The Ekefa-Olubadan, Oloye Lekan Alabi is a man of many parts. A journalist, a traditionalist, socialite, commentator and the sixth in line to the Olubadan throne. He recollects history, matches it with dates, names and shows age has nothing to do with memory. He also has an enviable record of serving four different governments (both Military and Civilian as Press Secretary).
The former reporter with the Sketch newspaper would be 70 years in October and he answered questions bordering on his childhood, the prediction before his birth, his principles and how he got this far.
The High-Chief took journalists through the journey of his life, the triumphs and trials and how he excelled…
Can we start by saying a happy birthday to you?
Of course! That’s in order, I will be 70 years next month.
At 70, how do you feel sir?
I think age is a matter of number. I don’t feel any different from the time I know my left from my right, but biologically and medically one can notice recess in human activities like climbing stairs , walking in quick paces…all these have slowed down, but otherwise I don’t feel any different. I just look at it that I’m 70. Moreso my mum is still alive, she is 92 and people still won’t believe her age. I still look at myself as a child of a mother who is alive.
Recently you visited the ancestral home where you were given birth to 70 years ago, what informed that?
As I was told, my mum almost breathed her last at our home, Ile Ekerin Ajengbe, until my paternal grandmother’s older sister, Mama Adeola Alaro saw the danger. I was told life was almost going out of my mother, so she ordered them to pack and took her to her husband’s house. She was the mother of my late uncle, Baba Haroun Durodola whose corpse did not decompose for 16 years after his burial.
She took my mum to their house, SW1/60 Ile Tuntun and that was where I was born and I was told my mum stayed in that house for three days. You know all these African belief, one must comply. I am my parent’s first child. I remembered Daba Durodola was an extremely handsome man and very rich, he was my paternal uncle. I think we are all good looking in our family, both maternal and paternal.
What about your dad? You Hardly Talk About Him.
I can never forget my dad. Pa Oladosu Alabi alias ‘right time’, he was an extremely handsome man, hardworking and very responsible. He was very proud of me, when I entered Secondary School and became the class captain in Primary 2, 3, 4, and the School Mailboy in Primary 5, my father bought me a transistor set in 1963 when I was in Primary 6. He was a great man and very adventurous. He was working with a Dr Williams who was the colonial government medical doctor. When Dr Williams was transferred from Osogbo to Azare in the present Bauchi State, my parents followed him. My mum had to come back to Ibadan so that I could be given birth to in my hometown and not in a strange land. And by the time I grew up, my father was also trading in Yauri near Sokoto, later he moved to Lokoja. I spent my holidays with him in all these places. My father later moved our family to Enugu immediately the city was liberated in 1969 during the civil war. We stayed at number 86, Owerri road, Asata in Enugu where two of my younger sisters attended Queens College. I took part of my interest in travelling from my father.
Looking back, how fulfilled are you?
Since I became an adult I’ve always thanked God for the blessings. Those who know me intimately know that I don’t rush after anything. Before I was born, predictions had been made from both my maternal and paternal side. My mum is from Emure Ekiti, in Emure Ekiti my paternal grandfather, Baba Aaron Omotoso Osotun also contributed to the predictions, particularly my grandmother in Ibadan. They said a week before I was born an itinerant cleric, malim, those genuine prophets of that time came to our house and said there’s a pregnant woman in this house that they should take care of her baby. My birth was similar to that of King Sunny Ade who his parents had to move from Ondo to Osogbo because a prophet came to their house and prophesied that he would be great and bring fame to the family and Nigeria, but on the condition that he must be raised outside their town.
Prediction was made before I was born and the malim after I was born was coming to our house to pray for me for one whole week. When I was told all these and I saw from the pattern of my life that everything had been ordered, anywhere I find myself there is usually promotion, advancement, and I would just laugh because I know about the prediction.
Did the prediction affect your growing up? You must have been pampered and spoilt as a child.
Let me now tell you what happened. At least I’ve grown up to know what I’m saying now. My grandmother also believed that her grandfather, Omolaja Ajengbe, one of the founders of this town who was an Akerin Balogun would reincarnate through her lineage. You know that time there was no scan, when my mother was pregnant they wouldn’t know if the baby was a boy or a girl, the day I was born and she realised I was a boy she told them her grandfather is back. You needed to know my childhood, nobody must beat me…
Even your dad?
