The new Akarigbo of Remoland, Oba Babatunde Adewale Ajayi, has been crowned. He is only waiting for the official ceremony which will take place in a few weeks time. A few weeks back, he met with some journalists, and spoke on his plans. Culled from Sunday Tribune Newspaper.
At what point in your life did you decide you were going to be Oba?
To be honest, it never occurred to me that one day I’ll be Oba. I have never used the title ‘Prince.’ I think the consciousness came when the past Akarigbo passed on and it was all over the town that I had been chosen, that the kingmakers chose me two months after the Akarigbo’s demise. That was when I asked somebody, what is with me and this throne thing? And then they said don’t you know that your dad was the head of the Torungbuwa Ruling House? Then somebody showed me a copy of the gazette, which has been structured. That was when I knew our ruling House was next in line. I know that the late Sonariwo, anytime he saw me, he would say ‘Tunde, better go and start getting ready for the throne’ and I would just reply ‘me, what is with me and the throne?’ So, I started thinking about this about 12 months ago.
You were a popular choice. Why was that?
Honestly, it beats me. And I think that’s why I decided to put my heart to the race. When this whole thing started, I already had plans to travel for summer and I took off. Then it was all over the place that I ran away, but my mum said no, that wasn’t true. It’s humbling. In life, you reap whatever you sow. I have just been somebody who has done a lot for our people, but it is not with a mindset that I will be paid back. And when people see what you have done, they believe this person is worthy. I was National President of my alma mater, Remo Secondary School for a long time and we did a lot.
We have a good investment in Shagamu I remember a joke one old man said when we had a good investment in Sagamu. The man said ‘don’t you know that it is Irunmole that brought you to build this in Sagamu?’ But for me, it was an investment decision, since Remo could provide a good investment opportunity for the project. So, I think people see in me someone who has given a lot to the community. But beyond that, honestly, I would say I really do not understand it. I have been in seclusion now for almost two to three weeks and the support is huge.
There were speculations that during the race, the high and mighty were supporting one of the candidates. How did you feel during those periods?
All I know in my life is that when you work hard, you get results. We worked hard and we knew we would get results. Besides, the people were on our side. So we knew there was no other power that is beyond God and the community. So, I never doubted for once that we would get results.
The powers of the traditional institutions are declining across the world. What do you think about this, and how do you plan on making the life of your people better?
If you’ve asked me this question 12 months ago, honestly I would not have had a view. But in the last couple of days when I see my people, a lot of them, with so much expectations; the burden of expectation is so huge that people think when you get in there, with your power, you will just say ‘let there be road, let there be schools, let there be this, let there be that.’ And it is so painful personally that our constitution has not provided a clear cut role for traditional rulers. I have now seen that traditional rulers need a clear-cut constitutional role. You can imagine if I have a budget, the resources; because I know the expectations of these people. And, don’t forget, this is a lifetime thing, not something I’d do for four years or eight years, and I owe it to them to do something. So if roles are properly carved out for traditional rulers, I think there will be a meaningful transformation within the society.
Having said that, we are in this business to serve. And I have told people that one thing that we will not be accused of is not trying. We will try, we will demand, we will parley, we will talk to whoever we need to talk to, so that my people will be empowered. We know that we are going to do something.
What do you have in mind to ensure that the youths do not veer off completely from the Yoruba culture?
As far as Remo is concerned, support for tradition is huge. Even people who have gone to universities, professors, have come to me to discuss topics like Ifa. What they need to know is that the present Kabiyesi is really interested. I’m not going to say because I’m a Christian, I won’t join them. The same way I attend to Christians is the same way I attend to Muslims. And if we give these traditional people the resources, you will be amazed at the results. I cannot see our culture dying, based on my experiences in the last couple of weeks.
For a boardroom person, how has the confinement experience been?
I have not really been so much of a boardroom person. I have been an Insolvency practitioner, and that is what I do and have passion for. I’m somebody that is always up and down and, for the first time in my life, I will say this has never happened to me, to be confined to a space for a period of more than three days, not to talk of weeks. But by and large – and this is what I say about modernity – we’ve tried to modernise things. I was told that my predecessor, when he woke up, because he slept on a mat, they had to raise his legs and apply hot water. That’s different now, because we can have our mat and still put out mattress on it. We have a fairly conducive room. I even have CCTV in my room and can see what is going on outside. So we’ve tried to make the best use of this situation. But it’s not really a bad thing. It just teaches me about humility, about sacrifice; you learn a lot and have time to think about so many things, which is what I have done. Despite the fact that I receive visitors from 10 a.m. to about 8 p.m., I still have time. It’s a good cleansing process.
