South West leaders need to develop ability to speak with one voice —Oba Ajayi, Akarigbo of Remoland
The Akarigbo of Remoland, Oba Adewale Ajayi, in this chat with Akin Adewakun, tells the story of his ascension to the prominent and highly prestigious royal stool of the Akarigbo of Remoland, insisting he never had any premonition about a change in status as a top shot in the corporate world, to being the custodian of his people’s cultures and tradition.
You were active in the corporate world before being made a custodian of the people’s culture. What was the ‘transition’ like?
It’s been a difficult adjustment, because I know that a lot of my friends, even up till now are still very shocked. I was shocked myself, because I never saw myself playing this role. I never knew this would happen to me. But sometimes in life, your path has been set out for you by the Almighty.
It came to me as a shock, but I have adjusted very well. Probably my professional background too also prepared me very well. I was into insolvency practice, which is a branch of accounting, a branch of law, because besides being an accountant, I’m also a lawyer. The work I did then required a lot of patience and average intelligence.
I’m not going to say that I have more than average intelligence, but once you have the patience, which is what I have, and again borrowing from the example of someone like Sir Adebutu Kessington’s humility, I can say I’m adjusting. Interestingly, it has never happened in the history of obaship in Yorubaland, especially for a prominent stool like that of the Akarigbo, that you would have sixteen people contest for the position and there would not be litigation at the end of the day.
That there was no single litigation shows the level of acceptance. It shows you that apart from the process being transparent, that my candidature too was acceptable to all. The process produced what people say is a very credible candidate. Beyond that, it’s been challenging. But I would say that if I have to come back again, it’s something I would have done.
You see, it gives you the opportunity to help your people, the opportunity to get people listen to you when they hear your name, because they know you are genuine. Recently, I was talking to a prominent Nigerian in government and we were talking about leadership, and we said people tell you Nigeria is difficult to rule, but this is not true. It is just because we’ve not had good leaders.
If we have leaders that are sincere, that are honest, that are really committed to the cause of helping the people, Nigerians are ready to follow such leaders. But do we have such? That is the question, and that is what we need to examine.
I gave this prominent Nigerian the example of even Remo there, where things are falling into place because of what is being done there. Sincere leadership is the key to growth. Even when they say everybody is corrupt, from top to toe, once the masses see that their leader is upright, they fall in line, ready to follow such leader.
That is why I want to thank the kingmakers in Remoland for the excellent choice they have made, and I promise we will not disappoint them. We know it’s selfless service, and that’s what we recommend at the highest level in this country – selfless service.
Honestly speaking, if you are a selfless leader and you tell the people that the minimum wage you can afford is N5,000, they will take it from you. But when they see you in private jets, and they see you sending your children to school abroad, they begin to have their doubts about your sincerity as a leader. Leaders should be selfless, and if they are, our people will follow them.
Some people are clamouring for more roles for our traditional rulers in this political dispensation, what is your take on this?
You know it’s funny that I’m answering this kind of question. If you had asked me this question two years ago, I would have just looked at you and said, ‘these traditional rulers, what do they do?’ But it’s a different ball game now.
And you will be amazed the type of cases that we handle in the palace. We are the church; we are the police; we are the philanthropists; we are the teachers; we are the providers of jobs. You need to come to the palace to see the types of problems we solve, and yet you don’t have a budget. Some don’t even know that we’ve retired. You use your own resources or tap into the resources of your sons and daughters or prominent individuals from the community. I think there has to be a clear role for traditional rulers.
It was like that before. I tell you, during the last general election, one of the candidates that came to the palace said even though the constitution does not provide for that, he would make sure that the traditional rulers have a role to play at the local government level. The fact remains that if traditional rulers have such roles, a local government chairman, statutorily empowered to enhance people’s lives, would not have the audacity to divert such resources.
