- How He Runs The Sprawling ONIRU Royal Estate
In the next few months, His Royal Majesty, Oba Idowu Abiodun Oniru, the Oniru of Iruland will be 80. And that is authoritative. For those who don’t know him, lets quickly tell you he is one of the popular Obas in Lagos and also one of the richest. He is one King, who has had a life-long preparation for the position he now occupies as a Traditional Ruler, Community Leader and Chairman of Oniru Royal Family Estate. This September, Oba Oniru will be celebrating his life of achievement and purpose in a big way. His family members have begun plans for a beffitting birthday.
That is to be expected because Oba Idowu Oniru is the Architect of the modern and sprawling Oniru estate in Victoria Island. He did a lot to make Oniru estate what it is today.
He was born in 1937 when Oniru Palace was at Igbodu, a village within Egbere (native name of Victoria Island), the strongest influence on his life was his late father, the legendary Chief Abiodun Oniru, the 13th Oniru of Iruland, who did not spare his children the indulgence and luxuries that spoilt the children of the high and the rich.
Very early in life, the young Prince was sent to live at Oju-Oto (now Massey Street, Lagos) with a much older cousin, Madam Abike, who had no issue after several years of marriage. There, the Prince went through the rigours of domestic chores, running errands, sweeping such as floor, washing plates and fetching water while, attending school at St. David’s Primary School, Lafiaji. He later completed his Primary education at Araromi Baptist School, Lagos. He grew up to learn how to face work and play.
He played football, engaged in wrestling and participated in swimming at the Onikan Swimming Park. Soon, he returned to Igbodu where, with his other siblings he worked on coconut farms, harvesting and peeling coconut husks, before taking the nuts to markets to sell. Oba Idowu Abiodun Oniru recalled that the proceeds from the coconut sales went into paying their school fees. From Igbodu Village which was not too far from the present Oniru Palace, the children walked some three Kilometres along bush paths to their primary school at Otoke, which was another village within Victoria Island. After leaving the Primary School, the Prince attended Eko Boys High School for his secondary education.
As a youth, he was quite active in school, playing football for Eko Boys High School. His trait for responsible leadership began to show early in life when, as a member of Oke Popo Boys and Girls Club, he was made the Financial Secretary and later the Club Chairman. A man of amiable disposition, he still remembers most of his childhood friends and playmates.
Among them were: Mr. Justice Muri Okunola, who died recently, Dr. Adernola Caxton Martins and Professor Ogunbona, both now lecturing at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. There are also Dr. Babatunde Dabiri, Dr. Deinde Shitta, Engineet Adeniji Raji, Engineer Adegboyega Martins, Mr. Musibau Mudasiru and Mr Adewunmi a banker with UBA.
In his reminiscences, Oba Idowu Abiodun Oniru spoke of the tough training he received from his father and the experience he gained during his upbringing. There was no house-help or any domestic assistant. The children did all the work. Nobody would tell anyone what to do, every child had his or her duties that must not fail. Father taught them to be thoughtful and to be of service to others and the village community.
PAPA’S RIGHT-HAND MAN
As he grew older, Prince Oniru got familiar with the public life of his father, who had many prominent citizens as friends. Among them was Herbert Macaulay, the radical politician, who was professionally a surveyor. Macaulay had done the surveying of lands in Lagos, including the Oniru family’s lands and he was quite familiar with the travails of the Oniru family on the compulsory acquisitions of their land. Among other friends of the late Chief Abiodun Oniru were the late Jibril Martins, a Lawyer, Mr. Biney, father of late the Kwaku Biney, Pa Doherty; the wealthy, Pa. Da Rocha, as well as Pa Emmanuel, father of Chief Bode Emmanuel and Dr. Bose Emmanuel. Being in the circle of the elite and the highly enlightened, was a reflection of the character and calibre of Chief Oniru himself who was at that time pursuing a battle in the law courts against the Colonial Government over the compulsory acquisition of his family’s lands.
