The latest gist right now about Elegushi of Ikateland, Oba Saheed Elegushi is the fact that he has taken a new wife, Hadiza Yankasai from Kano. Many were surprised because he has always preached to be a one king , one queen Oba. It took him a long while before he could tell his first wife when he decided to marry another wife, but did it come to a surprise to his first wife of over 15 years, Olori Sekinat Aramide Elegushi? No, it looked as if Olori Sekinat Aramide had prepared her mind that she is married to an Oba who could take another wife after her.
On her 40th birthday few years back she granted an exclusive interview to Punch where she addressed the issue of polygamy, how she married King Elegushi before he became an Oba and how it has been living with him for over 15 years.
You met the Oba when you were undergraduates, was it love at first sight?
It wasn’t love at first sight. I liked him when we met but I didn’t fall in love with him. He was all over me and was always following me all over the place. I wasn’t really enthusiastic about falling in love with him, but he was persistent. He refused to give up on me. With time, I took time to study his person and I fell in love with him.
Can you tell us how you met?
We met here in Lagos. He used to come and see some of his friends on Lagos Island. He was then a final year student of the Lagos State University, while I was a final year student at the University of Lagos. On the day we met, I was at my mother’s shop, reading a novel when he sighted me. My mother had a textile shop on Lagos Island, back then. So, whenever he came around, he would see me. Later, he approached me and struck up a conversation with me. Before long, we got to know each other and I became very fond of him. I fell in love with him, and I realized that he was the kind of man I would want to spend the rest of my life with.
You have been married for more than 13 years, has it always been rosy? What is the secret of your successful marriage?
There is no perfect marriage anywhere. Every marriage has its ups and downward sides. So, our marriage has not always been rosy. It has been subjected to its own share of turbulence and thorns. But the bliss surpasses the misery. The secret of our successful marriage is the grace of God. Other factors that have helped us so far are patience and understanding. And we keep working at making the marriage more successful every passing year.
Some say life begins at 40, do you agree with this general opinion?
I don’t really subscribe to the cliché that life begins at 40. The notion is a 20th century one. Lately, I have observed that many Nigerian women in their 50s exude such amazing youthfulness that one is quick to profess that 50 is the new 40. However, I will not deny the fact that it feels awesome to turn 40, because 40 is one of the best numbers you get in a lifetime of birthdays. It is a great age. A 40th birthday is a watershed for anyone. The trajectory of one’s life changes, not all at once, but gradually to a new phase. People in their 40s come into their own. They are more assertive and confident. They know what they want, and are not afraid of taking charge of the happenings of their lives.
As a young girl, did you ever imagine you would marry an Oba?
No, I never imagined I would marry an Oba. Besides, I didn’t marry my husband as an Oba. He was an upwardly mobile, charming young man, with great prospects and aspirations when I met him. Those were some of the qualities I saw and admired in him back then. He was a prince then, but he didn’t wear it as a badge of pride. He was just a man, brimming with a bright future and great dreams. And if I have to be honest here, I was less-thrilled about that aspect of him being a prince when we met, and I wasn’t that keen on falling in love with him. But fate has a way of playing tricks with our emotions, and my husband made it easier for me to fall in love with him. With time, I was able to overcome my initial reservations about him. I took my time to study his person and I discovered I loved him enough to want to spend the rest of my life with him. Even after we got married, I never envisaged that my husband would be entrusted with the role of a king. But God is always supreme with making His plans for us come to fruition, and He is the sole decider of who becomes a king.
Do you still dress the way you used to dress before you became an Olori?
I still dress the way I used to do before I became an Olori. Nothing has changed about the way I dress. Perhaps, the only slight change that I have injected into my dressing pattern is that I can no longer leave my hair bare. I have to cover it with a headgear or turban most of the time. There is no stipulated condition, under which the wife of an Oba is expected to dress. But it is very important for an Oba’s wife to conduct herself with decorum and dignity and to dress with elegance, while remaining conservative. Also, I have to opt for traditional outfits most of the times. Other than that, I still wear my jeans, my jumpsuits and other casuals.
