As the new Akarigbo of Remoland, Oba Adewale Ajayi, ascends to the throne of his forefathers today, the seasoned legal practitioner-cum chartered accountant speaks with Tribune team comprising of FOLA OKE, WOLE EFUNNUGA and MODUPE AKINLOYE on his childhood experience, issues concerning his emergence, why he chose to study law after qualifying as a chartered accountant, his plan for his people, how he resists temptation from ladies, among other issues. Excerpts:
Kabiyesi, you are a qualified lawyer as well as a chartered accountant. Now, you are leaving these two juicy professions to serve as custodian of people and culture. How do you feel about this new development?
In life, things are segmented. There is time to move on. I do not see any problem at all. The skills that I have acquired as a lawyer and as a chartered accountant, which were products of very rigorous training system, will come into play. I am happy with challenges. Maybe in five years’ time, if you ask me that question, I will tell you how I am feeling. But for now, I am full of optimism. I believe that things will work out.
Did it ever occur to you that you will one day become an Oba?
No. Not at all. Let me tell you something. My dad was the one that was into the traditional institution. As a child, I looked at him and said, ‘what is this man up to?’ But as his only son, I had always supported him because I knew he loved it. I gave him the support he needed. I used to have a Jaguar car (double engine). I asked myself one day what I was doing with this double engine Jaguar car in Lagos. I just resolved one day to give it to my dad. He was so happy with the way his chiefs were hailing him. Personally, the issue of becoming the Akarigbo never occurred to me. When the late Akarigbo, Oba (Dr) Michael Sonarinwo, joined his ancestors, there was noise all over the town. People started shouting my name and I said, ‘what is my own in this?’ Somebody now asked me if didn’t I know that Torungbuwa ruling house was the next in line. I said so what? He then reminded me that my dad was the Otunba Olore of Torungbuwa ruling house. The next question I asked was, ‘what has that got to do with me?’ His simple response was, ‘that means you are qualified’. At that point, I just said thank you. A few days after, another person called me and mentioned the same thing. I told him not to call me again. The same person called me again and I just blocked his line. That is to tell you that it was something I really did not have in mind. During summer last year – that was around June/July – I travelled abroad and the next news in town was that I ran away because of the obaship issue. It was at that point that I had cause to reflect and asked myself some pertinent questions like, am I the only person in town?; if everybody is saying you, you and you, then why not? That was the period I said okay, let us go ahead. Initially, I thought it was an easy thing, that the moment I say yes, they will just put the crown on me and install me. You all know how the selection process went. That was what happened. It wasn’t something I ever dreamt of. It just happened and I just have to take it.
What are you likely to miss in your two juicy professions since you are now a custodian of people and their culture?
(Smiles) You said these offices are juicy and that has not reflected in my pocket. By and large, I have practised for a long time and it has been very worthy. My firm has handled some challenging and rewarding assignments. We handled the liquidation of the Nigerian Airways. That was a huge assignment. We did the privatisation of the three Steel Rolling Mills. That was also a huge assignment. You may wish to ask what am I going to be eating; what’s going to happen now that I have become an oba? Well, I am over 50 years and at such age, people are already getting prepared to retire. Luckily, my firm is well structured; very solid. I don’t have an issue with that. In life, one just needs to make sure that things are put in proper shape and place. We have enough investments to fall back on. Besides, once a lawyer, always a lawyer. As a lawyer, you can look at matters; you can advise. Also, once an accountant, always an accountant. You can equally give advice. The firm is still functioning and we have small, small investments. I am not scared when it comes to what to eat. We would survive. The motivating factor is the development of our community which is huge. People say a lot of things about this town. You would have heard that people of this town accused the late Akarigbo of collecting and spending the money that belonged to the town. As a result, the youths went on the rampage and burnt the palace and also burnt other places. This man (the late Akarigbo) was already a self-made man before he ascended to the throne. As far as I am concerned – and people can testify to this – being the Akarigbo is not because of what we want to get from the stool but what we want to give to the community and, God willing, we will do that.
Kabiyesi, people say the process that brought you in as the Akarigbo was more modern than the traditional Ifa process and this generated a lot of controversy. What is your take on this?
