The Alake of Egbaland, HRH Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo hardly talks to the Press. This very stylish Oba who is in his 70’s rarely grants interview. But last Friday, Kabiyeesi granted City People audience, to talk about his life as the Alake. It was in Lagos that he spoke to City People Publisher SEYE KEHINDE and WALE LAWAL about his life.
For those who don’t know , Oba GBADEBO is the 10th Alake of Egbaland and a 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 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 the entire West Africa..
He is from the Laarun Ruling House, and was elected Alake of Egbaland, on 2nd August 2005. He was educated at the Baptist Boys’ High School in Abeokuta, then 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 as a non Executive Director of OANDO Plc on 10 April 2006. He 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 of the interview.
How has it been for you, being on the throne as the Alake of Egba land?
The past 11 years have been tremendous, far more successful than I could’ve ever thought of or imagined myself. And it’s down to the goodwill I received and I am very, very grateful. I came in there thinking I would draw on the support of some of my military and social friends, but then I found that even other traditional office holders have been very supportive. And more than that, Egba sons and daughters abroad too have been assisting in achieving with everything we set out to do, including the award of scholarships to Egba students in various fields and supporting all the other social endeavours in terms of equipping schools for the deaf and the handicapped and so on and so forth. In eleven years, I have been able to meet some of the things I set out to do. But because I am very difficult to please, I will not be easily satisfied. I still aspire to do a lot more than I have done in 11 years.
So, what more should we expect from Kabiyesi?
Every Egba graduate must be able to get a good job. If he’s not working, he must be training for something even better than what he must’ve done before. When every small and medium scale entrepeneur in Egba land has access to funds that are not too expensive, when we have lots of industries all over Egba land, maybe I will be a bit satisfied but I will still aspire for more.
I was wondering, sir, if the palace itself would undergo some renovations in terms of making it modern. I don’t know if Kabiyesi has plans to give the palace a more modern look?
I have. In my first year, built a Squash Court in the palace, a very standard squash court where we hold competitions for the youths every last Saturday of the month. I have renovated the summer gardens. I have a one hundred and fifty years old tortoise there. I have another one of hundred years there. I have crocodiles there too. I have an ornamental garden there. I have renovated the centenary hall with funds from a great Egba son, the founder of Guaranty Trust Bank. With just a little request from me, he came in and took over the whole renovation, took people there and modernized the Centenary hall. We have also done a few things with the Egba Education Foundation which was founded by Chief Tunde Abudu, a great Egba philanthropist and educationist. We now run classes for those preparing for JAMB and school cert and the results have been tremendous, very fantastic. So, we are not done yet. We have also taken up the Lisabi Festival which used to be small and took it to world level. It was initially sponsored by MTN and now it’s being sponsored by Glo. Now, it has gotten the involvement of all Egba sons and daughters around the world and we now even have a lot of foreigners taking part in the festival too.
Kabiyesi, before you became king, what was the attraction the throne had for you? For someone who has travelled all over the world, you’ve been accomplished in all the things you set out to do, didn’t you think coming home to be the Alake and sitting down in the palace all day would become boring for you?
There’s nobody that would not wish to be the Oba of his people, but everybody cannot be the Oba. While growing up, everybody calls you ‘Oba lola’ (meaning the future king) reminding you that you could get there. But you cannot just sit by and hope you’ll get there without doing anything for yourself in that direction. While I was in Lagos, I was a member of seven social clubs here in Lagos including this club (Lagos Country Club).When I became Kabiyesi, it gladdened me so much when each club came to visit me. They all rallied round me. For instance, my first set of vehicles, an Escort, brand new ones used by the police, were bought for me by my friends from Yoruba Tennis club. My first Rolls Royce was given to me by an Egba son whose father is Itshekiri but his mother is from Egba land. My second Rolls Royce was also given to me by an Egba son in the oil industry. I can go on and on. So, it’s been great. Every moment there’s so much to do, there’s someone to receive. If you’re not careful you could break down. So, I give glory to God for everything.
I have noticed that everywhere you go there has always been wide acceptance from people. All the clubs you visit, all the associations you visit, you enjoy so much acceptance everywhere you go. How did you build this goodwill over the years?
