Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, talks to BOLA BAMIGBOLA about agitations among the youth and his involvement in the recent coronation of the Olu of Warri, among other issues
You have declared many times that you have a special interest in the youth and that your throne is dedicated to the Nigerian youths. Are you not worried about the level at which Nigerian youths are giving up and fleeing the country?
I will be worried and I am so worried because, over the last couple of years, the news they have been hearing is always tailored towards negativity. We need to rebrand our nation particularly to make our youths see that there is still hope. It is very important; we need to set up a lot of mechanisms to instil hope in our youths and make sure that they believe in this country. The important thing is, if they don’t believe in this country at the end of the day, the whole country would be in a mess because demography-wise, the youth own this country. We can’t do without them, so we need to invest more in them and that’s what I believe we should be doing on this throne and that’s what I have been doing. So, for me, we need to continue to give them hope. In my own capacity as the occupant of the throne of Oduduwa, all I have been doing is to continue to engage in activities that are tailored towards youth emancipation and youth empowerment and so far so good, we have been doing well in that regard.
It will appear that with the passing years, the situation is getting progressively worse rather than improving. Do you honestly think there is light at the end of the tunnel and what do you think should be done differently going forward?
Well, many of the great nations that this country looks up to now are well over 200 years old. It took those countries a while before they got to that level. We don’t pray that Nigeria of over 60 years would take longer for us to build because we have seen nations that, within 20 years, have been completely turned around, like the United Arab Emirates; 20, 30 years ago, there was nothing like the skyline in Dubai. So, we have seen the good and the bad, but what is key is for us to continue to sell that hope. Hope is a product that needs to be sold. We need to focus more on the positive side of the nation than the negative side. For me, I strongly believe that there will be light at the end of the tunnel, particularly, hope for the youth and how things should be done. We don’t need any form of resentment. We don’t need any form of division in our land. What we need is hope and hope all the way. This is a key ingredient and that is what we should keep selling to our youths for them to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. So for us, let’s keep trying. I can’t do it alone. We will continue to encourage more people to embark on such initiatives.
In February, you inaugurated an Adire textile factory in Ife. Six months after, is the factory on course, or are there challenges?
That is one of the greatest achievements that we recorded on this throne. Yes, from the Adire factory, we are currently exporting to over 15 countries and it is being driven by youths and the average that you are going to see in the factory is between the ages of 25 and 45. Our aged mothers that are still very active and still want to leave the house, usually go there to while away the time and get their brains busy. There are so many opportunities in our African print and we are not exploring them. What we are doing is to drive it towards youth empowerment and emancipation. So far so good, there are challenges, in terms of sourcing raw materials locally and getting quality raw materials. But so far so good, we have been sourcing them; So we want to blend our heritage with modernity. We do more digital marketing for it and it has been growing and it will continue to grow.
From your response, the fabrics are getting good patronage outside the country. How has the patronage been locally?
Fantastic! It’s been wonderful feedback. If you go there (Adire factory) now, you will be amazed at the rate at which production is going on. We have different festivals. This year, most of our festivals are branded around Adire fabric. We are going to brand a lot of things around it to showcase our heritage and our tradition. So far, we are getting there.
You also recently inaugurated Ife Grand Resort and Industrial Park. Can you speak more about the vision behind that and what people should expect?
Well, the reason behind the Industrial Park and Ife Grand Resort is to have a hub where we can have a convergence of youths with different ideas and an incubation centre, particularly, for female entrepreneurs. We have that sentimental attachment because women are known to be very reliable in everything they do. Presently, we have about four different female CEOs managing different sections at the hub and we believe we will still do more and attain more. What we are trying to achieve at the hub is to have a convergence point for exhibition, heritage, our tradition, business hubs and a convergence point for innovations and incubation of Ideas and bringing all that to reality. The efforts have been yielding very positive results.
Are there other youth-oriented programmes that you have in the pipeline?