You studied Accounting, would you have wished you worked in a bank?
Yes, I really wanted to work in a bank. Working in a bank or a finance house is the immediate plan of every Accounting graduate. And it wasn’t any different in my case. I really wanted to work in a bank because I thought bankers had plenty of money at their disposal. But somehow, I ended up working in my father’s company as an accountant, and I was able to garner a wealth of experience while working there.
You are also known to be a philanthropist, is it in your nature or is it just a way to help people in your kingdom?
I will hesitate to describe what I do as an act of philanthropy. It is just my humble way of giving back to the society. We are in an era, where most people are driven by the urge to be socially responsible to humanity and one’s immediate environment. In the past, charitable giving wasn’t focused enough on the poor and the needy. Besides, it used to be an exclusive preserve of the very rich. But things have since changed. People are getting more sympathetic towards supporting the needy. You don’t even have to have millions of naira to support people who are in need. I must say that I am impressed by how Nigerians have become more charitable and supportive of worthy causes. My husband and I are united in the act of giving back to the society, and we strive to show this as often as we can. We run an education trust that is responsible for children’s education within the Ikate Kingdom. My husband and I are custodians of arts and culture. It is an avenue through which we support a number of artists. I am a huge fan of the renowned Nike Art gallery. In my own little way, I seek to advocate for women and youth empowerment. I am also actively involved in the International Women’s Society (IWS) Skills Centre in Ikate. The centre has trained thousands of students. Last August, we had our 17th graduation, where over 120 people graduated.
You are regarded as one of the youngest queens in Lagos, how is your relationship with other prominent queens who may be older than you?
My relationship with other queens is cordial. With some, it is close-knit, while with others, it is cordial. I enjoy a daughter-mother relationship with other queens who are older than I am. They show me love and care, genuinely from their hearts.
Does being a prominent Oba’s wife come with its challenges?
Being the wife of an Oba does come with its challenges. Marriage itself comes with its baggage of challenges. No union is perfect anywhere in the world. Most women find marriage an insurmountable challenge in itself, without the additional pressures that being an Oba’s wife must bring. However, I believe that there is no challenge that is insurmountable. There were some challenges at the initial stage when my husband became a king. But, with a lot of patience and perseverance, I was able to overcome those challenges. When my husband became king, initially it was strange not having access to the man I married whenever I wanted. There is a Yoruba saying ‘Kabiyesi ni oko Ilu’ (the king is the husband of kingdom). I realised that he is there not just for his immediate family but the kingdom as a whole, realizing this helped me to understand my role better as an Olori. I can only support him, pray for him to be a better king and assist my people in anyway I can.
Can you tell us a bit of those challenges and how you have been able to surmount them.
There were quite a few of them. One of the challenges was adjusting to life in the palace. The transition from living in a private home to living in the palace was a bit of challenge on its own. There were times when I felt concerned that my husband should take a break from attending to people who had come to seek his counsel, and rest. There were times when I felt selfish and wished I could have my husband all to myself (laughs). There were times when I felt overwhelmed by the invasion of privacy. So, these were some of the challenges. But with time, I was able to overcome those initial challenges.
Do you miss the days you weren’t in a royal household?
That would be my pre-marriage days. That was the only period I wasn’t in a royal household. Even before my husband became a king, I was very much conscious of the fact that I was married into a royal family. That helped a lot in shaping my understanding of what life in the palace entails. So, to answer your question, it will be unfair if I admitted that I didn’t miss my pre-marriage days. But I have enjoyed every bit of my life in my marriage and in the palace.
Do you still mingle with the friends you had before you became a queen?
Of course, I still mingle with my friends. I still relate with my friends from college and the university. Nothing has changed about that and I hope nothing changes about the way I relate with my friends. I am still the same person I was before my husband became a king. I am still the same gregarious person they knew me to be from childhood. I am not taciturn by nature, I flow very well with my close friends.
