Prince Adekunle Apena, who is acting as regent for the Olu of Ikeja, speaks to TUNDE AJAJA about his ascension to the throne, his growing up and how he carries on with his career as a lawyer
In Yorubaland, it seems customary for the first daughter of the late king to become the regent until a new king is appointed, but in your case, a man was chosen. Why?
Yoruba custom is dynamic; what happens in Ikeja may not happen in Agege. Here in Ikeja, the tradition is that it is one of the children of the late king that would step into the father’s shoes pending the time another king would be installed.
When your dad passed on, did it cross your mind that you could be called to become the regent?
I never envisaged that I would be called to be the regent. The day my dad passed on, I was at the Federal High Court. Unfortunately, the court did not sit on that day. Then, my sister called to tell me that I had to go home. I wanted to know what happened, but she insisted I must return home. I didn’t suspect that anything serious had happened until I got home and knew what happened. I’m the seventh of nine children, but I was the only one available at that time. Even when my dad was alive, he never told me I would be called after his demise. The tradition is that one of the children of the king that passes on would be the regent. I don’t know how it happened; I was picked by the chiefs. When they called me, I was reluctant because I was still mourning my dad. It was 17 days after he passed on. It took days to reconcile me to it. In fact, there was a time when I went to make a photocopy of my passport and one of the chiefs saw me. He called another chief and raised the alarm that it seemed I wanted to run away. I told them I wouldn’t run away. Until I was installed, they were policing me to make sure I didn’t run away. But to have been chosen, I believe that what has been destined will still take its course. Even if you run away, if God says you are the one, you would do it.
How did your family receive it?
I was not married then, but I was in a relationship. When it was announced, my fiancée didn’t answer my calls for days. I tried to contact her but she didn’t answer her calls, maybe she thought I would become someone different from the person she had always known. But being a regent or king is not abnormal. Later, she got used to it, and of course when you hold such a position, many things would change about you. Before now, I used to go to Computer Village (ICT accessories market in Lagos) very well but now I can’t remember the last time I went there. If I need a phone or anything now, I will have to send someone or call for it.
Do you feel constrained?
I believe that wherever you see yourself, you have to adjust to that situation. Once it is beyond you, there is no need to complain; you should try to adjust to that situation, and that is what I do.
How did you feel initially seeing elderly men and women prostrate or bow before you?
One thing about our culture is that the people that bow aren’t doing it for me; they prostrate or bow to the stool, not me. I am only occupying the seat for now. The stool does not die; it lives forever. In the Yoruba tradition, people do not look at the person occupying the stool; they respect the stool. At first, asked them to stop prostrating or bowing before me, but they said it wasn’t about me but the post I occupied. The belief in Yoruba culture is that once you don’t respect the stool, things would go wrong for you; so it’s like a curse.
Ikeja is a major commercial area, how easy has it been sustaining traditional practices in a cosmopolitan place like that?
People don’t know that Ikeja has its indigenes. Ikeja has indigenes and these people are Awori who migrated from Ota in Ogun State. Even if you go into the community now, I mean Isale Awori and Ipodo, the elderly men and women there still speak Awori. So, Ikeja started from Isale Awori and Ipodo. We have other communities within Ikeja, like Alausa, Akiode, the Lagos part of Ojodu, Agidingbi, Oregun, Olusosun, Onigbongbo and others, which are all part of Ikeja, but where they speak Awori.
But hasn’t civilisation taken over some cultural and traditional practices in these administrative areas?
No, we still have our culture and tradition. We still practise our culture. We celebrated Aje Festival last year (October 23) and it was a week-long programme. On the final day, all the markets within the community, except Computer Village, were closed for the purpose.
Why was Computer Village not closed?
It was because the notice was short and we didn’t inform the market’s executive on time. The Aje Festival is a very prominent festival, and that is why in Ikeja, whatever you bring or sell here, even if it is satchet water, it must sell. So, our belief here is that the commercial success Ikeja is known for is tied to the Aje.
Is that the only traditional event here?
We also have Esu (deity) at Ipodo junction. The Yoruba people believe that the Esu, like the one at Ipodo Street junction, is not the devil in the Bible and the Quran. The Yoruba believe that if you want to communicate with the Eledumare (God), it must go through one of the deities, and Esu is one of them. We have Ogun (god of iron); we have Egungun and Oro. They are all active. If you want to appease the god, Esu, for example, it will be in the morning. Ikeja is a major commercial area, so you can’t stop people from moving or doing their commercial activities. The elders in the community, including the traditional chiefs, would go to the shrine very early in the morning and do the appeasement. If they want to cook, they would prepare it there and eat it there. So, Ikeja is still a Yoruba town with traditions.
With all you have learnt about these practices, were you ever faced with the dilemma of choosing between these traditional practices and another religious belief?
Royalty and knowing about traditional practices have been part of me since birth. From my childhood, I have known that the Esu (Satan) the Christians and Muslims despise is different from the Esu (deity) in Yoruba culture. So, where Esu resides is Oju Elegba. In Yoruba, Eegba is Esu.
How many deities do you have in Ikeja?
They are many, but I can tell you a few of them. We have Ogun, Esu, Aje, Omotohun, Aale, Igbale, which is where the masqueraders come out from. If you are not from this community, you could find them scary, but if you are familiar with traditional practices, you could relate with them and what they stand for. Ikeja is a Yoruba town and there are indigenes of Ikeja, so, where there are indigenes, there must be culture and custom. Having masqueraders perform is part of the culture and tradition of the people of Ikeja. That is why whenever there is Egungun Festival or someone prominent dies, the egungun would come out, in honour of that person that passed on.
What are the taboos in Ikeja?
You can’t compare Ikeja with other cities and so practices are different. In Ikeja, for instance, in my own family, which is Amore, it is a taboo for me to put on a red clothe. Up till today, I don’t wear anything red. It is forbidden. So, families have their taboos and they stick to them.
People believe there are myths about traditional stool. Is it true?
I believe there are myths about the traditional stool, but I can’t tell you more than that.
Before you were called to become the regent, you used to go to court…
(Cuts in…) I still practise (as a lawyer), but I don’t go to court. I prepare my processes myself and then my friends go to court on my behalf.
Why don’t you give yourself a break until when you are done with this assignment?
If you don’t practise law for one month, it would leave you for two years. I didn’t want that to happen to me. If I’m not in the palace and I don’t have any function or traditional council meeting to attend, I would go to my chambers. And if I want to go to the office, I do that with my driver and security man. Until I tell you who I am, you may not know. You may only see beads on my wrist.
Now you have to attend events with other traditional rulers and senior government officials. Did you find that easy initially?
At first, I used to be shy. There was a day that I was seated beside a traditional ruler at a meeting. He was old enough to be my father. In fact, when I wanted to greet him, I bowed my head. I told him he was like my father and he said no, I should not say that. He said the reverence point was the stool, not my person. I thanked him for the understanding.
After this office, would it be easy for you to revert to your old ways?
That is it; I don’t allow this office to get into my head. I go to my office, prepare my processes myself and do things as if nothing has changed. So, when this assignment is over, I would still be myself. When you have always been respectful, you won’t find it difficult to do things like before.
One rarely sees you dressed in your royal regalia, how did it feel the first time you did that?
That was my first time of wearing agbada; the first time ever. It was one of the chiefs who told me how to walk while putting on agbada. All I had been used to were shirts, trousers and suits. I never put on agbada. It took me about a month or two to get used to wearing it and walking accordingly in it.
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