Quite a lot! That is what we do every day here. The Federal Government just gave an award to youths all over the country. What we did as a follow-up was that we set up an SME’s Fund for the awardees and nominees. We actually wanted the programme where the recipients could have grants on a monthly basis and the programme is going well. It is in the media and it is being done in collaboration with the Federal Government of Nigeria. Alongside that, we pay the school fees of more than 3,000 young people to the university level. We also have Ojaja Fashion Hub where we have trained more than 500 tailors and fashion designers. We help the fashion designers start off; we work in conjunction with a lot of private sector companies to bring them to the limelight. Right now, we have the Royal African Leadership Forum that is globally and internationally recognised. We have an office in the United Kingdom and we have very strong links all over the world and every year we give awards to 100 distinguished youths under 40.
We also have the Leadership Award. We usually have more than 500 CEOs that would come out to converge and actually mentor others. There are so many other programmes that we do. We are doing a lot of youth-driven programmes that have to do with our heritage to keep our tradition and culture intact and we have different youths in charge of them. So for us, it is all about the youth and youth emancipation on this throne. Our activities are limitless and we keep expanding every day.
There have been arguments that the youth must get involved in agriculture and not leave it to the old. Do you agree with this view?
That is one of our initiatives. We have done a lot on the agricultural revolution. We planted over three million cocoa seedlings in the last five years. They are growing now on the farms. We did the same for cashew and we have actually allocated the farms to different sets of youths. The challenge now is the lack of patience by the youth. Will these youth involved in the farming of cash crops wait for five years when the crops will start bringing money? They are not patient, they want to get married, they want to have money, they want to ride cars. Some of them will prefer to go and get a motorcycle and run an okada business that will yield money the next day. Beyond this is the problem that lies with the government. The government needs to make an arrangement and give youths who are engaged in agriculture a monthly stipend before they start earning money on their investment in agriculture, which would not come until between three and five years.
If the youths don’t have that kind of hope, it is not going to work. The government should also have a platform to encourage buyers and sellers to converge and by virtue of that, whatever exchange that happens, they would take their own taxes. So, it is such platforms that the government should set up and we don’t have such platforms presently. We lack such, unfortunately, and that is why we are where we are. It is not easy for the youth to go into agriculture; it is difficult. What is the short-term goal that you will entice them with?
What model would you suggest for the government to make agriculture more enticing for the youth?
An all-embracing model, an all-encompassing model that will put the interest of the youth ahead of other considerations. Put your selfish interest aside and focus on the goal. That is lacking and that is why many of the programmes from the government designed for the youths usually fail. To ensure success, the operators and the people that you put in charge must be selfless. When you want to organise a programme that will benefit others, forget about what is coming for you. What you are going to give to the poor should be the concern. Once you have a selfish interest, it is not going to work. Once the energy is bad towards that line, forget it, it is not going to work and that’s the major problem with a lot of Nigerian projects that are tailored towards youth emancipation and empowerment. If you want to empower youths, be selfless, look for the right youth, not the ones that are already successful, not the ones whose families can afford what you want to give out.
With your passion and investment in youth-related matters, have there been times you felt discouraged because of the lack of commitment from them?
A lot of times, but I just keep going. A whole lot of times, I got discouraged. It has happened several times, in fact, I have lost a huge amount of money. But when you are focused on what you do, it is better to maintain that and keep doing it, so that you know it is a legacy I am building.
What do you make of the agitation for Yoruba Nation?
