The Ogiyan of Ejigbo, Oba Omowonuola Oyeyode Oyesosin, has been the traditional ruler of Ejigbo in Osun State for more than four decades. In this interview by FAVOUR BOLUWADE, he speaks on the challenges of the throne, the relationship between Ejigbo people and Ivory Coast and the fortune of his people in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
How did you start out as an oba? Can you recall the moments that led up to your transformation as a traditional ruler?
I graduated from the university in 1972 with a BSc. I had enrolled in the university to study Economics but because of the complexities of modern mathematics, I ran away. As my major, I read Geography and as my subordinate courses, I read Politics and Economics. I graduated in 1972 only to be installed as oba in 1974. I have been here for 46 years. All has been going well.
The initial challenge, however, was that I started my reign with aged chiefs, and under the traditional ruling, the Oba is expected to be all in all. He gives the order and it is done, but for me, this came across as a difficulty. The chiefs wanted me to be giving orders but I was not used to that. I was inclined to discussion but they didn’t want to be discussing with me. They felt that discussing with me was a sacrilege. Whenever there was a topic for us to discuss, they would say I should just give the order. I was the commander-in-chief. I had to go to their level to get them to discuss with me. That has been the practice since I was installed.
Now, having been on the throne for over 40 years, I have seen many things. You see, you have to consider the role of an oba in the community regarding politics. You are not expected to support a party, but then again any party you do not support, you are deemed to be against that party. If you anoint a party, they say you are a politician. So, you are right in the middle of things. It has been very interesting. You can’t go forward, you can’t move backwards.
Some call you the Elejigbo, others refer to you as the Ogiyan, which is your appropriate title?
The most appropriate title is the Ogiyan. That is what history tells us. Ogiyan is the shortened form of ‘ogiriniyan’ of our great grandfathers. Elejigbo is as a product of vogue: Olubadan, Eleruwa… ‘Elejigbo’. But the correct title is Ogiyan.
Can you share with the people a brief on the history of Ejigboland and its people?
Ejigbo people came all the way from Ile-Ife. We followed Oduduwa but settled in disparity. Our leader, Oranmiyan, founded the whole of Oyo. We dispersed and my father came here. That is the major history.
How did you become migrants from Ivory Coast if you are from Ejigbo?
That is where you are going? You have to find what to eat and that was what brought us to the country a long time ago. I wasn’t even born then.
What kinds of trade or businesses are Ejigbo people into?
Business is just a summary of many things – buying, selling, manufacturing, everything. So, we are all-round businessmen and women. I wrote a treatise on migration and I discussed the past and the present effects of migration on Ejigbo people. Ejigbo, geographically, is between a Savannah and a forest on the north and south respectively. We are right inside, so no cash crops; we have to buy and sell, first to Ghana and then to other countries like Togo and Ivory Coast.
Not many people had jobs hence they had to do all sorts of menial jobs. They started off in Ghana, then that evolved into business they do now. Some of the jobs they were doing there in Ivory Coast, I thought they could be done at home; I always said it that it was time our people came home. But when they come home, there is no industry. Even the few industries we have in Nigeria are now being transferred to Ghana. The equation of time took us away, first to Ghana, then to Togo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. My people speak pidgin French. If not for lockdown, you would hear people speak French. Ejigbo people are proficient in English, Yoruba and French.
How have you convinced the people of Ejigbo that COVID-19 is real? What measures have you taken to protect yourself and your people from the pandemic?
Somebody that has been well suddenly becomes sick and then you know that something is wrong. This is what the coronavirus disease is. It is not our type of disease. The whole world is affected so it is not special. Ejigbo is part of Nigeria and the world. Our own could have increased because our people travel a lot. Ejigbo is a terminus and many people come with luxury buses to travel. People come from Lagos, Delta, Ogun to board in Ejigbo, so we have become a centre of many things. It became a concern and I had to set up a committee to look for a mode of action. This virus, the way I understand it, is a type of condition that doesn’t have treatment and when it completes its cycle, it will go away from that area. But there is a committee saddled with the responsibility of finding a remedy and discussing the welfare of the people infected and how to treat them. The government is also around to help us. People come here from the North, Osogbo and Ede to board vehicles to Abidjan. We have been practising social distancing. But these people from Ivory Coast are part of this world. If there is infection in Britain and there is infection in Italy, India, we cannot be ruled out. There will always be an origin of infection. That, you can’t rule out.
The traditional institution in Yorubaland has been under scrutiny lately over the conduct of some Obas. How do you think the institution can be cleansed of impurities and strengthened for the sake of the Yoruba race?
I believe I have mentioned something like that. The institution is traditional, yet with a lot of responsibilities but there is no authority. The way you can clean it is to provide authority. If persuasion will do something, then there will be no problem. When the people do not listen to you, you can use any force but we don’t do that. Persuasion is our force.
There is a campus of UNIOSUN in Ejigbo. To what extent would you say this has fulfilled one of your goals as the ruler of this town?
It is not my responsibility. I am just housing the institution. The authority to operate within the university is directly from the government. I can provide where to settle down. I can provide for other things which they need.
Kabiyesi, back to the COVID-19 issue, if you are to advise the government, how best would you want the problem tackled?
We have the three arms of government. At least, they should think together and provide a common front to solve this issue. An Oba will not normally be involved because it will affect their area of operation. But we should join hands together to find a lasting solution.
Where would you want Ejigbo to be 20 years from now?
I am not God. But the prayer is God will make us grow.
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