I heard that, too. Unknown to many, we went through series of traditional processes, even to qualify for selection. Having said that, let me raise an issue. Ifa is not known to law. The law is very clear as regards the selection process. The kingmakers would meet, and based on the submissions by the family, would select the candidate they deem fit, and recommend the candidate they have selected (through voting) to the government. It is a mistake to say that the kingmakers just selected without doing their own due diligence and part of the due diligence was consultation with Ifa in their own way. So, it was a marriage of tradition and law and modern trend that brought about the result. In fact, if I had been chosen purely by Ifa and the kingmakers came out to say this is what Ifa said, it would have been challenged because Ifa is not known to law. But in terms of getting the selection right, the kingmakers would consult Ifa. They would now know who and who Ifa has chosen. On the basis of that, they would now go ahead with their own selection. From the way it is usually done, Ifa would not tell you to pick this person. Ifa would only tell you if you pick this person, it might bring calamity to the community. Usually, it won’t be one person. They may be many. They would say ‘Ifa won fo’re’, meaning, Ifa spoke well of them. But for those that Ifa spoke against, Ifa would still provide remedy that if you do X, Y and Z, and appease the gods, something good will happen. It was a combination of that that produced the 19 of us that emerged. I am sure there would be some aspirants that Ifa would have rejected ab initio. It is from the initial 19 aspirants cleared by Ifa that the kingmakers now, in their own wisdom, picked one person. It is wrong to say, per se, that Ifa was not consulted.
What efforts are you making to reconcile other people that competed for the stool with you?
It is one big family. In the history of aspiring for the stool of the Akarigbo, this appeared to be the most keenly ‘contested. Despite the heat and the furore generated, the process was very transparent, very inclusive. During the process that brought in the late Oba Sonarinwo, there were three contestants. In spite of that, some of them still went to court and the matter was in court for over 20 years. But in this situation, we had 19 contestants. And I can tell you authoritatively that the 18 other contestants had either called or sent text messages to congratulate me. That tells you that there is the hand of God in the whole thing. So, there is nothing to reconcile because we are one. Some of them are even in the coronation committee.
People of Sagamu in particular and Remoland in general are full of expectations from you, going by your very intimidating profile. What exactly are your programmes for the people?
We have come with a mindset that we need to make a difference. Let me take a cue from the governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun. He has been so fantastic as far as I am concerned. You know that Nigeria is a country where the powers that be are always interested in anything that is going on. We are not saying that they should not be interested but the interest should not be solely on their personal agenda which they want to foist on the people. One of the things I told Governor Amosun is that the people of Remoland will never forget him and I will never forget him, too. Not because he supported me. Of course, he did not support anybody. It is because he stayed away and allowed this process to just go the way it should go.
Immediately the process was concluded, it was the same day he received me. That singular action sent signal to other contestants that the matter was over. Therefore, what we need to bring in is goodwill to ensure that our people are able to get the benefits of a developed society. As I said earlier, the governor has tried. For the first time, we have a bridge in Sagamu but there is still a lot to be done. Beyond that again, there is the private initiative drive. Remo indigenes are scattered all over the world. I have received calls from a lot of them, particularly my friends who have collected their terminal benefits, changed them to hard currencies with the intention of relocating abroad. The moment I was announced, they promised to stay back. These are the processes of achieving the investment drive we need. We also want to build on what the current government has done: good roads and industrialisation. If you go from Sagamu to Ikorodu, you will see vast expanse of land. Go to Makun, from the toll gate axis, we have vast expanse of land. The resources are there. Again, we will make use of the advantage of the proximity as well as the location of Sagamu. There is hardly anywhere in this part of the country that you want to travel to from Lagos that you will not pass through Sagamu. Our programmes are developmental in nature. We are already taking stock. Committees have been put in place to design a blueprint. It is not that we control any fund, it is the goodwill that we will enjoy from people.
Kabiyesi, a closer look at your skin and complexion will create an impression that you have never suffered in life. Have you ever experienced suffering in life at all?
There is the saying that the bigger the head, the bigger the headache. Suffering is a relative word. As a person, I was born into a middle class family. I had always loved to go to school. My dad’s dream was nothing but school. In fact, you can get away with so many things from my dad as long as you are passing your exams. What I will call suffering is what another person will call enjoyment. As a growing child, if I asked my father for something and he declined, I always said I was suffering but in the real sense, that is not suffering. I could eat and I could pay my school fees. Let me share this with you. My dad gave birth to me at the age of 25. He did not have much then. There were things I needed which he could not provide but he ensured that he paid my school fees. Apart from my dad and mum, nobody could say he/she paid my school fees or fed me. That is life, anyway.