You know that is a very sensitive issue. What are the people agitating for? They are agitating for fairness; they are saying what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. The best bet for us is to have one country, but when people are feeling otherwise, there must be reasons they are agitating. Fifteen to 20 years ago, was it like that? When Yoruba people were in power, were there agitations? There must be reasons and we all know the reason has to do with banditry and insecurity. Even in the north, some people are also kicking. What is important now is for us to adequately separate the grain from the chaff. I am not going to blame the agitators. There must be a reason why they are agitating. I will suggest we talk to them; let’s bring them on board, deliberate with them. Let’s debate. It is very important for us to debate and debate on our corporate existence, for things to be right. It is very critical. For me, that is my own approach. Even when you go to war, at the end of the day, you must sit down to negotiate. So, why not have the roundtable discussion now? Why not go through that route? Why must you go through hot agitation and try to destroy things? The best approach has always been the peaceful approach.
Yoruba Nation agitator, Chief Sunday Adeyemo, alias Sunday Igboho, made rude remarks about you and later apologised. Have you forgiven him?
n this throne, you own the good, the bad and the ugly. You are a father to the good, the bad and the ugly. We are not leaving him. We have set up a lot of committees. Professionals are involved. They are on board for everything in Nigeria to be right ultimately and to look into his (Igboho’s) case. So, we are working very closely with all the relevant authorities to make sure that all is well.
It was in the news that you and the Olubadan sent a delegation to Cotonou, Benin Republic, where Igboho had been arrested and facing trial. What was its mission?
Well, we have even done more than that, but it is not for the press. I don’t just talk. I like to walk the talk. So, we have done way more than sending a delegation. From the throne of Oduduwa and some very progressive Yoruba people have done way more than that but it is not for the press. Let’s just keep praying and saying that everything will be well in our land ultimately.
A group, Ooni’s Caucus, which has prominent Yoruba men and women as members, was recently inaugurated in the palace. What is the mission of the group?
Well, the mission is very simple: to look at our affairs in Yoruba land and advise us. It is beyond Ooni. I see that there is a need for us to sit professionally, not as a social-cultural organisation. What we have had over the years has always been tailored towards politics. This is beyond politics. It is meant for us to have a sense of direction and talk about it. It is like having a working paper, in terms of our interest, and we are doing a lot to carry along every other traditional ruler. It is not about leadership. I even want to be a servant to all. It is all about Yoruba people being relevant in the scheme of things. Some people probably might be thinking the initiative is about the leadership of the race. It is not about supremacy. I want to be an errand boy, errand king as far as the cause of our heritage is concerned and that’s my focus.
What is the feedback from people regarding the activities of the committee, especially from other traditional rulers?
So far so good, it has been very great. We are not politicking on anything. We just want things to be done rightly.
You must also be worried about the level of insecurity in the land. What are your thoughts in this regard?
Everybody is worried, but for me, I believe more in positive energy than negative energy, so let’s just keep praying for our government. Let us keep praying for them (the leaders) to continue to do what is right and for us to continue to guide them as traditional rulers. Nobody is perfect, but when positive energy is there, there will be light at the end of the tunnel. It is a challenge for us all. Let us thank God that the economy is out of recession. Recent data revealed that we have grown more than five per cent in terms of our gross domestic product and the rate at which we have been having children is about six to four per cent but the economy was growing like 0.4 per cent; it is not adding up. But this time round, I think the agitation will continue to come down if the government focuses more on economic development. That will ensure even distribution of wealth. I know they are working on that, we have seen a positive response over the last six years.
You and Olori Naomi welcomed a baby in November last year. Can you describe what the experience was like for you, given that it was your first child after ascending the throne?
Well, it is a blessing from Almighty God, the King of kings, and more of such blessings will continue to come. I am very excited as a father; I am very excited as Arole Oduduwa and father of all and God has actually blessed the throne of Oduduwa and God will continue to bless us all. It is a thing of joy and I am very glad.
The arrival of the prince must have changed some things about you. Can you share some of them?
Yes, and it will continue to change some things about me. The throne of Oduduwa has a very strong heritage. It is the custodian of our culture and tradition. In line with that, we have been doing quite a lot of rites on the prince. In fact, I must say that to date, we are still doing it and this is like the 10th month. To the glory of God, there is no problem at all. My ancestors did it for their children; I must do it too for everything to be right.