This is because he knows that he has to report to the traditional council. So, honestly speaking, we need to still sit back and ensure that the traditional rulers have a role. Politicians have tried to take these powers, these roles away, but I think it’s necessary to have them back. The fact remains that people still listen to us. We are still highly respected in the communities.
When we talk, it’s still the law, but you need that force, you need that power. Yes, I can call the police commissioner and say, “CP, what is going on?” and he will respond. But he’s coming not because he knows that tomorrow I’m going to deal with him, but he knows that if he doesn’t, and I tell my people, he is in trouble. So there is the need for serious roles for traditional rulers.
Let me give you an instance, the issue of land-grabbers. You know for our people in the South West, our major resource is land. And you will see the so-called land-grabbers, Ajagungbale, enter a village, with cutlasses, guns and all those war tools to take over the whole place, and people will run to you as Kabiyesi for help. So what are you going to do?
Remember you don’t have your own police; you don’t have any security. But when you call such land grabbers and threaten them with the spirit of the ancestors, most of them will beat a retreat. But we need to be more involved so that we can assist government in articulating security issues. So, the roles for Kabiyesis are beyond inviting us to grace occasions, which is what we see most of the time.
On the Remo Growth and Development Foundation, which you founded immediately after your ascension to the throne, to enhance the fortunes of the community, how far have you gone in achieving the objectives?
Well, a lot of things have been put on me, not knowing that I’m just a vehicle to carry out these projects. I can tell you for free, Remo has not been united the way it ought to have been. It is a community of over forty towns with different obas. We need to bring our people together.
Sometimes when you see an oba, a first class oba, he has his own domain and he restricts himself to that place. But we cannot be working that way. We can’t be working at cross purposes. That was why we founded the Remo Growth and Development Foundation.
What we did was to put the excellent people of Remo in charge. For instance, Sir Kessington Adebutu is the chairman, Board of Trustees of the Foundation, and every prominent son of Remo, just because of leadership, agreed to the idea. The vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, is from Remo, and the Ogun State governor, Dapo Abiodun, is also from there.
We need to tap into all these resources. I’ve told the governor that we are not asking him to favour us at the expense of other regions in the state. We want him to develop Ogun State, and we are even saying he should not neglect any part of the state.
So, the Foundation has a blueprint aimed at growing the community. Probably I’ve not gone round the nation, but I’m sure it will be one of the communities with about forty towns, articulating a twenty-year blueprint, and that we have given to the governor and also to the vice-president. We want to be able to work with the government. We don’t have the resources of the government, but at least, we should be able to work in partnership with the government to achieve our aim.
Interestingly, beyond not having the resources of the government, there is the fact that we have sons and daughters of Remo (I don’t want to start naming names) that have the financial wherewithal to make that much-needed difference, both at home and in the diaspora.
The only reason is that they have not been called. But as long as they know that if they are giving money, nobody will sit down somewhere and ‘blow’ the money, they will trust us. And I can assure them that we will not betray such trust. That won’t happen under our watch. The overall goal is to make Remo the envy of all communities in Nigeria. It is going to be a healthy competition.
We are not competing with anybody so that the other communities can be disadvantaged. It’s to enable them see the glory of people participating and to give some sort of guidelines for other communities in Nigeria to follow. It is a way of saying “sometimes, you don’t have to depend on government before you achieve growth.”
Insecurity still remains a challenge in the country, and our law enforcement agents seem to have their hands full curtailing this. Interestingly some are advocating that the communities should look inwards, that is, adopt the ‘traditional means’ to secure themselves. How effective will this be? Does this still work?
Oh Fine! I’ll give you one story to tell you that it works. Apart from the fact that these things do work, people actually believe in them. For instance, during the last elections, in Sagamu, in Remo, I heard all sorts. “They are importing people”; “they are going to use cultists to disrupt the elections”; “they are going to do this and that”.