The more Prince Idowu knew about his father’s public life, the more involved he was with his struggles. On several occasions, he was sent to the Lawyers to deliver or obtain messages. At other times, he would go to tenants on the family’s land to remind them of their rent arrears. He accompanied his father to courts and listened to arguments for and against. By the time he finished his secondary education in 1962, Prince Oniru had become fully involved with the family struggle for justice and compensations on the family land taken over by the government.
The profession of law, medicine and banking to which many of his peers had taken, would not suit the nature ofthe up and coming Prince. He chose Civil Engineering and left for England by sea on March 30,1965 to study at the London Polytechnic. Before travelling out ofthe country in 1965, he had got married to his first wife now Oloori Aramide who delivered their first child Segun on March 11, 1965. In three years of serious attention to his studies, he completed his course and returned to Nigeria on July 21st, 1968.
The following month, tragedy struck his mother, died on August 6. As soon as he got over it and settled down, he pitched his tent with his father, who had by then set up a company to develop the remaining family’s land on Victoria Island and Lekki into a housing scheme and layout plots for lease. The company submitted a plan to the Lagos State Government early in 1968 for approval.
THE UNJUST LAND SEIZURE
While waiting for approval, the family got secret information that the then military government had decided to adopt the plan for its own purpose and was going to compulsorily acquire the land from the Oniru family. The family was, therefore, not surprised when the Lagos State Government placed compulsory acquisition notice on the land. The last parcel of land owned by the Oniru family. The family under Yesufu Abiodun immediately went to court with the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo as their Lawyer.
While the matter was still pending in court, a.delegation of the Lagos State Government led by the Military Governor himself set out for the United States (US) in pursuit of investors that would provide fund for the execution of the Land Development Plan. But inside informants once again tipped the family of the Government’s move. Without any delay, the family dispatched its own delegation made up of a lawyer, and Prince Idowu Abiodun on the trail of the government’s delegation.
It was a hide-and-seek. Over there in the United States, the family team, which had obtained a copy of the State delegation’s itiner:ry pursued them from place to place in New York and Washington. As soon as the State’s delegation completed discussion in any office and left, the family delegation would move in with facts and figures to debunk the government’s claim, position and warned the Americans not to put their money on a land that was still under litigation.
The government delegation returned to Lagos, hoping to proceed with its plan on the land. The family delegation returned to Lagos satisfied with its tactical moves in the US and ready to proceed with the lawsuit against the government acquisition of the land.
It was a matter of great joy for the father, Chief Abiodun Oniru to see his son, Prince Idowu now playing a more prominent role in the struggle, which had begun before he was born. If the State Government had won the case and the acquisition had stayed, the family would have lost everything, both the land and their grandiose plan to develop it. But the father, a veteran in land litigation had taken all necessary steps to present the family’s case through their lawyer, the late (Pa) Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
The final court verdict given in 1974 was that the Oniru Chieftaincy family, who had been one of the biggest land owners in Lagos should not be robbed oftheir last parcel of land and turned into a land less landlord. As a result of this judgment, the then Military Governor of Lagos State, Commodore Adekunle Lawal who was appointed in 1975 directed that the area now known as ONIRU PRIVATE ESTATE be excised and restored to the family. This directive was only on paper. It remained unimplemented because Commodore Lawal’s tenure as Governor did not last long to see to its implementation. Thus, the waiting game continued until 1979 when Alhaji Kayode Jakande was elected the first Civilian Governor of Lagos State. The action of the new Administration marked a turning point on the Oniru Family Land issue.
First, the Jakande Administration took the bull by the horn by implementing Lawal’s decision and restoring the parcel of land to the family. second, in 1980 the Administration approved the family’s layout plan which would facilitate the development of the land.
Third, in anticipation of the evacuation of tenants and squatters on the land, the Governor embarked on the lIasan Housing Scheme to accommodate the evacuees from the Oniru Family Land at Maroko.