Don’t you think you will be losing money by becoming a king?
People have asked me that; but I think that I am at that age when you start thinking about retiring. But by and large, I think it is about sacrifice. When my friends heard, they could hardly believe it, because I am not just that kind of person. But I looked at it and said it is time for me to make a difference with my people. I won’t have been in this position if I had a feeling I was forcing myself on this people. In fact, sometimes I shudder to think of the alternative, because people just had this mindset that it had to be this man. And that is humbling enough. So, it is just a sacrifice. And it is well worth it when you see the reaction of a 90-year-old woman coming and crying that this happened in my lifetime; because it has never happened before that we will have a selection of Akarigbo that is appealing to everybody.
Can you tell us a bit about your educational background and professional journey?
My dad used to say the only thing I can do is to read. I went to Remo Secondary School. I was the National President of the Old Students’ association for a very long time. I also went to the University of Ibadan for my first degree. When I finished, I trained as a Chartered Accountant. And, since I knew I was going to go into Insolvency, I thought I needed to read Law. So, I went to Calabar for my LL.B. I did very well in school; I had the best result and in the Law School too. And that’s me – when I want to do something, I focus on it. Then I went to the University of Lagos for my LL.M. And I have taken lots of fellowship exams. I was the first INSOL fellow in Nigeria. Now, we have three fellows in Nigeria.
Why did you go to Calabar for your Law degree?
There is a story behind it. I had already finished my Accountancy and was already working and we got a massive job in Calabar. I was 26 then and was General Manager. But then, Calabar was a civil service town, so by three, four o’clock, you have nowhere to go. So, I told my principal then that I wanted to do an MBA, but he dissuaded me and encouraged me to do Law. And because I was GM of a massive company, I had the connections; I was able to call the Vice-Chancellor and tell him I wanted to do Law. So, I packaged my documents and started the admission process. The trouble was when we finished the job we had in Calabar, I had to go back to Lagos. And Law School too; we were the first set of students to go to Law School in Abuja.
What is your passion, your agenda for the Yoruba nation?
I think a lot has been said about that and I don’t think I really have anything to add to the idea of unity, cohesion, because once we are divided, we cannot get what we rightly deserve. With all due respect to other tribes in the country, Yorubas are trailblazers, we have achieved a lot in every sector of the economy, and we cannot be pushed to the background; and I think one of the institutions that can be a voice for the Yoruba nation is the traditional institutions. When we assume power, we will be a voice, because our people will know that we are truthful. What we are bringing is sincerity. Our people don’t want much; so once you are sincere with them; that’s it.
What does your mother think about this?
My mum is from a royal family too, Makun. And that’s one of the things that is working for me. I was invited to the Makun Day and people told me ‘you can’t go’ because they will be seeing you as a Makun person. But I am. My late maternal great-grandfather was the Ewusi of Makun. So on my mum’s side, we have a connection to the throne and the same thing with Ofin. So Makun people are saying ‘it is our man that is there’ and Ofin people are responding with ‘no, he is our man.’ And I think that is why the whole thing is really working out. I am proud to be both.
Regarding my mum, her reactions were just like any mother. She was like ‘they want to take you away from me’ but at the end of the day, that’s where motherly love comes in; she would say her own and immediately she sees where you are going, she will give you all the support and connections that she could deploy into the process. And it is very rare for a new king to have his mother alive. We thank God she is able to witness this.
How do you start off?
We have professional experience in the boardroom. We are going to move hi-tech. We already have panels, committees constituted; it’s more like a government taking over. We have a transition committee mapping out different sections, and we have blueprints for different sectors: infrastructure, communication, education, roads; we have them all planned out. Unfortunately, we don’t have a budget from government, but we want to have all those areas mapped out and the goals we want to achieve. The beauty is that we have a lifetime to achieve these goals and we will take it one by one.
What’s the selection process like?
The kingmakers were guided by Ifa, but they cannot use Ifa to select. The key thing is that you have seven kingmakers who come together and consult the oracle, which is to guide them on which candidate is good for the community. Once they have that pool of candidate, then they can put it to a vote and recommend the most popular choice to the government. Once government approves, the king is selected.
We have two forms of ceremonies: the traditional one and the government ceremony. When I leave here, which is the traditional one, the icing on the cake is the government ceremony.