The Alake of Egbaland, Alayeluwa Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo is 75. And that is authoritative. He celebrated his 75th birthday last Friday 14th September in Abeokuta and it was grand.
Last Tuesday, City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE who has interviewed the Alake 4 times since he came on the throne in 2005 as the 10th Alake met with the stylish King at the Ake Palace and got him to talk about his life at 75. Guess what? Kabiyeesi didn’t look one bit that age. He is still fit as a fiddle. He looks refreshingly young and stylish.
Many do not know that Kabiyeesi is a retired Army Officer. He was in the Army for 16 years. That perhaps explains why he is still very agile.
For the Alake, who hardly grants interviews, this was a rare opportunity. But lets quickly tell you a little about him. Many don’t know he is the grandson of Oba Gbadebo, the 6th Alake of Egbaland, who ruled from 1898 to 1920 and one of the 6 children of Omoba Adesanya Osolake Gbadebo and Madam Amoke Gbadebo, a distinguished Egba woman from the Ikopa area of Abeokuta.
Born on Tuesday, 14 September 1943, his birth was coincidental with the centenary celebration of Christianity in Egbaland, a faith, and religion that carved out a niche for Egbaland, Egbaland was where the first Church was erected not only in Nigeria but also in entire West Africa.
Born from the Laarun Ruling House, he was elected Alake of Egbaland, based in Abeokuta, Nigeria on 2nd August 2005. He was educated at the Baptist Boys’ High School in Abeokuta, then at the University of Ibadan from 1965, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1969, not many people know he was a Soldier. He joined the army in 1969, and attended the Command and Staff College, Jaji from September 1978 to August 1979; he eventually became a Principal Staff Officer to the Chief of Staff at the Supreme Headquarters, Dodan Barracks, from January 1984 to September 1985. He retired from the army with the rank of Colonel.
Oba Gbadebo was appointed a non-Executive Director of OANDO Plc on 10 April 2006. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria in 1969. He graduated from the Staff College of the Nigerian Armed Forces in 1979 and has served on the Boards of several companies including Ocean and Oil Services Limited. He currently serves on the Boards of Global Haulage Resources Limited and Dolphin Travels Limited. Below are excerpts from his the interview.
Congratulations Kabiyeesi on turning 75. How do you feel?
I feel good and I give thanks to Almighty God. In those days, when you turn 75, you are seen as an old man, an old person. I don’t feel old. I still play Golf. I still play Squash. I still do many things that I used to do. Though I still do many things that I used to do. Though I still play Golf, I don’t play 18 holes, I play only 9. or 10 holes.
But I am a lot more careful now, because the balance that you find, is no longer there. You are not as comfortable as before when you run or you walk as before. That is the only difference. One has also learnt to exercise a lot of patience. I have learnt to be a lot more patient with other people. You see the problem with retired soldiers is they say we have no patience at all. So when people accuse you of a particular thing, then you want to disburse their mind, you want to tell them it is not so. And so, with that, I give people so much time, so much laxity, I am extra patient with them. I listen to them a lot. I give them a long rope. I am never in a hurry I don’t want to get tired easily or fed up with people, so I take my time with them.
Kabiyeesi does not look 70 or even 75. You look refreshingly young. What’s the secret of your look?
I think that it is because I exercise a lot. I do a lot of exercises. I don’t joke with keep in fit. Its been with me all these years. That is the secret behind however you find me looking.
How have you coped with the pressures of the throne since you came in?
The pressure of the throne has been taken off me, by my subordinates, because if you learn to delegate without abdicating you will reduce your workload and you will reduce your workload and you will still be very present. You will still be part of everything that is happening around you. You cannot do everything. I have very reliable, very competent subordinates. So, things have become a lot easier for me.
Since you became king, everywhere I have been to a lot of people have good things to say about you whether it’s in Lagos or Abeokuta. How did Kabiyeesi build such a great reputation?
It is something. I can attribute to only my maker because we are not our own creator. God makes you show a bit of humility and not arrogance. And if you do that people will tend to talk to you. An Army General once told me in the Army, you did not tell me you are a Prince I said why should I tell you? Why should I give myself an advantage over other people. Maybe that is why. I don’t throw my weight around, because empty drums, make the most sound. It is from God. And it is from my upbringing and of course, from the school, I attended Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta where Humility is the watchword. That is one of the things that everybody had to learn in that school.
Egbaland has witnessed a lot of transformation since you took over as Alake. How does this make you feel?
It makes me feel good, great. I am happy because the oracle predicted it. The oracle had said that when the 10th Alake comes on the throne, Egbaland will change totally from being a rural and rusty, civil service town, to a cosmopolitan city. That is exactly what has happened. We thank God for what is going on now. We thank God for the government of the day, for sharing our thoughts, our inspirations about the Egbaland of our dream.
How do you feel when you look back at your life at 75?
When I look back, I am always full of gratitude because I couldn’t have done anything without God. I believe that when he chooses you, he equips you. He will give you all that you will need to perform. And once again, I am very grateful to my maker. And I say the age of 75 as a period when I should rededicate myself to serve Egbaland and its people even better than I ever did and the response from them too is most encouraging.
This time last week we were in Colorado, for the Egba National Association Convention. It was very well attended. We took on issues of Maternity Centres, of Scholarships, boreholes, and many more, which Egba sons want to do for their people. It makes me feel even more committed when I see the enthusiasm of my own people.
Kabiyesi has always been a very stylish man. How did this evolve sir?
I will show you my grandfather’s pictures. The first Oba in the whole of West Africa, the first traditional ruler, to go to Britain was my grandfather in 1904. He has some set of dresses. I will show you some of them. I have seen some of the photographs. I will give you. So you will know I got my style at home.