I was in the Military for 16 years. While there, I was a member of Zaria Club. I was in Jaji for 3 years, I was in Ilorin for four years. I was all over the place. I was always making friends, we played Tennis together, and that has always been my life. There was never a dull moment. I served on various committees in various clubs and this brought me closer to more and more people. The main thing that drives me is the leadership training I got from the military. The truth is, there’s hardly any institution that gives greater emphasis to leadership training than the military. That has been my driving force, and of course, God has been on my side all the time.
Share with us, sir, 11 years ago when you were given the responsibility to lead the people of Egba land, what were your fears at that time?
Well, if I had any fears at all, I think the fact that I spent my growing up years in Abeokuta, did primary school and secondary school there, and I was not in boarding, I was going from home. So, I have been part and parcel of the people, I didn’t have much fear. I knew I would have to learn a lot more. But my father lived to be 91 years of age and I remember several nights we sat down together till very late in the night talking about himself and his late father, Oba Gbadebo the First. Being a student of history, those things stuck into my head, when you hear something over and over again they become a part and parcel of you, so I didn’t have much fear.
You will agree with me, sir, that being an Oba totally changes everything about you and about your lifestyle. Sometimes, members of your family may not be able to see you as often as they would love to, and same with your old friends. How have you been able to maintain your bond with old friends and members of your family that are dear to you?
See, there’s nothing you want to do that you cannot find time to do. So, don’t ever think that when you’re so busy you can afford to let many things pass you by, no. If you want to go and play golf by 4.30, by 3.30, you let everybody know that you have to go and dress up and be on your way. Even when people try to stop you that that it’s unusual for an Alake to wear trouser and shirt, and to play golf, you should tell them that this has been your way of life all this while and that if you were not playing golf, you may not have been this fit and healthy and they will leave you alone. Like I said earlier, I have a squash court in the palace so I could play golf anytime I want, so that’s it.
What are the major landmarks you have recorded culturally?
It has been the attempt made by me to fine tune some of our culture, especially the areas that appear to have been at cross purpose with what is decent in society.
We have also taken Lisabi Festival to the highest level, to the level of an international festival. We have had MTN sponsoring it for the first 4 to 5 years. As for the last 3 years, it has been Glo mobile. And it has been going places.
Kabiyeesi has brought a lot of Class, Style, Panache to the throne. Does it come with the office?
I took up a lot of things personally. I am sociable. I am lively and I think the institution should be alive to new realities. I keep telling my people that I have no subjects, we are all together. I am not superior to anybody there. I am just the one to galvanise them to greater height. I want to lead all of them to the Egbaland of our dreams. So, I told them that if you have any business that will take 2 or 3 or 4 people who are unemployed, invite me I will open that business. I have declared opened so many hotels, travel agencies and I am still waiting for others who can increase their own staff strength and decrease the number of those looking for jobs, I will be part of you.
Egbaland, especially Abeokuta, has witnessed a lot of transformation under your reign. How does it make you feel?
We thank God that God has given us a Governor who has opened up all our roads. Who has taken us from pre-colonial to modern age. He has transformed every major road. In Abeokuta, the state capital, many people can no longer find their father’s compound anymore. That’s how it should be. You cannot enjoy Omlette without breaking the egg. So, we are grateful to the government that has done so much to open up Egbaland.
It was said that when it comes to the 10th Alake Egbaland will change and this is what has happened.
When they made you King, how did you feel at that time, 11 years ago?
It wasn’t as if it was strange because before then I had spent 19 unbroken years of my life in Abeokuta, I lived directly opposite the palace. And I spent most of my youthful days inside the palace itself.
I know that it is the dream of every Prince to become the next Alake. I also know that every Prince has a secret ambition to become the Alake. It is only one that is not a direct descendant will not want to be one. It is only those they call bastard that would not want to be one. Of course there would also be bastards who also want to be. But the spirit of our forefathers would never let them be.
So when it came to my time to be the Alake, I thank God and I also praise God for the intervention he had given me without my own knowing.
What do you mean by that?
I went through the Army. There is no organisation that gives greater priority to leadership training than the military. When I was in Dodan Barrack, I had 6 Governors that I was responsible for reporting on, on a monthly basis.
I didn’t know that I will now be under one of them. Of course its not under. I already had the exposure and the training, and I knew as Alake I have been brought up by God to serve my own people. I have no qualms about my mission. I know what God has brought me to do.
Whats the mission?
Mission to take Egbaland, which God has created from the very beginning to be foremost in Nigeria, and even pre-Nigeria, we had our independence, that I would in my own time, by the grace of God, take us to the level that we have never known before and we are already getting there.