I said nobody must beat me. Again, I should not carry load on my head and there were certain duties I was excused from. My grandmother was a very powerful woman, Mama Asimawu Oduola Alabi, she was the woman leader of NCNC under Adegoke Adelabu. she was a powerful politician and a big time textile trader in Lalupon. I could remember some aunties and uncles telling her I would be spoilt, she would take me into privacy, sat me down and said do you hear what they are saying? Don’t cross the border. She drew some borderline for me and once I don’t cross the border, there won’t be any issue.
And you obeyed her laws?
Yes, till today. I am one of those who will comply with any law, but on one condition, if it is not harmful physically, culturally and religiously, otherwise we may have to review that law, but as long as the law is made for public good, we must all comply. I’ve never been defiant, never!
Can You Share Your Childhood Days?
One day Adegoke Adelabu visited his Women Leader who happened to be my grandmother, they were coming from a campaign and they all came to our house. My father had gone to work, my father was very enlightened, he had worked with the British Roundtree company, they make chocolates. The Manager wanted to take him to England but his mother refused. In our house we had electricity and a radiogram. My father had switched off the electricity supply when he left for work, so when Adelabu came, they wanted to switch on the fan and radiogram for him and no one knew how to do that, and my grandmother was pacing up and down in confusion. I asked her, what is it? I was about 7 years old then. I told her to ask someone to climb the chair and pull the switch, Adelabu was impressed and he gave me one shilling. I remembered he told my grandmother there that she should allow me go to Government College, Ibadan. You know Adelabu was the best student in Government College, his records are still at the school unbroken.
When I started school and I was first, that’s why they called me ‘ever first’. At Seventh Day Adventist Primary School, Oke Foko in Ibadan, I was there 1959 to 1963, I was the class captain in Primary 2,3,4, and the School Mailboy in Primary 5. My role as the Mailboy was to leave school on any school day at 11am to go and collect mails at the Seventh Day headquarters at Oke Bola. In my final year I was the Senior Prefect, everything was just falling in place, but I missed going to Government College.
Only two of us purchased the common entrance form. Myself and a classmate, Freeman Tonara, his father was a policeman. We were the only two pupils our parents could afford to buy the forms. So I filled Government College, Ibadan and Government College, Ughelli as my second choice.
In preparation of the First Leaving School Examination, the officials came to our school to inspect and they found just an arm of Primary 6, whereas the law then was that any school must have two arms minimum of primary 6. I wouldn’t know why the school management sent away some of our mates in Primary 5, many were asked to repeat and some were demoted to Primary 4. It was just few of us that got to Primary 6. So, when the officials came they said no, this is too few. So they went back to the Ministry and they asked for us to be distributed to nearby schools. Some of us were sent to Bioku Primary school, I and some others were sent to Ansarudeen Primary School. It has never happened and in the confusion our headmistress, Mrs Ola forgot to submit our forms. When they were making announcements on the radio, my grandmother followed me to school to know my centre for the Government College exams, the headmistress broke down in tears when we got there, she had forgotten to submit our forms. The odd part is this, Mr Tonara, the police officer came into the school and was shouting, he was threatening to sue the headmistress. He demanded the refund of the form right there, but my grandmother didn’t, she said it wasn’t the fault of the headmistress.
It was Mrs Ola, the headmistress who now told my grandmother that there is a new school near Government College called African Church Grammar School and that the principal is a disciplinarian. So instead of her refunding our 10 shillings, 6 pence, she went to purchase the African Church Grammar School form for me and that was how I ended up at African Church Grammar school, and I thank God, but my first son, Olayemi attended the Government College, Ibadan.
Can you remember some of your classmates?