What are some peculiar rites surrounding the birth and naming of a child born to the Ooni?
A lot of rites are peculiar to children born to Ooni. I just told you this is the 10th month and we are still doing traditional rites. I am not going to see the child for a long time until we do some very deep consultations. I don’t see babies with hair he or she has from birth. That hair must have been shaved off. The Yoruba people call it “Irun Agbigbo” and you can’t have children in the palace. It is not possible to have babies in the palace. You can’t carry a pregnancy in the palace; it is forbidden because our ancestors are still alive. They live here, they don’t die. I am the 51st Ooni in the third dynasty. Some people always make that mistake. We have the first dynasty called “Ife Odaye,” where the 401 spirits ruled. We call them 401 gods. They once lived and ruled. Then we had another dynasty, “Ife Ooyelagbo.” That also had many rulers. And now, we have Ile-Ife the third one, which Oduduwa, our progenitor started. So, we have dynasties of the deities, semi-humans and humans and all of them to date are in thousands. My ancestors that have ruled this land are in thousands, but you know, and we have had very strong rulers. The rites are intact here, so every day in Ife, whether I am in Ife or outside, we do traditional rites.
The prince is named Tadenikawo. Can you shed some light on the name?
Like I told you, we do a lot of spiritual consultations and it is the name of one of our ancestors. I bear my ancestor’s name, Ojaja the second, Adeyeye Enitan Babatunde. Because he is of royal blood, the first port of call when he was brought into the palace was to go and greet my forebears. During the visit, they gave him a gift and that was when he was confirmed as their royal blood and all those things happened and it went well. If he is not real (royal) blood, we know what normally happens in such a situation, but that is not the discussion for the public. To the glory of God, everything we have done has gone well without a hitch.
Different kingdoms have different ways of grooming royal children. What kind of method is adopted in the Ooni’s palace?
Everything starts from here; all the dos and don’ts that all royal fathers are adopting to date all started from here. They call something “Esentele Aye,” the first step you will take when you march on the sand. So, that’s where they will know all the dos and don’ts of that child. We do that for all the children of Ooni and it is critical for us to stick to it.
What is your typical day like?
Well, you can see that my life is to serve humanity and to continue to serve humanity until the end. I have designed and carved out several strategies for solving problems. I derive my strength and my oxygen from that and to the glory of God, I will continue to do it.
You were deeply involved in the process that produced the current Olu of Warri. What was your interest in Warri stool?
They (Warri) were part of us. Itsekiri is just a subset of the Yoruba, the aborigines of Itsekiri were Yoruba; they are called the Iwere people. We still have the Iwere lineage in Ife to date. We call that section the “Oluyare, Iwere jeje” at Orun Oba Ado. They have a very strong link to the Ijebu; they have a very strong link to Owo people and they have a very strong link to the Ilaje. We have the people from Ado Benin, and we have Ado Ekiti, we have Akoko Edo and they all share links. Truly, (the Itshekiri) got their crown from the Benin kingdom, but their aborigines had a link with us.
In Owo to date, we have the Ijebu clan there. If you observe Owo people and if you do the same for Itsekiri people, you would observe that their language is so similar and we know the lineage of the Olowo and Itsekiri people. So, Olowo is part of Yoruba. The Itsekiri are also Yoruba; there is no one among them who doesn’t know. Like I mentioned to you earlier, we have a very strong link with the Ijebu in Ilare in Ife. We also have a very strong link with the Remo’s in Iremo in Ife because they are two clans. We like to call them “Ara Ilare” the Ijebu’s, and then, the Remo are called “Ara Iremo” and there are many other clans that are also here. If you see the way they dress the Olowo and the way the Itsekiri people dress the Olu of Warri, they are the same and the tradition is similar. So, we will continue to get involved. It is a normal thing for the throne of Oduduwa. PUNCH