Oba Ajayi, the Elerinmo of Erinmo is one Oba that many will find fascinating when they meet. To begin with, he is a very warm and charming personality. He depicts what a contemporary king should sound and look like. He is affable and warms up to people very easily. But what would probably impress you the most is his depth of knowledge of the Yoruba origin and transition of the Yoruba race. And he is extremely intelligent and articulate too. His idea of what modern kingship should be like is very contemporary, and this perhaps explains why he enjoys a pretty close relationship with the Ooni of Ife whom he shares similar ideals with. A couple of weeks ago, at the launching of the new City People TV, Oba Ajayi who was Royal Father of the Day at the event took time off to speak with City People Senior Editor, WALE LAWAL, about his humble beginning and rise to the throne of his forefathers. Here are excerpts of the interview.
Kabiyesi, I know that for a while you were stationed in Ghana doing business before you ascended the throne of your forefathers, please give us a bit more about your background.
Thank you very much, it’s a pleasure to be here at the launch of the City People TV. I have been a player in the corporate world, I started my career with the largest corporation at that time, the conglomerate called UAC of Nigeria Plc, in 1988, I think. I spent a decade with them and moved on to another conglomerate, Nigerian German Chemicals and from there I was seconded to Ghana. From Nigerian German Chemicals, I went to another multinational as vice-president for Africa and from there I started out on my own and became the DG of Ghana-Nigeria Chamber of Commerce. I mounted the throne as Elerinmo of Erinmo in July 2014. This July will be my 5th coronation anniversary.
It’s been five years on the throne, sir, how has it been for you transiting from a businessman to a king who now has his lifestyle regimented to suit royalty?
The first major change in my life is the fact that my freedom has been curtailed. It’s a position that requires discipline. People only look at the glamour of being a king, but beyond the glamour there’s a huge level of sacrifice that is required in being a king. Number three is the fact that, as a private individual you’re responsible for yourself and possibly for your immediate family and those you choose to be responsible for. But being a king means that you’re compelled to be responsible for the entire community whether you like it or not. So, you could be sleeping and assuming there are no problems and then suddenly people just come up with issues. And we are not like politicians. A politician might make promises and not be able to fulfill them and nothing will happen, but a king cannot try that because he lives within the people and its his legacy that will be kept for generations to come. The things that my own forefathers did when they were on the throne, I’m being told today. If it’s good, you will bear the benefit, so we cannot lie to the people. Number five is that we’re the closest to the people and I keep saying this to the government, if the government really wants to improve the welfare of the people, since over sixty percent of the people reside in the rural areas, it’s important to begin to work with the traditional rulers and the local government, which is why I was happy when I heard that the local government authorities will be given some autonomy because if somebody says he’s combating crime, how can you be combating crime when you’re not relating with the lowest level of management? You know, in Africa before the colonial masters came, the kings were the ones in charge of administration, in charge of justice, in charge of policing, in charge of virtually everything until the colonial people came. So, this is where we need to go back to in a reformed way. So, yes, a lot has changed, but this is my calling, my divine calling, so I am where God wants me to be and I enjoy what I’m doing and I love it. I thank God almighty.
Before you ascended the throne, sir, were you ever told as a young child that someday you would become a king?
Yes, a lot. Even before my mother got married to my father, she ran into somebody who just told her, you’re a lucky woman, you’re going to give birth to a king. It was a prophecy, but of course she didn’t take it serious. When she got pregnant of me and it was about three months, she was called up again by somebody and the person said, ‘you have to be careful how you move around, the child you’re carrying is going to be a king’ and again she didn’t believe. I remember when I was fourteen years old and I was somewhere with my mother and somebody was praying and as he was praying he suddenly stopped and prostrated and said, ‘kabiyesi o.’ Then he said, ‘ah, this boy is going to become king o, the crown is already sitting on his head.’ So, I’ve heard several prophecies like that but I never put my mind to them. But I thank God because it’s not everybody that is prophesied to get something that eventually gets there. People miss their track along the line, so I thank God the prophecies were made and they were fulfilled. And you know, I’m from Erinmo and Erinmo has the most spiritually potent prayer mountains in Nigeria. Even before I became king, precisely fifty nine years before I became king, a prediction was made as to me becoming king even before I was born. There was a prediction with a full description of my person and how it will happen and it was confirmed to me when I mounted the throne with the evidence.