Some of my closest friends are dead now. I remember Segun Adelaja, Femi Akeredolu, Abayomi Adegbesan. it’s a mixed school, I have some women that we are still in touch, they are now respectable grandmothers, Yemisi Daniel, Wura Olukotun, the late Mrs Kalejaye, Sola Sonoiki was the closest to me among the female because we were the best in English and Literature. We had a teacher who loved and was proud of both of us, Mrs Margaret Odu who was formerly Margaret Spiff. I also remember Olumide Odusote.
What were the things you did as a boy?
In Yoruba culture, responsibility is placed on the firstborn, they would want you to be a role model to your siblings. I had that responsibility, which means I must lead by good examples. Secondly, my grandmother was dreaming of an Adegoke Adelabu in me and from that angle too the expectation was high. Now I can see that my grandmother, my dad, mother and others could see the future. I was taught about our ancestry, the aristocracy, the leadership, the exploits of my progenitors, so I was raised in that mould. My grandmother ensured all that. I would spend part of my holidays in Emure Ekiti with my maternal grandfather where my uncle was also the late Elemure, Oba Oshin. There’s royalty on both sides of my family.
Then my school, Seventh Day Adventist mission school, Western Region used to organise an annual camp meeting for 2 weeks, it was just like the NYSC scheme. Our parents would pay and we would attend the camp with our mats and other utensils. There, they would mix all those would afford to come on a large field. The first one I attended was at Ede, we went by train. They put us on the field and select at random and we would be put through leadership training and endurance. Despite being a Muslim nobody ever raised an idea of conversion, they were good in those times. Liberalism was ensured. My name is Abdulrasheed and I attended Seventh Day Christian School. The training was of a high standard and it moulded our lives in orderliness, discipline and fairness. I also engaged in the activities of youngsters of those days, I played table tennis and visited Baba Jebe. Baba Jebe was at the place where the present Central Mosque at Oja Oba is, he was a bicycle repairer. We would go there and rent bicycles. I also played table tennis at Oloja, Gege and I played ‘Toronto’.
What is Toronto?
It’s what we called bootless soccer. I had a great time as a boy.
How did you come into journalism?
It was deliberate. After my Secondary School, there was an exam called prelim that you take to enter the university which I took in 1970. The centre was at the Polytechnic, Ibadan, and I was a village school teacher, that was my first job ever, at St John’s Anglican Primary School, Akinajo near Arulogun. That was the practice at that time, you had to get a job to prepare yourself till when the results come out, or you go straight to HSC. I was in Akinajo enjoying my life. On Fridays, I would come home. The ‘atokowagbowonle’ band that you see now, some of them were my pupils and they were staying beneath my apartment, the building was an official quarters and I was staying up. Anytime they were misbehaving, their father would come and call out to me ‘teacher’ and they would all run away. Their father was the official drummer of the NCNC and when he got to know that I was the son of ‘MamaI Ile Ekerin Ajengbe’ (that was what they used to call my grandmother) wow!
So, one day he called me and asked why I was always going to Ibadan on weekends, he told me I can also enjoy myself at the village. He had an engagement that weekend and he took me. I was at a VIP, they put all sort of food and meats in front of me and I decided I was no longer going to spend the weekend in Ibadan again. But unknown to me, my admission letter into the University of Ife was at home, nobody knew Akinajo in my family. They didn’t know the content and they didn’t open the letter. When I got the salary for that month and came home, they gave me the letter and I opened it, I realised the interview had been conducted. I was the first passenger on that old Ife road that morning to the University of Ife. I’ve been saying this that I hope the admission officer was still alive. When I got to the office and he saw me, he shouted at me asking why I was just coming, that I came first in the exams. Despite not knowing me, he was taking me from office to office and was trying to present my case, but in those days there were standards and nothing could be done, it’s not now that there is a shortcut to everything. They said what they would do for me is that I would not write the coming year exam. That month I left the village and was looking for another job in the city.
That year Onibonje Publishers at Felele advertised for the position of an Accounts Clerk, and I was very poor in mathematics, but I felt since they are a publishing company I could have experience in printing. So, I applied, did the written exams and the oral interview. Around 4pm they called us out and said when you hear your name, stand here. They started calling names and they called the last name and said these are the successful candidates, they now turned to us and said we were not qualified and we could apply whenever there was a notice for vacancy again. Later they asked ‘who among you is Mr Lekan Alabi?’ and I raised my hand, so they asked me to step aside and there they told me that I came first but my mathematics was very poor, but that because of my performance they would appoint me the first Editorial Assistance of the company. I was glad, because that was exactly what I was looking for, and that was how I became the first Editorial Assistant of the company.