Fourth, the Administration allocated a suitable large percel of land along the Beach for the family to build a befitting Palace. The allocation was for an annual token fee, a mere peppercorn denoting that they were the original land owners. In addition to these good gestures, the land along Ozuomba Mbadiwe where Pa Yesufu Abiodun Oniru had his residence was allocated to him in his personal capacity. Although some who were dissatisfied with the decision to restore the Marokoland to the Oniru Chieftaincy Family went to court, succeeding administrations after Governor Jakande endorsed the government’s decision.
Chief Yesufu Abiodun wasted no time in the construction of the Palace, a magnificent building which was completed in 1984. It was his last major achievement as he died before he could move into the new Palace.
THORNY PATH TO THE THRONE
In view of the established order of succession, the next Oniru should have come from Ogunyemi Ruling House. Of course, nobody could have denied them their right to nominate a candidate among their brethren. But the larger family interests and a unique display of magnanimity and statesmanship prevailed. The elders and members of the Ogunyemi Ruling House led by Madam Christiana Abeke Alder conferred and decided that the late Pa. Chief Yesufu Abiodun Oniru had laboured so much and for so long for the family.
His death at the moment of victory without enjoying the fruits of his labour, moved members of the familyto agree that his son should be considered as the successor.
They decided that if members of the Abisogun Ruling House would support their stand, it should also concede the stool to a direct son of Chief Yesufu Abiodun Oniru of the Akiogun Ruling House, as a mark of appreciation and compensation for the late Pa Chief Yesufu Abiodun’s memorable services. Pa Wahab Ogunbambi the overall head of the Oniru family then asked the elders of ABISOGUN Ruling House if they would nominate a candidate in view ofthe stand taken by the Ogunyemi Ruling House.
But after their own family meeting, the ABISOGUN Ruling House led by Pa J.O. Joshua also expressed appreciation for all that Pa Yesufu Abiodun Oniru of the AKIOGUN Ruling House had done, and agreed to concede the stool to his son. It was atthis point that Pa Ogunbambi called on AKIOGUN Ruling House headed by Pa Amusa Otun to nominate a candidate. Thus, the larger family interests and concord prevailed.
Prince Idowu Abiodun Oniru, the eldest surviving son of the deceased Chief Yesufu Abiodun Oniru, was then finally appointed. Some members later went to court to contest the majority decision. The case dragged on for 9 years until judgement was given in favour of Prince ldowu Abiodun Oniru in 1994. Thereafter, he was crowned the 14th Oniru that same year. In 1995, he was accorded official recognition as a first class Oba and crowned at a most colourful ceremony. The new Oba, who hails from Akiogun Ruling House took the official title of His Royal Majesty, Oba Idowu Abiodun Oniru, (Akiogun II) Oniru of Iruland.
HIS PET PROJECT
While still waiting for the court’s verdict to confirm the family’s decision on his appointment as the Oniru-Elect, the Prince continued the land issue from where his father left it at his death. He wasted no time in assembling expert opinions to advise him on the best way to develop the 732 acres of land currently at the disposal of the family. At the end of the brain-storming exercise, a plan to sand fill the land and develop it into a modern estate was arrived at and its implementation had made rapid progress since 1994. Prior to the take-off of the development plan, the period 1991-93 was spent in vigorous planning, negotiations with intending contractors and inspection visits.
Oba Idowu Oniru believes that he was not the first Oniru and he would not be the last. Therefore, he believes that the little land that is left for the family must be so well planned to provide for the resettlement of the family members, who would also be given preference in commercial plots on the Estate. The Oba has established a Work Yard somewhere on the Estate where youths in the family would betrained in Concrete Technology and encouraged to work in the yard.
His main objective is to have more and more employment-generating enterprises such as the British International School set up on the Oniru Private Estate from which the youths of the family could benefit. His Royal Majesty looks forward to the time when youths of the family would be employed as engineers, site supervisors and in other professional areas or set up their enterprises. He enjoined those abroad to come home and invest on the Estate.