Where were you born and raised, sir?
I was born in Wesley Guild Hospital in Ilesa, but I was raised all over Nigeria. I’m a total Nigerian. I started my primary school with Bishop Smith in Ilorin, spent one year in Government Secondary School before we moved to Kaduna. In Kaduna, I was in Command School and then we moved to a boarding school in Lagos. And after a short stint at Ikeja Grammar School I went to Command Secondary School as the second pioneering set and from there went to the University for my Degree and graduated at twenty. I started working and then went back to school for my MBA and I’ve been honoured with a PhD too. So, I’ve been all over Nigeria and my first wife is Igbo. So, I’m a total Nigerian now retired in my domain in Erinmo, Ijesa, Osun State.
It just occurred to me to ask you, kabiyesi, at the time you were announced as the next king of Erinmo, were there voices rising up from some quarters saying they would contest that decision?
Yes, there was. Truth is there’s no kingship in this modern age that will not be contested and the Yorubas say, ‘Ote lo man mo ye dun.’ If you have just been given something on a platter of gold without any resistance then it may not be that valuable to you. Although I would say the pocket of resistance was just about two per cent, nothing significant, even though there was court litigation before I mounted the throne, but God almighty determines who goes on the throne. I’m not the only prince from my family, neither am I the only one entitled to it, but God has already ordained me to be king even before my birth, so I thank God almighty and I thank my people for the support.
I know you must’ve done a few things for your people within the short time you’ve been on the throne, what are some of the pressing things you’re still hoping to put in place for your people as quickly as you possibly can?
My hope and my intention is to put Erinmo on the world map, this is my mission. Essentially, I started with the strategy of empowering my people, making them better educated because I am well educated. Also, my father was the first university graduate from my town, so I come from a pedigree of a family with a good education. So, I have started a scheme where there are good vocational schools right now where people can learn IT and know how to use the computer. People are acquiring skills that they could use in other vocations such as tailoring, decoration, cake making, all sorts and we’re equipping them. The next thing for me now is to move on to the stage of infrastructural development, hoping there would be some form of federal government presence in Erinmo.
We also understand that you have a close relationship with the Ooni of Ife and from what we hear, it’s a relationship that goes way back. Tell us about how this relationship started.
Okay, let me start by saying, as a king, ‘wiwo lenu awo nwo.’ The translation is that, as a king, it’s not everything I will be able to reveal. But I am very, very close to him for several reasons. One, all Yoruba people came from Ile-Ife, Ile-Ife is the source of mankind, so, anybody who is a royal father must have a very close affinity and relationship with Ife. Number two is that we are kings of about the same generation. I became king in 2014 and he became king a year or so after. We are also kings who share similar ideals. For instance, I was close to the former Ooni, the late Sijuade, but there was a huge gap in our age. Late Ooni was eighty-something years of age, there was a limit to how I could relate freely with him on every form. But this is a case where I can relate freely with this particular Ooni. Four, we have an idea to change the form of the traditional institution from its negative perception in certain quarters. First of all, a long time ago, you wouldn’t even be sitting down interviewing a king. People got scared of kingship and so on. But in this age and time, you’ll realize that the same person you had known as a prince is the same one who has now become a king. And the only way we can bring improvement to the throne is for us to draw people nearer to us and discuss developmental projects. And one of the things we’ve been doing is to go round the world and link up with our old children who were taken away as slaves several decades ago to places like Brazil where we have over a hundred million blacks. And I think that outside Nigeria, that’s where we have the largest concentration of blacks and most of them were taken from Yoruba land, so it’s important that we reconnect. What we hope to do is to turn Nigeria, Yoruba land, into another pilgrimage point, so that our people, black Americans, blacks in Cuba, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago to also visit and reconnect with their foundation because many of them are confused. So, these are the reasons why the affinity and closeness are there.