At Onibonje my boss was the younger brother of Baba Onibonje who was the Chairman. Our department dealt with all manuscripts and as the editorial assistant, they would bring all manuscript to my table, whatever comment I wrote on any manuscript is what I would pass to my boss, and he never changed whatever comment I made. Whether to accept or reject, they rely on my judgement. So Sketch newspaper now advertised position for Reporters, Writers, Readers Grade 2 and I applied. The interview was conducted by Sketch management and the Western State Ministry of Establishment. Nigeria used to have standards. Those of us who passed were invited for an interview, and only two of us were employed, I and Baba Goke Morenikeji, he assumed duty a week ahead of me because I needed to give Onibonje a notice that I was leaving.
At Sketch they put me on the Yoruba desk called ‘GbohunGbohun’. Sketch in those days used to be Sunday Sketch and ‘Gbohungbohun’ was the Yoruba version.
I was a regular at WNTV. I had a column titled ‘MO RI FIIRI’. I forgot to tell you that I was very good in Yoruba, I had distinctions. In my column, I was writing about current issues. So one day I went to a party and I saw a band playing just exactly like Ebenezer Obey’s. When they had a break I went to them because I knew all the band members of Ebenezer Obey at that time. I was a member of ‘Come Let’s Dance’, I dance very well and I was also a member of Chief Afolabi Majekodunmi’s King of Boys Circle. It was a social circle at that time. Baba Majekodunmi was a big-time transporter that, he was the King of boys, he likes boys flocking around him. He drives a Chevrolet and he would take us to parties. If you don’t dress well he would tell you not to follow him. He taught us many things, he was grooming us socially, and that time he had his eyes for those of us that are brilliant and had focus. It was the focus that led me to journalism and I became a great writer, I thank God for what He had done for me and I’m still thanking Him for what he is doing.
So I attended the party and interviewed Makanjuola the manager of the band that sounded like Ebenzer Obey. I asked if they were Ebenezer Obey’s second band, he flared up and told me they were all copying Tunde Nightingale. I wrote the article and gave it to the editor of Sunday Sketch, the late Mr Philip Bamidele Adedeji. He published it and it caused trouble. People never believed I wrote the story because it was well written. He called me and said the article I wrote was standard for my age and experience and that it raised dust and he asked if I was the author and when I said yes, he asked me to write another article. I learnt there was a play going on at Obisesan Hall that night, I bought a ticket, went there and reviewed the play and gave it to him. He was so happy. He now said I should go to the photo section where they took my picture while the editor designed the montage and named the page WHATS HAPPENING. it was a review of play, books, theatre by Lekan Alabi, it was a very popular column and I became the first dual columnist in Yoruba and English, not only in Sketch but in this country. From Sketch I now went for my professional training in London at the College of Journalism 62, Fleet Street.
When I came back I joined NTV, from there I became one of the pioneer staffers of TSOS, Television Service Of Oyo State in 1982. I was later seconded to Governor’s Office under Governor Bola Ige as Press Secretary. We won the 1983 election, but FEDECO said otherwise and the rest is history. But instead of allowing me to go back to TSOS the government of Dr Victor Olunloyo said no and anybody who returned to either O.Y.O or TSOS were sacked, many were sacked and many were transferred. So they were all begging but I refused to beg. My father and uncle were puzzled, they were socialites of that and friends with Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu. My father went to Adedibu, and Adedibu said ‘Lekan Alabi? Ijesa Ni Omo yen!. That was because I was so loyal to Bola Ige. He said they should bring me, but I refused. I said i would not beg. All the pro-Ige in the civil service were sacked, they were calling us UPN sympathizers. So I was home for three months without a job. Lo and behold! There was a coup. I could remember the headlines in the newspapers then ‘Happy New Year, Happy New Government because the coup took place on the 31st of December, 1983. My father was looking at me and was wondering, was this the reason this boy refused to beg? Did he know there was going to be a coup? He summoned the family meeting the next Sunday and relinquished the leadership of the family to me. The leadership of the whole Alabi family!
