Oba Adesesan Oguntayo, the Ajalorun of Ijebu-Ife will be 85 in a few days time. And he is obviously in a joyous mood. He has a lot to be happy about. He enjoys good health. He is up and doing. He keeps looking refreshingly young. At 85, he reads without glasses. He does not use a walking stick. He still swims. And he is as fit as a fiddle.
Two Sundays back, City People paid Kabiyesi a courtesy call at his expansive private residence in Ijebu-Ife, near Ijebu-Ode, in Ogun State.
He was all alone by his expansive swimming pool. He was in a flowing white agbada. Because the weather was hot, we had to move inside, into his living room, to conduct his birthday interview. As we all settled in, we asked him for the secret of his youthful look.
Sir, you are always looking younger and younger, we fired the first shot. What is the secret?
He smiled. “Is that so? Well, the secret of longevity depends on the individual, the way you see life and the Grace of God. You see people who will commit a lot of atrocities in life, yet God will give them the Grace to live long and those things that were counted against them are waved aside. The Grace of God, the sort of undeserved benefitted, favour from God. So that is the most important thing and I value it. It is the grace of God that is in me. Going back to my birth history, by the Grace of God. And then the way you take life, your lifestyle, the way you listen to experts, what you eat and everything in moderation, can help. Once you do everything in moderation, there’s a possibility of living long and healthy, barring any accident and the judgment of God. When God says you have to come now, there’s nothing you can do. If your time to leave this world is not ripe, nobody can kill you. God will still protect you. So those are the facts that I think have helped me to be what I am and most importantly our maker. You have to have faith in Almighty God. Any young man or person knowing and believing that there’s a creator in this Universe and as Christians and Muslims claim that we are going to account for everything we do on earth and of course, God is the main backbone of all we do.
As Christians, we believe that the blood of Jesus can assist in cleansing all our sins so that everything will not be visited on us. Christ came to make the supreme sacrifice for human beings because that is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. God gave us His only begotten son that those who believe in him will not perish but have eternal life. After this life, there’s a place for us, where we shall live with our God. So those are the factors that lead you to worship your God, have faith in your God and believe in God through the prophets. We Christians believe that Jesus is our Saviour, our redeemer, while the Muslims believe through Mohammed (SAW). But the difference is just clear. Jesus first came which they accept too. The Muslims call him Anabi Isa, that‘s our Lord Jesus Christ. But the difference between Christianity and Islam is the belief that Jesus existed with God right from creation. He was there when the earth was created and that God the father of our Lord Jesus, manifests himself in three (3) personalities “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit” That is our Christian faith and we both believe in only one God, the Muslims believe that God is a spirit and that Jesus is the son of God”.
His birthday is in a few days, we wanted him to tell us what was on his mind.
“As for this year’s birthday, there is nothing to make any noise about because of what is happening in the country. We are expecting another election in 2023. And with the condition of things in this country now, we have to continue to pray to God, Politicians are thinking of Power, not the People. They want to rule, so the situation is so complex. As far as I’m concerned, it’s going to be low-key, in fact, I don’t think I am going to make any noise about my 85th birthday. Prior to this time, I used to sort of glorify God, thank God, call people to rejoice with me and praise God for keeping me alive and for living up to this old age, but the circumstances in the country does not really make anybody happy, the leadership, the struggles, political atmosphere. From now till the next year will be very unpredictable. So, I am going to do it quietly and that’s my plan.”
When he looks at happening around his society, how does it make him feel?
“You see I feel happy as far as I am concerned. I was born in this town 85 years ago and April is my 85th birthday. I was born in Ijebu-Ife, lived in Ijebu-Ife, schooled in Ijebu-Ife and when it was time to go to Secondary School, I went to Ijebu-Ode, I was admitted into Ijebu-Ode Grammar School, I am part of the society. I thank God I am the head of this community (community leader not political leader) and I thank the community where I was born. I feel happy that things have changed considerably, politically, economically, traditionally, religiously, seeing that and what life is now.”
He has been on the throne for over 25 years and he has been able to pull the community together. What are the principles he used? How easy was it to get them to see things his way?
“Well, when I became the Ajalorun in 1996, being the second educated Oba, I virtually met nothing. I am the 42nd Ajalorun. There was virtually nothing on the ground and I realised I had to start from scratch with community development. I told my people there are three (3) factors that make a complete and progressive town. If you come to this town, you will notice 3 very important things. I told them people will look and ask: where is the place of worship of the people staying in this town? Do they know God? Do they believe in God? So they will notice the place of worship. If there is no place of worship, then that means they are pagans. So the place of worship is important. 2nd is the Market place. Where is the market for the economical development of the town? What sort of markets do they have in the town, because the market determines the economic situation and to get a place where people can buy and sell and keep body and soul together.
Next, the visitors will find out: who is the leader of this community? Where does he live? Where the leader of the community lives determines the sort of leadership he’s exhibiting or is going to give to the people. So those are the factors (the place of worship, market, the palace of the people), I was conscious of these and apart from the small market in the centre of the town, which they still manage, I thought that we have to put in very important institutions and places for the people. We thank God that above all problems, we have achieved many things. In this town, we have churches, we have mosques and on my first year anniversary, I organised funds for the Central mosque people came to my assistance and we built a reputable Central mosque. Yesterday, the new Imam and spiritual heads were installed. It was a really successful outing at the new mosque and the churches are also doing well. Apart from the main churches, the Anglican, Catholic, Baptist, and the White garment, there are over many churches in Ijebu-Ife now because I used to organise Vigil and they used to come to the palace every month. I think I have been able to do that based on well-organised and improved worship. With the market, we had some problems in 2009 when the Area Commander from Ijebu-Ode was trying to help my people here during a political struggle and they killed the Area Commander. That was very challenging. We thank God that the then Governor of the state, Otunba Gbenga Daniel was very close to me and he came to my rescue. He assisted in constructing the new market to the position it is now and things have gone back to normal. And after that, in 2001, we laid the foundation of the Palace And we thank God the Palace was completed during my 20th anniversary, We thank God things have improved in the town.
Does Kabiyeesi still swim?
“You saw me a few minutes ago in my swimming pool there. I built that in 1976 and it has been there ever since. I redecorated the swimming pool because of my children and grandchildren. I still swim and it’s one of the best exercises that one can develop. I love it and it makes me happy and it gives me strength, a good figure and sound health”.