct businesses. He never gate crashed into doing any business. He knew what he wanted to achieve and by dint of luck and God’s manifest blessings, he achieved them all.

This is not to say that Papa Ooni Sijuwade did not ignite deep seated antagonisms against his person. His opponents were exceptionally active throughout his sojourn as the Ooni of Ife; he was, however, a ruler who did a lot to write a golden history to Obaship and traditions, in the world.

Let me mention a few of these gang ups against Papa Ooni Olubuse II. In 1984, the Federal Military Government restricted Papa Ooni of Ife and his bossom friend, the Emir of Kano, in their palaces for visiting Israel. Details of that offence were never given to Nigerians till this day. We can mention it here now that Alhaji Ado Bayero, the Emir of Kano, the Obi of Onisha and the Oba of Benin (all now dead) were some of the close friends of Papa Ooni Sijuwade. The enemies of Papa Ooni and Nigeria never wanted this union to last.

From 1984 until Papa Ooni breathed his last, he (Ooni) was put on the security note of the country. He was accused often by many of the succeeding military regimes of importing arms to the country to create and fight a phony Republic of Oduduwa. It was only the Babangida (IBB) regime that did not join in the charade of accusing Papa Ooni of Ife of importing arms to fight the government in Nigeria. And these regimes knew that all these stories were just not true.

Papa Sijuwade’s offence was just that the man’s image loomed simply larger than life. When Papa Ooni sneezed, difficult interpretations were given to such sneezing by desperate people. This, however, did not come as a surprise to all those who knew the special relationship between the Avatar of Nigeria’s history, Papa Obafemi Awolowo and Papa Ooni Sijuwade of Ife. Papa loved him with passion.

As I mentioned it last year when Papa Ooni died, I was privileged to have been on the entourage of Papa Awolowo when the great leader went to pay a condolence visit to the chiefs and kingmakers of Ife when Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the then Ooni of Ife, died in 1980.

Our team first visited the private estate of Papa (then Prince) Okunade Sijuwade at Ile-Ife before we moved to the palace to see the kingmakers.

The spokesperson for the Ife chiefs said it clearly to the hearing of all that Papa Awolowo had innocently brought them the successor to the throne of Ife. The popular choice of Papa Sijuwade as the Ooni of Ife was announced few days after Papa Awolowo’s visit to the Ife palace.

The late Ooni Olubuse II had achievements galore during his reign. Papa Ooni Sijuwade believed in intellectualism and he mobilised all these intellectuals for the progress of Ife, Yorubaland and Nigeria. His closeness to the late Professor Saburi Biobaku, a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, and the late Professor Jacob Ade-Ajayi, also a former Vice-Chancellor of Unilag was very well known. The two men were historians. No matter what anyone will want to say, no one can deny the fact that Papa Ooni Sijuwade spent a lot on research of the rich history and culture of the Yoruba people in all parts of the world. Papa Ooni Sijuwade pulled together all the Yoruba speaking territories in West Africa, Brazil, Cuba and other parts of the world. He brought many of these people home and established very close contacts with them in the promotion of the unique culture of the African people. Papa Ooni was, indeed, a visionary African who believed religiously in the unity and closeness of the African people.

Abike Dabiri, who is doing much now to project the viewpoints of Nigerians in Africa and the Diaspora, must seek the assistance of the new Ife Palace authorities on all the good works done by Ooni Olubuse II in the enterprise. The young woman as Adviser to President Buhari on events of Diaspora, must be assisted to succeed. The late Ooni Olubuse II had opened the door. The door must never be closed again.

One of Papa Ooni Sijuwade’s achievements during his rule was his ability never to be ruffled by the antics of his opponents.

I remember how some miscreants and thugs had assaulted the houses of a close Nigerian to Oba Sijuwade somewhere in Ikeja, Lagos during the June 12 crisis of 1992. All the accusations against Papa Ooni were frivolous and unintelligent. He took them all with calmness and dignity.

He gave traditional rulership in these parts of the world an outstanding face. He was graceful in power and he was magnificent in the discharge of his traditional roles. He never regarded anyone as his enemy. He was father to all.

He honoured all social invitations by Nigerians with keenness and joy. He was loved and adored for this by old and young. Papa Ooni Sijuwade never discriminated in the choice of the social events he participated in. His emphasis was how he could use such participation to encourage the pioneers of such events. Papa Ooni was a great Oba. He was imaginative as well as being a seer.

I have a regret that I will keep to myself until I too answer the supreme call. Sometime in 2005, Papa Ooni called me to the palace and told me: “My son, you are the person delaying your installation as a Chief of the Source. When you are ready, you let me know.” It was as if the old man had truly read my mind for he had given me a hint about two years before, of his decision to honour me with a traditional chieftaincy title from the Source. For one reason, I had held back from giving a positive nod to Papa Ooni’s gesture. I kept on procrastinating until Papa died on July 28, 2015 and the title has vanished from me forever. Bode George and ‘Tony Adefuye are my friends who are lucky today to be chiefs appointed and installed by the late Papa Ooni Sijuwade of Ife.

We will continue to mourn with the people of Ife, Yorubaland and Nigeria on the death of this great son of Africa. We will mourn with the entire family of Ooni of the world, Papa Okunade Sijuwade. We will commiserate with his look-alike son, Prince Tokunbo Sijuwade. We will continue to echo and re-echo his name in the achievements that can never be denied his era.

Papa Ooni Sijuwade, Olubuse II, Odabo (Good-Bye), Odaaro (Good-Night) and Odi’gbose (until we meet again)! Papa Ooni Okunade Sijuwade, sun re o! (Rest in Peace)!!






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