The following month, I was reappointed as the Press Secretary to Governor Oladayo Popoola. There were many miracles in my life. My letter of the appointment came but the officials said they couldn’t locate me, they were lying. The new government ordered all the people dismissed, suspended and penalized by the civilian government to return so that the new government can set up a special investigation panel to look at the case.
One afternoon I was at the Total fuelling station at Bodija when one of our uncles, Engineer Popoola who was a cousin to the Military Governor saw me and asked ‘Lekan, how is your boss? I thought he was referring to Bola Ige and I said ‘Oga has been taken to Lagos’. He said I wasn’t talking about Chief Bola Ige. I now approached him and he asked why I’ve not resumed. It was through him I heard I’ve been appointed. He asked me to come to his house in the evening, I went there and he told me the Governor said they couldn’t locate me and he was already thinking of appointing another person. He now said if I was still interested I should come to the office the next day. That second day I wore one of my best suits. When I got to work I pinched myself, I felt I was dreaming.
Working with Bola Ige at that time must have pitched you against Dr Omololu Olunloyo?
Dr Olunloyo wrote the foreword to my book.
So you never had any problem with him?
Nothing personal. Till now he still calls me. You need to read my book, Speaking for Governors and what he wrote in the foreword of my book. Let me quote him, he said ‘he would have loved to retain me as his Press Secretary but for some do-gooders, that they didn’t want Lekan Alabi’.
What did you learn from that experience?
I learnt that destiny can never be changed. Remember my beginning and the predictions. For Dr Olunloyo to have accepted to write the foreword, it was enough gratitude. For him to have written that he would have loved to retain me. Governments must be careful, particularly when they are new. There are people that would come, give bad advice in the sense that they want to take a pound of flesh. They are there in one’s family, group and religious sectors. Anything that has to do with leadership. May God give them good advisers and aides that are God-fearing. People that won’t call white black.
You Had an Unbeatable Experience working with 4 different Governors, How did you achieve that?
Yes, I worked with one civilian and three Military Governors as a Press Secretary. Let me just tell you this, it’s my destiny. The last person I worked with, Brigadier Sasaenia Adedeji Oresanya didn’t even tell me anything. It was at the tail end of his government in 1989 that he asked me to make a request and that he would grant it. That was March 30, 1989. And I asked him to sponsor me to Hajj. He was surprised, so he sponsored me and I left his service as Press Secretary. The day we were going to Hajj was the day the Odua Board was also meeting and the Military Governors were the heads of the board. So Oresanya was the current chairman then. So when we were about leaving for Hajj, one of the protocol officers, Kola Fatunbi saw me, they went to pick the food for the Odua Board at the government house and he shouted ‘egbon congratulations’. I thought he was greeting me for Hajj and I was thinking what’s the big deal. He now said ‘you have been appointed the Public Affairs Officer of Odua. They’ve already taken the press release of your appointment to media houses’.
You know why the Governor did that? When he came I was coordinating the publicity promotion for ODUA INVESTMENT COMPANY LIMITED. Idiagbon and Buhari said they should stop rotating meetings between Akure, Ibadan and Abeokuta. so the meeting was holding in Ibadan permanently and he asked me how much they paid me and I said I wasn’t paid, I was then coordinating the AGM and also their publicity. I think he found out from the secretary to the Military Government that i wasn’t getting paid for that. That was how the job came. so when I arrived Hajj whenever they were doing special prayers I would just be like, God Me? What a gift!
What did you attribute all that to?
Destiny. Although the prediction may not be specific, but in clear terms, they said I would be great. I told you the drill I went through from my grandmother, my grandfather, my parents. They always sound it to my ear ‘leaders don’t do this, leaders don’t do that’.
You learnt from a lot from great people, you sat at the feet of giants. Who would moulded you say moulded you to what you become?
