From being the youngest Alaafin through being the educated to the one who installed two Aare Ona Kakanfo in 1988 and 2018, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi is also the longest reigning Alaafin in history, hence his 50th Coronation Anniversary held on January 14, 2021. In an interview by TUNDE BUSARI, Oba Adeyemi goes down memory lane and attributes his exploits on the throne to the mercy of God. Excerpts
It is on record that your selection went through some unusual experiences in that it took three times before you were eventually affirmed. Can you recall those moments?
It is true that I personally went through different layers of experiences during my journey to the throne. It is true the selection process went through some scheming because of the prevailing circumstances but ultimately what God had designed; what God had destined became manifest, and everybody was happy. I mean everybody was happy, in terms of massive support which I got during and after the process. It was a memorable experience in the history of selection in Oyo. But God eventually had His way.
During the time, were you intimidated or confident that if they did it 20 times you would still emerge?
There is no doubt in me that God had prepared me for the throne; so I was confident of myself. But that does not mean one should underrate what those forces could do. I had self-assurance but I did not take anything for granted. What the town experienced during that time was bound to happen perhaps to strengthen me and keep me on the throne for a long time in history. So, whenever I reflect on my journey to the throne, I thank God that I passed through that experience, meaning that whatever unpleasant experience one passes through in life is meant to fortify the person. We should always see what we call challenges from beneficial perspective. May be, if you did not pass through those pains, you would not reach certain level you were destined to attain in life. That can be the summary of my experience to the throne.
You said you enjoyed massive support, can you recall some of the personalities who stood by you and vowed never to allow anything to rob you the throne?
The list of those personalities is long; those were people that mattered in all standards, they were credible people who believed that things must be done right, and bad precedence must not be allowed. They put everything into the struggle till God finally crown the efforts with success.
I am interested in the names of some of them.
We had personalities like Chief Emmanuel Asamu. He was son of the Agba Akin of Oyo, a member of Oyo Mesi. We had the Alapinni of Oyo, we had Samu Oladeji and a host of others including Dr Victor Omololu Olunloyo. I was lucky to have those people on my side during the process. Dr Omololu Olunloyo was the Commissioner for Chieftaincy Affairs in that government of the day.
Was there a previous relationship between you and Dr Olunloyo to have given you such support?
The interesting thing is that we had no previous relationship until that time.
Can you now say that incident brought you together?
Yes. We met and interacted, and he was fascinated by the level of our interaction as intellectuals. That was how we began the relationship which survives till date. I am happy we were alive to reflect those years.
In all these, which of the moment attracts more importance?
That was the day when the Oyo Mesi called me forward publicly and proclaimed me the Alaafin. That was the climax and terminal point for the contest to the throne. The picture of that day is still fresh in my memory till this evening. That was the day I prostrated before anyone for the last time. They called me forward and instructed me to prostrate. I stepped forward and prostrated. Then they led me to a seat, after which they all paid obeisance to me. Soon afterwards, I was led to Onasokun Compound. That was the place where I spent my first three days. I was there performing traditional rites. After the third day, I was led out in the night to Otun Efa compound for another round of rigorous rites. But I am not permitted by tradition to reveal the details of the rites.
How many days did you spend in Otun Efa compound?
It took two days to perform the rites in Otun Efa Compound.
Can you recall the image of the day, January 14, 1971 when the then Military Governor of Western State, Brigadier Adeyinka Adebayo gave you staff of office?
All I can recall is that Durbar Stadium, which was the venue of the event, witnessed a very large crowd of people. I don’t think we can see that size of crowd again.
How can you defend this claim in face of the low population back then?
I mean what I say; people came from all parts of Yorubaland to witness my coronation under a peaceful ambience required of such occasion. It was another memorable moment in the history of the Alaafin. I was the youngest Alaafin to have been selected. I can say that I started to score my first from day one on the throne. And I thank God for standing by me to record so many other firsts to be the first Alaafin who spent 50 uninterrupted years on the throne. If you conduct a simple research, you will discover other areas where I have recorded firsts.
What can you recall in your early years on the throne, in terms of challenges of settling down and adjusting to the new environment?
Who says it was a new environment? Oyo cannot be a new environment because Oyo is my natural home regardless of wherever I might have lived. With that mindset, I had no problem in bending with my environment. Everything was in order. Of course, there were a couple of challenges but they were not insurmountable.
What was the situation in the town in your early years on the throne?
My early years were spent in bringing the people of Oyo together.
What happened to the people?
The town was divided into two diametrical sides. The mosque was also divided. The market was divided too even though there was buying and selling. I needed to tackle that problem, and God gave me the wisdom to bring the people together.
What was responsible for the division?
It has ideological and political undertone. It was between supporters of the Action Group (AG) and Oyo Parapo, the opposition NCNC (National Council of Nigerian Citizens). There were two central mosques with two imams. There were also two prayer grounds.