Of course, we had just one car. In my mind, I really didn’t like that lifestyle and I made it a point of determination that I would excel in life. How does a student excel? It is simply by reading. You just have to study hard. I remember my days in the university. I always had at the back of my mind, a foreign advertising pattern: vacancy; accountant required, 20,000 pounds per month. That motivated me to study so well, believing that that is the exact amount I would earn after graduation. I thought of all these because I did not like the way we were living. To me, that lifestyle was not okay but to some other people, it was the best way to live. My dad was a surveyor. We lived at Ebute Meta. From there, we moved to his house in Ketu. The house was just decked and I was working. When he roofed the house and he could not afford to finish the whole thing, I quickly completed one room at the third floor. I was the only one living in my room. It was a fine room. I had a television set, a radio and video cassette player. It was a good life but that was not the life I wanted. So, it is difficult for me to say I have suffered. But quite honestly, my parents were never rich. And that was good for me. Good for me in the sense that it made me to strive hard in life. When I finished my accounting training, I went to study law because the career that I chose (Accounting) has a branch called insolvency. Insolvency is actually a means of law and accounting. I just told myself that why can’t I just do both so that I won’t need help from any lawyer? I decided to study law and I focussed on it. Then, I was already working as a chartered accountant somewhere. In my class, I had the best result. That tells you something. I had my job as a chartered accountant and I still had the best result in my class as a law graduate. Even at the law school, I had the best result in my class. By the time I finished, a job was already waiting for me. Arthur Anderson said there was already offer of appointment for us. My name was there but I already had a job. There was no way I could take a job from Arthur Anderson. I am somebody who has been striving hard.
Can you recollect some naughty things you did while in school or it was just book, book and book alone?
I was a model child. I have always been a good boy.
All through primary and secondary schools and university?
I was very young then. Maybe that was why. The only thing I could recollect that appears naughty was that we had a very strict principal, Mrs Adebambo, who, by the way, is still alive. The belief among students then was that the principal used to use juju because there was no naughty thing any student did that she won’t detect. As a person, I don’t joke with football. There was a television set in the school hall where we watched programmes on Saturdays. There was this particular Sunday that I was watching football in the hall. As students, we had a way of communicating to others to signal the principal’s coming. Immediately someone gave the signal that she was coming, we just rolled the television (because the television had tyres) and took off. I could see her from there so I just went to hide behind a door so that she could just go without noticing me. Lo and behold, she just opened the particular door I used as cover and our eyes met. For offence of that nature, it was suspension. This is somebody who was not used to forgiving offenders but for God-knows reason, she liked me. The punishment she gave me was three weeks of not going to class but to always report in her office. I thought my suspension letter was still being processed. After three weeks of daily visit to her office, she shouted at me and said, ‘what are you still doing here?’ I said you asked me to be reporting here, ma. ‘Go back to your class’, she yelled at me. And that was the end. That was the only infraction I could remember. I didn’t get myself involved in naughty things like some of my friends. I was so modest. I read a lot but I also loved table tennis and quiz competition. I represented the school at quiz competitions.
Kabiyesi, at over 50 years, you are so handsome and attractive. The tendency is that if you don’t run after ladies, they will run after you. How do you resist such overtures?
I had always controlled them. I am still controlling them. And I will continue to control them. At over 50, I have only one wife and three kids. What do I want again?
Not at all. Let me tell you one funny instance. Incidentally, some of my friends were there. Recently, after I had been announced as the Akarigbo-elect, we went to Abeokuta. On our way back, I had this rousing welcome. The whole town was blocked. No easy passage for vehicles and pedestrians. I was asked to be waiving at people that were on both sides of the road as a mark of solidarity for me. Suddenly, one of the area boys saw me and shouted, ‘look at this oba, he is so handsome. We will give you 50 Oloris’. I wonder what I would do with 50 Oloris. The truth is that as long as something does not translate to the development of my town, count me out. If having 50 Oloris will translate to developing Sagamu, I will say bring them. But I am sure it won’t. Our focus is how to bring glory back to our town.
Your wife must be very fortunate. How did you meet each other?
I went for a job in Calabar, Cross River State, at the Teaching Hospital. She is a medical doctor. I just sat down in a corner and this lady walked past in front of me. I said, ‘wow, this babe is very fine o’. I made up my mind to follow up on her, and I did. Today, the rest is history. We have been married now for about 20 years.
What is your best food, the food that you can’t do without and how do you unwind?
I don’t think there is any food that I can’t do without but I like ebiripo a lot. I unwind with my friends.
Male or female friends?
Male friends. But I have female friends, too, my classmates. I get involved in the activities of my class set a lot. We sit down, wine and dine and talk stories a lot.
What do you expect from the people of Sagamu?
What I want from them is more of patience and understanding. To whom much is given, much is expected. They need to temper that expectation with patience. The expectations will surely come but they won’t come overnight. You know our people, by the time they wait for one or two years, the next thing they will say is what is going on now? Patience, cooperation and love are what I expect from them. I am sure with that, the sky is not our limit but God.
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