All of them had hands in it. I told people this, when great men and women accept you into their inner recess please don’t bring any personal problems to them, particularly financial problems. Don’t raise it, because they will be scared. Let them see their values in you. The late Parakoyi of Ibadanland, Chief Bode Akindele is a man of standards, extreme protocol and if I would say with all due respect that our association lasted for 36 years. Look at the first lady Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mama Folake Solanke, look at Bola Ige, Dr Yemi Farounbi…these are great people but they welcomed me into their fold. I always ask myself what they see in me. I’ve never lost my sense of self-discipline and i don’t ask them for money. I also remember Arisekola Alao of blessed memory. Chief Ebenezer Obey too. I danced live in front of Obey 50 years ago at the Oyenuga’s party. That was where we struck our friendship and by the time I became the social page editor of Sunday Sketch in 1974, they all became my friends. If you needed anything to do with reviews, plays you must come to my desk. There were just three Sunday papers in Nigeria then. The great Sunday Times, Sunday Sketch and also Punch started i think as weekly then.
Working with four governors, was there any particular time your work put you in trouble?
Ah! I had issues with MKO Abiola who was my mentor. Everybody knew we were so close. He would invite me to come to Lagos when he had matters to discuss. Also Kabiyesi Arapasowu Olubadan, I was his confidant. I was his official director of protocols and confidant. When kabiyesi wants to discuss something in confidence with me, none of his family members, even wives must stay with us. Oba Yinusa Bankola Ogundipe. I was his confidant.
What happened at that time, Alaafin of Oyo, Ikubababa yeye was going to make MKO Abiola the Aare Ona Kakanfo and the relationship between Governor Olurin and Alaafin Adeyemi was stormy. I was a press secretary to Governor Olurin at that time. so Abiola invited Babangida who was the Head Of State to the installation in Oyo, but Babangida sent the Chief of Air Force, Alfa to represent him and my boss was already in a ceremonial army uniform because it was going to be a big ceremony and we were at the Government House waiting to receive the representative of the Head of State. They had sent a signal a day before that Babangida was not coming but that he would send a representative. So when Alfa drove into the Government House he wore a civilian dress.
Are you asking me? I don’t know. So my boss saluted him and Alfa said it was a private thing that Olurin shouldn’t bother to go, that he should go to his work. Alfa went to Oyo and asked us to step back. Abiola got furious and when he was interviewed and they asked why the Military Governors did not attend his installation, Abiola said ‘all those ones are eaglet Governors’…eaglet Governors? A full colonel of the Nigerian Army who fought in Lebanon and won medals. Then Raji Rasaki and Akhigbe you called them eaglet Governors? I wrote a rejoinder which rubbished MKO Abiola and it was published. The tone was ‘what do you take yourself for…’
And he was your friend?
Ah, I was avoiding him. If I see him at any function I would hide, but he later wrote a letter of apology.
Did he reach out to you after your rejoinder was published?
Ah! In the military days? Security would be watching out for you to see if you are double-dealing. That would be too dangerous. It’s best to be straightforward. All the people that know us together, particularly his family stigmatized me. Later they now transferred Olurin and I started working with Oresanya. The University of Ibadan was launching one foundation and Abiola was the toast of any foundation at that time. so he came to the University of Ibadan. That time was different, not unlike now when thousands follow a Governor everywhere he goes. That time only four of us would follow the Governor out. The ADC, Director of Protocol, NSO and the Press secretary, definitely we would be standing behind the Governor. When I saw Abiola at the event, I was scared.
Did he see you?
I was behind my oga and his back was also turned to me, so I pulled a straight face, but the MC broke the ice as he recognized the VIPs, he now said my senior, Akogun Lekan Alabi is also here. So Abiola looked back and said ‘oh, you are here?’ Akogun Apaye, (he used to call me that) I quickly went to him and he said he would be sleeping in Ibadan that day and we should meet. I went to meet him at the vice-chancellors chalet and he asked me why I was running from him, he said you did your job, any good press secretary would do what you did. I was like ‘so you were not angry?’ He asked me to come on Sunday and I went to his Ikeja home and that was how it ended. He told me my life history that day. You know he was also not an ordinary being?