How did you handle the matter?
In that situation, I did not have a choice than to face the challenge headlong because that was one of the responsibilities of a king. In my history, I don’t see a challenge and run away. It never happened. I trained myself to expect challenge, face it and overcome it. It is not enough to say you are brilliant and intelligent when you have not faced challenges, fallen, risen, fallen again, risen again and conquered the challenge. I constituted committee which comprised vibrant members, all of whom made some sacrifices, in terms of creating time to gather inside the palace where we held meetings on Thursdays. The meetings yielded fruits at the end of the day. What the committee came up with to finally resolve the mosque division was that we had an agreement which stated that whoever survived the other between the two imams would be the only chief imam of the town. We allowed nature to decide, and nature did decide in the end. That was how we brought Muslim community together.
After a long period of succession, the palace must have suffered isolation and possibly dilapidation that would be inhabitable for a new Alaafin. That is your story. Can you recall what you did to make the palace what it is?
What the palace is today is not what it was when I ascended to the throne. You would agree with me that nothing is static. But as you rightly stated, the state of the palace I met was not good; it was a relics, so to say. Then I needed to do something to make it presentable. I recall my first meeting with the Awujale of Ijebu-Ode, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona at the Western State Council of Obas and Chiefs in Ibadan and what he told me. Until that day, I never met Oba Adetona; the closest I had with him was at his coronation in 1960. I travelled from Lagos to Ijebu-Ode to witness the occasion. I was in the midst of spectators watching and enjoying the proceeding. I was most especially excited watching him then as a young man being installed a king of Ijebu-Ode.
What did he tell you at your first meeting in Ibadan?
After I had introduced myself to him formally, he asked me to come and see him in Ijebu-Ode. I considered that imperative and made it to his domain as scheduled. In the course of our discussion, he asked of the names of my supporters during contest to the throne. I named them, and he reached out to Chief Emmanuel Ashamu on phone telling him that he and others could not afford to abandon me in the palace. I can say that the Awujale played an important role in that respect, sharing with me his experience as a young king and how he was able to work round it and consolidate. He told me clearly that a king who is not financially independent would not be respected by his people, especially the elite. He gave me some useful guides which aided my adjustment to my new status. Given this background, I was able to carry out a comprehensive restructure of the palace to suit my taste and that of my middle class family. But it was not something we did on one-off; it was a steady transformation spanning 50 years today. If you were here last month, you would see that what you see today in the outlook of the palace is different. Developing the palace is a running story, as you journalists say in newsroom. The palace must continuously be updated.
Did you see yourself spending 50 years on the throne against the backdrop of the history of your predecessors?
I am one who believes that everything, including all of us, belongs to God, our creator. He is the only one who determines what we become and what we won’t become in our lifetime. What am I saying? I will be an ingrate boasting that I am the one who is responsible for whom I am today as the longest reigning Alaafin. I am only favoured by God to set that record. It is not also because I was young when I ascended to the throne. It is God’s favour which stands by me to be alive today. And I will always give glory to God and praise Him for this favour. For my reign to have witnessed coming and going of 21 military and civilian governors in the state means I enjoyed mercy of God. I must acknowledge the fact that the position of Alaafin comes with a lot of challenges with other traditional rulers don’t face. Anyway, that is why it is called Alaafin; this title is not duplicated. I say it with every sense of responsibility that Oyo is the symbol of Yoruba nation in its totality. Any argument here is time wasting because the royalty of Oyo is still the standard reference all over Yorubaland. Perhaps you did not know that most of the crowns in Yorubaland were created by the Alaafin who also determined boundaries of towns .
You said you were able to resolve the divisions in the town. Do you observe that you have a special gift which others probably lack to have reigned for 50 years and administered your people successfully?
What I can say is related to what I just said that I received favour of God and I am still receiving it. Let me also say that I am blessed with gift to search for knowledge at all time. I realized early in my life the importance of knowledge, hence my seriousness with studies. Till now, if I see a book, I want to see it beyond its cover; I want to see beyond the table of content; I want to see beyond preface page. I want to read and assimilate the content. If you say this has helped my human management skills and administration as a whole, you are not wrong because readers of books are said to be leaders of people. I read widely, voraciously and aggressively right from childhood till date. Inside my library, if you meet me there and throw a challenge at me, you would sleep off, wake up and find me on the same spot reading. I am in a different realm during my study hours. All Ayabas know and understand me better in this regard. That is why no occurrence under the Sun can shock me. As it is playing out, I am already familiar with it. And I can make an easy projection and possibly tell results which other people don’t see. I am happy that I am a bookworm, if you like, it makes me a better person; it is an exercise to a large extent. That is my worry for this new generation of google; everything is sourced from google instead of subjecting your brain to task of thinking and getting answer to your questions.