Having listened to all these, I called the heads of Oro and Eluku and asked them to move round the town for three days and tell them that whoever disrupted the elections thing, this is what will happen. Come election day, we had one of the most peaceful elections in the area. Those people had taken off, anyway. That place was supposed to be a very volatile area during the election, but the election went on peacefully in the area. So, it does work. Don’t let us say it won’t work. However, beyond that is the issue of practicability.
Policing too should not be left alone to government. We have our vigilance group. I’m glad that there is a bigger issue; the issue of state police. I’m an advocate of state police, but of course, there are issues involved. The issue of control; you know our people, how they abuse these things. Hopefully we’ll get there one day on the issue of state police. I think we need to decentralise the police.
In other words, you are in support of restructuring?
Who wouldn’t be? I am. It’s just that our people are just saying restructuring for the sake of restructuring. It bleeds me when people talk of restructuring, without even knowing the meaning of restructuring. Within the context of what we have, restructuring can take place, but there is a limit because of constitutional impediment.
Look at out how much we pay out for the national assembly. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to pay that much. If we can afford it, why not? Honestly speaking, I think we tend to vilify our legislators too much, but if the constitution requires that each state must have three senators, and we also have that huge number in the House of Representatives, you can’t put them there without an office; you can’t put them there without vehicles; you can’t put them there without their compliments of staff.
Besides, you don’t expect them to come and legislate themselves out of existence. It’s a different ball game. But I think coming from what we even have, there are things that we can do to restructure Nigeria. But all still boils down to the issue of leadership.
On the issue of Yoruba leadership, why are traditional rulers not involved?
I always shy away from criticism I can’t help. Sometimes, you need to start something so that we all just don’t become arm-chair critics, because I realise the problem we have in this country is that everybody will abuse the government, abuse everybody and when they are asked to go into politics, they say “not me o.” So, I don’t know how you can correct the system if everybody shies away from politics.
The same thing here; I think it’s a misnomer to describe somebody as Yoruba leader, but we need to have an association, and definitely leadership. Sometimes, they try to consult traditional rulers, but it’s not as deep and as wide as one would have expected. But it’s a beginning. We need to develop the ability to be able to speak with one voice, even though it’s difficult, but at least once our leader says this is where we are going, we know where we are going, and nobody is deceived.
What’s your advice for the youths in the South-West, especially on the changing values in the society?
I think it still boils down to the issue of leadership. It has to do with the mindset of the leaders; what they have made us believe or realise is important. We don’t question wealth, especially those gotten overnight. I’ll give you an example. Somebody works as a minister for four years, collects his salaries and retires after four years.
After retirement, he discovers he’s on his own. People will start insulting him, saying “look, when you were there, what did you do with all the money that you made?” Unfortunately, that’s the mindset that many of our youths now have. The mindset of ‘let’s just make quick money’.
That is why you see a 23-year-old boy, who did not even finish his university education come home with a Lexus Jeep and nobody is even asking him, ‘where did you get this money from?’ I know that in those days, even ordinary pencil that looked strange to your parents would attract questions. And not only would they ask you, they would demand to see the friend that you claimed gave you.
Those were the values that made our communities strong then. But now, our orientation has changed. We just believe that patience no longer pays; we are in a hurry to make money. What I always tell people, especially the youths in my own domain, is that you have to learn the benefits of hard work, that hard work pays. It’s a shame too that a lot of youths leave school and don’t have jobs.
You will be surprised that there are so many that don’t have jobs, and they are searching, if you just give them the opportunity. In our state now, the government is trying to encourage people to go into agriculture.
They are saying, ‘just show interest, we will give you the land, we will also give you money to start up.’ Our people need to know there is virtue in hard work, and if now by chance, you make money you cannot explain, people should begin to shun you, but because of the level of poverty, in fact they would line up behind you, despite knowing that your source of wealth is not clean.
That is the attitude. I think we should continue to pray; prayers for leaders who are selfless, leaders who are patient, leaders who believe that there is virtue in being ‘Omoluwabi’.