Again when I was 60, we had a party at the Civic Centre. A week to my party Alaafin lost his eldest daughter, Princess Akofade, she died at the UCH so Alaafin couldn’t attend. Later he sent me a message to choose any weekend and that he would host me and my family. He also asked me to come with the media to the palace in Oyo. We chose a date but suddenly Sikiru Ayinde Barrister too died, we mourned him for a week and we now went to Oyo. Alaafin threw a feast, the media were present and he gave a speech where he spoke for over an hour and he said so many things about me. You know he also had issues with Bola Ige and Olurin? He said throughout that period I never issued a statement against him. That people in position as advisers should learn a lesson that one day they would leave the office. That time it was God that saved me. People went behind to tell Olurin that I was close to Alaafin and that I always go to Oyo, but my uncle was in Oyo for over 40 years and I must go and visit him. My advice is for those who manage whatever they claim to manage for Presidents and Governors, they should all be careful. How can you be insulting personalities and important people? You can go to issues, but don’t personalize to please your bosses.
At 70, how do you feel about the present situation of the country?
This is not the Nigeria our fathers and mothers dreamed of. Nigeria of their dream and the one we met was Nigeria of merit. You get things by merits and not by who you know. When you get things by merit, your colleagues and people you are in the same class will respect you. But for the Federal Government to be talking quota and giving admission to those who scored 20 percent, there’s no way the ones with the 80 percent will not look down on the quota candidate. Because if not for the Federal Character, it can’t be so. The Federal Military Government under Ironsi turned Nigeria to a Unitary system. Whatever happens in Gombe must happen in Owerri without considering the culture, resources and the needs of the people. It is a deception to be saying Nigeria is one, we are a country of many nations. so we should copy regionalism with fewer jobs for the Federal Government. Let us go back and do it as it was done in the past. Western Region had Agent-General in the UK, Eastern Region had, Northern Region also ha, then Nigeria had High Commissioners. All these confabs, restructuring…how many confabs have we had? Go to the reports, implement them. But the first thing to do is to decentralize the system back to what they call true Federalism. Ironsi turned the government to provinces because he had a hidden agenda. Zik said it’s only a matter of time when the Igbos will take over Nigeria, that was before the Nzeogwu coup. Unification decree of Ironsi meant they could transfer civil servants from Kano to Ogoja, they could transfer from Ibadan to Katsina. Then you look at it, what is our size in the Federal Civil Service? Sir Ahmadu Bello is my number 1 man. he was a realist who was telling Zik, Awolowo and others before they got the independence that we should sort our differences before we go into the union, but they said let us take independence first, Ahamdu Bello was telling them they should resolve because we are not the same, he was saying that, in reality, and pragmatism. He was my number 1 nationalist. Another thing about him was the love for culture, what he wanted to be in life was to be the Sardauna of Sokoto. They predicted when his mother was pregnant that he would be the reincarnation of Usman Dan Fodio. Despite that the British handed power to him, he chose Sir Tafawa Balewa to become the Prime Minister. I can’t see that happening in present Nigeria. Ahmadu Bello was not interested in Prime Ministership, he only wanted to become the Sardauna. Another thing, I’ve said it that if anybody can show me the picture of Sardauna in suit, that I would give the person a million naira on the spot.
He never wore a suit?
I’m yet to see the picture of him wearing a suit. I also stopped wearing suits in 2002 when I was promoted from Mogaji to Jagun- Olubadan. Ever before I quit government service, I’ve always loved traditional attires. I’m a real Yoruba man. That time when I was working with the government I was wearing the best suits in the world. I was going to Italy to buy suits. But the day I became the Jagun Olubadan in 2002 I said bye to foreign clothes and started wearing strictly traditional attires. Because promotion, enhancement should not be exterior but interior. You must follow your culture, embrace it and be sincere.
You are a practicing Muslim and also a cultural ambassador, how do you fuse that?