Has anything really changed about you now that you are a queen?
I don’t think anything has changed about me. One secret that has kept me going is that I try not to lose my identity as God’s creature. It is very important to be conscious of this fact, because it helps to keep you in check and prevent you from derailing. If anything were to change about me, it would be that I have become more people-oriented and more passionate about humanity. Although I am not yet there, I want to be more involved in promoting more worthy causes and contributing to building a more peaceful society.
Do you influence some of the Oba’s royal decisions?
No, I don’t influence the Oba’s decision. The Ikate kingdom, like any other royal house, is associated with strong traditional values, and airing one’s personal views might be unwise. Besides, the Oba has able chiefs, who play active roles in advisory capacity and decision-making process within the palace. Most of them are his uncles, and they play more of a fatherly role in his life. My husband grew up under their tutelages and so, he gets along with them very well. He seeks their counsels and heeds their advice as well. Of course, there are times when my husband seeks my opinion on issues and I feel privileged by this. But I don’t influence his decisions in any way.
How do you cope with the number of guests he must be having on a daily basis?
I cope very well. I have adapted very well to hosting his guests. At times, I stay all night to attend to the Oba’s guests. Initially, it was a bit inconvenient for me, having to attend to guests, especially, those who visited during evening periods. But I have become used to that pattern now. I am blessed with a very efficient chef, who is always up to the task. Ten guests can ask for 10 different menu and we have to attend to their requests. It is now a daily routine for me, and I enjoy doing it.
Are there times you are not allowed to see the Oba?
No, there is no time I am not allowed to see the Oba. I can see him at any time I want to and I don’t need to get a visa to see him (laughs). But then, there are times when he wants to be alone in his study or when he is attending to his guests.
Are there foods you are forbidden to eat because you are a queen?
There are no foods that I am forbidden to eat. Every royal household has traditions that it follows, but there is no tradition that forbids a queen from eating a particular food.
Do you practise the same religion as the king?
Yes, I practise the same religion with the king. We are both practising Muslims, and we were both born and raised as Muslims. We observe our Salat five times daily, and we carry out other obligations as stipulated by the Islamic religion.
Do you love pets?
No, I don’t. I am not naturally drawn to pets. I didn’t have any pet experience while growing up. This informs my disinterest in animals. So, my connection to pets is psychologically distant. But if I were to keep a pet, I would go for the ostrich. I love it because of its vibrant and colourful feathers.
Some traditions forbid keeping pets in the palace; does it apply to Ikate as well?
There is no tradition that forbids us from keeping pets in the palace. We can keep any pet if we want to, but we choose not to do so because we feel there is no need for it.
Most Obas are usually polygamous, how would you handle such if the king decides to take more wives?
That is a very tricky question and I am not inclined to answer it (Laughter). But, I will tell you one thing; my husband is not polygamous by nature. And per adventure he decides to take more wives in the future, heaven will not fall. Life will go on.
You have three daughters, would you wish for a son?
That is another tricky question (laughter). All I can tell you is that we have three wonderful daughters and we work hard in bringing them up and moulding them to become great women of accomplishment in future. We are more than grateful to God for giving us the privileges of being parents to our daughters. If God purposes it for us to have a son, we will be much more grateful to Him. For now, we are thankful for the fulfilment we get from being their parents.
Would you remember how you felt the day he was announced the Oba?
It was a remarkable day. To be frank with you, I was not so happy on that day. I was unhappy because I was afraid of what the future held for us. I was overtaken by the fear of how my husband would be able to cope with the demands of the throne. But my initial feeling of fear gave way to confidence when I saw the magnitude of support and love that people showed towards us.
Between when the Oba was in politics and now he is a king, which do you prefer in terms of the time and attention he gave to you and the children?
My husband is still the same person he was when he was in politics and now that he is an Oba. He hasn’t changed one bit. If anything, he has become more generous in giving the children and I more time and attention.