Culture and religion are parallel, they are both from God almighty. There are over 200 religions in the world. The two most popular ones are Islam and Christianity, the Ifa worshippers too will say God, Jews have their own and culture is the identification of each tribe with names, dresses, food, language music and philosophy which are all from God. They will never meet because they are parallel. They still promote and practice their culture in Israel, the same as Saudi Arabia. It is the black man, thank God we are also waking up. The Chinese and Japanese have woken up. Look at the Queen of England, if I’m correct she is the longest-serving monarch in the world. There are certain things and cultures they observe during the installation of the Queen, but it’s not always shown to the world. Many things they hide, yet they are advancing. Modern-day Israel was created in 1948, it’s now a world power. Every year Saudi Arabia develops facilities for pilgrims.
You are the Ekefa-Olubadan, the 6th in line to the throne and you are just 70 years. Had there ever been a time an Olubadan was that young?
Olubadan Kobiowu was the youngest Olubadan. He became Olubadan at 50 in 1964. But what the Ibadan Traditional Chieftancy system pronounces is the order of God almighty based on destiny. Anyone who would become Olubadan must have chosen the crown from heaven. It’s not by might, it’s not by exams, it’s just destiny. And there are 3 stages as i was told by the late Oba Arapasowu. He said the three major celebrations in the life of an Ibadan man and his family is the day your father’s family chooses you as the Mogaji, he said if the mother of a Mogaji is alive, she should be reeling on the floor because her son becomes the head of her husband’s clan. You know at that time they don’t get pregnant before marriage, so there’s no way a bastard would come into the family. The second celebration is when a Mogaji is promoted and the third which is the grandest is when an Olubadan is crowned. The king of this verse town, stretching from Asejire to places. Is that a town or a country? For you to become the traditional head and the symbol of Ibadanland with our economic power and social power, it’s a matter of destiny. Once God said you will become an Olubadan, it’s a matter of time, place and how.
Why did you leave the Odua Group 6 years ahead of your retirement?
I just decided to leave when the ovation was loudest. Something just told me to leave. The GMD at that time, Adebayo Jimoh didn’t want to approve my letter, even the other Directors, they were trying to persuade me not to go, but I told them it is a great honour. Some people were chased out of office, I needed to go that time but I’m a friend of Odua. If you need me anytime, I would be available. You know Odua survived Babangida’s decree? Babangida decreed the dissolution of Odua after the Gideon Orka coup. He said any meeting that allows governors to be meeting to be dissolved, funnily they didn’t lift a finger against the NNDC, Kaduna. They set up a body of trustees marking out things to sell. So I ran to MKO Abiola, I waited for about 9 hours to see him. When he saw me he was scared and was like, Oloye, what happened? I said it’s a serious matter. I didn’t go for my sake, but for the sake of the Yorubaland, do you know what that means? To dismantle Odua? I told Abiola everything, and between 12 am that he saw me and 5 am, the matter was resolved. I remembered vividly what he said that night, ‘go and tell my people, nothing can remove Olumo, nothing can remove Oke Badan, Odua will stay’ and I said thank you sir and that was it!
At 70, what are the things that would change in you?
The doctors did certain prescriptions on what you should eat, drink once you are 40. There was an article I once read in a magazine ‘how to fire your boss’. The author outlined some things you must do before you get fired …like paying all your mortgage, your children must be out of school, don’t get caught in any court case, pray against illness… I carried that book about and I said I was going to follow that. The day our last born graduated, I was glad. So my retirement was planned, timed.
Now, I’m engaged in syndicated writings, lectures and seminars, the traditional title and duties increased and I have 3 weekly live radio analysis that keeps my brain very alert. I do exercise and I love eating amala.
What about music?
The whole world will tell you, Yusuff Olatunji is my number 1. Not only because he was my father’s friend or that his band played at my naming ceremony, but I tell people just listen to him, the philosophy. Listen to his lead drummer, Kasumu Isola. For a band to have remained together for close to 50 years without breaking up, it tells a lot about him. If you see his house at Lafenwa, Governor Osoba changed the name of the street to his name.
For someone that doesn’t seek financial favour from people, how rich are you?
Prosperity is better than richness. Richness is the balance of the money in your bank accounts, but when you are prosperous, you have more than enough for your need, people will think you are richer than what they say. Again, there is contentment. Even if you are the richest man in the world, contentment is key.